Greek Island Odyssey

IMG_8152

Photographs are mostly (C) taken by me, a few by other members of the group. Some of the yacht photos are from the Bavaria Yacht web site. Use of my photographs requires my agreement and permission.

I’ve decided to make this blog entry a little different, so it is a bit of a break from ‘The Stars Looked Down’ posts. This one is more of travelogue and somewhat longer than is usual for SLD items. This is generally a ‘happy’ post as it reports on something that was enjoyable and very different.

 

Prologue

Being a single person, holidays can be something of a challenge: there’s not too much fun to be had sat in a restaurant or a bar on your own every day for a week or more. The archetypal modern British summer holiday is to travel to somewhere in the Mediterranean and enjoy warmer weather, sand, and sea for one or two weeks. Being single, that formula has never entirely appealed to me.

Over the years I have done various things. For most of the last 20 years, I usually take a week to go on a residential summer school to do with music. These tend to be based at boarding schools or residential arts centres. At these you indulge yourself for a week of music-making, usually supported by institutional catering of varying levels of quality. I usually have a week away in the winter skiing, generally in France, but I have been elsewhere too.

The odd holiday in the sun has featured. I did spend a couple of weeks in the Dordogne and Provence, but that was 25 years ago. I have visited a few Greek islands, such as Zakynthos, and I did a trundle round Turkey visiting historic sites as part of an organised tour.

Until this summer my most trip had been a week on the island of Santorini in the Cyclades back in 2013.

 

Planning

I decided in early summer that this year I should have a ‘proper’ summer holiday. For various reasons, I was not going to be attending my usual summer school, but an alternative one, and I felt the need to have an ‘away-from-it-all’ summer break too.

I decided that specifically I needed to go on a ‘gay’ holiday. At the outset, I wasn’t sure if that was going to be travelling to somewhere and staying in a gay-friendly hotel, or some sort of gay group travel. Internet search engines are the way forward they say, so I started running various queries and searches.

A lot of results come back but they fall into various categories. Mainstream tour operators are keen to not miss out on the ‘pink pound’ and will come up in searches for ‘gay holidays’. What most of these seem to be is no more than “We’ll take bookings off anyone” rather than destinations, hotels, events specifically geared around gay travellers.

There are specialist LGBT orientated tour companies, many of which seem to be geared to: we will charge a lot more for the LGBT label. Another feature is a lot of these are aimed at the younger element and clubbing in gay resorts such as Mykonos, or Sitges. In effect these are the gay equivalent of ‘Club 18-30’ and no more attractive.

One option that came up several times was flotilla sailing. This is where several yachts spend the holiday sailing together. Options are usually to either skipper yourself (for which you need relevant skills/qualifications) or you charter with a skipper/cook provided. The latter is obviously much more expensive.

IMG_8506

This appealed to me as I would like to sail on yachts and I have done some necessary exams/certificates (RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper Navigation). I’ve never done flotilla sailing primarily because of the cost of being a solo traveller.

A company (GaySail.com) came up several times and I looked closely. Their trips were what I was looking for, somewhat pricey, but challenge was they only did the sailing part – you need to book travel and transfers yourself. I continued searching and eventually found a gay travel agency based (inevitably) in Brighton that would make all of the arrangements. I ended up making a booking for early September via Outofoffice.com.

 

Anticipation

IMG_8336All the detailed information arrived as PDF documents attached to e-mails a day or so later. One nuance came out of the confirmation which had somehow got missed off the discussion during the booking process. I was aware that Gay Sail operated two styles of holiday: one with minimal clothing worn, and one with none… It would seem I had been booked onto the naked sailing option… This was a surprise… Younger me would have been horrified. I don’t quite know when the change came about, but I just shrugged my shoulders and wasn’t too bothered by it.

Yachts, even largish 56 foot ones, have limited stowage space, so I gave a lot of thought to what to take and how much to take. In the end, I did book hold luggage purely because I needed to take some items (such as power packs) which are not permitted in hand luggage. I bought a pack-away holdall from the travel specialists Rohan and that came to 9.8kg, plus a small backpack.

 

Outbound

The day soon came round. A couple of days before departure, a WhatsApp group was set-up and all of the ‘crew’ from the two yachts were signed-up to it. This provided a chance for people to say hello and swap pictures before arriving. The party was mixed nationality: 20 people from UK, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, US, Canada, Argentina…

Flights from Manchester were early with 7am departure, which means leaving the house around 3am. I was parked by just after 4am, but my parking arrangement were a little odd as I was in T2 multi-story, but departing T1, so there was a stiff walk to get across to T1. By not much after 5am I was through check-in and security and wandering around the shops and cafés air-side.

