Monday 15 August 2005

Gone to the South of France

We fly off tomorrow to Nimes with a couple of friends and their daughter. We're staying at La Nesquiere (near Avignon) for ten days exploring Provence before driving down the coast and staying at the La Sirene Campsite  at Argeles-sur-Mer (south of Perpignan) for another ten days. It's a compromise between something for the adults and something for the children.

I'm certainly looking forward to touring Provence. It's been on my list of places to go for a long time. I'm also hoping R* will get a chance to make use of her french and be motivated to learn more. I'm also sure the Languedoc will be pretty interesting as there's lots of activities we can do there like horse riding, climbing and kayaking. I also discovered only yesterday that we'll be very close to Cap de Creus on the Spanish Costa Brava which is reputed to be a great place to scuba dive. Fab! I've packed my dive gear with the plan of getting down there for a day.

I'll be back in September!

Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998)

A chick flick, the whole chick flick and nothing but a chick flick. Nice fuzzy romantic comedy that explores the idea of two timelines. Decent acting. I particularly liked John Hannah. But I'm really not sure what point the film is trying to make. It's probably not the kind of film one should expect a point from!

Saturday 13 August 2005

Sailing Bodrum

Last year I decided that a sailing holiday would be a great thing to try. I imagined it would be idyllic to sail around picturesque bays with a warm breeze at your back and new vista's constantly sliding into view. You're free to stop and explore wherever you wish and you're always off to somewhere new each day. It's convenient with your own food and accommodation readily at hand. There's also the exhiliration of a good sail and fun team work of running the yacht. Talking to various people and completing my RYA Competent Crew in August 2004 convinced me it was something I had to give a chance.

I booked this holiday six months earlier while working towards my RYA Day Skipper qualification. With a holiday booked, it was imperative I finish the course. Well, in truth, it wasn't that critical since another couple were coming with us: Karen and James. Karen had just finished the RYA Yachtmaster qualification and James had plenty of dinghy sailing experience. Between the three of us, we would have no trouble sailing the yacht.

After much research and consultation, we had settled on going the flotilla route. A flotilla gives you peace of mind that help is at hand if something goes wrong. It was our first charter for all of us so it just seemed the most practical thing to do. A flotilla doesn't mean you all follow each other; you just meet up at a common place at the end of each day.

It took a long time to settle on the sailing area. Short haul to the Med made sense to keep costs down and flottila's are simply more popular in the region. Greece and Turkey were recommended as good sailing area's for beginners. We chose Turkey over Greece primarily because from our previous experiences, the food is better. Bodrum was easy to fly to and had a reputation for good consistent winds.

So we settled on booking a flotilla out of Bodrum through Nautilus Yachting as they seemed to have a good reputation and the price was right. Our 40ft yacht for one week cost £1700 including all fee's, insurance and taxes. Nautilus is just a brokerage company. The yachting company we actually sailed with was Yildiz Yachting.

On August 1st, 2005, the six of us flew out to Bodrum. K*'s right leg was broken and still in a cast but we hoped that wouldn't cause us too much difficulty.

Day 1

We arrived in Bodrum at 20:30 and caught our transfer to the marina. The airport transfer is a racket. Taxi drivers have grouped together and created political pressure to reduce the bus service. Our travel agent wanted £20 per person for the two way transfer for a total of £120 for all six of us. For a thirty minute transfer, it's outrageous. Through the Internet, I found a company, called Proper Car, that did it for £70 which is still too expensive in my books. Essentially, the airport transfer is a form of tourist tax.

Anyway, we got to the marina by about 10:00 and found our yacht by ourselves since the Yildiz Yachting office was closed. Joining instructions were clear enough. I was very pleased that the yacht was exactly as we were led to believe - a 2005 Sun Odyssey 40.3 named "Serap". I've read of lots of bait 'n' switch yacht charter horror stories and half-expected to get a different yacht. The yacht was immaculant.

After checking out the yacht and unpacking our bags, we went out for a walk to get some water and money from a bank machine. It was very warm - low thirties - and despite it being late, there were plenty of people about. The marina was surrounded by nightclubs pumping out loud music but I didn't find it hard to fall asleep.

Day 2

Flotilla Route

We had our first briefing at 9:30. All together, there were 13 yachts in the flotilla ranging from 32ft to 44ft. Teddy and James were our flottila leaders. Teddy was a quite young and seemed pretty new to the job. He gave us the basic information we needed but he was downright uninspiring as a group leader.

