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Thursday, September 25, 2008

New York Photos - 2

All being self-explanatory, really.

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New York photos - 1

-The UN building, source of most of our stress
- Underneath the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, that speck is the Statue of Liberty
- The Brooklyn Bridge. Cue theme from 'Taxi' if you're of that vintage
- The tip of Manhattan, Battery Park and the ferry docks

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yes Sir, Mr President.

We had finally made it through Hell Gate, the East River and round the tip of Manhattan. Our anchorage was in sight, beside the Statue of Liberty. It had been a long, stressful trip, but we weren't there yet. A coastguard boat comes racing over and motors alongside. A crew member leans out of the cabin.

"You're not going to believe this, sir, but the President of the United States is on Governor's Island, over there, and they want to take a photograph with the Statue in the background, and they don't want any boats in it. Would you mind motoring up river for half an hour or so before you come back to anchor. Thanks."

So we can now say that the President asked us to move our boat because he didn't want her in the picture. I'm not sure how to feel about that, offended that our beautiful boat isn't smart enough, or happy that we're not caught in a snapshot of Mr Bush and other world leaders. Ah well, it wasn't personal, they stopped all boat traffic past the island for about fifteen minutes.

So in this issue:
- We get up stupidly early and speed towards Manhattan
- The coastguard closes the river because a lot of people are at the UN today.
- We anchor, leave again, loiter, and finally get let through
- We pass the Wall Street Heliport escorted by gun toting patrol boats.
- The president asks us to get the hell out of his photo
- Lots of big helicopters depart and the coastguard boats all go home
- We get to anchor and can now say we have an apartment a quarter mile from the Statue of Liberty.

You might recall that we got up at 05:45 to be ready to run through the East River with the tide. We'd heard that there might be some security closures tomorrow so were pleased to be going today. There was a nice breeze, we hoisted sail and made great time under the huge suspension bridge at Throgs Neck. There were two other yachts nearby, and we all happily sped along. Until the coastguard broadcast a new set of closures. The whole East River was going to be closed for a couple of hours beside the UN Building, and after that only one side was open, a passage down the east of Roosevelt Island, blocked by a lifting bridge that, when closed, would slice twenty feet of our mast. I like our mast, shorter would not be good. And the guide says it needs six hours notice to open the bridge.

The timing of the closure screws up our timing for the tidal currents. We're going to be over two hours early at the East River and they won't let us through. We listen to another yacht get clarification then we call him to chat. Yep, we're all going to have to hang around a bit. Realising we're foreigners, he apologizes for his government, coastguard and president. Not your fault, we assure him. We drop anchor not far from Flushing Meadow. Tennis anyone?

The coastguard broadcasts information every fifteen minutes. The river will be closed till eleven am. We sit and take stock. Gesa is feeling a little stressed. Narrow and busy river channels, with strong tides, are enough to worry the most experienced mariners and trips like this always put Gesa on edge. Having a section called Hell Gate really doesn't help either. Now the navigational stresses are taking a back seat to the Presidential security zone induced stress. We later learn that Bush addressed the UN whilst we were hanging about waiting. Shortly after that so did President Adjamabad of Iran, so one can safely assume that we weren't the most stressed people on the east side of Manhattan this morning.

Another boat calls the coastguard and gets clarification - he's told the river is closed till 10:30. Hmm, that half hour makes a difference for the tide. I call them myself. Your broadcasts say eleven but I heard you telling another boat ten thirty, can you confirm?. Yes sir, the river will be closed till ten thirty. OK, good, so we up anchor and leave to be there for then.

Only, one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. The coastguard on scene, and the NYPD police boats, clearly believe eleven is the time so we now have Ty Dewi, four other yachts and a tug towing two enormous scrap metal barges all being swept by the tide towards a narrow gap that the authorities are defending with machine gun equipped patrol boats. We all turn around without arguing the point, although one of the other yachts has a half-hearted complaint to the coastguard about inconsistency. We loiter, turning small circles, and the tug goes off for a loop round Brother Island. Sure enough, at eleven we're cleared to go through.

