Day 1: Tuesday 29 January
in which the Elefanteneers make their departure
Last night, the bloody bike broke down! I went out to warm up the engine, intending to warm the heated grips so I could get them off to super glue them back on and there was no resistance to the kick! Fsck! What's going here then? After an appeal to the MZ_Riders mailing list, a long conversation with one of the MZ Rider's Club members leads to the logical conclusion that there's a engine strip in the offing as this is a serious problem that I can't easily sort. On the other hand, a chat with Neil the Hippy leads me to hit the kick start with a large hammer. Which worked ;)
Today I'm slightly late going round the corner to Simon's house to meet him, Jethro and Monsewer Carrick. After a quick chat, we set off at around 1915, which was about 40 minutes late. We were meant to meet Julian and his wife Viv at the M4 services near Newbury at 1900 but by the time we got there, they'd sensibly decided to move on, so we went straight down the A34 towards Portsmouth. On the way the MZ pottered to a halt. I stopped in front of a broken down car that still had its headlights on, providing handy illumination as I looked for the problem. I thought that it was something electrical at first (fuse or plug cap) but a look in the tank (eventually thought to do it) revealed the lack of go juice. D'oh! This discovery drags me to the conclusion that the reserve doesn't work. Bugger. Thankfully, Simon had been tolerating the fumes behind me and so stopped when I did. He kindly let me drain 1 litre of petrol from his tank into my Handy Little Fuel Bottle (tm) (which would have been even handier had it already contained fuel) and thence to the MZ. At the next exit there was a Sainsbury's and I picked up 4 more litres.
We did an unsteady 80 mph to Portsmouth to try and catch up, with the MZ revealing an alarming ability to weave horribly at high speeds. Despite the heavy luggage load my rear suspension is set to 'soft', but as the adjusters have seized I can't do anything about it. Nevertheless, in a way this short burst of speed was a relief after doing 55 - 60 behind Graham's outfit for miles on end. He later claimed that the unexpected combination of a headwind and hills caused these exceptionally slow speeds. They also caused the 1.5 mph speed differential overtakes which were such fun for the rest of us :) I think it was the fact that he'd virtually got a whole engine in the sidecar as spares that was slowing him down.
When Simon and I arrived at the docks, we found we were only 20 mins after Graham and Jethro. Apparently when they noticed we weren't there and stopped, a Mercedes car driver pulled over to tell them where we were. Top bloke. We get told the boat will be loading and sailing late and settle down long enough to go for coffee. Graham is slightly ahead of me in this and when I arrive at the coffee shop, he's just bought a big coffee. Just at this moment, Jethro comes over to say we're being boarded so Graham gives the coffee away and we run back to get into our gear and get on the boat. Ugly has cooled long enough to take a few kicks to start. I wave the car behind me on & the irate idiot of a car driver behind him decides to also drive round me to get ahead in the queue and comes a bit closer than I'd like to the bike. Still, he gets stopped by the crew to let me past once I do get the engine running.
The crew use a large strap to fix the bikes down, which beats the heck out of the bit of rope handed to us on the Bilbao journey several years ago. Off upstairs we go, and Graham checks out the possibility of a cabin. Julian and Viv already have one, of course, but it only works out at 5 pounds each for the rest of us to share a 4-berth jobbie and we're all up for that. We get our stuff sorted out and then Graham and I both realise we have left something in our respective vehicles.
Being stunningly lazy, we used the lift to go down to deck 3 to retrieve our things. The boat is close to sailing but not quite there yet so we are stilled allowed access. We lose sight of where the lift actually is, so we wandered along until I saw the buttons that summon it. I pressed the button to call it down. We waited and waited. After a while the light went out. The doors in front of us didn't open so I pressed the button again, assuming the lift had stopped elsewhere. The light came on and after a while went out again. The doors still didn't open. This little scenario was repeated at least five more times before a grinning lorry driver about 5 metres to my left pointed to the lift doors, which were nowhere near the locker doors we'd been waiting to open! D'oh (again)!! As we stood in the lift, staring at our shoes in embarrassment, Graham said "we tell no one" but then we burst into giggles and decided we had to tell.
Obviously, the sensible thing to do now is to drink, so we head off to the bar. A good wander round looking for the others leaves us standing at the bar and me ordering two pints. I earlier decided to get into the spirit of this foreign thing and pay in Euros with a 50 Euro note. The complete b*stard behind the bar gives me the change in Sterling. Not happy with this, I challenge him and he tells me that they always give change in pounds and that there's a sign. Too right there is, face down and in small type at the other end of the bar. Damn cheeky & something to beware if you use a P & O ferry. Cheeky sods. Disgruntled, I sit down to make some notes and chat. There's a sign up saying 3 bottles of Newcastle Brown for the price of 2. This appeals, so Graham goes to the bar to get 6 bottles. Showing stunning incompetence they've only cooled 3 bottles. Clearly they don't expect any heavy drinkers, or even any drinkers at all as far as I can tell...
Sometime later on, I realise the slight surrealism of sitting in a bar on a ship with a pianist playing 'River Deep, Mountain High' in a very aggressive manner. Weird or what?
We drank a fair bit, including some really pleasant spirits (apple schnapps?) that Julian and Viv smuggled into the bar.
Graham and I headed back to the cabin around midnight. About an hour later, Jethro and Simon rolled in. They flicked all the various lights on and off in a very drunken and slightly desperate game of "what's that switch?" which has Graham twitching and dancing on the top bunk as he's woken up. I sleep through :))