Monday, 14 April 2014

Unexpected dramas

I'm lying flat on my back in the starboard aft cabin, feeling the rumble of the boat's engine and listening to the flogging sheets being brought to heel. Outside the door Antonia is preparing cup-a-soups for the hungry crew upstairs. Avaret, steady and stable for the past ten minutes suddenly heels to the starboard followed by a sharp roll to port. The stove and kettle are pivoted and the scolding liquid stays where it is as its cook emits a note of alarm and grabs for the nearest fixed piece of furniture. Before long hot beverages are being passed through the cockpit once more as the passage continues.

It's the first leg of our trip around the lochs and islands of the Clyde and we are motoring up Loch Long a little way behind the lead boat, the wind having died after its earlier exertions. It isn't the way we wanted to arrive at Loch Goil Head, but it is better than bobbing about with nothing to power the sails. The route north from Largs was relatively simple in theory, and Chris, our Skipper, was confident that the sheltered nature of the Firth would protect us from the worst of the waves currently battering the area around the Mull of Kintyre. Gaps between islands and mainland promentaries combined with sudden gusts of wind conspired however to provide us with a somewhat bumpier ride than anticipated.

Keen to take some photographs to chart our journey, I had descended into the saloon with Antonia as the island of Great Cumbrae drifted away behind us. Perching on the sofa as she checked the kettle, which had seemingly been boiling since we pushed away from our berth at Largs. The healing, welcomed at first as an exciting addition to the day's journey, was increasing in severity and attempts to check the water temperature and hurry its progress proved futile. Noting a trickle of water from the heads she staggered to her left, grasping for the door handle whilst searching for something a little more solid. The water source undetected, focus returned to the promised coffee just as another gust struck, causing both of us to sprawl backwards across the lounge furniture, with me trying desperately to kick the toilet door shut as it swung wildly, threatening to break something.

We cane for adventure and we certainly seemed to be getting it. Up on deck Roger a former civil engineering diver and my cabin Nate? Was battling with the wheel. A tighter than intended mainsail was forcing the bow upwind, and it was taking much of his strength to hold us on a steady line. Though the course was relatively straight our path wove its way through the waves leaving behind a serpentine wake.

Also up top, George, Emma and Mark were enjoying the ride. As Roger called out each increase in speed-over-land a cry of exhilaration would ring out, encouraging us ever forward, ever faster.

Chris had deliberately entreated the visually impaired members of the crew to enjoy the journey for a bit whilst he got used to handling the boat, a new one for him despite his considerable experience. Liam, probably the most experienced on yachts aside from our sighted crewmates, was at least able to handle the jib sheets.

Four feet below I was starting to feel queasy. I've never experienced sea sickness before but the impending sense of doom which frequently accompanies a dancing stomach compelled me to hand back a mug of water, requested seconds before, and lie back on the sofa. As the yacht continued its somewhat erratic progress towards Loch Long I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing, wishing the sickness away.

Squeezed between my own large holdall and Roger's belongings, which face each other across the no man's land of our shared mattress, I'm beginning to feel a little better. I may not yet be able to stomach any proper food but a few tiny pieces of dried fruit, stowed in my coat pocket for emergency use, are giving me a much needed energy boost.

Having lain on the saloon sofa for a nautical mile or so, eyes shut and ears only just registering the sounds from outside, disparate tracks of wind, chatter, instructions and mechanics mixed into a single inelegant piece, I stumbled my way to the cabin, slamming the door slightly too hard, and throwing myself at the bed. This space, somehow reminiscent of the tiny bathroom in a modest house, stretches the notion of bedrooms somewhat. An area just within the door threshold serves as bag store and welcome mat, with a double mattress stretching aft beyond, partly covered to the right by the overhanging cockpit floor. Lying here now I listen to the water flowing past outside, and try to block out the engine. The horizontal position has eased my nautiousness though every time I raise my head, contemplating joining the others outside, the giddiness returns.

