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!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Free At Last... Gulp!

We exited the 'Winter of Freeze' more determined than ever to avoid ever needing a winter coat again.. We listed our investment condo for sale in April, thinking it's sale would help finance our move to live aboard. Unfortunately, shortly after listing, there was a pending complex, that were sure to force a nasy special assessment. As a result, the property became poisoned in the eyes of most agents in town. We dropped the price.

As May came, we realized it was time to stop complaining about the winter, and prepare for summer. We started on preparations for the boat. First up was refinishing the bottom. It was a job I was looking forward to about as much as I was looking forward to three root canals, and a prostate exam on the same day! None the less, I set out. Not being one to leave till tomorrow, what I can have someone else do today, I paid someone to sandblast the bottom for me. It was a VERY good spend of $800.

After the bottom was prepped, the job went well, and well, and ok, and... is it done YET??!! We completed it somewhere between the time the Leafs (Toronto Maple) fell, and when the leaves began to fall. Did I mention it's a long process?

As May turned to June, we finally got launched, only to realize out depth gage was no longer working. The popular assumption was the transducer got painted over in the bottom process. A haul out appeared imminent. First, however I chose to start trouble shooting from within. Quickly I discovered that Autohelm instruments were old, and old meant not really worth replacing. I invested in a new Raymarine combo pack, as well as a new GPS unit. I scheduled a haul with the marina, to change out the transducer, and gathered the supplies to make the switch. One hour before I was scheduled to have the boat lifted, the marina called and advised they were double booked, and couldn't help us for about two weeks. No depth instruments in Georgian Bay can be a problem, so we were grounded until a solution could be found. Fortunately, the idea came over me, to try the new depth gage with the old transducer, and behold, it worked! Next up getting the new GPS working.

After tinkering around with various configurations, I settled on mounting it right beside the helm. Then I realized it was supposed to be three feet away from the helm. No worries, I only wasted two days routing the wires to the helm. None the less, we adapted. I also heard of a technique to run the transducer through the hull. It worked for a whole 30 minutes! It was time to sell the boat!

As August approached we still owned two houses, and a boat that was less than ideal for us. The concept of selling Tranquilo and buying a roomier option south of the border started to gain traction. We listed the boat in late July, at a price we could live with, and one we hoped would bring a quick sale. While we were trying to learn a life without deadlines, we set mid August as the drop date to make things happen. One week away from our deadline all seemed lost... we were certain another nasty winter was our destiny. Then the miracle happened. First, the impossible to sell condo sold! Next, we got an offer on the boat. Finally, we got an offer on the house. All within 3 days of each other. A little negotiating, and we were suddenly facing another reality. The reality that in a little over a month, we were homeless, without a plan!

And that story is a good one!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Everyone's Gotta Have a Dream: The Winter of More Winter

Everyone's Gotta Have a Dream: The Winter of More Winter: As fall turned to winter, the dread of another season hibernating was already setting in. Since I was a boy, I knew my destiny was of sun, s...

The Winter of More Winter

As fall turned to winter, the dread of another season hibernating was already setting in. Since I was a boy, I knew my destiny was of sun, sand, a life lived on or near the ocean. I tried to ignore the onset of winter, by riding my motorbike as much as possible, as late as possible. By early December, the bike was putting up a stern argument, starting only reluctantly.

We planned a trip to St Maarten, leaving December 7, to make up for the summer that wasn't, and research the island as a future destination. You may recall that Leanne has a dutch father, which could give us a pass onto the island. I had flown to the island 25 years ago, and remembered thinking we were landing on the water. I looked forward to this beach side landing again. Unfortunately, our window seat booking, ended up being a bulk head seat in between two windows... I'm sure those on the beach still enjoyed our approach. Fortunately our hotel was right beside the airport beach, so we had ample time to take in the many landings from the beach. The most exciting landings are when the 747's come in. I t'd up perfectly, an Air France approach, until my camera battery died, just before the snap of the perfect pick! Not to be deterred, I set up a perfect pick of the KLM the next day, until a woman jumped into my frame as I snapped. These planes don't lend much time for a do over!

