"Light Blue"

'Behind you!' — Christmas 2007

Frank and Anne and Light Blue after the new paint spray job

Living the dream again

USA: months 9 and 10

1 February to 1 April 2008

As I write, we are sitting calmly in the municipal marina at St. Augustine, having escaped the brown muddy quicksands of Harbortown Marina on 28 March 2008, four months and one week after motoring mastless, damaged and emotionally drained into slip 5 on Islamadora dock. We have just sailed north to our present location, as a shakedown cruise, which passed peaceably enough but not without incident, which I will describe later in this our first positive update since our dream voyage was dramatically halted in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast on 20 November 2007.

We left you last time with our genuine expectation of leaving Fort Pierce on or about 1 March 2008. It was not to be. Our mast and rigging was delivered as promised to Crackerboy Boatyard on 20 February. The estimated hours to raise and equip a mast with standing and running rigging is 40 hours for two operatives, but due to a series of decisions, it was not completed until five weeks later. I will not describe in full the catalogue of sad service, unbelievable excuses and lack of communication, which resulted in this totally unacceptable delay, because why should you suffer as we have.

Moreover, our shakedown cruise revealed that the reefing system is still in need of realignment, according to our contact, due to what he says is a lack of communication between the parent company and the Florida contact. However, since we have arrived in St Augustine, the concerned avuncular CEO of the rigging company has visited us and listened patiently to our complaints, communicated with the various supply companies involved, checked over the rigging and realigned it so that it now works fluently, for which we thank him. “Light Blue” is virtually ready for the Atlantic stages, subject to provisioning.

Our real reason for being in Harbortown Marina

On a completely different and positive tack, let me talk about the fateful result of our having to stay in one place in the USA for so long. Siobhán and I are very philosophical people, who tend to look upon problems as challenges and as we are fatalists, we believe that incidents happen to us for a reason. One of the most clear advantages as cruisers is that at Harbortown Marina we have become acquainted with persons we have met on a much deeper level.

Having flitted from one marina to another, from one anchorage to another or whether on an island or continent, we have only touched those locations like butterflies, not staying for long enough to get to know the locals well enough. That is not to say we haven’t met and enjoyed the company of fellow cruisers, who will be friends for as long as we keep in touch and in some cases for a lifetime.

At Harbortown Marina, we became part of the scenery, our mast and rigging delays part of the daily conversations not only with us but also among the residents and winter “snow birds”, who winter in Florida. The stages of the refit of “Light Blue” were commented upon and she became a regular topic of conversation among the fishermen and dockside strollers.

When we became better acquainted with the staff at Harbortown Marina, we came to know their backgrounds and dreams and we would exchange friendly banter as if we were old friends rather than customers. As managers ourselves, we appreciated the innate skills of John Moren, the dock master, as he peacefully organised his close-knit team. We commented to each other about the natural happiness, friendliness and willingness to help, of his staff including Mike, Don, Daniel and Quincy and their young female colleague, whose name I never learned due to shyness. They became our friends and made us very welcome, while sympathising with our initial plight and the delays we encountered along the way. We will never forget them and thank them wholeheartedly for making our stay bearable. They were our light in our time of darkness.

For special note, I will mention the Queen of the Welcome Centre, who is the font of all knowledge, the person to whom we turned for information on all matters, marine, local, national or just emotional. Babette and her husband Tom became close friends and we would welcome them any time into our home in Ireland, when it is built in a couple of years. I thank them for their hospitality, while Siobhán was away and for listening quietly while I raved boringly about our rigging delays.

We were given many other examples of American hospitality while ensconced in Fort Pierce. There was Al Smith, who loaned me his truck, gave me superb detective novels and chatted about all aspects of American life and introduced us to American dry martinis with a bottle of gin and all the makings in exchange for a little favour. There was Paul and Kathleen, who were our neighbours with their two cats, Temple and Julio, and dog Ramsey. They are gentle American sailors living the life, while upgrading their boats for sale. During chats in the Captain’s Lounge we became acquainted with Tom Robertson and Vikki Benedict, motor boaters, who were returning to the land life, but nevertheless, showed an avid interest in our sailing boat, with many questions about our sailing life and the equipment on board.

Two other American couples, forever friends of ours, will be Frank and Joan-Ellen and their very close friends, Bill and Anne, who sail pristine Beneteau yachts and with whom we had many pleasant evenings, chats, discussions and meals. Their own friendship was as infectious as their humour and we always came away from meeting them with a very content affection. We look forward to meeting them again.

Siobhán’s 40th birthday

So what has happened since I last wrote. The mammoth event for February was Siobhán’s 40th birthday on 12 February. Thank you to all those friends and relatives, who wrote wishing her a happy birthday and sent presents. They were greatly appreciated and Siobhán wondered how so many knew it was her “coming of age” birthday.

Siobhan's name in lights

You're a star

For the occasion, Siobhán’s sister Anne and companion Frank flew over from Ireland and stayed in Florida for 10 days (not on the boat). They had a great time, visiting Cape Canaveral and Orlando Sea World and Anne’s friend in the north of Florida. We had a superb meal to celebrate Siobhán’s birthday with Anne and Frank and a few friends, Mike and Jill, Kent and Mary-Lou and Tom and Babette and not forgetting Aunt Noreen. The food was sumptuous, the wine delicious and a good time was had by all. I even composed and read some poetry, which has been my wont for Siobhán’s birthdays for some years.