Then, without warning, Avacet is bowled over, granting the gift of flight to unstowed objects in every part and emptying a bowl of washing water straight into the fridge. We're turning fast and sharply, uninteligible shouts coming from above, and then an equally severe roll to port finishes the task of scattering utensils, food and nautical charts about the saloon. Another turn follows, shattering for good my internal compass which had hitherto done a not so bad job of keeping track of our progress.

Stability restored we continue our carbon guzzeling way towards the head of the loch.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Sleepless in Largs

I've never slept on a yacht before. I think I may have mentioned this previously, only it is three in the morning on my first night aboard Avacet, and I'm still yet to drop off. For once in my life I can guarantee that it isn't down to over sleeping. Indeed, having spent a little while in the sleeper train's lounge car drinking whisky on my way up here I was in my compartment's bed for fewer than five hours. I'm not sure it is down to excitement either, my anticipatory emotions having mellowed somewhat as some of the trip's uncertainties were resolved. Perhaps it is just that so much has happened in the past twenty four hours and there is so much still to come.

My morning in Glasgow was thoroughly enjoyable. I seemed to rediscover my adventurous streak,, a characteristic which, when at College over ten years ago, saw me regularly travelling to towns and cities across the West Midlands and Wales, broadening my mind and teaching me to stand on my own two feet. I think part of me forgets how challenging things can be and I am occasionally surprised and frustrated when I cannot find what I am looking for. But not so yesterday in Glasgow.

Wandering the city streets in persistent drizzle, conditions that Scots refer to as "drech", heading in the wrong direction more than once, and eventually walking double what I ought to have, felt like one big adventure. Once more I was reliant upon my own skills and experience, and it felt good. To top it all, when Cafe Gandolfo was finally reached I found myself in a place where customers are a prized comodity and well sourced food is king. In short, it was perfect.

But what to do with the remainder of my morning? @macolgan, who I mentioned in my previous post, had made a further suggestion, one which frankly couldn't be more firmly "up my avenue ".

In 2011 Glasgow's long established transport museum moved from its second home into purpose built facilities by the Clyde, acknowledging the city's indelible link with the sea. Almost immediately after the relocation it won European Museum of the Year.

Despite my success in finding breakfast without injuring myself or getting entirely lost, I thought it preferable to spend the remainder of my time in the museum, rather than potentially wasting it attempting to find the place. My taxi driver was kind and funny, attributes that seem to be a Glaswegian hallmark. He was also a brilliant source of intelligence on the city's perceptions of the Commonwealth Games and, almost certainly more prominent in Scottish minds, the forthcoming independence referendum. For the record, he was sure that the Yes campaign would be victorious, but that the subsequent process of withdrawing from the Union would take significantly longer than anticipated.

But, enough of the politics, we need to talk transport. The first thing that struck me on entering the Riverside Museum, as it is more properly known, is the immediacy of the exhibits. This isn't a venue where grand foyers and reception facilities form a psychological buffer between the man or woman on the Queen's Park omnibus and the stars of the attraction within. Rather, the trains and trams, taxis and trolleybuses seem to remain a part of the world they once served.

My other primary impression was of a place that is welcoming in its design and in the actions of its staff. Having been helped to find the cloakroom and toilet facilities I wandered the great space relying not only on deft cane technique, only seldomly tripping up a passing child, but also on the floor level lighting strips which highlighted each exhibit forming irregularly formed islands against a dark and extensive floor.

I won't pretend that I got everything out of my visit that I could have. A sighted guide would have been very helpful but I was at least able to explore independently, running my hands across the body work of steam locomotives, motorcycles and more, without challenge. What I lacked in background information I readily gained in artistic experience.

Arriving in Largs aboard a coach procured to transport fourteen or so visually impaired people who had arrived by train, it felt a world away from my morning's activities. Space was now to be shared and expertise pooled. Individual ambition would largely be replaced by teen effort and group learning.

