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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Final fling in Florida


Sailors are always at the mercy of the seas and, for the past few weeks, Bandit and her crew have been sitting in various US ports waiting for weather windows.   They have been few and far between as persistent cold fronts have hit the US east coast.  The Salty Dawg Rally – from Hampton in Chesapeake Bay to the British Virgin Islands- was hammered by a really nasty system which saw two yachts dismasted, five lose their rudders and one break up and crew  airlifted off. We listened anxiously on SSB radio for news of our friends Andy, Clare and Debbie on Eye Candy who were participating in the rally.   Luckily they had the foresight to leave a day earlier to get better conditions and, while they said things were very uncomfortable, they came through unscathed.  We had a rough sail from Charleston to Fernandina Beach but it hardly seems worth mentioning – 30 knots of wind and lumpy seas pale in comparison to what those guys out in the Gulf Stream got.DSC_4080DSC_4082

David’s daughter Anna flew into Jacksonville on a wet and miserable night but the Florida weather cleared the next day. We’d hired a car to pick her up from the airport so used it to provision – again.   Bandit is loaded to the gunwales for her Pacific crossing!  Then it was a short day hop down the coast to St Augustine to sit out yet another blow.  The entry through the bar can be tricky and on our approach we heard a distress call on VHF for a yacht we could clearly see aground.  Not what you want to see navigating a difficult entrance so we had a cup of tea and waited for a local boat to follow in!


Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, St Augustine is America’s oldest city and its cobbled streets are lined with historic buildings.   Henry Flagler brought his railroad here in the late 1880s, creating a boom, and built the exclusive winter resort Hotel Ponce de Leon, which is today a college.  Nearby is the equally magnificent building housing the Lightner Museum, once also a luxury hotel.  It happened to be pirate festival the weekend we were there and there were plenty of Jack Sparrow lookalikes swaggering through the streets and some re-enactments out on the water.




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Visiting St Augustine gave us a chance to catch up with fellow cruisers Pete and Kourtney off Norna.  We first heard them on our SSB net crossing the Atlantic and met them in the Caribbean.  An intriguing couple, they bought their wonderful wooden old boat for $10 as a derelict, spent years doing it up and then sailed across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and, when the money ran out, turned around and came back.  They’re now based in St Augustine working and saving up enough to sail into the Pacific. 


Once we got a good weather window we set out for the overnight passage to West Palm Beach to wait yet again for the right conditions to cross the dreaded Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.  Despite its exotic name, West Palm Beach did not live up to expectations.  There were some stunning waterfront mansions and ritzy malls full of perma tanned, designer clad, nipped and tucked beautiful people but the anchorage was pretty average and miles from the main towns.  To get anywhere we had to take the local bus.  We’ve come to learn that in the States it’s only “losers and cruisers” who use public transport. 


Our plan to have David’s birthday in the sunny Bahamas was scuttled by weather but we celebrated in fine style with a champagne brunch on Bandit and dinner out with cruising buddies Pete and Carol from Jack Tar.  It was a fairly quiet night though as weather guru Chris Parker had predicted good weather for the next day so we hit the sack early in preparation for a crack of dawn start.  



We woke to a little more wind than we expected but with it forecast to die later in the day we opted to set off.  Our six months on the east coast of the States has been amazing.  We’ve been to some fantastic places, met some wonderful people and, up until recently, have had good weather and great sailing.  We’re leaving with vivid memories, the highlights being taking Bandit to Washington DC and New York city, sailing to gorgeous Nantucket and visiting the historic city of Charleston.  Now we’re looking forward to getting back to the Caribbean and into reliable trade wind sailing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Enjoying life on land

Living on a boat is great; when it’s in the water.  However when annual maintenance time rolls around and Bandit goes on the hard, life on board becomes completely chaotic.  It’s time to make myself scarce.  Leaving David up to his armpits in work I headed to the UK in early September flying into Heathrow on a  sunny day with temperatures in the 30s.  It was wonderful to be in the beautiful rolling countryside of rural Hampshire, walk dogs down country lanes, stopping to pick fat and juicy blackberries on the way, groom horses and muck out paddocks in the sunshine.


 A huge bonus of my time in the UK was having Sam come and visit on his way back to Moscow.  Another great catch up was with fellow Animal Aunts and former Marlburians Nicci and Dave Cambridge who were in north London looking after two huge French Mastiffs.

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Between sits I had a few days in London and was incredibly lucky to be able to stay in David’s sister-in-law’s flat near Canary Wharf.  It has stunning views over the Thames and what a wonderful feeling to  sit at dusk and watch the goings on on the river.  I made the most of my days and walked to Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane one day, Borough Market and Tate Modern the next and Covent Garden and Whitehall another…soaking up the London sights which I never tire of.


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Then it was on to Fulham where I had three weeks looking after a lovely black lab. This property was in the heart of one of London’s most sought after residential areas and it was sheer joy to be able to walk out onto Kings Rd or along the Thames towpath.



While I was enjoying my time in the UK David had a quick trip back to New Zealand to see his family.  It gave him the chance to spend precious time with his mum June who sadly, died not long after he arrived back on Bandit.  June was a great advocate of our nomadic lifestyle and followed our adventures both on land and at sea with enormous interest.  We will miss her enthusiastic support immensely.



 I left London on a warm and sunny day and flew back to Baltimore to find it freezing.  Winter had arrived in the Chesapeake!  It didn’t stop us enjoying the Annapolis Boat Show - we just donned full wet weather gear.  It was a fantastic show with great deals and we had a couple of impulse buys - a stand up paddleboard, inflatable kayak and a Sailrite sewing machine – designed for canvas and sail work. 


After Annapolis, where we had a wonderful catch up with American cruising friends Wayne and Betty Romberg from Bright Ayes, we headed down the Chesapeake to Deltaville to meet up with Australian cruisers Carol and Pete from Jack Tar and Andy and Clare from Eye Candy.  Then it was on down to Hampton to wait for a weather window to head around the dreaded Cape Hatteras.  Feared by ancient and modern mariners alike the Cape is littered with more than 600 shipwrecks.  Its proximity to the notorious Gulf Stream current, large areas of shoal ground and a deep ocean shelf combine to produce strong winds and currents and difficult sailing conditions.   DSC_4026

As it turned out we had an uneventful two day sail to Cape Lookout, rounding Cape Hatteras in the early hours of the morning with 20 knots of wind on the beam which increased to 30 as dawn broke making for a fantastic beam reach down the coast.   We had two days in Cape Lookout,an incredibly remote anchorage with beautiful sandy Atlantic beaches and a well maintained national park.


A strong cold front forced us into Charleston to wait a few days – hardly a hardship given it’s easily the nicest town we’ve visited on the eastern seaboard, full of charming old southern homes in leafy streets.  Once this system blows through it’s yet another overnight sail down to Florida to pick up David’s daughter Anna who is joining us for six weeks.  Every day is getting warmer and already we’re back into shorts and t-shirts.