Monday, September 1, 2014

St Augustine - such a marvellous place

St Augustine is a beautiful town and is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the US.  It has some great history from the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés occupation in the 1500s when St Augustine became the capital of Spanish Florida.  In the 1700 the Treaty of Paris Spain gave Britain St Augustine in exchange for Havana – not sure if Britain got the best deal.  There is a great Fort which has been occupied by the different nationalities that have held St Augustine, we visited Castillo de San Marcos which was interesting by also it was well over 30 degrees we didn’t stay too long.





The town more recently was also heavily influenced by Henry Flagler who was a wealthy American business man in the 1800s, his vision was to turn St Augustine into a wealthy winter resort.  He built some very impressive hotels which opened in the 1800, the Ponce De Leon hotel was beautiful then and is still just as marvellous with lots of original features including Tiffany stained glass windows and Tiffany design dining room chairs, the hotel actually had electric before the Whitehouse.  The building is now a College, I can hardly believe that students are allowed to occupy this beautiful building but good news for us is that the students also do very cheap and extremely interesting tours of the building as otherwise you can only gain access to the exterior and the entrance hall but with the tour you get to see the dinning room and the ladies lounge.

Ponce De Leon
Ponce De Leon gardens
Ponce De Leon dining room -chair and stainglass windows by Tiffany
Tiffany stain glass windows
Loving the windows and decorative ceilings

More windows
Chandelier in Tiffany room  - note the Tiffany colour ceiling which were changed during restoration
Tiffany room
Amazing Eddison clock, electric before the Whitehouse
Amazing ceiling in the entrance hall
The Alcazar hotel was also developed by Flaglar this is now a gallery with a few touristy shops and café, is was having some restoration whilst we were there but it still look very impressive.

Alcazar hotel
Courtyard of Alcazar hotel - Mark on bridge
Alcazar hotel - this room was a swimming pool in 1800s
Also really interesting St Augustine placed a pivotal role in the Civil rights movement in the 1960s with various peaceful protests during this time and Martin Luther King even spent time here.

You can understand why this place gets so busy in the autumn with the cruising community moving south with its history, cobbled streets, lovely little shops including some great chocolate shops.  Glad we had a chance to stop here, we even almost relaxed but with hurricane Bertha forming out in the Atlantic there was still pressure looming over us BUT we almost had made a decision on what we would do next.

Schoolhouse many years ago
City gates
Casa Monica - another Flagler hotel
Look at lovely little turtle in the harbour
Magnum moored in St Augustine




Saturday, August 30, 2014

Still heading north

The days following our relaxing stay in Vero were a bit challenging, day 1 we hoped to get from Vero to Cocoa Beach.  It would be a long, mainly tedious day motoring the ICW although there are some monster houses along the waterfront and early on we did see a great boat although raft is probably a better description.


Look at this for a home!

Not sure how he copes in bad weather but he looks prepared even has a bike
The day deteriorated for us, later afternoon we could see the thunder clouds forming over the last to the west of us but we had been lucky at Vero and only had a few rain showers in the afternoon BUT not today.  As we passed Melbourne (not Australia) a large powerboat ahead heading north turned and frantically started waving at us to turn round, we could see the clouds ahead so assumed they had radar and we concerned about the weather but with Magnum travelling 5 knots we were not going to out run it.  We rushed to get the internet to look at a radar picture, this showed severe thunderstorms with risk of tornados up ahead.  We decided to pull off the ICW immediately and get anchored, lucky the water to the edges was 3m, we pulled off with the wind starting to build, dropped anchor and Mark dumped 40 metres of chain just as the wind started to exceed 30 knots.  Within minutes the wind was up to 44 knots and the rain was torrential, we suddenly had a 1 metre chop in 3m of water and were getting battered all over the place with lightening hitting the land all around.  We ducked downstairs popped all our electrical equipment in the oven and hoped for the best, this lasted for an hour, after the last few weeks this seemed like the last straw but we upped anchor and headed to get a bit more shelter for the night.  As we got back in the channel the winds were still unpredictable, we had the foresail up and when we had to furl quickly due to the wind, Amanda fell and this really was the last straw, we were glad to get anchored tucked in behind the bridge at Cocoa beach and thankfully no more thunderstorm for the night.

Just after the worst of the storm
The calm after the storm
Next day and up with the sun and more motoring, didn’t get off to a great start as when we approached Daytona  the channel was  blocked by a flurry of small fishing boats who were throwing fishing nets into the channel.  How did the expect us to get through? Were they even aware that we were rapidly approaching? As we  got closer we had to furl the headsail as there was no movement from any of the boats, Amanda moved to the front of the boat to give a loud whistle to make them aware we were approaching, still nothing from the offending boats, all other boats outside the channel completely aware, we are then about a boat length away when Amanda shouts to one boat in the middle of the channel, one lone guy is stood on the front and he throws a net right in our track, Amanda tries to explain we need to stay in the channel as we have 7ft draft, oh no he tells us to **** off to the otherside of the channel, this does not go down well with Amanda and a huge argument erupts and soon we have various fishing boats shouting and swearing at us even through they have no idea what has gone on.  Finally we do have to move to the edge of the channel feeling very uncertain about the depths still with a bunch of idiots telling us to get back north, clueless!

