Archive for July, 2005

I wonder…

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

… how long I can stand the suspense. My best course of action, I think, is just to get on with my life.

To which end, I am back into my old routine of occasional PC help for the islanders, supper at Nikos’ and quite a lot of reading. Alexis is pressing me to think about another boat, but I don’t think so.

Reading. Well I’ve downloaded a few Arthur Conan Doyles from Gutenberg, and Sir Walter Scott’s Talisman . That has been one of the most irritating features of repeated Laptop Loss. I had all these before – I was halfway through The Talisman when I was hi-jacked – and now I have to get them again. In anticipation of trouble, I’ve backed them off on a thumb drive. You can get an awful lot of ASCII text on a thumb drive.

With Gutenberg, you sometimes get HTML versions of books. I like these a lot better than the ASCII text. I’m almost tempted to write a simple utility to HTML them. It would be a piece of cake, but first I’ll browse to see if someone’s already done it.

My new mobile has a camera on it, but I’m not keen on the lens! I’ll get a proper camera next time I’m in Athens.

I don’t believe…

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

… it! The court case has been adjourned for lack, not of a witness, but of an accused.

Extract from The Times

This will take some thinking about. Suffice to say that if the prosecution team are this competent, I am SO glad I ran when I did.

Meanwhile, life continues without a great deal of change. For the second time in a couple of months, I find myself restoring all my software to my new computer. It’s going much quicker this time, despite the frequent headaches I’ve been having since I was mugged.

It’s a strange feeling. I should be furious at these guys for stealing my boat and leaving me for dead. Instead, I’m somehow grateful to them. They could so easily have put a bullet in my head while they were about it. I don’t care about their reasons. They gave me the chance I needed, and I appreciate it.

I have always believed in what I call existentialism. It’s probably not the real thing, I know, but the philosophy of enjoying what you are experiencing while you’re experiencing it has really paid off for me. It probably accounts for the fact that I’ve always run away from difficulties, and the fact that, despite my lack of real progress in life, I have nearly always had a nice time. The exception was the terrible time I had last year, but I fixed that, didn’t I?

The question is…

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

…. how safe am I here? I got a wonderful welcome from people I thought I hardly knew when I got back on the Monday ferry. And yesterday, I had several of Lionel’s emails to read. The upshot of these is that very little interest was shown in Desmëi’s sensational interview. “I could practically hear the yawns”, said Lionel.

The trial date is next week. I see from discreet browsing of Court records that they haven’t cancelled it yet. I guess all I have to do is to sit tight.

And sitting tight is about all I can do. My passport was confiscated by these pirates. If I want a new one, I’ll have to go through the business of the local British consul, who isn’t British and is only consular part-time, and who can’t issue a passport to stupid Brits who’ve lost them, but can only repatriate them with a one-day special passport and repatriation is the last thing I want right now. So now I’m stuck in Greece which is not so bad really but I feel a little trapped.

Alexis was deeply distressed at the loss of the boat. He couldn’t understand why I hadn’t told the police. I said I didn’t want to get in trouble with the police at the island where I washed up. I have agreed to concoct a story for the police here, so I can at least make an insurance claim for the computer and GPS. I think the best plan is to say it was stolen while anchored and empty, then there will be no attempted murder investigation.

Alexis says there is a good bush telegraph among the Greek fishermen, and if the boat is offered for sale in the islands, we are likely to hear about it.

By rights…

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

… you should never have heard from me again. I keep having these disruptive disasters in my life, but this one I barely survived. Last Monday, I said I was setting sail Tuesday morning for points west. I actually meant east, and I have since corrected the entry. I’ll give you it as a single account rather than an artificial daily diary:

Swinging at the End of a Rope.

The weather was extremely fine, as usual, the wind favourable, and I made excellent progress. However, over-confidence and bravado encouraged me that I might try some night sailing, especially since I’d noticed there was a quarter moon for a few hours after sunset, and the night was clear. I was in deep water without hazards to navigation, all my nav lights were working, and I felt cosily secure in my GPS and my boat-handling skills.

When I’d announced my intention to island-hop, Alexis had provided me with a 15 metre polypropylene floating rope. The idea, he said, was to just attach it at the stern and let it trail behind, in case I fell overboard and needed something to grab hold of. I had seldom used it, being terrified of fouling my propellor, or, worse, someone else’s propellor, and it had been tripping me up for weeks, lying in a coil under the back seat. Partly, I confess, to ensure that I didn’t trip over it in the dark, I secured it to a cleat and threw it overboard.

