Hurricanes and Old Friends

20181024_112427_Moment(2)

Tracking two hurricanes as they head across the ocean towards the South East USA is an effective way to re-live some of the anxieties of your former yachting life.

Helen, Georgia has made its name being a Bavarian style alpine town, with Octoberfests and gingerbread roof trim on the wooden shops of the high street.

 Our original sailing plan when we had a yacht (new readers please see previous boat/fire/disaster posts…) was to be well north of the hurricane zone in the critical time period of course…. in yacht insurance terms this zone ends at latitude30.5`N which is about where Florida turns into Georgia.

20181017_114816
Flowers in the median – super idea!

Hurricane Florence – which made landfall in North Carolina which is two states further north of that – illustrates very well the inadvisability of living according to insurance risk percentages!

We had scooted the bus back down from Canada on the last day of September, to our “boon-docking” spot near Atlanta, Georgia (free camping in other words) on Rob and Angela’s driveway, to do some anxious/urgent/boring vehicle admin’. However, you can only spend so many hours in the day stressing about that and watching the weather so meantime I tasked myself with…

  • Getting through the fear factor of driving on my own in the USA
  • Getting a new ukulele (my yellow uke’ Birdie went down with the yacht)
  • Some fitness and exploring stuff!

I have learned some things about myself in this last year of traveling as you would expect, and number 1 is that there really is no one else to kick you up the backside so as to not waste days and freedom and opportunities – I have to kick myself up the backside and get on with it!

Their surprising history includes becoming settled farmers with schools, newspapers, American style dress, English-speaking leaders, a Constitution and even African slaves.

Our first bit of exploring was in a beautiful bit of Appalachian countryside and also on those lists of the “coolest small towns in the USA” etc that fill the internet travel click bait. Helen, Georgia made its name as a Bavarian style alpine town, with Octoberfests and gingerbread roof trim on the wooden shops of the high street. I would say that it may have been lovely 30 years ago, but the touristy busy-ness and levels of kitsch have probably peaked.

20181005_131826
Helen, Georgia – Bavaria in America!

More successful was my Jeep exploration including getting safely to the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, an extensive State Park including two beautiful peaks full of American Indian and civil war history. These trails are THE weekend destination for locals and visitors in the area – basically if you are ambulatory you are going up Kennesaw Mountain at the weekend…

The mountains have a great view of Atlanta and the plains surrounding the city – hence the bronze Civil War cannon. The plains were originally home to regional Cherokee. Their surprising history includes becoming settled farmers with schools, newspapers, American style dress, English-speaking leaders, a Constitution and even African slaves.

When the first USA gold rush started in 1829 in Dahlonega, North Georgia they finally lost the battle to keep those Georgia lands and they were forced off elsewhere on the Trail of Tears.

Thick “beaches” of sand were laid along the river banks and muddy tide lines were clearly visible 5 feet up the trees and bushes. It was freakish to imagine the sluggish brown river down below roaring through the woods, over our heads.

At various points during our boon-docking stay our friends Rob and Angela would return to their home – usually at 1.00 am in the morning – from whatever adventure or business project they had underway and we would have a drink together, catch upon news and see them off again shortly afterwards!

A trip – me and the Jeep natch’ – to a local music shop sorted me out with a beautiful new ukulele and two music lessons, in which I learned more music theory than I will probably ever use while I learn to strum “Four Strong Winds”. And then we were off again working our way up to North Carolina to visit more old friends.

We were fortunate to only experience winds and heavy rain from the two hurricanes that made landfall in the USA during 2018 but our next stop on the way, at the Dan River campsite in North Carolina, really showed the dramatic effects of a river breaking its banks. Thick “beaches” of sand were laid along the river banks and muddy tide lines were clearly visible 5 feet up the trees and bushes.

It was freakish to imagine the sluggish brown river down below roaring through the woods, over our heads.

Even without the flood damage the campground was rather bleak and treeless. It is unsurprising that many campers have gone the “van-life” route with smaller, more independent vehicles so that they can look for more natural and peaceful camping spots…however we is 36 feet long!

We explored a little local history with a trip to the local town Madsen, but were glad to be on our way again after a few days.

Did you know one of these massive tyres costs over $500! No, me neither or I probably would have got the upgraded breakdown coverage…

When Keith and Heather Christiansen last saw us, we were meeting for the first time on the river at the bottom of their garden, with all our salvaged possessions from the boat in two bin liners.

We thought it would be nice to call in and say hello again in happier circumstances and show them our lovely new bus – plus more “boon-docking”! It really is a great way to visit people – you arrive, park your home next to theirs, plug it in and stay for a few days without any unpacking, wondering where the bathroom is in the middle of the night or getting under their feet trying to make endless cups of English tea..(that’s me that one)

Our attempt to show them our new free and easy, low drama life foundered somewhat when they got my garbled voicemail saying that I was calling from someones borrowed office phone, we had a tyre blowout on our way and we were stuck by the side of a country road with no phone reception. We were there for about 4 hours in the end.

20181019_150131
Big bang dramas

Did you know one of these massive tyres costs over $500! No, me neither or I probably would have got the upgraded breakdown coverage…They also sound like a flippin’ bomb going off when they blow.

…requires a lot of sink like tanks to observe the exact moment when the captive crabs are duped into shedding their hard shells

However, we were fortunate to be stuck in such a quiet spot as it meant that the succession of charming state troopers and local police that went past all had time to stop for an hour or so, chat with us, work out if they could help, direct the traffic round us and generally keep morale high while waited for the tyre truck.

We arrived at the Christiansens late that evening.

20181021_111345
Keith and Heathers dock. There was a sunken catamaran out there but no more thankfully.

Their home between the Little River and Elizabeth City, North Carolina is in a real country spot full of fishermen, crab catching, fields of cabbages, soya beans, peanuts and corn, plenty of deer hunting and dense woodlands.

One of the wonderful things about making friends in a place and staying a while is seeing a little of the real life.

Keith and Heather toured us round where they both grew up and explained some of the mysteries of soft shell crab harvesting (requires a lot of sink-like-tanks to observe the exact moment when the captive crabs are duped into shedding their hard shells) and deer hunting with dogs (requires hounds, a strong liking for venison and the ability to snooze most of the day in the truck waiting for something to happen. Plus a laptop to track the dogs).

Neither of these things I am inclined to do, but I am glad to know a bit more about them!

We also had a taste of riding through the extensive woodlands rather fast on a beefy ATV, clearing new pathways when we got stuck by going straight over scrubby saplings and bushes in the manner of a mini bulldozer. The small grandchildren also crammed into the ATV were clearly used to branches whipping past their heads and sprays of mud and swamp water from under the wheels as we bucked about and they didn’t squeak at all, unlike me!

