Sunday, June 6, 2010

Arriving In the US!

We left Isla Mujeres on the Sunday morning and set sail for Clearwater on the west coast of Florida. We had arranged to go there and see Penny, a friend of mine I used to work with 20 years ago. The first days sail was brilliant, lots of wind and 2 knots of current helping us along. Then as usual, the wind died and the next 3 days were spent motoring. The sea was incredibly flat and glassy, this at least made motoring easy with a good speed from low engine revs.

As we are heading north the days are getting longer and we now have a twilight. The sunrise was amazing with a complete reflection in the flat sea. One night there was an amazing thunder storm which we were completely surrounded by. It was so bright it completely ruined our night vision. On the quieter nights we watched the phosphorescence and there were also big flashes of light like someone turning on a light bulb which we think were caused by either jelly fish or squid. During the day we saw a turtle, a shark and a pod of huge dolphins. They swam in the bow wave for quite a while and the water was so still that we got some great pictures of them through the water.

We finally arrived in Clearwater on Thursday morning and made our way into the estuary. We headed to Penny's house where Ian, her husband, was waving to show us where to moor and a very welcome sight. She had arranged with her neighbor Chad for us to leave the boat on his mooring which was very kind of him and meant we could walk along the sea wall to Penny and Ian's house.

The first job was to clear into the country. After being passed to 4 different people on the phone I finally spoke to the correct officer who told us off for leaving the boat. I had to explain that we had to leave the boat to use a phone. She then insisted we had to get to Tampa airport that day before 6pm even though we should have had 24 hours. Ian very kindly ran us to the airport (not sure how the US officials think people are supposed to get to an airport an hours drive away when they have just landed in the country on a boat!). The staff at Tampa were very helpful and kind but they could not do all our documentation. The grumpy lady on the phone should not have sent us there. So they did the immigration part for us and sent us to another place in Tampa the next day. We had caught a 7lb King Mackerel and 2 smaller mackerel on the way the first of which Penny cooked half of for us for dinner once Mike had filleted it
Penny drove us back to Tampa the next day where another nice officer gave us our cruising permit and didn't charge us a dime. It seems the grumpy lady could have done us a favour as all the other staff were very apologetic and did everything they could do to help us.

Penny and Ian have a lovely house overlooking the water. It has a really good swimming pool which Francesca, their daughter, lives in and it is a short walk away from the beach. We were both very tired after the sail but having not seen Penny for so long we had a lot of catching up to do. So we spent evenings on the patio next to the water eating lovely food and drinking lots of wine!

Penny took us on a shopping trip the next day and we brought new clothes and stocked the boat up at Costco. Saturday evening we all went to a bar at the marina and then down to the beach to watch sunset. This was at a hotel which Penny told us did a lovely champagne brunch so that decided what we were doing Sunday!! After a gentle morning walk along the beach we spent the rest of the day eating lovely food from a buffet and drinking champagne. It's a hard life!! Francesca was very patient with 4 inebriated adults!

Tuesday we set off for Orlando and Disney. The first day was spent in Epcot. We arrived at 8.30am and didn't leave until 5.30pm and we were absolutely shattered. We went on most of the rides, the most scary was 'Mission Space!'. This is a simulator ride where you are in a space ship and go to Mars but it also simulates the G forces. It was quite scary and I (KB) was jelly when we got out! The next day we went to MGM which is now called Disney Hollywood. This had a great Toy Story 3D shooting gallery ride and a very scary roller coaster and the Tower of Terror. I (KB) didn't do the last one so Mike had to go alone but got chatting to a welsh lady who was taking her 5 year old daughter on it!!!

Island Packets are made in Largo Florida so while we were in the area we went for a tour around the factory and stocked up on spare parts. The evening before we left Clearwater we had another lovely meal and had drinks, which Chad and his wife Hilda and their family came to as well. Chad is a skilled fisherman so was giving Mike tips on how to fillet fish and very kindly gave us some lures and a brilliant filleting knife. His daughter Mariel had made us some cookies which went down very well on our next sail.. Earlier in the evening Francesca and I gave a Clarinet concert. She had some duets which we played. Having not played my clarinet for years with anyone else I really enjoyed it.

We reluctantly left Clearwater on Saturday morning 10 days after we arrived. Penny and Ian were so hospitable and we had such a lovely time with them that we could have quite easily stayed longer. We parted hoping it wouldn't be another 20 years before we saw them again.

The sail from Clearwater through the Keys to Miami was another 3 day sail or should I say motor. Again, there was very little wind so although we managed to sail for a few hours occasionally, we mainly motored. Mike kept catching fish but they were either so small (but with big, big mouths) that we threw them back or so big that he hadn't go enough line to get them in as when he braked the reel they just pulled free. He was really annoyed about that!!! We did manage to catch 2 King Mackerel and with our new knife from Chad they were caught, filleted and in the freezer in about 20 minutes.

We cruised slowly so that we could arrive at the Moser channel and go under 7 mile bridge in daylight. It was quite a change once we passed into the Atlantic as we had just the right amount of wind and had a great sail to Coconut Grove. With help from the current we arrived at 3am so anchored overnight.

The following morning we moored at Coconut Grove Sailing Club on their visitors buoy. This was recommended to us by Nell and Phil on a boat called Moondancer. We met them last year in Trinidad and Grenada.. Nell had very kindly offered us the use of her apartment which overlooks the sailing club so once again we have abandoned the boat and are staying ashore. This is really nice because Nell is also here. She had to come back home and has left Phil with the boat in Curacao. She has been very kind driving us around to buy boat things but unlike her, we don't have inexhaustible energy so are a bit shattered with all the things we are doing . We have also been doing a lot of socialising again. Yesterday she had friends Cathy and Marc over for lunch which, with visits to the sailing club bar and a lovely boat,. lasted the rest of the day. So it was midnight when we finally got to bed!

We plan to be in Coconut Grove until Wednesday as we are having the injectors on the engine cleaned. Then we will head to St Augustine which is still in Florida before continuing on to S. Carolina

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