Friday, 24 February 2017

Vegas, Bust and Brokered

Another birthday in Vegas... given the timing of the annual National Hardware Show, and it's fixed location of Las Vegas, celebrating another birthday there was far more mundane than my first time. Staying at the campground within the Circus Circus property was a first for me. Walking the Vegas Strip with two Alaskan Malamutes made this visit truly unique.

Miki, our 'adventurous' Malamute, took in all that Vegas had to offer. She had sensory overload as she walked past the pirate show at Treasure Island, and water fountains of Bellagio. Auka, worried only that he was going to fall in the water, walked sideways down the strip, to avoid seeing the water. Collectively the dogs became the biggest photo attraction on the strip. At one point the Statue of Liberty asked for a photo op with them.

After a few days of walking the show, researching pianos bars, and solving world problems over "Vegas' Best Margarita" we escaped the craziness and headed for Colorado. Heading out of town it was about 75 degrees F. We drove across Utah, and stopped just inside the Colorado border for the night. Next day we headed onward for Denver, where we were stopping to visit my cousin Judith, and her husband Shon, and daughter Lucy. Yes, the people from Thanksgiving weekend on the boat, were crazy enough to host us for a few days!

While the temperatures continued to drop as we headed NE, the weather was temperate... until we neared Vail. As we headed through Vail we encountered rain, snow, sleet, hail, and combinations of each! While I contemplated pulling over several times, there was generally no where to pull over to, and I questioned our ability to stop our 28' rig on what seemed like 70 degree inclines! Ok perhaps they weren't that steep.

After white knuckle driving for what seemed an eternity, things started to settle down and flatten out. As we made our approach into Denver, the excitement kicked back into full gear as fog dropped upon us. Soon we had about 100' visibility, and one last descent to manage. The saying "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger" left me thinking I didn't need strength, I needed depends!

Eventually we made it to Judith's where we spent a few days at their beautiful home! We visited Boulder, took in a Rapids game, and rested up for one last push.

As we headed out from Denver we intent on heading back to Canada with as little excitement as possible. I knew we would soon be in the prairies, and expected the drive to be much easier than the Rockies. Until we entered Nebraska, I was not disappointed. I was left with the sense a well aligned vehicle with cruise control could drive itself. Then as we neared Lincoln NE, thunderstorm warnings came across the radio. With these warnings came hail and tornado warnings! We were suddenly smacked straight in the face with a reality we hear about often, but never imagine to be living. As we stopped for fuel just outside Lincoln, warnings came on the radio that there were 7 tornado sightings in the area. About the same time hail started to fall around us. We were lucky to be sheltered under the station's canopy as other vehicles sought shelter all around us. We could see horrific skies in every direction, but no sign of funnels. The attendant advised we should take the warnings very seriously, as we used our handheld radar the track the storm's paths. We hid out under the canopy for about an hour before the local warnings were lifted. We made our way onward, stopping at a Wal-Mart just outside Des Moines IA later that evening. We were careful to find a 24 hour store, just in case solid refuge was needed.

Two days later we found our way back into Canada, ready to get back to business, and a determination to figure out what was next. After discussing growth plans for our business, it was looking like it was time to settle in Canada for a while, in order to execute the plans we laid out. As we all know, plans don't always go... as planned. Soon we found ourselves at a crossroads, where we really needed to analyse what made the most sense going forward. Long story short, we came to the realize now was the time to take a large step toward doing what we've been dreaming of for a long time. The words of a friend "You're always going to want more money, more experience" were ringing as we decided it was time to commit to a business plan anchored in a place that is warm year round.

Over the next few weeks we built a shortlist of places we could start/buy a business, researched the logistics, and searched listings. Our shortlist was Mexico, Domincan Republic, St Maarten, and the US, when someone asked if we ever considered Roatan, Honduras. He was searching business listings when he came across a bar for sale on the water. It was really cool.

By July we sold our boat, and the buyers also mentioned Roatan to us. They had friends who owned a charter business and were selling off a catamaran. We decided to visit the island in August, and made plans to see the bar, and catamaran, as well as a 5 bedroom apartment building close to the beach.

West Bay Beach
Jungle Reef Inn
View From Jungle Reef Inn
The bar was in a great location, but was open only one day while we were there. It was a leased property, and being open only 1 time, just didn't seem to have value for the asking price.

While the catamaran represented everything I've dreamed of, operating a charter boat, with two Alaskan Malamutes didn't seem like a very workable plan.
Sundowners... NOT the bar for sale

The apartment had an amazing view, and was located on a lush jungle property, close to everything. The building was well designed for hosting guests with a very nice layout. The only need we saw was renovations to the inside to make it modern and luxurious. We have since bought the apartment, and began the renos November 1 2016. We planned to open The Jungle Reef Inn sometime near the end of 2016, and hope to see our followers come visit us in the near future!

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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Christmas In Mexico Felize Navidad!

On December 23 we awoke in the deserted Merida campground, and headed east. We drove like endurance race car drivers, determined to reach Playa Del Carmen by Christmas. We were in reach... a relatively easy drive, we hoped. Turns out it was. We arrived in Playa early afternoon and headed straight to Paamul RV Park, just south of the city. We parked, set up, and had our toes in the ocean within an hour. We made it! 10 days of travel, spaced over nearly a month. Thousands of KM's and more fill ups than I wanted to remember, but we completed a journey that most do in hours, contained in a big steel tube! That deserved a mojito!

We stayed in Paamul through Christmas and the new year. We had a quiet Christmas dinner of beer but chicken, and Skyped home to share in the festivities. We were reminded of the loneliest part of travelling. This being our first away from family, it was HARD! On New Years Eve, we ventured into downtown Playa and celebrated in the streets. This was a much more festive celebration! After midnight we chose to walk out of the downtown area, to find a cab, rather than compete with the crowds. Around each corner we found more pocket celebrations and friendly people. Our first real experience mingling in Mexico was anything but scary.