The flight was direct from Manchester to Mykonos and was meant to be 4 hours, but a favourable tail wind made it about 3.5 hours. Disembarkation and clearing the airport was quite quick and my transfer was waiting for me. By around 2pm local time, I was stood on the harbourside with my luggage looking for a pair of yachts sporting a gay rainbow flag on a halyard by the mast…

_DSC0762I soon spotted the yachts Prometheus and Proteus and Ted (cook on the Proteus) welcomed me and took my luggage. We weren’t due to board until 5pm, so I had several hours to go and wander around the old town, which is about a mile away.

At 5pm, I was back at the side of the yacht and this time boarded. I was welcomed by Ted again and by JP (Jan-Pietr) the skipper of the Proteus for the week. Accommodation on a yacht is always tight, and I was in a small cabin with bunks: I opted for the lower one. I was right to severely limit of luggage.

After initial chats and introductions, we headed off to the old town by ferry for dinner. This would be the pattern of the week with breakfasts and lunches aboard the yacht, but dinners ashore somewhere.

 

Welcome Aboard

The yacht (Proteus) was a Barvaria Cruiser 56, which is quite large. It has main sail and a fore sail (spinnaker) at the front. There is an 100hp engine for when sailing is not viable and for entering and leaving port. There are 6 berths, with three toilets (‘heads’ in sailor speak) and showers. The salon has seating, the galley, and the chart table and navigation station.

CR56-Sailing-SC11_02On deck, there is the main cockpit which has seating and a folding table. The two steering wheels are located at the aft. There is a swimming platform which can be lowered to allow people to step off the back of the yacht into the water. There is a freshwater shower there too to rinse off.

CR56_Salon-to-stb_03

Modern yachts have sophisticated rope management systems which mean that a lot of rope handling can be done from the cockpit, reducing the need to be on deck near the mast etc. Modern self-tailing winches, one powered, make life easier.

 

Routine

The structure of each day varied to some extent, but essentially were as follows. Quiet time was from 11pm to 8am. Breakfast was served in the cockpit collectively at 8.30am. Generally continental in style with bread, cheese, cold meats, cereals, muesli, fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, tea, coffee, fruit juices. Ted our cook prepared everything: we all got involved in the washing up and clearing away.

Entering and leaving port is when the work load on a yacht is at its highest. We always moored ‘astern’ i.e. reversed into the marina. This is done by dropping the anchor in the middle of the harbour then reversing in to the quayside. Warps (ropes) are thrown to people on the quay to loop round a bollard and the loose end is thrown back to the yacht where is secured to a cleat. By doing this, you can ‘slip’ your mooring when you leave since you don’t need anyone ashore to undo ropes. Fender buoys are tied onto the rails to prevent adjacent vessels damaging each other. When you leave, you slip the mooring warps and wind in the anchor chain which pulls you away from the mooring, assisted by the motor.

 

Once clear of the shore, sails are raised. For the first part of the week, the wind was from behind, so we mostly sailed on the spinnaker. Later in the week, we were able to use the main sail as well and sailed ‘close hauled’ to the wind. We took turns ‘helming’ i.e. at the wheel. From time to time sails would have to be adjusted, either due to change in conditions or to change tack.

Around lunch time we would look to moor in a bay somewhere, lower the platform at the stern and have a swim. Lunch would then be served in the cockpit. Lunches varied a lot: some were cooked, others were salads. The standard was good throughout the week.

I have glossed over one detail. Once we were clear of port, weather permitting (so every day except Thursday) it was sun cream on, shorts off and no clothes until in sight of people as we approached port for the evening. Despite some apprehension before the holiday, to be honest, it was no big deal since everyone was quite literally in the same boat… It just wasn’t important.

On board, there was a plentiful supply of wine, beer, soft drinks, which was freely available at lunchtime or any other.

In the afternoon, typically around 4 to 5pm, we would sail into the harbour of our destination island. During the week we visited Mykonos, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, and Paros. Once moored up, we were usually free for an hour or two to explore the local town. The timing of the days meant that sunset was around 7.30 or so, which meant plenty of opportunities for photographing colourful sunsets. The crew of both yachts were booked in as a large party to a restaurant each evening. This made the overall group a party of 20.

 

To be continued….

Advertisements

The stars looked down – 81

An afternoon out

It was predictable. The come down from the excitement of the recent holiday was to be expected and I was prepared for that. As I said in SLD80 I have also had to come to terms with what I thought was the beginnings of a relationship drying up and going nowhere.

