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Monday, April 27, 2009

Clickety Clack

We're here. Gesa is 'home', I am in my new adopted country, and the kids are drinking it all in. We crossed the border by train at Niagra Falls and there, as we waited for the customs inspection, a beaver popped out of the undergrowth and looks at us all. Then the famous falls made a brief appearance and an hour later we were under the towering needle landmark of Toronto's CN Tower.

A fun stay with friends in Toronto was our proper warm welcome back to Canada, and now we are on 'The Canadian' (click for details), the luxury train across the country. We're only going as far as Edmonton, but it's been great so far. I write from the first class lounge area at Winnipeg Station, where we stop for a few hour for crew change and to stretch our legs. We are very well looked after, breakfast lunch and dinner are surprisingly close together when the time passes so comfortably, and we are feeling very well fed.

I'd planned to read my book, but spend most of the non-kid minding time just looking out of the window, it's amazing how mesmerising a thousand miles of snowy forest and lakes can be. The first morning I opened the window blink as we rattled along the track, and saw a couple of beavers swimming across a lake, Canada geese flying past and ducks paddling in the shallows. I'm pretty sure I saw a bear in the forest yesterday. We really are in Canada now.

Time to go and find out if a thousand miles of flat farmland is as mesmerising as the forest. Strangely, I think it might be.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fun in the city

(click for the big picture)

As ever, it was a delight to stay in New York. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that our friends and relatives, Mike and Pam, live there and were, once again, wonderful hosts. We always feel right at home in their fantastic, much lived in and loved apartment in Soho. From there we could jump on the subway and travel to anywhere in town, or we could simply stroll the neighborhood street, take the kids to the playground and find a coffee in any of a thousand cafes.

In contrast to Fort Lauderdale, New York is, paradoxically, on a human scale. Most streets are a mere two lanes, the stores squeeze together, cheek by jowl, presenting a narrow front to the street even if there is a hundred feet of retail behind. As long as you don't look up, it might as well be a busy town of two and three storey buildings. You walk, the private car is an encumbrance, an unwanted evil in New York. Buses and taxis dominate the streets and public transport is the norm. The density of people and the structure of the city allows small stores to survive, and means that we don't face the detested half mile drive between grocery, pharmacy, gas station, office supplies and the other necessary props of modern life that the Fort Lauderdalean would drive between without a second thought.

We arrived at Penn Station, and have since left from there again for Toronto. Pleasant, efficient and effective, it was a very convenient terminus, being just four subway stops from where we were staying. But, just for the fun of it, we also took a trip out to Grand Central Station, which is a totally different experience. It is a magnificent oasis of elegant calm and beauty despite the vast numbers of people travelling through. These huge areas of marble and beautifully designed concourses were a pleasure to see yet, amazingly, the whole place was almost flattened in the name of progress some decades ago. Saved, in part, by the campaigning efforts of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, this station is a must see if you are in New York. Ask for directions to the Oyster Bar, which will lead you downstairs where, just outside the restaurant, the ceiling is beautifully vaulted brick. If two of you stand in opposite corners, turn and talk quietly to the wall, it is a whispering gallery, and your voices will arch above the bustle and hubbub below and return to each other in clear hushed tones. If you are lucky enough to be four people, stand one in each corner and the two different conversations bounce across each diagonal without interference.

Although we were in the city for almost a week, it has flown by and we spent much of the time relaxing and gently stepping out to see a sight or two. Max and I went up to New Jersey, where Mike and Pam spend most weekends at their home in Mountain Lake, and we enjoyed a weekend of board games, garden pottering and general doing not much. Gesa and Issie stayed behind to try and get over their colds, with some but not complete success. We also had a fun trip to the Natural History Museum, where we met up with friends from our Caribbean cruising and enjoyed swapping stories and catching up whilst the kids explored the splendid exhibits.

Now we are moving on again, a twelve hour train ride through the length of New York state and into Ontario via Niagra Falls. We'll arrive in Toronto this evening and stay with friends for a couple of days before catching 'The Canadian', our luxury train ride to Edmonton. The train really is a superb way to travel if you can remove the pressures of time and treat the journey as part of the adventure, rather than a trial to be endured before the vacation can begin, as air travel so often is. Unfortunately, we'll have to endure a little of that ourselves as our aim of getting to Vancouver Island without taking a plane has foundered on practical reality. We will eventually fly from Calgary to Comox, a ninety minute trip that would otherwise require a fearsomely expensive one way car hire, two days of driving and a ferry trip, or the even more frightful idea of fifteen or more hours on a Greyhound Bus. The plane won, sadly.
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Back in the Big Apple

So here we are, a little tired but pleased to finally be back in New York and staying with our relatives in Soho.

