Carolina In My Mind

Actually, James Taylor is from North Carolina, and I imagine the song was inspired by his Carolina, but I always think of South Carolina – and its Queen City, Charleston – whenever I hear it.

After leaving Beaufort, we wound our way through miles and miles of salt marsh to reach Charleston, where we’ve spent 3 nights at the Charleston City Marina.

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Beaufort’s Lady’s Island Bridge, opening for us just after dawn.  And lots and lots and lots of marshes.

One of those nights was on its (in)famous Megadock, stretching for nearly ¼ of a mile.  It’s a fairly swank location, with all the amenities one might wish for, and then some.  Its principal appeal is its location and the courtesy shuttle running all over the peninsula.

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Azaleas at the Battery, retaining the last of their blossoms.

We didn’t have a particular agenda in mind for Charleston, as we’ve visited many times before from rented beach house bases on the nearby sea islands.  It was more a matter of absorbing the ambience of this supremely lovely and gracious town.  Inhaling the rankness of plough mud at low tide as well as the sweet perfume of jasmine.  Feeling the warmth of the sun, as well as humidity (all of which is about to change and bring us record low temperatures).  Partaking of her splendid local cuisine, inspired by the abundance of her waters and land (meals at 82 Queen, Cypress, and a lovely lunch with our friends Shelley and Peter (Lifesong) at Slightly North of Broad).

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The architecture of Charleston is so overwhelmingly gorgeous that I chose to focus on an element of it in many of my photos: the window boxes, decked out in spring flowers.

On the second Sunday of every month, King Street – a main street with lots of shops and restaurants – is closed to car traffic, and it seems all of the town comes out to stroll its length, dressed in smart Sunday afternoon clothes.  We joined them, and spent a few bucks on shoes – my feet, which haven’t been in a closed shoe since November, alarmingly fit into a Size 42 (equivalent US size 10!!!), but they were really cute, so ….

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Of course, Charleston may be best known for her gorgeous residential district on the southern part of the peninsula, so that’s where I’ll leave this post.

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One feature shared by many homes is the side gallery/porch which is referred to as a piazza here.  They were designed to catch any and all stray breezes in an era well before the invention of air conditioning.

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Chasing Spring

As we’ve been making our way back to the US and northward home, we’ve timed – or tried to time – our journey to coincide with the arrival of full-fledged, bona fide, spring.  I have NO interest in being cold.   But spring has been elusive, even in Florida, as cold fronts have had us chilled in our bunks at night, and wearing unaccustomed layers of clothing during the day.

Yet despite the weather, there are places which in my mind are emblematic of spring.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve only visited in the spring.  Or because my mental image of them is inextricably tied with spring.

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This just looks like spring!

Unlike a lot of first-time ICW cruisers, we’ve not had the luxury of dawdling because of personal deadlines (various commitments, including work).  So we’ve had to prioritize.  While I’d have liked to visit several more of the Georgia Sea Islands such as Brunswick, St. Simons and Jekyll, we limited ourselves to Cumberland.

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As we were leaving Cumberland, we had to share the channel with a submarine being escorted into the river.  You don’t see that everyday!

We chose to go offshore, overnight, to skip the rest of Georgia.  The miles we did in the ocean were far more efficient than the distance we could have covered on the ICW.

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Just look at the twists and turns of the ICW we missed in Georgia by going offshore.

While we were out on the ocean, we found ourselves in unexpectedly excellent sailing conditions, and actually had to keep shortening sail to slow down.

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The Coast Guard also thought it was a good day, doing training exercises offshore.

We toyed with using the wind to our advantage and going as far as Charleston, but decided that we would rather enter the Port Royal inlet at night and NOT miss Beaufort, South Carolina.  (Pronounced Byoo-fort; the one in NC is pronounced Boe-fort.)

To me, Beaufort IS spring.

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The view as we make our way up the Beaufort River.

My first mental image of Beaufort is from the movie The Big Chill, which I saw very early in college.  While I joined my little clan of friends in trying to figure out which of the characters each of us was, or would be, I was also trying to figure out how to end up living in THE HOUSE!   Later, when I read Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides, his descriptive (if somewhat overblown) prose transported me there.  Rick and I finally got to visit when we came to Hilton Head for one of our spring tennis trips (which have since been replaced by a yearly pilgrimage to New Orleans for Jazz Fest).