…there are no bears that far south in South Carolina!! Hurrah!! We could wander the trails without worrying about pepper spray techniques, carrying a blunderbuss or which of us could run the fastest…

Our first stay in a State Park in Mississippi, had involved some hair-raising reversing into a too small spot, so we were a bit anxious about our arrival at Poinsett State Park near Sumter, South Carolina. We made it into our sandy, tree shaded plot just fine – maybe we are getting better at this?!

20181031_100756
Home is where you park it as they say

Poinsett is one of handful of parks in South Carolina and 800 parks across the USA which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 onwards, a scheme giving young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In 9 years, the mostly unskilled young men of the “CCC,” planted more than three billion trees and constructed trails and shelters nationwide. The men lived in camps and were required to send most of their wages home. The project also aimed to start an outdoors recreation movement amongst the American population – which was clearly a success!

Poinsett was equipped with many beautiful and sturdy picnic shelters, wash houses and an office with huge open fireplaces, wooden beams and stone columns made from local “coquina stone” (compacted sea shells from when this spot of land was in the sea). These buildings are distinctively from an era where labour was very cheap.

They left after a week with an actual “buck” tied across the roof of one truck, looking glassily across at us.

The park rangers office was staffed by a bunch of cool characters, young guys with wonderful manners and a lot of patience, and proper big Park Ranger hats too. The best piece of information we learned was that there are no bears that far south in South Carolina!!

Hurrah!! We could wander the trails without worrying about pepper spray techniques, carrying a blunderbuss or which of us could run the fastest..

One weekend was very full indeed with an extended family reunion of 60 people – again all in trucks and camper/trailers. We were asked a couple of times if we too were related to the “Aldiss’s?” Family members trooped to and fro three times a day with contributions to the buffet.

20181030_115131.jpg
Autumn reflections in the swamp

One dark Friday night a stream of dozens of vehicles with kayaks on top began funneling through the trees into the tent camping area – which is when we realised the park was also close to a popular launching point to paddle the Wateree and Congaree Rivers.

After a couple of weeks of foraging for free wood for daily campfires, watching an abundance of nutty squirrels, hiking the trails, cycling and generally enjoying the peace of the lake we felt fully acclimatised to a life in the woods.

And also ready to move on to our next woodland State Park hideaway, an easy 2 hour jaunt to our favourite holiday haunt Edisto Island, South Carolina.

On Borders, Campfires and Double Plaid

“Oh Ca-na-da” as they sing…getting in was easy, getting out again not so much!

20180924_191024
Rideau Lakes campground at sunset

The Thousand Islands region is a beautiful and handy spot where the border between the United States and Canada runs East West-ish through the waters of the St Lawrence River, as it exits a corner of Lake Ontario.

Visions of the bus breaking down again before the border and simply abandoning it to jog the rest of the way passport in hand played in my mind as we approached…

You can peer down at picturesque riverside holiday homes dotted along the shore of New York State as you drive over the green painted metal toll-bridge and arrive in Ontario, Canada. It is so handy that many Canadians take a day trip in the other direction for a bit of duty-free shopping.

Definition of an island here? Two trees and at least 1 square foot of land above water all year. Many of the smaller rocky outcrops appear to have just enough room for the tiny wooden shed bolted onto them, some larger versions also feature docks and green gardens creating an enviable little rocky one-house universe in the midst of the river.

20180919_124406
The border! And a few of the Thousand Islands.

Our mission in Canada was two-fold. First and foremost by this time in late September 2018, L needed to exit the USA and fast. Not making regular trips back to the UK like me, his 6 month-long tourist visa needed to be “reset” back to zero. We had being planning to make this trip for months, first via the boat and then in the bus so when we were held up by 2 weeks of breakdowns we finally made it but with just days to spare.

Visions of the bus breaking down again before the border and simply abandoning it to jog the rest of the way passport in hand played in my mind as we approached…

…there is some comedy value in a pink painted caravan propped on bricks instead of wheels, with “drive like you stole it” painted on the back!

The second part of our mission was to have some uneventful R&R in a campground on the historic Rideau canals area near Kingston, Ontario hopefully to regain our composure after recent “events”.

20180923_160819
Me. Regaining my composure.

Campgrounds suitable for RV’s attract an unusual mix of people and vehicles and this place was a real doozy. By the end of the summer the flurry of tents, family holiday makers and summer weekenders in their trailers thins out like the autumn foliage, exposing the bare branches of what are called the “seasonals”, plus a few late stragglers like us.

20180930_112032
There’s a motor-home in there somewhere!!

In this part of the world, the climate doesn’t allow people to live in little tin boxes through the winter – and even if they wanted to the laws governing campgrounds don’t allow it – but many do choose to live in them all summer, hence the term seasonal. And while they are there they tinker and build and garden and DIY all around these former mobile dwellings, adding comforts and conveniences, until they look as much as possible like small houses.

Speaking as someone who sold a house and lives in a bus there is no room for being snobby about it, but there is some comedy value in a pink painted caravan propped on bricks instead of wheels, with “drive like you stole it” painted on the back!

20180923_101412
Cargo trains and station masters – neither are to messed with.

Having family just an hour away along the shore of Lake Ontario in the small and historic town of Cobourg, I planned myself a trip on one of those seriously upmarket Canadian trains. More like an airline than a nationalised railway, with (expensive!) pre-booked tickets, guards to strictly control that you board at the correct door and take the correct seat, a coffee trolley, reclining seats and clean leather upholstery.

I confess to overindulging in both my Aunt Isabel’s awesome cooking and taking several over-long hot baths. Who knows when I will get another chance to enjoy either of those pleasures.

I both enjoyed the orderly calm whilst suppressing my rebellious British temptation to break one of the rules! Not the one about standing well back from the train tracks though…these two-story tall freight trains pulling seemingly hundreds of cars, thunder relentlessly through the station for 10 minutes at a time.

From the sandy beaches just off downtown Cobourg, Lake Ontario looks like the sea complete with docks, marinas full of boats, gulls and a lighthouse.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And from the neighbouring town of Port Hope the main street looked like America, decked out in American flags and with a 20 foot tall fiberglass statue of Paul Bunyan, a lumberjack of America folklore.

Apparently Port Hope does a brisk film location business and scenes from Stephen King’s “IT – The Sequel” were being shot there. A creepy fairground, retro pinball machines, a quantity of fake cobwebs and Jessica Chastain had adorned parts of the town, although the main attraction for me was the Saturday afternoon food festival with live music and a beer tent – all enjoyed for free courtesy of my Uncle Tim’s theatre biz connections!

I confess to overindulging in both my Aunt Isabel’s awesome cooking and taking several over-long hot baths. Who knows when I will get another chance to enjoy either of those pleasures.

20180926_162530
A Walmrt person in a cosy plaid shirt.

People talk about “Walmart people” – the eccentric sub-species that is fabled to wander the Twinkies aisle of these mega-stores? We never spotted any Walmart people until we got to Canada, where we shopped in the saddest, grumpiest, most under-stocked, snaggle-toothed Walmart we had ever visited. They did however have cosy, quilted plaid shirts (that’s tartan to us British folk) ideal for the biting, chilly winds for which we were quite unprepared.