The train ride was an experience, Max and I really enjoyed it because we both got some sleep overnight. Gesa and Issie, however, suffered from Issie having a dreadful cold and tossing and turning all night, keeping Gesa awake with her. So they are less rested!

It was, though, very nice to watch the world glide by the train window and gradually change from the sunny palm trees and orange groves of South Florida through rural Carolinas, past the famous sights in Washington D.C. and finally into New York itself. The train has about three times as much space as an airline seat so we could stretch out even though we were, this time, sleeping in those same seats.

When we travel across Canada in a couple of weeks time, we'll have proper beds and some real luxury, we hope.

More later, time for some rest now.

Doing stuff in Fort Lauderdale


We did find some things to do whilst stuck in Fort Lauderdale, Gesa describes it best...

On our first day we had to make a visit to the port to do customs. Considering it was sweltering hot and we just spent three hours hanging out at Customs and Immigration and waiting for taxis, the kids were pretty happy! Later, after the weather front came through, we went from sweating to death to covering up.

I was fixed on getting a Starbucks Coffee and tracked one down in the posh Marriot Hotel along the beach. The kids indulged in giant cookies, and Issie shared my coffee. Yes, she drinks coffee!! Nick and I separated so he could carry on and find the local grocery store, while the kids and I explored the hotel some more before spending the rest of the afternoon at the beach. Although we stocked up on food, by the time we were done on the beach and Nick had returned with the shopping, we decided to go out to eat. So we did at the Oasis Cafe where all the table have swinging seats. Good fun, keeps the kids entertained, even if it made me slightly sea sick!! But the cost of the meal definitely has encouraged us to eat aboard the rest of the time.

The next morning, after I wondered off for a coffee on my own, I promised the kids I would take them to the beach when I came back. Well, Issie was acting up, and since Nick was staying aboard anyway, only Max and I went for an hour. Another weather system has come through, and although still warm, the strong southerly winds down by the beach can be chilly. It does not seem to matter to the hoards of Spring/Easter Break students down here en mass. I however, covered up with a towel! And finally, the famous Hall of Fame pools. We can now apparently use them now that the national swim meet is over, but it appears to be only lap swimming. Good for me but not for the kids. Right now we are all full of cold so not a good time for swimming.

On Saturday, we spent the day at the Discovery and Science Museum. Unfortunately, both Nick and I were very tired and under the weather (Issie and Nick being the worst off with colds), so I in particular found it hard (especially without my morning coffee) to get enthused about all the activities I am all to familiar with now. It was a good museum, but not one of the most outstanding. What was the most annoying is indoor temperature control in the USA. It is extreme air conditioning. At one point I found myself an exit to the balcony so I could at least warm up for a bit outside before re-entering the fridge zone! The kids were oblivious of course. They also have an IMAX theatre, and we had already said we would take them to see Monsters vs. Aliens. Just a bonus we could see it in 3D as well. Shame we had to squeeze it all into one day. The cinema is in the same building as the museum, but air control separate. It was even COLDER in the theatre!!!!! The movie was OK, some of the special 3D effects in space were pretty cool, but the story itself nothing extraordinary. Ah well, it passed another day in sunny, albeit windy, Florida.

By the evening, the temperature was still quite warm but muggy too. Seems like we go from one extreme to the other. We are literally within 300 yards of the beach front, where the air is a lot cooler. We are so well protected in the marina that little wind comes in to cool us, so we just sit, bake and swelter. We are not used to just sitting still, let alone in a marina. So I will whisk the kids off to the beach for a few hours while Nick does boat stuff, runs the engine (for power) and writes some blog. Then we will swap in the afternoon and I will just have some me time.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

So when did you last put your house on a ship?

Because today, we drove our home onto a half sunken ship and left her there! The ship, Super Servant 3, is designed to be partly submerged so that yachts can be floated aboard, then divers place supports under the boats and the ship is raised up again, leaving the cargo high and dry.

All went smoothly, the loading was very well organised and professional, and we are now homeless. Ty Dewi is the tiny little boat in the middle of the third photo.

We've come to a nearby hotel for the night then it's onto a train for New York City in the morning. The adventure continues.

The kids (and us to some extent) are like those stories of natives brought back to Victorian England by explorers. We marvel at the wonders of the hotel room. More square fototage than our whole boat, two big soft double beds, a large TV, a ceiling so high that you don't hit your head on it and a strange rectangular white tub thing with two water outlets, we think you are meant to fill it with water and sit in it.

