Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SINTERRA 9

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Mar 3, 2008 to Mar 29, 2008
Florida Passage 4
Key West
MM1216 to 1242



Click to see Palm FanSo, here we are in what we would consider a Florida "paradise"... it has the "look" and the waters are varied aqua-marine hues, as in the Caribbean. We "limped" in today with bare stores and a couple of days of rough seas from Marathon to here, and a week of very windy northerlies. In Islamorada we were anchored in a gale one night, but shallow waters prevented big wave buildups.

We have now been at anchor nearly two months, without needing water! The water collection scheme gave us some 350g from thunderstorms and rains. Without it we would have run out in about three weeks time. The water itself is amazingly soft and fresh smelling... no minerals or chemicals as in terra-based city water, which has to be "softened" artificially. As usual, we run our drinking water through that expensive purifier.

And the broken generator needs attention... looks like it's the fresh water pump... will take apart tomorrow... meanwhile, we're charging batteries with the boat's alternator, running in neutral... not great for carbon buildup. Cynthia's toilet is still broken... we're waiting for a part in the mail (hopefully). And Richard needs a new replacement for his mobile phone. And the starboard fuel tank has a small leak. Cynthia calls these trials the "dark side of paradise."

But it IS Key West after all... our southern terminus... Got off this tub right away and ate fish sandwiches at B.O.s, Click to see Key West Housewalked around lush neighborhoods with very attractive two-story KW-style homes and cute Conch homes. The waterfront at Key West Bight (Historic Town Harbor) looks even better from our visit by car two years ago, very lively. And shopped some groceries.

As we write this part we're looking out at the very nearby lighted city, anchored right in front of the town harbor (with marinas, restaurants, bars, fishing and excursion charters) and Mallory Square (THE place for sunset viewing and Click to see Mallory Square Sunsetstreet performers), with a lit-up cruise ship to our right. Great location for the anchorage, but very rough from the passing wakes of excursion boats, fishing boats, sunset sails, dive boats... and it's still blowing 20+ knots, going on a week now. The next day we moved to a mooring at Garrison Bight, for eight days, while we waited for our reserved slip back at the town's harbor.

The folks living and working here are very laid back and friendly... unlike Miami and Miami Beach. And the city has its share of eccentrics. A live-aboard near our first-day anchorage gave us good info on where to land the dinghy; later that day, while eating lunch, he ambled by on a pair of ice skates, with rubber guards on the blades. Yes, ice skates!

And let's not forget the chickens; they're everywhere, and controversial. We love to watch them, especially the Click to see Nevi & Chickenschicks. Nevi couldn't wait to see them each time we walked her. See http://keywestchickens.com

We defined a new term here, "DerelictDoom." This is the state of real FL liveaboards on derelict boats, "house" boats, and boats on the way there... Some have the look of Johny-Depp pirates; curiously, their girlfriends look normal. Are we morphing ourselves into DerelictDoom? Systems breaking down, fleas, needed laundry, Cynthia's hair, Richard's beard & pirate pants & no shirt, a chop stick for a broken doorknob, low water (we need rain or a marina), and dirty boat after many weeks at anchor.

We passed by Aqua Village on the way to the mooring field... 8 houseboats rafted together, rescuing Legacy, a 158ft sailing ship that ran aground during Hurricane Wilma. The owner envisions a non-polluting lifestyle with little-to-no carbon footprint, sustainable by hydro, wind and solar power sources. See http://www.the-triton.com/megayachtnews/print_version.php?id=2339
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Click to see Sinterra Key WestAfter 9 days on the hook and ball about a mile and a half from the town center, with several days of high winds, we're now in our comfortable slip at http://galleonresort.com/home.htm

Cynthia has already hit the pool and hot tub (while doing laundry)... We're here for a couple of weeks, at the historic harbor (Key West Bight), surrounded by restaurants, bars, live music (until 4am!). Cynthia was READY for a dock after 7 weeks on the hook! Richard too... the last dock was in Ft Lauderdale.



Click to see Manatee

The water in the harbor is like an aquarium: huge tarpon, jacks, sea horses, needle fish, manatee, sergeant majors, and two goliath groupers, one 400lb and the other 600lb. It's a feeding frenzy when the commercial fishing boats filet their catch and throw in the remains.

Richard installed the new water pump yesterday (picked it up 5m away on Stock Island in our rented toy-like electric vehicle), giving us a working generator again. The part for Cynthia's toilet did not work, so we threw it overboard (in our fantasy) and ordered a new one. The old one never did work right anyway. Richard got his replacement phone by mail (we get mail at marinas or by general delivery at local post offices, just in case you've been wondering). And Richard is fixing the fuel tank, using the still-successful procedure he tried on the other tank in Wilmington. We're ascending from DerelictDoom.

Scott and Yara (and dachshund Gunther) cruised into town in their rented convertible from Miami, where they flew in from Boston. It was great fun sharing the city with them over Click to see Convertible Crewthe next eight days; they had not been here. And daughter treated all on Dad's 66th birthday at Ambrosia, a chic Japanese restaurant. And we have been eating some good seafood, especially shrimp po'boys on toasted Cuban bread. The Key West pink shrimp are delicious and fresh. Love this town...

Scott brought his fishing gear and caught some 30 red snappers off the resort's dock. Ate two for lunch. And Scott, who remodeled a rental building that he bought, installed Cynthia's new toilet. What a guy! What a guest!!



Click to see Foursome

This is a party town, especially Duval Street! Bars, bars, and more bars, with names like Sloppy Joe's, Hog's Breath, Captain Tony's, Schooner Wharf, and Green Parrot. Yes, we did grace these, although Cynthia doesn't drink and Richard is a light weight. These saloons are the best known for various reasons. Sloppy Joe's and Captain Tony's for the Ernest Hemingway connections, the latter being the more authentic. Hog's Breath for its hard-coreness, and Schooner Wharf and Green Parrot as local hangouts with excellent live music, the former also for food. See www.capttonyssaloon.com for an interesting read.

The bands are very good here and the famous occasionally show up: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffet, and Kenney Click to see ConcertChesney, to name a few. Key West was Chesneyfied for a week. He was in town, with his tour bus, and staying on his boat within close view of our boat. He did a free concert at Sloppy Joe's, in preparation for his upcoming tour, which was the buzz around town for days, and mobbed at the concert itself. He's a big Country Western draw, with Grammy's to his credit, but you might have heard of him as the guy who was married to Renee Zellweger. The marriage was annulled after four months on the basis of "fraud." In Chesney-concert-mode he looks the role: tight jeans, T-shirt, cowboy boots and hat; in marina-mode, he's just another casual guy that you wouldn't take a second look at.

Then there's the sane side to Key West: the restaurants, neighborhoods, and attractions. The Truman Annex compound is beautiful, upscale. Many attractive & lush (Banyans, palm varieties, flowering trees/shrubs) boutique hotels, B&Bs, and private homes. The above-ground historic cemetery is a must, with markers that say "I told you I Click to see I told you I was sickwas sick” and "At least I know where he is sleeping tonight." See http://www.keywesttravelguide.com/key-west-cemetery-map.htmlcemetery-map.html The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum was fascinating. The attached store included the Atocha “Empress” gold/emerald ring for sale, at $280k. See http://www.melfisher.org/

We wouldn't mind making this the southern winter base, except that the nice and convenient marinas are very expensive and the affordable ones are in shaky neighborhoods about 5m from here on Stock Island. When we had the electric car we ate lunch at Hog Fish Bar & Grill on Stock Island, part of a charming small marina with artist's shacks at the docks and colorful houseboats... we could spend time here on the boat, we thought... but, the surrounding neighborhoods were scary even for us... lots of crack trailers we were told... And slips are scarce as they continue the dockominium metamorphosis while still recovering in many places from hurricane Wilma three years ago. Still, we must consider returning. Cynthia adores Key West. Or maybe, just maybe, we'll get to winter at Hemingway Marina in Havana one of these years!

Places that we spend about a month start feeling like "home:" Key West, Miami Beach Lincoln Road Mall area, St Augustine. We ease into a life-style mode rather than vacation-tourist-style mode. We locate and frequent services, say hi to recognizable faces, slide into the rhythm of the place. We go to bed and wake up not feeling rushed, feeling comfortable with familiar surroundings. And it doesn't hurt that these places are very attractive. They also form a map in our minds, a system by which we judge where we will end up on land in the next year or two.
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Next Blog...
U-turn back north
Florida Passage.

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NOTE:
See links, top right for...
* Our routes and stops, on Google Earth
* More photos, on Snapfish
* Write mojena@uri.edu to be notified by email when new blogs are posted.

Friday, April 4, 2008

SINTERRA 8

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Feb 23, 2008 to Mar 3, 2008
Florida Passage 3
Florida Keys
MM1096 to 1216

It was decision time: Take the ocean-side Hawk Channel down the chain of islands or opt for the inside route along Florida Bay on the Gulf side. The former is straighter, faster, deeper, less interesting, and more subject to uncomfortable waves; the latter is circuitous, slower, shallower, more varied, and less nasty in weather. We decided on the slow road down and the fast road up. For both options Hawk Channel is necessary between Marathon and Key West, as the inside route in these parts is too shallow for our boat.


Click to see Alabama Jacks ____________________
Card Sound, Key Largo

We anchored at the west end of Card Sound Bridge, north side in 6 feet, ours the solo boat. A short dink ride into a canal brings us to Alabama Jacks. We tied up to their docks and dropped a sack of rubbish in the dumpster at the head of the pier. It's our third time here and it still feels fresh and energetic... a ramshackle, roadside bar and backwater, mangrove-swamp setting that reflects the "real" pre-condo Florida. Get it while you can. A live country band and dancing entertained us when there on a Sunday afternoon. It was very crowded with families, weekend boaters, bikers. It's best to sit at the small bar: better service and entertaining, hyperactive barkeeps. The Coronas are cold and the conch chowder and fritters are good. It's nice to see friendly staff too, especially amidst the chaos.


This we followed with an interesting dink run up the canal from AJs: we saw three crocs (not gators), a few derelict Click to see croc and working boats and shacks, some REAL liveaboards, and one sponger with sacks of sponges hanging from the boat. Lots of friendly waves.


There was a huge white pelican rookery on shore, visible from the anchorage. It was beautiful to watch their water-skimming, gliding/flapping formations as they come and go, black-tipped wings against their white bodies. As always, their fish-seeking dives are comical.


The contrast of these two settings is definitive: the natural-world surrounding the anchorage, still wild and primitive; a roadhouse with character on land. In our view, this is a MUST stop along the inside route. For a peek into AJs see www.alabamajacks.com


Domestic bliss 1950s style at first sunset here: Richard & Edi fishing on deck; Cynthia & Nevi making cookies in the galley. Cynthia and Nevi were far more successful.

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Islamorada

We promised ourselves to come back here by boat when we stayed at the boutique, trendy Casa Morada inn (
www.casamorada.com) two years ago during a car trip to the Keys. And here we are, anchored about a half mile from shore, in plain view of the property.