The rest of the day we try to forget about these idiots and just enjoy the countryside, we saw more manatees on this day than ever before but I still struggled to get a photo. We ploughed on knowing that we needed to make miles, at this point feeling even more desperate than ever to just get home and avoid any further bad weather.

Huge heron in the tree

Manatee just disappearing!

One of the many many pelicans

 
Lovely heron looking for his dinner
Generally the fellow boats were very friendly, there are very few sail boats at this time of year and mainly small fishing boats and what we refer to as ice cream boats – they are like a floating patios with armchairs and coolboxes, very popular in this area due to shallow draft and you imagine they are a  reasonable price.

Ice cream boat whizzing on by
We were lucky with todays thunderstorm, it came just before arriving in New Smyrna Beach but passed quickly with wind topping out at just over 20 knots.  We had visited New Smyrna beach the previous year but this time we tried the free dock, great place, yes there are quite a few local fishermen but mainly families that want to have a chat to find out where you and from and where you are going, it was nice to meet some friendly locals in this lovely little location.  We decided to stop 2 nights so that we could wander over to the beach the following day and visit the lovely Nichols coffee shop, bit shabbier than we remember but friendly quirky little place.  But we were so worn out we didn’t take one photo!

Our next 2 days were not very eventful, the first we stopped in Palm Coast and enjoyed a beer in the local Europe village in the evening, didn’t look much a village in the UK but it was nice to have shower and go out for a cold beer, the weather was still way into the 30’s all day every day and night.


We then had a shortish hop to St Augustine, the day was a little nerve racking as the depths were under 3metres on many occasions but we did see our first alligator on the ICW, just swimming along minding his own business!  On our way South, Amanda had been really keen to visit St Augustine but we had arrived one afternoon to find that mooring buoys could be booked and we hadn't booked one but this time of year there were only round 10 boats on the 100+ mooring buoys available so no problem and only short dingy ride to shore.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Wow it is hot - highlights of heading north in Florida in the summer

We left Miami on a sunny Sunday morning after 8 weeks of being at anchor in Miami, never thought we would be living in South Beach for over 2 months.  Mark dragged up the anchor trying to avoid slicing his fingers to pieces on the anchor chain which was now covered in barnacles.

Our anchor chain covered in barnacles 

Good news was on a Sunday the bridges open on demand, we made our last transit through the Venetian Causeway bridges, past the lovely houses on the Venetian Causeway island with the waterfront views and some with some very unusual boats.

Space age boat

Pretty bridges of Venetian Causeway

Downtown looming
Headed past the cruiseship terminals (almost empty on a Sunday), past downtown Miami which at 8am on a Sunday morning is nice and quiet, towards the harbour entrance, as we did a huge turtle popped up to say “hello” funny to see when there is a huge city all around you.

Perez Gallery in downtown Miami

Quite amazing that you can sail through Miami

Miami Heats (Basketball team) stadium

Harbourside in downtown

We motored sailed all morning, it was good to be back out at sea, we relaxed but also scrubbed poor Daisy dingy’s bottom, after 2 months of sitting around in the harbour she needed some tlc.

Before

After

Around lunctime the wind picked up and we were actually able to sail, it felt good after so long, the sea was almost flat, the winds were 15- 20 on the beam and we whistled along.  We set the autopilot took our cushions and sat on the deck and tried to forget about the problems which were still hanging over us.  At this point in time we had no idea if/where we were going to store Magnum but we knew it was going to be North. 

video

We made some good miles and pulled in at West Palm Beach just as it was getting dark and tucked into the anchorage, not sure who we shared our anchorage with overnight but all night there was tapping on the hull – is this crabs or some sort of shell fish? We don’t know, it was interesting but as all we wanted was a good nights sleep it was quite annoying J

We were up before the sun and creeping out of the channel just as the sun came up and we were joined by the most playful dolphin we had seen in a long time, there was a mum and baby common dolphin, the baby just wanted to show off his amazing acrobatic skills, such a shame when these amazing things happen you can never catch them on camera but it felt like he just came along to make us smile – thanks little dolphin.

Sorry no acrobatic dolphin just a lovely house at West Palm Beach harbour entrance, up early to leave.
 The winds were lights so it was a day of motor sailing but we were getting some benefit from the Gulf Stream so we made some good miles with little effort.  As we headed towards Fort Pierce we could see the thunderstorms creeping along the coast but fortunately they stayed inland until we started headed north on the ICW, we then had some head winds but we made it to Vero Beach that evening.  Funny we had visited here in November and every mooring ball had at least 1 boat moored to it, the summer is a very different time, there are a handful of boats and of them only 50% are occupied, others are just stored for the hurricane season.

We were greeted by a couple of dolphins and some fishing pelicans but the most prominent animal in this area is the biting bugs! Amanda was bitten to pieces over the next couple of days.  We decided to stay in Vero for a few days in am attempt to make decision on what next and see if we were able to actually relax.  Walks on the beach, peace and quiet, some genuinely friendly and welcoming people plus a great night out at a Comedy show helped get us in a better frame of mind.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DISASTER!!

