Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The United States Of America

Welcome to the United States of America !                                                                                          
Florida & Georgia : 1st –27th June 2011
It was with mixed emotions that we approached the Florida coastline. Were we quite ready to leave behind the idyllic island life and clear blue waters we’d grown to love over the past months and swap it for the fast pace and bright lights of the mighty USA? The answer was definitely yes! We had talked about sailing to the  United States for such a long time and now here it was on our door step.
A few miles to the east of Fort Lauderdale, our chosen port of entry, we had our first interaction with the US Coast Guard.
Steaming up to us in their big cutter we were sure that they would stop and board us. We’d heard stories from other cruisers, particularly American’s , that as we were a foreign flagged vessel  this is what would happen. But no, they just kept their distance alongside for a short while, no doubt checking our details on their computers, so Annie gave them a friendly wave. They then headed over towards our friends on  No Rehearsal, called them on the radio and asked if they were travelling with the Australian flagged cat. We were quite chuffed that they even knew our flag. After a few minutes they said welcome to the Unites States of America, wished both boats a pleasant stay and were on their way again to patrol and  defend their shores.
Now Liam loves his fishing and at every opportunity the lines are out. He’d been trolling all the way across the Gulf Stream from Bimini, some 45 miles, and just as we were about to enter the Fort Lauderdale breakwater he landed a lovely big Mahi Mahi. Just as well the Coast Guard didn’t see that or they might have asked to see our fishing permit which of course  we don’t have!  IMG_4928
Travelling by boat has always had it’s challenges and as we entered our first American port, Fort Lauderdale,  we were about to add a new one to the list. After sailing  for years in waters where the red markers have always been on the left and  the green ones always on the right, now the colours were reversed! In America it is ‘red right returning’, meaning that the red markers are always on the right hand side when entering a port, river or harbour. Confusion reigned for a little while ‘till we got our heads around that fact and just when we thought we had it sorted a couple of miles in from the entrance the markers suddenly switched back! You see some of  Fort Lauderdale’s waterways form  part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that stretches from Florida to New York, and, as someone in the big apple deemed that  the official entrance to the ICW was at the New York end, so it follows that the red had to be on the right, which makes them on the left if you are travelling north. Now is that confusing or what? Our brains are always on high alert now whenever we see a coloured marker as we sure don’t want to be on the wrong side and end up on the hard stuff.
Now that we had the buoyage system down pat we headed up river towards the Los Olas Municipal Marina where we had a reservation.To get there we had to pass under a couple of opening bridges.These bridges seemed to be well timed in order to let boating traffic have a smooth transition from one bridge to the next. If you dawdle you may have to wait for the next scheduled opening which could be around 45mins and, as we found out, the bridge operators are not backward at telling you to hurry up. One thing that amazed us was the politeness of everyone using the radio and the fact that they refer to absolutely everyone as captain.  Passing the plethora of beautiful homes, one of which had a backyard surf wave maker, and of course all the beautiful mega yachts, we arrived at the marina and tucked into our slip.The rates here were unbelievable good value so we stayed for 10 days.
P6130671                                                P6130670    Within walking distance to the cafe scene along the beach front and a short car ride away from shopping malls and chandleries (West Marine), it was the perfect place to call home for a while. Liam, the sports hound that he is, certainly had no problem getting his fix of TV sports at any number of the local bars, which usually had no less than seven televisions adorning the walls, all  tuned to different sports or news programs. While we were at the marina  we also caught up with good friends George and Merrima from Moonshadow who’d we’d not seen since the Canary Islands. They arrived with a chilled bottle of champagne, a US flag and a lovely bunch of welcome flowers wrapped in patriotic coloured cellophane. Over the next week many a trip was made to the various malls (much to Annie’s delight and Liam’s horror) some of which were of gargantuan size, and to quite a few very good local restaurants. We also caught up with another friend, Fitz and his son Ben from Sydney, who had flown over to take possession (pending survey) of a pre loved 65ft motor yacht which was pretty much going for a song. 
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As our friend Pete, who’d been on board all the way through the Bahamas, only had a few more days with us, we decided to hire a car and drive up to the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral and the Epcot Centre in Orlando. Liam and I had been to both these places back in the late eighties but there had been a lot of changes since then. Without driving licenses, ours’ had expired a few months back and we were waiting on new ones to arrive by post, it was solely up to Pete to take on the task of mastering the mega maze of busy freeways. It had been a long time since we’d seen this amount of traffic and it really was a bit overwhelming to say the least. Everyone drives so fast and on the wrong side of the road!