There is a coffee maker and Issie sat in wonder as the coffee dripped through into the jug. Ah, you see, this is why we go sailing, to make the small pleasures of life stand out in sharp relief when we can have them.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Easter Bunny found us

Despite emailing the Easter Bunny to tell him we'd be in New York, he still worked out that we were stuck in Fort Lauderdale and scattered a few eggs around the boat. Clever bunny. The kids had fun hunting them down and gathering the spoils.

The small plastic eggs that contained the goodies are much more popular than their contents, and the darn things are all over the boat being used to hold all manner of stuff at this point.

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Fingers crossed

Well, as far as we know, we are due to leave the dock at 9am tomorrow morning and be loaded onto a ship about 10am. We've been at this point before, of course, but for various reasons we are fairly confident this will go ahead as planned.

We are packed, once again. Since we didn't really unpack since last time, we've hopefully avoided the need to stay up till gone midnight getting ready. It's hot humid and thunderstormy here, there was thunder and lightning for the first time in months, just as we headed for the nearby outdoor pool for a dip. Pool closed until half an hour after the last roll of thunder, but we did go back and splash for twenty minutes before the next cloud bought more lightning and thunder but little rain.

OK, we'll update things tomorrow, hopefully from a hotel!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Conspicuous Consumption

"A port rots ships, and the men in them" is a quote attributed to Lord Nelson, and he didn't even visit Fort Lauderdale to know that. Perhaps our view of this city is jaundiced by being forced to sit here in the marina waiting for a ship, but I'm afraid that this place encapsulates all that we dislike about the modern American way.

Sometimes described as the Venice of South Florida, Fort Lauderdale was carved out of the swamp by digging drainage canals and using the soil to make usable land either side. This has led to a city criss-crossed by waterways, all on a neat grid system of course. Each one is lined with waterfront homes and each home has a boat. Almost all of these are power boats, and few are under forty feet long. Multimillion dollar yachts languish alongside multimillion dollar homes. There are even covered storage 'garages' for large boats and three boat high racks for smaller powerboats to be stored until the forklift gets them down for their owner. These boats appear to rarely move, and a good proportion are for sale.

Now it would be easy to vent a stream of jealous rhetoric about wealth at this point, but really anyone can do what they want with their money, can't they. But each boat, and house, here represents an enormous consumption of the world's resources and maybe it's better that these boats are rarely used, at least they don't burn a hundred gallons of diesel an hour sitting at the dock. Yet having travelled some of the poorer parts of the Caribbean, the contrast is stark and demoralising. The concern is where all this money has come from. We are now all too aware of how inflated asset prices have led to the economic mess we all face in greater or lesser ways, and I can't escape feeling that much of the wealth here has been skimmed from the top of every over-priced house, stock and business transaction. As this area has also seen a lot of actual and alleged Ponzi schemes (of the Madoff, Stanford etc type) and there is also a long history of drug smuggling in these areas, it's reasonable to assume there are some ill gotten gains around here whichever way you look.

If you are foolish enough to walk around the city, it soon becomes clear that this is a city for the car owner. Nothing is on a human scale, not the highways - all four, six, eight lane. Not the city streets, hundreds if not thousands of yards between each place you might want to go. Not the buildings, there is no discernible downtown or main street, the few streets of sensible sized stores are isolated from each other and have been boutiqued. Groceries, get in the car. Pharmacy, half a mile further on. Ice cream, next mini-mall. You don't do Fort Lauderdale on foot. The closest to a downtown is where city hall is, we guess, but it's a soulless area of four lane roads surrounding twenty story buildings. Most of them are newish, with glittering marble, chrome and fountains. They are, of course, the banks. I think we've already considered where the money for that came from. Pity anyone with a stock portfolio, retirement plan or average house in the suburbs.

There is, thankfully, a working bus network every twenty minutes or so, and inexpensive. Most people we talk to are surprised to hear it exists. We can use it to get to the stores, but walking from store to store is lengthy, hot and the crosswalks are not timed to help you crosswalk, all that traffic has to keep flowing. Once inside the buildings, the temperature contrast is extreme. From only slightly uncomfortable eighty-five degrees outside, it is a slightly uncomfortable sixty-five inside. Air conditioning only has one setting here - icy. The weather suggests as lightweight clothing as possible, but if you are heading for a store, take a sweater. We went to the cinema with the kids and froze for two hours, it was the coldest we have been for a long time. The energy required to cool a building to that level is ridiculous, I cannot understand why it would be done, but it's everywhere.