Through the channel with the mast shortening bridge. Thankfully, we'd managed to contact them and yes, they were opening it on request today. We ended up shadowing the barge and it opened for him so we nipped through on his coat-tails. In the end, we followed him all the way because we were only slightly faster and to overtake would have left us in the lead, not my favourite place to be in a busy and unfamiliar harbour. As it was, that was a wise choice for whenever anything moved to avoid the barge, they missed us too.

By midday we are chugging very slowly, the barge and us stuffing into a strong counter current and we could probably have walked along Manhattan faster, even dragging the kids with us. But what views. This is what I have waited seven years for. By now, the coastguard are announcing a further closure at the Wall Street Heliport (perhaps the president has something to say there too, can't think why) and then Governors Island, just off the tip of Manhattan. We try to make contact but to no avail and, although it stresses us (especially Gesa) a bit more, we decide to just plug on and wait for them to stop us if they don't like it.

Just as we approach the heliport, the barge veers off down a different channel so we're on our own. I try calling the Coastguard commander again but no luck so on we go. A fast patrolboat comes alongside but he doesn't call us or step out to talk to us. He's clearly on his radio to someone and I wave my handheld radio at him to say 'talk if you want' but he just sits twenty yards away, moving slowly parallel to us. With his guns pointed mercifully skywards, we decide we're just being 'escorted' and right as we pass the heliport, a big NYPD chopper lands. Gesa decides it's not a good time to be taking photos.

A few hundred yards further on and our escort peels away so obviously getting the kids to show their faces suggests we're not about to drive Ty Dewi into any sensitive structures. We're now right at the tip of Manhattan, rounding Battery Park and the full glory of the skyline is opening up. The security zones and patrol boats are behind or to the south of us and we breathe a sigh of relief. We admire the impressive docks at the tip of the Battery as we pass a hundred yards away. What are those docks for then?.....ah, the Staten Island ferry. Oh, the Staten Island ferry. That rather large orange ferry that's coming up the river. They will be wanting to come here, won't they, and they won't be too pleased to find us in their path. So we should move south a bit. But south is Governors Island, with the 'ring of steel'. Well, I guess I'd rather be hassled by the coastguard than ploughed under by the ferry so we move south. We are left alone and the ferry goes happily on it's way.

So we're free to do the last half mile to Liberty Island and anchor for a well deserved rest. Only, as described, we then have to stay out of the picture for a bit longer. By the time we finally drop the hook, it has taken us eight hours to do the twenty mile journey. It would have been three on a different day. We're exhausted but still manage to open a bottle of wine, dig the chocolate cake out of the fridge and toast our arrival in the Big Apple. I like that fact the we have a two bed waterfront apartment with great views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. It's cool, even if the city that never sleeps makes for the water that is never flat and our anchorage is going to roll roll roll all night. What the hell, we're here.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Today, Long Island Sound - Tomorrow...

Here we are in Port Washington, at the Eastern end of Long Island. We've had a good couple of days in Greenwich, and before that Port Jefferson. I'll try to write about those at some point but right now we are off for an earlyish night because tomorrow is a big day.

We're getting up at 6am to leave at high tide, 7am, and ride the ebb tide through Throggs Neck, Hells Gate, the East River and around the tip of Manhatten to anchor, hopefully, behind the Statue of Liberty. It's something I've dreamt about for years, having vowed a few years back that the next time I saw New York would be from the deck of my own boat. And here we are, a few hours away.

Camera is charged and ready, so we'll post plenty of photos. Last night we could see the brightly lit suspension bridges at Throggs Neck, the glow of the skyscrapers in the distance, and this morning we could see the murky shadows of the city skyline in the distant haze and, I'm sure, hear the groans of despair from Wall Street. The coastguard tells us that there will be an exclusion zone around the Wall Street Heliport tomorrow and we'll have to ask permission to go past, so someone pretty important must be flying in.

Once in town, we'll spend a week there exploring the Big Apple, the kids seem as excited as we are at the prospect, so it should be a fun time. But first the challenge of twenty miles of tricky navigation, fast tides and busy waters to get there. Goodnight, time for some sleep.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


Far from the Essex county of olde Englande, this Essex is a little village on the banks of the Connecticut River. Weaving our way up a narrow channel in a wide river, under a railway drawbridge and a high road bridge, Max just loved it. We could hardly see through the mist and occasional rain but even with that it was obvious that Essex was a pretty place, nestled in deeply wooded riverbank. We dropped the anchor opposite the village, where there was, for once, loads of open space for our big boat to swing to her hook.

