Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Annual report from the Herrmann Browns

Merry Christmas, and welcome to the annual report from the Herrmann Browns.

We've had some interesting experiences this year. We sailed Kalessin to the Baltic, getting as far as Copenhagen. Guy has been working as a flotilla skipper and has spent most of the year in Greece. And Ben didn't get to university this autumn but is definitely planning to head off there in 2012.

The year started badly for Camilla with tooth problems culminating in a nasty abscess. Just as she was recovering from that, Aviva Group Centre broke the news that her contract would have to be terminated early, in February, because of a financial challenge.

Meanwhile Guy, armed with his RYA Yachtmaster and numerous other sailing qualifications, toured potential employers at the London Boat Show. His efforts paid off when he was asked shortly afterwards if he would be interested in a shorebased job with Sailing Holidays. They are a great company with whom we've been on a number of excellent flotillas. They have a laid-back approach which suited Guy very well, and he flew out to Corfu in March. There was a huge amount to do preparing nearly 200 yachts before the season started in May.
Guy's hair being cut in Greece
Just before the first customers arrived, Guy was given an ultimatum: he could either keep his job or his dreadlocks. The dreadlocks got the chop and Guy became a standby skipper, running flotillas when things were busy, delivering yachts all over the Ionian, and the rest of the time becoming a world expert in repairing rubber dinghies and many other useful marine tasks. He's downed a lot of beer, coped with some spectacular problems and difficult customers, become very bronzed with blonde sun streaks in his hair, and is planning to go back out for the next season in February. For some reason he finds the UK cold, grey and somewhat boring L. Sadly during the summer Guy and Beth agreed to part, although they are still friends.

Ben spent the first half of the year slogging away at A-levels. He was offered conditional places at Sheffield, Nottingham and Heriott-Watt universities to do engineering, and rather amazingly also a place to do classical civilisation at Royal Holloway, although in the end he decided to go for engineering.

Meanwhile we prepared Kalessin for her Baltic cruise and Camilla made the most of her unexpected freedom to fulfil a few long-held ambitions: qualifying as a Prince2 practitioner (it's a project management thing) and sailing on the tall ship Stavros S. Niarchos from Liverpool to Glasgow, via northern Ireland. Things got really busy when Sam was asked to do a few days' training in China, by a company which trains ship's supervisors – up to now his gigs have been on the Isle of Man, although there was one unsuccessful effort to get to Libya.
View of Amsterdam
In late May we managed to find a short weather window for a North Sea crossing and Sam and Camilla headed across to Ijmuiden in Kalessin. Unexpectedly we encountered fog, and the brand-new AIS system, which tells you the location, size, speed and course of passing ships, proved fantastically useful and a great investment. We got the boat as far as Enkhuizen on the Ijsselmeer and parked her there for three weeks while we headed home (via train and Harwich ferry) to support Ben through the worst of his A-level exams. Then back to Enkhuizen and a very enjoyable (and warm) few days in the canals of Friesland before venturing out into the nasty North Sea for an extremely bumpy passage from Delfzijl to Cuxhaven in Germany, around the outside of the German Friesian islands. This is Riddle of the Sands country, and we had a few days in Cuxhaven to re-read the book and be grateful that we hadn't ventured inside the islands, before collecting Ben from Bremen airport in early July.

With Ben on board we said farewell to the North Sea (hooray) and hello to the Kiel canal and the Baltic. For the first few days the Baltic welcomed us with glorious weather. We headed a few miles north to the Schlei (still in Germany) and then turned east to explore Germany's Baltic coast, with a long string of beautiful Hanseatic cities including Lübeck, Rostock and Stralsund, alternating with resorts many of which have large and well-equipped marinas.

The weather became less delightful, with quite a lot of rain. Over one memorable long weekend we abandoned Kalessin in the resort of Warnemünde and headed inland to the Herrmann holiday home at Wulkow, east of Berlin. Our plan was to avoid the strong winds blowing in the wrong direction, but we also managed to avoid the wettest-ever 24 hours in Warnemünde and surrounding areas. It was very delightful to be in a dry house under a solid roof enjoying comfortable beds and hot baths, while back in the marina many people were unable to leave their boats for three days because it rained so hard. We got back to the boat to find a few unexpected damp patches where the water had made its way in, but on the whole we were very lucky, and able to carry on to explore Rügen and the V2 museum at Peenemünde.
The cliffs of Møn
At the beginning of August we headed north to our first Danish port, Klintholm on the island of Møn. From there we had our fastest-ever sail to Copenhagen, where we spent over a week. Sam lived in Copenhagen for a year in the 1980s so was delighted to re-visit old haunts. Ben and Camilla were visiting for the first time and we loved it – it's a beautiful, civilised and very interesting city. Highlights included eating smørrebrød in the rain in Nyhavn, and a wonderful sunny visit to the modern art museum at Louisiana, to the north of the city. On 8 August Ben flew home to await his results, and Sam and Camilla continued slowly east, picking our way through some very shallow channels between the main Danish islands and exploring small towns and tiny islands, heading towards our winter berth in Augustenborg, just north of the German border.

Sadly Ben's A-level results, although good, were not enough to get him into his chosen universities. As you may know this is the last year before the £9000 fees kick in and every decent university course was wildly oversubscribed. The Clearing process was mayhem, and Ben decided he'd rather re-take the exams than end up doing a course he wasn't interested in at a university where he didn't want to go. Fortunately Kalessin was only a few miles from her final destination and Camilla was able to fly home for a whirlwind few weeks of finding and visiting tutorial colleges. Ben is currently at Greene's in Oxford, retaking Maths and Physics in January, and spending a little bit of time appreciating Oxford's unique atmosphere. Sam and Camilla visited him in November and managed to spend a few pleasant days staying on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal (we just can't keep away from boats).


The Baltic at its best
 In October Sam and Camilla visited Guy in Corfu, just so we could remember what sun and blue sea looked like. We hired a car and explored the island a bit with Guy, and stayed in a lovely hotel owned by one of Guy's colleagues. The experience was slightly tarnished by Camilla's car being sideswiped by a truck on the M25 on the way home (no damage to Camilla), and getting home to find the ceiling in Ben's room had collapsed because of a problem with the water tanks above. The car was fixed in a couple of weeks but Ben's room is a bit more complex. Meanwhile Sam went on to Athens for a business meeting and was delayed by 5 hours by Greek air traffic controllers' strikes on the way home.

Camilla has just started a new contract, working with (whisper it) McDonald's Europe on development of a new intranet, which will mean a lot of time in London over the next few months. Sam is of course not really retired, and continues to chair and advise M&CM. He's still riding the BMW and in September toured the Normandy beaches with oldest son Tim. With the boat parked in a Danish shed he is turning his thoughts to the house, and in recent weeks we've sorted out some long-standing plumbing issues and acquired a new wood-burning stove (and a new car, a VW Passat estate).

Next year should see Guy heading back to the Ionian, Kalessin voyaging to Sweden with Sam and hopefully Camilla aboard (work permitting) and Ben making the most of his unexpected gap year before heading off to some form of education in the autumn. Fingers crossed all round.

Don't forget if you want to follow our sailing activities and see some pictures, it's all on this blog.

Much love to you all and wishing you the very best for 2012

Camilla, Sam, Guy & Ben