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Almost exactly five years ago, Chuck and I provisioned Freedom in preparation of the thousand mile or so sailing trip to deliver her back to our home port of Kemah, Texas.  On a late Tuesday afternoon we slipped the lines from the Fernandina City Marina in extreme northeast Florida and headed north on the ICW before turning east into the St. Mary’s river and exiting the jetties on into the Atlantic ocean.  Prior to our departure we’d spent all of about ninety minutes on the boat during the sea trial.

After three days, 24/7, of bashing through eight to ten foot seas, in twenty five and thirty knot winds, we pulled into Lauderdale Marina to refuel and rest for a couple of days.  On the second day there, Chuck slipped on the boat and fell face down into the combing of the cockpit.  It was immediately back to Texas where oral surgeons saved the day.

Three weeks later, I flew back to Ft. Lauderdale to meet two crew.  Chuck stayed in Houston to work and recover from his face plant.  Nine 24/7 days after that, we sailed into Upper Galveston Bay…shortly after that, we were safely in our Seabrook Marina berth at Kemah.

Over the next eighteen months, we prepared the boat for our cruising escapade and officially retired from working.  In early November, 2015 the boat was reasonably ready to head out…we slipped the lines and left, with no plans to return.

By May of 2016 we found ourselves in Stock Island Marina Village in Key West waiting to cross the Gulf Stream to visit Cuba.  It was a great trip.

Less than six months later, in early December, 2016, we left Key West for an easy overnight sail to Bimini, Bahamas.  The plan was to cross to the Bahamas, and then leisurely sail through the Exumas before continuing on south into the Caribbean.  By June 1st of last year we hoped to be in Grenada.

As many of you know, in early March 2017, the day before we were set to depart from Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas with two other buddy boats, Chuck developed severe blood clots in his left leg that lead to emergency surgery in Nassau, a week in the hospital, a trip back to the United States, and then more surgery.  This was a big thing, he almost lost his leg over it.

Thankfully, two of our friends (Larry McCart and Chris Earls) delivered the boat back to Ft. Lauderdale for us in late March; we moved back on the boat the very day it arrived.  In July, 2017, Chuck was released by the doctor for us to continue cruising.  My cousins came down and in early August and we sailed the boat on down to Key West to ride out hurricane season.

The first week of September saw us watch in horror as weather report after weather report increasingly suggested Hurricane Irma would make a direct hit on the Key West area.  The fact is, it did.  And, it tore the living shit out of our yacht.  Nothing structural, but a lot of cosmetic damage.

In early December, 2017 we brought the boat back to Lauderdale for it to be repaired.  Literally from the day after the hurricane back in September we’d been doing everything we could to have the boat repaired.  The time estimate for the repair work was supposed to be thirty to forty-five days.

The estimated time frame worked good for us.  If the boat could be repaired and turned over to us by the first of February, or even mid-February, we could still have time to get back over to the Bahamas and on down into the Caribbean.

Today, as I type this, though we are living back on the boat, the repairs are still not done…and we are back berthed in Harbour Towne Marina in Dania Beach, Florida.  For those who don’t remember, the days we spent in this marina last year were the most miserable we’ve spent on any boat, anywhere.

Now, to digress a bit.

Many have written about what it’s like to cruise on a sailboat.  And, admittedly it’s not the same for everyone.  But, almost to the person, when we meet someone and they ask us what we do, and we tell them we are retired, live, and cruise full time on a big sailboat they are enthralled.  They go on and on about how exciting it must be, how much fun, romantic, and wonderful it must be.  And, to an extent they are right.  It is a lot of fun…most of the time.

In the time we’ve been cruising we’ve met a ton of very nice people and made some wonderful friends.  We’ve seen spectacular sunsets, mesmerizing sunrises and water so clear one would think they are in a swimming pool.  Sitting in the cockpit having a cocktail after a good sail is hard to beat.  Anchoring out and taking the dink to the beach for good food and drink and friendship is really second to none.  New sights, sounds, and smells and cultures are just wonderful.  The problem is not the upside just mentioned, but the part of cruising that only cruisers can really appreciate, the part those who don’t cruise or sail almost never see.

