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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2005 Christmas Newsletter

It is once more time to prepare our annual newsletter - it seems to come round quicker each year. We seem to have spent more time travelling than usual, starting with New Zealand in the Spring followed immediately by the annual walking holiday at Ardbrecknish House beside Loch Awe. In the summer we made an interesting and challenging canal trip to the the Northern reaches of the canal systems with friends from the David Piper Owners Club. We completed our major travels with a cruise on the big ship, the Queen Elizabeth 2 taking us across the Atlantic to St Johns, Newfoundland then down the Canadian Atlantic Seaboard appropriately nicknamed the 'lighthouse coast' and then down to New York before re-crossing the Atlantic, having a day in Southampton to visit the Boat Show, and onwards into the Mediterranean - a trip taking us to some of the best of the New and Old Worlds. We recovered with 10 days in Guernsey with my sister and brother-in-law walking the cliff paths.

Our problem now is how to avoid boring you all with a blow by blow account of travels to places which do not interest most of you! Stop now you cry but that seems to be too easy so we will do our best to select a few interesting highlights and anecdotes to run through the rest of the newsletter. We will follow last years presentation where we used far more illustrations - hover over them to see information and click for a larger image. This year I have also added a number of Pauline's watercolours. All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover the cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in a popup window. The popup windows are reused and then closed up when you leave the page so you do not need to close them. Our digital pictures (from 2004) are in two resolutions and the initial size depends on your screen size. You can chose the small size if you have a slow internet connection or want to restrict data flow on a mobile connection. Click here for high detail popup images and click here for lower resolution images. You can also toggle the resolution by double-clicking an image but it may take an extra click to display the picture in the new size on some browsers. With some systems you may be asked to if you wish to allow popup windows as a protection against adverts. More

New Zealand in our winter

We spent our visit doing much the same things as usual, travelling in an old van, and camping or using Mount Ruapehu from The Desert Roadcabins depending on how we felt. This year we spent all our time in North Island. We tend to go South every other year so next year we will spend as much time as we can in the South. Each Taranaki across the fieldsvisit is a mixture of going back to favourite places and enjoying new and different experiences. The highlights of New Zealand the last couple of years have been the Art Deco Festival in Napier for Pauline and the Sailing for Peter. Other favourite places we revisited included Taranaki (Mount Egmont) where we stayed at Mountain House and did some walking in the amazing 'Goblin Forests' and the Whanganui River where we had a trip on the Paddle Steamer, the Waimarie, for Valentine's Day.

Napier - Art Deco Festival and a Flight in a Catalina

This year two of our interests came together at Napier. We have always been interested in flying and old aircraft and we knew that there was a Catalina in New Zealand which sometimes came to Napier to fly at the Art Deco Festival. So we checked on the Internet and found out about the society and came out with our membership forms already filled in. It was difficult to find their detailed plans in advance but we were delighted to see the unmistakable shape of the Catalina flying in on Friday evening when we were at the opening Soiree. We had originally planned to spend time at the airfield on Sunday but instead we rushed out straight after the vintage car parade, again something not to be missed.

What followed was definitely the highlight of the weekend - a flight on the vintage Catalina Flying Boat, one of the amphibious versions a PBY5-A (-A for Amphibious). We were incredibly fortunate as most other people were still in Napier and there were two spare seats on the next flight which was due to load in ten minutes time. Most of the remaining flights were already booked for the whole weekend. We had well over the promised half an hour in the air. As soon as we had left the ground the 16 passengers were organised so that turns were taken to stand behind the pilots and move through the two cabins as well as spending time in the two large observation blisters at the back which have almost as good a view forwards as the pilots and better in every other direction. Only four can go into them at a time otherwise the aircraft's C of G is moved too far aft with dire consequences.

The slow low flight took us for a couple of passes over the town before viewing the coast line and over the Vineyards down towards Hastings. We flew beside rather than over the viewpoint we had looked down from last year onto Craggy Range. Pete has flown in many aircraft, some older but nothing approached the flight in the Catalina.

We have always been interested in flying boats since our flights in the Grumman Widgeon in the Bay of Islands. A large number of Catalinas (3200) were built in the war but less than 100 survive and under 20 remain airworthy of which only the one is certificated for passenger flights. She is operated by the Catalina Club of New Zealand who have kept her in beautiful condition operating from fresh water whenever possible and land when not. She does not operate from the sea because of corrosion fears and she needs large lakes as the water run can be up to 3 miles off still water, a few waves help a flying boat unstick. The P&W TwinWasp 1200 hp 14 cylinder radial air cooled engines still purr and the huge wing (104 foot span and 1400 sq feet) gives a leisurely cruise of 90 - 100 knots, an endurance of 27 hours (they carried multiple crews) and range of over 3000 miles.