Once we had our plaid on, we blended right in…

Julie illustrated her extreme petite-ness and agility by being boosted headfirst through a small window…

We also blended in very nicely with our new campground neighbours. Enzo, Julie and their Giant Schnauzer Sam (imagine a small, very hairy black horse, peering out from under giant eyebrows) were seasoned campers, on their way back from a trip to the east coast Maritimes region to see the sea and pulling their vintage aluminium camper the “Red Zepellin” with their truck.

20180929_113927
Julie, Sam, Enzo and the “Red Zeppellin”

Together we visited some highlights of the Thousand Islands area with Enzo and Julie kindly acting as our unpaid tour guides. At dusk we also stealthily dragged fallen branches from the surrounding woods (strictly forbidden on campgrounds, lest an Easter Island style deforestation occur) to add to the bags of hideously overpriced firewood for several roaring campfires.

We had six plaid shirts round the campfire till midnight with Enzo and Julie both demonstrating how to wear double-plaid (a thick plaid shirt over a thinner plaid shirt), the Canadian version of double-denim!

Enzo illustrated his Italian heritage by ranting about the issues of the day and roasting some beautiful chestnuts on the fire for us.

Julie illustrated her extreme petite-ness and agility by being boosted headfirst through a small window when our other neighbours locked themselves out of their large, plush coach. A coach which Julie had christened “The Mule” on account of it being adorned with a lot of twinkly lights including an electric palm tree and the occupants – several seedy old guys with stringy pony tails – who slept outside all afternoon on camp chairs…hmm…

After reluctantly waving off our new friends for the rest of their trip back up to North Ontario, we prepared ourselves to head back South over the border in the next few days.

L told the whole story forwards, backwards and sideways repeatedly until the officer probably couldn’t bear to hear it one more time…

Despite my glossing over the potential challenges (an annoying habit or a sunny outlook depending on the situation and your point of view!) in discussions about how this was going to go – “we are just long-term tourists, surely?” – L knew in his bones that an immigration officer on the USA border has it within his or her power to take a dislike to us and our plans…and mess them right up…

20181001_091327.jpg
The queue for customs. Dicey..

Needless to say, the combination of our entry by yacht from the Bahamas, a long stay in the USA, the Georgia license plates on our bus and Jeep plus a last-minute entry into Canada and back out again resulted in us being called in for an interview in the border control office.

L told the whole story forwards, backwards and sideways repeatedly until the officer probably couldn’t bear to hear it one more time and decided to let us in. Apparently they only see about 4 or 5 non US or Canadian citizens a year traveling in this way – which is not surprising as it is bloody difficult for all sorts of legal, insurance, immigration and admin’ reasons!!

We thankfully drive back over the green bridge and follow the trusty Interstate 81 heading down South again.

We had now to urgently complete the next bit of vehicle registration admin’ required by the powers that be back in Georgia, but we can at least be cosy in our plaid shirts, munching on spectacular fresh Canadian apples and admiring the first tinges of golden Autumn leaf tones in the mountains along the way.

Virginia and The “Accidental Tourists”

A confession. To me, the “countryside” of North America is frankly intimidating in comparison to quaint English woodlands and footpaths.

20180908_121450

…how do you get out and enjoy these places without a machete, a compass, a bear gun, a tent and a wilderness guide?

Our first proper RV campsite, after setting off from our friends driveway in Georgia, was a little one with just 20 spots! Owned by the whiskery Patrick – who would wander each evening in his Frank Lloyd Wright T-shirt, glass of whisky in hand – the campsite followed a river bank in the small and homely Virginia town of Damascus.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a wonderful and very popular part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, which runs along the eastern USA from as far south as Alabama and even pokes up into Newfoundland, Canada. It has been one of L’s ambitions to see these rolling blue-green ridges and ranges up close for many years, so now that we are no longer “at sea” it’s the perfect time to do that!

20180908_120609_001
On the Blue Ridge Parkway

But how do you get out and enjoy these places without a machete, a compass, a bear gun, a tent and a wilderness guide? Trails!! Think of them as footpaths on a massive scale, carved through forests and other wild places, some stretching for 1000’s of miles.

When I was 6 years old someone re-released the comedy version of “In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” by Laurel and Hardy (insert rude comments about my age here..) and it was the first record I ever bought.

A recent innovation is the “rail to trail” versions, whereby historic and unused rail tracks serving farmers, lumber jacks, miners etc up the mountains are converted into accessible trails and happily our campsite was smack in the middle of the 34 mile long Virginia Creeper Trail.

We loaded our Walmart $99 bike specials (yep, the beautiful bikes from the small, local bike shop went down with the boat… so Walmart it is!) onto the van trailer alongside some serious machines.

Fifteen minutes later we were dropped off near the peak at White Top to freewheel 17 miles downhill over river gorges and wooden trestle bridges, past canyons, Christmas tree farms and pastoral valleys as well as the old wooden railway stations which are converted into museums, cafes and loo stops. 1,000’s of people are deposited up the trail every week and a few hardy souls cycle uphill as well.

When I was 6 years old someone re-released the comedy version of “In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” by Laurel and Hardy (insert rude comments about my age here..) and it was the first record I ever bought. I sang this ditty to myself, braking all the way down while L enjoyed his own joyful and much faster trip to the bottom.

…I am pretty sure I saw a beaver munching flowers in the stream and flocks of small, swooping birds catching evening bugs which turned out to be nighthawks…

Bouyed up by this experience and several good lunches in the Damascus Diner we decided to explore the other half of the trail too and in a classic “McMahon overstretch” got carried away. We cycled 17 miles to the end of the trail at Abingdon, bought some overpriced gel saddle covers (!) and cycled the 17 miles back.

On other more restful days I am pretty sure I saw a beaver munching flowers in the stream and flocks of small, swooping birds catching evening bugs which turned out to be nighthawks, an amazing little bird which I have never seen before.

After arranging with Patrick to stay an extra 3 relaxing days it was time to get going, reminding ourselves we were supposed to be heading to Canada to exit the USA for “tourist visa refresh” purposes!

Stopping on the way for fuel takes some working out in a 36 foot long and 12 feet tall coach…turning circles, canopy heights, diesel pumps…aagh!

TruckBubba is my fave app these days and mingling with the truckers is the way to go. As we got closer to the Petro truck stop in Raphine, Virginia there was something of concern though. I was pretty sure that dawdling at 35 mph up moderate Appalachian hills was not supposed to be the performance ability of our bus. Nor that red light blinking on the dashboard whenever the gears changed.

And so it proved when we attempted to leave Petro pump 12 and the engine would not restart.

So familiar are we with disaster by this point we follow in the Jeep and stop for an ice cream sundae on the way – what the hell!

