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"Free Spirit"

Phil & Robin Mellet Diary

1 AUGUST, 2008

Woe is me . . . now nearly three weeks later. I really should just send what is completed, then do a continuation when I get back to it. But somehow that does not seem to happen. We have had back-to-back guests for three weeks, then three days in Athens. "Frisky" conditions like yesterday do not encourage working on the laptop either. All of which means emailing gets pretty much neglected.
We are now on our way for a small sojourn in Cephalonia, a favourite haunt from our last time here, and where Andrew worked as a charter boat skipper three seasons ago. Thence on to Sicily. We are ready for a change from Greek food, and are already salivating at the thought of caponata (a Sicilian specialty something like ratatouille), or cozze (mussels), or spaghetti con vongole, or . . . . Yum!
The weeks were spent in the Greek Aegean islands, with destinations as diverse as Santorini, frantic with upmarket shops and the massive crowds brought by cruise ships but with the most spectacular vistas you can imagine, to tiny Sikinos where we could not fit in the harbour but had to anchor outside and where we were not sure we would find anywhere to eat ashore but in fact found the best pizzas any of us could ever remember eating. We enjoyed having Ian and Chris Mellett aboard who extended their stay so that they could catch up with Andrew and his girlfriend Hayley, and Phil's flatmate from his NYC days Mike, and wife Bobbi. Hayley has never been on a yacht before, but we found that she is a natural - driving the dinghy, learning half hitches to tie fenders to safety lines, and successfully tossing ropes for mooring to helpers on the quay. She even got the hang of "Oh Shit" one night. They had a restorative week as they both have busy work schedules which involve lots of travel, so sleeping, sunning, swimming, reading, chatting and of course eating and drinking, were the order of the day. Their final destination was Hydra, a particular favourite of ours. We were concerned that we might not make it there for them to catch a ferry to the mainland and thence home to London as we had a couple of days of strong Meltemi winds which can blow for 4-5 days at a time in quite the wrong direction for our trip. Thankfully, an early start before the wind reaches its peak saw us arrived a day prior to their departure so they also had time to enjoy it. We think we like it even better than on our previous visit. It is island without traffic so everything, groceries for the supermarkets, palettes of bottled water, building materials, hotel guests' luggage, absolutely everything, is moved about by donkey or handcart. Picture that! Add the attraction of the Venetian buildings crowded up the steep hills and the tiny medieval harbour into which with great ingenuity, and sometimes a lot of shouting, they manage to fit three times the number of boats which you could decently expect to accommodate, and you will understand its appeal despite the horde of holiday makers. Athens was great, my first time there and Phil's first for 30+ years. We have done a huge amount of sight-seeing this year so were a bit lazy and "sampled" rather than were assiduous tourists, though in fact I suppose we saw most of the A list. We did have a personal guide for a tour of the Acropolis, early morning as by now it is very hot in the direct sun in the middle of the day, and we walked miles around Athens enjoying the sites and the sights.
For now, we off to our next adventure.
We wish you fair winds and smooth sailing, whether on sea or land. P&R