A typical days Sailing in New Zealand

Sailing is always Pete's high point of the Holiday and we will next take a typical day of our sailing which this year was from Auckland. As usual we chartered a Raven 31, Largesse, from Charterlink and our objective was to go to the Mercury islands, named because they were the place where Captain Cook took sightings of the transits of Mercury. The Islands are on the outside of the Coromandel peninsular so one needs good stable weather to visit them as there are no good all weather harbours. They are most easily reached via Great Barrier Island, in itself a fascinating place similar in size and distance from Auckland as the Channel Islands are from the UK. We have been to Great Barrier several times but never had the safe weather for the extra trip to the Mercury Islands. This year once more we got to Great Barrier only to see the weather deteriorating and headed back into the Hauraki Gulf. However later it improved again and so back it was to Great Barrier and on to the Mercury Islands.

The day I have chosen is the day we were furthest into pastures new when we took Largesse on from the Mercury Islands to Whitianga, the limit of her certification and insurance before starting back along the coast towards the tip of the Coromandel - an 8 hour and 42.1 nmiles trip forming part of the 503 nautical miles we covered in 15 days reaching every corner of the Hauraki Gulf. The following is taken straight from our cruising log.

Having settled weather, but no wind,It was a glorious morning with calm seas and hardly a breath of wind at dawn. It seemed a shame to rush back to the Hauraki Gulf so Pauline suggested we continued our exploration of the area so motored down to Whitianga which was the cruising limit for Largesse. Leaving Great Mercury Island we needed to pass through the 'Hole in the Wall', which is so full of islands that there is a sketch drawing in the Akaroa Cruising Book showing the approaches for the inner and outer passages.

We had no problems with the outer passage and had just turned towards Whitianga, by the well-named Needle Rock, when we saw another boiling mass of fish like yesterday. This time there was no hesitation and we started to troll, quickly catching a serious 51cm Kahawai, weighing in at a spot under 2 kilos. We were probably fortunate that we had a gull fly into the line the previous day - we had been forced to cut and throw away a lot of line which was old and exposed on the reel and would probably not have stood up to the strain as Kahawai are fighting fish.

One hour later we were within sight of Whitianga town and shortly afterwards had anchored in Buffalo Bay long enough for a late breakfast and for Pete to have a swim. We remembered the town and its pretty beach from visits by car.

Being limited in time because we had only 5 days remaining of our charter, we set off back, taking an inner passage. Passing the Twins on the inside this time and then clearing Old Man Rock, we had a choice of returning to Great Mercury Island or trying somewhere different. The wind direction was good so we decided to head for Kennedy Bay, a nice sheltered harbour on the east coast of the Coromandel, just opposite Great Mercury Island. The north side of the bay was filled with a fishfarm but there was plenty of mooring space on the south side, just off the village and the sandy beach. The winds had come up enough to sail as we left Whitianga and had steadily increased during the afternoon so we approached with a fair speed. There was a swell building from the NE but it was no problem once we were in shelter and we settled back to celebrate another safe arrival and cook the fish.

Walking in Scotland

Once we were back from New Zealand we were off virtually imediately to join up with friends from college for the annual Easter Walking holiday - actually there is more eating and drinking these days although we did have a few good walks. We were at Ardbrecknish House beside Lock Awe, the group had virtually taken the place over and the scenery is stunning and many well known places are close by including Loch Lomond, the Crinan Canal, the Mull of Kintyre and Oban. We had one most unusual coincidence at the end of the most challenging walk - Pete felt his foot was a little wet and checked his boot and found the sole had split from the top, on checking the other the same had happened as had happened to one of Pauline's boots. We bought them together at the same shop in Lyndhurst in the New Forest 7 years before and they had been well worn, even so three soles out of four to the hour after seven years! We bought two identical new pairs and await the next seven years with interest.

The Northern Reaches of the Canals

We hardly Tiggers Field near Oxford, River Thamesseemed to have finally caught up with the mail, piles neatly stacked by Suzanne totalling two feet in height, when it was time for the canal adventure. The friends we have travelled with before in the Piper Owners Club had persuaded us to join them in a trip to the new furthest North part of the connected canal system, Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal. This canal was only recently joined to the rest of the system with the opening of the "Millenium Ribble Link" in 2002, the only new navigation to be opened since the Mersey Ship Canal almost a century ago. Formerly the most northern part of the system was Ripon and we made that trip with some of the same people shortly after that was reopened in 1997 (written up as The Great Northern Ring), so a visit to the Lancaster Canal was inevitable.

