71. The Best Laid Schemes

Well, I’m neither man nor mouse but my plans are ganging aft agley. I’ll be missing out on the promised joy but hope not to have the grief and pain promised in Rabbie Burns’ poem To A Mouse. I had been ambivalent about this trip across the three Chinese ports (Sanya, Zhuhai and Qingdao) with Subic Bay thrown in. As well as a seven week trip and all the preparation that entails, I would be going from temperatures of mid-30s in Subic Bay to just above zero in Qingdao. A normal trip to one zone has required two large bags, what would I need for this?

New (smaller) cabin bag

In preparation I bought a Kindle while flying home as a lot of my weight is books. The day after I arrived home I went to have my fingerprints taken at the Chinese Visa Centre. I found the phrase books I had. I bought a smaller cabin bag so I wouldn’t have to struggle so much (it fits on top of the big case without falling off everywhere). I bought some cotton dresses and trousers that were larger than I needed so that I’d feel cool in the heat of Sanya, having felt way too hot in Australia. I downloaded a VPN and the WeChat app for use in China: for the latter I needed someone who had been using it for over a month to “sponsor” me, luckily I have a Chinese pal who did this. Items that George had ordered arrived so I packed them ready to take. I bought some earrings to compliment my birthday necklace. I ordered Sealskinz socks and a Spinlock bag and Musto gloves that John had asked me to get for him. I received two birthday cards from families for crew members on other boats to take out to Sanya. An email from John and another Unicef crew member asked me to buy more socks so I did that.

Christmas present for John, yet to be seen!

My passport had not come back by the promised date (I paid extra for it to be fast-tracked) so I chased the agents. It was delayed due to Chinese New Year but would be with me the next day. They called me back the next day and said I had been issued with the wrong visa, valid for only 30 days, so I’d need to go back and have my fingerprints taken again. This was arranged for 31st January, still plenty of time before my flight on 7th February.

My birthday necklace plus earrings from London

Then on 28th January the FCO issued advice about travelling to Wuhan and the Hubei province in China. That was OK, I wasn’t going anywhere near the areas highlighted. The following day I woke to the news that BA had suspended flights to China, shortly followed by the FCO saying travel to anywhere in mainland China was not recommended. This was becoming serious. Even if we could get there, would we get out again? I spoke with Sue, who was meant to be travelling with me, and we decided to cancel the whole trip.

I have kept the hotel in Subic Bay for the moment, if the boats land there OBB may need the rooms, even if I don’t manage to get there. We don’t yet know what’s happening with the fleet, they are still on the way to Sanya. With luck by the time I do my next update I’ll be able to tell you. If they don’t go to China, Clipper need to find a port that can take eleven large (ish) yachts at short notice, when cruise ships and other shipping are also trying to divert. They need a port that has sufficient shops to allow the crews to buy enough groceries to take them to Seattle. Zhuhai (close to Hong Kong) is the end of this Leg, so there will be crew members needing to get off and go home, and other crew members wanting to join their boat. If the Hong Kong flights are cancelled then they’ll need an airport that is open and close to wherever the fleet ends up.

If only Unicef had seen this route to Durban!

Meanwhile I’m using the time to empty my in-tray, complete my to-do list and practice the piano. And the Chinese visa? Well, because my passport isn’t British, the visa wouldn’t last for two years so I’ll reapply when I need one. By then I might need to apply for one to live here as well, today is BREXIT DAY! Happy New World everyone and BYE until the next time!

47. Over The Sea And Far(o) Away

Having told you about MBB and their arrival in Portimao, here’s the blog of my journey.

The hotel

We (my pal Jane and I) should have been on the flight to Faro from Gatwick leaving about 2 pm on Saturday 7th September, but when I turned my phone back on at 5.30 am that morning (just to check Race Viewer you understand) I had messages from BA telling me it had been cancelled. They were offering me an alternative on Sunday via Madrid arriving about 8 pm. No, I need to be there now! MBB are on their way! They are currently first and second! The latest ETA for them is Sunday morning. I can’t wait!

Me, panic? Make a drama out of a crisis? Well, this whole blog is here for a reason. Once I’d let the world know via Facebook, WhatsApp, email, text etc I set to work. First phone BA to see if they can get us on the Heathrow flight. The irony is I chose Gatwick because I thought Jane would find it easier to get there, but she had to transit London so Heathrow would have been better. Needless to say, when I eventually get through, after 40 minutes, the two Heathrow flights were full. The Gatwick flight was not cancelled due to the impending strike but for technical reasons. Lots of suggestions from my pals: train, drive, other places to fly from. To cut a stressful couple of hours short, we returned to my new favourite place, Southend. The airport this time, to fly with Ryanair, four hours later than planned but still Saturday. As a comment in Post 44 said, I go to all the glamorous places, not once but twice!

On arriving at Faro, about an hour’s drive from the marina, we collected our luggage and headed to the passport check. On turning the corner it looked like the queue to get into Glastonbury. Thousands of people and no one going anywhere. The electronic automatic passport gates were not working and of course the staffing levels have been cut down as they’re no longer needed. We reckon there was one chap on duty.