Click to see spotted eagle ray

We saw a 4’ spotted eagle ray swimming alongside the boat just before entering the anchorage. The following week a six-foot spotted eagle ray jumped into the path of a speeding boat, right into the face of a woman occupant, just 20 miles from here, in a spot we later navigated on the way to Key West. She died from the concussion. Talk about a freak accident... random or fate?

It was good to be back. The Fish Company Restaurant and market (
www.fishcompany.com) are totally rebuilt following the destruction wreaked by hurricane Wilma in 2005. The complex looks real good, with a tarpon pond surrounded by a tiki restaurant and bar, a small beach, and newly planted palms. We ate fish sandwiches for lunch and bought Key West pink shrimp & grouper for dinner. We also bought stuff at World Wide Sportsman (Bass Pro Shops) next door. This huge store includes a sister boat to Hemingway's Pilar, reworked to look inside as did its famous counterpart. Pilar itself is on display in Cuba, at Hemingway's former estate Finca Vigia. For an interesting history and fate of the famous boat see www.yachtingmagazine.com/article.jsp?ID=21015089


Our visit here was cut short based on a forecast of gale-force winds on the coming day. But not before Richard had to dive under the boat to replace a totally-gone zinc on the propeller shaft using his hookah scuba gear (a 30ft hose Click to see The Diverwith a regulator on one end and hooked to a battery-run air compressor on the other end). Without sacrificial zincs the boat's underwater metal gear (propeller, shaft, thruhulls) would perform disappearing acts from galvanic activity in salt water. Both of us are certified divers, but Richard goes it alone for these jobs, while Cynthia hangs to the dive ladder looking on with a mask and snorkel, fretting (actually, very worried) that he could get in trouble under there and that she might have to rescue him.



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On to Key West

Not much shelter was to be found from the approaching northerlies. We anchored off of Ligumvitae Key, home to a state park and the endangered tree by that name. The winds howled for three days, reaching gale force of 35kts plus and maxing at 54kts. We did manage to jump on land for an hour and remained confident throughout that our expensive tackle (Spade anchor, heavy chain, & bridle) and dug-in anchor would win the days. They did: No dragging at all according to our GPS-based anchor alarm.


Next we continued on to Long Key and anchored in front of a KOA RV park that was very nice. We dinked in and saw large, landscaped grounds on a peninsula, with pool, laundry, store, restaurant, and the ever-present tiki bars. Click to see Keys sunsetAnd a young eagle circled directly overhead, no more than 50' away. Bill & Sandy (Cynthia's sister from Fort Lauderdale) where planning on dropping by for dinner onboard. They were in Key Largo to check on their rental property and we were just down the road by car (but not by boat). But fate intervened... a mechanical disaster of sorts: Our generator started spewing coolant and oil. And this we need to run about five hours a day to charge our batteries, which primarily run refrigeration when anchored. So, we cancelled our dinner party, and spent the evening diagnosing the problem as a damaged seal and missing bearings on the fresh water pump. We can get by with charging the batteries through the alternator by running the boat just above idle, but this as a regular practice builds up too much carbon in the exhaust and engine. No choice but to do this for now, until we either fix the thing or we're plugged into shore power at a marina.

We dropped and flopped two more anchorages on the way to Key West, where we decided to fix the problem and to be near our reserved marina slip on March 12. To add insult to injury, Cynthia's toilet stopped pumping, the starboard fuel tank started leaking fuel, and Richard's mobile phone died. We limped into paradise.


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Next Blog...

Key West.

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NOTE:

See links, top right for...
* Our routes and stops, on Google Earth
* More photos, on Snapfish
* Write mojena@uri.edu to be notified by email when new blogs are posted.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

SINTERRA 7

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Jan 28, 2008 to Feb 23, 2008
Florida Passage 2
Ft Lauderdale to Miami Beach & Miami
MM1064 to 1096

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Miami Beach

Aaahh... We walk among the BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (BP). Our anchorage is as convenient as it gets, at the east end of Venetian Causeway, a very short dink ride to the end of Lincoln Road, which two blocks in becomes the outdoor Lincoln Road Mall. Elegant shops, cafes, restaurants, salons, art galleries, theatres (not movies) set among palm trees and extensive tropical foliage, flocks of small parrots in the trees. And populated by the BP: young and old, multi-cultural, domestic and international, stylish, ultra-thin models, photo shoots, designer sunglasses, designer everything, expensive "winter" clothing when the temperature drops below 70. Even many of the homeless had style! Really. Do the BP work? They always seem to be lounging in those comfortable mall chairs and couches. Or walking to and from somewhere. We boaters with our clogs, shorts, Ts, hats, and back packs do stand out. And we always seem to be focused on a mission. Not the BP. They have a serious look about them, but that's part of the style. Everyone seems to have small dogs (is Paris Hilton here too?). Well, we do have those. Other creatures too that we've seen: pet chicken, pet rat, pet parrot, pet sugar glider. Plenty of regular people too. And tourists. We love to sit in a cafe or on a wall to watch the passing scene.




We're several blocks north of South Beach... THE famous and resurgent South Beach of years ago. That south Miami Beach still looks great, with its extensive dune beach, foliage, and boutique hotels, but... it seems the BP have migrated north to Lincoln Road Mall, displaced by tourists, maybe since Versace was gunned down at the front door of his stunning mansion Casa Casuarina, now an exclusive hotel club.


And boy is it expensive here. Richard got socked with a $15 mojito at the famed Yuca restaurant. Cocktails on the mall easily run $14-17 at the chichi places. A small glass of very good sangria was $14 at the Ritz-Carlton. In that case we were paying for the beautiful ocean-side setting along the extensive boardwalk (actually, mostly paved) that runs between the hotels and ocean. It was beer after that, domestic. Ditto the food... and they add a 15-18% tip, not just for tables of six or more. For everyone. It's the Europeans and South Americans we're told. They still don't realize (or maybe care) that waiters live off of tips in this country. So, it was water (tap was good), beer for Richard, coffee for Cynthia, and small lunches, at too many places to name. And Richard, of course, was delighted to eat at a couple of inexpensive and passable Cuban places off the mall.Click to see Sinterra Cam


The water is now turquoise and we have an unexpected bonus... Our anchorage was in front of a lux condo complex under construction, with a web cam across the waterway that snapped a picture every half hour, to show potential buyers their progress. The family loved it, keeping track of our comings and goings by noting the absence or presence of the dinghy. Click

http://caprisobe.com/html/bay_view_live.html

After three intense days here and a credit card that spontaneously combusted we moved on to...

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Key Biscayne, Miami

We're anchored in a small, lagoon-like setting called No Name Harbor, within Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, surrounded by mangroves, palms, and hiking/walking paths within the park. It includes a historic lighthouse and settler's home that's open to the public. The only commerce here is a waterside, modest Cuban restaurant, with ok Click to see No Name Harborfood. The park entrance is one mile away and leads to services, restaurants, and shopping along palm-lined Crandon Boulevard, the main drag.


Key Biscayne is a wealthy enclave of private homes, condos, and hotels and much more developed than when Richard fished and frolicked here during high school days. Still, the state park and the huge city Crandon Park along the water preserve much of the beautiful natural setting here.


Wow! This harbor gets crazy on weekends. Miami Cubans (mostly) descend on this place in go-fast and other power boats, rocking to thunderous Latin beats, animated conversations (for all of us), lively music and chatter from the restaurant until the wee hours. One of three boats rafted next to us broke out into a verbal fight among its occupants, at 3am. Richard, as many of you know, has Cuban/Spanish blood coursing through his veins and so is more tolerant than the Euro-Americans among us. Still, he was surprised by the extent of the Hispanic influence in Miami proper (expected), Key Biscayne (unexpected), and Miami Beach (unexpected). At the majority of establishments and on the street the primary language was Spanish. It got to the point where Richard simply opened conversations or made requests in Spanish. We are a diverse, multi-cultural society and indeed that's one of our strengths and points of interest, but... it's easy to understand a counter view when immersed within the widespread Hispanic influence in Miami and surroundings... an influence that in many cases discourages assimilation (we would not want complete), interaction, and communication.


Our three-day stay here was cut short when Cynthia needed an emergency root canal. Natch we located an endodontist in Lincoln Road Mall.

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Miami Beach: We're baaack

We did say it was expensive here, no? The very nice, gentle, and (hopefully) good endodontist charged $1300 for his routine services (which blew the insurance allotment for the year). In RI, our nice, gentle, and good endodontist charged $800.


Everything regarding services and entertainment are here, within walking distance. Dental work, long dink rides with the dogs to a little tropical and uninhabited island nearby and through canals and lakes where we saw some amazingly colorful and huge iguanas, long walks within the town and boardwalk, a two-day car rental, too much drinking and eating, general delivery mail pickup at the post office from our mail forwarder, errands, shopping, and some boat maintenance turned into a seventeen-day stay. This is also were Blogaholicman appeared. Richard created this blog site while here.


Our car rental rides had its moments and purposes as well. First priority was to pay for a so-called sojourner's sticker from the motor vehicle department in downtown Miami. Out-of-state boats cruising Florida have a 90-day limit, after which (should the authorities catch up to you and they try) they can impose a use tax on your boat, at a rate equivalent to the 7% sales tax. This is not unique to Florida, as all eastern seaboard states except RI impose sales and use taxes on boats, especially if you never paid a sales tax to your domicile state. The difference is that FL vigorously pursues this source of revenue by walking the docks and checking bridge and marina manifests. RI exempts boats from its sales tax, so we were basically exposed to a roughly $20,000 FL tax should we violate this law. After considerable red tape and two trips to the motor vehicle office, we were given a registration (for $130) that extended our stay until next year. This should keep the revenue folks at bay.


The other main reason for needing a car was emotional and sad. Richard's father died last year and had requested that his ashes be spread in several places: a park setting in Narragansett, RI (done), Gulfstream racetrack in Hallandale, FL (now done, he was a racehorse trainer), Key Biscayne third bridge (now done, where he and RichardClick to see at the races spent many hours fishing), and his mother's grave in Cuba (we have to wait on that one). Richard was born in Miami and lived there sporadically while very young, but only continuosly during four years of junior and high school. Gulfstream park was a frequent adventure during those days and subsequently during college-year visits. And has it changed. Its renovation is partly completed, with a new grandstand and stable area and proposed casino and hotel. Richard spread a handful of his Dad's ashes onto the track, from the railing, between the 3rd and 4th races. Coincidentally (?), Richard bet $10 to win in the third race and got back $100 on a horse whose racing initials were JP, the name of one of his Dad's favorite stable horses.


We also visited Richard's Mom's grave in Woodlawn Park North Cemetery on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. Famous and infamous Cubans are buried here in elaborate sites: Bacardis of rum fame; Prio Socarras, the democratically elected president of Cuba who was overthrown by the dictator Batista, who in turn succumbed to the bearded dictator; Jorge Mas Canosa, popular and controversial leader of the hard-line anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation.