This has left me high and dry. Evidently, I have placed too much faith on this going somewhere. Since it is going nowhere, that is a problem.

As an attempt to be more ‘out there’ I took the train on Saturday afternoon and went to Manchester’s gay village ‘Canal Street’. To be honest, it’s a little limited in its offering. Essentially it’s a small area based on Canal Street and some stuff in the immediately adjacent roads such as Richmond Street. It’s made up of bars, a couple of pubs, night clubs, and one tea room.

IMG_8873I decided to go to The Molly House, which is a proper real ale pub in a late Georgian / Regency building. I went upstairs and ordered a gin and tonic. For a Saturday afternoon around 4pm, it was ticking over. There aren’t that many tables and chairs and it was full. Some people left whilst I was ordering at the bar, so I got a seat overlooking the roof terrace, which is where the smokers were hiding.

Why was I there? People tell me that gay bars are where you can meet people. I’m sceptical. The reason I’m sceptical is I doubt (except possibly in the largest of gay communities and the largest of bars) that you ever get very many single people simultaneously in a bar looking to strike up a conversation with some random guy. Secondly, I’m not exactly gregarious – I find trying to strike up a conversation, even the most casual ones, with people I don’t know, to be very difficult.

The Molly House takes its name from an eighteenth-century term for a place where gay men meet. So the name is apposite. The style is ‘shabby-chic’. Walls are bare exposed brickwork and wooden beams. Floors are wooden boards.

Looking around, there are several couples sat at the bar on bar-stools. They are closely engaged in conversation; the way old friends are. In the room, there are several groups occupying the various tables. A couple of groups of four and one larger group of six or so people. I’m the only person on their own in the room.

The bar staff keep changing. The guy who served me my gin, is replaced by the guy who serves me the tapas I’d ordered (cheese and ham croquettes and chicken skewers). A while later he was replaced by a girl.

I drink up and leave. My thought is to go the tea room and have cake and coffee. The tea room is very busy and I was told I could leave my number and they’d text me when a table was free – about 45 minutes.

I decided not to bother and eventually settled on the bar of the Velvet Hotel. This is definitely a cocktail bar. It’s late afternoon and still light outside and mild, so many people are sat outside. I find a table inside near the bar and order a coffee.

IMG_8879It’s very busy when I arrive. It is split on two levels with various arrangements of tables, chairs, bench seating. There is one large group of eight or so women: a hen party. There are many other groups and couples. No single people apart from me.

 

It’s only 6pm, but I decide to head to the station to head home. There are several reasons for the decision. A practical one is that there are rail strikes which mean that my train will be busy. There are football matches on and the mid and late evening trains will be filled with drunken football supporters, which I could do without. The last reason is quitting whilst you’re ahead. If I were to stay too long, observing people and couples, I would get morose and depressed. So I decided to leave before that happened.

I was home by about 8pm.

So, here’s the challenge: do I book an hotel for a future visit so that I can spend a full evening in the gay village and stay late enough for the bars and clubs to get busy? Or is that just setting myself up to end up being very depressed at the end of an evening?

I have several friends who think I should do exactly that – book it and go. Part of me agrees. The part of me which knows how I struggle with being in large groups where I don’t really know people thinks otherwise…

I am currently perched on the horns of a dilemma trying to make my mind up. Mind you, to get hotel prices to be sensible (i.e. £60 and not £140+) I need to book three months or more ahead…

To be continued…

The stars looked down – 80

Coming in to land

I think it’s time to try to make sense of a few things.

As I’m sure regular readers will be fed-up reading, we know that I’ve been out for over 3 years, that I’ve struggled with what that means in regard to relationships and finding people, and so forth.

As mentioned in a recent post, the sailing holiday in September was cathartic in some ways and has made some things much easier. I am much less self-conscious about being gay and I am much more ‘out there’ about it to the extent that I broadcast it on my FB page.

Part of the struggle has been the direction of travel of the ‘relationship’ (I use the term loosely) with ‘the boy’. In recent days, I have given this a lot of thought and I have arrived at some tentative conclusions.

The issue has been the very sporadic nature of communications and meetings. I have really struggled with this and not understanding it. So, what do I think is happening?

  • I strongly suspect that we are not on the same page.

My view is that we are engaged in conversation and arranging to meet with a view to becoming something more. The end-point is not clear – could be boyfriend, could be a relationship, might ‘friend with benefits’ (fwb aka ‘fuck buddy’).