On January 1, it was time for my son, Daeyten to leave us again. This time he needed to head back to Canada for eye surgery. It never gets easy saying goodbye to a loved one, but this time he wasn't the 'little boy' I said goodbye to just over a year ago. And this time I knew he was returning.

A few days later, my wife Leanne started her yoga instructor's course in Tulum. It was an intense 4 week course which would qualify her as a yoga instructor... if she passed! She had some tough days, including a few where she was ready to give up due to her frozen shoulder. But she persevered, and aced her final exam. She has been a very successful group fitness instructor, and I knew she would be just as successful in yoga.

During this time, I spent my days keeping up with business affairs, researching investment opportunities in the area, and investigating the best places to place a beach chair. It was a tough assignment!

At the end of January, Daeyten returned, and Leanne completed here course. We were free to move on. However, both Leanne and Daeyten wanted to spend more time enjoying beautiful Xpu-ha, where we moved to in early January. We also had Leanne's niece, Jessica coming to visit for her reading week!!  Exactly what Leanne needed after a month intensive!! And Jess actually did read a little!

For those who haven't been, Xpu-Ha is a beautiful beach, 20 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen. A few resorts line the sand's edge, as well as a couple campgrounds, and glamping. For anyone who wants an 'off the beaten track' experience, find a place in Xpu-Ha!

In early March we left Xpu-Ha,heading south to Chetumal. We stayed there for a few days. Due to our long stay in Xpu-Ha, we made the difficult choice that this was as far south as our timing would allow. Belize and beyond would have to wait.  We headed back to Xpu-Ha for a week, left Daeyten with the dogs while Leanne and I took the ferry over to Cozumel to spend a couple days with our friends Andrew & Marion and Jim & Kim who were there for March Break.  Two days at an all-inclusive was a nice treat, and it was great to see some friendly faces from home!!

After that, we worked our way back up the coast, and then headed west toward Puerto Vallarta. Along the way, we stopped in Progresso, a sleepy little beach town north of Merida. We also stopped at our favourite little deserted campground in Merida, and ventured into the cities historic core.

After that, we stopped in a small local resort town called Cuidad Del Carmen. It was Easter weekend and we decided it was not a good time to be travelling. We made a famous first impression by missing our turn to the campground. When we got to the toll both heading off the island, we were informed the turn was behind us. After almost running over the helpful toll booth worker, as he tried to clear the way, we backed up, slowly. This brought the attention of the local Policia, and the circus began. At first I thought we were in for a night in estacion de Policia. With a wink, the attendant made it clear this officer was more bark than bite. In fact he walked our rv all the way back to our turn, and stopped the busy holiday traffic, for us to get back on track. When I served notice we owed him a drink, he patted his belly, advised he was on a diet, and sent us along.

This campground was situated directly along side the beach, where locals came to celebrate the religious holiday. For three days, we watched local families of various means, gather, celebrate and feast. It was amazing to see people of all ages enjoy time spent together, with little distractions of modern technology. At the end of the weekend we posted a sign, in Spanish, behind our RV, thanking all for allowing us to enjoy this special celebration. Some vendors showed their appreciation by offering us various food items they had for sale. They would accept no payment.

Heading westward, we headed toward Mexico City, but decided to take the new ring road around the city, rather then deal with the traffic nightmare. Somewhere near Tula, we detoured to stop at a Bolnero for the night. Little did we know that our destination was located a the top of a steep hill. After pushing the RV for about 8km it decided it had enough. I was notified in the way of a smoke show, and fluid deposited all over the road. Here we were, smack dab in the middle of remote Mexico, half way between the highway and our destination. First I panicked, then I screamed, then I panicked. Leanne and Daeyten waited patiently for me to work through my emotions, then we started to rationally consider our options. While we progressed two Mexicans stopped and offered help. They spoke little english. About as much English as we speak Spanish.  Some how we manged to determine they were maintenance guys for the power company we broke down in front of. We also determined the seal on the transmission gave way, and so they filled the transmission back up with the last of their fluid. When we tried to compensate them, the most they would take is a beer each. They gave us directions to a repair shop at the bottom of the hill, and sent us on our way.

Heading down the hill, we decided to nurse the transmission, by putting it in neutral. We realized the error in our ways about 5km's down the hill, when the brakes started smoking. Again we pulled over, and again we encountered more Mexicans offering us assistance. This gentleman waited for our brakes to cool down, and led us to the nearby repair shop. By now it was about 4:30 PM, and we feared repairs would have to wait. How long was the big question. I was imaging becoming the topic of new Urban legends! However, our mechanic had different ideas. He, and his crew went straight to work.

The shop was nothing more than a carport behind his home. In the front was a small parts, and supplies shop. We sat on what could only be described as his back porch, and chatted with his wife while she plucked a fresh chicken. As the clock ticked on, the sun began to set, and we wondered when they would declare it was time to quit, and where that would leave us in terms of sleeping arrangements. However, they kept working. By 7;30, they had the RV put back together. This is when I realised we hadn't discussed price. If we could pay via credit card, I was prepared to pay almost any bill, for they saved our skins! However cash was a precious commodity, given we had many tolls between us and the next bank machine.

When I was told they didn't accept credit cards, my spirits sank. When he gave me the bill... I danced! Three hours of work, three guys. Replaced the front brakes, and turned the rotors. Also repaired the transmission seal. 1200 Mexican pesos... the equivalent of $75US. Then they apologised for not offering us dinner, and asked us to stay. We politely declined, feeling we intruded enough. We settled for using their lane way, to park the rv for the night, and nestled in. In the morning, a knock on the door, and we were offered pickled pears, and another apology for not feeding us. We offered the most heart felt thank you we could muster!