While in St Maarten, we looked at some real estate, did some tours, and got a flavour of day to day life. Simpson bay is a beautiful location to anchor, in spite of the fact it was still sparsely populated in December. We were told most of the cruisers would arrive soon. Unfortunately, any real estate with a peek of the ocean, in St Maarten, was beyond our reach. We filed this island under the 'maybe one day'.

Upon our return to Canada, we were greeted by the first snow storm of winter. As you may recall, we were greeted by many more, as the winter wore on, and on, and on, and... I digress! Over the winter, we spent our time hibernating, and discussing every possibility, to ensure our escape from dreary hell, before the snow flies on the winter of 2014-15. It seems that I have made Leanne's head spin, as a result of my constant ideas, new ideas, and revisions on the new ideas. I'd like to think I'm just being detailed. She would like to think I would just figure it out, and get it done!

In February, we went to a seminar hosted by Florida Home Finders. We listened to a speaker tell us about what happened to the Florida Real Estate market. He also shared with us, some insight into buying property in Florida. As we investigated further, we came to realise the Florida market is still priced at approximately a 50% discount over 2006 prices. We picked up a book written by David Altro, and came to better understand the rules of owning Florida property, as well as do's and don'ts of everything from property ownership, to operating a business there as well. Perhaps we may have found our new home!?

However, I am the guy, allegedly, who makes Leanne's head spin with my many ideas? Not willing to rest on one idea, we also visited Dominican Republic in April. Through our many travels, we have seen a few excursions that do not exist in the DR. We felt it important to visit there, and investigate those possibilities. We chose to visit the Sosua area. I last visited Sosua 25 years ago, while in college. It had changed a bit! While there, we viewed some real estate, did some excursions, enjoyed the sun, and had a few mojitos. We fell in love with one penthouse condo, and thought about putting in an offer. Unfortunately, we still have two houses to sell in Canada. Rumour has it, financing in the DR is tricky at best. We also found a beautiful property in Cabarete, but still, we have two houses to sell in Canada. We settled for more mojitos on the beautiful Cabarete beach.

Thursday was excursion day, we ventured out to Paradise Island, for incredible snorkeling. Paradise Island is located close to Haiti, close to the fishing village, Punta Rusa. The village was once a thriving resort area, but the government shut it down in the late 90's, due to environmental concerns. The area is now coming back as a resort area, but the charm is not lost. As for Paradise Island, it is literally a sand bar, about 25 minutes from shore. It is in the middle of a large reef, and other than sand, there are only 6 tiki huts, and great snorkeling. The excursion features a 2 hour bus ride, 25 minute ride, in 'Dominican speed boats', and 2 hours to snorkel, drink, snorkel some more, drink some more. On the return to shore, they take you on a tour through a river lined by Mangroves. We witnessed the marine life, and raw beauty the island offers.

Leanne was not keen on the two hour bus ride, but I insisted we experience this excursion, as a means of evaluating the possibility of developing a similar excursion. She left with no regrets, after seeing just how special Paradise Island was.

Nearing the conclusion of our Dominican trip, we had many discussions about how suitable this country was as a future home, and location to start a business. Dominican has some beautiful country side, and even more beautiful beaches. It is still very much an affordable island, and it is clear the Dominicans are making an attempt to keep the island cleaner than has been in the past. While Dominicans are truly some of the friendliest people in the world, it is very common to experience Dominicans who will go to great lengths to con money from unwitting tourists. They often forget their English language skills, as soon as they are questioned or challenged. Perhaps con is a harsh word, since their ploys usually are innocent attempts to guilt a few bucks, or collect money for something that is free. But it can wear on you over time.

Corruption in the DR, is not the worst in the Caribbean, but it does exist. We left the DR feeling that perhaps there are better places to venture first, as we begin our adventure.

So here we are, 4 months away from our planned departure, with a framework of our plan, a boat we hope will cooperate, and a teenage son who THINKS he is coming with... maybe. Stay tuned, as we head into crunch time, and hopefully figure all this out!!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Everyone's Gotta Have a Dream: A Peek Back, Glance Ahead

Everyone's Gotta Have a Dream: A Peek Back, Glance Ahead: As our 2013 boating season wound down, we headed out in late September, for a final cruise of the season. First I spent most of the day twea...