Sunday, September 7, 2014

Captain Karl

May I proudly introduce Captain Karl! 

Since returning from our amazing Medsailors trip to Greece (which you can read about here) Karl has been working tirelessly to become a qualified skipper so that he can charter a boat and take us all sailing in Croatia next year. 

When Karl puts his mind to something there is absolutely no stopping him and last weekend he completed the course with North West Power and Sail and is now officially a Day Skipper. Congratulations Captain!

The course started with the off-shore, classroom-based theory with Cheshire Training & Leisure where Karl learned all about basic seamanship, navigation, tides, buoys, safety and suchlike. There were five full days of tuition combined with quite a few evenings and weekends of hardcore studying! Being the committed student he is Karl even studied in between making pizzas:

And drinking a few beers to help him along the way:

After passing the theory tests the next step was to spend 5 full days sailing around Anglesey in North Wales practicing being a skipper and experiencing being in charge of the yacht. 

The first morning was spent navigating the locks in Port Denorwic before sailing through The Swellies in the afternoon. The Swellies are apparently notoriously complicated to navigate and you have to make sure you sail through at the right times because the drag from the tidal stream around the Menai Bridge is so powerful, once you commit there's no turning back! 

For the next four days Karl and the rest of the crew continued their quest to become qualified day skippers and learned about a multitude of seafaring responsibilities including: the 'rules of the road'; handling emergency situations (man over-board!); yacht handling under power and sail and night cruising to name but a few. Here they all are on board the yacht preparing to set sail:

As you can probably imagine a crucial part of becoming a day skipper is learning to be confident with sea navigation and how to read the GPS accurately, after all, none of us ever want to end up lost at sea! Below you can see the boat is positioned to the west of Holyhead next to Holy Island; apparently this is where most accidents around Anglesey occur due to the strong tidal currents so learning to effectively navigate through these tides is an absolute must. 

This was the crew looking west towards the Menai Suspension Bridge:

Even though the course itself involved long hours and a lot of hard work there was still definitely time to relax and enjoy a few beers! Here is Karl docked up in Caernarfon in his 'awesome' sailing attire... 

Even though it was a 'Day Skipper' course, night-sailing is a fundamental skill for any skipper as you need to be prepared for any eventuality, so this was naturally the next part of the course. The art of successful night-sailing is in the skipper's ability to navigate using the buoys. It was a little difficult for Karl to get any snaps of the night-sailing so here is the boat docked up in Holyhead Marina the morning after the night-sail. 


The next day the voyage continued past Puffin Island and the crew entered the Menai Straits from the East. Puffin Island is famous for its huge colony of Great Cormorants as well as lots of other birds. It's name comes from the fact that many years ago over 2000 puffins used to inhabit the island until sadly the brown rat was accidentally introduced to the island and now the puffins are few and far between (a little geeky North Wales fact for you)! 

The afternoon was spent sailing around Bangor and enjoying the spectacular views; Cilla Black and Patrick Moore are known to have flats overlooking the water (see picture below)! 


Frank (the course director) only knows two people (including himself) who would navigate the Swellies at low water and this is exactly what the crew did as they sailed back down the Menai Straits homeward-bound. 

They were incredibly lucky with the weather and you can see how still the water was in the morning. I remember from sailing in Greece that there really is nothing quite like waking up in the morning on a yacht, looking out to sea, the still water and drinking a nice hot brew, heaven! Karl is someone who very fortunately has a fairly strong constitution and does not tend to suffer from sea-sickness (unlike me...) and although it did hit him for a couple of hours on one of the days, on the whole he was sea-sickness free. 

Karl and Pete both successfully completed the course and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed it. Intense, fun, new friendships, stunning scenery are all words that sum up Karl's 5 days away on the course. He seems to have made a good sailing buddy in Pete and they are hoping to plan a short sailing trip to either North Wales or Largs later this year to get more practice in. Below is their survivors photo! 

With a lot more to learn, some hardcore practice needed and a trip to Croatia to plan I think it's safe to say that Karl has found a hobby for life. He's feeling extremely excited about next years trip and can't wait to take us all away. 