It requires a passage down the Tidal River Douglas and up the Tidal River Ribble before entering Savick Brook and then through the new sea lock and flight of locks comprising the Ribble Link which joins the Lancaster Canal to the main canal system.It is arguable whether the combination of the Tidal Trent and the Yorkshire Ouse, to visit Ripon, or the combination of the River Douglas and the River Ribble, to visit Tewitfield, is the most challenging voyage but nobody seems to put forward other candidates save perhaps the Tidal Severn from Sharpness to Bristol. An indication is that you are advised to carry flares and in case of troubles you call the coastguard. An excerpt from our log covering the tidal crossing on the outward journey will tell you what we mean - we will never call narrow-boating a peaceful quiet occupation again.

It was a glorious day without any appreciable wind to roughen the sea and at 11.00 the first two boats were settled in the sea lock at Tarleton. One was Malcolm's narrow-boat Priory from our little group of three chosen to go first as his was the least proven on arduous waters. The tide was later than expected and we were told by Harry who was organising the locking that we might have to go to Preston Dock instead of up the Savick Brook and into the Millenium Link to the Lancaster canal. You can only leave and enter the sea lock at the other end when it is Spring tides and it was a tide of only 8.6 metres whereas we would have 9.1 metres on our return journey. The first lockful left at 12.09 and we followed from the second locking at 12.17 - on this journey minutes counted.

The deadline for entry to the Savick Brook through the Rotating Sealock was one hour after high tide, which today was 13.02. This meant we had about 1 hour 40 minutes to do the 8.7 miles, with the tide against us for much of the trip. We in Corinna left the lock first with Dugald close behind and we rapidly increased the throttle setting to our maximum revs. Dugald had the inside left where we were told there would be minimum current and gradually closed up. We found the throttle was slipping back from flat out so we hung two sandals on it, and pushed our way into the tide which was surging up the river. The tide comes in so fast it has been known for boats to initially be swept upstream and take 20 minutes to make the first bend a few hundred metres downstream. It was quite exciting to be cruising at these speeds, two boats alongside down a river no wider than some canals.

We soon had one boat from the first lock in sight and had caught them before Shepard's Boatyard - Dugald was slightly ahead so we dropped back and let him pass first rather than go three abreast flat out through the boatyard. As we were passing we saw a huge piece of polythene in the water in front and had to swing over making it all quite interesting. Then we were in open water and it was very wide and flat. There was not a breath of breeze and it was warm and sunny. Visibility was excellent with none of the fog which can cover the area. We could not ask for better weather conditions for the journey.

It was now so wide we were glad we had marked the route to the Asland Lamp and onwards to Savick Brook on our GPS. Asland is the old name for the River Douglas. It was some distance from the Boatyard to the Asland Lamp and we checked the GPS as well as aiming for white buildings pictured (The Hangers at Warton) as specified in the Skippers Guide. With the GPS we had the added advantage of knowing the bearing of the Asland Lamp before it was possible to see it; others had to rely on their binoculars. we found the others were cruising much further to the right than we did and we were just about to call them on the radio when they saw the Lamp and steered away from the underwater training wall finally turning the Asland Lamp safely with a lot to spare.

By the time we reached the Asland Lamp at 13.12 we had pulled up on Malcolm who had been a lock ahead and our three boats rounded it in turn. We took a line which seemed no closer than the others but we heeled to an alarming angle for a narrowboat, causing some active discussion and accusations that I had cut it too fine. Later we saw the pictures from Dugald's boat which actually showed we were further from the Asland Lamp than they had been. We had been warned about turbulence and 'steps' in the water so it seems we were just at a slightly different placing relative to the turbulence where the streams join.

We were gradually gaining on Malcolm, and we knew that we were very close to the timing for entry to Savick Brook, so we decided to maintain our speed and passed Dugald then Malcolm, as they joined up. We had radio contact between the boats and mobile phone contact with BW staff and agreed that the fastest boat should go ahead and then hopefully the other two would be close enough behind that we all got into Savick Brook. As we approached the Two Mile Perch and approximately half a mile from the entry we started to ring BW - they had warned us the lights had been playing up and might not show green. This was a traumatic time as we had to cycle through a list of the BW telephone numbers and only got answering services, not real people. It is always the last one in a list which is the right one, and we finally made contact at 13.49 with 13 minutes to cut off.

By then we could see that the light was green at the entry, and informed them that our group was close. They encouraged us to speed up, saying we had just 10 minutes to get in. By the time we had contacted the others it was down to 7 minutes and we had pushed our throttle right forwards. We entered Savick Brook and got to the Sea Lock with only a couple of minutes spare before the water got too low to enter and the others followed close behind. The rest of story of the crossing can be found in our Cruising Log part 2. The Lancaster Canal was delightful with a main line completely free of locks.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 - Canadian Crossing and Mediterranean Adventure

I was going to write that our cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2 was completely different but then I realised that there were many similarities including lots of good food, drink, old friends and lots of new places to see. We originally had just booked for the Canadian Crossing, a cruise down the Atlantic coast in the Fall but we would have got back one day before Pauline's birthday so we decided to continue into the Mediterranean. The QE2 always do Birthdays well and there are some pictures of the rather special meal in our page QE2 - days at sea.