Largs Sailing Club could hardly have been more welcoming as we bundled into their striking clubhouse with a multitude of bags and waterproofs. The main restaurant room, looking out westwards across the Firth of Clyde, later captured the setting sun perfectly as we ate dinner.

Later this morning we set sail northwards, heading for Loch Goil Head. The wind is due to be fairly strong and, as is traditional in these parts, there is rain in the air. It is going to be a testing week I know. But I am also sure that it will be fun. I only wish I could get some sleep in.

Location:Largs,United Kingdom

Breakfast fit for a Laird

I can't stop smiling.i

That's right, after a horribly stressful week I have suddenly been thrust into the kind of environment that immediately puts a Robert at ease, and not for the first time I have Audioboo to thank.

I was last in Glasgow some three years ago, and to be honest, on arriving bright and early at seven this morning, I couldn't recall any great places to head for breakfast. Thankfully the wonderful @macolgan, a real life Scot living not too far from Scotland's first city (Glasgow of course ) rode to the rescue with some really good suggestions of rain proof activities and areas with plenty of restaurants. So, rather than live with the usual suspects offered by the Central Station I decided to head out with cane and Blindsquare for guidance, in search of some genuine Scottish grub.

Around a mile and a half later, having accidentally toured myself around the city center, just about succeeding in avoiding being run over or drenched with rain, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a lovely lady who, explaining that most of the eateries in the Candlerigg covered market wouldn't open for another thirty minutes, directed me to Cafe Gandolfo across the road.

All I can say is that this stranger in a big city knew exactly what I needed!

With profound thanks to the savior of my sanity, at least for today, I found myself being served Earl Grey tea with an extra pot of water, an unfortunate rarity in this day and age, and feasting on the most satisfying porridge with fruit and syrup. Next up I'm Stornaway black pudding, scrambled egg and potato scone.. and unless my appetite gives in before I can finish I fully expect to be in heaven before very long.

To Londoners, or at least those who believe the north begins at Watford Gap, Glasgow is a dark and brooding city, full of hard men seeking a fight or packing in deep fried confectionery. From my experience this morning, and my previous visit, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. It is a cultured city of friendly, welcoming people who seem to want you to share their enthusiasm for life and this great city. It is somewhere that, despite living in the everyone for themselves capital of the UK and used to keeping my head down and mouth shut, I feel totally at home.

The wonderful Glaswegian sense of humour and generosity of spirit has certainly worked its magic on me.

Location:Albion Street,Glasgow,United Kingdom

Friday, 11 April 2014

In love with the sleeper train.

I wrote earlier of the romanticism of travelling by sleeper train, and how, despite its obvious drawbacks in terms of personal space, it maintains an allure which is difficult to ignore.

Now, as I sit in the Caledonian Sleeper's lounge car, sipping a whisky as we thunder through the Chilterns, I think I've fallen even deeper in love with this mode of transport. You see, something as simple as good old fashioned customer service, a can do attitude, something which seems to be sorely lacking in so many aspects of modern life, is alive and kicking on the sleeper train tou Glasgow.

Now, you might say I'm influenced to some degree here by the ever diminishing glass of Lefreuge, sitting before me as I write this piece, and you might at least be partly correct. Anybody who saw my tweets from Euston, bemoaning the lack of a staffed customer information point might justifiably compare my pre and post boarding experience. But I really think, alcoholic and other influences aside, that the staff aboard the sleeper could teach others a lesson or two.

Take, for instance, the host for my carriage. On arriving at the door, having been guided along the platform by a kindly member of the public, she immediately noted my visual impairment, which I hadn't advised them of in advance, and suggested a different cabin so as to be within easier reach of the toilet facilities. And then, on acquiring about the lounge car, I was promptly shown along to it before arrangements were made for someone to show me back. They're little things, but they make a big difference m

Now back in my compartment, snuggled under a comfy duvet I can confirm that the excellent service received earlier was not an isolated occurance. Train staff seem genuinely to enjoy their work, and to want to make each passenger's journey perfect. I am especially impressed by their use of initiative, adapting their service to suit individual needs without having to be asked.

