Monday, February 3

Key West, US Landfall

Land Ho in the good ole USA.  It felt sad and tremendously surreal to be sailing up to the US port of Key West. We were disillusioned with the lack of crystal clear water and brilliant blue skies.  Not to mention an overabundance of boat traffic; fishing boats, tour boats, power boats, sailboats, jet skis and even a helicopter.  We were officially depressed, all five of us.  Not one of us was excited to be in Key West.  As we lowered the sails and headed up the channel, I held back tears and had an overwhelming urge to turn the boat around and head back to the Bahamas.  We couldn't help comment on all the negative aspects of being there...."Look at all these people; It's so crowded; It's not as pretty as the Caribbean; Look at how many boats there are;  I wish we were in (insert any number of places in recent memory)!"  However, we were very thankful we decided to bypass Miami for our US port of entry.  We knew the laid back island town of Key West was definitely more our style and easier to navigate than a big hectic city like Miami (which was our original plan).  

As it was, little city or not, the check-in process into our own country proved to be very painful.  We had to find the city courthouse, the correct courthouse as it turned out, on foot.  Need I remind you that the US is not laid out in such a manner that anything is convenient if you are traveling on foot.  We did not find the proper courthouse on the first go 'round.  We were exhausted from our 2 day passage from the Berry Islands and went to the wrong courthouse.  Who would have thought there was more than one courthouse in a small beach community?  Lucky for us, there were some nice security guards that pointed us in the right direction.  It was hot.  It was humid.  So walking further was not something we were thrilled about.  And we had the girls in tow, who were also tired, hot and wanted to walk less than we did and made sure we knew it.  We had to find the courthouse before it closed at 2pm within 24 hours of making landfall, which added to the stress of it all.  Once we found the right courthouse, we entered the building and were immediately confronted with not 1, not 2 but 3 security guards.  Holy homeland security.  Really?  It was a little overkill in our minds after the last 15 countries we visited without so much as a hand shake and a stamp of the passport.  There were signs posted everywhere stating NO cell phones or electronic devices in the building.  I mean really, it wasn't enough to just turn them off, we couldn't even enter the building holding one (I wasn't even allowed to stand just inside the door where it was air conditioned!).  I guess the US expects you to leave your phone in the car, which works great if you have a car.  I'm just saying.  Not only that,  the US requires that ALL members of your party must be present for the clearing in.  In all the other countries...yep, that's right, just one person could clear everyone in.  Needless to say, I had to sit outside on the steps of the courthouse, in the heat and the humidity, holding our cell phones and i-pods while Craig cleared in with the kids.  And then, a miracle happened.  A nice costumes agent came out to check my passport, which eliminated the changing of the guard or cell phones, as it were.  I was thankful for small favors!

'Kids say the darndest things',  wasn't that the name of Bill Cosby's show?  As Craig was clearing into US customs, they asked if we had any fruits and vegetables on board.  He started to shake his head no when Kate honestly answered "Yes we do dad!  We have lots..."  As Craig felt his face flush, he simultaneously gave Kate the stink eye while reassuring the customs officer that we only had onions and potatoes (which was the truth, I promise).  We left the courthouse and headed back to the boat feeling less than excited to be officially back in the US.  Woo Hoo.  Imagine how you feel when you walk through your front door after a 2 week vacation....we felt like that, only 100 times worse.   We weren't home yet and we knew what lay ahead of us as we prepared to put AG up for sale.  

But don't start crying yet... we were in Key West and we had never been there, so we wanted to make the best of it and play tourist.  We met the family aboard m/v Grand Lady that was docked next to us in the marina.  They were veterans of Key West, visiting several times a year.  It was an easy trip for them from their home near Tampa.  We quickly got acquainted and they shared some of the must see items in Key West.  We were invited aboard their boat for cocktails (champaign to be exact - in honor of our safe return), we enjoyed a sunset at the waterfront and we even shared a scrumptous meal at a local restaurant in town while all the kids hung out on our boat eating pizza.  It was a little like being in the islands.  I think it's a boat thing.....boaters are just nice people, plain and simple, especially cruisers.

Heading into Key West

We treated ourselves to a little dockside pampering; A/C and endless water to wash the boat

Dockmaster office

The streets of Key West

Sloppy Joe's was the local hangout for Hemingway

US burgers all around at Sloppy Joe's while grooving to the live music

Sightseeing and shopping!

We didn't eat here but thought it was a fun picture since we know all of Jimmy Buffet's songs by heart!