On about our 10th day here the Miami Beach police boat sidled up to Sinterra. Officer Dwayne, politely and humorously explained the town's anchoring rules: seven-day limit, unless... you have a problem with the boat (always), you have a medical emergency (we did), you have more shopping to do (yes, if we can find that immolated Click to see Miami Beach Policecredit card), you have other fun things to do (of course). Hahaha! We get the idea. In reality, boats that anchor within the surrounding chain of expensive island homes, although legal, raise the ire of some of its influential residents. Dwayne gets complaint calls with statements like "Do you know who I am?" and "The police chief will hear about this!" And they're not bluffing. They are high on the local totem pole. Guess I wouldn't be too happy either if a stranger were staring into my scenic picture window attached to my multi-million-dollar home in an otherwise private and beautiful setting. Still, they don't own the waterway, right? Hence the seven-day "official" compromise, although such local laws are under court challenge in the state. Fortunately, we were anchored in front of condos under construction on one side and occupied condos on the other. And, at any rate, condo people like to see boats within their high-rise scenic views, especially at sunset, and we obliged every day. Cynthia took a photo of Richard & the good officer shaking hands, and that was that.


A major highlight of our stay here: Richard's water collection system (WCS) of hoses and fittings was put to the test. Extended anchorages deplete onboard water. One expensive solution is to have a watermaker. These work well in Click to see water collection systemclean water (as in the Keys and Bahamas), but not otherwise. Richard's frugal solution is the WCS. The upper boat (sunning) deck has four scuppers (drains) that channel an amazing amount of rainwater. The WCS connects from all four drains to the two water tanks on board. During one 24hr period of thunderstorms the WCS poured about 200 gallons of water into the nearly empty tanks, out of a total capacity of 250 gallons. This alone gave us another 2 1/2 weeks of sustenance. A rousing success! BTW, rain water is "soft" unlike the "hard" mineral-laced ground water that we commercially get either straight (read, wash spots) or artificially softened. It does feel good on the body. Ok, so it has lead and other chemicals. Maybe germs too. We do run the drinking water through a high-grade purifier. Icing on the cake? It's actually inconvenient to take on water, unless docked at a marina. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to slowly fill the tanks, to avoid rupturing them from too much pressure. Adding insult to injury: We're told that some marinas in the Keys and Bahamas are charging up to 30 cents a gallon for water.

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Key Biscayne, Miami: Encore

It was time to leave the BP, so we stopped once again in No Name Harbor for three relaxing days, along the way to the nearby Keys. Got some laundry done and pondered the fate of Stiltsville, within view of our daily walks:
www.stiltsville.org

We also decided to bag the Bahamas this year. Our ancient Single Side Band was not working properly and we didn't want to be in very remote areas without a means of long-distance communication and weather reports (cell phones and Internet would not be available and radio telephones would be out of range). And we might switch to satellite phones, which also do email and weatherfax more easily than SSB, although they have their own dirty laundry. And all options are expensive and require more research. So, maybe next year?

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Next Blog...
Florida Keys (except Key West).

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NOTE:
See links, top right for...
* Our routes and stops, on Google Earth
* More photos, on Snapfish
* Write mojena@uri.edu to be anonymously notified by email when new blogs are posted.

Monday, February 18, 2008

SINTERRA 6

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Dec 14, 2007 to Jan 28 , 2008
Florida Passage 1
Fernandina Beach to Ft Lauderdale
MM714 to 1064

A short hop from Cumberland Island, GA brings us to...
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Click to see Fernandina BeachFernandina Beach
Spent two nights at a mooring just in front of this historic town on Amelia Island, the northernmost island in Florida, and essentially the last of the "Golden Isles" named by the Spanish, the rest of which lie in Georgia. Very attractive-looking old-and small Florida town, with many excellent restaurants and interesting shops. Got some Christmas shopping done and had a fine meal at Lulu's Bra (not a misspelling),a Caribbean/Cuban outdoor-garden shack.Click to see Lulu's Bra Waited out bad weather the extra day and tolerated the local paper mills, with their constant hum, all-night train transports, and (compared to 2000) slight odor. And, of course, had another boat-systems malfunction: the bearings on a generator pulley started smoking and sparking... yet another ToDo item for the growing list in our St. Augustine port of call.
Click to see Fernandina Beach Paper Mill
More shallow ICW transits, another grounded sail boat, eagle in a tree, sighting and talk with Newport's Wall-Street-like boat "Glory," and a remote overnight anchorage brings us to...

















____________________ Click to see Flagler College
St. Augustine
The oldest city in the U.S.A is probably our favorite. It has impressive historic structures: Flagler College, once the largest hotel in the world, and still sporting priceless and heavily protected Tiffany glass windows; Lightner Building, now a mall and city offices, but once a hotel with the largest swimming pool in the world; numerous historic churches, which are popular wedding venues. Many of the old structures have been replaced by "replicas," and parts of town have a kitshy look... but it's the feel of the place, ya know... and it's a FL favorite at Christmas, with its 14th Click to see Lightner Building at Nightannual Nights of Lights event as we speak. And Yara, Josh, & Susan came down to share it all! Cynthia did a great job of elaborately decorating the boat with Christmas tree strings along the bow rails, pilot house trim, and mast stays.

Old friends Anabela & Marco came down from Jacksonville to share dinner and reconnect. It's always fun and entertaining seeing them. And in steamed Frog Kiss (see Sinterra 5 Blog), this time with Patrick's wife Chrisy aboard. Patrick is hilariously outrageous and Chrisy's job is to muffle this loose cannon from time to time. Great fun with them.

We ate and drank in sooo many places. Two stand out: Osteen's for the best fried shrimp in the world, really; Saltwater Cowboy for a Florida Cracker (in this context this sobriquet is a compliment, not a slight) watery setting and good chow. The outstanding disappointment? Columbia Restaurant. This had been one of our favorite Cuban restaurants (it's a chain and we've been to three in different cities, including the original in Tampa), but our Noche Buena (Christmas eve) dinner with the family was a disaster. Poorly executed dishes, poor presentation, overwhelmed wait and kitchen staff. Not all terrible, but at least we reduced the bill by one-third, after complaining to the manager. And the structure that it's housed in is lovely.

And therer are many places to see and things to do, especially within walking and biking distances, an important Click to see Mission Nombre de Dios Chapelfeature for cruisers: the historic district is immediately across from the marina, with narrow brick streets, walled-in or gated gardens integrated with many modest homes, some dating back to the Spanish and British periods; Mission Nombre de Dios, with beautiful, extensive grounds on the Matanzas River and reputedly where the first mass was conducted in the Americas; Fountain of Youth, again impressive grounds; Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, the original; Castillo de San Marcos, the historic fort guarding the town from the inlet.Click to see Castillo de San Marcos

Saw the excellent movie "No Country for Old Men" at the old-fashioned and very unusual Pot Belly’s Cinema. The hallways of this structure are lined with antique bric-a-brac, like old kitchen applicances, old coke and beer bottles, you name it. And they serve beer, wine, and food inside the theatre. It's not one of those artsy theatres with couches and tables. Oh, no. It's the standard, old and uncomfortable seats with a sort of bench-like table attached to the seats in front of you. We loved it.
Click to see Low Wire Act
Our two weeks morphed into four, as we recovered from the holidays, settled comfortably into town, and got some work done on the boat. Get this: we got the last two weeks at the marina for free by switching from a weekly rate to a monthly rate. Break even was two weeks! Top priority was fixing the generator's tensioner pulley bearings. Richard found an old Mom & Pop auto machine shop (not easy to find anymore) that had just the right bearings. And one of the Dell notebooks sported a raggedy screen edge; within two days a Dell technician came to the boat and replaced it (under our service contract). Richard also changed the oil on the boat's main engine, transmission, and generator (20 quarts total) and finished some other needed maintenance. He also needed a couple of weeks of calm to finish the annual revision and website writeup for his stock market model.

The only negative? The historic Bridge of Lions right next to the marina is being replaced. We're talking serious noise at times, and barges, tugs, work boats zipping around behind our slip. The positive? When the bridge is completed in 2010 it will look exactly like the former and will include the original tile-roofed towers and marble lion statues. See http://www.thebridgeoflions.org/b_home.html.



We actually could have stayed longer, but it was time to move on...

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Daytona Beach
This was a drop & flop anchorage just off the main channel and next to one of the town's bridges. Leaving the shallow anchorage in the morning darkness we grounded the boat and couldn't get off. Captain's mistake. Rather than wait hours for the tide we called TowBoatUS for a tow. He had to come a ways, but had us out of there and on our way within two hours of the grounding. The cost? $0. We have unlimited towing for $140/yr. The bill sent to Boat US? $950.

Click to see Pelican Sentinels____________________
Titusville
Another drop & flop anchorage. On the way transited beautiful (old-FL like) Mosquito Lagoon. Many islands, spits with foliage, sand, isolated. Spend a couple of days anchored in Spring? Birds: ROSEATE SPOONBILLS just past Haulover Canal, a rare sighting of these pink birds according to the experts. Also, white and gray pelicans, with seagull sidekicks, black skimmers, osprey, wood storks. Many dolphins, some on bow and alongside. View of space center launch pads heading south in Lagoon. This anchorage is one of the places to see space launches.

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Melbourne/Indialantic
Another anchorage, next to the causeway and by a park. Our mission here was to meet cousin Adam, wife Cheryl, and children Alec and Rose. Adam is Vivian's son (see Bambi 1) and Richard had not seen him since he was a young teen. He's now late 30s, with a Masters in Aerospace Engineering, and managing 65 engineers at Harris Corporation. Adam collected us on shore, drove us around this pleasant town on the Atlantic, and took us to their really nice home for dinner. Cheryl is a PhD marine biologist, with a teaching connection in one of our favorite places: Dominical, Costa Rica. It was good meeting them and the kids. We spent an additional two nights here, waiting out weather and doing some maintenance and computer work.
Click to see ICW Festive Dock
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Ft Pierce
We needed some rest and so extended a one-day intended anchorage in Faber Cove into three. This cove is cozy, lined with modest (but expensive) homes. Sightings within the cove: turtle, dolphin, small kingfisher.

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North Palm Beach
Anchored three nights in north Lake Worth, next to Frog Kiss! Once again, good times with Patrick & Chrisy.

This was actually a sad, sentimental stop for us. We bought the boat here in 2000, where our first Chihuahua Beni died. From the ship's log at that time:


"Beni died in a tragic, freak accident. What can we say. It
enveloped our uncontained excitement with profound sadness
and guilt. It felt like losing a child must feel. Not that it’s
comparable, we do have grown children, but it’s hard to imagine a more
intense, devastating experience. We buried him in a beautiful island
park and marked the deep, sandy grave with a vibrantly-live gardenia
shrub."

Click to visit Beni's IslandAnd so we visited his grave site, which we had programmed by GPS. Subsequent storms had cut a swath of beach at the site, as if a giant shovel had sliced into the earth. Incredibly, at the edge of the dropoff, we found the "igloo" we had buried him in. This is a synthetic cloth doggie house with shape and lined inside with comforatable cotton. He loved hanging and sleeping in there. Lying here at our feet it felt bulky and heavy. We were horrified. Could his skeletal remains be in there, nearly eight years later? Carefully we removed parts, only to find sand. We placed it further back, under the branches of a large shrub that looked like a gardenia. Was it really? Could it have "relocated" or seeded progeny?