After the briefing, we trucked off to buy provisions for the week: wine, beer, water, melons, yoghurt, cheese, tomatoes, bread, olives, crisps, grapes, nectarines, honey, peppers, etc. The plan was to have simple cold foods for breakfast and lunch since for dinner, we would be mooring near restaurants.

I sorted out some paperwork and then we had a technical briefing of the yacht. Nothing really surprising as we were shown where everything was. It was all clean, tidy and new. The yacht was well equipped: furling genoa, furling main, GPS, autopilot, holding tanks, etc.

With Karen as the official skipper of the day, we soon slipped our mooring lines and headed out. The wind was gusting around force 5 so it was going to be a good sail. We only put up sails to the third reef with the idea of keeping the sailing gentle for Jenny and the kids. This was, after all, their first real experience of sailing.

So why, you may wonder, did R* shout "this is the WoRST HOLIDAY EVER!!" only a few hours later?

Well, it started well as we sailed around Karaada Island but our passage took us on a long run/broad reach across the Bay of Gokova to Kormen. The wind started gusting up to force 7 and the swell got up to two metres in height. The resulting rolling corkscrew motion of the boat soon had R* feeling sick and she threw up into a plastic bag. Minutes later, Jenny violently threw up into the same bag before R* could move away. Not all of contents of Jenny's stomach made it into the bag.

Hence, R* got a bit upset.

I was a bit worried that this was not a good start but was still hopeful that we had six more days to prove that sailing was fun and to get the crew ship shape. Soon K* wasn't feelin well either but he never threw up.


We made it inside the man-made harbour of Kormen and the boat finally stopped rolling making everyone felt much better. There is nothing at Kormen except the little harbour and one fish restaurant. It's really just a place for the ferry from Bodrum to land. R* tried her luck at a bit of fishing and we ate dinner at the pleasant restaurant.

Despite the strong wind whistling through the shrouds and backstays, I found the air stifling in the yacht. It was hard to sleep in the cramped stern cabin.

Day 3

Today was my turn to be skipper. Again, we had our uninspiring briefing at 9:30 followed by a simple breakfast before setting off. With a decent breeze off our stern, we had a good run down the coast heading for Amazon Creek. Jenny and the kids had learned not to go down below into the cabin while sailing and to look out towards the horizon. We had lunch enroute but Jenny quietly lost hers later that afternoon. Oh dear!

We rafted late that afternoon at Amazon Creek with the rest of the flottila. I swam a stern line ashore and then stayed in the water to snorkell. Everyone went swimming except for K* who had to avoid getting his cast wet. R* didn't like the salt water and quickly got out. Later on, she rowed around the flotilla raft in the tender.

Swimming at East Creek

That evening, we used to the tender to get ashore and walk down to the restaurant at the nearby holiday camp. The holiday camp had a pool so R* spent most of the evening splashing about in it.

The night was much cooler and it was easier to sleep.

Day 4

No wind! With Karen as skipper, we motored down the coast looking for a nice place to moor and swim. Amongst Seven Islands (Yedi Adalari), we found a nice sheltered bay at East Creek. Karen saw something large and black jump out of the water but none of us saw it again. We were hoping to encounter some dolphins. A couple of other yachts were also in the bay with the same idea of having a long lazy lunch and swim.

Some Turkish children in a speedboat found us and sold us some expensive ice creams. Very entrepreneurial.

With the afternoon getting on, we motored out of the bay to find that the wind had picked up. We had a great sail to English Harbour (Degirmen Buku) with a force 5 wind off our beam. It's known as English Harbour as some British torpedo boats hid here during WWII. We rounded a point with a statue of a mermaid and prepared to moor on the jetty. Unfortunately, James lost a T-shirt over the side by not holding it before removing the clothes pegs. Oops! It sunk within seconds. Upon mooring we put up a bimini to shade the deck. It helped keep the boat much cooler.

English Harbour

English Harbour is an beautiful location. Pines covered the surrounding hills which snuggled around the bay. A few Turkish gullets were also moored up. The restaurant was good but extremely slow.

Yacht Serap

Day 5

Flotilla Route

I was skipper again. At the briefing we learned that we were to moor up back at East Creek for the evening. However, we could embark on a sailing excursion to Snake and Castle Island before going back to East Creek. After breakfast we set off with a good breeze from the West. Didn't take long to get to the tiny islands. Castle island was only maybe ten acres all together. It has a beach called "Cleopatra" beach which is popular with day tripper. It was supposedly made by Cleopatra on one of her journeys for the benefit of Mark Anthony.

