Happy Holidays From Mystic
December 19, 2013, 3:07 pm, Westerly, RI
This is the first time At Last has ever felt snow
Dear Family and Friends,
It seems quite impossible to write this holiday letter and express the joy that Mark and I feel to be home safely again. After 20 months at sea and two years of living on At Last, we are home and on land. As we were recently quoted in the World Cruising Club's magazine Latitudes,
"The biggest highlight of our trip was completing the circumnavigation safely, the boat and ourselves all in one piece. Truly, that is the big accomplishment. As we pulled into Rodney Bay Marina, we docked the boat and felt an incredible sense of relief. We were back, all was well."
We have begun to settle back into a "normal" routine. When we landed in Mystic in June, Mark quickly began working as a yacht salesman for Springline Yacht Sales. He traded in his suit and briefcase for khakis and a backpack filled with tools and a camera. I started work at Westerly Hospital in August as one of two social workers there. My colleague and I handle all of the behavioral health issues from the ER to the medical floors and the ICU. I am really enjoying it. I feel incredibly lucky to have found something so quickly. Most days I am leaving for work before Mark even gets out of bed. I remember the days quite clearly when I was the one still sleeping when Mark was going to work.
We moved off the boat in October and into a small cottage on Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island. We are renting the house for the winter and plan to move back onto the boat in May. We are thrilled to have a washer and dryer again. Unfortunately, the house has only one bathroom - can you believe how spoiled we were to have two bathrooms (aka heads) on the boat! It is nice not having to worry about whether the water tank is full and to be able to just flush the toilet and not worry about the waste again. We are sad when we see At Last out of the water in the parking lot at Mystic Shipyard but she is having a well-deserved break.
We are continuing to live pretty simply. All of our items are still in storage except for our winter clothing so we are managing with what we had on the boat. We have been sharing a car although my parents have been very generous with letting us borrow one of theirs. We have no Christmas tree and only two decorations around the house. Somehow, we adjust and have gotten very used to having so much less.
We just had a great visit with Grace and her boyfriend Matt over the Thanksgiving holiday. Grace is finishing college in the Spring with great grades and will start a co-op program with PP&L after she graduates. We are so proud of her for working so hard in such a tough program. Matt and Grace also adopted a wonderful 120 lb. black lab named Buddy. We so enjoyed visiting them over the holiday.
We have thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with family and friends. It was a very long time to be away. We are fantasizing about where we might sail to next. We seem quite clear that another sailing adventure is in our future. Don't worry everyone; we will not be going as far or for as long. Just dreaming about it is enough for now...
All our best and love this holiday season,
Janet and Mark
Home At Last
July 17, 2013, 11:34 am, Mystic Shipyard, Mystic, CT
We arrived in Mystic at 2:00 am on June 17th after a short and, gratefully, uneventful sail from the C and D Canal. As I am typing up this blog all I can think of is how quickly the past month has gone by! Arriving home has been a whirlwind of activity. We are sorry that it has taken a month to update the blog. It is a bit embarrassing.
Although we arrived in Mystic at 2:00 am we did not get into our slip until the next morning. We were having engine trouble. We chose to land the boat on a fuel dock at a nearby marina instead of trying to find our marina and slip in the middle of the night. It was a good choice but unfortunately the marina who owned the fuel dock charged us for a full night of berthing despite us being there for only seven hours and never using any electricity or water. A bit disappointing!
Our arrival at Mystic Shipyard was a completely different experience. The very talented Kenny was waiting for us at our slip ready to help us get tied up. He is the type of dock hand that every marina needs. We just followed his instructions to get into the slip then he secured our boat perfectly. He helped us with our electrical cords and hooked up our water hose. As we finished, I commented to Mark that it would be alright with me if we didn't move the boat for the rest of the summer.
Not only have we not moved the boat for the past month, we have done almost nothing to it. I think after all of the times we have needed to rush to get everything done before leaving again, we subconsciously decided that since we aren't going anywhere we didn't need to do anything right away. So one month later, we haven't cleaned the inside or the outside of the boat. Luckily, we had good rain shortly after we arrived which did clean off the salt. We haven't changed the fuel filters or oil in the engine which needs to be completed. The hatches are still caked in salt. Suddenly, we have all the time in the world to get things done and the motivation to do it has dwindled exponentially.
We were greeted shortly after arriving in our slip by Rick and Kimberly Dieterich who own Springline Yacht Sales which is located in a building at the end of the dock. Rick sold us our boat six years ago and he is now Mark's new boss. Yes, Mark accepted a job with Rick as a yacht broker. Thus, many of you now understand why we returned back to New England earlier than expected - because Mark needed to start work. By the way, if anyone wants to buy or sell a boat, you know who to contact.
