I have never met Sandra and Iain Baxter but I follow their travel blog. I am reproducing today’s edition as it is a remarkable story straight off the news TV screens.

“It all started reasonably well. The ferry was 2 hours late in leaving Ancona but as we were heading for Greece where time matters even less than Italy we weren’t too worried. The crew kindly offered us an electric hook up on the ferry, as we had very little in the fridge we declined. In our experience car decks are always freezing and our fridge stays cold enough for 24 hours, the crossing is only 22 hours so we will be fine. Once on-board we found our free cabin, on a par with Brittany Ferries, and then we went to see the purser for our meal discounts – 30% of all meals for the trip. Anek Lines and Mimoan are all one company, as they cannot offer Camping On-board to motorhomes in winter, and on a few of their ferries where there isn’t an open deck, they give a free cabin and the meal offer. Pretty amazing deal as would say that 50% of the passengers were sleeping in chairs as the cabins were coming in at nearly €200 for the night.

We were due to dock at the first port of call, Igoumenitsa, around 7am the next morning, then after unloading and re-loading a further 5 hours onto Patras so arrival eta was 3pm Sunday. We woke up around 7am to tannoy announcements for all passengers to stay seated, and a garbled message about the North Atlantic. To be honest we thought they were talking about the storm so had a lie in and wandered down for breakfast late morning. When we did we found it was the Norman Atlantic, an Anek Ferry and it was on fire, our ship has turned back as it neared port to assist and we were the closest vessel, with ships joining the circling of the stricken ferry continuously.

Its very hard to describe watching a burning ship with smoke billowing, flames leaping out from the decks, explosions every few minutes and seeing at least 60-70 people stood on the deck waiting for rescue. The passengers and crew on the ship needed winching to safety by helicopters, incredibly the whole operation to airlift them all lasted 28 hours. Most people will have seen or read news reports of the events, so its not something I feel it’s appropriate to write too much about in a blog, suffice to say its something we will always remember and will count our blessings we happened to be on the right ferry at the right time and not the other way around.

In the middle of this Iain needed to be taken down to the car decks to get some insulin and medications from the van, as we were going to be on-board for three days rather than one. At which point he finds that this ship is not freezing on the car decks, its roasting as there is a massive generator running down there. Our fridge is turning intoa cooker and a 12 months supply of insulin is about to go off. We managed to save it by bringing it upstairs where the bar staff kept it in the fridge for us. The rest of the contents of our fridge have been disposed of, however the odour will be staying with us for some days we think. The heat was enough to actually start heating the water in our tanks to a temperature that would be fine for a shower.

We finally left the fire scene late afternoon Monday when all passengers and crew had been rescued. This meant that we would be arriving in Patras around 3am, so our plan was to stay on the dock until day-light as we had no idea on roads, routes etc. When we arrived I asked the Customs officer if we could park up until morning, he said that wouldn’t be possible. I asked where we could stay and he pointed to a carpark outside the fences. I inquired if he thought we would be safe there and he told me “no not at all, beware the Afghans”(I assumed he meant people, not dogs). Patras looks a bit like Calais, fencing everywhere as immigrants try to sneak on boats bound for Italy. The carpark didn’t seem appealing so next question was what he would suggest, I had to laugh at his response “I would drive until out of the city and away from Afghans then rest somewhere safe until daylight”. Thanks for that, we felt so much better, not! We decided to aim for a campsite at Glifa just over an hour and a half away. Out of the docks and just as we should have turned onto the motorway, we realised we had wrong slotted – right into the back streets of Patras. It is probably as safe as houses, but if you have never been there before, its 4am, you haven’t slept since the previous morning you have a general apprehension about your first visit to an unknown country then trust me it was a bit scary. All we could do was hold our faith in Sat Nav and 10 minutes later we were back on the main road out of town, both praying for an easy drive with no further drama, which luckily was what we got. We saw nothing of Greece other than very dark roads, no traffic, not even some stray dogs, it all passed by in a blur as were both concentrating on the right turns to make sure we didn’t end up off route again. We finally arrived at the campsite at 5am, parked up outside the gates, switched off the engine and were out like lights within minutes

This morning all is good in our world again, the campsite we are at is the Ionion Beach. Its’s fabulous, our pitch is within 3 ft of the beach, there are only a few motorhomes here but we did meet some Brits this morning who were heading for San Marino and they gave us loads of tips for the best shops and most importantly the nearest Lidl 🙂 We have been to the village shops and caused some chaos with shopping due to our lack of language and my weighing all the fruit and vegetables wrongly. Hieroglyphics are already seeming like the the main focus of our world. We are slightly mollified by there being translations into German on many signs – my German is even worse than my French but it looks like we could be relying on it quite a bit on directions. In terms of shopping its even worse several times when we were out today one of us picked something up and said “has this got sugar in?” or “what type of bread is this?” – we don’t know, you cannot work it out unless you learn the whole new alphabet, so yes we are going to try. As always when in Rome…. pizza is out, chick peas and goat are in, as will be ouzo! On the way back from the village I made Iain stop for our first look at a Greek Orthodox Church, sadly locked up but we made do with peering in the windows, there is going to be visited quite a few churches and castles coming up in the very near future.

As of yet the sun isn’t shinning, it will be soon we have no doubt. Its been an eventful few days, a trip of 22 hours took 58 hours but it really isn’t something we can complain about, as our ferry journey ended at our intended destination. And now we are in Greece we intend to stay for several weeks and hopefully see a lot of the country before we move on in early Spring.”

Thanks to Iain and Sandra.
Christopher Macgowan