|Fishing boat - Chioggia|
The previous day had started pleasantly enough with a wander round the old fishing town of Chioggia, investigating the street market and drinking delicious Italian coffee, watching the street life. There was a strong wind blowing and we both wondered if sailing back to Venice was viable in such rough conditions. However when we arrived back at the boat and started preparing lunch, we found ourselves underway! Without consulting anyone and anxious to get the boat back in time, the skipper had simply set off.
Surprised and apprehensive, we took our French bread rolls up to the cockpit in a bowl and started to eat lunch, anxiously watching the harbour mouth to see what conditions were like at sea. With layer on layer of white water ahead, I voted to turn back now, before we left safe waters, but in a group the consensus rules and only one of the others was particularly concerned as apparently it is not uncommon for conditions to be at their worst at the harbour mouth, but to settle down once out at sea. We donned the flotation jackets but with no safety straps provided to hook onto the boat, we had simply to hang onto any fixed bit of the boat we could find! I wrapped my arm firmly around a winch as a huge wave lifted us over the sandbank and tossed us down into the churning, boiling sea - the heaviest I have ever seen, or wish to see again at such close quarters.
With the bowl of sandwiches sliding around and proving a distraction from the grim business of hanging on for our lives, one of the others took the executive decision to dump our lunch, bowl as well, into the sea. She crouched beside me, silent and pale, an accomplished sailor unlike me, and way out of her depth. Trembling with fear, teeth chattering, I clung to my winch. The skipper refused to turn back. The huge wave at the harbour mouth would, he insisted, turn the boat over if we tried to return and there was no way back. He handed the wheel to my partner, the only other man on board and luckily an experienced sailor able to manage the boat in such rough conditions, and disappeared down below to sort out the navigation. By the time he returned we had mutinied, and to a man and woman had decided to go back, whatever it took, rather than face many hours in such dire and dangerous conditions with an uncertain outcome.
My partner took charge and somehow managed to find a tiny window of slightly flatter water to turn the boat swiftly, avoiding capsizing it which could have flung any or all of us into the sea - a huge wave hitting a small boat sideways-on is the biggest danger. He then skillfully surfed the waves back into safe waters to the enormous relief of all on board. Later, when we had recovered from our ordeal, we took the safe route back through the canals to Venice, a route which had previously been discounted on the grounds of depth, but which turned out to be perfectly negotiable. We never did get lunch that day but we really bonded over supper that night!
I rose early the next morning and set out alone for Grado where we had joined the boat, unwilling to expose myself to such potential danger again and looking forward to a trip overland under my own steam. My partner felt he should stay with the boat and see everyone safely back as the sea was still very unsettled after the recent storm.
|St Marks from St Elena|
Sitting with coffee and a croissant, I decided enough was enough and booked myself into a hotel for our last night in the Venetian Lagoon, a small cosy room with my own loo and shower and a bed that I could stretch out in and get out of without hitting my head! Utter bliss. The others arrived later that evening after a long but relatively uneventful trip, cold, tired and wet. We shared a final celebratory meal together and, relieved, went back to our everyday lives.
The holiday from hell or the holiday of a lifetime? A bit of both perhaps but two firm decisions have been made. One is that we will only sail alone, on our own very sea-worthy boat, make our own decisions; and the other? To learn Italian!