11 JULY, 2008

We are on the party island of Mykonos, arriving here after days of fabulous sailing in the eastern Aegean Greek islands. The anchorage is on the SE corner of the island about 4 km from the sophisticated town centre with its lively evening activity, the most fabulous collection of jewellery shops you will ever come across, upmarket clothing labels, plus the usual tourist tack. We are also about 15 min by dinghy from Paradise Beach.
Don't know Paradise Beach? Well, you should, and your kids certainly will know of it if they have not actually been there. It is an absolute hoot. Like most European beaches it has neat row upon row of beach lounges which you hire for the day. Some under umbrellas, many not. (One of the observances we find hard to adjust to is the European habit of baking in the sun, often in the very next to nothing: we have seen more tanned peckers in the last few days than in my entire previous nearly 60 years.) We visited Paradise when here 5 years ago, and were delighted to find the DJ who has so intrigued us then still there. He is Italian, mid to late 30's, has great charism, shaved of head, and is very tanned all over (ask me how I know!) We were about double the age of the other attendees, but it was still great fun. The booming music was not what I would normally relish but was an essential part of the buzz. Guys are playing soccer whilst bopping to the music, poised on the rim of a pool so that there was the added adrenaline rush of possibly overbalancing into the water. A gal dances with gusto on a pedestal at shoulder height, a mixed group are dancing on another large platform irrespective of whether partnered or not. Huge clear plastic ice buckets of what looked like mojaitos, decorated with masses of colourful straws, are being delivered to tables. There are ice buckets containing a bottle of vodka, rum or whatever , accompanied by colourful UHT packets of assorted juices. And then there is the garb. Bikinis, bikini bottoms without tops, silky sarongs over bikinis, buffed male torsos with sarongs, with European male bathing suits . . . you name it, if it was scanty it was there. After all, this is the beach, it is after 5, and it is THE European party isle. We had departed from Turkey after five fun-filled weeks, enjoying the good-humoured, cheery Turks, pristine anchorages, first class marinas (almost all with wifi, very upmarket!) and lovely weather. The swimming has been wonderful, and though we had a few days which were unseasonably hot, it was mostly whilst we were in a first class marina and could run the air con. We had a great mix of being at anchor with the occasional splurge on a marina (ex-pen-sive!). We enjoyed the wonderfully fresh produce, both at our own table and in the many small tavernas. We even found some local wines to please our discerning palates. We had fun with a week with four guests (Butlers and Knights) aboard, enjoyed catching up with fellow Buizen owner Brad Burke who has had his Foxy Lady in the Med for the past seven years, and again caught up with David and Sheryle Turnbull, Melbourne friends with whom we have been playing "leap frog" since leaving Thailand. A sensational time.
We have been amazed at the increased sophistication of Turkey in the five years since we were last here. We may not be all that thrilled about it, selfishly, but that's life. There are more, and better marinas, more, and more sophisticated restaurants in the small bays. There are also many more gulets and charter yachts. And everything is more expensive, though that is still really only equivalent to Melbourne prices, but it is no longer a
cheap, cheap holiday. Turkish friends from 2003 with whom we reconnected
tell us tourism is down; there are considerably fewer Australian, indeed western European, tourists though somewhat replaced by eastern Europeans (ie ex-Communicst bloc). I get the distinct impression that they are not well liked. The fresh produce is still sensational, the food fresh and well-prepared though there is not a lot of variation on the themes. Still, the grilled fish was always fabulous and extraordinarily well-cooked, and was one thing which we thought was cheap. Phil has set himself the challenge of learning to equally-well grill whole fish on the BBQ, so be prepared for some sensational fish from the Clovelly bbq this summer. I will try to find some fitting accompaniments.
He also indulged in one of his favourite pasttimes - rug-buying. We spent several afternoons in Marmaris surveying the rug scene. Without kids to dampen his enthusiasm, just me trailing behind passing comment on colour and design he managed to come away with three large rugs, currently stored under a bed. How we get them home (the smallest they estimate at 23kg) is still moot. As is just where they will live, but the long term intent is probably in the rebuilt Clovelly. I have my eye on the family room at Brighton in
the mean time.

18 JUNE, 2008

Salaam al Haykum (that's G'day to you Aussies) We are in sunny Sudan, moving gradually up the Red Sea.
We have safely negotiated "Pirate Alley", departing from Salalah on the coast of Oman in a convoy of 4 boats. Four days later we popped through Bab El Mandeb the poetically named Gates of Sorrow entrance to the Red Sea, and with nought more alarming than a dhow suspiciously dropping its sails then hanging around ahead of us, but which unsurprising eventually disappeared toward land. Watching CNN later in the week we discovered that at about this time a French superyacht had been seized off the Somali coast and held to ransom. We were all certainly keyed up and alert for any unexplained incursions, but knowledge of this would have made sleep much more difficult.
It is only seven weeks since we departed Melbourne, and it seems a lifetime ago. There have been 8 countries, three passages (denotes being at sea day and night, with one of us always on watch) each about one week which is quite gruelling with only two of us, and a myriad of amazing experiences . . .

We slipped the boat and had her antifouled and polished (not sure why we bothered with the latter we have been in so many filthy harbours) in Phuket. Our voyage to Galle in Sri Lanka was predominantly motor-sailing in very hot conditions. We rigged a hose in the cockpit so that several times a day we could spray ourselves down. We also managed one swim in the un-depthed ocean. Our land trip of Sri Lanka was as sensational as last time. Maybe even more fantastic, A major part of this was the outstanding guide/driver supplied by the travel agent Phil Butler had used to do our previous trip. Highlights were climbing the rock of Sigirya (like Uluru, rock is a misnomer in that this is sheer and 2000m high) which was a palace of a fifth century civilisation, the night at the Kandelama Hotel, a jewel designed by renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, and the elephant orphanage where we spent almost half a day watching the washing of the pachyderms big and small in the river, and helping bottle feed the babies. We also dined at the Aman resort in Galle which immediately transported us into the nineteen century world of tea planters. The economy of the country seemed to us to have stalled in the five years since our last visit, and tourism has certainly taken a nose dive. But again our enduring picture will be of this as "The Land of Smiles".