A'hoy there maties, bring on next year! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sail Away With Me

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Paradise. The only word to describe the beautiful islands we visited on our Medsailors trip to Greece. Stunning, deep-blue water, rugged coast lines, island adventures, secluded bays, good friends and lots of fun. A week of absolute delights! Can you tell I enjoyed it?!

Our journey started when we set sail from Athens and crossed the idyllic eastern shores of Aegina to the small fishing village of Perdika. This was where we spent our first night on the yacht after enjoying a beautifully traditional Greek supper in one of the local tavernas: Greek Salad, olives, potatoes, lamb, fish, calamari, the list goes on! Naturally the evening involved plenty of wine and other such beverages, there's nothing quite like an ice cold glass of wine on the first night of your holiday.

Ermioni was the next stop on our voyage, a small fishing port with beautifully traditional architecture absolutely oozing with character and charm. We enjoyed a stunning meal overlooking the harbour before exploring the local nightlife. The bars were literally a few feet away from our yacht which made stumbling back in the early hours not too bad at all (if you don't mind walking the plank onto the yacht when you are half cut!) 

We couldn't believe our luck when we were joined by a pod of dolphins as we made our way to Spetses on the third day. They swam next to the yacht and were so close we could almost touch them. 

Spetses was definitely one of my favourite islands and we spent the day exploring on motorbikes and relaxing in the most gorgeously secluded little beach bar. I won't lie...I could get used to island life! The night ended in a rather raucous way involving skinny-dipping and shooting stars...

The next stop was without a doubt my favourite of the whole trip: the island of Hydra. En route we all decided to don our pirate costumes and run riot around the yacht, walking the plank, hoisting the sails and tacking (a sailing manoeuvre where you switch between the starboard and port tack...see?! I did learn how to sail!). 

Wheeled vehicles are banned from this island and donkeys and water taxis are the main forms of transport making this island incredibly special and atmospheric. As we sailed into the harbour I tried my best to capture just how beautiful it is, this is one my favourite photos from the holiday:

After docking up and partaking in some cliff-jumping (!) Karl and I left the group sunbathing and snorkelling in the stunning bay and went scuba-diving for the afternoon. I had high hopes for the dive given the dolphins we had seen the day before, but unfortunately the area we went to was massively over-fished and we saw little more than a few teeny tiny fish and a crab (definitely a stark contrast to the Red Sea when we went there last year). Despite the lack of fish it was still great fun and always good to get a dive in whenever you can.

In the evening we enjoyed some frozen cocktails and then went to a restaurant famed for it's views of the spectacular sunset, known to be one of the best in the world. I have to agree, it was definitely one of the best I've seen.

Feeling a little worse for wear the next morning we made our way to the tiny Greek island of Poros, famous for its water-sports and lemon trees. Some of the group headed off to enjoy the ringos and I spent the afternoon sleeping on the beach, there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon mid-week.

We went to a lovely taverna in the harbour for dinner later on that evening before heading out into Poros for some cocktails. We were actually lucky enough to be invited onto a huge catamaran by a Ukrainian businessman where we had a fabulous time posing for pictures pretending to be one of the rich and famous!

On our final night we moored up in Agistri where we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, messing around on the paddle board and polishing off a few beverages on the yacht. Medsailors organised a toga night for us which of course, we all naturally got fully involved with. The evening was spent eating more traditional Greek food and joining in with some traditional Greek dancing.

The next morning we set sail back to Athens and endured a rather rocky voyage back to the capital which would have turned the strongest of stomachs (especially if you are hungover and fall asleep below deck!) 

It was a fantastic trip and excellent introduction to the world of sailing, and another thing I can tick off my list of things to do before I'm 30! Andy, our skipper, was brilliant and taught us all how to hoist the sails, drop the anchor and steer the yacht; we even took part in sailing regatta against the other Medsailors yachts. Karl absolutely fell in love with the sailing world and is actually completing his day skipper course as I type this!

