Week 79 of Gibraltar Diary

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Sunday 13th September 2009

Amazingly, the boat is made in Suffolk - can you believe that?

We set off back north and call in at Wolfsbruch to move the car and get some bread. As we walk into the baker's the woman in front of us buys all the remaining bread - this is Fate's revenge on us for having taken the last room in the hotel on Friday night. The baker is all smiles and offers to fire up the oven specially for us and when we return 15 minutes later there is our chosen loaf sitting is aromatic splendour in the middle of a big empty oven. Would they do that in a bakery in the UK at 1.00pm on Sunday? We all know the answer to that one.

We set off for our first lock feeling somewhat nervous but it is a piece of cake if you can recognise the difference between a green light and a red light. The level change is about 4 inches and is all over before we even knew it had started. At the next lock we are all laid back and the Fates strike again. A vast surge of water pushes the front of a our boat outwards and I rush forward to help my girlfriend - whereupon helpful Germans spring onto our boat to hold the back in which makes it worse but this is impossible to explain so I thank them.

We spend the night at Mirow, which is a small German town but with an amazing number of nice restaurants. We eat again for less than 20e including drinks.

Monday 14th September 2009

In the morning we ring up Head Office for permission to cross the Müritz lake which seems to be a little melodramatic until we get on it. Althought the charts are excellent it is not quite as easy as it looks. The green buoys are small and green but the waves are bigger and greener. The red buoys are easier to see but are nowhere near where it says on the chart. Or maybe we have got the chart upside down or perhaps we are not where we think are. And what do all these other buoys mean?

Clearly nobody else knows either as there are boats literally going round in circles. The horizon, once you get right out onto the lake is just a grey haze. Without a compass you could get completely lost and disoriented. Come to think of it, we don't have a compass and we are lost and disoriented. But fortunately we have a secret weapon. At this point it is very tempting to re-fight the second world war but the Germans are so universally friendly and helpful that my heart is not in it. Suffice it to say that with the aid of the Chief Navigator Major Tom Tom, we show all the German boats the way home to Waren.

We arrive at the marina where we sweep in at full bore and do a handbrake turn at the last possible second and reverse smartly back into a parking space. Unfortunately, our dramatic entry is spoiled by the fact that we cannot make up our minds where the boat should sit or indeed, which way it should face. Eventually, we turn it round with the aid of the ropes.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

I had assumed that all the boats would be occupied by Rhein Mädchens, their really vital bits covered by their long golden hair and their less vital bits freely on display. 'Fraid not. All the boats are full of tough looking grizzled men in their fities. Think Waffen SS re-union. Or maybe Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Sorry. It's impossible not to do it but I will try harder in future.

Seriously, there are no pretty girls in this part of Germany. In fact, there are no ugly ones either. This is a girl-free zone. In Spain, you could not walk along the quay of a marina without seeing an endless succession of Penelope Cruze look-alikes but not here. In fact, there is nobody under 50. Period, as the Americans say.

My girlfriend complains that even when she hides her chest (no easy task) everybody stares at her. Somehow, her complaints lack conviction.

We decide to stay a second day as I have the mother of all colds or maybe it is Schwein Flu. Anyway, we set off for vital supplies like kitchen roll, toilet rolls, cough sweets, honey and Fisherman's Friends (easier to find here than in the UK). We find everything we need in a beautiful supermarket about 200 yards up the hill from the quay.

Wednesday 16th September 2009

At about mid-day we set off again heading West and a few hours later we park up at a small marina in Plau am See. Yet another immaculalately tidy small German town full of restaurants and civilized people.

On the way back to the boat we buy some bread from the baker and some lovely smoked fish from the fish-monger. What an extraordinary country.

Thursday 17th September 2009

We are up bright and early (for us) and head back over a number of quite large lakes towards home - the holiday is drawing to a close. My girlfriend yet again tells me that I am not in the correct channel and for the tenth time I patiently explain that the channels are only for large ships - a tiny boat like ours cannot possibly run aground.