But the staff isn't the only component which really makes this trip. The cozy compartments, strikingly smaller than their cousins on the continent, and the complimentary toiletry bag featuring a tiny pack away toothbrush and racer, together make this journey what it is. In short, what makes the Caledonian Sleeper special is the care that has been taken, and continues to be taken, to respond to customers ' needs.

Location:Chapel Lane,Lancaster,United Kingdom

Strangers in the dark

In a little under six hours time this evening's Caledonian Sleeper service to Edinburgh and Glasgow will slip from its platform at Euston Station and begin its long, slow climb out of London, through its northern suburbs. The stations drifting by outside its compartment windows will be familiar to many aboard, the likes of Willesdon, Wembley and Watford pinning together the disparate strands of the capital's daytime commuting infrastructure like the joints and screws of a great mechano set. But the dim lights of waiting rooms and ticket offices abandoned to wandering drunks and night time workers may as well be switched off, shrouding their identities in a nocturnal cloak, as nightcaps are sunk, shutters pulled down and ladders erected to permit access to bunks perched precariously high above the trembling floor.

In the single cabins reserved for first class passengers coats will be hung up and clothes neatly folded on a handy shelf. Though narrower than a kitchen pantry, the space will be treated as if it was ten times larger and located in a comfortable hotel room. Few concessions will be made to the unfamiliar environment, the clickety-click of carriage wheels on unwelded tracks and the occasional whoosh of air forced between train and tunnel wall, as nightwear is pulled on and duvets pulled up.

A carriage or so down things are slightly different. The pantry proportions feel that little bit tighter with upper beds detached from the hooks that hold them flush with the wall and a stranger inserting themselves and their luggage into a space that felt close for just one. Pleasantries will be exchanged as each compartment inhabitant stakes out their place before having it immediately invaded as a leg is swung aloft or a bag shifted to a more convenient position. An eerie, uncomfortable silence will pervade, with each person wanting to break the seal and begin a conversation whilst feeling constraint by natural British reserve and a niggling sense that the other is already asleep and liable to take poorly to being disturbed.

And so the journey will progress, with first class ticket holders immersing themselves in an imaginary world of everyday comforts, the compartment sharers perpetually self conscious, and the poor souls in reckoning seats wishing to goodness that they were anywhere else but there.

The sleeper train of old has to be one of the most romanticised images of travel, alongside the transatlantic liners and Zeppelin airships of the early twentieth century. Somehow the idea of traversing considerable distances in the relative comfort of a travelling bedroom, albeit a little cosier than one might be used to, has an allure quite unlike other modern forms of transport. It is certainly a feeling that I am very familiar with, having gone out of my way at times to take an overnight train where a high speed service or short haul flight would have sufficed. Indeed, this evening I will be that awkward second class passenger constantly conscious of every noise and movement I make, lest it startles my companion above.

I probably could have flown. Rising at some unearthly hour I would have dashed from the flat, fearful of arriving too late at the airport, and in so doing causing myself to spend needless hours there instead. The usual inconveniences of air travel would have all been present: the fast bag drop which has forgotten how to be quick, the security guards who'd rather I spend half a week unloading coppers from my trouser pockets than run an electronic wand across my clothes, the assistants allocated to aiding disabled staff who seem more used to handling baggage, and the long painful wait at the end to find out if your holdall is in Glasgow or Geneva. I could have flown, but I'd rather take my luck with a silent stranger in a dark compartment.