From here we headed onward, relatively uneventfully to Puerto Vallarta, and onward to Sayulita. While Puerto Vallarta was much of what I would have expected, a tourist town, with nice beaches, and lots of history, I was genuinely surprised with Sayulita.

Sayulita is a small surf town. A combination of young surfers, trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, and retired hippies, and dot com modern day hippies, who decided not to grow up. The vibe is laid back, and the town matches it. We stayed at a lovely RV park right on the beach, rented a golf cart, and spent a few days getting to know the area. Unfortunately our most obvious discovery was it was not an affordable place for us to settle.

From Sayulita, we hustled up to Mazatlan to visit relatives, then back into the US, where we needed to make Las Vegas by May 4, for the Hardware Show, and another birthday in Vegas. We'll tell you about that, the trip home, and our next Adventure, in the next chapter.

Friday, 2 September 2016

On Ward, Up Ward and Watch Out You Don't Get Killed!

Early on December 1 we set on our way in our 28' motor home, trying to escape the cold before it enveloped us, froze us in. It was a frosty morning as we lashed down items, and packed the last few bags inside. We had no rigid plan other than to get to Corpus Christie within a week, where we would settle while I travelled on business. Beyond that, we wanted to be in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for Christmas. We planned to stay there while Leanne took the yoga instructors course in Tulum.

Being on the road again felt great! Having nothing to do but watch the road pass under your tires, while you come closer to the unknown with each passing mile... Priceless. Unfortunately, reality of the now' kicked us in the snout, a little, when we stopped at a Wal-Mart parking lot in Ohio the first night. It seemed we were about 1000 miles too far north to enjoy the warmth we were dreaming of. However we did find a 1.5L bottle of rum in said Wal-Mart, that helped us keep warm.

On the second night we continued on to Memphis, and found a Bass Pro Shop parking lot, close to downtown, to call our home for the evening. We took the two Malamutes for a walk around the riverfront, and eventually found our way down to the clubs of Beale Street. It was still cool, but the sounds and smells of Beale St. helped us forget.

From there we continued onto Fort Worth Texas, for another stay in a Bass Pro Shops lot, before arriving into Corpus Christie on December 4. We stayed there for about two weeks, while I travelled on business. We equipped the RV with solar panels, and loaded it with spare parts, and maintenance items. We also bought a Metro PCS phone, given that they had an add on for use in Mexico. We also made some friends at Colonia Del Ray RV Park. Many of the residents there wished they had taken the time, when they were younger, to do what we were doing. Some just thought we were nuts!

On December 18, we were once again, packed up, loaded with supplies, and ready to face a new frontier... Mexico. Originally it was our plan to enter central, or Western Mexico, and travel down the west coast, before traversing across to Playa Del Carmen. After hearing of two Canadians who died while on vacation in early December, in Mexico, we got spooked. We checked the latest advisories, and decided to enter through Brownsville, and head straight to the Yucatan as quickly as possible.

The entrance into Mexico was not exactly graceful. We came across the border with little understanding of the procedure, or where to go. We got re-routed by a border guard with a big gun. We got danced around from wicket to wicket inside the customs office. We even had an elderly woman appear from seemingly no where, to issue us a warning "be careful here, it's very dangerous" as this stranger stroked Leanne's arm. But we survived, and piled back into our rv headed for our inspection. For this, the border guard came into the rv, pet the dogs, knocked on a wall, and released us into to the streets of Mexico!

Two minutes into Mexico, we came upon an intersection that offered about 8 different options on where to turn. Our first attempt... strike one! Two U-turns later, in a 28' rv, and we were back on track. We headed out of town, determined to put as many miles as possible between us and the border before nightfall. We made it all the way to Ciudad Victoria, where we settled into a Pemex Station parking lot for the night. Knowing Mexicans weren't used to big dogs, we strut around the area with both of our Malamutes, being sure to spread the word that we weren't afraid to 'let the big dogs out'! Soon we discovered we had nothing to fear, as the parking lot was frequented by several police cars, parking for hours at a time. We felt very secure, until we learnt that the police presence was because the station had been robbed the night before.

Next morning we were up early, and on our way. We travelled for as many as the daylight hours as possible, over the next couple of days. While the country side was scenic, we wanted to be sure we had ocean and beach to enjoy for the holidays. Night two we stopped in Heroica Vera Cruz, enjoying another Pemex station lot. We also dined at a wonderful family run restaurant, where the owners daughter tended to our wants, and  needs. She gave us a complimentary appetiser then also brought us complimentary ice cream, served in coconut shells, at the end of the meal. We went back to the rv stuffed, and sleepy. We slept soundly, until about midnight, which is when we discovered that we were parked across from a Mexican disco. We also discovered the discos operate well into the wee hours.

In spite of a restless night, we awoke early the next morning, intent on finding someone to look at the RV, and a starter issue. After bouncing around from one "expert" to another, we found someone who 'knew a guy'. We headed over to the local Autozone store, where we were to meet him, and discovered that if we needed a starter, it was a town over. Either a two day wait, or a drive slightly out of our way. Eventually 'our guy' came and checked things out, and sent us on our way, with the assurance all was fine. He also told us we owed nothing. We managed to get him to accept a small tip. While waiting, we also got to talking to another local, well versed in English. When we asked him "Is it dangerous here?" he offered this advice of Mexico: "If you go to the wrong place, alone, at night, you will get in trouble... just like in any major US city". Having slept in two inner city Pemex stations with no incident, we took this advice as a wake up to just enjoy the experience... WITH common sense.