We will be looking to book a sailing trip to Croatia next summer with Captain Karl at the helm, who's in?!!!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

London Marathon 2014

Well who would have ever believed it?! I ran the marathon! WOO HOO! I RAN THE MARATHON!!! 

Scared face on race day!

26.2 full-on miles of blood, sweat and tears combined with a catalogue of amusing and surreal moments. These included: being hosed down by Firemen; being blessed by a Priest; running alongside a herd of 'Rhino'; being over taken by Big Bird at Mile 17 and sobbing my heart out for the final two mile stretch along London's wonderful Embankment and crossing the finish line at Buckingham Palace.

Even though I didn't run the whole way (I jogged/ walked the second perhaps completing the marathon is a more apt expression for my achievement rather than running the marathon... but who cares? I finished!) I am proud of myself for each and every mile I managed to soldier on for and also incredibly thankful for the experience. I never expected the marathon to have such an impact on me as I was, in truth, dreading it. My training didn't go to plan, I had injured my knee and the thought of letting down everyone who had  so generously sponsored me filled me with absolute dread! 

That being said, it was one of the most inspiring and humbling things I have ever done. From the very beginning at the start line the crowd were immensely supportive, they cheered my name and made me feel like a hero the entire way round. The thousands of people running for so many worthy and important causes moved me beyond belief as did the personal stories of heartache from those who were running in memory of a lost loved one. Signs from the crowd with words of encouragement and inspiration, things like, "I don't know you but I am so proud of you" makes you realise that what you are doing is important and that by keeping going you are making a difference. 

Highlights of the 26.2 miles included seeing my family at Mile 14 and Mile gave me the boost I needed to keep going, especially at Mile 21 when everyone is shouting 'only 5 more miles to go!' and you die a little bit inside because you think you aren't going to make it! A smile and hug from a loved one is all you need to keep those legs working (you can actually see the moment I met my Mum and sister at Mile 14 in our video montage)! Seeing the Help the Hospices team dotted round the course was incredible too, Karl and I raised £4000 for them and their support before and on the day was amazing. Whenever they spotted a runner in a Help The Hospices running vest they went crazy cheering for us! Honestly... if you want to experience what it's like being a celebrity just run the marathon! Afterwards on the way home I was being fist-bumped by buskers, praised by groups of teenagers as they admired my medal and high-fived by complete strangers! 

Karl absolutely smashed it and ran the marathon in 3 hrs and 52mins...I'm so proud of him and he even made it onto the TV: 

The build up to the marathon (our training and fundraising efforts) is all documented in a blog I wrote called Vicky and Karl's Mighty Marathon so have a read!

Also, here is a video with some footage from the actual run that I sent round to try and raise some more money. If any of you are thinking of giving it a shot definitely watch the video and remember, you can do anything you put your mind to (and if I can do it then anyone can!) I'm so pleased to be able to tick this one off my list before I hit the big 3-0, and who knows... I'm not ruling out running it again one day! We'll see...

Thank you again to everyone who supported us, you are all amazing. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Life is better on the slopes

How is it August already?! This year has flown by already and I am yet to start documenting my progress with the list! Lots has happened this year so far so without further ado I am pleased to say that I have already ticked off a few things.

I can now proudly say that I am Snowboarder. I took up lessons at The Chill Factor in January completing the beginners course, level 3 course and then the improvers course. It was so much fun and I now realise the benefits of having lessons. My technique is so much better than when I am skiing and it feels so much more comfortable (and I feel more confident) on a board that on skis. 

In March I went snowboarding for a week in Meribel and after having a bit of a wobbly first day (involving a lot of drama and Karl having to take off his board and hold my hand for 3 miles down a mountain!) I spent the week perfecting the art of snowboarding across the Three Valleys. Whilst I am far from perfect it's amazing how much you progress in just a week and I absolutely loved it. 

Here is some photographic evidence of me snowboarding: 

And excitingly here is a video of me snowboarding to prove I'm not just posing on the snowboard! This was on the second day on the slopes, so I'm still a bit wobbly but managed to make it down in one piece!

Looking forward to my next snowboarding trip already!