Forty minutes later we were lucky to spot our driver. Thank goodness I’d booked a car and he’d waited. Even though we took so long he was very cheerful and understanding. A high five for Favourite Arrive Transfers of Portugal, especially when we found out that the hotel had not told him of our delayed flight so he’d done the trip twice that day! On arriving at the hotel, 21.55 Saturday night, we asked reception when the dining room closed. In five minutes was the reply, and he then took ten minutes to check us in. We dropped our bags in our rooms (via golf buggy) and rushed to get a drink, having had very little to eat due to the disruption. (We had popped into Tate Britain and had a beetroot wrap and a jackfruit wrap about 11 in the morning. We cannot recommend jackfruit). Thank goodness for Ana on the bar, she told us we could have room service until 23.00 (what, back to our rooms? No, she offered us room service at the bar). I cannot remember what I had but Jane had a club sandwich which was enormous. In the restaurant people were still eating, then they had some Strictly-style dancers. Ana moved us into a quiet corner so we could watch them, and found us a couple of puddings that were spare.

We made it!

We didn’t sleep well as there was a disco opposite our rooms that went on until the early hours. It didn’t help when I discovered that my bedroom window had been open all night. Never mind, the boats were not due in until the afternoon so we took life easy. At 1700 we rendezvous-ed with other supporters also waiting. After two hours, with the ETA going back and back, we decided to go and eat. After a very raucous meal (imagine six very restless women who had been drinking for over an hour) on the top floor of the hotel (so we could see the boats arrive) we realised it was going to be a LONG night and adjourned to Sandra’s room where she had a bottle of fizz cooling to drink with Geoff when he arrived. At midnight we signed onto the alert set up by Clipper and went to our beds.

We thought we’d be here a short time!

I woke about six, checked Race Viewer and saw that Unicef were about to arrive. I’d totally slept through any alarm we may have had and missed Punta del Este coming in about half past midnight. As you already know, Qingdao were third around 3 am so I missed them too. Unicef were sixth. Go back to the previous post for more details.

Lunch with George

The next day, MBB slept and /or cleaned their boats then had briefings regarding the prize giving ceremony that evening. Jane and I decided to top up our Vitamin D by the pool. For this we needed the dull pale brown towels everyone was walking around with. Off to reception to see the chap who booked us in on the desk. “Where do we get the pool towels from please?” “By the pool” “Ok, thanks”. As we start to head towards the pool he tells us we need a token. We ask where we get these and he (reluctantly) produces them! He tells us to go left but we cannot see anyone or anywhere that looks like it may have a heap of towels. We head to the far end and ask someone there, only to be told we get towels from reception. OKAY. We sit on a lounger and hope we’ll get told off for not having a towel (there is a sign telling us not reserve loungers). Eventually we find a pool boy who takes our tokens, heads off to (you guessed) reception and returns with towels! Victory!

The prize giving was in a restaurant by the marina and it was great to see Qingdao receive their pennant for coming in third. Every team member received a small one. I did offer to bring George’s home so he wouldn’t lose it but no way was he letting it out of his sight. They were rather damp, having been dropped in the pool before the presentation, but they got a lot wetter when the whole crew started to dance in the pool!

Third for Qingdao, blue pennant at left of photo

The next day Jane and I had a tour of Unicef and pretended to helm. I’m not really that much taller than Jane, there’s a board at 45 degrees that becomes the floor when the boat is heeling over.

I may give you a more detailed report of conditions on board in another post, but meanwhile here’s John showing us his cabin, with his storage space by his side.

The next day we went around the Museu de Portimao, an old sardine and anchovy canning factory, which was not too big and very interesting. As well as the commercial aspects of canning there was an exhibit on a famous accordionist of Portimao, the history of the region and some information on the underwater reserve that’s been created by sinking four naval ships some years ago.

Conveyor belt to take sardines off the boat into the factory

George had planned to go and dive in the reserve on the Friday but the water was too murky; some others went and said they could not tell if they were inside the wrecks or not, the visibility was so poor.

Photo from one of the other divers

We also had drinks provided by the Marina as a welcome on most nights and a wine tasting with oysters at the other end of the marina. Apparently they were the best, creamiest oysters ever tasted. As I lost half a stone last time I had fresh oyster I demurred. I prefer to lose weight by lots of walking in beautiful weather.

John and Donna enjoying oysters

Mostly during the day we sat by the pool whilst the sailors did maintenance on the boats. The day we went over to Unicef, one of the support crew from Gosport had to go up the mast to repair something. It looked challenging when moored up, I dread to think how it would feel at sea.

On his way up.

Whenever John and I go on holiday we try to buy two mugs and a tea towel as a reminder of the place. This trip was no exception. I tried to find a trinket to go onto the Pandora bracelet John’s daughter Penny gave me as a memento but no luck, so I’ll see if I can find a “3” on the internet to commemorate the podium finish of Qingdao.

On Saturday we said goodbye to George and on Sunday morning John left at 9.30. We supporters had lunch next to the pontoons so we could watch the fleet leave. It was pretty emotional waving them all off, their team songs blaring away in the background. We say them go upriver then come back but missed the race start as we had our flight back. I forgot to mention the techno pop festival that was on the last three nights from 1400 to 0600 the next morning. Once again, no sleep. Here we are enjoying some relative peace in a beach bar.

Now back to normal, slept late, did laundry, bought food, had my last Hepatitis B injection and ordered yet more stuff to take to the next stop for John. I was reading “Piano Man” by Charles Beauclerk on holiday, a book given to me by Caroline, my piano teacher. If anyone in the Yeovil area wants to learn I can recommend her, as long as you do not steal my slot! Not particularly light reading but a compelling story and heart breaking. I am now listening to recordings of John Ogdon playing Rachmaninoff and Bartok whilst typing. Meanwhile, back to Race Viewer. The fleet are off the African coast above the Canary Isles. The next excitement is which route they chose through the Isles and who goes for the Scoring Gate.