A brief explore ashore revealed that the village was picture postcard perfect, a beautiful main street, little cute stores and lovely landscaped parks. Our timing, however, was less than perfect. There turned out to be a local steam railway and Max was very keen to go but we'd arrived late on Sunday afternoon and it wasn't open again till the next weekend. Shame, but perhaps we should visit the Connecticut River Museum, which looked very interesting. Open all week, except Monday. Darn.

However, as usual, the public library came to the rescue. Libraries here are superb - British ones were good but these are in a class above. Clearly the areas we are traveling in are wealthy and libraries are generously funded by the community, most of them have brick paths where many bricks are inscribed with the names of donors. The children's section invariably has not only books but computers, toys, puzzles and other amusements, and we have rapidly learnt that the best way to get our email done or catch up on the news is to take the kids to the library and log onto the wifi that they all have.

We enjoyed wandering Main Street, dipping into the stores and cafes, and the kids found their amusement in the parks and the little beach at the town dock. Essex, Connecticut, gets a thumbs up from Ty Dewi.
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The kids meet few other children out here, school is back now and the beaches are empty of playmates so when we bumped into a six year old girl on the dock at Block Island, I said Hi to her Mum, busy filling water canisters just as we were. 'This is Isabelle', she says, 'she's six'. Well, a coincidence like that can't be ignored so, despite it being a little late in the day, we invited her back to the boat for a playdate. They had a rowing dinghy and a long away to row, so we towed them - Issie and Max had to be in their dinghy.

A fun time was had by the kids, and they were sad to separate when Heidi and Ray came to pick up their Isabelle. They live aboard in the summer, based in Rhode Island, but are mulling plans to head south sometime. We wish them luck.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gimme Shelter

Here we are at Manhansackahaquashawamock, as the locals used to call it before those pesky Europeans came along and renamed it Shelter Island. That's progress, see, easier place names. The island offers sheltered harbours and during the 1660's it was also a shelter for persecuted Quaker refugees from elsewhere in New England. That's also progress, the pilgrims founded the place in the 1620's to gain their religious freedom and are now free to torment some other group of heretics instead.

This small island nestles in a bay at the east end of Long Island, some sixty miles from New York City. It is separated from the main bulk of Long Island by a mere few hundred yards on three sides, but that separation is enough to preserve the island feel, and the extraordinary property values. We are anchored in Coecles Harbor, a wide expanse of sheltered water on the East Side of the island. It is entered by a very narrow and shallow channel and as we felt our way in with just a couple of feet under the keel, nerves were a jangling despite the channel markers which turned out to be perfectly reliable, but might not have been... At least running aground here, in flat water and on soft mud, would have been an inconvenience not a tragedy but still, I suspect Gesa wouldn't talk to me for a few days after such an event.

Inside the harbor, the banks are lines with oak trees punctuated by large and exclusive homes, and the water is near glassy calm. This little island is surrounded by such perfect anchorages, hence it's name. We have merely walked ashore for a few hours, but we liked it, although the kids were in a foul mood for some reason which rather blunted the stroll along peaceful wooded lanes. We pride ourselves on bringing some contrast and colour to the local community as Max declares his disagreement at the top of his voice next to some five million dollar mansion. Ah well, they probably weren't home anyway, summer's over.

Which is interesting because it's like that round here. As soon as schools go back and the tourists stop coming it all goes almost dead. Stores and restaurants close or go onto winter hours with random long lunch breaks. At Block Island, the store said 'closed for lunch 12-1' as I pushed at the locked door at 3:30. The blackboard at the marina said 'hurricanes, wind, rain, snow, ice, see ya next year!' And yet the weather is pretty nice, the water is as warm as it gets and the year round residents love it. On Martha's Vineyard the paper carries an editorial that speaks for any such community - as the tourists disappear and take with them our source of income, we breath a sigh of relief, get our coffee without a line of ten people, swim on empty beaches and enjoy our town, then heartily hope they all come back next year so we can afford to live here.