I was smitten.  The azaleas were in full bloom and life in this exquisite tidewater town moved as if captured in golden honey.  Our arrival here, after 20+ hours at sea yesterday, was no less pleasing – though the azaleas were perhaps a week past their prime.  The juxtaposition of gracious neo-Classical southern architecture, salt marsh, and rioting vegetation make for an intoxicating combination.

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Salt marshes and flowers in bloom.  Wish I could bottle it.

We were docked at the Downtown Marina, sharing space with replicas of the Nina and Pinta.

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Our dockmates.

That resulted in quite a bit more foot traffic past Calypso than I would have liked.  But the weather was mild and sunny, so who could blame the visitors for enjoying a waterfront stroll.  Our location couldn’t have been more convenient for walking around town.

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Gorgeous.

As well, we caught up with our friends Ed and Tina of Merlin, who are also making their way north to Maryland.  We had dinner with them at a terrific restaurant (Saltus River Grill) that featured small plates with a lowcountry twist and, yes, another great facet of spring: soft-shell crabs!

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You’ve got to love a place that preserves its live oaks!

We’re on our way now to another classic – to me – “spring” town: Charleston, where we hope to spend a few days.  Hello shrimp and grits!

Wild Horses

I’ve written before about how the US is a land of plenty.  Most of us have our basic needs met, so there are means left over to preserve and appreciate our human history and natural environment.  Today, we spent the day in hushed awe of our surroundings, and in grateful appreciation of the fact that we – and generations after us — get to enjoy them.  The place that inspires these feelings is Cumberland Island, Georgia.

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Calypso anchored behind Cumberland Island, Georgia.

After a 60+ mile run from St. Augustine up the ICW in wet, chilly weather, we were just happy to get the anchor down yesterday and enjoy a dinner of conch chowder and johnnycake (yes, I still have Bahamian  conch in the freezer…).  But this morning, though it was chilly, the skies were clear and we’d had a full night of rest before exploring the southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands.

Like many coastal locations along this US east coast, Cumberland Island has changed hands repeatedly, and been the location of military strongholds.  Ultimately, parts of it were purchased by wealthy families (Revolutionary war heroes and robber barons) to serve as sites for mansions.   Those fell into disrepair and the island came under the umbrella of the National Park Service.

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The ruins of Dungeness, a mansion built by a Carnegie on the ruins of another mansion built by a Revolutionary war general.

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More picturesque ruins.

Those rich guys knew a good thing when they saw it.  The island is spectacularly, romantically, lyrically, poetically, stunningly (OK – running out of adverbs here….) BEAUTIFUL.  That is, if you’re a sucker for that kind of alley-of-Spanish-moss-draped-oaks kind of beautiful.

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Live oaks towering over palms.

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At left, one of the many alleys of oaks; on the right, Rick enjoying one of the trails.

But it’s not just that kind of beautiful.  I personally love the beauty of a coastal salt marsh, and the way it changes with every tide.

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With rivers of tea-colored water running through plough mud and cordgrass, it’s an environment that is outwardly placid yet teeming with secret, hidden life.

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Teeny-tiny crabs (those are blades of grass, by way of comparison) scurrying busily around.

Feral horses have the run of the island, and unlike dolphins and manatees, these trick ponies stand still for photos.  Just don’t step on one of their many offerings on the trails.

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The horses are everywhere.

And, finally, yes, there is a beach.  A good 17 miles worth.  It’s a typical sea island beach bordered with dunes and sea oats, giving way to a wide, flat, hard expanse of sand.

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Ghostly driftwood trees lean away from the wind.

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Beach grass and dunes give way to the beach.

The 6-foot tidal range means the beach is even huger at low tide.  If bikes were allowed on the beach here, it would be perfect for riding along.

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The wind and sea etch patterns in the sand.  And yes, there are horses.

We didn’t bike, but walked and walked and collected shells.

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I found one!

A ferry brings in visitors from the “mainland,” and us cruising folk can just anchor off the dinghy dock, so there are quite a few people coming in every day.  (Even though there are virtually no services on the island, it does seem to be quite popular for camping.)  Yet the huge expanses of the island, and its lush vegetation, seemed to shelter us in our own private cocoon.  This is one national park that we have done right.