Maldives was a short passage, three nights and two days. We anchored off a small island in the northern-most atoll, a designated Customs and Immigration clearance "port". We had thought it would be a backwater with attendant lack of professionalism, but the officials, all young men, were beautifully uniformed, spoke good English and were exceedingly courteous. The village was immaculately neat though quite poor. It turned into very quick stopover as we had a good weather window to head toward Oman. Phil's interpretation of the weather information was impeccable, as the boats which stayed behind had a couple of days riding a bucking bronco in the anchorage, whereas we had the best five day sail to windward we can remember. As on our previous trip, as we approached the coast the wind was negligible and we motored the final couple of days. An amazing coastline, arid and mountainous, greets you.

Some of you will know that this time round our intention had been to head to Yemen rather than Oman so that we had at least one new destination on our year's sailing itinerary. However we discovered after we departed from Phuket that this would not suit the Macaws who had committed to meet their Danish-based son and grand daughter in Dubai, so we changed plans and headed to Salalah. This was just a refuelling stop, a fly-to-Dubai stop for the Macaws, and as we had last time examined in great detail of every entry in the Lonely Planet within a fifty mile radius of Salalah, Phil managed to arrange for us to get to Sana'a, the capital of Yemen.

Three flights and a day of travel each way, but hey! we got there. It has to be seen to be believed. The architecture is amazing - five, six, seven storey buildings decorated with heavy lines of whitewash much like gingerbread houses; the countryside arresting - talk about the lunar landscape we witnessed on several day drives we did out of the city; and as for old Sana'a - we kept expecting to see the Three Wise Men riding their camels toward us. Aside from the occasional man dressed in western clothes and the occasional car we had stepped back into Biblical times in this city which claims to have been founded by Noah's son, and has been continuously inhabited for xmxm centuries. All the men walk around carrying large curved daggers jammed into the front of highly decorative belts and wear western-style suit jackets over their long dishdashes (long kaftan-like robe) but with the tailor's labels proudly displayed on the outside of the sleeve. We were greeted by all, whether they spoke English or not, with Welcome Yemen, accompanied by a huge smile or a dignified nod of the head. Well worth the time and effort to get there. Timing again flawless - the week after we departed there was a rocket attack in the ex-pat area of the city and we believe from BBC Radio that the UN is withdrawing its staff.

On our return to Salalah we managed to hook up with another couple of boats which would travel at roughly the same speed as us, and with crew we felt would react sensibly to any unwanted Intrusions (ie possible pirates) - no guns, no bravado, no hysterics. This combo worked really well and we had nothing more eventful than the above-mentioned dhow, quite a lot of commercial vessels which we later remarked seemed universally to be moving at a clipping speed, and the occasional request from one of our convoy to give them more sea space.

We have enjoyed brief sorties into the port of Massawa in Eritrea, and by road its capital Asmara, treating ourselves with an overnight at the Intercontinental. Eritrea is even poorer than when we visited 5 years ago. There used to be a couple of passable restaurants in old Massawa which shows the gracious heritage of its Ottoman ancestry - it has fine bones but you have to look past the fatally dilapidated state of everything - but they are no longer. You can tell a place is poor when the "hole in the wall" groceries sell cigarettes singly, and washing powder in a newspaper cone similarly sized to those for scoops of ice cream. And bread is rationed. I was given some rolls by one of these small shopkeepers when I was passing over to him old child-sized t shirts to be given to poor families, but another yacht had no luck when they tried to buy three rolls they spotted. The people however, are still smiling, dignified and courteous.

Suakin, the port town we visited in Sudan, on the other hand is in a more prosperous state than on our last visit. Can it be a town, the third largest in Sudan I think, when it does not have a made road, and the major means of transport is donkey and cart, the cart having homemade axles and most of the wheels at precarious angles? The visit to the market is something that you would make you go wow if you saw it on a documentary. The attire, the bustle, the unmade roads! We were able to buy diesel there as we want to keep our tanks topped up in case of windless conditions to complete our Red Sea passage. We have spent the last couple of nights at anchor shared only with a couple of fishermen. The landscape in the background is very bleak and forbidding, just what one expects the desert to look like.

