Ilkley Moor is not the Himalayas

14:58 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Exploring India and travelling up into the Himalayas is quite far out of my comfort zone. I have had to buy all sorts of new gear, like walking boots, backpack and a collection of medicines that would quell even the worst hypochondriac.

I've been reading guide books from the library which have been filling my imagination with all the great sites I'm going to see. I've also been reading lots of travelling forums online, which isn't such a good idea. If I'm to believe the forums, I'm going to spend the majority of my Indian holiday hugging the nearest toilet whilst my pathetic western bowels get an awakening from the Indian water. Although it wont be a toilet, just a hole in the ground.

In order to distract myself from reading about other peoples misadventures, I decided to brake in my new walking boots with a little walk over Ilkley Moor. I'd like to think I am reasonably fit, I run quite a lot. My usual run follows the river Aire and there isn't much in the way of elevation. After about 15 minutes walking uphill on the moors I was blowing like an OAP. Ilkley Moor is not by any stretch of the imagination, a mountain range. I dragged myself across the moor and decided I really need to prepare a little more for my trip, at the very least I need to walk up a few more hills.

In between swatting away dragon flies I managed to take a few photographs of the moor. It's actually really nice.

Nice bit of Victorian Graffiti


Getting an Indian Visa

14:24 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

I had spoke to several people and read a few forums and the process of getting a visa for India seemed unduly tricky. After careful consultation of all the advice, I decided it would be best to hand in my completed application by hand. I really don't trust the Royal Mail.

The closest application centre to me is in Levenshulme in Manchester. If you don't know Levenshulme don't fret, you're not missing much. I stepped off the train to find litter blowing in the streets, an unusually hot sun and shops which only sold fruit, vegetables and mobile phones. I felt like the acclimatisation to India had begun already.

I walked up Stockport Road to try and find the visa offices. Behind a patch of derelict land, in the Jain Community Centre, I found the place. I had arrived early because I was expecting queues, but I was the only person waiting. After a while alone in the waiting room, a man walked in carrying a desk. He plonked it in the middle of the room, sat down and straightened up his handwritten sign which read "Security Only".

Oh. Dear.

Just as my subconscious was questioning if I was in the right place, the 'security guard' called me over to check my forms. He spoke in an alarmingly Mancunian accent. As he leafed through my application he casually pointed out that I had filled in the very first box wrong. I'd selected the wrong consular office and needed the correct version of the form.

Oh. sh**.

A word of advice - If you are submitting a visa application to Manchester VFS, you need the Birmingham forms, not the London ones. Makes sense now doesn't it?

In a rare bout of foresight, I had taken the whole day off work to deal with any problems that might arise. I walked back up Stockport Road, trying to find somewhere with internet access and a printer. Amazingly, Levenshulme is so dated I was able to find a whole internet cafe.

Behind the counter I found a small Indian guy with a 20 inch waist listening to the Qur'an. More acclimatisation. I sat down at computer number six and started my application again. Ten minutes later I had finished. As I printed out the new forms I noticed the internet cafe even sold the specific 2x2 inch photos for the Indian visa. The whole place must be kept in business by idiots like me who forget some vital element of their visa application.

Back at the Jain Community Centre, the security guard let me go straight into the main office and process my visa. Everyone was well informed, helpful and friendly. That wasn't expected. Obviously I wont be needing my baksheesh just yet.

So far my Indian adventure has cost me £63.04 (visa documents, train ticket, internet cafe) and has taken me as far as the exotic town of Levenshulme. Back on the train towards familiar and cloudy Leeds, an uncomfortable question poked me in the back. I had just handed over money and my passport to a random guy in a community centre in Manchester - have I just been ripped off?



14:09 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

I must have been tired because I slept like a log (where does that phrase come from? I can't even imagine). The final day's sailing would be a short trip from Portsmouth, back to the marina on Hayling Island. Ben took charge of the yacht and navigated us out of Portsmouth Marina and into the English Channel. I'm impressed with anyone who can manoeuvre these boats in an out of marinas – if you think parking a car is difficult you should try it in a boat where you don't even have brakes.
The weather had really picked up and the wind was blowing just below gale force. The sea was swollen and the boat was constantly climbing and falling through waves. I was glad I hadn't eaten a big breakfast because I was feeling a little bit queasy.
The benefit of the weather mean that you can sail hard. The boat heeled into the water and occasionally a big wave would hit and spray you. I had managed to get my eye in by now and I enjoyed taking over the rudder. Occasionally you would hear a 'boom' as the boat ripped through the waves.