For a read on this, our first trip on the ICW, see www.mojena.com/downloads/KrogenCruisers1.htm



____________________ Click to see Palm Tree Sunset
Boca Raton
We could have bumped out to the ocean at Lake Worth inlet, but chose to take the slow route down the ICW into Ft Lauderdale and then Miami, primarily for intimate looks at homes along this part of the waterway. Our anchorage here had the "million dollar" view, as we were surrounded by expensive homes and condos. To transit some of the bridges without requesting openings we lowered the mast, bimini, and antennas. Twelve bridges later, but waiting for just four, we arrive at...

Click to see Ft Lauderdale Homes____________________
Ft Lauderdale
It was marina time again, for three nights, to avoid a mutiny by the Admiral and crew. Bahia Mar is a resort-hotel marina right next to Ocean Boulevard and across from the beach. See http://www.bahiamarhotel.com/.

This is the part of Lauderdale that was infamous for Spring Break blowouts. If you're AARP elegible, you probably remember the movie "Where the Boys Are" and the Elbow Room bar? Still there.

The main reason for this stop was to meet Cynthia's sister Sandy and her "ex" Bill. They drove us to dinner on the River Walk, a tasteful redevelopment of about a mile of river lined with beautiful landscaping, restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, hotels, and condos. The next night it was prime rib time at Bill's, and a night of entertaining stories (he never comes up short here) and Internet Texas hold'em poker (he and Sandy do well in contests).

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Next Blog...
Miami and surroundings.

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Digression: Living Dynamics

Some of you have asked or maybe you've been wondering: "How do they all get along for such long periods in such a small space?" Yes, we do give up space and privacy compared to a house, although this tub is very roomy for a 42-footer, with many different spaces that afford more privacy than you might think. "Fences make good neighbors" translates here to "Separate quarters save good marriages." The Admiral and Captain have separate sleeping cabins, separate heads/showers, and separate closet/drawer spaces. We even have separate TV/DVDs to accomodate some differences in viewing tastes. The idea, of course, is to reduce tensions from any incompatibilities regarding sleeping habits (Richard goes to bed early, snores, and rises early; Cynthia the opposite), napping habits (Richard naps, Cynthia doesn't) and to maximize privacy when needed.

Natch, the Admiral gets the most expansive and private quarters: the master cabin with private head/shower, vanity, full-length mirror, an amazing amount of drawer space, and a deep hanging locker (closet) that's practically a walk-in (if it wasn't so stuffed). The Captain is allowed in this cabin for maintenace, repairs, upgrades, and "special dispensations." The Captain gets the much smaller guest/office cabin for clothes and sleeping when guests are on board. And this is opposite his head/shower, which also doubles as the public bathroom. Normally, he uses the pilot house double berth, which is more comfortable for sleeping and in the presense of his beloved instruments ("toys"). The toys do become active on nights with high winds and thunderstorms, as the Captain keeps watch on boat radar, Internet radar, anchor alarms, wind meter, and approaching boats that drag anchors (we've been T-boned and side-swiped more than once). The Admiral enters the Captain's cabin anytime she wants.

The Crew? Mostly, Edi sleeps with Cynthia and Nevi sleeps with Richard. Edi often hangs out in the pilot house during the day and evening, when Richard works the computer sitting on the berth. We suspect Edi loves the PH for the great view, watch duty and, maybe, he likes the toys too. Both are excellent watch dogs: no one approaches the boat without our knowing about it.

So, any negative dynamics? Sure, like most relationships: disagreements, arguments (primarily Dick's doing), misunderstandings. But then, we've had 21 years together with nearly eight of these full-time on the boat to work these out as best we can. And the nearly constant need to work together in solving boating problems, planning and implementing cruising routes and destinations, and improving operations and space utilization wins the days (mostly).

BTW, the Captain rules regarding operational and navigational issues underway, even though the Admiral outranks him. This is naval tradition, an important safety factor under duress or danger. It's not a democracy under these circumstances: the Admiral has her say, but the Captain makes final and often quick decisions here. Cynthia occasionally addresses Richard as Captain Bastaard. The Admiral, however, does exercise considerable input and influence and very effectively supplements the Captain in many ways: she's terrific at efficiently organizing the boat and living quarters, amazingly finds things fast in system shop manuals when repairs are needed, has much better spatial visualization than the Captain, is quite capable and competent at "getting her hands dirty" when the Captain needs more hands and brain-storming in his mechanical duties, and does the bulk of Internet research for our shore-leave R&R.

Life on the Bambi is similar, with some major differences, especially regarding space and privacy. This was an 80% reduction in space! A reduction from what many of you would consider a small space to begin with. Just deciding what clothes to take for six weeks traumatized Cynthia, but not Richard, who is variety-challenged in his dress. It took about a week in RI to fine tune the vehicle from camping to travel mode... and to work out a new protocol regarding daily life.
* A slide-out curtain separates the bedroom/bathroom space from the kitchen/dining space (used daily).
* We share bathroom, closet space, and TV/DVD (headphone helps with the latter when needed).
* We do have separate beds: Cynthia and Edi the "real" bed, Richard and Nevi the drop-down dining-table bed.
* Earplugs help when one or the other is sleeping.
* Usually only one of us at a time on "deck" while moving around the small floor.
* No Admiral, Captain, or crew: just Cynthia, Richard, Edi, and Nevi.

So, we do have our bumps, but these are just "speed bumps" along a mostly merry, adventurous, and entertaining journey.

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NOTE:
See links, top right for...
* Our routes and stops, on Google Earth
* More photos, on Snapfish

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SINTERRA 5

We last left you (and Sinterra) in MD, on our way back to RI to pick up our Airstream Bambi travel trailer and GMC Yukon truck/SUV. Twelve days in Wickford, a thirty-four-day road trip, seven days in Wilmington, NC to drop off the trailer, followed by a short hop north in our truck looped us back to Deale, MD and Sinterra. The time gap between the last Sinterra Blog and the present was bridged by the Bambi Blog.

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Oct 28 to Nov 4, 2007
Deale, MD
Launched and docked at Herrington Harbour North Marina

Sinterra has a beautiful, new, smooth bottom... and, just like plastic surgery, we paid the price! It's bullet proof, they say, and boy does she glide through the water, especially with her recent computer-tuned prop. Cleaning up the unbelievably intrusive fiber-glass dust, upgrading the alternator, and reworking (inverter) electrics for greater anchoring comfort kept us here for the better part of a week. With the Yukon at hand we drove around doing errands, took "Sunday" drives in this beautiful hill-country setting along an autumn-graced Chesapeake Bay, had some fine meals, and enjoyed the stillness of a marina bedding down for the winter. But then... winter-like weather intrusions push us to start the journey south.
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Nov 4 to Nov 9, 2007
Virginia Passage
MM16 to MM34

After a peaceful drop-and-flop anchorage off Chesapeake Bay in the Great Wicomico River, we arrived at...

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Norfolk
Dodging and viewing huge Navy ships, we entered Waterside Marina (
http://marinas.com/view/marina/452) in downtown Norfolk for our two-night reserved dock. Two nights turned into three when the newly installed Click to see Norfolk Navyalternator/regulator (one of the upgrades in MD) started way overcharging the batteries on the way here, which would have fried them if we were to continue. Unlike "dumb" auto alternators, these are "smart" by the addition of an external regulator that's computer-controlled to optimize charging profile in four stages... and powerful, to recharge large battery banks in a reasonable amount of time. Guess this one wasn't too smart. The manufacturer sent a free overnight replacement and upgraded regulator. Richard installed and it's good to go.

Not a bad place to have a layover problem though. We like what we see in downtown Norfolk, with a fancy mall several blocks away, where we saw American Gangster the second night... awesome! The night before had a great meal at Domo, a Japanese restaurant on Granby St, restaurant row two blocks away, with many, varied restaurants. Walked through the historic Freemason Neighborhood, adjacent to downtown and the harbor, with its cobblestoned Click to see Freemason Districtstreets and impressive homes spanning about five architectural styles. One of the homes was the Union Army's headquarters during its occupation here, and a place where Robert E Lee stayed on his last visit to Norfolk (he was hands down Richard's favorite Civil War general!).

It's also considered the cultural center of VA, with art museums, opera, theatre... and the Navy presence includes Click to see Battleship USS Wisconsinlots of visual action. The sleek battleship Wisconsin and tall ship Virginia are moored here, next to the adjacent maritime museum Nauticus. Next to the Virginia is a historic sail boat from Newport, RI that's for sale at an upcoming auction, with a simulcast over the Internet. While here a tall ship from Holland docked next to the marina. Impressive entry with singing sailors in the rigging. They were met at the dock by dignitaries... and by girls from the nearby Hooters (see video).




This place has really changed from what Richard remembers from the "old days." (He's showing his age, again.) It's one of those positive surprises we encounter in this kind of travel. We likely will spend more time here next Spring, as a home base to see other nearby attractions like Old Portsmouth, Williamsburg, York, Newport News, Hampton, ...
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Great BridgeClick to see Great Bridge Delay
As we approached the Great Bridge Lock the VHF announced that all south-bound traffic was to stop there due to a grounding down the Intracoastal. A cruise ship of all things, 18 miles from the lock, in an area we were planning on anchoring for the night. So, us, and about 40 other boats had to tie up, first to the lock, then to bulkheads and trees along the waterway just past the lock, waiting out the incident. Four hours later they announce we can proceed, but by then it's too late for us to make the anchorage before dark, especially with two other bridges to negotiate. So here we sit, tied to trees and a guard rail, between the lock and a bridge... for the night. We made all of 12 miles today. It's going to be a slog for a while, especially with winds expected on Saturday, right when we were planning on crossing the Albemarle Sound and transiting the Alligator R. It's dangerous there in winds, including the river, so we'll see. Here's an article on the cruise ship grounding:
http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=136538&ran=7028&tref=po

It wasn't all bad... chatted with other cruisers and picked up some good info on FL and the Bahamas... and we walked over to a commercial area and got us some KFC chicken for the night...
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Digression: The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)
The ICW is a 4000-mile series of bays, sounds, rivers, creeks, canals, cuts, locks, and waterways behind barrier islands that spans the U.S. coast from Boston, MA to Brownsville, TX. Guidebooks and charts, however, focus on the most traveled and protected portion, from Norfolk at statute (not nautical) Mile Marker (MM) zero to Miami at MM1098. This portion of the Waterway spans five states (VA,NC,SC, GA, FL) and includes over 80 opening bridges. Many bridges are too low for the boat to pass through without an opening (we require about 25 feet).

Cruising the Waterway requires careful planning to transit bridges (most have restricted times), negotiate narrow and shallow portions, account for widely varying tidal ranges and strong currents, limited places to anchor or dock, and short daylight (don't want to be caught out here at night).