Night fell and it was very pleasant, cool and romantic. Even when the quarter moon set at about midnight, the starlight was enough to see quite far. I wasn’t tired, having been lounging around for nearly a week, recharging my personal batteries. At about half past one in the morning, I saw lights and soon heard the motor boat they belonged to. They were coming towards me from the east, and looked as if they would pass about half a mile south of me, but they must have seen my lights, and altered course to intercept me. About a hundred yards away, they slowed the engine, which sounded really powerful, and shone a searchlight on me. I concluded that they were some kind of coastguard or naval vessel, though they were quite small, and I waved a hand in the beam in a friendly fashion. The light flicked off, the engine roared again, and they receded astern. Meanwhile, I was totally blinded, having lost my dark adaptation. But the engine note never completely disappeared, and then it started to increase. Within ten minutes, they had pulled within 20 feet of my starboard side, ticking over to keep pace, and subjected me to a prolonged scrutiny with the light. Then someone started to use a loud hailer, shouting Greek at me. It was very badly accented Greek, but I guessed they wanted me to heave to, so I lowered the sail – a difficult task in the dark and under pressure. My guess was that this was a patrol on the lookout for smugglers. I put out fenders on the starboard side, and they grappled close.

I really started to worry when I saw they weren’t in uniform, but they were armed. One covered me with what I guess was an AK47, while two others went into the deckhouse and looked around. I heard them open my tool box, which was seldom locked when I was on board. They were talking in a language foreign to me, but it sounded slavic, and the men were kind of slavic in appearance. And before anyone asks, I could never identify them or their boat again because I was permanently squinting against the glare. The one who seemed to be the leader made me stand up, frisked me, taking my wallet from my back pocket, and putting it in his own. Then they started to transfer stuff to their boat – computer, GPS, compass, mobile phone, passport, money, papers, rubber dinghy, food, clothes.

They. Took. Everything. I started to protest that I couldn’t navigate without my equipment, and was told to shut up. I was still not sure if these were the authorities taking precautions against dangerous criminals, or pirates. I’m not sure I’d have acted any differently, anyway. I was somewhat relieved when they started to arrange to take my boat in tow, assuming that at least I’d still be in touch with my possessions. The one guarding me put down his gun on the deck, which relaxed me a little, but then he pushed me backwards, into the arms of a second man, grabbed my legs, and the pair of them pitched me overboard. Just like that. Miles from land.

I was so surprised, I hadn’t taken a breath and I was still spluttering as I grabbed for the transom. A heavy boot changed my mind about hanging on. I made another grab, and the rifle butt swung in and clouted me painfully on the ear. By the time I could see straight, all the men had returned to their own boat and I was floating ten feet or so away from mine. Then the powerful motor started up again, and their boat, my boat, my home, began to recede into the darkness. Even then, had the floating rope not seared painfully across my neck, I would have forgotten about it, but I grabbed it gratefully and hung on. Now. Were I James Bond or Indiana Jones or even Frodo the Hobbit, I’d have had a plan to pull myself hand over hand into my boat, overpower the pirates, and sail into port a hero. As it was, it was as much as I could do to hang on. I was sort of water-skiing along, twisting around, alternately face down and face up, with my arms jerking out of their sockets at every wave. After a while, I was able to dispose myself in such a way that I offered less resistance to the water, and the strain on my arms reduced. Over the next half hour, I pulled myself towards my boat until I was so close to the stern that no-one would be able to see me from the motor boat. Unbelievably, or perhaps because of the blow to the head which can’t have helped my existing fracture, once I had locked the rope around me, I dozed for a while.

By dawn, I was seriously worried that they might see me and finish me off. We appeared to be approaching a large island, presumably our destination, and we passed north of it, close enough to make out houses on the shore, but didn’t slow. I felt this was my best chance, and let go. It took me about an hour to realise that I was never going to make it to the shore other than as a bloated corpse.

The current, gentle as it probably was, was pushing me away from land. I would like to tell you that I fell into a trance and thought great thoughts as I awaited drowning or consumption by a shark, but I was so busy floating, spitting out salt water, sunburning and worrying, that when a fishing boat loomed up behind me (I’d been facing away from the sun and towards the island) I barely had time to yell and wave before they had scooped me up and left me draining on a pungent deck glittery with fish scales. I answered their questions in my primitive Greek, but I left them with the impression I had fallen overboard from a yacht. They supplied me with some much-needed water to drink and a little feta cheese.

