Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A short preamble to our Alaska trip 2016.            The Why, The What & The How.

May 28th 2016


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OK, so everyone has a bucket list of some sort. I guess the number one item on ours is sailing around the world. We’ve nearly done it but can’t tick the box for that one just yet. Then of course there are the sub categories on the list and at the top of that list has always been Alaska. 

When we first came up with the idea of a trip to the 49th state we looked at lots of options. Sailing GWTW up there ahhh too far and too hard so that idea got scratched pretty quick. Maybe book on a big cruise ship or a small cruise ship, jump on a train or mix it up a bit and do a combo fly, coach, rail and cruise trip. They were all worthy of consideration. After all, millions of fellow travelers see the state this way but sharing the experience of a lifetime with a gaggle of total strangers just didn’t sit right with us.

So the research hound here buried her head in the internet for a few weeks ‘till she came up with a good all round solution. Way back in the archives of my mind I remember someone once talking about bareboat charters in Alaska, and that little spark was about to turn into reality for us.

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After calling a few companies, submitting our   boating resume and pouring over what was on offer we settled on an outfit called Northwest Explorations (NWE) based in Bellingham in Washington State. NWE had the most diversified fleet of boats in both price and size and sported an excellent Alaska program named Mother Goose.There were several legs to this Alaska trip, all with different durations and destinations and with the option of of having a paid skipper on board or being self skippered. We chose to do leg, # 2, and we”d  skipper and run the boat ourselves for 19 days.

Our trip, starting in the coastal town of Sitka in southeast Alaska, would be the same as the other legs being of a flotilla nature, with a lead boat and five boats following. One thing that we really liked was that unlike the bareboat flotillas in the Caribbean, it was our choice whether to stay with the group or go off on our own for a few days or indeed the entire trip. The only stipulation and it was a reasonable one, was that you must arrive at the finish destination of Cordova in Prince William Sound on the specified date.

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Looking through the specifications of the vessels that were available we chose a DeFever 46 trawler named Heli Mai. She had a great layout.There were two helm stations, one in the raised pilot house  which was spacious and comfy and the other up on the  semi enclosed flying bridge with 360 degree views. She had excellent accommodation and her interior was well appointed. The galley was equipped with everything you could want including a household fridge, icemaker and trash compactor. Internal heating and a washer/dryer combo topped off the list of  accessories. One of the reasons that we chose this vessel over the others in the fleet was that she had the same navigation electronics that we run on GWTW, and that was the icing on the cake. So with all the details sorted it and the deposit paid it was time to start getting excited.

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As we were looking into booking flights we had another thought. It made perfect sense to see as much as we could while we were up there, after all we’d probably never be coming back. With that, the idea of renting an RV for a couple of weeks once we got off the boat sprang to mind. A few days later that too was booked. We settled on a Winnebago 27ft Minnie Winne through Great Alaskan Holidays based in Anchorage. The RV came with pretty good sized accommodation, and a shower and toilet although unlike Heli Mai, you had to rent everything bar the basics including a toaster, kettle,BBQ and outdoor chairs. We thought that was a bit rich.

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With all the bookings done and a loose plan for where to go in the RV this holiday was really shaping up to be one hell of a trip, and before we new it our bags were packed and we were sitting on our Delta plane and heading north.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Biding our time in Historic Brunswick, Georgia.

April 10th – May 20th 2016.

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So here we sit, twiddling our thumbs and not really doing much at all. Well that’s not exactly true ‘cause there’s always a heap of boat chores to keep us out of mischief. And along with ordering spare parts for the boat, Liam has now turned his attention to a new hobby..drone flying. So we now have two new team members on GWTW they are drone number 1 ..aka Kevin and his no nonsense big brother drone number 2 Shadow. Drone-cam will feature in future posts once Liam is up to speed with his piloting skills.