It's also possible to "bump" out to the ocean through inlets, but this also has its hazards: limited number of safe inlets, sea conditions, overnight passaging in some cases (which normally requires rotating crew), and coastal "graveyards" such as Cape Hatteras. And ocean passaging misses "smelling the roses," the wonderful variety of geography, sites, sounds, people, sub-cultures, and food along the five states.

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Nov 9 to Dec 2, 2007
North Carolina Passage
MM34 to MM341
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South Lake, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Well, did we have a hairy entrance to our anchorage last night... pitch black for an hour as we wound our way at idle speed (3kts) through a serpentine South Lake, at the head of the Alligator R, with a very good chance of grounding in very shallow waters. (A boat 2 miles behind us was asking for help on the radio when they grounded.) We have expensive and recent charting software on two computers, so electronic visibility was excellent. Actual visibility was essentially zero, with no moon help. Moving through unfamiliar waters with no visual sight is unsettling, one of the white-knuckle moments (as you hold on to the steering wheel) described by boaters.

A boat that we carried out an earlier radio conversation with had older somewhat inaccurate charts, so it continued on down the river instead of entering this tricky area. A boat that came in and was familiar with the lake bumped bottom (or a log), he wasn't sure. Water level is about a foot less than charted, and shoaling is always an unknown. You essentially fend for yourself in such remote areas. Did Richard have a BIG martini (with 3 olives) after we anchored. Cynthia started fixing dinner underway before getting here (she loves doing that while Richard pilots)... creamed peas and tuna over toast after that BIG martini... yum, hadn't had that in years.

We wanted to cross the Albemarle Sound before today, a dangerous body of water in the forecasted N winds of 20-25kts. The Alligator R itself isn't too friendly in northerlies, so we sit here today in a beautiful isolated setting, surrounded by trees in a lagoon-like part of the lake, which is more like a river in appearance, now that we can actually see it. Our cruising book states that the wildlife in these parts is abundant: black bears, water moccasins, coyotes, and the recently re-introduced red wolf (three of which we saw in the RI zoo). Apparently, alligators are not seen here anymore. Maybe we'll get lucky with our sightings. As we came in last night Cynthia saw shooting stars and phosphorescent moon jellies in the boat's wake (Richard was focused on the computer screens). On the way out we saw an eagle perched on a tall tree.

We're now out of the way, 7 miles east off MM82. Carolina Beach (our destination for the Wilmington, NC Thanksgiving festivities) is at MM295, so we have a ways to go at an average speed of about 8mph, even though we're now in NC. We're not in RI anymore! And we have more repairs to look fwd to in Wilmington: a leaky seal in the hydraulic steering (easy) and weeping fuel from one of the fuel tanks (hard). How we love boating (?!)

Another three days of travel and overnight anchorages brought us to...
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Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach
On the way here we had joyful visitors: five dolphin saw us entering a creek and came over to play in the boat's bow wave. It's not our first, nor will it be our last, but it was long at about 15 minutes. They stay just ahead of the bow at about 7mph, rolling and moving from side to side. Can there be any other purpose but fun, for both animal and human? (See video.)


We tucked in and anchored for two days in Wrightsville Beach, a nice seaside suburb of Wilmington, to wait out high winds and dock space 12 miles down the road in the less upscale Carolina Beach. The marina turned out to be a great location, with many nearby services: BOA, groceries, seafood market with their own boats, hardware, pharmacy, liquor store, car wash, laundry, Hardee’s, Granny’s Kitchen, Cook's Dog House, boardwalk and beach. The marina is "Mom & Pop," tidy, small, new, nicely landscaped, cheap. It's 20min from Josh & Susan's house, near two state parks.

Enjoyed a fine, elaborate family (Yara flew down from Boston) Thanksgiving meal mostly prepared by Josh, a Click to see Thanksgiving DinnerChristmas flotilla at Wrightsville Beach, dolphin feeding in the channel by the boat, and good eats, including a Cuban restaurant whose owner lived in the Island's countryside where Richard's Dad grew up. Worked off the T-meal by hiking Carolina Beach State Park with the kids: Sandy trails within maritime forest along Cape Fear River; home to Venus Fly Traps and other carnivorous plants.


Click to see Boys in AnnapolisRichard & Josh drove to Annapolis (7 hours) to pick up the truck in Deale, MD the following day. They had a great overnight stay at Loews hotel in the historic district, did some sightseeing, and ate (and drank) well.

And got a lot done over this 16-day layover: fixed the fuel tank and other minor glitches, got the boat ship-shape, went to the dentist for cleaning, got eyeglasses and ring fixed, replenished boat stores, replaced mother board on one computer, fixed the air conditioner and replaced a vent cover on the Bambi, sorted through a month's worth of mail, and finished innumerable errands (sure helps to have a vehicle).


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Dec 2 to Dec 7, 2007
South Carolina Passage
MM341 to MM576

We anchored for three days in creeks on our way to Charleston.
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Calabash Creek
Dropped the hook about 1:30 and promptly took naps (all four of us) after getting up at 5am... very pretty wooded setting about 5m north of Myrtle Beach, just into SC... tomorrow we're off at first light to tackle the rock pile (infamous rock ledges at the edges of a narrow channel for four miles, then another twelve miles of same not nearly as bad) at mid-tide through Myrtle Beach. High tide best, but would have to leave anchorage at 3:30am, not a good idea in the dark.

Three other boats anchored here. Chatted for a half hour with a middle-aged son and elderly father when they dinked up to us from a trawler last night... very interesting... the old man speaks Spanish, lived in PR, Madrid, and other great places as a drug-company executive (R thinks he could be CIA)... lots of fun busting chops in Spanish... owned big hotel in Naples (son lives in that city now) and he now lives in Savannah... will likely see again after exchanging the ever-present boat cards. This is now the fifth party that we have met on this trip and would likely spend time with in the future ... a nice benefit of this type of friendly cruising. Richard started a database of boat names, occupants, where and when met, where live for easy comm when encountered.

Tomorrow we anchor in the Waccamaw River, a gorgeous stretch that has the look of a Bayou. We were stunned by its beauty in 2000 when we brought the boat up. Click to see Waccamaw River Sunrise
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Cow House Creek (off Waccamaw R)
Intimate, wooded, quiet, slightly creepy anchorage, we the only boat... back of boat almost touches shore... C worries about snakes! Getting ready to grill chicken... about 40 miles south of Myrtle Beach, 80 north of Charleston.

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Awendaw Creek
30 miles north of Charleston... in low country... tall marsh grasses all around... distant boats on waterways appear to glide in the grasses... setting sun lights up these grasses Click to see Golden Marsh Grasseswith a golden glow that reminds us of wheat-field pix.

Had cocktails aboard Frog Kiss, an anchored trawler from Newport... spoke on the radio with French owner Patrick... very friendly, asked us over... he and traveling couple from CT have been to Bahamas last three years... had good advice for us... C reluctant to go... her shyness comes out... but whenever we do socialize with people we don't know well or at all she always comes off a winner with her shy charm, wit, and looks.

On the leg to Charleston we saw a perched eagle, one of several along the way. We also love watching the ever-present pelicans, with their flying formations, long glides just above the water's surface, and comical splashes as they dive for fish. And dolphin are everywhere now.

And... we were boarded by the Coast Guard 10m north of Charleston! We saw it coming when their high-speed, Click to see Coast Guard Boardingarmed inflatable contacted us on the radio and started asking questions. Sure enough, we were asked to maintain speed while they came up alongside for boarding. Four men came aboard for 45 minutes and carried out the usual safety and training inspection while Cynthia piloted through some tricky areas (we've had this inspection before, in our previous boat): documentation and state registration papers, inspection of flares, fire extinguishers, bilge, horn, ... They could not have been more polite and pleasant. We passed, although they could have cited us for an unlocked seacock from the waste tank. We thanked them for their courtesy, for their important work, and took their pictures.
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Charleston
Docked for two nights at Ashley Marina:
http://www.charlestonwetslip.com/index-4.1.html. Not our first choice for location... the one we wanted in the historic district was booked (only 20 slips).

We grazed for two days... green tomato stack w/crab & she-crab soup at Fleet Landing (very good); coconut cake at Peninsula Grill (outstanding, elegant, stuffy place w/beautiful outdoor garden); C chick livers, R shrimp & grits, both lettuce wedge at Magnolias (very good), fried chicken and catfish over grits at Jestine's Kitchen (ok).
Click to see Charleston Battery HomeWalking around at night and looking in on restaurants and bars highlights the architectural beauty and sophistication of this city's dining/bar scene. The Southern Brewery on East Bay St is an incredible bar & restaurant space... highest ceilings we've ever seen, with glass elevator going up open floors.

Had an entertaining trolley ride (the female driver was very funny) through the Battery District, a beautiful neighborhood of pre-civil war homes along the historic waterfront. Bought a small Gullah basket at the historic City Market. These hand-woven baskets from marsh grasses made by descendants of African slaves reside in the Smithsonian Institution.
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Dec 7 to Dec 13, 2007
Georgia Passage
MM576 to MM714

During this passage we passed right by the Hilton Head RV Resort & Marina, where we stayed in our Airstream Bambi (see Bambi Blog and pin placement in the Google Earth file). This is where the condo site (a driveway w/utilities) we rented on the water was estimated at over $300k. See www.hiltonheadharbor.com
.

Three more days of travel, two bottom bumps, and remote anchorages w/one sitting on the bottom during dead low tide brings us to...
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Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island
We're anchored in a beautiful spot 50 yards off Cumberland Island with perfect weather: 75 degrees, no wind, sunny. (Sorry, but as we speak, temperatures in Rhode Island are in the 20s and 30s with a looming ice and snow storm!) Dinked in and took a hike with dogs through a maritime forest leading to a beach on the Atlantic side. Wow! This place is stunning. A National Seashore only reachable by boat (there are daily small-ferry runs from St. Mary's, GA and Fernandina Beach, FL). Hardly anyone here. Old live oaks draped in Spanish moss, laurel oak, and palmettos throughout, lining hiking trails and unpaved sandy roadways for vehicles that can be used only by a few local residents that were grandfathered in by the Feds (we saw no cars). Atlantic side huge dunes, beautiful 17-mile beach. Exit from the canopied, still forest into the brightness of beach dunes is startling.

Saw several armadillos (prehistoric look, very cute, not spooked by us nor the dogs, touched one of them on its shell-like back), many wild Click to see Cumberland Island Wild Horseshorses, some just off the bow of the boat on the mainland-side shore. Island also has bobcats, alligators, peregrine falcons, tree frogs, clapper rails, wild boars, turkeys, and rattle snakes. Maybe we'll get lucky with some of these... well, maybe not the last.

Also saw impressive ruins of Dungeness (Carnegie) mansion. See
www.nps.gov/cuis/ and www.greyfieldinn.com (the inn is where the late JFK Jr honeymooned after secretly getting hitched at the local and historic African Baptist Church).