We continued on to a wonderful Pemex Station (away from Discos) just outside Villa Hermosa the next evening, and an equally wonderful one just outside Campeche the evening after. This set us up for an early arrival into Merida on December 22, and within striking distance of Playa Del Carmen. When we planned our arrival into Merida, our guides ominously warned "do NOT take your rig into downtown Merida". Having watched a House Hunters International episode in Merida, this seemed obvious. Unfortunately, our GPS either didn't understand we were in an RV or didn't care as it routed us through streets fit for a motorcycle. Eventually we found our way to our first Mexican campground. Did I mention it was closed? Turns out the owners were attempting to sell out, and had closed the campground within the past year. Luckily they still answered the phone, and kept the place up, somewhat, and agreed to let us stay in the empty 10 acre plot of land. It had some running water, a few functioning receptacles, and a shower that encouraged us to use ours! But it was right next to a Liverpool. After getting an escort to the entrance from a local, and help from a police officer to 'break in' we found a spot, and agreed it was no worse than a Pemex... except that we still had to pay.

After cooking a nice steak, and having a relaxing beverage we waited for the owner to arrive and collect her fees. We settled in early, o avoid being overtaken by mosquitoes. Playa Del Carmen was up next, and the excitement was wearing us down!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Big Push

With US Thanksgiving Day upon us we awaited the arrival of Judith, my US cousin, along with her husband Shon, and daughter Lucy. They were also bringing their Golden Lab dog Brody. Yes 6 people, and 3 large dogs, living it up on a 39' sailboat. It's the kind of Thanksgiving that makes you thankful... for a REAL house! However, Judith and her family put on a brave face, and climbed aboard.

After a welcome drink we headed over to Lady's Island Marina. The local cruising association had made the gracious offer to supply and cook the turkeys and potatoes for all the cruisers passing through. All we had to do was bring an accompanying dish.

I worried that our version of US Thanksgiving would not be the traditional event that Judith, Shon, and Lucy had come to expect. When we walked into the event, and set eyes on a bounty of food fit for a king, and a room full of cruisers as joyful as old Saint Nick himself, I relaxed a little. A while into the celebrations, Shon remarked to me "I never would have imagined we would be having thanksgiving with such a big family, with so much food". I took comfort that we had found out what US Thanksgiving was all about. We drank and celebrated until cruisers midnight was within sight, then headed back to our dock... round about 7:30. After a wee bit more wine, rum, and catching up, sharing what we were thankful for, we tucked in to rest for the big day ahead, Black Friday!

For us, this Black Friday wouldn't be about long line ups at the mall, or the life and death struggle of getting one of 10 Xbox, 700th edition. Our struggle was to be one of getting off the dock clean, and instilling confidence in our guests that we knew what we were doing. In Black Friday terms, we were shooting for all 10 Xboxes!!! None the less, we did get off the dock clean, and put in a long day's sail. We sailed down to Isle of Hope Georgia, where we settled at the lovely Isle of Hope Marina. On this night we had no dinner plans and had to rustle up what we could discover in the fridge. We invited Chuck and Linda over, and enjoyed dinner, party of 8, plus 3 large dogs, in the cabin of Ryajen. Who said cruising is luxurious?

Next morning we moved on to Killkenny Marina, a remote fish camp in mid Georgia. While the twisting creeks were monotonous, the most painful part of the journey was yet to come, the next morning. Not only were my cousins leaving early... my son had decided he wanted to head back to Canada to work his snow clearing job. He was getting a ride to the airport from our guests. To this point in the trip, it was work. Early mornings, sailing in near freezing temps with many layers of clothing. While it was an adventure, the fun was few and far between. I felt like my son was missing a golden chance to truly experience what life was really about! I also had finally started to develop more than just the father son bond. I was coming to know him as a man, and as my best friend. Saying goodbye left a hole in my heart. It was one of those "let him spread his wings" moments!

We set off from Killkenny Creek, with tears in my eyes, headed for Fort Frederika, Little Cumberland Island, and arrived into Ferdandina Beach  a few days later, on December 1. Finally in the sunshine state! We met up with most of the rally group here, and ventured into town for some local pub grub. It was one of those quaint little towns that time seemed to have forgot. Small gift shops and old time pubs. While I believe there were some, the box stores were no where to be seen, close to the waterfront. There is a seafood store that sells the most amazing scallops... A must stop. The shrimp and salmon were definitely worth stopping as well!

Early the next morning we woke early for a quick start, only to have fog firmly nestled over head. 30 days of cruising, and our first day of fog comes our first day in "the sunshine state"! By late morning the fog had lifted and we carried on, only to encounter another hurdle... Florida water cops. Nary an hour in, we got pulled over by a sheriff's boat with a coastie on board. This gave them the authority to board without cause. The coast guard official was a Dominican ex-pat, and when he discovered Dominican Republic stamps on our passport, the conversation quickly switched to his homeland, and our wedding in his country. We asked him about our documents, and whether we had all we needed to to be sailing in US waters. He assured us we were all good, and sent us on our way, to catch up with our buddy boats. Thirty seconds later they pulled us over again... to remind us we had 60 days days to switch the registration on our boat over. Time which had mostly slipped away. We continued on.

Our hoped for destination was St. Augustine, but we realistically planned for Jacksonville Beach. Within an hour of our destination, as we passed St. John's Inlet, we encountered a huge fog bank drifting in from the Atlantic. A race against time began, to get to Beach Marina, before the fog did. I can't say we beat the fog. We beat enough of it to find our way in. By the time we finished our first beer, it was hard to find the fridge, for a second. This time it wasn't a self induced fog.