By the time we’d landed in the busy port, I was feeling almost human. Of course, I saw no point in raising my visibility with The Authorities by making a fuss about the piracy, because I was not insured for anything except the computer and the GPS. Rather than get involved with the police, I allowed the rumour that I’d fallen overboard to gain currency, and my rescuers made much kudos among their fellow fishermen from their tale. Eventually, I found myself in the harbourmaster’s office, propelled there on a tide of goodwill, and, after a struggle, because I had no documentation whatsoever, I persuaded him to telephone my Athens lawyer. Under my lawyer’s guarantee of reimbursement, the harbourmaster lent me 50 Euros, and I arranged for the lawyer to transfer a few hundred Euros to a local bank. He also arranged to cancel my credit cards, order new ones and even organised a new Amex card to be available the next day. He’s really earning his fee, that lawyer, but my nest egg, I fear, is rapidly being eaten up by my repeated disasters.

And that’s about it. I had to go to Athens and replace my computer and mobile, sort out things with the lawyer and so on. I think I’m finished with sailing. That experience was enough for anyone.

Believe it…

Monday, July 11th, 2005

… or not, I was so busy being a Lotus-eater that it was Saturday before I found out about Thursday’s London bombings. Obviously, words fail me. I think I am more despairing than angry. It’s the way I used to feel about the IRA. What have they got to gain? They aren’t going to persuade anyone about anything like that.

Anyway, my news has seemed rather banal since then. I had an email from Lionel saying that Desmëi had received an email that confirmed I was giving myself up – can this be true?

I didn’t reply. But I had better record that I have become too comfortable here. I set sail tomorrow for points further east.

It’s been tempting…

Friday, July 8th, 2005

… to sail on and try to get some cool breeze, but the last few days have been so scorchingly hot I’ve not done much, though I used my impromptu laundry again. Also continued fishing and eventually caught the most evil-looking creature I have ever seen, like a sort of particularly ugly catfish with the definite look of Jacques Chirac about it (subdued chuckle at the news of the Olympics – Confusion to the French, eh?). I had the greatest difficulty getting the hook out and threw it back on the spot, with mingled horror and guilt. I’ve put the fishing rod away. I don’t suppose I’ll use it again unless I’m desperate for food and marooned on the high seas. I could probably grill a fish on the anchor fluke in this heat.

Living on a small boat…

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

… carries a problem. Let us call it “personal freshness”. OK, you can, and I do, swim in the sea to wash off the perspiration, but it leaves you encrusted with salt and seaweedy exhudations. Soap doesn’t lather too well in salt water, though shaving isn’t too bad with a wet razor and a tin of foam. Mind you, I had a nice soaking in fresh water during the storm, but its effects were somewhat blunted by the fact that I was fully dressed and later spent some time in the engine compartment. Clothes washing is another problem, and I resent using drinkable mineral water for washing.

However, this is quite a touristy spot, so I executed a cunning plan today. I shaved and spruced myself up as best I could, rolled up my swimming trunks and some dirty washing in a large orange ethnic knitted bag which I bought in Athens as a shopping bag, then took a walk along the beach. Shortly, I found a well-populated beachfront hotel with swimming pool. I strolled around the foyer, examining touristy stuff, discovering that my appearance was much more respectable than most of the residents. Then I changed in the (wonderful marble) loo, and swam in the fresh water pool for a while. Then I retired to the showers and rinsed through my smalls under a stream of warm fresh water, returning along the beach with my damp washing which I have since dried on the forestay (a bit of rope we sailors use to stop the mast falling over backwards). The only flaw in the plan was the orange knitted bag, which turned out to be far from colour-fast, and I am now the owner of some original tie-dyed orange underwear and shirts. But it feels so good to be salt-free and wearing clothes that aren’t scratchy with salt.

More importantly, I replied to Lionel thanking him for his warning and for his continued attention to the development of Desmëi’s tv career. He replied almost immediately, as follows:

Honoured Sir,
(Desmëi) has prevailed upon me to 
request that you arrange for an email to 
be sent directly to her (email address 
supplied) from Someone in Authority, 
assuring her that you are surrendering
yourself unto the tender mercies of the 
United Kingdom Legal Apparatus. 
I understand that this may be 
extraordinarily difficult for you, but 
I can only convey to you that which 
she has requested.
Sorrowfully
Lionel

So I had to go to the local internet cafe and build a little temporary emailer on one of my UK-based websites which had a Crown Prosecution Service sender address of (I couldn’t resist that tv programme) james.kavanagh@cps.gov.uk and a nice logo I ripped off the CPS website. In the email, Kavanagh tells her:


Though it is not usual to communicate 
with outsiders in matters such as this, 
the witness in question has asked me to 
assure you that he is already in the UK, 
that I am in contact with him, and that 
everything is going to plan. I so assure 
you.
Yours etc.
James Kavanagh Q.C.