You may recall that insurance has saved our backsides once already on this blog and fortunately I had joined a roadside assistance thingy called Good Sams. Towing these great big vehicles is ridiculously expensive!

While we waited at pump 12 I explored inside where they have everything for the long haul truck driver – a shuttle bus to and fro’ from the 400 truck overnight parking lot, a medical centre, a cinema, showers, laundry, pizza place, hot lunch counter, walking sticks, enema kits, extra wide driving slippers, a pharmacy and assorted truck parts/accessories including chrome air-horns and my favourite which was a natty beige fake leather and velcro padded cover for a giant truck gear stick! Fascinating!

20180905_191425
The end of a sad day on the bus.

Our first tow truck took us just 500 yards round the back of Petro to the closest repair place – great we thought! Except they couldn’t fix it. We stayed the night hemmed in by huge vehicles, the hum of their generators and aircon units lulling us to sleep.

Tow truck 2 – fortunately covered by our regular RV insurance – was a 50 mile trip back in the direction we had come to a Cummins diesel engine specialist near Roanoke, Virginia.

So familiar are we with disaster by this point we follow in the Jeep and stop for an ice cream sundae on the way – what the hell!

The next week was a roller-coaster of bad news/good news from the engine people, decent cheap hotels, bad cheap hotels (picture a family with 3 Great Danes evicted into the car park. Plus Sunny Delight fake orange juice for breakfast…) and some wonderful drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Left to itself it can hang down from the top of the tank like green Pacific kelp minus the tuna shoals and the surfers.

We also discovered Cracker Barrel – a southern style country restaurant, decorated with all manner of antique advertisements, photos and farm implements which they must hoover up wholesale across the country. Popular with all races and classes, we too discovered that their biscuits (warm salty scones), fried fish and pancakes are delicious. Pretty much everything else has ham in it!

20180907_200208
Retro fizzy pop at Cracker Barrel

So…we paid the massive bill (nearly the cost of our Jeep! *@?!) for our new fuel pump system and learned that modern low-sulphur diesel allows algae to grow INSIDE your fuel tank like some indestructible post-apocalypse creeping thing. Left to itself it can hang down from the top of the tank like green Pacific kelp minus the tuna shoals and the surfers.

Anyway…we bought an old bus, things are gonna happen.

We waved goodbye, started to move and then braked, alerted by the shouts and arm waving of the mechanics. A massive stream of oil poured out of the front now, from a cracked steering gear casing. Probably from the 1st tow truck.

We didn’t have any insurance left for a 3rd tow truck. However, the mechanics were confident that if they topped up the oil and L just kept on going the steering would “probably” make it to our 3rd garage a mile away who could fix it. I follow at a safe distance in the Jeep..

Back to cheap hotels for another week. I can say that after putting on 2 lbs in the previous week (thanks Cracker Barrel) I mastered the art of “hotel camping” with our own coffee maker, kettle, fridge full of salad and milk, snacks, a fruit bowl, books, wine and yoga mat to keep me sane.

After another large bill – hopefully we are not rebuilding this old bus one expensive component at a time –  we finally break free!

We swoop effortlessly up the Appalachian hills at a zippy 55 mph, past the spot where we broke down two weeks/$9,500 ago, heading to our next campsite in the Thousand Islands area of Ontario, Canada.

*Spoiler alert: we make it!

20180831_115452

An Ending and a New Beginning – part 2

20180709_203451
From our bedroom window

We sailed out of Edisto Island, South Carolina in early July with two things. A fridge rammed full of Kings’ Farmers Market veg. And a determination to make some proper progress north as planned. Actually three things! An Edisto Island Yacht Club burgee (small pointy flag) flying in our rigging.

 

..we confirmed the problem “techno-cologicaly” by poking a mop handle into the water off the swim ladder and hitting the sandy bottom almost immediately.

We covered a lot of water over the following days and nights and had some good experiences and some not so good. I will summarise a little…

Motoring into the enormous inlet of Winyah Bay for 3 hours of boiling hot slog to Georgetown, South Carolina.

20180630_100001
Winyah Bay – huge, empty, watery. A place to disappear.

SO MUCH WATER and uninhabited land in the USA. Why did they fall out with the Native American Indians again? How did they even manage to bump into them!

Georgetown – the worst lunch I’ve eaten for years…

Imagine a large supermarket on the last shopping day before Christmas. Plus everyone has been drinking. And is flinging themselves into the aisles in inflatable flamingos. Madness!

Back out to sea (3 hour slog back) and up the coast to the famous Cape Fear River, well-known to all lovers of the Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum classic film of the same name. (Not going to contemplate the later De Niro abomination here).

Well…Cape Fear River looks nothing like the film with all its spooky and atmospheric hanging moss. All locals must know was actually filmed in Florida and Savannah, Georgia. Two more 1st’s here.

20180703_073106
Ships that pass in the day thankfully..

Anchored off a small sandy island away from the main drag of the busy river, we got ourselves stuck fast on a sand bar. I spent 20 minutes rationalising that the horrible uneven bumping was just wakes and cross currents but we confirmed the problem “techno-cologicaly” by poking a mop handle into the water off the swim ladder and hitting the sandy bottom almost immediately.

The next “first” was when L managed to wiggle and jiggle and churn and power us off again – a triumph! I wonder if Fleet Commander Ronnie (see Part 1) was his inspiration.

Early next morning we were off again to Beaufort, North Carolina – a real historic sailing town we were told and very pretty. We soon learned that the 4th of July is a TERRIBLE time to try to sail a large boat up the narrow inland channels of the Intracoastal Waterway. Imagine a large supermarket on the last shopping day before Christmas. Plus everyone has been drinking. And is flinging themselves into the aisles in inflatable flamingos. Madness!!

20180704_160131 (2)
Powerboats, swimmers, fishers and a strong smell of barbecue – 4th of July on the Cape Fear River

We flung ourselves out to the ocean as fast as we could and watched the 4th of July fireworks blooming in the night sky, marking the towns along the coast as we sailed north to our next entry point, the sober sounding Cape Lookout.

Not until the point of no return did it occur to him that he could have left me on the boat..

Beaufort was indeed a pretty town, full of old historic wooden houses, quiet streets and gracious trees. Also the home of Silent Spring writer Rachel Carson. At the quiet end of the town creek we found Carrot Island to anchor for a few nights, where we enjoyed swimming off the boat and I donned snorkel and mask to poke a sharp stick into the “speedo”, to remove whatever bloody sea critter was living in there and clogging it up!

20180706_173142
Our anchorage at Carrot Island in Beaufort, North Carolina

Every time you look closely at a boat you see something that is about to break. Literally every time.  That week I had spotted that the rope holding one end of the dinghy, slung 7 feet in the air for traveling, was about to unravel with very messy consequences. There is no UBER in quaint Beaufort so we had no choice but to cycle a 25 mile round trip to West Marine in neighbouring Morehead City to buy 50 feet of rope while guzzling water, juice and strawberry milkshake every 20 minutes in the boiling heat.