Click here for Springline Yacht Sales
The day after we arrived in Mystic, Mark went to work. This entailed him getting ready at about 8:45 am (for work at 9:00 am), dressing in shorts and a polo shirt, and walking to his office in a building at the end of the dock. On the first day he came back to the boat at 3:00 pm because he had yet to have lunch. Then he took a nap for the rest of the day. He has spent one afternoon cleaning a boat for a showing, driving to Falmouth, MA to check out a boat, photographing a boat he listed, taking our dinghy to the morning field to check out another boat. It seems like he never knows where the day will take him. I am thrilled that he decided not to return to his earlier career path. He is so lucky to be doing what he loves and working with such great people. In addition to Rick and Kimberly, Mark is also working with Andy Baker who joined us on the first leg of our trip from Virginia to the Caribbean. We met he and his wife Linda right after we bought At Last and have been great friends ever since.
The docks of Mystic Shipyard from Springline Yacht Sales
Mark has been working a lot since we got back, working 6 days a week and studying about the yacht brokerage business in the off hours. I have been trying to take care of all of the details in getting back on land. My original list had about forty items on it and it seems like whenever I cross something off Mark and I find something else to put on the list. We did get cell phones the day we arrived. We now have a PO Box in West Mystic. My parents arrived the first day with my car which I am thrilled to have back. They had it detailed for us and I can honestly say it has never been so clean. We are trying to survive with one car for now but we have decided that it will be impossible once I get a job. I have been working hard at searching for a job. I have applied for about ten positions and had an interview last week. I am hopeful but don't want to jinx it so I will wait until everything is finalized to make an announcement.
We have had a wonderful time visiting everyone. I went back to Baystate to attend a party for my previous boss who is moving to Florida. It was great to see everyone again and I left with a wish that I could return to my work as a transplant social worker. I loved the job and the people I worked with. I also spent a weekend with my girlfriends back in Springfield. Mark and I have both been amazed at how quickly it all feels so normal again. Whether it is family or friends, after a few hours it feels like we never left. The relationships just keep falling back into place. It is so comforting.
We have already met some great people at the marina. The first night we arrived we were invited onto another boat for drinks with a group of people. We had a great time as we shared stories of our great adventure. People had so many questions about what we did and what it was like. At this point you might think that we are getting tired of telling the same stories. We are not. We love that people are so curious and interested in what we accomplished.
Things feel like they are falling into place quite nicely. We love Mystic and feel very comfortable calling it home. We both seem to be very content with living on the boat for the summer and fall. We hope to find a place to rent over the winter or even house sit for someone. We have also talked about renting an apartment where we can keep all of our stuff (it is all still in storage) and then live in it over the winter time. At this point we are trying to take one thing at a time and not rush any of the bigger decisions.
I continue to be amazed with going grocery shopping. Although the galley is still small on the boat, at least it is stationery which makes cooking much more fun. We have been enjoying the idea that if we have cravings for certain foods we can just go out and get whatever it is. The down side of this is that it is going to be really easy to gain the weight back that we lost. I think Mark has gained about 10 lbs. since he got back to the US. Luckily, he still has the pony tail. I am encouraging him to keep it but he is getting tired of the upkeep of long hair and the lack of good pony tail holders for men.
I will end this blog with another great story of just how small the world is. A little over a week ago I got a phone call from Mark while I was out running errands telling me to get home because I wouldn't believe who just pulled into our marina. It was Michael from s/v Finnish Line. If you go back to the blog which I wrote in Cairns, Australia you will discover that he is the man who was in our slip in Wickford, RI the season before we rented it. He left the slip to sail around the world in 2010 and we left a year later to do the same. We first ran into him in Cairns, Australia and then saw him intermittently a couple of more times along our circumnavigation. You can imagine our surprise when he pulled into Mystic Shipyard into a slip right down from ours. It felt like we had come full circle, having both our boats in Mystic together after both finishing our circumnavigations. Amazing!!
In addition selling boats, Mark wants to help others prepare for a circumnavigation. He welcomes any requests for information and support. He also is preparing a list of items that we needed for the trip but that we will be selling now that we are back. So if anyone is interested in spares, safety gear, etc. send us an email.
We are so appreciative of all the emails we have received remarking about the end of our journey. We understand that many will miss all of the stories. We cannot begin to express how touched we have been by all of the support and how many people have enjoyed reading the blog. Although we are happy to be home, Mark and I also feel a great sadness that this adventure is ending. But a new adventure has begun and we will continue to let everyone know how we adjust to firmer ground. Mark says that this adventure may be more difficult than our last. But maybe the rainbow we saw our first day here is a good omen. We will keep updating the blog so stay tuned...