Our Cadillac was fitted with an Onstar navigation service where you just press a button and are connected to an advisor who sends the directions for where you want to go to the GPS in the car. It became a bit like phoning a friend really. We rang these people so many times a day for directions,  I know for sure we would have got hopelessly lost without this system.
The drive to up to Titusville in Orlando, on what is known as The Space Coast, took us about four hours and to give Pete a break from all the driving we pulled into a rest area.It was neat and clean but there were so many signs telling you what you could or couldn’t do it was total “information overload”,but then this is America!
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Figuring that there would be heaps of hotels in the area we  decided just to rock into town and take it from there. We stopped outside The Ramada Hotel and just as we were about to head into reception a local guy handed us a magazine saying that it had discount vouchers for many hotels in the area. We had  a quick look at the room and for the  bargain price of only $49 it was a no brainer, and it included breakfast and a pool to cool off in after the long drive. Maybe the USA was not going to be as expensive as we had thought.
Having pre booked our space centre tour on the internet, and there are heaps of different packages to choose from, we were all set to hit the road early the next morning. The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex, located on Merritt Island about 12 miles from the nearest town, is the home of NASA, the Space Shuttle program and  just about anything American that has ever been  rocket propelled into outer space. It’s a huge facility and has had a major refurbish since our last visit.IMG_5027 IMG_4979
The monstrous, and I’m talking big here, three stage, 363 ft long Saturn V rocket (pics below) of the Apollo exploration era (Houston we have a problem!) had been moved indoors and the photos I took just couldn’t do this baby justice.The new attractions of interactive simulators, including the aptly named ”Shuttle Launch Experience”,  the Imax Theatre which gives you a 3D look at life on the International Space Station and the Hubble telescope and the informative exhibits had us engrossed in all things beyond  this earth for about eight hours. As you might have guessed Liam and I love anything to do with space or just flying in general, so being able to come back here for another visit after all this time was really up our alley. Oh, and for those of you into statistics, the girth of this rocket is 33ft, the weight is 3,039,000 kgs and the thrust of the it’s five engines sends it into space at a whooping 17,500 mph Sure makes our two 75 turbo Yanmar engines that blast us along at 12 knots on GWTW pale into insignificance really.
The guided bus tour around the facility was great and being able to get up close and personal, well within the 1/2 mile exclusion zone, of the shuttle Atlantis that was on the launch pad waiting for the final lift off of the shuttle program in a few  weeks time, was an added bonus. For more info on the tours costs and exhibits go to
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After having our fill of all things space, well nearly, the next morning we headed off to the Epcot Centre. This is part of the Disney World theme parks  for which Orlando is now famous. Opening way back in the early 1980’s, Epcot Centre was designed as a high tech look into the future.

Like the Kennedy Space Center, Epcot also has lots of interactive rides and space stuff but is aimed more towards adults rather than kids.The newest ride, Soarin’, is an absolute take your breath away, 6 minute high- flying simulator ride that leaves you wanting to run back, queue up and do it all over again.So long as you are not afraid of heights I can guarantee that you WILL want to go back for a second time .
One of the other rides takes you on a journey from the past and into the future and lets you choose your favorite pass time, punch it into a screen and at the end of the ride posts your photos on the  big screen for all to see. As you can see from the picture above,  Pete and I chose diving. And when you’ve had enough of future world you can just wander over to the other side of the park and without even leaving terra firma travel to and sample some tasty delights from various countries around the world without even leaving the the USA…and to think that we sailed all the way to Venice and Morocco when we could have just come here!
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P6070618                              P6070611   That said, we did have a lot of fun here and, just to remind us of which country we were really in, there was even a Yankee Doodle band and a troupe of excellent unaccompanied period costume- clad opera singers.
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Suffering from the heat, (Orlando is very HOT in June) and with sore legs from all the walking, into our Cadillac we piled to head back to our lovely air conditioned hotel for the night. Yet  another bargain had been found at the Lexington Suites where both Pete and us each had a two room apartment with his and hers TV's, a microwave AND a bathtub. It was sheer luxury, the bathtub that is. After a brief stop the next morning at a friend’s house to wish little Remi a happy birthday and to pick up our mail, aka our drivers licenses, we headed back to Fort Lauderdale and the comfort of GWTW.
On Pete’s last day we made an early start so that we could have a quick look around Miami before dropping him at the airport. The beach front streets of South Beach are full of beautifully restored art deco buildings and quite a few restored people as well. We strolled the main boulevard with its trendy shops and outdoor cafes and soaked up the vibrancy of the place before sitting down for a casual lunch and a spot of people watching. A couple of early model cars parked along the street and the elaborate displays of  food to entice hungry tourists fitted in well with the overall  glitzy feel of the place.