20180706_164436
Yes, that railing is definitely low enough to fall over – especially from on a bike!

I say we had no choice but actually I didn’t add much other than slowing L down. Naturally, not until the point of no return did it occur to him that he could have left me on the boat rather than join this epic trip along busy highways, two bridges and several railway embankments. Naturally.

We finally gave up and pulled into a sheltered river for one of the most beautiful and peaceful anchorages of our whole 9 months sailing.

The next morning I was befriended by an eccentric local lady named Gay, who insisted on driving me to the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket so that I could do a proper “big shop” not hampered by being on a bicycle. When we met at her garden gate she was in muddy gardening clothes. When she collected me an hour later for our trip she was dressed in an off the shoulder mini-dress and a flicked out blow-dry.

I’m pretty sure she was some kind of bored heiress and I was grateful for the kindness, the conversation and especially when she came over to tell me they had large fresh shrimp for $4/lb in the chiller!

Things got a bit industrial for a while after Beaufort and not in a chic way. We navigated further upriver past phosphate barges and cargo basins, passing under the soaring steel bridges of Morehead City which we had cycled over and fighting the wrong kind of wind all the way.

We finally gave up and pulled into a sheltered river for one of the most beautiful and peaceful anchorages of our whole 9 months sailing. A lot of sunset photos were taken from that spot!

Hoping the wind would change, we headed back east across the choppy Pamlico Sound (a huge inland body of water as big as Connecticut apparently) towards the sea for a night inside the Cape Hatteras coast. This so-called “Grand Banks” of shallow barrier islands and shoals pokes out 30 miles or more into the Atlantic and is a formidable shifting obstacle in ocean storms on a bad day, with nowhere to run back inside.

20180711_172455
Okracoke Harbour and its vital lighthouse for the stormy Cape Hatteras coast

Okracoke was our Grand Banks island stop, an old-fashioned little holiday island of sandy lanes, lighthouse and a very tricky harbour entry. Luckily the passing paraglider’s power-boat was there to pull us off our second sandbank in a couple of days…

20180713_062949
Misty dawn on the Alligator Canal

PUNGO! It’s not elegant but that’s the name of the river we traveled up next (the wind didn’t change so no sea miles for us), starting on the Alligator Canal at first light the next day. That is one looong, straight, strange waterway.  Its edges are spiked with rotting cypress stumps – not all them visible – and although beautiful in the early morning mist it took an awful lot of concentrating for over 20 miles. And praying that one of the occasional giant steel barges doesn’t come the other way in narrow bit.

After that the boat seemed to burn for a very long time.

We exited the Alligator River, queuing for the swing bridge with other boats and entering the wide open Albermarle Sound, North Carolina.

The wind is still all wrong and very uncomfortable, so we pick a new course again heading into the inappropriately named Little River. After dodging about 100 crab pot floats (one on your port! two on your starboard!) we are out of the wind and waves finally. And that’s when things get really bad.

As people say, things happen fast in these situations and one minute I was frying an omelette for tea, the next minute I was shoving a few possessions into a bag in the cockpit and climbing down into the dinghy with L, trying not to breathe in any of the smoke coming from inside the boat. He had seen smoke coming from the hull on the other side of the boat and on investigation had found that the bed was actually on fire.

After that the boat seemed to burn for a very long time. It burned to the water line, sinking in about 7 feet of river water leaving only one bow slightly visible.

Keith towed it with his awesome pick-up truck, parked it next to his house and plugged us into his water, power and air conditioning!

How fortunate we were to be out of the ocean, awake and not far from land. How fortunate also to be close to the riverside home of Keith and Heather Christiansen, who with their family, friends and neighbours called the coastguard, made us welcome, ran us around and fed us. They also distracted us with their tales of ATV off-roading trips, explaining the difference between pet ducks and hunting ducks (there is no difference!), their cute grand-kids and their prodigious vehicle collection!

We are also so grateful to Jennifer Winslow Harris and her husband who lent us their comfy camper-trailer for a week.

Keith towed it with his awesome pick-up truck, parked it next to his house and plugged us into his water, power and air conditioning! They put up with two disoriented English people hanging around getting their lives sort of organised and dealing with the insurance company for what we believe was an electrical fire started by a phone charger. We are indebted.

We next found ourselves scooped up by another pair of heroes, sailing friends Robert and Angela Kleinschmidt, who made a huge diversion to collect us on their way back from their boat to their own spacious Georgia home.

I think Rob was probably extolling the virtues of RV living (recreational vehicles, Winnebago’s etc) before I had even properly shut the car door!

Thereafter, as well a making us thoroughly at home in Georgia they invested a lot of time and energy in setting us on an exciting new path – a project which appears to be one of their favourite hobbies.

After looking at their own luxurious coach we remembered that traveling the USA in an RV had been an option before we decided on the boat. We were very excited to learn that a lovely bus would cost half the price of another catamaran!

Amazingly they also offered (we were pretty overwhelmed with the scale of the task at hand by this point) to drive to Texas with us, and apply their “licensed motor dealer” savvy to help us tour the sales lots and choose one. We found a cool place for us to stay for a few days and had a lot of fun too. How lucky were we!

“All’s well that ends well” as a well-known playwright put it.

Seven weeks after losing our boat home on Friday the 13th of July we are parked up in a small campsite in Damascus, Virginia on the edge of the green Appalachian mountains in a marvelous old 36 foot bus which is full of beautiful wood, lots of comforts and all our shiny, new things.

A new adventure and a new beginning.

20180831_122808

An Ending and a New Beginning – Part 1

Partly I have been a bit side tracked…partly our world went up in flames. Hence the delay in making any new blog posts – apologies!

20180622_113109_001

My last post in June 2018 left us on beautiful, wild Cumberland Island, Georgia preparing to sail to our old “happy holiday” spot of Edisto Beach, South Carolina. Which we did, attracting lots of attention as we sailed in with people waving from the beach and dodging our 39 foot catamaran through the flotillas of jay-walking kayaks very slowly.  A spot that sees few sailing yachts it seems.

But I have jumped ahead. Our trip would be 26 hours of sailing at the stately speed of 5 -6 knots, so we had plenty of time to check our progress, snooze, raise sails, drop sails, drink tea etc.

That night, I realised that my “VHF radio voice” needed to drop an octave at least. And I’m not saying please anymore.

Somehow, no matter how much time you have to prepare, something on the night shift will always catch you unawares and this time it was the hornet’s nest that is the inlet to the Savannah River with its to and fro of massive commercial ships.

The recommended routes into these major rivers extend perhaps 3 miles out to sea and are lined like aircraft landing strips with red and green lit marker buoys, to guide the large vessels. It just happened that as we were passing across the top of the channel at 1am seven ships were on their way out – or in – giving us a daredevil challenge that felt like trying to run across a motorway.

