Monday, 10 September 2012

Day 283: Trouble in the Balkans (11/08/2012)

What do you buy for the man who has everything?

More of the same?

And so it was, that after 12 months travelling around the world last year, and another 6 months studiously tax dodging in the UK this year, a trifling 2 months back at the coal face was all it took to provoke a further lurch into the comfortable county of Loafingshire.

To be fair, chartering a handsome pair of 36 foot yachts, each still only partially out of their factory wrapping, was never going to be a chore; and having parted with a significant wedge of cash, made more eye watering by the laughable Balkan exchange rate, the prospect of a week in the famously turquoise waters off Split in Croatia was becoming more tantalising by the day.

The months rolled into weeks and the weeks into days before, finally, eleven of our twelve were standing at the gate at Bristol airport, secretly calculating the chances of getting a window seat and openly congratulating each other on having smuggled yet another container of shampoo through check-in. I don't mean to mock but the line of baggy uniformed octogenarians, standing in for The UK Border Agency shouldn't have been our last and best line of defence.

I say eleven as my brother John was number twelve, already enjoying the fleshpots of Agana Marina outside Split after a Marathon Odyssey across the wastelands of the northern Balkans. Perhaps wastelands is a bit strong as a country can't be all that bad when Domino's not only deliver pizza but also wayward tourists; but more of that later.

Stepping out of the air-conditioned Easy-tube into the familiar hairdryer holiday heat of Trogir Airport in Croatia, the border staff smiled their greetings and stamped our passports before catapulting us into the arms of Ivan, our friendly multi-tasking taxi driver and his VW Bora. Not content with driving us the sixteen kilometers along the winding coast road to the marina at Agana, using only his knees to steer, he succeeded in completing twenty three separate phone conversations in four different languages while he did it. Impressive enough in normal circumstances, you may think; the fact that we covered the distance in something marginally less than the time it took to load the luggage in the back, made it all the more so.

Disgorged into the marina car park, John was waiting. Seats were reserved at the marina bar but the portents were inauspicious. We had heard but failed to heed the warnings of the Adriatic's unpredictable winds. The hazardous Bora that bore us to Agana was but a pale shadow of the namesake that funnels down the escarpments of the Velebit mountain range and into the bay of Split. Only moments later as we tucked into mezze and cold beer, the gentle breeze rose suddenly to a terrible tumult that carried the concrete sun parasols before it, directly onto the poor, unsuspecting head of Caroline. There was blood but definitely no tears.....Simon swears that the wind blew some grit into his eye.

Boat hand over was scheduled for 2pm and it is no surprise that Pitter Charter, the German fools who were prepared to hand over the keys to two brand spanking new yachts, had things in hand bang on the stroke of the hour. It is, of course, a microcosm of the European Union. In Athens last year (28/05/2011) Stubbled Greek Boss Man and his 'wack it til it works' policy finally got us limping out of Kalimaki harbour midst a trailing rainbow slick of diesel. Pitter's Teutonic efficiency, by comparison, ignored the 30 knot winds that had built over lunch and had us ready to depart without a single essential part have been attached either backwards or with gaffer tape.

As novice skippers, we consulted the airs before deciding that there was no point in attempting the 750 metre passage to the island of Vis with barely 9 hours of daylight and a trifling force 8 to propel us. Pocketing the keys, we retreated to the marina bar to for some diligent passage planning for the next day as the yachts bucked and reared at their moorings and the fenders did their best to protect our security deposit from the clashing of hulls.

Looking down, over the winding alleys of Agana old town, from his vantage point atop the 14th century Venetian tower, the grand old Winged Lion of St Mark probably sighed as we poured over over our charts in the half-light of the bar.

And then desperately tried to mop up as the hysterics slowly took hold.

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