Following the dinner, by way of a very pleasant addition to the evening, we all (apart from Aunt Noreen) repaired to Kent and Mary-Lou’s 45-foot catamaran for drinks, dessert and a sing song, which thoroughly rounded off the evening.

Cape Canaveral

Our visit to Cape Canaveral with Anne and Frank was for us an unexpected surprise, since I was not particularly bothered about seeing the centre of what I mistakenly thought was a relic of a bygone age of moon exploration. How seriously wrong was my uninformed perception, especially after seeing the second of two thoroughly engrossing films. The first film was an historic documentary, but the second showed the continuous development of the international space station, located 250 miles above the earth. The “superpower” adversaries, USA and Russia, with many other countries providing contributions, continue to fly shuttles to and from the ever-growing space station. My eyes were opened to a project, which has benefited the earth in manifold directions and will continue to do so for many decades and/or centuries to come.

While the boat was on the hard being painted, we left Fort Pierce and Harbortown Marina and stayed in an hotel, initially the same as Anne and Frank and then we travelled by hire car to the western coast of Florida and visited St Petersburg and Venice. It was great to be away from the east coast, Harbortown and the building site of a boat. We had an extremely relaxing time, staying in a newly refurbished hotel in St Pete's, visiting the Salvador Dali Museum and the Ringling (Circus) Museum, before moving down the coast. One evening, we visited a pleasant Italian restaurant and were entertained by a versatile jazz trio. We took long walks along the west coast beach, comprised of crushed seashells. The air was clean, the atmosphere ozone plenty, the shells crunched underfoot and we enjoyed studying the strange birds huddled in flocks on the beach, facing into the wind.

Cape Canaveral

Cape Canaveral launch site

When we drove down the coast, totally without plans and goals, we favoured a little town called Venice and found a delightful bed and breakfast, straight out of Mrs Marple, where all the guests met for breakfast and actually spoke to each other. The guests were not shy about asking in depth questions about what we were doing in the States and were even more inquisitive when they found out about our sailing. The landlady prepared a different imaginative set breakfast each day, which knocked English B&B breakfasts into a cocked hat. No evening meal was offered, but we walked along the beautiful avenue of trees to downtown Venice and to a packed Irish pub restaurant. We stayed there for the evening as there was a band playing all sorts of Irish music, pop and rock variety. We visited there the following evening and dined to the music of a Dixieland jazz band playing with guest singers and musicians. The food and drink were excellent and the service swift. The Americans for the most part put the customer first.

We returned to Fort Pierce the following day by the long route and eventually the beautifully repainted boat returned to the water. In addition to completing the insurance company contract, we had engaged the very punctual, professional and friendly SureandSteadfastMarine Inc. to repaint our cockpit and also relabel our transom. What a pleasure it was to deal with Bruce, his wife and staff. “Light Blue” looked as new. In addition, Coastal Fabrications had completed, punctually, the stainless steel work. The boat was coming back together and we were just waiting on the rigging and sails.

And then there were four

Towards the end of our stay in Harbortown Marina, we were approached by Kent and Mary-Lou about the possibility of sailing with us when we left the marina. They wanted to gain more experience of ocean sailing and Kent felt that sailing with Siobhán would give confidence to Mary-Lou. It would enable us to have a more efficient watch system affording more rest and more manpower in the event of needing a larger team. Both couples weighed up the pros and cons and we agreed to take them up on their suggestion, with the proviso that we would take it one stage at a time, so that if they felt they could no longer continue for any reason, they could fly back to Florida, and likewise, we could ask them to leave if the partnership was not working.

They had certain priorities to carry out with their boat and land life and likewise we had to make preparation for the shakedown to St Augustine. That included the trial sail and victualling. The trial sail appeared to go well, although we were so excited to be back on the water that we were not as critical or focused as we should have been. This was to have a deleterious result during our shakedown. For less experienced sailors it could have been downright dangerous. The whole of the reefing system had been set up in reverse, so the reefing lines did not flow as they should do. Enough said.

Eventually, with all prep work done and our new crew aboard, we said all our goodbyes, with emotionally charged lumps in our throats, filled up with diesel and cast off, headed out across the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) and out into the inlet towards the Atlantic Ocean. Head into the wind, we attempted to hoist the mainsail, but could not do so fully as one of the reefing lines would not let us. We turned around and anchored in shallow water, with the idea of sorting the problem out.

With the weather as it was forecast, I did not expect to have to use the third reef, so I disconnected it and we then set off again, this time sailing out into the Atlantic under full sail. Yes!!!!! AND IT ONLY TOOK US FOUR MONTHS AND ONE WEEK TO GET THINGS FIXED!!!!!!!!!!!

And then we sailed and sailed and sailed until we reached St Augustine, which was where we were on 18 November 2007, before we sailed south and lost our mast.

Siobhán, Kent, Mary-Lou and the irascible ol’skipper are getting on great. We are enjoying each other’s company, in spite of the close quarters we are living in. We are all participating in the work, decision-making, cleaning, sailing, repairs and on the whole working as a thoroughly well-honed team, even though we have only been sailing together for a few days. It certainly has the makings of a sound cruise partnership.

We will keep you informed as to our progress. In the meantime, lots of love to you all

Lawry and Siobhán

1 April 2008

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