“A-ha” I hear you say – “she will call them on the VHF radio again, and all will be well!”

That night, I realised that my “VHF radio voice” needed to drop an octave at least. And I’m not saying please anymore.

None of them buggers wanted to talk to the squeaky voiced woman from sailing catamaran Pentesilea, and we just had to work our way through, waiting for them to pass by, in unfriendly radio silence.

Our destination of Edisto Beach, South Carolina sits on the USA South Eastern coast where three rivers gather to the sea out of the enormous, ACE Basin area – the Ashepoo, Combahee and the Edisto.

20180623_073146
The pristine maritime marshes on the edge of the ACE Basin

The flow of all that water, through 350,000 acres of undeveloped natural environment, has several interesting effects namely; waters chock full of fish life, which means bigger fish in the sea waiting to eat them, which also means skies full of fish hunting birds of all kinds.

After 150 miles at sea and an overnight trip we were stuck – unable to get on land unless we wanted to make a hot, sticky spectacle of ourselves dragging it onto the beach, amongst the beach-balls and sunbathers.

It also means the sea is pretty muddy here where it all gets washed down stream – probably good that you can’t see too much of what is in there if you want to swim! The sandbanks off the coast also get dissolved and moved constantly by all this water flow… so when the chart says you will have 15 feet of water, the depth sounder tells you you actually have 5 feet!

We crept in slowly, enjoying the feeling of returning to this much-loved place in a very different style and noticing how different it all looked from our new viewpoint.

A sign – or perhaps the reason – why the town area has very few sailing yachts visit is that the marina on the river was completely nonplussed by the idea that we wanted to park our RIB dinghy there and come ashore for a while. After 150 miles at sea and an overnight trip we were stuck – unable to get on land unless we wanted to make a hot, sticky spectacle of ourselves dragging it onto the beach, amongst the beach-balls and sunbathers.

After a small amount of over-tired hysteria I called the Edisto Island Yacht Club up the creek to see if they could help, which was the best thing I did all week.

…with 4 dozen power boats all anchored in the shallows along the sandbar like a car park, and tables piled high with sandwiches, home baking and a bright orange cocktail of dubious recipe called “monkey juice”.

Club manager Charlie – universally acknowledged to be a gem of a man – found us a shallow corner of their dock, cleared it with his Commodore and then his Fleet Commander Ronnie Henderson (yes, this is how Yacht Clubs job titles actually work!!) and we were set for a week of so much kindness, southern hospitality, new friends and a lot of fun.

20180622_203951
Trips back to the boat at night. Like that moonlit walk home from a good party.

Night-watch sleep-deprived as we were, it was of course good manners to scrub up and accept an invite to drinks that evening at the Club House – at least for a few hours. By the end of the night we were fully in the Edisto swing and providing some entertainment in return I hope, with our misadventures of amateur sailors in Puerto Rico and tales of storms at sea.

The next day we were easily persuaded to join the lovely Ronnie and his witty wife Paula and their friends, for their annual trip out into the ACE Basin to meet other local Yacht Clubs – mostly fishing and pleasure boating folk – on a sandbar for a beach party picnic.

When the tide came in it would all be quickly packed away as the river covered the sand bar beach up again.

Ronnie and Paula made sure we were included in everything that was happening even though we were actually just strangers who had mooched a free parking space.

The power boat trip there with Ronnie driving was hilarious and the fastest we had ever traveled on water – although the soft thud and complete stop as we hit one of those tricky moving sandbars was a surprise and the subject of much teasing that day. I think he got us off again by dissolving it from under us with the propeller…

20180623_104935 (2)
And then we stopped dead on a sandbar!

How wonderful to actually get way out into the vastness of these pristine marshes, wooded islands and interconnecting rivers.

The picnic was like nothing I have ever seen, with 4 dozen power boats all anchored in the shallows along the sandbar like a car park, and tables piled high with sandwiches, home baking and a bright orange cocktail of dubious recipe called “monkey juice”.

The next day was a yummy fish-fry dinner at the club and so on…and so on…these people know how to enjoy themselves!

Ronnie and Paula made sure we were included in everything that was happening even though we were actually just strangers who had mooched a free parking space.

By the time we left we had been looked after royally with a standing offer to borrow Ronnie’s own truck as a run around for doing our shopping, dinner at their home, use of Charlie’s washing machine, a gift of a Yacht Club burgee (a small pointy flag) and many lovely new friends, whom we look forward to revisiting.

We dodged the fearless/oblivious kayaks on our way back out of the river a week later, waving up at the Yacht Club windows as we headed out sea from a place we were sorry to leave.

Onwards and upwards to North Carolina!

20180629_073635
Edisto, the marsh and the river from our anchorage

Cumberland Island, a Georgia wilderness

 

20180620_103732
Way off the beaten track on Cumberland Island

Some natural places are so unique and so distinctive, they are easily identified, especially by those that love them. The maritime forests and salt marshes of the southern Atlantic coast of the USA (the lower right hand edge in case you are struggling to visualise) are just such places.

Add to that mix wild horses, ruined mansions, a history involving some of Americas wealthiest families and access only by boat and it makes for a pretty special experience.

..fortunately we had the foresight to clean off the chain the previous day as it was encrusted in shaggy river weed and fattened into a stinky, crab infested rope 3 times its normal size!

Whilst in the comfortable, practical city of St. Augustine, Florida we ticked a significant number of boat jobs off of our big list, ate a generous amount of cake, pizza and shrimp and decided on a plan to move north up the long and varied US coast, one short trip at a time.

20180621_103519
Red channel marker on the Georgia ICW

The first hop in mid June would take us over the border from Florida to Georgia, a state line which runs down the middle of the St Marys river inlet. On the Florida side is the Fort Clinch State Park, on the Georgia side is the Cumberland Island National Seashore and somewhere in the middle is a massive submarine base.

As we had been looking at a fort for the past 5 weeks in St. Augustine, turning right into Cumberland Sound, Georgia was an easy choice!

We pulled up the anchor – fortunately we had the foresight to clean off the chain the previous day as it was encrusted in shaggy river weed and fattened into a stinky, crab infested rope 3 times its normal size!

We finally motored out of St. Augustine at 6 am on a still June morning, looking forward to new sights and fresh anchorages. We headed out to the clearer water 3 miles offshore, where less of the small fishing boats would be buzzing about and found ourselves once again in a dreamscape of rolling, liquid silver seas and blue skies.

Anything that pops its head up or breaks the surface is easily spotted in such tranquility and we kept a lookout for rippling shoals of tuna catching the light with their fins, curious sea turtle heads and maybe a manatee nose…who knows…

A pleasant sail with no dramas made a nice change! and After travelling inshore a few miles to Cumberland Island we put our anchor down close to the visitors ferry dock.