Only cruisers can appreciate the stress associated with being glued to the internet for days waiting for a weather window in order to depart…cruisers live night and day by the weather.  Only cruisers know the sheer, unadulterated boredom associated with sitting up for most of the night in howling winds making sure one’s anchor does not slip, sending their yacht to the rocks, reef, beach, or into another boat.  One has to cruise to fully appreciate the feeling you get when out on the ocean, no land in sight, with not even a whisper of wind, and the engine quits.  Or quits in the middle of a channel with ocean going ships the size of an eighty floor skyscraper in the vicinity.  Or waking up to find the refrigeration has gone out.  Or finding oneself, in spite of everything, being in seas the size of a house.  Or losing one’s batteries.  Or lack of a generator that just minutes before ran like a top.  Or stay up all night on overnight passages glued to the chartplotter/radar/AIS in an effort to not run over something, or worse, being run over by something.  Or…  Or…  Or… The list is endless.

No, cruising is anything but full time rainbows and unicorns.

Don’t misunderstand.  One does not load up the sailboat, slip the lines, and head out to sea and not expect these types of things to happen.  If one cruises, their boat is going to break.  It is expected.  Anyone who heads out and doesn’t expect or anticipate mechanical issues is simply foolish.

Chuck and I both started sailing when we were in our 20s…I will be 68 and Chuck will be 67 in September.  We’ve been sailing a long time.  When one first starts sailing there seems to be little down side.  Even if one has an issue while out sailing one weekend it’s just too easy to get a tow back to the slip, park the boat, and then go home and have a beer, having the mindset that the repair will happen when it happens.  Full time cruisers who are on the move don’t have that luxury more often than not.  If the water maker goes out while in the Bahamas that issue has to be addressed.  If the transmission goes out, it has to be repaired.  Medical issues have to be addressed.  Business has to be carried out.  Issues have to be addressed.  Things come up, and they cannot be ignored when they do.

Again, anyone who sets off to full time cruise has to expect things to come up that must be immediately attended to, often the things have little to do with actual sailing.

The dilemma is at what point does the whole experience of full time cruising become no fun?  When is the wonderfully exciting upside surpassed by the major pain in the ass downside?  We really don’t know what that point is, but we do know we are fast approaching it.

If our boat had not been clobbered by Irma last September almost certainly Chuck and I would have picked up where we left off when he had his leg clots.  Last December we’d have split to the Bahamas, made out way through the Caribbean, and be in Grenada as we speak.  But, we did get clobbered.  The repair has taken more than twice as long as it was estimated.  It is too late to head south, at least to us. 

So, there is the conundrum.  What are we going to do?

At first, we thought that after the boat was repaired in February we’d go with another couple/boat to the Bahamas…but, the boat is still not complete and, at the rate it’s going, won’t be for another couple of weeks maybe.  That puts us departing just prior to hurricane season.  Others may, but we will not be caught in the tropics during hurricane season.

Then we thought, maybe we could sail north and spend the summer exploring the Chesapeake.  Sounds like fun, until remembering that come winter we’d have to bash back south against prevailing winds and the Gulf Stream to escape the ice of winter.  We’ve now pretty much eliminated that plan.

The current option is to take the boat back to Key West and spend the summer sailing the Keys and Dry Tortugas…maybe scoot to Cuba again.  We have good friends there and, to us, it’s a pretty cool place.  There are several relatives who’ve expressed interest in visiting us and what better place to entertain than in the familiar waters of the Keys.

We could simply list the boat with a broker and walk away leaving it right here in Dania Beach until it sells.  Selling the boat might takes a couple of years, but it could sell the day we list it.  If it did sell immediately, we’d instantly be relegated to motel rooms until we found our retirement location.  We don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling about that either.

We just don’t know.

To throw a wrench into things, we don’t own a house, our boat is our home.  We are fortunate enough to be able to buy a home virtually anywhere we’d like but, at this moment, we don’t own one and are all over the place as to where we’d like to finally settle down.  Either way, we still own the boat and determining where we will call home when the cruising is over is not something that will happen in a few days, or even months.