Suddenly I find the the boat is pulling to the right. My first thought is that the starboard engine has slowed down but then I realise that we only have one engine - in the middle. Then I consider the rudder - maybe it has stopped working properly? Suddenly there is a long grinding noise and we stop. We have run aground. I line the crew up and ask for volnteeers to jump over the side to lighten the boat but nobody steps forward. Indeed there are mutterings that maybe I would like to jump over the side! That's the trouble with youngsters today - no respect for authority.

Eventually, by using full throttle in reverse and breathing in deeply we are off and head south across the Müritz to Röbel. The marina is half empty so we very carefully select a pitch that combines privacy, views, access to power and a walkway on the correct side of the boat. Literallly, no more than 5 minutes later a boat comes in and parks right next to us. I am hopping up and down but my girlfriend calms me down and we go for a long walk round town. On the way we look out for chewing gum on the pavements and litter. There is none - as in "none". Not any. God knows what Germans think when they come to the UK.

When we get back to the harbour we move the boat - all is well.

Friday 18th September 2009

We set off across the Müritz for the last time heading south. We have been told to actually head four miles north and then back down another 4 miles to avoid going out of the proper channels. We do a sensible compromise (ie we ignore the advice) but many of the boats we have over-taken take a short cut close in to land without apparent mishap.

The route is very tricky and I decide to follow a very dark boat about a mile in the distance that seems to be on the right track. After a few miles the navigator clearly indicates we should go sharp right but the boat we are following goes straight on which leads to nowhere but looks like the correct route. Accordingly we overtake it - just as he realises his mistake. There are now two things he can do: admit the error and do a U-turn or pretend to stop and admire the scenery. He chooses the latter

In due course he speeds up and sets a course to the correct destination with the result that after about 30 minutes he is closing with us. I don't want him to beat us into the river as he may slow us down so still driving flat out I use the approaching traffic to slow him down. At this point my girlfriend comes in with some coffee. "That's the boat in front of us that screwed up" I say. She glances over at it "That's surprising" she says "you'd think the Police would know their way around"

Er ... right. Police. Yes. Why didn't I notice that?

Later we tie up in Rheinsberg where we experience one of the few irritating things in Germany - excessive helpfulness by the uninformed. We know precisely what we are doing and have chosen a parking space that is just right. As we approach, somebody grabs us and starts pulling us into another space. When I explain that we are triying to tie up where we were headed he says we must re-start the engine to get there which is just plain stupid since it is only a few feet away.

In the evening we eat again at Zum Jungen Fritz - on the way we pass a table with bags of apples for 1e and a little bottle full of euros - a forgotten age.

Germany is like you imagine England was in Victorian times - everything is clean and spotless and the people are honest and hardworking. Apart from an unfortunate tendency to start World Wars this looks like the perfect society - maybe we will move here? We are already starting to go to bed early and get up before lunch-time and I can definitely see that lesser Volk and Unter Menschen should be sent for re-education in the east ... they can come back afterwards, of course - maybe as fertiliser.

Saturday 19th September 2009

At 10.00am we hand back the boat and set course for Prague. On the way we stop in Rheinsberg again where we look for an estate agents but there isn't one - just dozens of baker's shops. Can you imagine that - an economy where people actually create useful things like bread and sausages rather than just selling houses to each other at ever ascending prices? Amazing.

Eventually, we reach the border and we pass what looks like an abandoned ski-resort but is in fact border control - just think of all those hundreds of people spending their lives doing something totally pointless. Just like the rest of us really.

Because we are too mean to pay motorway tolls, the Tom Tom plots an alternative route into Prague - via single track roads that go through people's back gardens. It takes us two hours to cover about 30 miles. What it does show is that nothing worthwhile has been built in the Czech Republic since about 1880. This is a very poor country. Ironically, it later turns out that the "Toll Road" is free.

Prague is probably one of the most magnificent town centres in Europe. We drive round causing damage to all parts of the car - especially the back. "You can reverse - there is no post there". So why is the back all caved in?

We stay at the Prague Castle Hotel which we pick by just driving past - the wrong way down a one way street but we couldn't take the risk of losing the last room. We eat at a tourist trap which is actually pretty good apart from the English women who decide to sit right behind us and shriek endlessly like stuck pigs. I decide they too need re-education in the east.

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