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Honey, Call the Realtor!

I might as well get it out in the open right now: I’ve been planning my retirement since I started working.  And my retirement dreams (fantasies?) have always involved smallish, historic, Southern coastal cities, likely stemming from my college years in New Orleans.  If the town is funky and/or has been occupied by various different countries in its past and/or includes Spanish moss draped from live oaks, my interest level increases.  Key West, Charleston, Savannah, Beaufort SC and – yes – Annapolis, are all very much in the running.

Given that as background, one could look at this trip up the ICW as a real estate orientation tour.

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Going up the ICW is more than just nature and scenery.

Yesterday’s run from Titusville to Palm Coast, Florida featured ICW-front properties with easy access to ocean beaches, all at “affordable” (ahem) prices.  Today was even better: I added another city to my list.  Hello, St. Augustine!

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St. Augustine’s riverfront and iconic Bridge of Lions (with the drawbridge up, snarling traffic at the behest of cruisers).

You don’t get much older or historic in the United States.  St. Augustine was settled by the Spanish in 1559.  And then the British and the Spanish fought over it.  And ultimately, the US bought Florida (or, rather, “The Floridas” as there was a West and and East) for $5 million.  A good deal, I think.  The Castillo de San Marco, fortifications across the river from the inlet to the ocean, presided over all of it.

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The Castillo de San Marco looks like an miniature of El Morro in San Juan; not surprising, since the same military minds were behind it.

We are staying at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, right in the heart of it all.   (Perhaps a little too much so, since tourists freely walk the docks, gaping at us.)

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A view of Calypso’s deck from the top of the mast, as well as a view of the bridge.  I sent Rick up the stick to change the anchor light.

The marina is right next to the Bridge of Lions, named in honor of Ponce de Leon (“Leon” being the Spanish word for lion).

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There are marble lions on both sides of the bridge, and at both ends.

And from the riverfront inland you have many square blocks of the old city.  The cobblestone streets and alleys.

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The restaurants, bars, boutiques and galleries.

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The flower bedecked old houses.

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The hidden courtyards.

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The Spanish colonial architecture.

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And it’s only a short distance from the ocean.

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You can see the inlet to the ocean, and the beaches, from the fort.

Yup, I’m in love with another town.

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But for better or worse, I’m not hurrying to make any changes just yet.  There remains the pesky little issue of paying for this little fantasy.  In the meantime, I suspect I’ll be meeting additional candidates for my list as we make our way further north.

 

 

Land of Plenty

We’ve been back in the US for just over a week now.  Long enough to not feel terrified behind the wheel of a car in moderate traffic.  Long enough not to shout “Whee!” every time we see a Publix and its attendant riches.  But not quite long enough not to get excited about sushi or pizza, or any other menu that goes beyond grouper, conch and lobster.

In the few days we spent in Vero Beach, we’ve socialized over cocktails and dinners with some of the people who help give it the nickname “Velcro Beach.”  Eastport Yacht Club could have an annex here and it would be filled most nights. There is definitely an Annapolis diaspora here, and it’s understandable.  But as sticky as the Velcro might be, we have moved on.

We’re now motoring up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), which runs all the way up to the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk, Virginia.  At least the parts I’ve seen in Florida might seem none-too-exciting at 6 knots.  There’s some water.

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Sunrise over one of the many low-lying islands in the Indian River, through which the ICW runs in much of Florida.

And some low-lying islands.

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If these little sand spits were in the Bahamas, I’d be all over them, looking for sand dollars.

Seabirds and dolphins and manatees (lots of them, but elusively difficult to photograph).

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You get sunrises and sunsets over the water.  Of course I’m glossing over it, and will report later on our various stops along the ICW.

But one way to think about it, which gives it another sort of weight altogether, is as a public works project, funded by taxpayers and executed by the government.  And principally for the benefit of recreational boaters.

While the ICW largely takes advantage of the natural bodies of water paralleling the Atlantic coastline, most of those rivers, sounds, bays and estuaries are not consistently deep enough to be navigable.  So the ICW channel is dredged to ensure that depth (though some areas shoal over, nature being what it is).