Our anchorage is just off Kings Bay, home to a submarine base. We're talking high security here. If a sub is transiting the bay, boats are contacted over VHF radio by helicopter or military boat. In some cases you're asked to come to a full stop and point the bow to shore, losing as much as an hour of travel time. We were lucky this time (no sub), but not so lucky in 2000 when we brought the boat up north. Then, before 9/11, we had to maintain just enough speed for headway, well out of the way.

Stayed three nights in this peaceful, subtropical setting... hiking, relaxing, napping in the hammock, writing this log, watching dolphin pods swimming right by the boat, in what felt like paradise, especially after three intense days of cruising/anchoring through waterways that demand lots of attention and radio contact with other boats (mostly for safety, some for social chatter)... A couple of hours of planning and plotting course/anchorage alternatives each night (using two guides, paper charts, electronic chart, and http://www.cruisersnet.net/ ), entries in service and ship's logs (technical, not the same as this travel log), maintenance engine room checks, getting up at 5:30am each morn to hoist anchor by 7am to take advantage of daylight hours and tidal ranges... and before that we were already tired from running around Charleston for two days! We love retirement...

The day before arriving here we stuck the boat in the mud in Jekyll Creek at mid-tide in what appeared to be the center of the channel with an ebb tide. It was supposed to be 8' here at mid-tide (the boat draws nearly 5). Over 10 anxious minutes was able to rock the boat backwards (much like when car stuck in sand, mud, or snow) to get out into not-much-deeper water. Boat would have been partly on its side because low tide had three more feet to go and three hours... and then another six hours for high tide. We would have been out there late at night... on our side! The GA part of the ICW is beautiful, but very problematic because it's not maintained anymore. We might decide to "bump" out into the ocean off GA when we come back north in the spring.

We spent that night nearby at the local marina on Jekyll Island so as not to continue with the falling tide, and it turned out serendipitous. This island has a bridge to the mainland and has been owned by the state as a tourist destination since WW2. Before that, it was owned by the titans of industry, commerce, and finance: Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Goodyear, Carnegie, etc. They built "cottages" (not as grandiose as the Newport versions) in a 240-acre compound as vacation and social retreats along Jekyll Creek. Yup, our muddy boating incident was right across from the compound. They purposely lacked kitchens so that they had to eat (and socialize) at the "clubhouse," which is now a large, fancy, and "stuffy" hotel, with the most awesome bakery we've ever tasted. See
http://www.jekyllclub.com/ .

The huge grounds are incredibly landscaped, manicured, extensive, with winding walkways made of what looks like poured sea shells and pebbles... the dominant trees are palms, pines, and very old live and gnarled live oaks draped Click to see Jekyll Island Christmasin the usual Spanish moss (not really moss, related to the pineapple family, BTW).

A very nice couple living on a houseboat at the marina (R thinks he's CIA) that we had over to the boat told us we must go there at night to see the Christmas lighting. It's kind of a long walk, but they showed us a shortcut... magical! Creepy at night, but beautifully and tastefully decorated trees, candles in windows. The compound is gorgeous... the billionaires knew how to live... but they weren't happy, right?

The marina has a courtesy van that we used for an hour to tour the island and shop at the local IGA. Also courtesy bikes, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and restaurant roadside-like bar... all within the "mossy" setting that we find very attractive. The marina itself sounds fancy when described, but it's not... it's kind of hippyish... interesting boats and very laid back residents. GA does not allow liveaboards... so they tell us the marina has many long-term "transients." Wouldn't mind spending more time here in the future...


After three glorious days, with an upcoming forecast for T-storms and high winds from the wrong direction for this anchorage, we reluctantly hoisted anchor and left our little Cumberland I paradise for the short three-mile hop into Florida...
______
NOTE:
See links, top right for...
* Our routes and stops, on Google Earth
* More photos, on Snapfish

Friday, February 15, 2008

BAMBI 1

___________________
Loop South from RI to NC
Sep 17 to Oct 28, 2007

We lived ("survived?") in the parking lot at Wickford Shipyard (our marina) for twelve days after leaving Sinterra on Sep 4. It took this long, on a relaxed pace, to do some maintenance, shopping, organizing and improving the living space (what little there is). We also visited family in Newport (Mom Edie, brother Steven and partner Kelly) and Clik to see Walmart Lancaster, PANarragansett (cousins Rick & Linda, aunt Nora), spent a couple of days in Boston (with daughter Yara and boyfriend Scott... what a great setting and meal at Pho Republique), and socialized with friends. Then we hit the road...

1. Lancaster, PA (1 night drop & flop at Wal-Mart)
Retailers with BIG lots encourage RVs to park, usually in normally unused parts of their lots... it's free and they get some business they might not otherwise have. K-Mart, truck-stop chains like Flying J, and many casinos also allow free overnight parking. Richard loves these free "moorings." Nice mall here includes Panera and 24-hour shopping. This is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish/Mennonite country. We passed on the bland, although wholesome, cuisine.


2. Cincinnati, OH (3 nights)
"Vaz you ever in Zinzinnati?" A major and sentimental stop on the Geezer (Richard's) Tour. Richard lived here for ten years during undergraduate and graduate days, and has not been back since (36 years). The Queen City now has the usual elaborate freeways and seriously expanded burbs (startling to the Geezer), an extended, revamped, and attractive University of Cincinnati (Go Bearcats), and the Bengal's stadium next to the Red's stadium, the home of the (former) "Big Red Machine."

A Rhineland river town in the U.S, it has seven hills, and an extensive city-county-park system. Winston Churchill called it "the most beautiful of America's inland cities," but some adjacent neighborhoods looking seedy following flight to the burbs. Locals remain friendly and still use "please?" instead of "beg your pardon?" or "excuse me?"

Checked out the old hoods, which look to have fallen into hard times; Richard ate Cincinnati's signature road-food dish, five-way chili (count it: spaghetti, chili topping, shredded cheddar, beans, diced onions... Richard: "Still awesome, but Skyline Chili now much better than Camp Washington Chili." Cynthia: "Mt W. version tastes like something from out of a can or a school luncheons in the 60s, but Skyline's is good.") and a Cheese Coney (dog on steamed bun w/chili, shredded cheddar, diced onions, mustard); barley soup, Reuben sandwich, hot brown sandwich, potato pancake at Izzy Kadetz deli, an institution even back then; drove by Findlay Market, Ohio's oldest Click to see Camp Washington Chilicontinuously operated public market, and an important shopping venue for cheap groceries during college poverty days, but this also looks like it's long lost its glory days; walked UC's campus, stopped in Eden Park for views over the Ohio River, and strolled (more like climbed) Mt Adams, an artsy, intimate, cafe-lined neighborhood overlooking the city; ambled through Spring Grove Cemetery, huge (second largest in US at 733 acres, after the 1400-acre Rose Hills in Whittier, CA), the most beautiful we have seen, with winding roadways surrounded by ponds, monuments, fountains, and trees that would rival any arboretum; ate Cincinnati-style ribs from Montgomery Inn, who not only claim the best but also the most volume in the country (fall off the bone, but salty rub; R loved the BBQ sauce; C did not).

Stayed lakeside at Winton Woods for $18/night, including water and electric hookups. This park is an urban oasis with camping, walking/biking trails, horseback riding, fishing, and golfing. We needed wheels, so we unhitched here, leaving the doggies in air conditioning on a very private, wooded site during our city explorations. Amazingly, Richard didn't need Rolaids or Tums after his flashback-eating orgy.

Along the way to Cincinnati:
* Gettysburg, PA. The National Military Park is huge at nearly 6000 acres and beautifully maintained. Drove around briefly and stopped to read some of the history. Impressive views from some of the hills that were strategically important during the three-day battle in 1863. The town itself has a very cute main street.
* Pittsburgh, PA. Amazing geography surrounding the Point, the downtown area within and across from where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the headwater of the Ohio River. Extremely steep terrain, with precariously perched structures on Mt Washington along one bank and stadiums (Steelers, Pirates) and museums along the other. The cleaned-up Steel City is definitely worth a future visit.

Click to see Lake Cumberland View3. Cumberland State Resort Park, KY (3 nights)
On the way we deliberately passed through the Lexington area, Kentucky Bluegrass (horse) country. Rolling hills, beautiful horse farms, especially the classic Calumet Farm. Keeneland Racetrack is next door, with impressive grounds. Richard was here last mid-1960s, when his Dad had a Kentucky-Derby-hopeful filly in an important prep race. She came up lame in the race. Three hours further south is Cumberland Lake, created by the U.S Corps of Engineers in the 1940-50s by damming rivers, and flooding the valley to an average 90-foot depth. ("Deliverance" could have been made here, but wasn't.) The 100-mile lake has 1200 miles of shoreline... a boater's paradise with what seems like an infinite number of private coves with steeply-treed hills down to the water.



The state park is extensive and immaculate, with many activities, swimming pools, lodges, rental cottages... and HUGE houseboats for rent, some with Click to see Lake Cumberland House Boats15-person hot tubs. We had a very nice wooded and private camp site, with water and electrical hookups, again at $18/night (Richard gets the geezer discount). A flock of wild turkeys roosted in the trees nearly. On our last day we rented a fast, cushy pontoon boat and headed out into the lake for explorations, view of the dam, picnic lunch, and swimming (90-degree temperatures, in late September!).

Anecdotal asides:
* On the way here Cynthia shopped at a Wal-Mart in Berea, KY. At the checkout line a local dropped his shotgun shells, spreading them over the floor. He picked them up and was missing one. Turning to Cynthia he asked: "Ya don't see a sheelll down thar do ya?" We're not in Wickford any more...
* On the way out, crossing the state line into Tennessee, the first commercial billboard said: "Drive-through fireworks and beer." What more could a guy want.

Click to see Mississippi River Rainbow4. Memphis, TN (3 nights, West Memphis, AR)
Actually, we stayed across the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Arkansas, at a private RV park, where we had a site right on the banks of the "Big Muddy." The view was spectacular, with front-line river traffic seats. For 30 bucks a night it included full hookups (water, electric, sewer), free WiFi (which we don't need with our Verizon Wireless Air Card), and free laundry (a first!). The city itself is physically unimpressive, except for its location on the river.


It's a friendly city, with an emphasis on food and its justifiably famous music. We enjoyed live Blues music (and a Johnny Cash impersonator that was better than the original) on Beale Street ("Home of the Blues... Birthplace of Rock N' Click to see Beale St, MemphisRoll"); stopped in the Coyote Ugly Saloon, for some entertaining raunch; paid a visit to the King at Graceland, which was pricey but well worth it; saw the very amusing duck walk at the Peabody Hotel; strolled through Riverside Park in Mud Island, with its four-block MS River scale model and museum of riverboat, Civil War, and musical history; ate good BBQ at Interstate, munched fried chicken at Gus's (rated #1 in the world by USA Today and GQ... fresh, cooked to order, excellent seasoning, but bit greasy... we give the edge to Park's in Baltimore), and loved the southern home cooking at the charming Little Tea Shop, oldest restaurant in Memphis and a power-lunch place for the nearby courthouse people.