Sunset at Mallory Square where we enjoyed the street performers and kiosks of local flare
Hanging out with Caroline and her friend, Jordan, from our neighbors in the marina

Ice cream and nightlife in Key West

The girls make friends with a local puppy dog dressed to impress, lookin' like Bono.

Enjoying a morning croissant at the local bakery

Have you ever seen 3 children this excited about CEREAL (and fresh cows milk by the gallon)?!  Finally a box we could afford!  I let them pick out what ever they wanted, no matter how awful!

Our new marina friends aboard m/v Grand Lady.  Thanks for the wonderful hospitality!

Riding around Key West on bikes was loads of fun

We found a street just for Liv

No trip to Key West is complete without the Southernmost point photo.

We went on a tour of Hemingway's house and saw many of his cats descendants.  There was even a cat cemetery on the property with all the past kitty's names.

View of the lighthouse from Hemingway's balcony

Tuesday, December 10

A Surprise Welcome

We had a smooth Gulf Stream crossing with no wind to speak of.  As we approached the US shores of Florida, the sea breeze began to pick up.  As we pointed south to Key West, we chose to sail inside the barrier reef to take advantage of the flat water and good wind.  We picked up a lot of speed and were at top speed of 8.5 knots.  AHH-MAZING!  It was so much fun.  What a way to end our trip, right?!  Craig went to bed as the sun went down and I was in charge.  The girls settled down in their various spots around the boat and it was me and my (one ear only) i-pod.  The weather was warm and it just so happened to be the night of the super moon.  How cool was that to be sailing during the super moon event!  I was relaxed in the captains chair watching various fishing boats coming and going.  I watched tankers going up and down the big channel.  Even though we were not remotely in the same vicinity, I liked clicking on each one on the AIS screen to see what their name was and where they were headed.  Hey, we do what we can to pass the time.  Essentially I was minding my own business, marveling at how freakin' fast we were sailing!  Let me just say, again, how much fun it is to sail FAST.

 Proof our boat was going over 8 knots!

Sun going down on the Florida coast

Even though there was a super moon on the rise, it was still pretty dark out there.  We were also alongside the Keys, but there weren't many lights from land.  And then it happened, out of the blue....from nowhere, like a stealthy, preying predator.  A US Coast Guard RIB boat flipped its blue lights on and did a quick u-turn and came right up alongside our boat.  I nearly peed my pants as I yanked my i-pod out of my ear and threw it over my shoulder.  I quickly ran through my head what in the world I could have done wrong to deserve flashing lights.  It was 11 pm for crying out loud.  I pounded on the cabin roof where Craig was sleeping to wake him up.  That was always our signal that we needed assistance when on watch.  I guess I pounded with great urgency because Craig was up on deck in 2 seconds flat.  Literally!  The USCG boat pulled alongside and yelled, "Captain, can we come aboard?"  Of course it wasn't really an option, they were preparing to board while Craig was answering.  They struggled to pin the bow of their vessel on our hull and after a few tries, a couple of armed crew members jumped on board.  We knew of a boat that got boarded just a couple days prior and we were prepared for the same (although we didn't believe we would be boarded).  Sure enough they wanted to see the usual safety equipment, passports, flares and boat papers.  They asked us where we were coming from and where we were going.  They asked if we bought anything in the Bahamas and Craig sarcastically answered "have you been to the Bahamas" because the places we'd been didn't have any people let alone anything to sell.  At some point during the conversation that Anything Goes was sailing along, on autopilot, with no one at the helm!  Ooops.  They roamed the boat with flashlights and wanted to know who else was on board.  We explained that we had 3 children that were asleep (not for long).  They questioned that our boat registration had expired and did we have the new papers.  Ummmm, well, no because we didn't get mail while out at sea (stupid question).  Luckily I had an e-mail I could reference on the lap top.  Phew.  Short and sweet, their visit was complete and they walked out to the cockpit to motion their mother ship over.  We all watched for what seemed like forever, as the USCG boat struggled to pull along side our boat.  That's when it happened.  A captains finest moment.  When I say captain, I mean Craig's finest moment.  The USCG captain hollered over to Craig and said "Captain, can you slow your boat down please!"  Are you kidding me!   Craig beamed with pride as we luffed the sail and slowed down to allow the USCG crew to make it safely back on their boat.  After they pulled away, Craig and I looked at each and squealed with excitement "Can you believe they asked US to SLOW DOWN"  Holy cow batman, that was a first for us!!  Usually getting boarded by the USCG is NOT that exciting, but we were thrilled to say the least.

This is what the USCG boat looked like - big and fast.

