Lagos, Portugal
On Wednesday January 6th we were due to fly to Gatwick to help man the LateSail stand at the London Boat show. Unfortunately snow intervened. Gatwick was closed and eventually we flew out two days later. When we arrived at Gatwick the temperature was sub-zero, something we haven't experienced for six years - a total nightmare. When we picked up our hire car at the airport we couldn't even get out of our parking space and needed to be pushed to get going! I have to say though that seeing the fields and trees covered with snow was wonderful and very pretty. From the plane the whole of England was white.

We stayed with Dan (the MD of lateSail) and Emma in Beckenham in their lovely (warm!!) flat. Each day we left around 07.30 returning from the show around 19.45, except on the Thursday when the show closed at 21.00 and we got back around 22.15. The traffic was dire during week days because of the snow. The show started quietly (the snow again) but built up across the first week peaking on the second weekend, when we were very busy. In terms of business it was very successful, although the overall visitor numbers were down, those who did attend were looking to buy and there were few time wasting 'tyre kickers'. It was a pleasure to see a nmuber of people who we haven't seen for a long time - David (also known as Uncle, sailing friend); Nell (Dan's mother) and Hannah (Dan's sister and her two lovely children); Graeme and Christine (one of Mike's skydiving friends who has bought an Aluminium yacht and is leaving the UK this year); Maggie and John (from S/Y Jezebel); Ian (friend through the radio industry and sailing). Jeremy and Andrew (from World Cruising).

By the end we were all exhausted, not surprising given twelve hour days on your feet, usually talking to people. Dan and Emma looked after us extremely well and we had some great meals with them. We flew back on Monday January 18th.

Mike had picked up a cold in the UK (which I got when back in Portugal), our first colds for five years. He also picked up the vomiting and diarrhoea bug that was going around in the UK. I felt funny for a few days but didn't get Mike's extreme reaction - a nice welcome back to the UK, not! Needless to say we didn't go anywhere for a number of days.

We had bought some boat spares in the UK and once Mike had recovered he started to fix things (new 240 volt light, fluxgate compass etc). We also had a problem with the generator that would turn over but not start. Mike had a good idea what the problem was but not how to fix it, so eventually we called in a diesel mechanic. Initially he thought the glow plugs soleniod had failed and it was replaced. It turned out that the solenoid was fine but it wasn't earthing properly. The solenoid was held to a bracket by what was effectively a rivet and the bracket was fixed to the engine. Vibration had caused the rivet to work loose and thus the solenoid wasn't earthing. Typical crap design yet again. Mike then made the fatal mistake of saying one night that everything on the boat was working - what an idiot, he never learns. The following day the drinking water pump motor failed! The cause was a dodgy pressure swich. He had spares but they showed the same symptoms that caused the motor failure. So he fitted an on-demand switch which is a simple on/off switch not using the pressure tank. That took the best part of a day of course.

The weather was variable with isolated sunny warm days (22C one day) but cold at night and rainy days which are moderately warm (13 to 15C) unless the wind is in the north when it drops to c.7C. No snow fortunately. Late January, early February is Stork breeding season so there was much beak clacking going on - it's the only noise Storks makes. One day Mike was walking near a Stork's nest with a pair standing in it and eleven other Storks were circling the nest. The circling Storks took turns (either one or a pair) to attack the birds on the nest, trying to dislodge them. Stork pairs stay together for life and only find a new partner if their current partner dies. On that basis you could understand a single Stork trying to drive another Stork off its nest. Alternatively you could imagine a pair whose nest has been destroyed trying to take over another nest. However an eleven Stork attack makes no sense. We've asked many people who've been here a long time, plus a bird expert and none of them has seen such an attack or ever heard of one, so we don't know what was going on.

By February the weather really got bad. We felt very sorry for the visitors we saw around Lagos, who had arrived for the February half term, they had a miserable week. On the night of Sunday 14th we had a full gale and torrential rain. With the wind and the rigging howling and the rain drumming on the boat it was difficult to get to sleep. The bad weather continued for weeks, with a one day break between each of the low pressure systems passing overhead. We've even had two days with hail stones. The worst day/night was Saturday February 20th, we're not sure what the wind speed was but the whole boat (fourteen tons of steel) was shaking. It was the storm that killed people when it passed over Madeira. Locals are saying it is the coldest, wettest winter in memory. We had a heater (sometimes two) on and the dehumidifier was running full time.

Other boats to the east of us were reporting similar conditions as far as Turkey and that their weather was also breaking records. The main influence of the bad weather was the Jetstream moving south (over us). The lows follow the Jetstream and high pressure forms over the UK dragging icy winds and snow down from the north. Hence the whole of Europe gets clobbered one way or another. This was the twenty four hour high seas forecast from Sunday 12.00 UTC 21st February, we are located at thirty seven degrees north - Part 4 : Outlook for next 24 hours : Threat of Cyclonic gale to storm in all areas above 42N. Threat of Southwest near gale or gale in all areas above 35N. This type of forecast was not unusual.

On March 2nd we flew back to the UK again, this time for two weeks house hunting. We wanted to look in the area from east of Chichester to the A3 in the west. Thus we stayed in three places, Chichester (motel), Emsworth (lovely cottage) and Rowlands Castle (pub). We went into twenty one estate agents and visited twenty four properties, four of which we shortlisted. After visiting the four shortlisted for the second time we chose one and made an offer that was accepted. We drove over eight hundred miles crisscrossing West Sussex and Hampshire, by the end we were somewhat weary! We didn't think we would have time to visit relatives but we finished early and we both managed to visit our families. Now we just have to wait while the buying process goes through on the house.

The taxi ride back from Faro airport to Lagos was unbelievable. The motorway speed limit is 120 kilometers per hour (70mph), we were doing 200 kph (120 mph) and going round corners just below tyre squealing speed, at night! I have to say the driver was very good and Mike asked him if he had been a racing driver. He said "no, I've been a taxi driver for forty years". Which explained it all, or not.

On March 23rd the marina and Maritime Police organised for out of date flares to be disposed of by firing them on the beach. The wind was onshore so keeping out of the smoke was a priority. The police were friendly and supervised every firing. Eventually we had to stop firing parachute flares because one had landed in the Sopromar boat yard. What became apparent is that flares more than five years past their use by date don't work. In fact they can be dangerous, for example a parachute flare exploded in somebody's hand. Had we not all been wearing thick gloves it could have got quite nasty.

At the end of the month we won the quiz night (again!) with Sue and Steve on Kaivalya. The weather is improving a bit so hopefully spring is here.

Odds and ends
Assault. When we were feeding the swans, ducks and coots in Emsworth a Coot kept sneaking in taking the bread from under a Swan's beak. Eventually the Swan got annoyed enough that it picked up the Coot by it's neck and threw it to one side, amazing.

Gold medal awards. We don't often praise anybody in the marine industry but we've had incredible service from two people. Ralf Putzger is a diesel mechanic in Lagos. He fixed our generator and gave good, highly competent service at a very fair price. We highly recommend him (Tel: + 351 962 396 354). When we were in the UK we wanted to buy two 12 volt strip light bulbs. Emsworth chandlery didn't have the bulbs but did have a complete light unit. To our amazement they took the bulbs out of the unit and sold them to us. Quite extraordinary service.