We had just experienced our first foray along the Intracoastal Waterway, the 3,000 mile network of linked waterways, rivers, lakes and canals that runs from Boston to Texas. Key skills are telling red from green numbered bouys, left from right (port and starboard) and counting them up or down. We did OK.

The next morning we took a walk ashore, tying up our dinghy as the ferry arrived with day visitors and the campers – hardy types prepared to battle mosquitos, racoons, heat and to bring every scrap of food with them too as there are no shops, only water taps.

There are also no paved roads on the island – roughly 14 miles long and 3 miles wide and we wandered in the peaceful shady forests of spiky Palmetto, huge live oaks dripping with hanging moss, wild passion flowers and other vines, sand dunes and sandy meadows full of flowers, spectacular long beaches, long vistas of greeney-yellow salt marsh and the grounds of a ruined mansion.

Most of the sandy lanes seemed suitable for cycling and we looked forward to freewheeling and exploring further with our bikes the next day.

My bicycle with coral coloured and flower patterned frame, two tone wheels and white wicker basket doesn’t exactly project “experienced off road cyclist” vibes. More “popping to the shops for a bunch of flowers and a baguette” vibes actually.

Our ride the next day would probably have been about half as long had we not been invited to visit one of the residents, an offer that proved hard to resist despite the heat and the extra work of trying to cycle in soft sand!

20180619_122740
Stunning palmetto and live oak forests. Hard cycling though!

Much of the island is designated wilderness and the park managers and locals alike are pretty keen to make sure that no hikers or campers expire while on the island through lack of water, getting lost or the intense summer heat.

As we cycled up the island we had several trucks pause to stop and check that we knew where we were and that we had enough water. My bicycle with coral coloured and flower patterned frame, two tone wheels and white wicker basket doesn’t exactly project “experienced off road cyclist” vibes. More “popping to the shops for a bunch of flowers and a baguette” vibes actually.

Oh how appearances can be deceptive!

One such enquiry from a resident with two small children and a dog in the bed of the truck sparked a conversation and an invitation to call at his house for a rest, a chat and to fill up our water bottles if we got that far up the island. He also promised a gift. Assuming that this was perhaps a rare opportunity to visit a Carnegie millionaire at home or at least someone who knew lots about this fascinating place, we were spurred on over soft sandy tracks for miles and miles…

When we arrived at said homestead, he wasn’t home! S*#t!

Fortunately his caretaker was and she filled our bottles and invited us to wait, look at the stunning views across the salt marsh and cool off in the shade.

20180620_122400_002
Wild horses grazing on the salt marsh. The view from the porch.

In a short while the truck returned and we met the owner, his wife, and several visiting cousins and assorted dogs. We enjoyed some lively company on their porch, watching a small herd of wild horses in the distance grazing on the sandy marshes.

Not a Coca-Cola heir or a Carnegie as it turns out, but a Georgia lawyer who fell in love with this special place while helping set up the land preservation and in return has a home here. Our gift is a beautiful signed picture book which he wrote about the island, its residents, history, stories and his own quite spiritual relationship with this place.

20180703_185717I have always felt there must be some resemblance between these waterbound, primeval forests and parts of Africa although I have never been there myself.

I was amazed to read later in said book that a group of African Pygmy had actually visited. While on tour in the USA as part of a show featuring their tribal dances, they were visiting a dance studio on the mainland that was owned by Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1990’s. They were persuaded to take the boat trip to Cumberland Island by a resident, where the palmetto forests were seen to havean immediate effect on the Pygmies. There is apparently a videotape of them joyously running amongst the palmettos, hugging them and waving fronds like flags, apparently reminded somehow of home. What I would give to see that video!

The cycle back was even worse frankly and if someone had come past in a truck we would have asked to throw the bikes in the back and ride with them. We made it back hot and tired and finished the day with an exhausted dip in the tea-brown waters of the river. After checking the map we realise we had done about 15 miles!

a bit of food rationing was starting kick in at this point – grapes, lettuce, milk, toms’ – not salt beef and ships biscuits exactly but still!

We finished our last evening at Cumberland Island watching a manatee (or seacow) roll awkwardly on the nearby muddy sandbank. So we phoned Clay, a delightful and knowledgeable chap at the Georgia Wildlife Service, so that he could decide if the beast was in trouble. He thought not – it had probably got beached and was too lazy to struggle off when the high tide later would float it off soon with no effort required! Phew.

Having had no shops for a few days meant that a bit of food rationing was starting kick in at this point  – grapes, lettuce, milk, toms’ – not salt beef and ships biscuits exactly, but still! We headed back out to the North Atlantic the next morning feeling peaceful and rested and ready for a little civilisation in Edisto Island, South Carolina which was a 23 hour overnight sail up the coast.

Last time we were there 3 years ago, we had arrived by plane and had a wonderful holiday. Anticipation of arriving in such a happy place by yacht this time around was running high.

20180619_102117

Fat and happy in St Augustine

20180519_194851
A short trip in my kayak to the beach by the Fort

The daily sounds of gunfire have taken some getting used to during our stay in St Augustine, Florida. And the cannons. And the pirate battles.

Which is what you get if you park your yacht in Americas’ “oldest city” founded by the Spanish in 1565 (others may dispute their claim..) in a prime spot overlooked by the old San Marcos fort.

20180519_201428

20180510_090507

A couple of times a day enthusiasts wearing the blue uniforms from the War of Independence from England, load and then fire their muskets from the fort, in our general direction.

After that they mould a couple of cannon balls out of squished up Wonder-loaf, wrap them in tin foil and fire them very loudly from the big cannons on the battlements of the fort, in our general direction.

Just down the river bank at the Fountain of Youth original Spanish barracks, archaeological site and ancient spring (a bit whiffy) they are also keen to demonstrate their historic firearms and daily, surrounded by shrieking peacocks and tourists they fire their muskets with clouds of white smoke. In our general direction.

The battling pirates don’t seem to have spotted our English flag and are still firing at each other!

He agreed to adjust his course by a couple of degrees and we wished each other a good night, just like I was a proper sailor. So civilised!

Our 2 night sail from Palm Beach, Florida in May took us past Cape Canaveral with its spacey looking buildings outlined against the bald coast and we watched as a vertical con-trail plumed up from the area. On closer inspection through the binos’ it seemed to be a military plan at a funny angle, but still…

We also had the best dolphin escort to date on this trip, with three large freckled beasts enjoying crossing and recrossing our bows and making eye contact, just out of reach of my fingertips as I dangled my arms over one of the bows.

I also did another new thing!

While I tracked other vessels around us at 3am on my night watch I spotted something on a similar track to us. So I took a deep breath and called up the captain on the VHF radio to chat about the fact that we would bump into each other in about 35 minutes and what would he like to do.

He agreed to adjust his course by a couple of degrees and we wished each other a good night, just like I was a proper sailor. So civilised!