Speaking of which, I have to tell you of an experience related to us by someone we met - in fact the editor of the Vineyard Times. She was in a coffee shop, in a line of people when the women behind asks, with a distinct and stressed New York accent, 'Do you mind if I go ahead of you, I'm on my vacation.'

Another thing that September brings is a little variation in the weather. Although this means some rain and grey days it also means wind. And to a sailor, that's all that matters. We've had the benefit of a cold front moving through bringing a very dramatic bank of cloud, some rain then a wind shift into the north, perfect for our trip from Cuttyhunk to Block Island.

The next trip, a couple of days later, saw the wind back in the south but not as far as the south-west so we could sail all the way to Shelter Island. Both sails were great, only a small amount of motoring and pretty much flat seas. It's good to use the canvas instead of burning diesel. What's also good is that the bluefish are here in numbers and we have taken two decent sized fish in the last two trips. Bluefish is a good, solid white fish. The taste is unexceptional - compared to mahi-mahi and tuna - but nice enough when fresh from the ocean and it makes a good chowder too. I'm not allowed to fish on tomorrow's trip as we have about four pounds of bluefish steaks in the fridge and that'll last us a few more days. Saves on the groceries at least.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Old sailing photos

Issie's been sailing with us almost since birth - for those who haven't seen these before, a few photos from six years ago, sailing on Grandpa's yacht, then our 29 foot race boat, Rosie III, and some drinking training too.

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As you might recall, one reason for staying in Martha's Vineyard a little longer was to go racing with my friend, Fred, who lives there and has a twenty-six foot boat. Now racing takes many forms, from casual to professional, but it is universally true that where two or more sailboats travel in the same direction, the skippers will be, quietly or aggressively, working to get ahead of each other. It is also true that the smaller the stakes, the more heated the contest.

The Moffat Cup, on Martha's Vineyard, is a long standing end of the season race for the supposedly un-serious end of the spectrum, ho hum. Boats of all shapes and sizes compete, from little twenty foot day boats to magnificent hundred foot wooden schooners. A handicap system is applied to estimate how fast each boat should be, and change their time to sail the course into a 'corrected' time that should show who sailed it better or worse.

Or, of course, who has the more favourable handicap. In this case, handicap numbers were arrived it in a somewhat, nay, totally, obscure manner by the secret assessment of the handicap officer.

But why am I going on about this? Well, you might have guessed but we didn't exactly win. If you turn the results sheet upside down, we did come second. Of course, we sailed a perfect race, it was the bizarre handicap we were given that did it. There's some truth in that, we did sail well, first at the start line, drove the boat well, made no silly errors and generally could have gone a little, but not much, faster. The handicap number implied that we, a 26 foot cruising boat with a stumpy 4 foot keel, should have been 10% faster than the winner, a 34 foot deep keeled cruiser racer. It's clear that the secret handicap formula makes sure that the trophy won't be won by anyone who's been here a mere ten years....

Anyway, it was fun. The weather was pretty crumby - Tropical Storm Hanna was due that evening and pushed a lot of rain and cloud in front of it. No-one would sail for pleasure on
a day like that, so racing was a good thing to do. It was especially fun to sail with Fred, after five years of talking about when we would sail together, we finally did so.

There's a lot of racing around here, so close to New York, Providence and other major cities, so it was no surprise to be heading towards Long Island and see a string of about
two hundred yachts making their was towards us. Fortunately we had space to keep a little out of their way, and to see that our house isn't a complete slouch alongside most of the forty foot racing boats in this particular fleet! We got some good photos and managed to cross their racetrack safely before tackling the narrow and shallow entry into Shelter Island's Coccles Harbor.

I look forward to racing, hopefully with the kids one day, once we are settled in Canada. One thing is for sure, I'm going to race some smallish, fast boat that everyone else is sailing too, so we can race boat for boat without any tedious handicap issues!
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Storm in a teacup

You'll be glad to know that Hurricane Hanna became Tropical Storm Hanna and by the time she got to Massachusetts it was Mildly Windy Hanna.

We came into the inner harbour, behind the breakwater, to be sheltered and on a mooring buoy for the night. That made it much easier to get on and of the boat during the day as the wind was building. The forecast was for thirty five knots with gusts to forty or maybe fifty. We remember what fifty knots felt like a few weeks ago, so we prepared the boat carefully.