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A shot of our chart plotter.  That very narrow white ribbon in a sea of blue is the navigable portion of the Indian River; the rest is too shallow.

That channel is very narrow in many places.  So it has to be marked.  There are navigational marks all along the waterway – on after another, like an honor guard.

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Thousands and thousands of channel markers.

For that channel to have any utility, yet still not impede commerce between the “mainland” and the barrier islands, bridges must accommodate vehicle (cars and trains) traffic as well as boats.  Some bridges are simply built high enough for most sail boats to get under.

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Here’s a typical ICW bridge.

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As we approach it, it always looks like the mast is going to hit it.

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But we always get through with room to spare.

Others are drawbridges, some of which open on demand while others open on a schedule.

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That’s just the bare minimum of what it takes to have a useful waterway.  It doesn’t touch the municipal, state and federal amenities in addition to the basics – city marinas, natural resources police, Coast Guard, boat ramps, etc. etc. etc.  It contributes to the economy, but it costs.

But then again, as we were reminded last night at anchor off Titusville, Florida, across the ICW from Cape Canaveral, we are a country that could afford to launch man into space repeatedly.

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NASA facilities across the waterway from Titusville.  And sunrise.

How fortunate we are to live in a land of such plenty.

Road Trip!

You remember road trips.  Get a bunch of people you like in a car, hit the open road, and go somewhere cool.  You’ve got to have music and snacks (Twizzlers!) and witty repartee as well.  And you have to abuse someone for speaking up when they need a pit stop, even though everyone in the car actually needs to go.

We are comfortably settled at Vero Beach’s Loggerhead Marina for a few days as we run errands and re-stock our galley.

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Loggerhead is a great place, although we’ve run into a few noseeums here.  Persistent little buggers.

In between doing that, we and Skip and Harriet decided to drive across Florida to visit our friends Michael and Julie (Sabre 402 Running on MT), who have followed the migration from Maryland to Florida and become permanent residents of a beautiful new home on Siesta Key (Oops!  Almost wrote “Cay”!)  We didn’t do a whole lot other than eat, drink and be merry.

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On Michael and Julie’s lagoon-side dock on Siesta Key.  It was quite chilly.

Oh yeah; we went to the beach too.

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The shelling on Florida’s west coast clearly rivals the Bahamas.  I found this batch of goodies in about an hour’s worth of effort, and I didn’t try very hard.   I also found most excellent shoes at the stores….

Michael and Julie are generous hosts, and I’ve volunteered myself to be adopted by them and reside on a cot in their wine room.  Which would be convenient, because if I moved in, I’d probably have to get my own damn wine.

We ended our brief visit with a great lunch at The Cottage, which featured lots of raw tuna.

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Hanging on the outside deck at The Cottage.

On the road, we took in the scenery of the central part of the state.  It doesn’t inspire me to wax poetic (and I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos, since they were taken on the fly).

First of all, there are a lot of cows.  Cows are a big industry in this flat, flat state.

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So are oranges.

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Everywhere are orange groves and orange processing facilities.

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There are also prisoner processing facilities, as well as sod farms.  Not associated with each other, however.

The restrooms in the roadside gas stations are nothing if not picturesque.

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What the ….?

But you can find a collection of pork cracklin’s in any flavor you might crave.

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And at every intersection in any town of decent size, you will find a CVS drugstore.  And it is always across the street from a Walgreen’s.

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If you can’t find it at CVS or Walgreen’s, do you really need it?

Fortunately, since I’ve come down with a sore throat and sinus infection following our arrival to the chilly Florida climate, I don’t have very far to go.

Dazed and Confused

I laid awake most of Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, listening to the wind howling.  I wasn’t where I thought I’d be, and wasn’t sure where I was going.

I was supposed to be waking up aboard Calypso at Bluff House Inn and Marina in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay.  In fact, I’d reserved a slip there on Sunday, knowing the weather would be lousy and not wanting to give up a secure mooring in Black Sound unless I had a safe place to go.  We’d chosen to stay at Bluff House because we hadn’t visited there before and were interested to check it out.  As we crossed over from Black Sound on Tuesday in the chop and wind, Rick called them on the radio to claim our slip.  But they had no record of us, and no room.  They also had no remorse, regret, or alternatives.  (See you on Trip Advisor, Bluff House…..)  Very un-Abaco attitude.