A Great Stay in Washington, DC
June 14, 2013, 10:49 am, Summit North Marina, Bear, Delaware
Before we left the mouth of the Potomac, we had a lovely dinner with several other boaters - Jim, Valerie, Chris and Dan. We enjoyed a very interesting dinner at a local restaurant with a colorful waiter. The food was all fresh, locally caught fish prepared to your liking. The other two couples were from Mount Vernon Yacht Club and they told us they would call one of their members to let them know we were on our way to Mount Vernon. Maybe someone could take a picture of At Last in front of Mt. Vernon. We finished dinner and enjoyed drinks on At Last. It was all great fun but resulted in a challenge when we needed to get up early the next morning to begin our journey to Washington, DC.
We left Point Lookout Marina at 7:00 am the next morning and motored our way up the Potomac. As it was getting dark, we anchored directly across from Mount Vernon which is perched on top of a hill overlooking the Potomac. We had a quiet and peaceful night at anchor and motored the boat over to Mount Vernon the next morning so we could get a good picture. Suddenly, over the VHF radio, Mount Vernon was hailing us. We soon found out that the dock master, Bob, had been called by Jim and was expecting us. He had reserved a spot on the dock for us so we could tie up and visit Mount Vernon.
We had a great visit to Mount Vernon and were amazed by the new Education Center and Museum which was built in 2006. We certainly learned quite a bit of information we never knew about George Washington. We wish we could have even stayed longer but Washington DC was beckoning. We will be forever grateful to Jim who called Bob to make arrangements for visit to Mount Vernon. And especially to Bob for such a gracious welcome. Mount Vernon is a well maintained and interesting historical site, a very special place that should be on everyone's cruising plans.
From Mount Vernon, we made our way up to the Capital Yacht Club in Washington, DC. We were warmly greeted on the dock by three gentlemen from the yacht club. We were quickly settled and encouraged to join everyone at the yacht club for happy hour. We happily complied. We checked in with the marina office and received a tour of the facilities. Great laundry, kitchen with coffee brewing all day, excellent book exchange, ice (which we took advantage of since our freezer has been acting up), a beautiful bar, and multiple restaurants within walking distance - who could ask for more.
At the bar, we were greeted by Rob the bartender. I was told that a cosmopolitan was one of his signature drinks so I ordered one. Now, for those of you who have had drinks on At Last, you are probably aware that Mark makes a killer cosmopolitan. I was a bit reticent to try Rob's cosmopolitan given my allegiance to Mark's magic recipe. Well, I am afraid to say that Rob makes an unforgettable cosmopolitan. I thought about watching Rob make the cosmopolitan in order to replicate it but instead I just gave in to the magic of it all. The drink even had a darker red color at the bottom of the glass - very nice touch.
We thoroughly enjoyed talking with everyone at the yacht club. We even had the Asian restaurant next door deliver food to the bar which we were able to eat at the bar. After dinner, a man came up to us and asked us if we were Mark and Janet from At Last. We said we were and he replied that he had been following our blog for the past two years. We recognized his name, Dana, in that we had exchanged emails several times in the past. The meeting led to a tour of At Last and a lengthy conversation on the boat about everything involving the World Arc given that Dana planned on following in our footsteps. We were thrilled to share our experiences and to help him achieve what we have achieved.
We had very little time in DC but took a day to do some sightseeing. The National Mall was about a ten minute walk from the marina - so convenient. After receiving some good advice, we decided to take the day and go on a tour of the city on a Segway. We had a great time although Mark will tell you he never quite got the hang of it. Once he actually drove over himself, not quite a hit and run because he kept hold of the Segway as it was trying to get away. Our guide, David, was very enthusiastic and knew all the little tidbits and interesting anecdotes that made the trip fun and interesting. I was thrilled to see all of the memorials, building, and statues. If only we had time to go to all of the museums. We definitely would love to find a way to return to the Capital Yacht Club and spend a proper amount of time visiting our fine Capital.
While in DC we did rent a car to attend several parties. We drove to Annapolis to visit the crew of s/v Brizo who were celebrating their circumnavigation. We then drove to Yonkers, NY to help celebrate my niece Emma's graduation from high school. It was great to see my brother and his family again. I cried like a baby when I saw how much my nieces and nephew have grown. I am so proud of them all!