Next morning we moved down to the wonderful town of St. Augustine, where we settled in the south mooring field for a few days, while we waited for the group to gather for another cruisers welcome. We also managed to catch our first Santa Clause parade, in warm weather. Santa Clause and palm trees was truly unique to us. We also enjoyed the history of downtown St. Augistine. I could wander those old cobblestone streets for days without growing bored. The patio bars, pizza and ice cream shops were definite added benefits. For dog owners, St Augustine was by far the most dog friendly town thus far on our journey! Our stay here had gotten extended due to some nasty weather. Thankfully, we had moved to a dock slip before the worst of it hit. Some were stuck out in the North mooring field. This is a place you don't want to be if a Nor Easter comes blowing in!

As we continued down through Florida, we continued to require less and less layers each day. By the time we left Daytona Beach, we began with only 3 layers! By the end of the day, we were down to t-shirts!! On this day, we also had a most interesting date with Karma.

As we sailed along behind four other rally boats, a Carver with the name Stardust cruised along beside us. Stardust cruised well outside of the narrow channel, on this wide river. He was in quite a hurry, as evidenced by the wake he was throwing. I watched his wake, as it advanced toward us, hopeful it would settle, before broad siding us. We weren't so lucky, as items flew from side to side, down below. I radioed Stardust with some choice advice on proper protocol, passing vessels, only to get 'noise' back. I then radioed the vessels ahead to warn of certain disturbance from this inconsiderate/careless operator. After he offered some more ill advised responses, I radioed the coasties to advise of his passing a federal bridge, marked with a "No Wake" sign, while he was throwing a 4' wake. The coasties took the info and thanked us. That was the last we heard of Stardust... until we met up with some fellow cruisers at the dockside pub in Titusville. First was an email from a fellow rallier. It showed a vessel named Stardust lodged aground outside the channel. As I showed the picture to fellow cruisers, they asked if I saw what Stardust's 'captain' was wearing... a captain's hat... JUST a captain's hat. "A large, elderly man, wearing JUST a captain's hat, with a much younger female mate. You decide what was happening" was the comment of one fellow rallier. A similar sentiment was confirmed from another boat. As the final rally captain came in, he asked if I heard the WHOLE story. While I thought I had heard it all, this captain advised me that Stardust was aground because the coasties pulled him over for an inspection. Seems that while he drifted, the tide went out and he settled aground, where he would sit for the next 11 hours, until the next high tide. As the coasties left him, with a $135 ticket, As the coasties pulled away, he claimed to them "you've got to help me off", to which they replied "no we don't". We saw Stardust pass us a day later. We waved to the very slow moving vessel, with a 'captain' fully dressed and mate, both in white uniforms.

A few days later we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, where we spent a couple days in Lake Sylvia. Our approach to Fort Lauderdale included 13 lift bridges, 9 of which were scheduled openings. This meant we needed to time our speed to arrive according to their schedules, to avoid long waits for the next opening. While we missed the first one, by misunderstanding their schedule, we herded four boats through the next 11, with little to no wait. On the last bridge, just before our destination, I got distracted by the excitement of south Florida, only to arrive as the bridge was closing. I radioed to enquire if there was a way to hold it. The reply was no. He went on to mention he would have if I called ahead. This was exactly what my distraction caused me to forget to do. None the less, the beer was still cold when we arrived.

For a couple days, we wandered the canals of Fort Lauderdale in the dinghy, and regretted that my son wasn't there for the fun times. We also got pulled over in the dinghy, by a local Sherrif, not up on the laws on Canadians, in Canadian vessels. We chose not to argue... too much. We decided to continue along the ICW and through the 54' Julia Tuttle Bridge in Miami, to be one of only two rally boats transiting the ICW only, from top to bottom, Chuck and Linda on Silent Dream were the others,

Upon arrival in Miami, we anchored in Miami Marine Stadium, and headed off to a small island at the top of the harbour, that was back dropped by the Miami Skyline. For the first time, we donned beach gear, filled the cooler, and enjoyed some actual beach time! Whoo Hoo! Our Alaskan Malamutes explored the island, and Miki even found a 'boot'. This happened as Leanne and I left the 'mutes with fellow cruisers, to head back for supplies. One cruiser suggested Miki had found a 'rat' and used the term "fresh kill". We're sticking with the boot story. It was majestic that evening when a cruiser named Wally got the dogs going from far down the harbour, by letting out a large howl. Dogs howling like wolves, with the Miami Skyline lit up, as a distant background... had to be there.

After Miami, we headed to Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove, and the end of the Sail Magazine ICW Snowbird Rally. We said our goodbyes to fellow ralliers, gathered contact info, wished happy holidays to all, and high tailed it to Key Largo. This was our first experience on the open ocean. At first it was rolly and we were uncertain. Our buddy boat, Silent Dream radioed back asking if we were ok. I knew if we bailed that day, we would be hard pressed to soldier on. The sea settled down to a gentle roll, and we deployed full sail. We had a great sail down to Rodriguez Key, just off Key Largo. We anchored there for the night, nervous of the lack of protection from a possible strong wind. We set our anchor alarm and had a remarkably restful sleep. When morning arrived, we bid farewell to Chuck & Linda on Silent Dream, and headed into Marina Del Mar. By noon we had picked up a rental car, and begun the drive back home to surprise family for Christmas.

After we arrived back at the boat on new years eve we stayed in Key Largo for about a month, where we had the canvas replaced over the cockpit, and re-named Ryajen, Suenos. We also discovered that we had a cracked mast, and began a long process of getting that replaced. Thankfully our insurance company covered the replacement cost, about $30 000. Shrtly before we headed down to Marathon to have Keys Rigging handle the install of the new mast, my son arrived back at the boat, weary of winter, and ready for the rest of the journey.

