Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa Drives a Boat

The words are not flowing as freely as before, and it cannot be for lack of material or inspiration, because I've met the most phenomenal people in the last couple of weeks, and I know the friendships created will last a lifetime. It's difficult to express just how astounded and grateful we are for everything that was done for us in Charleston. I will try to do my best.

Things began to look up immediately following my last entry. While on our way back to the dingy to row back out to the mothership, I said, "Hey, lets see if anyone is home on the boat with the nice deck lights, see if we can find out where they got them". We approached the fellow aboard, with the pick-up line, "Hey! Nice spreader lights!". He tried to tell us his name was Mark, but we're pretty sure his REAL name was Santa, because within 10 minutes of meeting him, it was decided that our sails would be taken to the nearest North Sails, and fixed properly. I was definitely on Santa's 'nice' list. In the coming days, we found ourselves with 2 new harnesses with inflatable life jackets, binoculars we can actually discern shapes and colors through, wood and a hand plane for various unfinished projects, including a name board for the dingy, which we've named James ("Home, James! And don't spare the horses!"). Then, as if that weren't enough, we were offered a berth at the finest marina we've encountered on this entire trip. He welcomed us on his boat, to use email and make long-distance phone calls, watch movies, and of course great meals and company! Even Effie took to wandering over, and before long started spending the nights there. I'm reminded of the old adage, "Practise random kindness and senseless acts of joy". I hope that one day I'm able to find a way to pass along the same kindness and practise the same selflessness he showed to us.

And he wasn't the only one.

Jeff and Jodi live aboard their sailboat in the marina, and we just clicked right away. My intuition tells me that we'll be in each others company again, perhaps back in Nova Scotia in a year or two, as they have plans of perhaps cruising up that way. I'm dumbfounded at their generosity and organization, as they loaned us their EPIRB until Annie Laurie is safely home in Nova Scotia. For those who don't know, EPIRB stands for 'emergency position indicating radio beacon', and if I were to find myself in a perilous situation, a flick of a switch would send a signal via satellite to the coast guard, and search and rescue would know exactly where to find us. Jodi arrived with the beacon, having already made the arrangements of changing the information that would be encoded in the distress signal, should we pull that switch. This includes the name of the vessel, port of registry, and its general specifications. This has provided us with such incredible peace of mind, as our communication system aboard is limited to a VHF radio, which, we have proven, is next to useless beyond 20 miles of the shore, or the nearest ship with the same radio. The digital signal from the EPIRB on the other hand, can be detected from anywhere on earth.

So as you may imagine, leaving Charleston was one of the hardest things I've had to do, perhaps aside from rounding Cape Fear. Thank-you Santa, Jodi, and Jeff. Hope to see you sooner rather than later!

Speaking of Cape Fear, that experience gave us that extra push we obviously needed to go over some essential safety training. Justine tried on an immersion suit, to get a feel for their awkwardness and to learn some of the important details involved in donning one. For example, if you don't make the effort to expel the extra air in the waterproof suit before you zip it up all the way, air can end up in your feet, and upon landing in the water, your feet will be where you're prefer to have your head, that is, above water.

While dockside, we also took the opportunity to take almost everything we could off the boat, to dry on the dock in the sun, and to reorganize everything that had dislodged itself from its proper storage place during the violent motions in the gulf stream. A bit more of the waterline got painted, and the transom went from black to white, to match the rest of the boat. We had a few spectators through the week as we did our maintenance, including a Ukrainian sailor who asked, "So, no mans?". I don't know how we do it, but somehow this boat continues to see great improvement, and gets from A to B, without mans.

After 9 days in Charleston, the boat and crew were better than new, and we set sail to wherever the wind would take us, which turned out to be St Augustine, Florida. It's the oldest city in America, and I imagine it's the most touristy too. I miss Charleston and our friends there. We've been 4 days in St Augustine now, and I don't think either one of us has met anybody 'from' here. But it's certainly gorgeous to walk the historic streets, all of which have the distinctly Spanish feel about them. The famous "Fountain of Youth" beckoned to us, but after arriving at the end of Ponce De Leon Blvd, we found they charged $7 each to enter the park. We took a photo of the fountain at the entrance instead, and I'm sure it's (almost) as nice. The pawn shops remind us that we're far from Scotian roads, and how, in many ways, America is a different world. The Dingy Police take their jobs very seriously around here when you tie your dingy in a Restricted area by accident, such as a marina. We were shocked, as I'm sure any boater would have been, when we got back to the marina early in the morning after a night at the A1A Brewery, and there was a lock and chain on our dingy! Apparently we we're meant to register and pay $10 to leave our dingy there, which, okay... I knew, but choose to ignore. So on principle, we had to find another way out of this situation. I went down the dock until I spotted a boat and a guy inside watching a movie. I knocked, and he lent me some wire cutters. Turned out they were too small for the job, so I eventually realized that the seat of our new dingy (around which the chain was wrapped) was actually easily removed with a #2 Robertson screwdriver. I ran back and traded the wirecutters for a screwdriver, and unscrewed the seat. I ran back to return the tool, as the Dingy Police were walking down the far dock, in our direction. We pushed off, as he ran down the ramp, asking us how we would like it if he phoned the police! Justine was on the ball, as she called back, "Our Captain... HE didn't tell us anything about a fee! He'll be in to speak with you in the morning, if you'd like!". Sweet success.

We will spend Christmas here, and are already planning to cook up a storm on our new BBQ, which we traded a small winch and spare ships wheel for at the famous Sailor's Exchange up the road. Merry Christmas to all our Family and Friends, old and new, from Laura, Justine, and Effie too.