When we left DC, we passed a US Coast Guard boat and Mark waved to them. You could see the light bulbs go off in their heads and they immediately turned around and approached us asking when the last time our boat was inspected by the Coast Guard. Well, it had been a while so they boarded our boat as we were underway which reminded us of picking up our pilot guides when we went through the Panama Canal. They stayed on our boat for about thirty minutes. One gentleman filled out a rather lengthy form about our boat inspection while another gentleman spent the time with Mark down below. He inspected the boat thoroughly and we passed the inspection! Of note was their inspection of how our holding tank was secured to prevent waste from going overboard, signs posted regarding no oil in the bilge and how to dispose of trash, Coast Guard rules of the road and regulations book, PFDs, US Coast Guard documentation number posted on the boat, inspection of the fire extinguishers, the bilge, etc. The officers who boarded the boat were very polite and respectful. We were happy to go through the inspection and although we have never needed the Coast Guard we are grateful they are out there just in case. The weather for the next several days kept the Coast Guard busy, I'm sure. If Mark could do it all over again, he thinks he would have joined the Coast Guard.
As we proceeded down the Potomac we began to receive gale warnings on the barometer and severe weather warnings on our Sirius weather connected to the chart plotter. We had a conference with another boat (from Australia) that was motoring along with us and we decided to anchor at the next anchorage. We had good holding in sand along a beach and spent the next few hours preparing the boat for a severe storm including tornado warnings. I made dinner and we ate in the cockpit as the storm blew in. It didn't amount to much which, oddly enough, feels somewhat disappointing after you put so much work into preparing the boat. Gratefully, we got a good night sleep and set out the next morning.
We continued on our way up the Chesapeake Bay to the C & D Canal the next day. We did motor through the night which was necessary given the cargo traffic, fishing boats, bridges and many buoys. We had the binoculars out most of the night watching for anything that might get in our way. I think we both gave a sigh of relief when the sun came up. We stopped the next day at Summit North Marina to visit our friend Steve (s/v Southern Cross) who participated in the World Arc with us. We arrived around lunch time so we all went to the restaurant at the marina. One beer led to two and suddenly we decided to spend the night. We had such a fantastic lunch that we returned to the restaurant for dinner after a brief nap late in the afternoon. When we came back in the evening after dinner, our boat had run aground at the dock. We were at low tide and the depth gauge 4.8 feet (we draw 5 feet). We could do little to resolve the issue so we called it a night. The next morning we moved the boat to the other end of the dock we were on and found another foot of water. With our full keel though, we think that at least part of the boat was still sitting in the mud. We again needed to prepare the boat for severe thunder storms predicted for the day with possible tornados, hail and winds up to 70 mph. Since returning to the United States we have been amazed with all of the bad weather we encountered from Florida to the Mid Atlantic. Again, the storms didn't amount to much and but we had prepared the boat for the worst.
The weather is still a bit difficult and we are now debating which day to leave. We are so close yet we still feel so far away... It should take us about two days to get home (300 nm) once we leave here. We are anxious to be on our way to get back to New England and get settled. But we still need to be cautious about the weather because the large storms have churned up the waves in the Atlantic and the wind is against us for at least another day. We don't want to take any unnecessary chances pushing the envelope and risk having a problem on the last leg of our journey. Hopefully it will be uneventful!
We are planning on landing in Mystic, Connecticut which we will be calling home for the summer, hopefully even longer. It is one of our favorite places in New England and we are so happy to have found a slip at Mystic Shipyard. We are looking forward to getting settled on the dock, meeting the others around us, and seeing all of our friends and family again!
How deep is the Intercostal Waterway?
June 4, 2013, 6:39 am, Point Lookout Marina, Ridge, Maryland
We had a fantastic stay in St. Augustine! While we were there we went out to lunch with one of our faithful blog followers, whom we had never met. Jim lives in St. Augustine and several times emailed us inviting us to visit. We took him up on it as St. Augustine was a great stop to get out of some nasty weather!
While in St. Augustine, we became typical Memorial Day Weekend tourists. First order of business we bought tickets to ride the trolley for the next three days. The trolley ride was actually quite fun and informative. It was an easy way to see a bunch of the sights in St. Augustine and you could hop on and off all day long.
St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and the Castillo de San Marcos fort was built during the 17th century. After nine previous forts were built out of wood, the current well preserved fort was built out of coquina. This rock which is made of compressed sea shells is so well able to absorb cannon balls without cracking that it was never destroyed in battle. In fact, the only time the fort changed hands was through a paper treaty rather than by battle. We were lucky enough to be at the fort when they were firing off two cannons. The ceremony was done by a group of volunteers who dressed in traditional garb, all except for their ear plugs. I was grateful that we weren't in the bay on the sailboat when the cannons went off!