The inhuman scale of the city, and the need to move around it in isolation and self-contained 'comfort' means that we haven't really met anyone here. Over the past eighteen months, if we have been anywhere for more than a few days we are suddenly having drinks with the neighbours, recognised in town, playing on the beach with new friends. Perhaps here the beach is the only way that will happen, and it will probably be other visitors but even they keep their distance.

Experience, as ever, shapes a knowledge of what we do and don't want from our lives. If Fort Lauderdale has a virtue, it is that it has made us ever more resolved to live a life of low consumption, walkable and reasonable, in a world where relationships matter more than belongings and we matter more than the dollars in our pockets. Get me out of here.
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Wonderful meeting

One of the (few) benefits of being here in Fort Lauderdale is that a gentleman called Dave J lives a few miles away. Now, for those of you who have been reading around our website, you may remember that Dave is a past owner of the boat, cherishing her for over fourteen years and covering many miles and adventures in that time. We've been in contact since shortly after I bought the boat, and it was great to finally meet up.

We were in the middle of frantic packing but were able to take a little time for Max to give Dave a tour of his old home, much has changed but much stays the same, and Dave told us a few of the related stories about this and that as we walked around. I could have spent hours chatting away and perhaps we will another day.

He also brought down a couple of 'Ty Dewi' t-shirts from long ago, and details of her first owner, who we are not in contact with. Apparently he used her extensively too, living aboard half the year and cruising to the Bahamas each winter, so this boat has been a travelling home since her birth. Apparently he only sold her to Dave because he was having a fifty foot long hull built to a very similar design. So are you out there, Dennis Hawkesworth, once of Cape May, Maine? We'd love to hear from you too, then we would know each and every owner of the boat.
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Update from Fort Lauderdale

So we are still here, sweating in the heat and humidity and trying to make the most of a stay in Fort Lauderdale. Not easy, I tell you, but that's the subject of another post.

The shipping agent now says we are on a ship next Wednesday, 15th April. The assure me this will sail, and that they will cover our additional expenses. As I said before, Deeds not Words so we wait to see what happens.

Tickets became available on the train for Thursday, and since we know they are refundable we've booked those. Hotels seem pretty quiet now that Spring Break is over so we'll just find one on the day. Looking forward to getting out of here, I must say.

We'll try to keep you all informed.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Crazy day. Still in Fort Lauderdale

So if you read my last post, you'll know that the shipping agent sparked three mad days of action on Ty Dewi by asking us to load onto a ship today instead of in two weeks time. Yesterday afternoon they sent us an email confirming loading would begin around 9am.

We stripped the boat of all sails, canvas, lines etc. Hoisted the dinghy and outboard, cleaned the fridge, threw out the last of the fresh food we couldn't eat.

Booked train tickets and hotel, stayed up till 1am packing. Set the alarm for early in the morning. Got up, fed the kids and us, did some last minute things and called the shipping agent.

When do you want us?

Er, we're very sorry, but we won't be loading today. The ship's Captain has decided he will not take yachts as deck cargo and is not stopping at this port. We will put you on a ship on April 15th, that's all we can do.

Stunned silence. I am almost at a loss for words. As the day goes on they offer to cover our marina and cancellation expenses and to come to the boat to meet and discuss the issues. OK, problems happen, it's how the company deals with it that's going to matter.

As of this evening, they're not doing too well, as I've not heard anything further, but we await developments tomorrow.

Thankfully our biggest expense, $800 of train tickets, was refunded in full by Amtrak, but our hotel room fee is gone. The marina has been great, moved us round to a more suitable berth and even matched the price of a cheaper nearby marina. The shipping agent should be paying that but right now I have nothing for certain so we shall see.

The new loading date, April 15th, is at the end of the Easter vacation and the trains are booked solid for five days after. Planes are available but prices are very high, so we'll need to think carefully about our travel after that, but right now I need to gain confidence in that shipping date before anything else.

Tiredness from the preparations has caught up with us and we both have colds now, the kids are OK but picking up on all the stress and adding to it as only kids can. We're working out how to make the best of a surprise extra week in Fort Lauderdale but need a good night's sleep before we can really get on with that.

Ah, the things this life throws at us. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ty Dewi the toy boat

It's all a bit crazy here because the shipping company emailed us just after my previous posting to ask if we could load on the ship on the 8th instead of the 18th. That gave us three days notice, so here we are, packing and preparing like mad.