Marathon has a harbour, Boot Key Harbor, with about 400 mooring balls for cruisers to hide out during the coldest months, or stage for the jump across to Bahamas. When we arrived, the marina was full, so we anchored in Sister's Creek. For $200/month, we had access to water, showers, a dinghy dock, wifi, and a mailing address. The pump out boat also visited us once a week. It was a cheep, warm place to hideout a nasty Canadian Winter! Once our mast was replaced, March had arrived and it was time to start heading north. Since we had missed our window to go across to the Bahamas, we decided to head up Florida's west coast and across the Okeechobee Waterway. Knowing we would be stopped by the low 49' bridge just east of Lake Okeechobee, we contacted 'Billy The Tipper' to help us through. After a battery of phone calls to Billy, we managed to schedule him for 9;00 am the morning following our arrival. Sandwiched between the bridge, and the lock, tied to Dolphins, in Alligator infested waters, with no services nearby, we prayed Billy would show up. By 9;30 am Billy and his associate were in site with their beat up aluminium beauty, with their rain barrels. They loaded up the port side, as we started toward the bridge. Although the high speed pump refused to engage, I swallowed, knowing we were dealing with professionals. None the less, we asked if we should slow down and give time for Billy to make the magic happen. We slowed, the pump started, and the boat began to list... slowly. Just as the shade of the bridge touched our decks, Billy grabbed the stays, and pulled aboard to lend extra weight. His partner leaned far over, and I yelled to crew to do the same. Billy winked as I controlled the wheel from far over on the port side. He screeched "You just did the Okeechobee Limbo!" and we breathed a huge sigh of relief! He untied, and we said goodbye.

We continued to Stuart. As we turned the corner, back onto the ICW, a huge cloud dropped on us like a bomb, delivering a pelting rain, and rendering a near 0 visibility. This was our first encounter with a real weather situation and we panicked. Being such a nice day, we paid no attention to our location, or our surroundings. We made a true rookie mistake. Being rookies, I guess it was to be expected. We yelled, threw books and tried to find a place to duck in. Then it donned on us that we were a slow moving vessel, in a marked channel. We also realised the rain would clear, visibility would improve, and we had some visibility in the form of the chartplotter. The vessel was operating properly, and as long as we stayed on course, our only real danger was if Stardust was out there somewhere. We took our chances, and rode it out. We made it to our destination, and visited with old friends that night.

We continued to make our way back up the ICW, venturing out to the Atlantic to avoid the twisting creeks of Georgia. We learned many new lessons along our route home. In particular, we learned that the Chesapeake is always unpredictable. We learned that the Delaware shouldn't be tackled when wind opposes tide. In one 24 hour stretch we learned how to navigate in fog, and at night, while sailing from Cape May, to Sandy Hook. In New York City, we anchored behind Lady Liberty one night. The following day, we took the Malamutes to Times Square. Both memories of a lifetime.

We arrived back in Canada in mid June, after an overnight from Oshwego to Cobourg. We spent the summer in Port Credit after sailing there from Cobourg in Pea Soup fog. In December of 2015 we bought an RV, and continued our journey, setting out for Central America. But we'll save that story for the next chapter! We are committed to catching you all up in more timely fashion. Stay with us!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Let's Rally!

Once we finally finished transiting the Chesapeake, we landed in Hampton Virginia, where we met up with the group participating in the 2014 Sail Magazine Rally. Since Daeyten had been waiting around there for a few days, we hoped for some 'local knowledge' into a safe anchorage. Instead he greeted us with all the attitude you could expect of an 18 year old boy. A sign of fun times ahead. Since there were no sharks to feed him to, we made do, TO spite him.

We ended up on the docks at the city marina, and had our first mojito, to toast the pending adventures. After hanging around a few days, getting supplies, and equipping the boat as best as we could, with our limited knowledge, it was time for the rally briefing. We met our fellow rally participants, as well as leader Wally Moran, and his support staff Mark Doyle, and Tom Hale. Within a few minutes they were teaching us all we needed to know to survive the ICW. Mark Doyle also shared his On The Water Chart Guides, and we instantly bought the whole set. They are a highly recommended tool for traversing the ICW.

Next day, November 1, we headed out early, across the bay toward MM 0. We were in awe at the sight of the massive aircraft carriers, and other navy ships. As we came to our first lift bridge, and first fixed bridge, we were thankful we have a fellow rally boat, Silent Dream, leading the way. We continued down the Dismal Swamp route, where we got to know our rally friends a little better while waiting for the lock to grant us passage. It seems that we all got a little complacent in setting an anchor and ended up drifting while rafting together during the wait. Fortunately we all recognised the error, and vowed never to repeat it.

Upon entering into the Dismal Swamp Canal, the sense of history tingled my senses. It was everything I expected it to be and more. The beauty, the isolation... it spoke of a long forgotten past. It was if you could see ghost images of the water crafts that travelled these waters long, long ago. Even more overwhelming was the sense of misery and suffering that came with the construction of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.

After a long day's sail, we arrived at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. As the lead boat, I arrived at an already full dock of 3 boats. I was greeted immediately by one captain, who offered the option of tying off his vessel. I gratuitously accepted his invite, with the warning that there were more of us to come. Although he and the others expressed welcome, I'm not sure they knew just what they were in for. Within an hour, the rally fleet had all arrived, save Wally Moran, and we had managed to clog up the entire dock, and made the canal virtually impassible! 11 rally boats in total.

Two days later, after fully experiencing the Dismal Swamp experience, we continued onto Elizabeth City. We were welcome by the town, with a reception that evening. It seems they host such receptions every time four or more boats stop there for the night. We were also greeted with a free dock for the evening, as well as an offer of a ride to grocery and hardware stores from local towns people. The generosity was overwhelming to us.