So, just as soon as I have packed off this blog entry to the cloud, zipped up my bag and donned my new deck shoes, I will be heading across London with my trusty long white cane to begin a week's adventure. I have no idea who will be sleeping in the upper bunk tonight and whether I'll feel brave enough to strike up a conversation, but at least I know that he will also be facing such uncertainties in the name of travelling the more civilized way.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Without him

The last time I went anywhere independently further than the local barber shop without my dear guide dog Vance was eight months ago, back at the end of August. It was one of those trips that I undertake each year with my friend Mark. We never make it especially easy for ourselves, travelling on multiple train services across Europe, battling the various obstacles that the environment throws in our way. But that's really part of the attraction, and we'd rarely seek an easier route. Though my long white cane and I have always had something of a love-hate relationship, packing the dog off to my parents and wielding a carbon fibre rod for a while is a fair price to pay for an occasional bit of adventure.

Tomorrow is one of those occasions. One of those days when I'm torn between nervous pre trip excitement and the genuine heartache of leaving behind my constant companion and best friend in the world. I know he will be fine. He'll be delighted to be with my parents once more, delighted to have a grassy lawn on which to run and roll and lie, and delighted to have a few days away from mundane hours in the office and crowded commutes by train. He'll be fine, but I will miss him terribly.

That was always going to be tomorrow, but today I sit in a bland hospital waiting room, having trekked across London without my guide.

Even without the questions from my doctor, asking how Vance is getting on, I am constantly reminded of his absence. From walking down the High Street in Richmond, crowds of pedestrians no longer parting to make way, to the bollards, poles, pipes and passengers that appear from nowhere and seemingly frustrate my every step. Actions I take for granted, like finding a train door, the top of an escalator or an underground ticket barrier suddenly become hurdles in their own right, requiring planning and care, a thick skin and a steady heart. My muscles tense involuntarily, anticipating the next bump and bruise. Maybe its just lack of practice, or perhaps it's a taste of the week to come.

And whilst I sit here on a hard plastic chair, waiting to have my name called, so bright lights can be shone in my eyes and comparisons made with last year, Vance lies sedated in a veterinary surgery, his right hind dew claw having been cut back to the quick. It is bad enough that I didn't spot the problem when I fed him this morning, and that the exaggerated limp and tender paw only became apparent as I slipped his harness on before heading out the door to work. He is such a brave dog, and a conscientious worker that he hadn't whined or refused to move until that point.

A taxi ride and cursory examination later and Vance was admitted for the day. He seemed relieved to be there and barely paused as he was led away, leaving me in reception with only my white cane to accompany me home.

Vance will be fine. He's a strong dog and gets through these things. He hurt his back two years ago, during that strange interval between the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It happened out of the blue, a freak accident as he jumped into my mum's car, a jump which he had made on so many previous occasions, but which would forever more require him to take strong pain medication.

And then there was one of his other dew claws, torn whilst playing with a friend's dog in Germany, which became infected during the long train journey home and required weeks of rest and the imposition of the largest Elizabethan collar ever seen.

He was fine then and will be fine now. I just need to get on and stop worrying.


I wrote the above earlier this afternoon, and am pleased to say that now, at half seven in the evening, Vance is back with me, resting quietly in the hallway. The offending claw has gone and his paw patched up, and he now just needs to rest. Tomorrow he'll be collected by mum, and then it will be me and the dreaded cane for a whole week.


Both of the pictures accompanying this post were taken by me. The first depicts Vance gazing out onto the Thames in Richmond a couple of days ago. The second shows him as he is this evening, rather dozy after his earlier sedation.

Location:Peerless Street,London,United Kingdom

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Information on the trip

Yesterday morning I announced to the world, or at least to you, dear reader, that I would shortly be heading off on a wet and windy adventure in Scotland. For the land lubbers amongst you, for whom the idea of spending six days afloat is enough to send you reaching for the sickness tablets, you may have already heard enough. But, for everyone else I thought I would fill you in on some of the trip details, and on how I intend to chart it.

First up, where am I going and with whom?