I have been hugely delayed with writing the blog as we have been focusing on other things over the last month and it has dropped to the bottom of our priorities.  Things have not been good for us as the shipping company we had contracted with – Ocean Trade Lines (OTL) are basically frauds and have taken our money with no intention of shipping us.  We had a few weeks of receiving very little info from them which started to raise our suspicions, so we followed this up with a few internet searches and it all became clear, we had been scammed.  Yes it is a very elaborate scam as they keep feeding you small pieces of info which make you think that perhaps your shipping is just delayed but there are many people who have waited months with no shipping.

On realising that this was the case we then spent weeks speaking with who ever we could to try to assist, this involved reporting to the Sheriff, speaking with the District Attorney, contacting an attorney, the British Consulate, the Federal Maritime Commission, the list goes on and on.  The current situation is we have officially cancelled our contract and are trying to get a refund of 70% of what we paid BUT they are not paying and constantly delaying.  From all the organisation we have contacted we have some advice but no one has been able to get OTL to agree to repay our money.  It seems ridiculous that these people can keep trading and get away with it.  They have been doing this for years and have not only traded as OTL but also Yacht Exports, same people, same location, same scam, different name.  There are many things we have called these people over the last month but I won’t share in this forum but I expect you can imagine!


This has all been very hard to deal with and at the same time as sitting in the hurricane zone in Florida, so we did what we could in Miami and made the decision to head north which considering all the options for storing Magnum, sailing back next year or shipping Magnum with an alternative company but we knew we just had to get out of Miami.

Friday, July 25, 2014

4th July at Daytona International Speedway

It might sound like fun spending time in Miami for so many weeks but as the time moved on it was becoming increasingly stressful for us as the shipping company changed our estimated leaving date to early/mid July but as early July approached there was no exact date and we knew we were not going to achieve this date.  We constantly contacted the shipping company to be told nothing and provided with no confidence as to when we would actually be shipping.  The weather was getting hotter with storms almost every day and the first hurricane of the season – Arthur formed off the coast of Florida it felt like a very vulnerable position to be in.

So, as a treat we decided we would take a trip to Daytona International Speedway and although most of the Nascar racing takes place in the Autumn and Winter there was a Subway 200 and Coke Zero 500 taking place over the Independence day weekend.  Although the bigger race was taking place on the 5th, we decided to attend on the 4th as a nice was to celebrate but also because it was significantly cheaper. ;-)


An arrival we were soon sucked into the excitement, we were even enjoying a trip on a big yellow US school bus from the carpark to the circuit.  We arrived early afternoon armed with coolbag, waterproofs, suntan lotion; it was going to be a long day since the main race was not until the evening.  We had some fantastic seats just opposite the finish line and were happy to sit and watch practice.  The photo below is just before practice, the cars are lined up in the pits on the track, the stand behind Amanda is where the chequered flag/finish line is, what a fantastic view! And although there was little atmosphere at this point as there were only a handful of people it was still fantastic.

Yes there are no there are no other people as we arrive early

Our fantastic view
Mark and I both were both looking the part with our Daytona/Nascar baseball caps.



Even as the cars jostled for position on the grid we were excited, these cars are not the top league of Nascar but almost a secondary league of up and coming stars, they were qualifying in the afternoon for the big race in the evening.


The first time the cars drive by at close to 200mph the sound is incredible; there was no taking it easy during qualifying and this lead to various crashes which must be a big disappointment for the drivers so early in the day.


As qualifying finished our first rain shower of the day started, but thankfully it was not too heavy. They soon had the drying machines our on the track, unbelievable that they have huge hairdryers that dry the 2.5 mile strip of tarmac, good old Americans and their disregard for climate change ! We set off to explore the stadium and because there were still not many people around so we got to see the track from all angles.




Next up to race were the big boys of Nascar racing, this was the qualifying for the race on the Saturday.


video

It was a shame that they rain came in again and they were unable to complete the qualifying, we took shelter but so many people just sat in the rain!  The crowds were now gathering but the rain had delayed the start of the race and now there was a whole gaggle of dryers out on the track.

There was a big opening ceremony with the national anthem and various veterans commemorated, all very patriotic and the track looked amazing all lit up.

National Anthem

Stadium all ready to go for the big race


The race was 200 laps with 40 cars, the average speed is around 190mph.  When the cars are around the far side of the track we could still just see them from our seats and there is never ending commentary and video footage.

I always imagined watching 200 laps of a 2.5mile banked oval track would be dull, but I was so wrong. From lap 1 there were 40 cars,  2 or 3 abreast and inches (or less) apart. As the outside cars came out of the slipstream they slowed so to ensure they made it passed, the cars behind would touch their bumpers and add their 500HP to the equation. Amazing at nearly 200mph !

There were pit stops right in front of us, crashes and action on virtually every lap, we spent all our time on the edge of our seats or more often out of them with the rest of the crowds.

The winner was decided on the last lap 200m from the line, phew we were exhausted.

It was a really cool event, not even spoiled by the 250 mile drive back to magnum, arriving at 3.30am the next day.  

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