Jazzy coral for me, blue for L, we have put some serious miles on these babies with trips…

As we sailed towards the inlet in the coast that would bring us into the Matanzas and Tolomato Rivers of St Augustine we enjoyed hearing real Southern voices on the VHF radio, discussing how close they should be to the dredger. This mysterious conversation became very relevant when we realised that none of the crucial red and green markers on the inlet to show the safe way in was placed where the chart said it would be!

This dredger is a hellish machine – a giant platform, spouting water, with terrific noise, flashing lights, floating booms and cranes. It was deepening the channel that the rivers were constantly trying to silt up and moving the entry markers around as it went, like the bollards on a motorway contra-flow, except if you went the wrong side of one you would hit the bottom!

After tackling that particular challenge we could be forgiven for thinking we had taken a wrong turn and arrived in Spain or maybe Copenhagen.

With its river frontage of wooden and colourfully painted houses and shops, St Augustine is reputed to be the most European feeling city in the USA. That European feel is nicely mixed with the Southern atmosphere of old North Florida with masses of trees, shaggy hanging Spanish moss, tropical flowers, an obsession with all things boats and fishing and masses of birds.

20180523_162017
The view from The Bridge of Lions, which lifts open to let the pirates and other boats out throughout the day

After spending too many $ on hire cars just to get supplies in Palm Beach we decided that bicycles were the way to go – having a roomy catamaran we have the space to stow them too.

We spent a lovely couple of hours with Jim of Island Bikes, kitting out a couple of aluminium framed cruisers – the preferred bike of hipsters and cruising sailors ‘cos they have no messy gears, brake levers, wires or other stuff to snag as you try to manhandle them from the dock into the dinghy and back up onto the boat without dropping them to the bottom of the river!

Jazzy coral for me, blue for L, we have put some serious miles on these babies with trips up and down US-1 for groceries, to the Anastasia Island state beach park, the lighthouse, various boat yards and suppliers, the iconic A1A Florida highway with its shady neighbourhoods of old beach houses and ALL over the peaceful, picturesque back streets of the old town.

This town was certainly not what we were expecting from Florida. It has narrow cobbled streets of old houses and garden walls built from coquina stone – ancient compressed seashells mined by the Spanish colonial settlers.

20180608_131700
The old Spanish coquina stone quarry, now become a boggy meadow

20180516_123918
Spider lilies

This coarse and quite soft stone was formed over millions of years of the sea levels first rising and laying down banks of little shells, then falling again to expose them. As the rain water fell onto these exposed banks the chemistry gradually changed and fused them together into stone.

One of its unique properties is that it is not brittle, so a cannonball fired into a fort for example, will either bounce off the wall or plug in, to be levered out and fired back again – recycling!

The town has thriving tourist industry dating back to Henry Flagler – the originator of Florida tourism  – around the beautiful old hotels, museums,  garden squares and preserved buildings that in many USA towns would have made way for the new.

There are also a lot of nice places to eat.

The more time we spent in the extreme civilisation of St Augustine, the easier it became to stay a bit longer.

  • Can we get the steel pulpit repairs done which we had been putting off since Puerto Rico plus get the weed scrubbed off the boat bottom by a diver? Yes!
  • Can we replace that mainsail block that exploded on the way here? Yes!
  • Can L get the parts to service both of the Yanmar engines from “The Yanmar Lady”? Yes!
  • Can we go out to eat practically every day for fabulous local fish, shrimp, pizza, ice cream, flat whites, cake etcetera so putting back on half the weight we lost since we started? Yes!

The living is certainly easy here and it makes a very nice change to be indulging in a bit of “normal life” in between the usual catalogue of jobs.

What we though were pink flamingos turned out to be streaky pink and red roseate spoonbills, which sieve methodically through the muddy shallows…

Our anchorage just off the marshes and sandbanks by the fort has proved to be a beauty, with a gorgeous views of the sunset and the boat activities in the channel.

We are daringly close to the shallow sandbanks and little beach, so mostly we have it to ourselves as other yachts travel through looking at their depth sounders, decide we are a bit crazy and clear off to find a nice mooring buoy!

20180519_200938
Did I mention the massive crucifix? No?

Wherever you have a river flowing into the sea you also have fish breeding, which means things for birds to eat, which means a great view of the constant comings and goings of many and varied birds, catching food in their own particular way.

The undulating flight of long strings of brown pelicans individually plunking into the water; the impossibly elegant swallow-tailed kites; majestic, wide-winged osprey; tiny, acrobatic diving terns; herons, egrets and huge woodstorks on long legs at the water’s edges. What we though were pink flamingos turned out to be streaky pink and red roseate spoonbills, which sieve methodically through the muddy shallows for shrimp and small fish with their weirdly flat, spoon-shaped beaks.

Also chasing this abundance of fishies are the dolphins mooching up and down and round our boat, alerting us to their presence with their regular “pscht” noises as they come up to breathe.

There were a few days when all the local dolphin families seemed to be out together, doing laps of the bay chaperoning at least 3 marvellously uncoordinated baby dolphins which was magical. We watched the little ones poke their bodies out of the water at clumsy angles and flop over again, while trying to master that smooth dolphin arc through the water. Not as easy as it looks apparently. What a show!

With all this easy living and luxury it was time to stretch myself a bit and make friends… with the dinghy.

That afternoon I tacked fairly competently up and down by the stripey lighthouse, with Stephanie laid out horizontally across the front of the little boat for balance and Bubba snoozing in the cockpit under my feet.

Not having had a motorbike/ratty Ford Capri as a youth, the inflatable dinghy with its pull-cord starter, petrol engine and whirring propeller blades scared me I admit. The day I mastered starting it myself, heading off alone round the moored boats, under the bridge and bumped it gently onto the dinghy dock to tie up was epic for me.

Even more “normal life” stuff followed with L waving me off, such as going to the pictures, shopping, getting a haircut and going down river a bit for a (it’s never too late) sailing lesson with Stephanie.

20180531_135940
St Augustine lighthouse

Stephanie we met when she drifted past our boat in a small, slowly sinking, sailing dinghy along with her marvellous Tibetan Spaniel “Bubba”. After 4 coffees, 6 fags and some colourful episodes from her life, she convinced me to buy a bottle of her Neem tincture mosquito repellant and a sailing lesson later that day.

That afternoon I tacked fairly competently up and down by the stripey lighthouse, with Stephanie laid out horizontally across the front of the little boat for balance and Bubba snoozing in the cockpit under my feet.

The gracious and relaxed nature of Americans in the Southern states is a wonderful thing. They step to the side of the pavement to let you cycle past and actually apologise for being in your way. They call out “Hey, I like your bike, be safe!” from their massive trucks. They remember you and welcome you back to their cafe with a smile after a week. They laugh and joke with work colleagues as though they actually like what they do!

At some point soon we will leave this cool and beautiful little city and the many nice people we have met here to discover and enjoy the next place.

But meantime we are very happy to be stuck here.