With the start of the hurricane season on June 1st just around the corner and because we had to duck back to Phuket Thailand (see previous post) smack bang in the middle of this year’s cruising season, its now way too late to head out to anywhere. We have turned into temporary land lubbers just for the moment and really that’s not too hard at all. In fact we kind of like it for a change, especially the part about not having to worry about the weather when it turns nasty. The admiral here, but not so much the captain, is particularly fond of her leisure time at the local YMCA swimming pool as well as all the frills that come with living on land, such as shopping, driving a car, and not getting covered in salt spray every time we venture out to the supermarket.

Thanks to all our friends here at the marina we regularly get invited out on day trips or loaned their car to run up to the shops. Most cruisers here own a car which they base at the marina during the sailing season (winter) and then drive it back to their place of residence or visit the rellies during the non sailing summer (hurricane season) months. We do rent a car occasionally but it’s a tad hard to justify for longer periods if it’s just going to sit idle in the car park.


So what have we been up to and where have we been of late? Well, Darian is a small town, but it’s called a city about 30 miles north of Brunswick. Founded in 1736 it is the second oldest city in Georgia and we drove out there with friends Jim and Maryanne for a bite to eat. The town sits on the banks of the Darien River and has quite a big shrimping fleet. Our lunch venue was a small riverside restaurant named Skippers Fish Camp & Oyster Bar. There are heaps of these ‘straight off the trawler” style fish camp eateries all over coastal Georgia but apparently this one of the best around. Other than the food and the beautiful setting the other attraction was to watch the antics of the resident turtles in the courtyard pond as they vied for a sunny spot  on the back of an artificial ‘gator.


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Although we didn’t have time to explore the town fully with its many beautiful squares, oak trees dripping in Spanish moss and the quaint churches scattered around this will no doubt entice us back at a latter date. We also stopped off at the local hardware store, the oldest in the district, which was jammed packed with a good assortment of stuff. The owners certainly spared no expense when it came to expanding the business to include the store next door. They just knocked out a hole in the wall!

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Meanwhile back in Brunswick we had a surprise visit from Melbourne based crew Bruce and Gena on their South African designed Leopard 47 Wyuna.  We’d caught up with them in the Bahamas last year for just a few days and now out of the blue they’d decided to stay a couple of days in our marina. So in true downunder style we organised a dockside potluck BBQ. Along with a few of the more permanent marina residents a good time was had by all as we set up camp out on the club house deck overlooking the marsh. A few days later Wyuna headed north towards New York and Long Island and we hope to catch up again if they decide to return here for the hurricane season.


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Since our return to Brunswick back in January we’ve dragged our out our golf clubs from the bow a few times and, along with friend Mike, headed to the local driving range to polish up our skills, or rather lack of. The range was fun but we really needed something more challenging. Taking a leap of faith the three of us decided it was time to hit on a real course. One thing about this area is that there is no shortage of courses to play and most of them are full of wildlife and are drop dead gorgeous.

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Jekyll Island, one of many barrier islands in south east Georgia, is a mere fifteen minute drive from the marina and the Jekyll Island Golf Club has three18 hole and one 9 hole course within its boundaries. With it’s diversity of courses we made this our home club. By using the Golf Now tee time app we could  play here at least once a week without busting our budget. A mere $16 bought us 18 holes including a motorised cart and an cooler with ice…gotta be happy with that!

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When we weren’t playing golf there was still lots of other things to entertain us. Liam joined Mike on his Harley Davidson for rides out on the back roads. Thursday evenings at Bennies Red Door Barn over on St Simons Island was a popular spot with the cruisers. Call us cheap but who can resist the lure of two for one drinks for the ladies, good free food and great live music !

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Then of course there were all the local festivals. American small town festivals are a real hoot. In the space of a couple of weeks we went to three.

First up was the Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival. A very well patronised food, arts and crafts festival headed up by the obligatory town parade along with heaps of local seafood stalls, pirates galore and live bands. Every man and his dog was in attendance with the emphasis being on dogs. This is a truly dogsentric country and canines and humans alike enjoy the great outdoors no matter what’s on offer.