As a bonus, if she does reply to the CPS, I reckon the Kavanagh name will cause the CPS to junk it as a prank. Obviously, the routing info in my email reveals it as NOT being genuine, but she isn’t going to know that. I almost wish I had thought of it myself – it’s such a nice ploy – but it was even better to respond when she asked. I’ve got a nice warm feeling about that.

It was a little gloomy…

Monday, July 4th, 2005

… this morning, with ACTUAL RAIN, and a fitful southerly wind. It wasn’t cool, though, far from it. I set off almost as soon as it was light. The wind couldn’t make up its mind at first, but finally settled on north again. Having become used to the wind coming from the left or north since I left home, it was somehow uncomfortable when it had been coming from the right. I had a rather long leg of my journey to cover, and this time I quite welcomed the fact that yesterday’s island disappeared over the horizon to the west quite quickly.

Without anything to do, other than keep my hand on the tiller and my eye on the GPS and compass, I started to mull over what I’m planning. I’ve decided to move my base, at least temporarily, to one of the larger, more popular, islands, where I can be slightly less noticeable. But I have no intention of leaving my own island forever. I wondered, now it’s July, how the court case is shaping up.

It was in the midst of such mullings that the wind suddenly swung around and gusted from the south, it started to patter with rain, the sky became black and a spectacular thunderstorm took place right above my head. The wind was blustering in all directions, the rain was blinding, and I had to lower the sail rather urgently. Lowering the sail is a pretty simple job when you’ve planned it. With the wind and rain coming from all points of the compass and the threat of imminent electrocution in the air, and the boat rolling dangerously, and a rope, inevitably, jamming in one of the blocks for a while, it becomes positively lethal. It must have taken me fifteen minutes to get everything squared away, by which time the sky had cleared and I was sitting in a pool of water in the well of the boat looking spare, while the boat rocked alarmingly in the choppy waves. Luckily the GPS is waterproof, as it was swilling around in the puddle with me, pointing in all directions as the waves shoved us around. Baled out, reset sail, continued, keeping a more wary eye on the weather.

When I could eventually see my destination for the day, it was quite a relief, but my troubles were not over. I found that the engine wouldn’t start, so I had to carefully anchor offshore under sail and work on the engine for a while. It was nothing much. The battery was flat from several days of using it for light and so on without running the engine, and the whole engine compartment was damp, too. I had to start it using a rope wrapped round the shaft (very hard work, but thank heavens for old-fashioned engines – you can’t do that with the modern ones) and run it for a while to dock, re-charge the battery, and get a bit of warmth up to dry things out. I’ve just tried it, and it all seems fine now.

To make my day complete, there was an email from Lionel:

Greetings,
I bear Unglad Tidings, I fear. (Desmëi) has 
obtained an interview on the morning of 
Tuesday 5th July. It is my fervent hope that 
exciting news on the day will bury her story in 
the sepulchre of forgotten minor tv magazine 
items, but, this being Canada, I can make no 
promise of exciting news then or any other day. 
Whether it will hit the National or International 
newswires is a moot point, but I must advise 
caution in the meantime. I shall inform you 
immediately, if not before, if the interview is 
broadcast (not all items are considered worthy) 
and whether (Desmëi) is summoned for 
follow-up items. In the meantime, please convey 
my felicitations to Nikos. I impatiently await 
your response.
Lionel.

The wind turned…

Sunday, July 3rd, 2005

… mostly south and not very brisk on Friday. I didn’t fancy navigating an unfamiliar lee shore, and, besides, it’s quite nice here. I hired a bicycle for the day and visited their hot spring, a malodorous, murky trickle lurching from the rocks to fill a rocky basin in which, for a fee, one may bathe. As is usual with springs in these parts, there is a shrine to a saint and evidence of an ancient Greek temple. Further up the hill, I was shown a more interesting sight – a vent which breathes methane, and can be lit with a cigarette lighter to give an almost invisible bluish flame that you can only see because of the shimmer in the air. It soon goes out, as the supply of gas is neither pure nor constant.

Yesterday and today, I just relaxed and ate by turns. I actually bought a fishing rod and did a little fishing. It was fun, but I caught nothing, which is probably just as well, because I don’t have any cooking facilities and I’m not into raw fish.

The big downside is that the reception for my mobile was awful on this island. There’s no aerial actually here. I have been unable to get an internet connection at all, until today, when I moved the boat round to the north of the peninsula at the east of the island. It’s not so comfortable here this afternoon, because I’m not sheltered from the wind, but I’m securely anchored and I will be able to start for my next destination early tomorrow.