Sunday, December 8

Road Rage on the High Seas

I am not usually the road rage type.  I pretty much assume that 'they' are in a bigger hurry than I and that's why 'they' find it necessary to cut me off.  I reserve my horn honking for real emergency's and not the typical road rage event.  Boy do I wish I had a big huge honker the morning that we nearly got run over by a mega yacht called "Big City".  Yep, that's the name of the jerk, oops, I mean the name of the boat, that caused me to jump up and down and wave my arms furiously in an effort to prove he was a big fat jerk.  Oh trust me, I had a potty mouth that day and everyone on our boat heard it.  There was no shielding my children from my foul sailors mouth.  Come on, really!  Our kids have heard it all, especially after this trip.  Ha!

It all started right after I came up on watch just before we were going to cross the Gulf Stream.  Craig had gone to bed and remember, Maggie and I caught the barracuda and let it go ourselves.  Yippee.  We were sailing along minding our own business.  I was keeping an eye on things and noticed a boat out on the horizon.  I checked the AIS and sure enough he was headed right towards us.  How did I know this, you ask?  The AIS said so.  I just simply touched the icon on the chart plotter screen and it told me the name of the vessel, the length, draft, speed over ground, GPS location, heading and if and when we might collide.  Pretty cool.  Yes, it is very helpful when I can't always tell which way a boat or tanker is headed.  But I digress......So I checked the AIS and knew we were on a collision course.  I knew his name was Big City.  Who names thier boat Big City??  Perhaps someone with a big head.  Oh, sorry, did I just say that out loud?  It was clearly day light about 8 or 9 am and my large white 60 foot sail was high in the sky.

I watched as Big City approached closer and closer.  Somehow it always makes me feel better to talk to myself out loud.  So I began talking out loud "is this guy going to alter course?  Doesn't this guy see me?"  It was ridiculous.  I was feeling a little anxious knowing that he should be altering his course to avoid a boat under sail.  I hailed him on the radio and announced myself as the sailboat in his direct path.  No answer.  I hailed him a second time AND a third time!  No answer.  I waited and waited, watching with a pounding heart as he raced closer.  It was ridiculous to think this guy was not going to answer my radio call nor yield.

It felt like a game of chicken for sure and it was not fun nor was I in the mood to risk my life and that of my family to prove a point that he shouldn't run me over.  Allow me to point out that a boat under sail has the right of way over a boat under motor power.  Those are them rules on the water.  He, of course, wasn't worth it.  So I quickly cranked the helm so that we would not be in harms way of this butt head (I realize this is a family friendly site, so insert whatever suits you).  As I turned, Big City zoomed by about 100 feet away going approximately15 knots creating a massive wake!  I could see at least 2 people on the bridge (the place where the captain drives a mega yacht).  Ohhhhh, I was soooo mad, I was fuming and as I mentioned before, I was spitting out obscenities that can not be repeated here.  The really comical part was that I was in my pajamas.  So I want you to picture an irrate lunatic, stomping around with flailing arms, flipping the bird at the captain(s) in my PJ's!  I'm quite certain that they got the last laugh!!  Oh well.  It felt good and I didn't care.  Unfortunately, I woke Craig up in the mean time and as I re-enacted the scene for him, I got even more furious.  I would have called the coast guard if I thought it would have ended with a ticket for Mr. Big City.  As it turned out, he went on his way and I turned back on course and went on mine.  I can assure you that the owner of Big City would probably not approve of the way his captain was treating other boaters.  Or at least I like to think that anyway.

The culprit:  Big City

Saturday, November 30

USA here we come

It was time to go.  The wind was going to continue to die over the next several days, so we needed to get out of dodge so we didn't have to motor across the Gulf Stream.  We swam for the very last time, prepared our meals, battened down the hatches and made a run for it at two in the afternoon.  As we got under way, the wind was light, lighter than we would have liked.  In fact, we had to motor sail until we reached the top of the Berry Islands.  When we turned west, the engines were turned off and it was quiet once again as we sailed for the last time in the Bahamas.

 Watching a movie as we get underway

 Reeling 'em in

Wouldn't you know it, just as the sun was making it's last appearance and we were ready to bring in our gear for the night, we heard that sweet sound of Zzzzzzzzzzz and then again, Zzzzzzzzzz and then the hand line pulled tight (sorry it doesn't make that Zzzzzzzz sound)!!  Holy tuna batman, we just went through a school of fish.  Craig was already reeling his in, I started reeling in the other pole and we left the hand line alone for the moment.  It was utter chaos with kids running around doing their 'jobs', not knowing if they should help mom or dad.  Craig pulled his in - it was a tuna!  Woo Hoo.  Then I pulled mine in, another tuna!  Oops, mine got away.  I think I pulled him in too close and too fast.  He shook the hook.  Darn it!  The hand line was next, we landed another tuna.  Three fish on the hook and two in the bucket.  Not too shabby.  