5. Vicksburg, MS (2 nights)
We have mixed feelings about this town of 26-thousand. Its setting on a high bluff overlooking the serpentine Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers makes for terrific views. It has many antebellum homes, most of them B&Bs with tours. It has an impressive 1800-acre National Military Park that shows in extensive detail the military lines, regiments, and commanders of the Union Army's siege of the city in 1863. They take the Civil War seriously here. We have never seen so many monumented plaques and busts, mostly (and understandably) featuring the heroic officers of the Confederate States Army that defended Vicksburg. And guess the date of the city's surrender? July 4. The citizens took it hard and did not celebrate Independence Day until after WW2!

Click to see Vicksburg Casino Casinos line the rivers, which we always find entertaining. In fact, we stayed at an RV park run by the Ameristar casino. For $22 we got full hookups, free WiFi, free cable, swimming pool that was actually open past Labor Day, and a free buffet breakfast at the casino. This was a far better breakfast than the freebies you get at some motel chains... more like the buffets at the Vegas casinos, but not as varied and sophisticated.

The town itself telegraphs that the glory days are long past... looks to us that the Civil War did it in. Except for casino food, it's pretty much a culinary wasteland. Services are Click to see Hot Tamaleminimal. We couldn't even find a real grocery store within 25 miles! Mississippi itself saddened us... we avoided the Interstates and drove through the Delta of musical and oral-history legend, with its miles and miles of cotton fields, interspersed with casinos along the river and some very dilapidated towns that were mostly populated it seems by poor African-Americans. In one such town, Greenville, Richard picked up some hot tamale bundles at Doe's, a dive that's famous for tamales and steaks... a Bill Clinton favorite joint at the Little Rock branch. Hot tamales in Mississippi? It seems that Mexican workers long ago brought the little goodies here, and the population took to them. This part of Mississippi from just below Memphis down through the Delta into Vicksburg is also known as the (Hot) Tamale Trail. BTW, Cuban tamales are much better. :)

Click to see Texas Longhorn & Companions6. Livingston, TX (11 nights)
Well, we're settled into our new home town. This RV, home, and retirement park forwards our mail while we travel and gives us a domicile address. It's extensive, with not only sites for transients like us, but also sites you can lease for five years and sites you can buy, which include homes like any neighborhood and huge RVports to stash their diesel pushers (bus-like RVs). It's also very social, with club house and BBQ pit, swimming pool open 24/7, and a section for RVers that are infirm and in need of care by care givers in their own RVs or cottages. Yes, we know what you're thinking!


We're in a wooded site that reminds us of northern FL... lots of pines and tall trees and sandy soil. We're here for domicile business: inspecting & registering vehicles, getting driver's licenses, opening bank account, voter registration. (No income tax in TX! And use tax on the boat does not apply here, as it might in FL.) We also need some rest and time for vehicle and trailer maintenance (like washing). Current odometer reading for the trip stands at about 3000 miles.

Yup... we have FIRE ants. Richard learned the hard way: Seven bites on his right foot... hurt like hell... two weeks later he still has pimp-like welts... Five weeks later the marks remain. Many months later tiny scars remain.

This part of east Texas is forested, gentle hills. It's a vacation destination surrounded by lakes, state, and national parks. The town's population is only about 6500, but there are enough services, grocery stores, and restaurants to serve our needs. It's about 90 here during a "warm" spell for October, but the humidity is lower than back east. Houston is about 70 miles southwest of here. We left the Bambina behind and spent a night in Austin and another in San Antonio, each about a five-hour drive from here. Cynthia needed a tub and more floor space! Both cities are impressive in different ways.

On the way to Austin we detoured to Lockhart, the trifecta of Texas BBQ, according to postings on chowhound.com. Click to see Texas BBQWe're talking beef, not pork. Brisket to be exact. And no sauce or seasoning. Just wood-smoked perfection over 24+ hours. You order in the smoking room, which must have been well over 100 degrees, with huge smokers and indirect, open wood fires on the floor. They slice the brisket to order, wrap it in butcher paper, add white bread and saltines (as eating vessels and to counter the fat), and off you go to beef-eating Nirvana. Luckily we don't live near this place...

Austin is the state capital and includes the University of Texas campus within its downtown. We were not aware of this: the Colorado River flows through Austin, with some very impressive residential and park areas, many on high bluffs and steep hills. The look and feel of the city is more like a town than a city: buildings are low, streets are wide, and traffic is manageable. It has an active club scene known for live music and the population is ethnically and nationally diverse (the university's influence we suspect). Our highlight: the bat flight at night! The underside of the Congress Avenue bridge houses over a million Mexican free-tailed bats (the jet fighters of the bat world) that venture out at dusk and return at dawn. This is on the river in a park and is witnessed by thousands of people each night. Amazing event. Austin is known as Bat City in these parts.

While here Richard had to have two bowls of Texas Red (chili) at a recommended tavern. The patrons were crying in their bowls of chili because the Longhorns had lost to the Sooners. UT fans appear to be as fanatical as the Red Sox fans. Texas chili adherents think this is the only great chili in the world. No beans, no chili powder (just a melange of ground chilies), very little tomato if any, and typically minced or chunked beef (not ground). The "heat" ratings are X, XX, XXX. Ok, the X was good, the XX was at the top of Richard's pain scale, and the XXX was a no show. Still, Mom's version wins. We also have to mention Tam Deli, a Vietnamese immaculate and tiny restaurant in a strip mall. Awesome fried, garlic shrimp in butter in a crispy warm French baguette smothered with veggies in a light peanut sauce. Yet another suggestion by a chowhound.com postee.

Click to see River Walk by DayWe loved San Antonio. The River Walk is amazing. It's below street level, along the winding San Antonio River, with walkways on each side, within a mature and varied tree canopy, including magnolias, cedars, palms, and too many shrubs and flowers to name (if we could). It's very intimate: it measures 10-15 yards wide with a calm flow that's controlled by a dam. It includes water-taxi tours and the central part is lined on both sides by restaurants, most with outdoor seating, bars, hotels, and shops. What's really impressive is that they have avoided the usual visually-impaired tourist trappings with a project that spans about 80 years. It doesn't have the look and feel of a recreated Disney set.


What remains of the Alamo (the mission chapel) is also in downtown. This Texian shrine includes a walled-in arboretum, museum, and research library that are old enough to look authentic. Actually, we were not aware Click to see River Walk by Nightthat Texas was a nine-year-old Republic before its annexation by the Federal Government in 1845. The Texas state flag was the first... and only state flag allowed on the same pole as the American flag. Go there if you can. And if you have dogs, stay at the number-one-rated-tripadvisor.com Drury Plaza Hotel.

BTW, speed limits here are quite liberal. FM (Farm) roads, for example, often have 70mph day/65mph night limits. This is along roads with curves and short driveways to houses... roads that back in RI would have 25-45mph speed limits! No wonder our vehicles' insurance went up.

Anecdotal asides:
* Twice we missed out on sampling Bill's Doughnuts. The third time was a charm. We got there 45 minutes before the official closing time, but when we walked in Bill, the owner, was closing up. He felt sorry for us, though, so invited us to take our pick from a large box of doughnuts from the emptied case. We chose eight and asked how much we owed. This man with the sweet face and missing teeth replied: "Nathin'... y'all had to get them yerselves from the box, didn't ya."

* On our way to opening a BOA account in Huntsville, we stopped at Fiesta Taqueria. It did look festive in and out and the young Mexican-American woman (also the owner) said that grandma was the cook. That clinched it for us. Richard ordered a beer with his sampler plate, but was told it was BYOB. Then the owner says: "I have a Bud in the fridge... do you want it? No charge." Si!

Country folks have their attractive ways, no?

Click to see Fish Camp7. Breaux Bridge, LA (1 night)
This was actually a drop & flop on our way to New Orleans. We stayed at Poche's Fish-N-Camp. This place is immaculate, and get this: Park your RV on a full-hookup site right next to one of their ponds, take out your fishing rod, and catch a cat fish for dinner... no charge! Cleaning tables are strategically placed for you to filet your fish. Too bad Richard left his fishing rods on the boat. We did light a campfire for the first time since Kentucky; RV parks in between did not have fire rings. At the camp office during check-in the perfect movie set: a spiffy Cajun guy playing Zydeco on a squeeze box.


The town bills itself as "The Crawfish Capital of the World." Richard naturally had to indulge in a crawfish etouffee over rice at Poche's country store down the road. It was tasty. Cynthia had chicken from their smoke house... delicious. We walked off with a tub of their frozen seafood gumbo, to savor at a later date.

On the way out of town we passed a sign that read: "Babineaux's Slaughter House and Meat Market." A U-turn and side road took us to a nondescript building with a small, mostly empty, retail counter. We had been wondering and asked owner Larry what was in a boudain, whereupon he disappears into the kitchen and brings out a boudain cut in half for us to try. Sausage heaven! Unlike anything we had ever tasted. The traditional Cajun boudain is a stuffing made from pork, pork liver, rice, and (secret) spices, within a pork casing. Doesn't sound particularly good, does it? Even Cynthia liked it; Richard loved it. We find out later that this region of LA is also known for its boudain. We can't imagine any better than the Babineaux boudain. Locally, you also see crawfish boudain and shrimp boudain. We also noticed "cracklins" in the case. After sampling these little pork-like-rind hard nuggets (which Richard had in Cuba as a kid) we walked off with a small bag.

Have you been wondering: "Aren't they a bit focused on food during this trip?" Yup. We not only love the unique regional sites and sounds but also the food... a great way to experience differences in our diverse "cultures." For good reads check out Jamie Jensen's book "Road Trip USA" and the website
roadfood.com.

We're in Cajun country, so we got off I-10 onto US90 for the proper roadside experiences on the four-hour way to the "Big Easy..." or maybe we should say the "Big Uneasy," as more than one traveler has warned us not to enter New Orleans... too dangerous following Katrina, and the crime stats appear to back up their opinions. Cynthia did her Internet forums research, though, found a secure RV park next to the French Quarter (
www.fqrv.com), and after much discussion and review of posted security dos and don'ts, we entered the jaws of the tiger...



8. New Orleans, LA (3 nights) Click to see French Quarter Balcony
Well, the tiger is toothless it seems... at least in the areas favored by tourists. We walked extensively: French Quarter, River Walk, Garden District, downtown. This is Richard's third time here and Cynthia's first. Impressions: Little Katrina evidence in the popular sections of the city, other than many newly planted palms and other trees; the FQ retains its easy duality of seedy and elegant; River Walk is pleasant; the colonial buildings surrounding Jackson Square are beautiful and the scene is alive with music,vendors, and French wrought-iron balconies overflowing with ferns and flowers; the elegant homes and remaining massive trees still impress in the Garden District; Harrah's casino is extensive and attractive, as are other hotels in downtown. A USA Today front-page article while we were here stated that tourism is back in the Crescent City.

That's not to say there's not suffering and crime here. We did not venture into the devastated Ninth Ward and our resort-like RV park four blocks from the FQ had a high wall with razor wire. On the way east on I-10 we saw many piles of rubble, abandoned/boarded up buildings, and numerous roof tarps.