The Visually impaired Sailing Association of Great Britain, or VISA GB for short, far from being a regional offshoot of a well known financial transaction processing organisation, exists to enable blind and partially sighted sailors to gain self confidence and worth by sailing in as independently and empoweringly as possible. Participants on its trips are not simply along for the ride, but are fully fledged members of the crew, as integral to making the boat move, preferably in the right direction, as anybody else aboard.

VISA GB almost certainly have a more succinct way of saying the above, and I would heartily recommend visiting their website at:

And, as for where we'll be sailing...

Those who can should take a look at the following map, which I painstakingly created in Google's MapEngine. I have marked the general vicinity of all the places we are meant to be visiting, starting and finishing in Largs in North Ayrshire.

For the geographically challenged amongst you, or those who are still waiting for Google to produce tactile versions of its cartographical applications, I am copying the relevant bits of the programme below, with a few of my own comments thrown in for good measure:

Saturday 12th April:
Skippers, Mates and crew arrive in sunny Largs, familiarize themselves with their allocated yachts and enjoy a meal at Largs Sailing Club.

Sunday 13th April:
Breakfast in the sailing club before setting course for the north, and reaching Loch Goil Head in the late afternoon. Pray for clement weather before spending night on swinging moorings.

Monday 14th April:
Set sail for Rothesay on the lovely island of Bute, with a stop for lunch at Inverkip. A pub has apparently been earmarked for dinner.

Tuesday 15th April:
Leave Rothesay and head for Portavadie, with another en-route lunch break, this time at Kames Bay.

Wednesday 16th April:
Sail from Portavadie to Loch Ranzer where we will anchor for lunch, before heading for Campbeltown, a leg of around five hours. Fish and chips will apparently be the order of the evening.

Thursday 17th April:
Another long leg, this time sailing over 30 nautical miles from Campbeltown to Troon in one go, taking about eight hours.

Friday 18th April:
Heading north once more to return to whence we came... Largs marina. Dinner will be in the sailing club, and much packing up and cleaning will presumably be done.

Saturday 19th April:
We head our separate ways. In my case a morning taxi ride to the airport for a lunchtime flight to Gatwick.

So there you have it, around the Clyde in nine passages. But what, I hear you cry, will we be sailing?

Well, it is worth pointing out up front that there will be quite a few of us - mostly visually impaired, with a smattering of sighted people thrown in (metaphorically ) for good measure. So, rather than cramming onto one super-yacht, climbing over one another to reach the pool, and overwhelming the bar (more's the pity ) we'll be chartering six 37' - or thereabouts - yachts, each sleeping around eight, to act as our loyal steeds for the duration of the week.

To save you wearing out your imagination picturing the swanky vessel I'll be cruising the Clyde I've done a bit of digging and found out that "Avacet" is a thirty seven foot "Bavaria" yacht (lederhosen optional ) whose vital statistics, along with some promising testimonials, can be found here:

Now you can put a name to the organisation I'll be sailing with, pinpoint the places I'll be visiting, and picture the yacht that will carry me between them, you have my upcoming trip in a proverbial nutshell. All I need to tell you now is how to follow my travels.

The best way, assuming I manage to keep it updated, will be the very blog you are reading now, on which I intend to post links to any other content I publish.

It would however be worth keeping a beady eye on my Audioboo ( ) and Twitter ( ) streams, as well as TripColour, an iOS travel blogging app that I have recently come across. My page there can be accessed at:

And that is about it. I hope to write again very soon.

A note on photographs.

The image at the top of this article is borrowed from the VISA GB website, a link to which can be found above. It shows a yacht standing stranded on its keel... and in no way represents the standard of seamanship of its crews today... I hope!

The other two photographs are both taken from the Wikimedia Commons and show some of the views we, or at least those with better sight amongst us, may see along the way. The first shows a view looking north from Largs and the second is of the seafront in Rothesay, Bute.

All photographs remain the property of their respective copyright owners.

Packed and ready to go: all set for a week sailing on the Clyde

Right, well here we go with the real purpose of beginning this blog, a "proper trip ".