Yummy sushi tonight!

Night night

Moon on the rise

We had a nice sail that first night.  I took the first part of the watch until 1am.  During my watch I witnessed a growing number of ships as I approached the intersection near Freeport, Grand Bahama and the main channel.  At first, I could make out a few lights and confirmed their position and intended direction using our trusty AIS.  Then slowly but surely, the number began to grow.  I remember at each marked hour when I wrote in the log book, the number was steadily increasing.  I counted a maximum of 15 ships (cargo and cruise) at one time in my immediate vicinity.  I was on the southern edge of the water way, close to the shallow banks of the Berry Islands while the ships while passing to the north.  But they were not all on the move, that was the puzzling part.  A growing number of them, I surmise at least half, were not moving at all.  They were just sitting there like birds bobbing in the water.  I don't know what they were waiting for.  Perhaps they were waiting for the sun to come up before entering Freeport.  However you want to explain it, it was a little freaky and definitely kept me alert all night.

As soon as the sun came up, the wind died down.  The engines were woken up from their slumber and we motored down towards Bimini, our jumping off point to the US.  With no wind to speak of, the sea state of the Gulf was pleasant, so I guess we can't complain too much.  However, It would have been better, and more fun, to sail.

The next morning as I came up on watch to relieve Maggie while Craig was fast asleep, I felt no need to change out of the pj's.  I was excited to do some last minute fishing, so I dropped in a line.  A little while later the girls and I heard music to our ears....Zzzzzzzz.  I quickly reeled it in but it ended up being a dumb ole barracuda.  I swear they are going to haunt me for the rest of my life.  I didn't want to wake Craig for a stupid barracuda, so Maggie and I managed to get the hook out of it's mouth and set it free.

 One last effort to send a message in a bottle in the gulf stream

Helllooooo Miami

Sunday, November 24

Funny Characters

"Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open." - Elmer G. Letterman

By Craig Boyer

Traveling by boat for a year opens the door to witness a great number of characters, good and bad.  We traveled over 8000 miles at an average speed of 6 knots.  This leisurely pace allowed us to observe and sometimes meet some unusual people along the way.  We didn't always have a camera handy but when we did, we captured the encounter.  Here is a small sampling of the characters we saw and/or met along the way.

Our first stop was in Rhode Island where we met wonderful people and made life long friends.  We loved Rhode Island and quickly understood why it was so popular with the rich and famous, but who knew it was an intergalactic destination.  I was truly star struck when I saw Boba Fett and his buddy vacationing in Newport.  I tried to talk to them, but they scootered off faster than a X-34 Landspeeder.

While in NYC I saw this guy.  Maybe this handsome coif has some cultural significance, but it looked like he was growing a giant ball of yarn on his head.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to meet this chap either to discuss his style as we had hungry kids pulling us down towards the hot dog stand. 

Time square has its share of hustlers.  At least this guy was honest!

The girls spotted this guy hanging out in the park while sharpening his “pet” chicken’s spurs when we were in Spanish Town, BVI.  He has a cool style too, I especially love the white cape.  Later we had to have a talk with the girls about befriending strangers in the park armed with a knife and a killer chicken.

Guys down in the caribbean dig nicknames.  We met quite a few characters with colorful names like
First Blood,  Hash Doctor, Assassin,  Big Pappa and Cobra.  All were way freindlier than their names implied. While in Dominica we met Stuff.  Yes, his name is really Stuff!  Or at least that's what he and everyone else called him.  Stuff was always asking us for money.   Turns out that Stuff is the friendliest homeless drug addict in the world.  He always had a smile even when everyone told him to get lost.  Somewhere along the line we wised up and started giving Stuff money when he provided a service like getting us fruit, which he happily did.  Here, I told him I’d pay him $5.00 EC ($2 USD) if he posed in a picture with me.  I have no idea what he is holding, but he is pretty proud of it.

On the creepier side was Ross.  We should have known he was trouble by the lack of a killer nickname.  He loved to dance with women, especially American women.  We first met Ross at reggae night where he demonstrated his dancing steps with a child's barrette in his beard.  Wendy had to be saved several times from the clutches of Ross.  He was so happy to see us at the Carnival kick off party that he attached himself to our little posse.  It was sort of cool until he started pulling the girls by the arm into the crowd and became a little territorial.  That's when we had to kick Ross off of the fun wagon rather sternly.

 Last but not least, we found Gandhi on his cell phone in St Lucia.