We circumnaviagted the island and decided to moor free swinging just off the south shore well away from the crowds. We had our lunch and afterwards, Karen, James and I swam to the island and had a look about. There was a remarkable amphitheatre and the ruins of a walled settlement. It was all part of the ancient town of Cedrae.

We swam back to the yacht and Jenny joined us in the water. James towed the kids about in the tender since R* didn't want to get in the water and K* couldn't.

We left around 3:30 to get back to East Creek beating upwind in a force 5/6 wind. The sailing was excellent but progress was slow. While adjusting the mainsail, the kicker broke. So much for a new yacht! The lug on the mast had broken. Luckily, we had Karen who pulled out her trusty Leatherman and fixed it onto a spare lug. But by about 5:00 we had to furl the sails and start motoring just to get back in time. We were the last yacht to join the flotilla raft at 7:00. The sun sets at 8pm.

There's no restaurant in East Creek so Jenny had a go at cooking in the galley. Jenny made pasta and tuna, cheese rolls and a watermelon salad. It was excellent but boy did it ever get hot in the cabin!

That night, we lowered the bimini that covered the pushpit and enjoyed a spectacular night sky complete with shooting stars.

Day 6

Serap Push Pit

James was skipper today and the brief was to cross over the Bay to the northern shore and raft up in Cokertme. The wind was between a force 2 and 4 coming out of the West. With no where to stop, we just set the sails for a close haul and headed across.

Passage Across Gokova

There weren't any interesting bays on the other side so by 2:30 we were rafted up in Cokertme in a hefty swell. Jenny didn't look to well but held up. Sleepy from beer and the rocking, we had a lazy afternoon chilling out. It wasn't an attractive place to swim.

Some speedboats ferried us to Kaptain Imbrahims Restaurant that night where they had live music and put on a bit of a show. Very touristy. Luckily the sea calmed down that evening and we had a good sleep.

Day 7

I was the nominal skipper again for the easy sail home. We motored up the coast at Pukuc and moored free swinging in the middle of the bay for lunch. Enroute, I spotted three dolphins that breached the surface just in front of our bow but they didn't stick around. Too bad. I was the only one who saw them.

Jenny And I

We had a our lunch and then about 2pm the wind had picked up and we headed out to do a last bit of sailing before going back to Bodrum. We all took turns trying a man-overboard drill rescuing a buoy under sail only. Jenny and James did well considering it was their very first attempt at the exercise. We were due back in Bodrum by 4pm so is wasn't long before we had to start sailing back. We got up to 6.5 knots and became a bit competitive with a yacht that was sailing close to us. Yeah, I think it would be fun to try yacht racing one day.

In Bodrum Marina, I got some practice with some tight manuevering. We filled up with diesel and moored up for the last time. In one week, we had only used 36 litres of diesel in the 120 miles we had covered.

That evening, everyone on the flotilla met one last time for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Over the week we had all had various chit-chats with others on the flotilla but in generally people kept to themselves. There were several other children but all of them were older than ours except for one German girl who was R*'s age. They never befriended each other.

My one main criticism of the holiday is that the flotilla leaders made no effort to circulate around the group, introduce people or organise anything beyond the evening meal. They could have done a much better job.

Day 8

We were off the boat by 10am and spent most of the day hanging around a pool at a nearby hotel. Jenny, Karen and James did a spot of shopping while I looked after the kids. Later that evening, our 21:30 flight home got canceled so we arrived back in Bodrum around midnight. At least we were put up in a very nice five star hotel.

Day 9

Got a wake-up call at 4:45am and we again went to the airport where we managed to catch a flight home.

Home Again

While the start of the holiday was a bit rough, everyone agreed it was good fun in the end. The flotilla leaders were rubbish but we didn't really need them. What would have been nice is some good sandy beaches for the children to play on and some interesting excursions ashore. More marine life or interesting places to snorkel would really make it great.

So a sailing holiday is a excellent way to spend a vacation. I wouldn't hesitate doing it again although I'd be choosy about the sailing area and itinerary. In fact, I'm already looking into it!

By the way, K* got around the yacht just fine with his leg cast. No problem at all!

Exxon Exxposed

Exxon Mobile is one of the world largest and most profitable companies. There's a couple of websites that expose some of the nasty practices behind them. Download a damming report from ExxposeExxon or explore ExxonSecrets to see the influence Exxon has. According to ExxonSecrets, Exxon Mobile has funded the climate change lobbyists with $12,000,000 since 1998.