Our 5 week journey took us from Southampton across the Atlantic and down the Canadian Seaboard to the USA where we visited Boston, Newport and New York before re-crossing the Atlantic to Southampton where we visited the Boat Show and got some funny looks when we came back on board QE2 with a lifejacket (a special one with built in harness bought for sailing in NZ). The next fortnight looped through the Mediterranean with days in Vigo, Gibraltar, Naples, Athens, Zakinthos, Dubrovnik, Cagliari and Lisbon.

The Canadian Atlantic Seaboard, which was completely new to us greatly impressed us and we intend to go back again. Gibraltar, Athens, Zakinthos, and Cagliari were new to us and Gibraltar in particular stood out. Athens and Dubrovnik are places one must visit at some point in ones life but unfortunately everybody else knows that so they are packed, as was Capri, which we visited from Naples.

I had difficulties choosing one place to highlight but finally chose Peggy's Cove partly as it was sufficiently special for Pauline to do two paintings. The road to Peggy's Cove along the South Shore of Nova Scotia is a part of the scenic Lighthouse Route which goes from Yarmouth to Halifax and passes 32 lighthouses and a number of picturesque fishing villages. It would make a fascinating drive if we ever return and we later picked up information sheets. It was said that any water on the left was salty and on the right was fresh water. There were a lot of lakes, and it was very pretty. The area is barren with lots of huge granite boulders, deposited by the retreating glaciers many thousands of years ago - a beautiful rugged coastline, where the ocean has spent millions of years smoothing and sculpting the granite.

Peggy's Cove has a population of around 50 people, and the village is dominated by its famous lighthouse, one of the most photographed in Canada. The first lighthouse was built in 1868, and the present lighthouse dates from 1916. Since 1975 the village post office has been on the lower floor and we bought our postcards there but did not have time to write them to be franked on the spot. On our walk through the village we could not resist taking dozens of photos of the houses and the fishing boats as well as purchasing cards - hopefully they will inspire a painting or two in the new year. The Old Red Schoolhouse is now an art gallery, and St John's Church, built in 1883 was closed, but both were photogenic.

Guernsey in the autumn

Fort Grey, or the Cup and Saucer at the end of Rocquaine Bay in Guernsey, July 2004Pembroke Fortifications overlooking Pembroke Bay in GuernseyNo sooner than we were back it was time for a few days in Guernsey with my sister and brother-in-law. The weather was not as kind as sometimes and Pete had picked up a bug but we had time to walk the cliff paths as well as relax.

Odds and Ends

I would not want to give the impression we spend all our time travelling, it just seems like it! Pete has still kept up with his fitness programme following the damage to his arm. That is much better but he still awaits the final assessment to see if there is any long term impairment. An incidental gain has been that he has lost nearly two and a half stone over the last two years and feels a lot better for it. Pauline does not like the cross trainer so has bought a rowing machine so we can hardly move round the house now. We still convert a lot of our home grown fruit into wine and there are two batches, one of Blackberry and the other Blackberry with Elderberry bubbling in the kitchen and another two batches of Gooseberry and Loganberry on the filing cabinet. It is very little more work to make a batch of four gallons as for a single gallon demijohn and it lasts twice as long.

Pete has built up a better computer largely from bits and pieces round a spare motherboard from Ralph. He has converted all our CDs into MP3s and has started on a serious editing of some of our more recent video and digital pictures into DVDs to inflict on our friends. We also have a huge stock of old Video 8 tapes which we have not looked at for years which need to be converted to a better medium while they can still be read. Pauline has been teaching the Open University M206 Object Oriented Programming course for many years and is taking a break whilst looking for opportunities in the Business school and has started on a book in the meantime. It is 10 years since she retired from the DTI and has always wanted to write her version of Yes, Minister.

After such a year of travel the run up to Christmas seems somewhat of an anticlimax - we have not even got out on Corinna and the peace has been disturbed by the noise of a pile-driver as we are having some of our river bank repaired - it hardly seems possible it is over twenty years since we moved in and had the work first done. We enjoyed the formal Christmas party at the Oxford and Cambridge Club followed by carols sitting on the stairs round the Christmas tree - always a memorable evening but hard on the liver. It always marks the start of Christmas festivities to us and we spend a day in London admiring the lights, visiting museums and art galleries, and shopping in Covent Garden and Fortnum and Masons. We have given up shopping separately as we so often end up giving each other the same things! We are looking forward to escaping to the better weather in New Zealand and are trying to work out how to fit in another trip to Australia round our boating and the QE2 already booked for next year - it is a hard life making all these choices. We certainly have no regrets we left the rat race - as we said last year the trouble with the rat race is that even if you win you are still only a rat!

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Revised: 14th July, 2020