1. Heart attacks and broken bones
One Thursday morning, Charlotte set out early for London, to go to work. Don was also planning to do some non-boat work that day. (Funny thing, he was having great difficulty in defining boat activity as "work".)
When Charlotte arrived home from London, a small deputation of neighbours appeared. They looked extremely sombre and she seems to recall that one or two were wringing their hands, but this may just be imagination. One neighbour speaks, "Charlotte, it's not good news. It's about Don...." He then relapses into a sort of shorthand. ".....don't know what to say, terribly sorry, ambulance came at about 11 am, haven't heard anything since, this could be good news, on the other hand, he didn't look too good..... Ipswich hospital, is that not right?" (Nods from the others.)
Poor Charlotte! By the time she got to the hospital, she was not sure whether to go to the mortuary or reception. Being an optimist, she chose reception and was directed to the Cardiac ward, to find a slightly muzzy but cheerful creature sitting up in bed. (Morphine in small doses has a jolly cheering effect.)
In response to tearful questioning, Don admits to a small heart attack and says he is bloody hungry and could murder a pint.
2. Voyage Planning begins. Black or Baltic Sea?
As winter approaches, we can start to plan for the first big adventure. As always, we feel that there is no point in messing about and after some debate, decide to go to the Baltic for the summer of 2000. The Danube trip seemed off for a bit, as the Serbs were likely to be justifiably hostile, just having had their Danube bridges destroyed by NATO backed prime minister Tony Blair.
One of the great delights of such adventures is planning and anticipation. We guess that the same would apply to any adventuring, by sea, air, wheel, horse or foot. The main thing is to set a goal, which manifestly stretches your horizons and is beyond current experience and then, research the project thoroughly. The challenge of planning and preparation is a major element in the enjoyment and anticipation of an adventure. What always surprises us, is the amount of help and information available to those who look.
The first thing we discovered about the Baltic as a venue for summer 2000, was that we were unlikely to be alone - a fleet of boats, up to 50 in all, were planning to cruise to St. Petersburg, under the aegis of the Cruising Association, a splendid organisation, set up to foster and support adventuring in boats. Whilst we did not wish to cruise in a flotilla, it seemed vaguely comforting to know that there were reportedly six boats planning to visit the Baltic from such a small place as Woodbridge. We bought charts and pilot books from a Woodbridge supplier, who made comments to the effect that we were the fourth people that week looking for a harbour guide to Lithuania, or advice on how to obtain permission to visit Kaliningrad
Fully armed with books and charts, we were able to spend winter evenings huddled over the dining room table exploring the Gulf of Riga, or speculating on the availability of sheltered harbours on the island of Saaremaa, and whether the port of Trzebiez was accessible at night. By the middle of December, a grand Plan had been completed, totalling just over 3000 miles, with the main legs sketched out, distances computed, contingency arrangements thought about, allowances made for bad weather and lists of friends and relatives compiled, ready for invitation.
In between all this planning, we did quite a lot of paying work, always comforting if one is contemplating taking the whole of the next summer off - the first time we had even contemplated such a self-indulgent and un-Protestant act! We also bravely took the boat up the coast in a near gale, with sea conditions classified as "rough" by the Coastguard. The boat lived up to its early promise. It just loved it and, warmed by the sense of security thus engendered, so did we.
As Christmas 1999 approached, we were feeling confident. We felt great about the boat. (In Don's case, "great" meant that he only worried about sinking half the time!)
It seemed reliable; Mr Watson, the designer, had obviously created a hull to stand the test of time. Don had made a good recovery from the heart attack and friends and relatives were queuing up to ejzperienz (no typo, just practising Polish!) the cultural and culinary delights afforded by a Baltic cruise.
3. Plans undone! Try again.
Not the Baltic. No, it's Round the British Isles!
It was just before Christmas that the well-known legislators, Messrs Sod and Murphy, decided that all these plans were too easy and neat. Something needed to be done to spice matters up a little.
One afternoon, Don called Charlotte and she sounded to be in pain, explaining that she had tripped on her way downstairs, had fallen the last few steps and her left foot now stuck out at right angles to her leg. This was obviously not normal and furthermore, it hurt like hell, she could not walk, and the front door was bolted, so nobody could get in.
Time for action! A telephone call to the "Bell" mobilised a posse of stout fellows from the public bar, several of them Investment Bankers. These men who demonstrated their customary Daylight Robbery skills by breaking into the house in no time flat. Once again, an ambulance arrived outside the Old School and carted an occupant off to Ipswich hospital.
In bewilderingly rapid order, Charlotte had two plates, a pin and eleven screws inserted in her ankle. All was well.....?
But Murphy and Sod had a few shots yet left in their lockers. Further investigation of Don's heart revealed the need for a procedure called an Angioplasty. For connoisseurs of medical trivia, this procedure entails the insertion of a huge length of tubing into an artery near the groin, which then snakes its way to the heart and to the offending artery. Upon arrival at the proper place, a balloon is inflated, thus opening the artery, and small tubes are inserted to keep it open.
The Angioplasty procedure takes an hour. The cardiologist seems pleased with his work, and Don is wheeled back to the ward. Charlotte arrives and the doctor returns, saying that all the immediate indications are positive, but careful scrutiny will be needed for the first six months after the operation, to make sure that the artery does not clog up again.
"So, I can get on with life, now", says Don. "It depends what you mean by that", replies the doctor. "Well, we have a holiday planned in America". "And", Charlotte says, "we are taking our boat to the Baltic Sea this summer, probably all the way to St. Petersburg. It's going to be a great adventure." "Out of the question," says the doctor firmly. "You will not get medical insurance for the USA at this stage and if you had a serious problem there, you would be rapidly bankrupt without insurance. Furthermore", he continues, "you should not go to Russia or any of those other Baltic states, until we are sure that you have made a full recovery. There is no National Health Service there, you know. You have plenty of time. Do it the summer after."
At this point, his Pager rings, he excuses himself for a moment and leaves the ward. "What are we going to do now?" hisses Don. "We could sail in Britain", says Charlotte.
"Well, let's reverse the years and go to the Baltic next year and sail around Britain this summer." "Are you sure that you will be up to it?" asks Charlotte. "What about you?" asks Don, "Don't forget your leg." "I'm sure I can do it", she whispers. At this point, the doctor returns.
"Er", says Don, "we will cancel the American trip, but I presume that a bit of sailing round the British coast would be OK in the summer." The doctor is a little distracted by the previous call... "Oh yes", says he, "A modest sailing holiday in Britain would be fine, just so long as you can get medical attention quickly, should you need it."
Instant change of plan! We resolve there and then to sail round Britain. Life is too short to let a few infirmities get in the way of adventuring. So, the Baltic charts are packed away for another year and the man in the chart shop is surprised by the arrival of the same people who were so enthusiastic about the Baltic, now wanting a full set of British charts. "Change of plan, owing to heart attack and broken leg", explains Don, airily. The man in the shop looks wary but is probably used to seagoing lunatics, as quite a few live in the vicinity of Woodbridge.
The die is cast. Summer 2000 will be spent exploring our own islands, something we have never done properly before.