I suspect his view is different. We’re not in a proto-relationship, we’re two guys who meet-up occasionally and chat sporadically online

If you take this view I think it explains the behaviours, such as the lack of spontaneity in online conversations, the very delayed responses, the difficulties meeting up and so on.

  • It is possible to place other interpretations on it.

For example, he’s seeing multiple people, you’re his “Plan D”, kept on the back burner for when everything else fails. This is a behaviour pattern known as ‘benching’. With benching, you keep just enough contact to keep the other party ‘interested’. When Plan A, B, and C fail, you suddenly bring D to life and something gets arranged at short notice, which D happily complies with, unaware that they are Plan D.

Now this pattern, also fits the observed behaviour. It has to be said that this option cannot be ruled out as there is no evidence either way. However, I don’t believe he is this type of person.

  • Another option.

He doesn’t want an enduring relationship and would prefer to keep things ‘non-committal’. In this, he’s free to have sex and meet-ups with guys with no longer-term view.

This also fits the behaviour pattern and may well be the most likely scenario. He’s been in long-term relationships in the past, he might not be prepared to have another one at the moment.  He doesn’t want the challenge of a full-on bf / relationship.

Where does that leave me? The first part of the answer is I don’t mind if he doesn’t want to be in a more substantial relationship. If he wants occasional meet-ups and hook-ups, that’s good for me. The issue for me is that I would just like to know that. The second part is that there needs to be more honesty and openness in communication.  I’m in this pickle because of the lack of and difficulty with communication: communication is important.

Where does this leave me then?

I think it’s right to suggest that we are on different pages. I think that his view is of a simpler, lower key relationship (e.g. ‘fwb’) than I had been imagining.

I have spent nearly a year in a ‘holding pattern’ waiting for this to resolve itself, expecting him to come out of the loop and for things to move forwards. I think this has been misplaced and has happened because of my naivety and inexperience. The good side of that is it means I can now get my head around that and move on. The down side is I’m not sure where to go next, but that’s a separate issue.

The stars looked down – 79

A big sigh

cropped-hanson-lx-tenor-bellI joined a saxophone forum when I started over 7 years ago. I post there more often than I do on other fora. Through it I have got to know various other players in the NW of England area and some of us meet up monthly to play together. With one exception, they were all beginners and have no music background, no experience of playing in groups etc.

We started as a trio meeting in my house once a month. We’ve grown to be generally around 6 or 7 which, with the geographical spread of people, it was felt sensible to meet somewhere in the middle (I am the farthest south). So, we meet in a village hall near Manchester airport, which for most people is a 30 or 40 mile drive, apart from the person who books it, for whom it is about 5 miles.

I have been conducting/leading us since the start. Most of the music we play I have either bought or arranged myself, probably about 2/3 of what we use. There is one other player who does some leading. He’s a good player, but has no background in performing in groups, conducting etc. and he prefers ot let me conduct the pieces he’s brought along.

We rehearse once a month on Sunday afternoons 1 – 4. My main orchestra rehearses alternate Sundays. I’ve been doing both of them for about the same length of time, so my limited Sunday availability is known. The person who books the room puts out a Doodle poll and then goes with the maximum number of ticks. For some reason, they have been discounting my availability. Now there are months which just don’t work, and I have no problem with that. But to suddenly have a position where all but one month (June, September, October, November) are not doable by me feels more than a little off.

I made some polite noises, which no-one seemed to take much notice of. So, I made a rather more pointed noise. Oh, that kicked a response off from the room booker. Suddenly, I’m being unreasonable…

This group is important to me. Because of the situation with mum I haven’t done wind band this year – this is my only sax playing outlet. I also enjoy it. Whilst it may not be deliberate, I have felt excluded. This blew up last week when I was already feeling fragile. So, it shoved me even further down than I already was.

Now I’m not happy as I’m being painted as the villain of the piece for speaking out.

Which has got me more depressed.

It’s an old problem, but why can’t people just be a little kinder and give a little more thought to things?

So much for happier times.

The stars looked down – 78

_DSC0932OK it’s time to fill in a little more having made two short SLD posts providing some background about the recent gay group holiday I went on.

Those of you who have read my posts for a while will know that in many of them there are details of my struggles with being gay. I thought I had exorcised that with coming out in 2015 at the tender age of 55. The problem – which I can now see – is that I had not fully come out, part of me was still in the closet. Family did not know, work (mostly) did not know, and various friends did not know (mostly those that I had not seen in person since 2015).