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After saying our goodbyes and dropping Pete at Miami International, we headed back up the freeway to Fort Lauderdale.
P6090652 We spent the next couple of days socializing and stocking up with a few more bits and pieces before dropping the dock lines and heading  further north up the Florida coastline. We’d had a great time in this part of Florida. Our land touring had been a ton of fun as had the shopping expeditions. It was also nice to know that for the next six months we would almost be able to have a landlubbers life with every modern amenity pretty much just a dinghy ride away. The USA was going to be a blast.
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Cruiser Info : Formalities: Call Customs and Border Protection (CBP) by phone on arrival and again once you are anchored or in a marina. You then have 24hrs to present yourself and your crew in person to their office to complete arrival paperwork. We went to the Port Everglades office on Ella Avenue. Supermarkets: Publix is a huge store and there are several in the Ft Lauderdale area. Best Buy is great for electronics, phones and computer gear. For Computer repairs we went  to TT Garage on SE 17th St. Hardware stores, Home Depot is a monster hardware with home wares as well.Marinas: We stayed at the Los Olas Municipal Marina, cost was $1 per foot and includes water and electric. lovely facilities, free wi–fi, laundry,  TV room, book swap and close to town and buses. Marina mooring balls were $30 per night. Rental Cars, we used Enterprise and they will pick you up & drop you back to the  marina. Cruising Guides: We used Dozier’s Waterway Guide. This series of books (4) have good information about the towns anchorages, marinas and services but is geared mainly towards vessels using the Intracoastal Waterway.Your mast height must be under 65It to transit the ICW and the books contain very little information about cruising the Atlantic coastline and it doesn’t always give Lats & Longs. Book # 4 the Northern Edition covering Long Is Sound to Maine is very good, but the lay out takes a little getting used to. 
Lake Worth, Palm Beach,St Augustine & Fernandina Beach.
Leaving Fort Lauderdale mid morning on the13th we had a very pleasant sail under main and screecher while being pushed along by a gentle15 knot sou’easterly breeze. Forty miles and a few hours  further on we dropped the anchor at the well known resort area of Lake Worth /Palm Beach. Our friends from the US flagged Scaramouche, Bob and Lorraine, who we’d met during our time in the Bahamas, lived here so it would be great to catch up with them again. Lake Worth lies on the ICW and as was the case in Fort Lauderdale, is subject to incredibly strong tidal flows. Lying at anchor our boat was often tossed around in the swirling currents making life aboard a tad uncomfortable when the wind direction was against the tide direction. Florida is known as the lightning capital of America and the large number of lightning towers bear testament to that fact. We’d had a few big thunderstorms while down in Ft Lauderdale but the one that hit us on our first night in Lake worth was a real doozie. Around 5pm the wind swung around, the air got dramatically cooler and the sky darkened.
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P6130688 Within a few minutes a microburst slammed into us, bringing with it thunder, lightning and heavy rain. All our precious possessions, computers, i pads, cameras, phones and chargers as well as any other electronic devices that we just can’t live without were whisked away to their temporary homes in the oven and microwave. At this point you may think that we’ve lost the plot, but putting all this stuff into the oven or microwave is supposed to save them in the event of a lightning strike and having the tallest mast in an anchorage just begs for a bit of bad luck sometimes. As quickly as the storm had come it was gone, leaving in it’s wake  crisp cool air, a sunny afternoon and a starry night.
Moving about a mile downstream we anchored out the front of the Lake Worth business district. The city of Lake Worth is a particularly orderly place. Manicured parks and leafy, tidy streets are the order of the day.
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There is a lovely 100ft  (free) floating municipal town dock on which you can tie to and explore the town, a far cry from the town docks we found in the Med or even in the Caribbean. With the mercury inching up into the high 90’s the fountain in the main park was the perfect  cooling off venue for the local school kids, there was even a fountain guide on duty .   