Give it a thought when you pull into an Esso station.

Friday 12 August 2005

The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)

The Piano Teacher is a french movie. A very french movie. It's deep, intellectual and metaphorical. Haneke likes to create the most emotionally disturbing  scenes with the absolute minimum of movement and dialogue.

Erika is a repressed, harsh and icy piano teacher teaching at a famous conservatory. She has no friends or lovers, lives with her demanding mother, and finds relief through various sadomachoistic practices. Walter, a gifted student, enters her life and her world of perverse sexuality that rejects seduction.

To understad the film, you definitely have to listen to the DVD commentary afterwards. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're really into disturbing arthouse films. It's certainly not erotica.

Thursday 11 August 2005

BodyBurden: The Pollution in Newborns

I've become increasingly aware of the stunning chemical stew that we all live in and the lack of governance in controlling the release of chemicals into the environment. U.S. industries use 75,000 different chemicals. Our exposure is pervasive from pesticides, food additives, cleaners, bodycare products, furniture, and numerous other ordinary products. It really can be no surprise that health problems are on the rise and that the majority of us will die from degenerative diseases.

Sadly, a recent report by the Environmental Working Group in the US documents that they found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the ubilical cord blood of the 10 new borns that they tested. Of the 287 chemicals detected, 180 were carcinogenic, 217 were toxic to the nervous system and 208 cause abnormal development.

Not a great start to life is it?

Wednesday 10 August 2005

Pesticide residue levels detected in bread

Isn't it annoying when you try to be healthy and find out it's worse for you? The UK Pesticide Residues Committee reports that "wholemeal bread contains more pesticide residues than any other bread type".

The report revealed that pesticide residues were detected in 53 of the 72 ‘ordinary breads’ tested, which included white (37), wholemeal (26) and ‘other’ (9) bread types.

The pesticides detected in the bread tested were chlormequat (a plant growth regulator used on various crops, including cereals), glyphosate (used as a desiccant on cereal crops), malathion (an insecticide) and pirimiphos-methyl (an insecticide used to control pests of stored grain).

One wholemeal sample was found to contain three residues, while 13 other samples (10 wholemeal, 2 white and 1 ‘other’) contained two residues.

The two organic samples tested contained no residues.

Read more about it at and buy organic bread.

No More Leg Cast

K* had his leg cast removed yesterday. We missed our appointment at the clinic due to the flight delay but Jenny waited around with K* at the hospital and they eventually found time to remove it. K* is still hopping about on one leg as he doesn't trust using his healed leg yet. He managed getting around the yacht just brilliantly this last week.

While reading about casts I discovered some people have a fetish for them. Check out Cast Fetish. Whatever floats your boat!

Tuesday 9 August 2005

Avoid Excel Airways

Avoid flying with Excel Airways! This is the airline we flew to get to Bodrum and back.

As I've written before this trip, we had the problem with K*'s broken leg and their unreasonable insistence that we split his cast.

Check-in at Gatwick was quick. However the agent told us that there was no onboard meal. We bought overpriced airport sandwiches to take onboard but it turned out later that there was an onboard meal after all. We were also misdirected to the ServiceAir desk where we were supposed to get assisted tranport for K* to the gate. At least we did eventually get that service after asking a few people.

On the outbound flight to Bodrum, the leg room was abysmal. The most uncomfortable seats ever! For the onboard movie, they tried to sell us headphones but they turned out to be the wrong type so they just played the movie over the regular cabin speakers.

Flying back to Gatwick was terrible. We got to the airport by 19:15 for a 21:30 flight. The checkin desk was stupendously slow but we made it through the line happy to be heading home. We then learned the flight was cancelled! The ground staff did a very poor job of keeping us informed and directing us to where we should be. We waited for ages. We eventually got our bags back and by midnight we were bussed to a five star hotel back in Bodrum.

We were shattered. Hotel was excellent and we were given a meal after waiting all evening. However, we had no idea when we were going to fly home.

Got a call at 4:45am telling us we had 20 minutes to get to the front of the hotel to catch a bus to the the airport. Goaded the kids out of their sleep and scrambled out the door only to wait around for a second bus. Check-in at Bodrum and the flight went smooth after that. Legroom was cramped again but the plane wasn't full so we could spread out. We didn't get the assisted transport for K* so he hobbled all the way to the car park bus.

So I'm not impressed with the service from Excel Airways. Never did find out what caused the delay.