Archive | January, 2012

Looking for a boat to look after us

30 Jan

Cathy writes . . . Researching the right boat has felt like unpacking babushka dolls.  At first we had our sights on a 46′ catamaran, something strong, sleek and expansive like a new Leopard made in our very own Cape Town.  Business was booming — these were the heady days of 2006-2008 — and a Leopard was in our grasp.

We took on more staff, including a new MD in preparation for our departure and embarked on an (ongoing) quest to update our delivery through technology.  At first the recession seemed like a hurricane we luckily managed to miss, but slowly, as 2009 moved into 2010, the flood of work, although steady, was not at its earlier levels.  As staff left, we didn’t replace, moving instead to a hybrid employee / associate model.

Not to worry, we said, we’ll buy a 46′ monohull instead.  Still roomy and well-designed (there are some beauties in that class of boat), we shopped on-line for 3 cabin boats (lots of space for guests) and imagined ambitious voyages.

Our business has continued to be blessed with wonderful clients and projects, but as we purposefully moved away to equip the business to thrive without us, we have needed to replace ourselves, although still in the business, with senior, talented people.

Not to worry, we said, there’s still enough for a slightly smaller monohull, perhaps a 37′ Endurance like Teli and Karin’s.  Also a South African designed boat, it it strong and seafriendly (to use the going nautical term), with enough room for the two of us, our growing teenager, dog and cat.

But alas that was also not to be the babushka doll for now.  Maddy at 13 is not the adoring pup she was earlier and is, very eloquently and sensitively, arguing that she needs a peer group and, that while she loves us, we emphatically do not take the place of friends.  As you can see, she is growing up in a psychologically literate household!

Also, we realise that with Europe and the world teetering financially, the fantasy of sailing  the seas without a care needs a little bit of a re-work.  James remarked to a friend last year that he feels like he’s planning his great dream to co-incide with the eve of the Second World War.  Expanding a business in 2012 is not the same as six years earlier and there is emphatically no form of quasi early retirement in sight.  Part of our go away budget was to be the good sale of our weekend cottage.  Suffice to say, the sale was less than we had hoped.

So . . . to scuttle the dream or re-shape? James had a hard night of soul-searching a few months ago (I was mercifully at bible study praying for his soul) and arrived at the inspired idea of buying a much smaller boat (nearly but not quite the smallest of the babushka dolls) and Malta-by-September to co-incide with the new school year for Maddy.

Now we’ve decided, we’ll take 6 months to write and plan our new business in Malta as a variant of our South African business in Europe and, as we do so, we will meander slowly down the  canals in our new dream boat, a 32′ Westerly Pentland or Renown, built in the  70’s and a very snug fit for the two of us, our teenager in her own aft cabin and our whirlwind vizsla puppy.  The stars will be no less alluring, nor the journey into Paris on our own craft any less magnificent!  And indeed, we comfort ourselves, we couldn’t do this journey in a much bigger boat, as our yacht needs to have a shallow draft (not more than 1.5m) to navigate the canals.

Once in the Med, we will raise our mast, hoist our sails and navigate to Malta via Corsica, Sardinia and possibly the west coast of Italy.  It feels now on a bit of a wing and a prayer, but we are resolved and looking forward to the adventure.

As I write this, James and I are discussing how it fascinates us that dreams and visions can adapt without the quality of what they represent getting lost.  We are going not in the form or shape we had imagined, but it feels so comfortable and so right.

Talking to my dear friend Margaret the other day, I realised how despite selling our house at a loss, God has provided exactly what we need – no more and no less — in a way that meets the needs of all three of us.

Happy solution to the Jelly dilemma

30 Jan

Cathy writes . . . Since I last wrote, we have a heartwarming update on the Jelly dilemma.  My wonderful family in Cape Town (my mom, sister and sister-in-law) all offered to take her, but it seemed selfish to foist a demanding, set-in-her-ways Oriental kitty on their settled households, not least because it would have involved flying her to Cape Town and Jelly’s not a graceful traveller.  I phoned Friends of the Cat for advice and the wonderful Adele, an indefatigable cat samaritan, put me in touch with Annette, who has agreed to foster Jelly until we are settled in Malta.

That at least is Plan A — if by February next year, Jelly is happily settled with Annette and it would be cruel to move her, we can always decide to let her remain in Johannesburg.