The town not only provides a free wi-fi service but also a courtesy shuttle trolley that conveniently stops at the waterfront and the main shopping area with a stop right outside the Publix supermarket. if every town had a service like that we’d be in heaven. Catching up with Bob and Lorraine from Scaramouche was a lot of fun. Although they live in town they were spending a few days on their boat in the marina so that made it  very easy to catch up. The marina had a communal entertainment room complete with two large flat screen TV's, a full size kitchen and a pool table which saw us having a few games after dinner. Along with Daryl and Annie from No Rehearsal, the six of us had a lovely evening out in a ritzy  restaurant named Taboo in the rather wealthy suburb of Palm Beach
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                                          P6160736                                                                                                                                                                                                                     We spent four days at Lake Worth and enjoyed Bob and Lorraine’s wonderful hospitality, some very good shopping and one of  the regular Thursday night summer concerts in the park. A balmy evening saw  lots of people turned out for the event.The music was lively and there was plenty of variety at the food stalls. All in all this was a good stop for us, but as usual it was time to keep moving, so the next day we headed back out to sea and headed up the coast past Cape Canaveral on an overnight run to St Augustine. Arriving mid afternoon we picked up one of the town’s municipal mooring balls. With the marina dinghy dock handy to the town centre it was easy to explore this historical town. Rated as  the oldest  permanent settlement in  the USA and  founded by the Spanish  way back in1565, it is guarded by the  usual Spanish hallmark, the imposing fort of Castillo de San Marcos on the headland. We just happened to be tying up to our mooring ball when they fired the cannons and scared the you-know-what out of us!
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This quaint town which boasts having the oldest continuously occupied house in the US as well as the oldest wooden school house,,  amongst a host of other old things sees lots of tourists making good use of the horse drawn carriages that ply the cobblestoned streets.
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We,  however, needing the exercise, chose to see the town on foot and after strolling around taking in the sights and visiting the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, which was a bit of fun, we just couldn’t resist for  obvious reasons, stopping in for a cool beverage at Scarlet O’Hara’s and Rhett’s piano bar and brasserie.There were plenty of cute B & B’s around town as well as shops, churches, tapas bars and small  outdoor eating places. It really was a nice town, but we felt that one day was more than enough here. 
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The day  we left St Augustine was pretty much a scorcher and the beaches were chock a block full of both people and their 4x4’s, we would have liked to have been able to stop for a cool dip too that’s for sure.       
Our last two stop in Florida was at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. Fernandina was a sleepy little tourist town on the river  side of the island .The  major employer in the town was the huge paper mill that dominated the skyline. As we walked down the main street of the town we had a chance meeting with friends from a boat named Tiger. We’d spent time with them back in Turkey and again in the Canary Islands, but had not heard from them since.So what a shock it was to bump into them here.The boys had grown a little since we saw them last but still as happy and chatty as ever.Their plan was to stay in the small marina here for a few months while Renel worked as an occupational therapist before moving to Charleston in Sth Carolina where they would to settle, put the boys into school and buy a house. We decided to stay an extra night in the anchorage so that we could catch up with Neil, Ranel and their wonderful boys Peter and Amel over dinner.Sometimes you feel that this really is a small world.
Morning came and it was time to  pull up the anchor and say goodbye to Florida. We’d had an incredibly good time over the last couple of weeks and had seen a lot .As an in – your - face first experience of the USA, Florida certainly hit the spot. The big city lights might have been a bit of a culture shock at first but it took us no time at all to realize that soon America would become as  comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

GEORGIA : 22nd – 27th June
Cumberland Island
Our first stop in Georgia and was the lovely and tranquil Cumberland Island. Pretty much uninhabited it  was a welcome change from all the towns and cities that we’d visited in Florida. This island is Georgia’s largest and most southern barrier island and is part of Georgia’s National State Parks. The island, only accessible by boat is around 28klms in length and comprises of tidal creeks, marshes and maritime forests. These areas are home to many creatures including Sea Turtles, Armadillo, Fiddler Crabs and a large variety of birdlife. At the northern end of the island is “The Settlement” where The First African Baptist Church still stands along with the restored 1898 Plum Orchard mansion which was donated to the park by the wealthy steel magnate family the Carnegies. We only had time to  visit the south end of the island during our stop over here.This part of the park houses the remains of the grand old Carnige mansion “Dungeness”.Sadly it was destroyed by fire in 1959.A building near the rangers dock known as the Ice House Museum provides a glimpse of how grand the mansion was in its hay day.  Many relics and historical information about the family and their children are also on display here. Beautiful oak trees with branches draped in spanish moss line the unpaved roadway to the estate entrance and an ornate  gateway still guards the now crumbling buildings that once was the home of the wealthy Pittsburg family. Wild horses, now the sole occupants of the sprawling  grounds roam free on the peaceful surroundings of the massive estate. A series of walking trails criss crossed the island from the ocean side to the quite river where we were at anchor. It was a magical Island.
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Huge forest fires had been raging out of control for days about 30 miles inland from where we were and a very heavy smoke haze had settled in over the river. Visibility was non existent so although we didn’t want to stay here breathing in the thick smoke for another day we had no choice but to sit and wait. Luckily the following day the breeze came in from the east blowing the smoke back inland. The rest of the state of Georgia beckoned so it was time to move on to the next town on our list.
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