We were also lucky enough to be in St. Augustine when El Galeon was on display which is a replica of the 16th century Spanish galleon ship. The replica is 170 feet and 495 tons. We spent quite a bit of time aboard asking all sorts of questions to one of the men on board who sailed the ship over from Europe. It takes about 1.5 hours to get their sails unfurled and ready to be used. The crew does have to climb the masts to the sails in order to unfurl them. The ship sails about as fast as our sailboat. Because of the rounded bottom of the boat it rocks quite a bit at sea, leaving most of the crew seasick for the first couple of days. Because the ship has to comply with current maritime standards, it does have radar, autopilot and all of the other modern conveniences. Mark and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and wondered how we could volunteer to do a leg on the boat. Now, that would be fun!
We stayed in St. Augustine a few more days than expected trying to wait out some stormy weather. We ended up leaving before the weather cleared and took the Intercostal Waterway (ICW) from St. Augustine to Fernandina Beach, Florida (the last stop before entering Georgia). Luckily, a neighbor at the marina gave us all sorts of great information on how to safely make our way along the ICW. The great thing about the day on the ICW was all of the scenery. It was a great change of pace to have something to look at besides water and an occasional cargo ship. The frustrating thing was how much attention you need to pay along the way. No more reading a book or watching a movie while underway. Luckily, there were plenty of beautiful homes, boats and docks to look at.
We did run into a bit of trouble along the way. We were a bit nervous about the bridges which all were about 65 feet in height. Our mast height is 62 feet but we have a three foot antenna on the top of our mast making us just able to fit. We did end up waiting for the tide to lower outside a bridge because the marker showed the height to be at 64 feet when we arrived at high tide. We waited about an hour while the tide came in so we could have our 65 feet of clearance. At the next bridge, the water level measured at 64.5 feet. Instead of waiting, I suggested we give it a go. We now know that we can get under a bridge at 64.5 feet. Mark refuses to investigate any further whether we could get under anything lower. So 64.5 feet is our absolute lowest clearance. Good to know.
That really wasn't the trouble though. We were trying to find a suitable place to anchor for the night and we wanted to get as far as we could up the ICW. We decided to go until the sun went down as we found a great spot to anchor up a way further. At about 6:00 pm it became low tide so we started to really watch our depth gage as some of the areas we were going through had about 7 - 8 feet of water. The first time we ran aground was in the middle of the channel in 20 feet of water where suddenly we hit 4.8 feet of water (we draw 5 feet). With a bit of reverse and some turning we were quickly on our way. Over the course of the next two hours we ran aground another 3 or 4 times (can you believe we lost count)? Almost every time we would tap the bottom a bit, maybe get stuck for less than a minute, and then maneuver the boat into deeper water. One time Mark needed to pull out the main sail which heeled us over enough to get free. When we finally arrived at Fernandina Harbor Marina, we decided to pick up a mooring ball instead of anchoring because all we could think about was waking up the next morning, aground, and leaning over. It was well worth the $21 for a good night's sleep.
The next morning while we were getting fuel at the marina, the gentleman helping us told us that because of the full moon the tides were particularly troublesome right now. He explained that low tide was probably 1 - 1.5 feet lower than usual. He further stated that his buddy who works for a local towing company has been particularly busy over the past week freeing boats which had run aground. We certainly felt better after that conversation!
After getting the fuel (too much motoring lately), we exited the ICW with a sigh of relief and entered the Atlantic Ocean. We went back to reading our books and relaxing a bit more. We certainly were no longer fearful of running aground. We again needed to motor almost the entire way up the coast and again we headed to shore to get out of some bad weather. We entered the Chesapeake Bay at night which was a little unnerving given all of the cargo ship traffic. We stayed just outside the shipping channel and didn't have any problems. We found a small marina at the mouth of the Potomac and pulled into our slip late in the day. We were so happy to find that the marina has a restaurant on site and we quickly tied up the boat, checked in and went to dinner. For some reason both of us were exhausted from this trip despite it only being five days. We had a quick dinner, two glasses of wine went right to my head, and I was fast asleep by 8:30 pm.
The day after we arrived, I was quick to find the laundry machines. Despite doing seven loads of laundry in St. Augustine, we had a bunch more to do. Mark went to the service department and got some oil so he could change the oil in the engine. We have been running the engine so much lately that it needed to be done. It has been a wet and windy stay here at Point Lookout Marina but a nice break.
Tomorrow morning we are leaving bright and early to go up the Potomac to Washington, DC. We are so close and we cannot pass up the opportunity to visit there. We will pass Mount Vernon and Quantico along the way. There is a marina right next to the Washington Monument where we are planning on staying for a night. Sounds like it will be an amazing visit!