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On the same weekend the annual Crawfish Festival was being held just west of Brunswick in the small town of Woodbine. More low key than its big sister  over in Fernandina Beach, it still had the vital components of bands, parades, pageants and the whole nine yards. Golfing friends from the marina Mike and Christie, along with long time friends Donny and Judy who sailed up from Miami for the weekend, joined us at both festivals. So just what is a Crawfish? For those of you like us who had nada a clue as to what these creatures were, well they’re mini lobsters. And when we say miniature we’re not kidding. By the time you rip their heads and claws off you are left one tinsy, winsy bite. Believe us when we say it takes a bloody long time to fill up on those little critters. Are they worth the work …naaaa. Stick to the real McCoy we say.


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May 8th rocked around and yet another festival was upon us. It was also Mothers Day and the marina was putting on the usual bash. Having been to many marina doos we decided to dip out this time and head down to the Brunswick Blessing of the Fishing Fleet, the shrimp fleet that is. It was a pretty hot day and we were ever so glad that it was being held in the shade of the main bridge that spans the East River. We had rated the Crawfish Festival in Woodbine as low key and this one was definitely at least two octaves lower. There was only a handful of stalls but a great kickass band and the locals were toe tapping and stomping their feet to the rock and roll tunes of Back beat Boulevard

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The blessing itself took place out on the fast flowing East River waters where decorated trawlers nosed up one by one behind the anchored trawler  the “Georgia Bulldog” so that the Reverend could toss holy water on their bows, bless them and all who sails in them and say a prayer for a safe and bountiful shrimping season ahead. Following the trawlers, yachts and powerboats also lined up for the Reverend’s prayers, although by the end of it he’d run out of holy water.

DSCN8392Sleepy little Brunswick doesn’t get excited very often but when a big catamaran shows up, no we’re not talking about Gone With The Wind, it really gets peoples attention. So when a navy ship bearing the town’s name came to town was a  big event in more ways than one.

The USNS Brunswick, an expeditionary fast transport vessel, is one mother of a catamaran. She weighs in at a shade over 1,500 tons, is 103m in length with a beam of 28.5m and has a draft of a mere 3.83m. She can cruise along at speeds of 43 knots and carries up to 312 troops with a crew capacity of 41although she normally operates with 26. Primarily she is a transport vessel which is designed to respond to humanitarian crisis carrying both troops and supplies.


She is constructed from light weight aluminum shell containing 4 diesel engines, a very high tec bridge and a flight deck for helicopters. Her accommodation comprises of berths for the crew and airline seats for her personnel, the Marines.The mission bay, 1,900m2 of can carry 600 short tons and the large loading ramp allows for fast loading and unloading of vehicles and cargo.

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We attended the public welcoming ceremony after which we figured we’d do the tour, however a large queue had already formed and the thought of standing in the hot sun for over an hour really put us off. Then come Sunday morning while I was out for an early morning walk I happened to notice that there were a few people milling around and asked if they were going to do any tours as it was advertised that Saturday was the only tour day. To my delight the answer was yes, due to the popularity of the previous day. So home I bounded to fetch Liam and we were rewarded with a private tour of only six people before the hordes arrived en masse.

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The tour was great ,especially up on the bridge and the crew members were very  friendly and informative answering all our small groups questions.They also let us have a bit of hands on experience which was a bit of fun.

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The following week we rented a car as friends Larry and Lena from M/V Hobo based in Jacksonville had organized tickets for the four of us to watch the golf at the Players Championship .

We had a great time following the big names around such as Jason Day, Adam Scott and Jordon Speith. These guys make all their shots look so easy. If only we had just a smidge of that sort of talent.

The crowds were amazingly big for a Thursday and if that was any indication of the of what was to come we were sure glad that we didn’t go down there for the weekend playoffs.



The television coverage would suit us just fine. And of course we were so proud when Jason Day took home the booty.

So I mentioned in an earlier post that Alaska was potentially in the pipeline for some travel, well we booked it. Our next posting will be brought to you from the 49th state so stay tuned.