We took lots of loose things down from on deck, doubled up our mooring lines, tied back any flapping ropes on the mast and checked the dinghy lines five times. Then we put the kids to bed and listened as the wind built.

By ten pm, it was blowing a steady twenty five knots, enough to make the rigging sing and speak of gusts to come.

But they didn't come - we say a steady thirty knots in the middle of the night for a little while, then it eased away and we have a beautiful clear morning with a gentle westerly breeze.

So we will drop our mooring and return to the anchorage in a few minutes, then we can do some shopping and enjoy a last day on the island before heading of tomorrow to start our progress down Long Island Sound towards New York.

Alls well. N.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More from Martha's Vineyard

Photos, being:
- Whaling memorial, Edgartown
- The Edgartown lighthouse
- The famous Aquinnah Cliffs, where the native Wampanoag legend tells of a great chief killing whales by dashing them on the cliffs, their blood causing the red coloration of the rocks.
- Max at Aquinnah Cliffs

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Hanging out on the Vineyard

We've never stayed in one harbour this long! Here we are, a week in Martha's Vineyard and enjoying the delights of this little island, made doubly enjoyable by the fact that we have friends who live here, and the tourist season is all but over as kids return to school and September begins.

We always had Martha's Vineyard on our list of places to visit, and the fact that my friend Fred lives here year round made it a must stop place. (in New England there's a big difference between summer residents and year rounders) We fetched up in Vineyard Haven last Friday and planned to stay till Wednesday. That was until Fred invited me to sail with him in one of the major races of the year this Saturday. We decided to stay a few extra days, which gave us more time to explore the island and take advantage of the great bus network, especially as this is the start of the quiet season so everyone is more relaxed and things are less packed.

Unfortunately, this has left us here just as Hurricane, or maybe Tropical Storm, Hanna makes its way up the US East Coast. Not to worry, we'd have to deal with it somewhere and here is pretty much as good as anywhere, so we are arranging to get Ty Dewi on a mooring in the sheltered Inner Harbour for tomorrow night, when the worst of the winds are forecast. The race we have stayed for should still go ahead, although we might get some pretty heavy rain during it but the strongest breeze will be later.

Right now it's lovely and calm outside, though somewhat less than calm inside as the kids are winding each other up when they should be going to sleep - we are trying to ignore the sounds of torment and torture coming from the forward cabin. They are on their own at this point (10:50pm !!)

We'll let you know how things go with the racing and strong winds, watch this space. Meanwhile, a few photos:

- Issie on the 'Flying Horses' carousel, the longest continuously running carousel in the USA
- Jumping waves on Oak Bluffs beach
- Gesa and Issie in Oak Bluffs
- Gingerbread 'cottages' in Oak Bluffs

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blogging by ferry

This is our current wifi access - the Martha's Vineyard ferry! We are anchored in the outer harbor at Vineyard Haven so the ferries go tramping past every hour or so.

It turns out that the ships have free on board wifi access for passengers, and when they go past we can pick it up with our new long range antenna! It works really well as they pass, then is just about OK when they are docked, and disappears once they leave.

So when we hear the faint rumble of propellers through the water we can fire up the PC just in time to grab our email as the ship goes by. The odd life we lead.

All's well here on the Vineyard, we're enjoying it and will write some more soon. The ferry is about to depart so I'd better get on and post this......

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation had been highly recommended to us, and we had high hopes especially as Plymouth itself was turning out to be so-so in our experience. Our high hopes were met, in fact exceeded by this superb museum / recreation of both the original colony and a typical native village of the time. From the introductory video to the workshop where craftsmen make the artefacts for the museum, we were fascinated and engaged for over five hours. How the guide books can possibly suggest you only need two and a half hours for this place is beyond me.