Notwithstanding regular updates and pictures from Annette, Maddy and I have taken to stalking her when in the area of Annette’s flat.  We gaze longingly at the window and were rewarded the other day with a glimpse!  Jelly has a magnificent view of a park and, being an aesthetic girl, is enjoying the view of Whitehall Court, the most gracious block of flats in Johannesburg.

Although just a little cat, she is one of our household’s beloved beating hearts, a lesson that was all too tragically brought home to us in July 2010 when Shane, our neighbour’s, house burnt down, taking the lives of his wife, two little kids and pets.  As we sat on our trampoline — the three of us, the dogs, Jelly and the hen (having been evacuated because of the risk of the inferno setting our house alight), we felt blessed beyond belief that we were all alive.  It brought home to me the cliche that when all the clutter is taken away, the miracle of life and loving relationships are the only things that really matter.

Thank-you Adele and Annette for your generosity and kindness.  For anyone else with a kitty dilemma, Adele can be reached on 072 144 5914.

In search of an Ark

29 Jan

James thinks…  Noah had a clear vision (thanks God!) he had wood and he had time on his side (950 years), his family was on his side (even though his wife, Naamah(?) was upset about losing the view from the rooftop).

I’ve got a compelling urge for a boat, and I have an enthusiastic family but I have neither the time to build an ark, nor the garden space and even if I chop down the Jacaranda and the Camphor trees, I don’t think I’ll have enough timber left for the mast.  Truth is, we need to buy our ark from someone who makes them from glass and plastic.

A few years ago we were planning to sail away on a catamaran, South Africans are making some of the best catamarans in the world and we thought it would be fitting for us to head off on one of their fine wares.  But then the bankers got greedy and we had to revise our plans.  So we set sights on a 46′ monohull.

And the recession deepened.

Then we looked at smaller and smaller boats until we almost came to the point of abandoning the idea of a ship altogether.  When we tried living with the pain of that reality for a few days though, we were convinced that giving up couldn’t be an option.

And so here we are, about to go shopping for the marine equivalent of a 1978 VW Kombi.  Actually – we used to have one of those – it was gorgeous!

Two nights ago I was with Maddy , Cathy and Ben sitting in the lounge at the dam house, listening to Albinoni’s Adagio, eating tuna steaks and just being gentle.  I remembered the same peacefulness in the Kombi –  going everywhere, steadily and slowly and I think that our Westerly Pentland will bring those moments back.   Maybe we’ll be there again soon!

(Given that Benny has recently found his voice – maybe our ark should be prefixed with a (b)?)

My Shower.

13 Jan

Its Maddy 😀 Hi. Ok, so this morning I went into my parents bedroom to retrieve my wet dog from their bed and dad and mum showed me a picture of what my cabin would be on a specific boat that they were looking at. It was a bed. That’s it! No doors or cupboards or even my own bedroom floor! My mum said we could put a curtain up for privacy, which I guess is a compromise.. sort of?

Anyway, I didn’t very much like that idea, so I proceeded to annoy my mum the entire morning about me living in a shower, which, it pretty much is. Ok so how would u describe a shower? A small room, near/ in water, with either a glass door or a curtain! I sound spoiled and bratty, which I sometimes am, but I really would like to not spend my next 7 months living in a shower with a mattress.

Cathy writes: the Jelly dilemma — should we take the cat?

13 Jan

Having been convinced that we could not go without our beloved cat, Angelica, some  realities are dawning now that the practicalities of the trip are starting to solidify.  She has been my constant companion for the last eight years, particularly when I’ve worked on big projects deep into the night and, with her instinct to join me when I’m sitting and relaxing, thinking or dreaming, she’s a  reassuring and often quirky presence.  Fascinated by cooking, cupboard clearing (this is a special favourite), painting or gardening, I know that wherever in the garden she is hiding, she will quickly join me.  She adores Maddy too and likes to tell both of us her long stories, largely about the antics of the other animals or what she’s seen in the garden.  Half Oriental (her late great brother Aloisius was a purer example), she has a chattiness and balletic stance that are true to her breed.

Having had a year of working extremely long hours ably assisted by my sweet cat, I was looking forward to doing more of our favourite things together on a boat in the Med.  I pictured roasting a chicken with my cat peering over the potted tarragon and enjoying watching her fascination with the dolphins who spent a hour with us on our last voyage.  Compelling reasons to take her, not least of which is that I haven’t read a book in the last few years without her companionship and I plan to read a lot more for pleasure in this next phase.  Plus, she adores vizslas and although irritated by Benny, our new vizsla,  is clearly curious and amused by his goofiness.