Click to see Garden District HomeAs usual we ate well: Oyster, shrimp, (pot-)roast-beef Po' Boys, jambalaya, and gumbo at Acme Oyster House, iced lattes & beignets at Cafe Du Monde & Cafe Beignet, shrimp ya ya and soft-shell crab parm at La Bayou on Bourbon Street, mufaletta at Central Market. And Richard had to walk down Bourbon Street with NOLA's signature drink: a hurricane. He did make it back to the trailer under his own power, aided by a golf-cart pickup two blocks from the RV park (one of their services). According to Cynthia, though, he subsequently put on his shorts backwards before entering the salt-water Jacuzzi and pool.

Click to see Bayou
And then there was the air boat swamp ride: A combo thrill and nature adventure ride. Saw many gators deep in a private bayou, in the 3-7ft range. At one spot the guide cut the motor and fed marshmallows to eager gators that would come right up to the boat. Annually they cull the bigger 10-15ft gators during a three-week hunting season because they decimate (eat) the smaller ones. They also sell them as harvest for alligator products. It takes two six-foot gators to make a pair of boots. Three-footers are raised for food. They grow about a foot per year. We like our meat, but we Click to see Bayou Gatorvote for PETA here. The effects of Katrina are still evident in the much smaller trees and absence of dense canopies lined by cypress trees draped with Spanish moss.











Click to see Destin Beach Dunes



9. Destin, FL (1 night)

Talk about pure white sand... stunning dunes and beaches of sugar-like sand along route 98 into this resort town. And emerald waters of varying shades... a very different Gulf from further west, for sure. The moniker "Emerald Coast" is apt... and maybe not so much "Redneck Riviera" as we had thought.

We dropped and flopped at the most impressive state camping park yet, and we've been to some great ones. We're at Henderson Beach State Park, in an expansive site surrounded by lush and varied semi-tropical vegetation that completely blanks out any neighbors. A short walk over a nature trail leads to one of the top rated beaches in the country. And all for $23/night, including water and electricity. We're in RV heaven... and wish we could stay longer... but time is running short. With winter approaching the boat calls for continuing the trip south and family gatherings in Wilmington, NC for Thanksgiving and St. Augustine for Christmas... and before the northerlies make the trip more difficult.


Click to see Vivian & Frank's Lake House10. Quincy, FL (1 night)
We stayed at Cousin Vivian's & husband Frank's Lakehouse & Cottage. They came over from Tallahassee after work on short notice to open for us their cute and very comfortable cottage right on Lake Talquin and them made us dinner at their spacious, attractive vacation house across the street from the cottage. Perfect hosts, entertaining and accommodating. Quite a show with their three dogs and our two. It was good to see Vivian again after many years and to meet Frank. Best quote, Vivian: "I got mauled by a Chihuahua (Edi)." Editor's note: Edi is a very sneaky ankle biter, as some of you know by experience... we're still working on that one.


11. University Park, FL (2 nights, Sarasota/Bradenton) Click to see Bambi at Lou's House
We stayed with cousin Lou (Vivian's brother) in the "compound." University Park is a large, gated community with very expensive homes nestled within a setting so lush that it could double as an arboretum and wild-life preserve (Cynthia photographed cranes). And, of course, it includes the requisite attractive golf course (27 holes), clubhouse, tennis facilities, and so on.


Sarasota is nearby, where we visited (only briefly, unfortunately) the Ringling Estate, which includes an art museum, historic theatre, mansion, circus museum, and magnificent grounds on Sarasota Bay. And we had two excellent meals at Captain Brian's Seafood Market and Ferrari's Ristorante... plus great Cuban sandwiches that Lou made, along with caipirinhas that just about put Richard over the edge. Another dog show here with our two and Lou's two... we had to keep Edi from "tearing up" Lou's 70-pounders, with Nevi egging him on. Don't get Chis unless you're prepared to deal with some chaos.

Click to see Snake12. Fernandina Beach, FL (1 night, Amelia Island)
We anchored here in 2000 but didn't get a chance to visit this town. Our live oak/moss draped site was on the Amelia River within Fort Clinch State Park, across from our earlier anchorage. The river bank is attractive, sandy, with many unbroken and varied shells, but... nearby is the paper mill; best not to be downwind.


We nearly evaporated in 90-degree heat when our A/C died. We have bad A/C karma (we have yet to fix one of two on the boat). The new bath house is air conditioned! Cynthia (half seriously) considered taking a camping chair into the building and spending the night, until she saw the SNAKE. Five fans saved the night.

The town is historic, and about the most attractive small downtowns we have seen... and with underground utilities! How many otherwise attractive towns have you seen that are degraded by overhead wires and poles? Wickford immediately comes to mind. And they had a chance to do it right a couple of years ago.

13. Hilton Head, SC (2 nights)
Have seen nothing quite like this. This large island is bought and developed with strict controls into "plantations," starting in the 1950s. Essentially, gated, planned, mixed-use and upscale communities... not gated "developments" but gated "communities" that take up large sections of the island. Totally attractive, lush, pine and live oak forests, many types of palms and other semi-tropical plants, beautiful golf-courses, parks and open spaces, preserves, beaches, dunes, ponds, rivers, creeks, canals, island-wide bike paths, homes, condos, restaurants, marinas, hotels, tennis courts, riding stables, and $$$$$. In sea Pines you pay to get in ($5) and in other gated communities you have to state your business, which could include going to a restaurant (that's how we got into two plantations, without going to the restaurants).

Cynthia calls the ungated portions the "real world of Hilton Head," still very attractive, with treed commercial areas mostly hidden from the road and public access to recreational facilities such as beaches, kayaking, and, of course, golf courses, golf courses, and more golf courses (beautiful). How about the "workers" and residents before the BIG change? These are the "real, real world," where not-so-well-off residents live... in the minority, but still there. Even these areas are green, and include sections on the waterways. We have seen a number of environmentally conscious, naturally beautiful, and tasteful communities (Chapel Hill, Carmel, Bald Head Island, ...), but nothing that matches the intense lushness, extensive variation, and scope of this area. A structure that might look very ordinary elsewhere is transformed here by the surrounding landscape. What's missing? A real downtown.


Restaurants are plentiful and varied, and do include a handful of fast-food chains. We had a great meal at Hudson's, a real, real, world restaurant with its own shrimp and oyster boats docked in Skull Creek on the Intracoastal Click to see Hilton Head Condo SiteWaterway.

We stayed in an upscale RV & marina resort with 200 condo sites... our site was right on the creek, overlooking the marina, complete with dock, just off the ICW (we will be cruising by here on the boat in December), with a nature preserve to one side. Out of thirteen waterfront sites, only one is for sale by the present owner: $249,000 asking! This is for basically a landscaped driveway with utilities, and this one is the only one without its own dock! Ok, so it IS Hilton Head, and the grounds are beautiful, and you have two pools, Jacuzzi, hot tub, cable, Wi-Fi, a five-star restaurant, Click to see Winter Homeand marina... but $249k for a driveway?? The five available off-waterfront sites run $65k to $94K... $65-94k for a driveway with utilities? Did we miss something here?

14. Wilmington, NC (7 nights)
This is the terminus: Josh (Cynthia's son) & wife Susan's house, where we mothball the trailer until our next trip, Summer, 2008. We're out of the trailer here, in their comfortable home, enjoying our visit with the "kids" and marking time, until they tell us the boat is ready. From here we run up to MD to re-occupy the boat and to continue the trip south.

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Synopsis
Awesome trip... a blur, a whirlwind... new sights, sounds, food, people, insights. And after 46 days in this tin can we're still talking to each other! In fact, we're planning a trip west, Alaska, and Baja in the Bambina... maybe in two or three years, when we either quit cruising or take a break. Before that we will be back in New England next summer... in the Bambi, not Sinterra.
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TRIP STATS
Sequence of states: RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, WV, OH, KY, TN, AR, MS, LA, TX, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC
Total days = 34 on the road, 12 in Wickford
Total miles = 4633

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Click to see Bambi ChefAbout Bambi
Airstream 19-ft Travel Trailer

Model: Bambi International CCD
"It's not a travel trailer; it's an Airstream."

Amazing what they can pack into 19x8x9.5ft (LxWxH) when motor, drivetrain, and cockpit are not needed:* Standard-sized bed* Dinette that opens to near standard-sized bed* Propane/electric fridge/freezer, 4CF* Propane three-burner stove and oven, with vented hood* Air conditioner with heating coil, 11k BTU* Propane furnace, 16k BTU* Bathroom w/ separate shower, separate vanity, and vented fan* LCD TV, separate DVD, power air antenna, cable/SAT ready* Built-in four-speaker stereo* Small closet and some drawer space* Two hatches, one with a fan that goes by the name Fantastic Fan: It's thermostatically controlled and closes the hatch when it senses moisture... and it's quiet! Truly fantastic.

It's essentially one "room" with bedroom/vanity, kitchen, and dining room. The bathroom is separate and includes a separate shower.

Click to see At WorkThe skin is aircraft-grade aluminum and the style is retro, going back to the first models in the 1930s. This particular 2006 version's equipment is entirely modern inside and out, with top-of-the-line appliances, hardware, and recessed lighting. The inside walls along the periphery are also aluminum, giving the interior a bright, airy feel. A wrap-around forward window enhances this effect. It's particularly attractive and interesting at night as lights, colors, and images reflect off both the interior and exterior walls.

All systems run on propane or 12V batteries, except for the air conditioner and converter/charger, which needs AC (house) current. Usually, we're plugged into electrics, water, and sewer at RV/parks/campgrounds, but we can also do "dry" camping without any hookups; we then use a portable Yamaha generator every two or three days for several hours, to recharge batteries and run the air conditioner when needed.

Maybe you've been thinking: "What do they do with sewage?" Well, the toilet looks like a normal toilet, except it's electric. So-called "black water" goes into a holding tank which then gets drained at a "dump station." We connect a hose from the trailer to a sewer pipe in the ground, open a valve, and whoosh. We then open the "grey water" (sinks, shower water) valve and whoosh again to (somewhat) clean the hose. Finally, we connect a water hose to a special inlet to flush out the black tank. Unlike our boat, which requires a powerful suction pump at a pumpout station or pumpout boat, RV systems just have Sir Isaac Newton to thank. We now never complain about house toilets.

For details and pictures of our model (not our trailer):

http://www.rvlegends.com/inventory-detail.aspx?id=1180

For the Airstream site: www.airstream.com
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Greta Garmin
And let's not forget our trip computer, a Garmin StreetPilot. Invaluable, not only for the obvious directions, but also to locate nearby services, such as gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, vets... you name it.


Cynthia christened "her" Greta Garmin, in honor of Greta Garbo. This Greta likes to talk, unlike the original. And so we talk to it like a human, such as "Shut up Greta we're going to Popeye's for some chicken," or "Greta is snoozing again" when she droops down from a road bump.
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NOTE:
See links, top right for...
* Our routes and stops, on Google Earth
* More photos, on Snapfish