There are two main parts to the Plantation. At the Wampanoag Homesite, local native people from the Wampanoag nation, who were here well and truly first, step out of their twenty first century lives and into sixteenth century costume to share how life might have been back then. They do not role play, they remain as individuals of our time and can talk about their skills and customs as well as how their people have been transformed by the arrival of the Europeans. Long before the Mayflower deposited it's human cargo on their shore, they had been trading with European ships and succumbed to a range of diseases imported with the sailors. Many villages, including Pautaxet (now Plymouth) were empty by the time the Mayflower arrived, meaning that there was cleared land for the taking and insufficient native strength to defend it. How nice for us. Undoubtedly there is a depth and complexity to the story that will elude us however much we read and explore, but seeing how a whole group of people now only survive in the common memory because of a museum like Plimouth Plantation is humbling, worrying and speaks to the fragility of any culture and way of life. So many other tribes or nations around the globe are known now only to the few remaining descendants and a couple of anthropologists, with no museum to remember them because they weren't lucky enough to have been overwhelmed by the founders of the nation.

We walked around a selection of typical Wampanoag buildings, simple but elegant wood frames with bark or rush covering. Inside, the kids were curious - we talked about who lived in them, why there's a hole in the roof (to let the firesmoke out), what happens when it rains (the chimneys have a cover), what did children do (we saw the toy boats, dolls and paddles) and many other things. At this time, lots of the people were working to split and dry reed that will be made into the mats that cover some of the houses. It looked relaxing at first, although I expect by the seven thousandth reed it's getting a bit tedious.

As usual, such a life looks appealing in its simplicity and closeness to the natural world, an then you have to think of the long snowy winters, the cold rainy days when the damp seeps through every space, and the hungry times when the fish won't bite and the corn's gone mouldy. Or just the kids saying 'not corn again, mummy' at every meal.

Further on from the native village was the Plantation itself. Here, many wooden buildings have been built to recreate what the first settlement might have been seven years after they arrived. The seven years is important, it allows the colony time to get established, to recover from the terrors of the first winter when half of the settlers perished from sickness. By this time, the colony had begun to thrive and was just establishing regular and almost profitable links with England. It is probably just a coincidence, but seven years was the time they were indentured to work for the business men who had funded their voyage, so you can imagine that, once free of that, it would be good to become profitable.

Here, the staff are acting their 1627 roles, beliefs and attitudes. It's very interesting to talk and hear tell of homes in England and the voyage over on the ship. How hard it has been in the recent years and yet how pleased they are to be there. It was fun to be a 'fellow englishman' and talk of things 'at home' - 'is ye king james still on the throne?'.
Sadly, much of this was to advanced for our young kids and they got less out of it than we did, but one great moment was when a young lad of the colony got chatting to them and taught them a game - 'cob castle' made up of the simple idea of building a little pile of stones (the castle), balancing one on top (the cob) and then trying to knock it off by throwing other stones at the pile. Lots of fun but an unfortunate ending - a pair of slightly older girls, maybe seven or eight, arrived and, without assessing the situation, barged in, picking up stones and asking what we were doing. Sadly, they'd picked up the very stones that formed the target of the game, so it was a bit difficult to include them. Thankfully, Issie and Max reacted calmly, although it might be because they were so shocked and bemused that they didn't think to get angry. Ah well, we don't have little angels either but we hope they'd be a little more considerate.

In one house, we had a great conversation with a lady 'from Holland'. Her character had met and married and Englishman and come over on the Mayflower. Issie tells her that we live on a boat. 'Aye, so you're still living on your ship, we did that when we first got here too.' We discuss how we sailed the southern route to the Caribbean (but didn't ye worry about pirates?) and she asks where we will settle. Canada - you must be meaning Quebec (in 1627, Canada was merely the name of a river) but it's full of French. What, the western side? Yes, I here tell of another ocean but surely tis too wild. How would you ever get supplies from England? I cannot conceive of living in such a distant place.

Yet, less than four hundred years later, we are able to make voyages that would have astounded these pioneers, with technology beyond their wildest dreams, and settle in places that were merely patches of the map with 'here be dragons' scrawled on them. Once there, we can communicate with the distant shores of Old England at the speed of light, and we can travel there in less than a day on an aeroplane. Our supplies can be there overnight courtesy of FedEx and at a fraction of the price these people paid to receive goods from home. The world has changed so much but still we feel some of the thrill, excitement and apprehension of all who have left one home to start a new life on the other side of the world.

So Plimoth Plantation scored very highly in our books, and really gave us a lot of things to think and talk about with the children as we go through some of the immigrant experiences and explore the land those people began to develop so many and yet so few years ago. We, in turn, highly recommend a visit.
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