Chop and Change

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An anchorage on the edge of the city. Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.

I’m all about the contrast me…I love the way contrast and change keep life interesting and your eyes and mind open. The wonder and privilege of travelling of course is masses of contrast and change!

..if you think you can hold your boat somewhere by dropping your anchor no one will stop you, as long as you are not in the way or doing something stupid.

We accidentally timed our arrival at the very end of March 2018 from the sleepy Bahamas into Palm Beach, Florida with an outbreak of the water-borne disease known as “boat show craziness”, but by Monday morning and after a good dose of sleep things looked better.

The amazing thing about parking your boat on its anchor is that it free.  Usually – for better or worse – if you think you can hold your boat somewhere by dropping your anchor no one will stop you, as long as you are not in the way or somewhere stupid.

This allows you to experience life in some amazing places such as Palm Beach for example, which is home to 29 billionaires. Rent free.

..we listened to disaster tales of slipped anchors, hurricanes and the time a boat was nearly scheduled for destruction by a zealous young new US Customs Officer over the matter of a Cuban pineapple.

All around our modest 39 foot catamaran were state of the art multi-million $ motor yachts perhaps 200 feet long and classically elegant, navy hulled, wooden sailing yachts.

The huge marinas on the opposite bank were aglow each night, rammed full of huge vessels pulsing with underwater LED trims, cranes for lifting their launches and jet skis and 4 decks of cabins, lounges and sun decks. My favourite had huge water level doors that slid open to reveal a cavernous lit interior, like its very own underground car park! An insurance hot spot to be sure.

Time to wash all our oldest underwear and hang it out on the boat to dry methinks.

The facilities at the Palm Beach Port Authority building (modern, shaped like a cruise ship), where we had to check in to the USA as new arrivals, was in stark contrast with the Bahamas.

However cruisers and yachties seem to be the same everywhere, so while we waited for our turn we listened to disaster tales of slipped anchors, hurricanes and the time a boat was nearly scheduled for destruction by a zealous young new US Customs Officer over the matter of a Cuban pineapple. Fortunately his Boss came back from lunch in the nick of time and she told the sailor to go back to his boat and eat the pineapple. Problem solved.

My time to leave the USA temporarily was close, with (multiple) flights booked to visit my family in the UK.  By the time I got onto the TriRail train to start my epic journey L had equipped himself with a Garmin satnav, a hire car, a working phone and the number of a local UBER lady.

When I got back to Palm Beach 2 weeks later the anchor had held and L was where I had left him! He had been very busy sorting out the new composting toilet, trying to find some Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and rescuing 6 small children and 3 women from a sinking boat on a very rough and windy Saturday.

Palm Beach is named after a shipwrecked load of coconuts that washed up and were planted adding to the mangos, bananas, royal palms and other beautiful trees lining the streets and gardens in this incredibly lush and landscaped sliver of Florida.

Our boat sat on Lake Worth, part of a long, long navigable waterway called the IntraCoastal Waterway which runs 3000 miles from Boston down to Florida and round the Gulf Coast to Texas. It is accessed at various points from the sea, lakes or other rivers and locals call it “the ditch”. At Lake Worth it sits just a mile inland from the beach, behind the long narrow finger of land that makes up the Palm Beach coast.

It was suspended off the concrete wall at a crazy angle by a rope tied to one handle which threatened to rip out altogether, while the fuel tank leaked petrol into the bottom. WTF!

It is fascinating to watch the traffic of sailing and motor yachts passing north and south up this watery passageway, waiting for the bridges to open up twice per hour if their masts require, all following their own travel plans whether near or far.

We first started noticing the facelifts in Palm Beach during lunch at Greens Pharmacy and Luncheonette in town, as well as the cars waiting for you at the crossing which went like this….Bentley, Rolls, Rolls, Porsche, Maserati, Bentley, Lexus (cheapskates..) We also noticed that rather than the multiple “good morning, good morning!” of the Bahamians the locals looked at you a little fearfully, perhaps expecting you to kidnap and ransom their King Charles Spaniel or worst of all strike up a conversation and slow down their scheduled power walk.

It is however a beautiful and historic area of old Florida and we have probably the stupidest policeman in town to thank for introducing us to the old-fashioned charm of the Palm Beach Sailing Club and their super dinghy dock facilities.

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Where to get ashore is always #1 challenge on arrival at a new place and the public boat launching ramps in the nearby park, with steps up for dinghy access, was the logical place to tie up for the day while we went ashore to do jobs and spend our tourist dollars.

On returning to the dinghy one day however we could see a big orange sticker on it. It had also been re-tied by an idiot, without regard for the fact that the water drops here about 3 feet at low tide. It was suspended off the concrete wall at a crazy angle by a rope tied to one corner handle which threatened to rip out altogether, while the fuel tank leaked petrol into the bottom. WTF!!

We phoned officer #1977 several times to find out more but he was never available – probably too busy breaking the boat speed limit in the manatee protection zones. Harrumph..

..when one on my shoulder stood up on its back legs and looked at me I practically levitated back onto the boat

L searched for alternatives and came up with the Palm Beach Sailing Club. Est. 1966 it is the kind of venerable local institution which has pot luck dinners, dark wooden floors and furniture, and pennant flags all over the ceilings. For $16 a day we had parking for our hire car, free water, WiFi and loos.

We spent our last few days with a quick day trip into the Everglades, looking out for dolphins mooching up and down the lake and kayaking the 200 metres to the shore of the beautiful North Lake Way. A popular 4 mile walk past the private docks, golf course and lush gardens this is the perfect place to get some exercise amongst the rollerbladers, dog walkers and evening fisherman.

One of the fabulous things about America is it so jam-packed full of wildlife and on our last kayak we watch as a group of guys on the narrow beach reeled in and then released a sizeable nurse shark. L’s next job that afternoon was to swim under the boat to try to get the weeds out of our clogged boat speedo!

My least favourite job a few days earlier fortunately (I know, nurse sharks are harmless but I still don’t want to meet one underwater thanks) turned out to be going for a swim and giving the hull a scrub. Suddenly, I realised that all the little brown bits of goop I was scrubbing off the boat were collecting on me…when one on my shoulder stood up on its back legs and looked at me I practically levitated back onto the boat and into a hot shower!

Our exit out of Lake Worth back along the ICW, cutting across the deep turning basin for the cruise ships, following the green and red markers along the channel and back out to sea was super simple.

As we headed north that evening towards Cape Canaveral and our next stop of historic St. Augustine we raised up the mainsail. Then the block holding the top corner of the mainsail up exploded and it all came sliding down the mast again.

Fortunately we have another sail!

And two engines!

The forecast wind direction was pretty much opposite to the reality and much slow chugging on the engines was involved in our 32 hour journey. When we had a real lull in the wind and waves though, we did something I have always imagined doing.

We took a break, stopped the boat and jumped off for a swim.

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