Fun with Family
May 21, 2013, 11:23 am, Dunedin Municipal Marina, Dunedin, Florida
Passing Key West
Our sail to Tampa was uneventful. We were sad to pass the Florida Keys without a stop but alas the schedule forces us to move on. We also found out that there are few places that we can visit in the Florida Keys due to our draft. Although we have only five feet of keel, many of the places in the Keys are shallower than that! We thought there would be much more opportunity for lots of stops along the way. We were also surprised that there were so few places to anchor along the way also. Florida appears to have many more marinas than anchorages.
Along the way, Mark's ongoing love affair with flying fish continued. He was sleeping down below and suddenly we both heard a noise. He asked if everything was okay above while I thought something happened down below. Mark quickly realized that a flying fish had hit the hatch above him, fell onto the screen, popped opened the screen and then landed with him in bed. At this point, he no longer screams with these close encounters. He grabbed a paper towel and quickly realized that the flying fish was quite big. His head and tail peeked out at either end of the paper towel. Mark threw it overboard and we were hopeful that he survived. Mark wiped some fish scales off his bed, shook out his blanket and then went back to sleep.
That was not our only encounter with nature during the sail to Tampa. We also picked up a medium sized white bird in Key West. He stayed with us until we arrived in Tampa. He looked a bit sick and would not eat anything I attempted to feed him. He stayed at amidships for the trip and buried his head under a wing. I became quickly concerned about his health and decided to name him Bob. I instructed Mark to look out for Bob and we began the Bob watch. When a change of shift occurred we updated each other on Bob's status. To tell you the truth it didn't change much. He stayed in the same position for two entire days. Bob left us, without saying goodbye, the morning after we arrived in Tampa. He did leave us quite a mess on the deck, having also used our boat as his personal bathroom for two days. Mark would have appreciated an alternative form of payment for the ride.
We arrived in Tampa close to midnight. We ended up picking up a mooring ball in the dark at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Not ideal but we were anxious to get settled and the area was well lit and well-marked. We were a little bit familiar with the area because we were there a mere ten years ago. That was when we took a live aboard learn to sail course with Colgate Sailing School. We let that thought sink in for the next couple of days. Ten years ago - learn to sail course. Today - a completed circumnavigation.
Chris (Mark's brother) and Mark moved the boat to the lovely town of Dunedin Florida right after we arrived in St. Petersburg. I was happy to spend the day with Chris's wife, Sharon, relaxing at their home. Dunedin is a wonderful town which made us homesick for Wickford, RI. Lots of restaurants, shops and people walking around. Many of those people stopped by our boat after they heard we had just completed our circumnavigation from Tom and Matt the very nice staff at the marina.
While we were in Tampa, Chris gave us a wonderful gift of a painting to commemorate our adventure. For those of you who do not know, our spinnaker has the letters "AL" on them. Not for Al but rather At Last, although we do affectionately call our spinnaker Big Al. The signs on the side of the painting are many of the places which we visited along the way, including the restaurant in Bora Bora called Bloody Mary's. We cannot imagine a more perfect and thoughtful gift. We have hung it prominently on the boat on the wall across from the stairs leading down into the main salon. No one will miss this incredible work of art.
While in Tampa, we flew to Austin, TX to visit Mark's mother. We were given the suggestion of visiting Franklin's BBQ while in Austin which has been given the title of the best BBQ in the country. The BBQ has been featured on Anthony Bourdain's show on the Food Network and written up in Bon Appetite magazine. Mark called them before going because he heard that there was often a line and they would sell out every day. They are only open for lunch and it was recommended that he get there early. Mark arrived at Franklin's at 8:45 am and was the 45th person in line. A very entrepreneurial gentleman was renting lawn chairs for $5. Mark finally had his BBQ at 11:30 am and brought it back for the rest of us. It was the best BBQ I ever had and Mark will acknowledge that it was worth the wait in line.
We enjoyed both of our visits with family in Austin and Tampa. Seeing everyone again was just what we needed. It is amazing how quickly you settle back in with everyone and soon forget you were gone that long at all. We are grateful to be home and we understand that our family is very grateful that we are home safely. Mark has promised his mother who is almost 87 that we will not be doing this again as long as she is living. Apparently, she missed her little boy too much!
After almost two weeks in Tampa, I am happy to say that we had done relatively little on the boat. It was good to have a break. I did need to cook a bunch of meals and freeze them for the passage home. As I was cooking the meals, I felt relieved that this would be the last time I would be cooking these meals for passages. Then I had the thought that at some point in the future, I will probably be wishing that I needed to make these meals again. Yes, I will miss these passages. Not as much for the passages themselves, but for the journey to another new and exciting location. As Mark says, everyone has a love hate relationship with passages.