Our next trip, across the Albemarle Sound offered two possible conclusions. Some boats chose to stop at an anchorage along the Alligator River. We chose to put in a longer day, to sail 80 NM, arriving at Dowry Creek Marina, near Belhaven, NC. For anyone travelling the ICW, you will not find nicer people, or a more beautiful spot than Dowry Creek Marina.

From there, we continued on with stops in Oriental, NC, Spooner's Creek near Beaufort, NC, and onto Mile Hammock Bay, near Camp Lejeune.

Our arrival into Mile Hammock was one of the first nice days we had encountered since leaving Hampton. We arrived late afternoon, and enjoyed a drink on deck while the other rally boats pulled in and set anchor. Given the nice weather, we invited fellow boat crews over for happy hour, and were delighted to get to know the crews of Scout, and Akula better. Camp Lejeune is a Marine training base, and we were treated to an air show just after dusk, as they practised night landings in the Marine Helicopters.

From there we jumped down to Carolina Beach, then onward to Southport. We were almost in 'the south', within a days sail of South Carolina. After another warm welcome by the town of Southport, we headed for Myrtle Beach. We stayed near the beach, at Barefoot Landing Marina for a few days rest, before continuing on to the quaint Osprey Marina for another briefing. From there we did a two hop trip onto Charleston. Being a very secluded stretch of the ICW, beyond Georgetown, our dogs truly came to understand what it was like to be 'at sea' for an extended period. They went 30 hours without having solid ground to 'unwind' on. They handled it like troopers, and took a REALLY long pause to 'unwind' on solid ground, when we landed in Charleston.

We spent two days in Charleston, and that time was needed to even get a partial sense of how much history there is to be witnessed. We walked along historic Murray Blvd, through the historic district, and of course, Historic Charleston City Market. Another place where history just seeps into your senses.

While we had planned to jump over to St. John's Yacht Harbor for a rally briefing, impending bad weather forced us all to make haste for Beaufort, SC, and a welcome party there. We left at zero dark thirty, and met fellow rally boats, departing St. John's YH, along the way. By now we had come to appreciate just how diligent Linda Reed, of Silent Dream, was at planning routes, bridges, tides, and trouble spots. So we were sure to fall in behind them as they entered the ICW.

Once in Beaufort, we took a mooring ball in the city marina, as 3 days of rain began. We were impressed by the loaner car offered by the marina. We were MUCH more impressed by a reception offered by the City, and local chapter of the Seven Seas Sailing Association.

First, we were all assigned hosts who offered to provide for our needs while visiting. Our hosts, Bobbi and David, took us for a tour of town, to Walmart, West Marine, and several other replenishing stops. As the weather got crusty, they even offered us their home to hide out in. They also extended the offer to our dogs, Auka and Miki. Bringing our two Alaskan Malamutes to someone's home... that was a burden we just couldn't hoist on anyone. We battened down the hatches and rode out the storm aboard Ryajen. As for the reception hosted by the town of Beaufort, it featured wine, beer, out of this world Shrimp and Grits, and pork tenderloin that melted in your mouth. It was all washed down with the musical accompaniment of some local talent. It was a spectacular evening. A memory not forgotten.

We hung around Beaufort, SC for US Thanksgiving celebrations, and were joined by relatives from Georgia. We'll tell you all about that, and the painful departure of a crew member, in the next chapter.
As I write this chapter, it is now March and I have soooo much to catch up on reporting. I apologize to anyone who is wondering how things are developing, but a LOT has happened in a short period of time.

Picking up where we left off, we signed up for the Sail Magazine Snowbird Rally, and found ourselves needing to make haste for Hampton, VA where the rally started November 1. Unfortunately we got pinned in by a weather front, which delayed us a few days. As we finally attempted to leave, miscommunication and poor planning got the best of us and we ping ponged off a few pilings, exchanged some choice words among crew, and decided we needed a day to calculate a better plan to combat the wind and current. ROOKIES!

 As we toiled around the dock, working on minor maintenance, and chores a miracle was sent from heaven, in the way of a visitor from a neighboring boat. Turns out they had the same boat as us, and just got new canvas. They offered us their old bimini and dodger. Given it was November, and we had NO dodger, this was an incredible gift to us! Words could not express our gratitude, and they would take nothing in return. In tears, we assembled the gift over the companionway.

Next day came, and we had a brief meeting to discuss strategy, before pulling off the dock near flawlessly. We headed out Back Creek, even stopping for fuel ALMOST like we knew what we were doing. As we turned southerly down the Chesapeake we quickly began to wonder if another day waiting might have been wise? We were greeted with a 10-15 kn south wind banging us on the nose. The result was 2-3 ft seas, bouncing us up and down, up and down. We hung with it for about 4 hours, thinking we were making some good time. Once we pulled into Ship Wreck Harbor and calculated distance made good, we weren't overly proud of the 17 NM we made. None the less, it was our first day on a new to us boat, and the beer was cold when we settled in.

Next morning we got an early start and headed south to Solomans Island. We made it about 29 NM further south. It was a calm day and the water was almost flat. We even managed to sail the light winds for a good portion of the day. Once in Back Creek we dropped anchor just off the Tiki Hut and settled in. Of course a round of drinks at said Tiki Hut was a MUST. Solomans Island is a highly recommended stop along the way. Quiet little town with people as friendly as they come.

Day 3 we headed out in spite of small craft warnings. I needed to catch a flight home for business reasons, and we had a lot of miles between us and Norfolk International. We were quickly reminded of the adage, 'never sail with a schedule'. We made it about 3 miles out, where we got tossed, bounced, and spun. We made the decision to come back in, and got tilted over pretty good, with a wave on the beam as we made our turn. With two days of rough weather on the forecast, and me having to catch a flight the next day, we checked into Calvert Marina to leave the boat and my crew, while I headed out. At this point, my son Daeyten decided he could no longer take the bounce of the Chesapeake, and decided to head to Norfolk with me, to stay with friends, until we arrived there. Hence, Leanne, and the dogs toughed it out alone in Solomans, through 20-25 kn winds.