It won't have escaped your attention that, subsequent to setting up this account and posting an introductory piece, I haven't been particularly good at furnishing you with reading material. It hasn't been due to lack of ambition, or even imagination, but rather a tendency to over complicate things, to aim for perfect prose on every occasion and then to run out of steam part way through.

But those early posts, including the ones you've never seen, were only meant to hold your interest until the opportunity for more sustained blogging sailed along.

Which brings me neatly up to date. I am writing this with only a couple of days left at work before embarking on a week long jaunt up to Scotland and around the Firth of Clyde. My bag is virtually packed, I have my tickets to get there and back, and I thankfully also have my brand new bespoke waterproofs, more about which I shall surely write in due course.

Now, I should stress that although this is a pleasure trip, insofar as it is a week away from work, in a beautiful landscape, doing something I enjoy. It will not come without a degree of challenge however, not to mention bucket loads of elbow grease. Of the thirty or so visually impaired and around fifteen sighted people taking part in the VISA GB Clyde Flotilla Week there are no passengers.

Split between six chartered yachts, each hopefully having a couple of sighted sailors (including the Skipper, you'll be relieved to learn ) to ensure we head in the right direction, we will be setting sail for a week of adventure, or at least windswept days and cozy nights, in the estuary of Scotland's great River Clyde.

Those who know me well will recall that I am no stranger to sailing. Having answered a plea for more blind and partially sighted sailors, broadcast on BBC Radio Four's In Touch programme back in 2008 I joined my sort-of-local Sailability club, located on the other side of London, beside Greenland Dock. There, I was fortunate to benefit from the knowledge and know how of a number of experienced and wonderfully enthusiastic sailors. Learning the basics of turning handfuls of rope and unpredictable gusts into forward motion occupied me for much of the summer and autumn before, rather ambitiously joining a selection exercise for the British Blind Sailing team, who were shortly to compete on the world stage in New Zealand. Much to my surprise I was picked as one of two reserves, and only narrowly missed out on flying halfway across the world to uphold my country's honour.

Whilst I never again did quite as much sailing as in those first six months or so, I did compete in four Blind National Championships, hosted by the East Anglian Sailing Trust on the River Orwell in Suffolk, succeeding in winning two of them. Following my most recent win circumstances led me to hang up my buoyancy aid and take a break from the water

So, it is not without some knowledge that I signed up to spend seven nights on a yacht with a handful of strangers. But, there is a world of difference between sailing dinghies and small keelboats in short, sharp races, and cruising a river estuary for extended periods of time, in the rather close company of seven other people. Therefore, with the time before we let slip our lines now swiftly ebbing away I must confess to feeling somewhat trepidacious about the days ahead.

But, enough of that for now, there are practicalities to deal with and expectations to manage.

Sitting here at home it is easy to promise long, immersive, blog entries, sparkling galleries of perfectly framed photographs, and atmospheric audioboo recordings capturing every moment in glorious stereo detail. Not wanting to disappoint however, let me say now that I will give you what I can, when I am able to, but not very much else. In other words, the nature of this trip is likely to mean that I will be occupied for much of my time away, and the opportunities for hiding myself away to pen pieces of prose are likely to be few and far between. Furthermore, there is highly likely to be a striking difference between getting my thoughts down in a clear and understandable manner, and ensuring that every "i" is dotted. My written entries will inevitably contain uncorrected typographical, and even factual, errors, and I will inevitably publish photographs showing my feet or the back of someone's head. Please understand that I would not willingly publish such content, but accepting that this will be the case could make the difference between giving you a flavour of the trip, and keeping it all to myself!

In a couple of day's time I will be hanging up my guide dog and picking up my cane, shouldering an unwieldy holdall, and heading across town to join that night's Caledonian Sleeper service bound for Glasgow. I hope that you will be there with me, at least in spirit, to share the highs and lows, battle the challenges and savour the memories. I very much look forward to having you along.

Location:Richmond,United Kingdom