We had decided to stop in St. Augustine on our way back home. We are trying to get home by the beginning of June but don't want to spend too much time at sea. It turned out to be a four day trip. There was absolutely no wind and it was unbearably hot. For the first time, Mark decided to keep all the hatches and portholes open because done below had to be about 100 degrees. It became impossible to sleep down below when the sun was out. Not a good thing when you are desperately trying to get some sleep. Well, Mark was down below sleeping and I was at the helm in flat, calm seas. I then encountered a huge rogue way and suddenly the bow was underwater scooping up a ton of water and depositing it through several of the open hatches and portholes. I had no time to react and it was over as quickly as it began. Cleaning everything up and drying everything out was unfortunately not resolved as quickly!
We also got stuck in a thunderstorm that was so big we could not out maneuver it. We had thunder and lightning all around us. It was almost 4 am and the start of Mark's shift, so I woke him up a bit early. I had gotten the boat buttoned down for the storm and was beginning to be hit by 35 knot winds. I had forgotten to put the IPad and the laptop in the stove which apparently will protect these devices if we were to be hit by lightning. Now that is something I cannot begin to understand. We said a prayer that we wouldn't get hit by any of the lightning that was hitting all around us. We do have a static dissipater at the top of the mast which is supposed to help reduce the chances of being hit by lightning. Again, I cannot begin to understand that. Well, either it worked or we were just incredibly lucky because we survived the lightning storm which Mark says lasted several hours. I had gone to bed and slept through it.
Lastly, as we were passing Cape Canaveral we heard from the Coast Guard that a rocket was to be launched by NASA that evening. They said that if you entered the security zone willfully you would incur a $200,000 fine, go to prison for ten years, and your boat would be confiscated. If you negligently entered the security zone there were lesser penalties. We were outside of the security zone, but only by about ten miles. We were anxious to see the rocket fired but despite a close lookout we saw nothing. It did provide a bit of excitement, particularly as we heard the coast guard contact boats and tell them that they were going to enter the security zone and needed to change their coarse.
All of these conditions left us with a rather unfavorable view of our passage from Tampa to St. Augustine. One good thing was riding the Gulf Stream current which kept us going over 9 knots for the better part of a day. We also were close enough to shore to get cell phone and internet access (on the IPad through cellular service) for a good part of the trip. After a year and an half of having difficulty getting internet while on shore having it at sea seems like a miracle. At the end of an already difficult trip, the wind clocked around coming from the north against the current so we were beating to windward in 20+ knots of wind and pounded into steep waves for a few hours before we entered the harbor to St. Augustine. We were thrilled to land at St. Augustine Municipal Mariana; a lovely marina in a very interesting town.
Back in the United States of America!
May 5, 2013, 5:31 pm, Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
As Mark told you in the last blog, we had a great trip from St. Lucia to Fort Lauderdale. We did not anticipate making the trip nonstop but again we must learn that with sailing no plans are carved in stone. It did not feel like a nine day trip because every two or three days we were planning on stopping so in the end we just made three, three day trips. A small but important distinction. So much for my previous blog entitled, "The Last of the Long Passages."
One thing that did happen which is worth mentioning on this trip was an encounter with a cruise ship. I was on watch during the day and I was well aware of a Carnival Cruise ship that was passing us. According to our AIS, the ship was passing us on our starboard side and would pass us at a distance of about .3 miles. A little close to my liking but we were sailing wing on wing at the time and I had changed direction as much as I could without necessitating a sail change. When the ship was less than a mile behind us, it changed direction and crossed our stern. The end result was the ship passing us within 700 feet. I called the ship on the VHF to make sure he was aware of our presence and to see what was his intention was in terms of passing us. He was aware of our position and responded that he was just about clear of us. I "thanked" him and then ranted to Mark for about a half an hour about how discourteous it was for the ship to change direction so close to us. I took this snap shot of the ship.
We hit a very large storm right before crossing the Gulf Stream which was unfortunate. We had 35 knot winds and big seas. We decided to delay our crossing of the Gulf Stream by about eight hours in order to enter in more favorable conditions. Unfortunately, during those eight hours we were waiting it out at the edge of the Bahamas with about twenty plus large cargo ships. There were no anchorages we could tuck into and heading back into the Bahamas was going into the wind and waves. We ended up amid many cargo ships (many were at anchor) and waiting out the storm in rather uncomfortable conditions. Once the storm passed, we had a very calm Gulf Stream crossing but again hit a thunderstorm just outside of the harbor entrance to Fort Lauderdale. We again spent several hours waiting out the storm with many large ships before entering the harbor. We were glad when the sun began to peek through the clouds and we finally could head in.