Off to Toronto I went.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

On the Road...

After two final garage sales, we packed most of our remaining possessions into a 10' x 10' storage locker. The remains made us well known contributors to Goodwill. The sensation of being able to pack your life into a 10' x 10' space was extremely liberating!

We rented a 30' RV, and conned my parents, and Leanne's parents to accompany us down to Annapolis, where we would find a boat... hopefully! SHOULD be an easy process. Given we had already attempted to buy a boat twice previously, I was a little nervous.

Off to Annapolis, on a hope, a prayer, and a rented RV.

First stop was at the Fort Erie border crossing. With an RV loaded with boating supplies, and necessities, we expected the worse. Fortunately, we got an agent who was fascinated with our adventure, and more interested in our sailing experience, than our crossing. After realising he still had a job to do, he came around to "see faces" inside the RV. Imagine the look on his face when he opened the door to see two full size Alaskan Malamutes waiting there to greet him... along with the seven of us. He politely closed the door, walked back around to the driver's door, handed back the passports, and wished us a good trip!

While our departure was scheduled for 7am, stuff happened, and we made a hasty departure around the crack of 4PM. As a result, we found ourselves scrambling to make up lost time. With a ten hour drive sandwiched between our departure, and scheduled boat search appointments we needed to make miles. We switched drivers a few times over the early hours, before I settled in for the night shift. Suddenly, that romantic image I had of driving down the open road in an RV lost some appeal. None the less, we made it to within 3 hours of Annapolis before stopping at a rest stop for the night. At 6AM we were awakened by a security guard, advising we couldn't park there for more than 3 hours. I wondered if it had even been three hours, but nonetheless, we had boats to see.

First stop was Tracys Landing, MD where we had arranged to see two catamarans. The Wildcat was a 36' with a beam at 24'. We were excited about it, as it seemed to be within budget, in good shape, and offer more than the space we required. What's that saying about pictures can be deceiving?

Next was a Gemini. Our previous two failed surveys were on Geminis. Still we held out hope for this one to be a good boat. Not so much. It was time to re-visit our plan, so we asked the broker to show us what our money would get us in a monohaul. He went back to the office to do the research, while we cruised through the small town of Annapolis in our rented 30' RV. Did I mention it read "Cruise Canada" and "Rent This RV" all over the side?

After hopelessly searching for parking for we finally found a spot where we could park the 'Griswald' mobile across 4 spots, hoping we wouldn't get towed. The dockside pub was across the channel, so we waited for a water taxi for my parents who couldn't walk around. That's when we met Duane and Julie, of Boomdiadah, who offered to ferry them across in their dinghy. We learnt they were also from Toronto, and doing what we hope to do.

We enjoyed a lunch on the dock, wondering if we would ever become like 'those people' anchored out in front of us. Upon heading back to see the broker, we wondered it much more loudly! Turned out, to achieve our primary objective of 3 cabins, our budget would need to be tweaked a little... and some! We selected two boats to see the next day, and made the 30 minute drive to the nearest KOA, and settled in for the night.

Next morning, we were up bright and early, to see our next two prospects. Both were Beneteaus, that were originally used as charter boats. We accepted the downside of buying a 'charter boat' provided it had 'good bones'. Both appeared to fit the description, but one had a new motor, and appeared a bit cleaner. Either could work. We pulled the trigger on a 2004 Beneteau 39, with a 2011 engine. It was now Thursday, and the earliest we could get a survey done was Monday.

Back to the KOA, we decided to enjoy some downtime... if there can be such a thing, with 7 people, and 2 Alaskan Malamutes co-existing on a 30' RV. On Friday, we headed to Washington DC, and let the world know we weren't 'from around here' when we tried to figure out the subway. On a plus side, we made it to The Mall, Vietnam Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. There was a Vietnam Reunion taking place while we were there, so we got to listen into many stories, and thank the vets for their service. It was a long day, but well worth the trip.

Monday morning we headed back into Annapolis to meet the surveyor at the boat yard... with our fingers crossed! A couple hours later, while hanging around the boat yard in the 'Griswald mobile', we finally got word, the hull and deck were sound... save for the need of a new bottom! Didn't I say 'never again' after the one on Tranquilo in the spring? We scheduled a launch and sea trial for the next day. We also asked the boat yard if we could park the camper there, rather than making the 30 mile trip to the KOA each day. When they agreed, I am positive they had NO idea what they were in for!Long story short, if we wanted to let anyone know where to find us, "RV" was all we needed to say!

By the time the hull dried after the sea trial, we had come to terms on the final purchase agreement, and started scrapping the bottom. We started painting the next day, and had the bottom finished in two days. We had Ryajen in the water on the Friday. Nearly two weeks after we began living on a rented RV with 7 people and two malamutes! We were a bit anxious to spreadout. I'm almost certain our parents were MORE than a bit anxious to get back to normal living as well! Having achieved their purpose in seeing us get a boat, and launching her, they made plans to head back on the Sunday.

On Saturday we made plans for a bon voyage dinner, and to celebrate my inlaws anniversary. As  a final exclamation mark of the 'Griswald Family Reckneck Road Trip', we made quite a scene when turning a corner, heading back to the marina. Seems we forgot to close an outside locker on the RV. As we turned a corner, our possessions scattered throughout the intersection. I wasn't sure what to think when we stopped, and I saw a large, scruffy man approaching me with an axe, and camp stove... until I realised it was ours! Fitting end to a fun chapter!