So, we will be back in civilization within the next ten days, when we hit Hurghada in Egypt. The allure of travel up the Red Sea was one of the factors which lead us to build the new boat and replicate our previous journey. We have devoted a lot of time and effort to that endeavour, and have been very pleased that we did. I cannot find words to express how special and remarkable a time it has been. How unique the opportunity, how amazing the people with their simple lives and wonderful dignity. For us the path less well trodden, but still with the comforts of home, holds huge attraction.

Ma'as Salama, dear friends.
Robin and Philip aboard the very good ship Free Spirit

Now in the Suez Canal (early May)
I had intended sending this out when written but sailmail, our wonderful email system using the SSB marine radio, had already given us a couple of warnings of over usage, like kaput if you keep doing it. This was not because everyone but you were getting long and detailed emails, but that the reception in the south end of the Red Sea is abysmal, weather tricky, so weather predictions were imperative but slow to download. So it has waited. And I must admit that having reached the fleshpots, I did not get back to it with alacrity.
And since … our travels up the Red Sea were still wonderful, each night getting a little cooler than the night before. It was with much sadness that that the receipt of a benign weather prediction ensured the decision to do two nights at sea and forego some more leisurely day sailing between coral reef and marsa anchorages. The new marina in Hurghada was conveniently located downtown, we managed despite being Coptic Christian Easter to find accommodation at our preferred hotel in Cairo which was fab, and amazingly despite lots of hurdles and three hours standing in the midday sunshine in a Cairo street outside the Russian embassy, we have got visas to Russia, so unexpectedly Phil is actually going to be able to deliver on his promised birthday present - a trip between Moscow and St Petersburg on one of Geoff McGeary's canal boats. So we will be adding a few more countries to our tally for the year.
So keep well all. I am not wishing my life away when I say this, but we will look forward to seeing you all in the flesh when we return early in October. I will try to make the next update sooner, and shorter.


We are pleased to report that FreeSpirit is fantastic.
We are now just south of Penang heading for Thailand and we have travelled 8300 nautical miles since the boat was launched.( 13 months)
Unlike the trip to Thailand in 2002, we have had excellent sailing weather and on many legs we have averaged around 8 knots. Free Spirit is a knot faster under sail than Impulsive ( B12 with inboom furling) so we are absolutely delighted with the performance of the Selden in mast system. As most of our sailing is down wind, being able to furl the main without going head to wind is a huge plus.
While I was a little concerned that this trip would lack the special thrills of our last trip through Asia,infact we have enjoyed the trip more. Our stops on Sumba ,Bali the Gillie islands and the orangutangs of Borneo we even better than last time.
We are really enjoying many of the improvements incorporated in to the new FreeSpiirt. the dishwasher, forward locker for the spinnaker and the office layout.
Touch wood we have had no further autopilot or steering problems and the new larger ram has made hand steering much much better.
We are travelling with Impulsive and our joint arrival really turns heads at the marina's we stop at . People come and comment on the great looking boat and ask where they are built ETC.
Eddy I hope your Golf has not been washed out by all of the rain and Tony and Steve ...may the orders continue to flow.

20 JUNE, 2007

As Free Spirit nears the very northern tip of Australia I am delighted to report she is a magnificent yacht. Bar one autopilot computer all systems are operating perfectly and gee is she fast.
As I write this email, Robin is putting a loaf in the bread maker and we are sailing at 8 knots in a 15 knot aft of the beam wind with a poled out headsail. The 51 foot Beneteau we have been cruising with is slowly slipping behind. We are also sailing with China Grove and have found FS11 is 1-1.5 knots faster than her on all points of sail.
The extra insulation and vibration coupling have made the engine smoother and quieter than FS1 and at 2200 rev's we power along at just under 8 knots
We have now travelled 4700 Nm in the last 10 months. The steering is working well and the larger rams make it a dream to hand steer in lively conditions.
Last night we anchored off Portland Roads which is the northernmost settlement on the east coast of Australia. On Friday we will celebrate the rounding of Cape York with Champagne on the very northern tip of Australia.
I hope the golf is going well and thank you for your assistance with getting FS sorted out

61 2 9450 2170
57 Myoora Road Terrey Hills NSW 2084 Australia
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