Once inside, we encountered our first bridge of the intercostal waterway! Unfortunately, we did not have a cruising guide so we mistakenly thought it opened on the hour and half hour. We timed it perfectly to get there for the 3:30 pm opening. At 3:32 we called the bridge tender to find out why it hadn't opened. He informed us that we needed to call ahead of time so the next opening wasn't until 4:00 pm. So, we were waiting again. I headed the boat over to an open area of the canal to wait. We were then approached by a Sherriff's boat which informed us that we were in a security zone and needed to wait on the other side of the canal. Again, a cruising guide would have been very helpful here. Mark and I laughed that we were having quite an auspicious return to the United States!
Finally, we landed at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center and had a very nice dock hand, Tom, guide us into our slip. We were exhausted but happy to be "home."
The next day after our arrival, we went to customs to check back into the United States. We had called the Coast Guard the day before we arrived and they took information over the phone and informed us that in addition to needing to go to the customs office, our boat would need to be boarded. We went to the customs office thinking that we would spend the better part of our day sorting it all out. We arrived at the customs office, they checked our passports, confirmed that they had the information we had given to them over the phone on their computer, and then told us to have a great day. Mark asked if that was it. They said yes. We were on our way. This was the easiest customs check-in process of our trip, as it should have been.
Our next stop was to the largest West Marine Store in the country, right in Fort Lauderdale. What a great experience. Not only were we able to get everything on Mark's list, the sales staff were extremely helpful and quite chatty with us about our trip and future plans. Even I had a great time. Next, Mark ran some other errands while I went to the local Publix to go grocery shopping. When Mark came to get me I was close to tears. Not from the sheer joy of a large grocery store but rather because I was completely overwhelmed. The store was the size of a football field and I had way too many choices.
While in Fort Lauderdale we were able to get quite a few television channels and we reconnected to Sirius Radio. After not reading the news, seeing the news, watching television or listening to NPR for over 1.5 years, we were plugged back in. Mark's brother has a cell phone for us and once we reach Tampa, our connectivity to the real world will reach a great new level. I cannot wait.
Here are some things that we re-experienced over the past six days that we have truly missed....the evening news with Brian Williams, NPR including Car Talk and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, PGA golf, Law and Order SVU, the Young and the Restless, doing my own laundry in commercial grade washers and dryers at the marina, appetizers of pepperoni and great cheeses, tide laundry detergent, Bounce dryer sheets, real diet coke and really cheap, tacos with all of the fixings, fast internet from the boat, La Crema Chardonnay, 60 Minutes, Ketel One Vodka, a shower drain pump from West Marine that we have been searching for since before South Africa, going to a restaurant where the menu is in English and we know what everything is on the menu...Some of these things may sound silly, but they have all brought us great joy and appreciation to being back in the United States.
Since the day we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, the weather was full of rain and thunderstorms. We originally planned to stay here for two days but ended up needing to stay six due to the weather. According to the locals, it was unseasonably wet and stormy. We used the time wisely and ended up doing many, many jobs on the boat. Mark had a spectacular time unclogging the anchor locker drain which had a mud blockage. While being very helpful and supportive, I took this picture of Mark hanging upside down trying to get at the blockage. It was quite the sight!
We are leaving tomorrow for the sail to Tampa. It should take us about three days. We are not planning on stopping unless we run into some unexpected bad weather. We have now purchased a cruising guide for Florida and the Florida Keys so we will know where to stop if we need to. While in Tampa, we will fly to Austin to visit Mark's Mom. Other than that, we plan to have fun with Mark's family there. Maybe just a few more boat projects!
It is so good, we just can't stop
April 27, 2013, 8:07 am, 22 56.8'N:073 02.0'W, Nearing the Exumas & Bahamas
Just wanted to let everyone know we are fine and doing well. We passed Turks & Caicos yesterday evening and decided not to stop there. We are having one of the best passages of our trip and did not want to stop the fun. It was Janet's suggestion to keep on going, honest. She loves these nice long passages. Since after day one out of St Lucia, we have had perfect weather and sailing conditions, moderate tempertures, blue skies with cotton ball clouds, good winds and small waves. The tell tales have beening doing exactly what they are supposed to do inspite my efforts at sail trim tweeking. The weather window could not be better for a Gulf Stream crossing than it will be on Monday and Tuesday with south east winds. So, we are heading non-stop to Fort Lauderdale. There we may get a slip for a day or two and wash the boat and reprovision. Then, we are on our way to Tampa to visit my brother Chris and his wife Sharon.