Going for a pee in this situation was a challenge. Once you climb beneath the deck and lose sight of the horizon, you become very aware of how much the boat is rocking. Especially with books flying off the shelves. I staggered across the rocking floor towards the toilet. Thankfully, I've had lots of experience of staggering across wobbly floors. I opened the toilet door and had to virtually climb into the toilet cabin. I pressed my feet against the walls for a bit of stability and prayed that a big wave wouldn't hit the boat. I managed to climb back up on deck as dry as I'd started, proud of the challenge that I'd overcome.

We arrived back into the harbour of Hayling Island and it was buzzing with life. Sailors out in individual boats, organised races and larger boats like our own all jostled for position on the water. It was nice to see everyone out on the water – although apparently today was quite quiet. There is normally a queue to get into the harbour.
Back on dry land, we packed up the boat and tidied everything away. My land legs were a bit slow to return and I was now wobbling on land. I was hoping this wasn't permanent. In the car on the way home I had time to reflect on the weekend, and I'd really like to go sailing again. It's very easy to picture yourself in middle age, sailing around the Mediterranean and enjoying the sun. We can all dream.


Sails versus sea current

20:51 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

We safely navigated the river's mouth into the open water of the Solent. During our sail into the river on the previous day, we had misjudged the depth of the water and the draft of the boat and the keel had momentarily hit the ground. The changes in tide levels is very pronounced and totally dictates when and how to sail. The ideal time to sail into the sea is when the tide goes out (ie deep but moving away from the land).

We were aiming to sail north east and reach Portsmouth by the evening. The wind had significantly picked up and was coming from directly where we were sailing too. In order to utilise the wind, we had to 'tack' - sail in a zig zag path towards the wind. Tacking is really exciting. One side of the boat heels into the water and the other side is lifted into the air. The yacht climbs and falls through the waves and you really would not want to be inside the cabin. Tacking also demands that the whole crew get involved in helming the boat and pulling on certain ropes at the right moment (I can't really get more technical than that).

I also can't read the charts or use the navigation instruments, so that was left to the rest of the crew who had actually been on a boat before. I did get to do some helming (steering) which was good fun. I tried it when the sea was calm on the first day's sail and I was absolutely useless. From other boats it probably looked like I was drunk at the rudder - we were all over the place. However on day two, I managed to build upon that terrible start and make the boat go generally where I wanted, in a sort of straight line.

We had been sailing for an hour and were making good progress. The boat felt like it was cutting through the waves and everyone was enjoying the sail. We hadn't spotted a landmark which we expected to see, to some calculations were carried out to see where we were. Unbelievably, we were actually west of where we started. Despite us sailing well across the sea's surface, the undercurrents had washed us in completely the opposite direction. I was pretty amazing by the strength of the sea. If you fell into the sea, I don't care if you are Michael Phelps, you wouldn't have a chance of swimming against the current.

We were a bit miffed by our lack of progress and decided to up our game and sail hard. It took some determined sailing and a lot of tacking but eventually we reached the channel which connects Portsmouth and Cowes. This part of the Solent is restless, with innumerate sailing yachts, dinghys, passenger ships and catamarans pottering about. It takes quite a lot of bravery to sail a little yacht like ours in the same waters that are also used by huge passenger and container ships. Ben's Mum would spot some huge ship on the same bearing as us, which meant we would have to change our course or get crushed. Thankfully sailing isn't that rushed, so we had plenty of time to finish our brews and have a biscuit before we actually had to do anything.

As you enter the harbour at Portsmouth you have to do something every true sailor hates - use the motor engine. Portsmouth harbour is a huge port and they don't want someone with a sail flapping about in the channel holding up global trade. Entering Portsmouth by boat is probably the best way too see it. It's not that great a place, but I was desperate to get to land so I could have a shower and use a toilet that didn't rock side-to-side. The marina was pretty impressive with all sorts of flash and expensive yachts and motorboats moored up. Our envy was replaced by smugness when we watched some guy in a huge yacht with a blue ensign (basically a symbol of eliteness/snobbery) spectacularly fail in mooring up and nearly sank the pontoon he scraped his boat against.