So, we called Green Turtle Club.  Dockmaster Wesley set us up, and helped us into our slip.  Then, after showers and cleaning up, we turned ourselves over to the kind ministrations of the bartender, the dining room staff, and the chef of the Club and enjoyed what could be our last night in the Abacos.  Thanks gang – we’ll miss you!

But on Wednesday morning, the wind wasn’t laying down as forecast (as Rick always says, “It’s a forecast, not a promise.”).  Instead of a 7 a.m. departure, we put it off until 9 a.m.  The wind didn’t let up any, but we’d psychologically made the cut, so we decided to proceed.  And we pounded and pounded into seas that went over our bow and wind that was cranking.  An ugly day, and a chilly one.  I was decked out in long pants, a t-shirt, a fleece, and a foul weather jacket.  And, get this, socks with my Keens.  That’s a felony in the Maritime Republic of Eastport (Calypso’s homeport, where Sox after the Equinox is criminal), and a crime against fashion everywhere else.

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That isn’t frost on the lifeline; it’s a crust of salt.  The entire boat was covered with salt after Wednesday’s passage.

We pulled into Great Sale Cay at sunset; it had been a long day.  There were only 2 other boats in the anchorage, and our trusty anchor dug happily into the sand.  And we dug happily into bowls of souse (my batch having been enhanced with recipe tips from the ladies at the Green Turtle Club), and johnnycake from the Club.  A night like that called for warm soup.

Thursday was a bit easier on us, as we left Great Sale at 7 a.m. and made for Grand Bahama’s Old Bahama Bay marina.  It was a brilliant day for a sail, and we zoomed across sparkling water, arriving at the marina well before we thought we would.  But we had a dilemma.  Rick checked various weather sources, and it was unclear whether we should proceed on the last leg of our journey back to the US.  Most forecasts suggested it might be rough to start, but conditions would moderate.  Since we had 14 hours of travel from West End to Ft. Pierce, we needed some comfort.  Since it appeared that we’d be able to sail (as opposed to motor), we cautiously decided to go for it, checking out of the marina and out of the country with just 5 days to spare on our entry permit.

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We reluctantly lowered our Bahamian courtesy flag.  Compare the one we flew (the lower) against the spare to see the wear and tear of the environment.

But conditions did not moderate.  In fact, they were worse than the forecast and stayed that way.  We left Old Bahama Bay well before sunrise.

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Sunrise on Friday morning.  Are these skies red enough for sailors to have taken warning?

We fought with winds in the 30 knot range (luckily, on our beam – so we flew under shortened jib alone) and following seas in the 6 foot range, with shorter periods than forecast, and periodic cross seas reaching as high as 8-10 feet.  Rick took each wave patiently, stoically, methodically; I fought with fear (irrational) and borderline seasickness.  We’d go up and down, bow to stern, and on cross-seas, side to side.  I listened to all of our stuff rattling and clanging down below, thinking “Please don’t let the Hendrick’s bottle break!”

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Rick is always enviably cool and calm at the helm.  Even if he’s forced to wear long sleeves in the Bahamian spring.

Rick apologized for dragging me out into these conditions.  He didn’t have to.  I was miserable, but we weren’t in danger.  And besides, it’s a forecast, not a promise.  We made an educated decision; even though conditions were worse than forecast, we made it across the Gulf Stream and through the inlet at Ft. Pierce in just 12.5 hours, only motoring for 3.

But, whoa, the culture shock!  Tall buildings (over 2 stories!) and cars (not golf carts) everywhere.  I saw a beach, with cars parked alongside it, with people all over it, and wondered why anyone would want to go there.  As we dropped the anchor alongside the ICW, I was faintly annoyed that I couldn’t see it land on the bottom, or see every grain of sand displaced by its landing.  At anchor, we heard traffic noise, trains passing.  I could see traffic lights, and ambient light that wasn’t coming from the moon.  What is this place?

Luckily, our re-entry into the US will be staged.  We won’t be home finally until June.  We have much of the ICW to traverse, and other travels, so stay tuned.