We decided to book into a marina (this is becoming a bit of a habit) and they said sure, but we don't have any space on the South dock so we'll put you in an 80 foot slip at our north dock for the same price. Er, OK, thanks, I say, not knowing what the difference is.

Well, the difference is that this is a dock for BIG boats. We look a little out of place here but hold our heads up high none the less. I'm pleased to say we do have the biggest boat on this dock if you go by height.....

And when the guy next to us fills his diesel tanks, he spends more than we have in eighteen months of cruising.
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Fish finger report

Gesa: These are the best fish fingers I've ever tasted
Issie: (eats all of them then says) I didn't like the fish fingers


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Canada Bound

I suddenly realised that we keep telling our new cruising friends about our plans for the next couple of months, but haven't really shared them on the blog so here's an update.

Well, right now we are almost leaving the Bahamas and the next six weeks will see great changes in the Ty Dewi adventure. We are currently crossing the Great Bahama Bank on our way to a small island near Bimini. From there we will cross the gulf stream, a forty mile trip to Miami and back to the mainland USA.

We have a date with a cargo ship that will hoist Ty Dewi onto her decks sometime between the 15th and 20th of April, then set off south through the Panama Canal and north again to Vancouver Island. To be ready for that we need to get the boat to Fort Lauderdale, take off all the sails and canvas, stow everything below and pack our own bags for about four weeks away from our floating home. Then we see the boat loaded and set off for Vancouver.

We could fly, but that's a bit too easy. It's also cramped and sudden - we have been slowly emigrating from the UK for sixteen months and the transition from warm Bahamas to cool north west Pacific should not be done in eight hours in a climate controlled metal tube. So we're going to take the train - a slower climate controlled metal tube. From Florida to New York City is an overnight twenty six hour trip with Amtrak, which will be an adventure in itself with a warm welcome awaiting us from our relatives in the city. It will be nice to arrive and take a short subway ride rather than the nasty trip in from the big airports.

After a few days in New York we'll go onto Buffalo, where the Canadians have an office that will put a resident visa into my passport and make me legal for living in Canada, the last step of a long but straightforward process. From there, another train to Toronto and more time with friends we haven't seen in far too long.

The best train trip is from there to Edmonton; we plan to get a cabin on the TransCanada and spend almost three days winding through the Canadian countryside. In Edmonton, more visits with friends and, hopefully, go to a car auction and pick up a used car for our new life in Canada. Then it's a drive to Calgary and stay with good friends we met in St Maarten, and onwards through the Rockies to Vancouver and the island. That should take about three weeks and give us a little time to explore before Ty Dewi arrives in mid May.

Then we will go floating again, and sail around the Vancouver Island coast with an eye to which communities and areas we really like before we come ashore in mid July and get ready for the kids to go into school and us to find a way of making a living over there. That's a whole other story which will unfold as time goes on.

So there we are, exciting times and the next stage of our lives beckons. For now, we still have a day of motoring ahead of us to get to near Bimini, and we will probably anchor on the Bahama Bank, out of sight of land in fifteen feet of water, which will be a little surreal. Look at the 'latest position' link and the satellite image will show the shallow bank we are crossing. Before then, I'm going to try my hand at making fish fingers with the fish we caught a couple of days ago. Mahi-mahi fish fingers, eat yer heart out, Cap'n Birdseye.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Many photos from the Exumas

So here is a set of collages showing some of the places we've been over the past few weeks. As usual, click the picture for a bigger image.

First, Hawksbill Cay in the National Park. As well as the usual amazing water colours and clarity, there were ruins to explore, a plantation from the times of the American Revolution, when loyalists left the American mainland to try their luck in the Bahamas. It must have been a tough life.

These pictures are from a few miles further north, on Shroud Cay where we explored the mangrove creeks and drew water from the well. The motor boat in the picture is one that was anchored there for a few days and we got to know the owner and his kids, they invited us for a lovely evening aboard where the kids watched satellite TV, we enjoyed some very nice conversation and wine, and everyone was treated to Haagen Daas and fresh blueberries. Back in Cambridge, a couple of years ago, that would have been a fairly normal nice evening out, now such treats are exceptional and exceptionally good!

Another few miles north, and out of the National Park, Norman's Cay still bears the decaying marks of its recent life of crime. The villas and buildings connected to the days of drug baron Carlos Lehder are quietly falling down and only a small resort and bar (MacDuffs) now keep an occasional plane dropping into the small airstrip with a slightly more legal cargo of curious tourists. The carcass of a drug running plane lies in the shallow water where it missed the runway one night.

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