What the trip taught me was the importance of being myself, not hiding, and living #NOFILTER. I spent the week in the company of other gay guys who were comfortable with who they were, used to being out, and unlike me (mostly) out for a long time even though they were mostly my sort of age.

On my return to the UK, I decided I would post about this on social media, which means it would go to everyone, including my nephews, and also those friends that I haven’t seen in a while. However, it would need to be longer than could conveniently written in a post on social media, so I wrote a much longer blog type item, uploaded it to Google Drive, and then shared the link to the pdf document.

Posts on social media often go unremarked. It was surprising that about 40 people ‘liked’ the post and 20 posted supportive comments (between the two groups there are about 50 people in all).

So that has been a big plus. I have also told various colleagues at work.

The challenge that arrived last week was the inevitable bump as I landed back on terra firma. What needs to be tackled is how to turn the positive experiences from the holiday into something positive at home.

I’ve talked a lot in the past of the difficulties and challenges of trying to get anywhere with dating apps. I think we’ve concluded that they’re probably not ideal for me. So, meeting real people is the obvious way to go, the challenge – as ever – is how and where?

That’s when it gets hard. I’m not brilliant on my own in a bar/club (not that I’ve ever been to many clubs). Some straight friends have said they’ll go with me (they’re not bothered about going to gay bars/clubs – they say they’ve done it before). Might be the way forward, but… not easy either.

Thought I’d try chatting to the boy again. I really don’t know what to think anymore. I try talking to him, get a response, seems chatty. Chat some more, get no response. If I try to push for an answer, I get none.

I really don’t know what to think. I think he’s a nice guy. He seems to like me. I think there are some issues, and unfortunately, I don’t know the details so can’t really tell what’s going on. However, it’s been 18 months since we started messaging and that is more than enough time. That’s nearly 50% of my time since I came out. I can’t sit ‘on hold’ indefinitely on the off-chance that something might happen.

Finding people is so hard. It might be time to say ‘goodbye’ to the relationship that isn’t… Sadly I think he means more to me than I mean to him.

The stars looked down – 77

Into the unknown

As promised, continuing this series of short posts covering recent holiday experiences.

So, carrying on from SLD 76, I took a major step into the unknown and booked myself onto a gay group holiday. There were several reasons for this being a ‘big deal’. The first being the obvious one of it being a group holiday that is specifically for gay guys.

The second was the type of holiday: sailing on a yacht in the Greek islands. That means there is no escape – you are in a relatively confined space for a large part of the day.

The third was that the holiday was multi-national with people from a number of European and American countries.

Now I could write a lengthy travelogue type blog about it, and I might do that later, but for the time being I’m going to steer away from that. The core detail is that we were a party of 20 on two large yachts including a gay skipper and gay cook on each boat. We slept on board (I was in a bunk bed) and breakfast and lunch were aboard as well. Evening meals where ashore in a pre-booked restaurant on a different island each day apart from one beach bbq.

Given the nature of the holiday – which is relatively expensive – it is not surprising that the demographic was mostly 40s and 50s with a few outliers either side of that.

I will write more later, but for the moment what I will say is that it was immensely liberating – to the point of life-changing – to be in a group of fellow gays. There were opportunities to talk to others, some of whose experiences were not dissimilar to mine (albeit mostly resolved around 30 rather than mid-50s). It was a relief to discover in reality (rather than just anecdotally online) that other people’s experiences from around the world were similar to mine with the gay dating apps.

So there was a major ‘plus’ from being able to share and talk with fellow gays and that was an added confidence to ‘be me’.

The Stars looked down – 76

Moving on…

… or trying to anyway. There’s quite a lot to report since my last blog entry – sufficient that I might split it into several short blogs rather than one large one.

Those of you that are regular readers of this blog will be aware that the ones titled ‘The Stars Looked Down – nn’ are of a semi-biographical nature. Other blog entries tend to be discussions around various subjects without, or less of, a biographical element to them.

You will be aware that a recurring theme within the SLD blog entries is my struggle to come to terms with being gay, coming out, then trying to move forward and have a gay social life and also to try to meet people with a view to some sort of ongoing relationship. This is all made more challenging through living in a rural part of England with limited gay social activity and also by being in my late 50s.

We know that the gay dating apps don’t really work for me: they’re really focused on ‘hook-ups’ and ‘no strings attached’ sex. Of course, opportunities to have sex are something that most of us want, but I want something a bit more substantial than that as well. It is trying to find other activities and groups that living in a rural area is such a disadvantage and why in the longer term I will move to a city. In the short term I have to try to manage with what we currently have.