But the negatives are starting to intrude:  (i)  James is allergic to her (illustrated by a spectacular sneezing fit this morning) and our boat is not going to be very much bigger than a boardroom table; (ii)  she travels well, but not with grace (she miaaws constantly when transported); (iii)  she’s unlikely to stay on the boat when we spend a day in a French village and is more than likely to be permanently lost in France and finally (iv) I suspect she’s not crazy about sailing and we plan to do a long passage from France to Malta via Sardinia which is likely to have some rough moments.  She would have to wear a kitty life-jacket on board attached to a harness since she is a city girl without sea legs and, if our attempts to get her to walk on a lead in preparation are any indication, it’s not a happy picture.  A further caution is that I believe the French ticks can affect cats too (South African ticks have no effect on cats ).  If the vast sum we spent on Ivy’s three bouts with tick bite fever over her fourteen years are anything to go by, we will need a special budget for emergency fever relief.

Today I put out the word that we are looking for a new home for her.  If we can’t find one, we will have to re-think , but it seems that reluctantly the decision has been made.

Ticket booked!

12 Jan

James writes… I booked my ticket this afternoon for my flight to London in February. The plan is for me to go ahead of the girls and to find a boat, fix her up and sail her to France so that when they join me mid April, all we have to do is cast off and enter the canals.

Travelstart.com is an amazing site for booking flights. with my back in a bit of a mess right now I’d hoped to fly premium economy with Virgin but there is no way I can justify the cost (now that we are once again starting a new business), when getting to the airport little early will probably get me a seat with easily as much leg-room as premium economy, and as for food… aeroplane food  has always struck me as something to pass the time with rather than something to wax lyrical about!

So there it is! The deal is done and the wheels are turning.

Here’s my rundown of airline personalities including my likelihood of flying with them again:

SAA –  adequate, functional, familiar and  generally overpriced –  not a bad option

BA –  the same as SAA  but with a little more warmth –  not bad

Qatar –   revolting service  from an airline with no soul,  our last experience with abusive cabin crew puts paid to them ever seeing our bottoms again

Egypt Air –  I’ve always loved a good deal and Egypt Air is just that. I love getting on the aeroplane and  feeling we’re already  at our destination,  the bounce through Cairo is now a whole lot better since the airport has been upgraded so well –  we’ll definitely be seeing you again. ( last time we flew  Egypt  Air  there were some very spectacular delays and we got to witness a really magnificent screaming match between an Italian woman and an Egypt Air attendant –  Egypt 1 – Italy 0!

Emirates and Etihad –  in my mind these are the same airline,  new aeroplanes,  impersonal but friendly service and generally at really good prices. the stopover in Dubai does nothing for me, but at least I get to say I’ve been there.

Thinking about the road

7 Jan

James writes…  Two days ago we got back from Cape Town and Franschoek (we spent a night there with D & R). The Jaguar is such a beautiful car, and the journey was entirely event free except for the drivers in the other team.

Over the past few years there has been a big change in the quality of driving brain-power. I used to feel quite comforted by the way people who could be quite aggressive in their face to face lives, suddenly became considerate on the roads. Truck drivers especially. Now these same people seem to have joined a club which asks them to leave their brains and consciences at home or at the club house so that they can drive entirely without reck.

The idea of overtaking a truck from six cars behind in the queue is a very special one.  The thought that says “I’ve a better  view and ability to overtake than any of you who are in front of me or are closer to the situation” should be studied as a problem solving device. An important component of this game is that the cars already in the queue are a threat to the random-impulsive overtaker, because once they pull out to overtake, their focus tends to be on the danger of the manoeuvre ahead and they often forget to look behind or to focus on the low-flying idiots attacking their rear.

Random impulsive overtakers have overcome this challenge a little by waiting until no one in the queue seems energised to do anything but sit and wait.  The blind brow of a hill, or an unsighted bend provide great cues for wild rear-powered flybyes.  In fact any  part of the road where there are two white lines painted in the middle provides a useful hint to the seventh car’s alert driver, that overtaking is possible and there is less chance of someone else doing something stupid.

Over Christmas there were 1582 road deaths in South Africa.  Enough said.