When we sold our home we had a boat to live on; if we sell our boat we would have no base whatsoever, home or boat.  It really doesn’t make much sense to sell the boat and then go looking for a home…in the meantime the boat must be berthed, maintained, etc. 

And, further, we really enjoy living on our boat and are not really ready to give it up completely at this point.  But, living on a boat and cruising/long passages are two different things.

And, then there is the health thing.  Chuck and I are both in pretty good health.  Knock on wood, I’m probably in better health than he is.  Nonetheless, at this stage of our lives our age and health is starting to be a factor.

Consider:

Two weeks ago, Chuck went to step off the boat.  He slipped on a piece of veneer that was sitting on the finger pier.  I was below and just barely heard him holler for help.  When I went topsides he was suspended between the fixed dock and our port rail, his left leg was on the dock, his right leg was dangling between the dock and boat, and he was just barely able to support himself with his right hand on top of a stantion.  If I hadn’t of heard him and helped him back onto the dock he’d have been in the drink in another minute or two.  The result of that simple accident was that he scraped the living hell out of his right leg to the point that the next day we ended up in an Urgent Care walk-in clinic for an x-ray.  His leg was not broken fortunately, but for a good week he could barely walk on it.  Chuck takes a boat load of blood thinners, thankfully he didn’t tear a big gash in his leg when he fell.

Another case:

Last year, while in Nassau, an abdominal hernia I’ve already had repaired twice started to bother me for the first time in thirty-five years or so.  The entire time we were in Nassau, Leaf Cay, and Staniel Cay it bothered me a lot and was quite painful.  It bothered me enough that I determined that once we reached Georgetown I was going to have to go to the doctor.  Thankfully, it cleared up.  A few days ago, after giving me no trouble for a year, it has flared up again.  Something is going on there and must be addressed sooner, rather than later.

And, just one more:

A very good friend of ours and his wife, whom we met and sailed with last year in the Bahamas and was nice enough to treat us to dinner when we were up in West Virginia last December, flew to Australia last week.  They were going to travel a bit in Oz before flying out to Tonga where they and our friends Rod and Janet Casto were all going to meet up and do some charter sailing in the South Pacific.  For the past few days, Facebook has shown them having a wonderful time.  Yesterday, they were in Alice Springs, Australia enjoying Ayers Rock.  This morning I was surprised to see a photo of him in a Cairns, Australia hospital bed after a medical emergency required him to be flown out.  I don’t know what the issue is with Joe, he’s a tough old salty bird for sure.  But I’m so glad that whatever has caused his hospitalization happened now and not while he was on the high seas.

Suffice to say, a medical emergency on a boat is a big deal…I know first-hand, believe me.  And, as much as I hate to admit it, Chuck and I are no longer bulletproof.

So, we are at a crossroads.  Not ready to give up the boat, but really no longer interested in significant long distance cruising either.

From the very start, I have often wondered exactly what our exit strategy from sea back to land would be.  I never really gave it much serious thought but, when I did, I never could really work out exactly how things would go…what the steps would be.  Now that we are at that stage, things are no clearer.

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Below are photos showing the progression of the hull repairs to the starboard side of Freedom due to Hurricane Irma:

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From the previous post one can see that finding affordable accommodations in South Florida or the Keys is a chore.  Once we finally bit the bullet on finding anything reasonable in the Lauderdale area, we started looking for a place further north.  Once out of Florida opportunities were to be had. 

Early on we found where we would eventually end up but hesitated to book it because we’d hoped to find something closer to Ft. Lauderdale.  Once Lauderdale played out to its bitter end we jumped on what the owners call simply The PropertyPlease check it out.  I won’t go into much detail on this place because the VRBO link does a much better job.  But what I will say is that we have been here since mid-January and just love it.  By the time we leave we will have been guests here for roughly two and a half months.  It’s been a delight.  In fact, we wish we’d gotten this place way back in December.

The property is owned by Bob and Eleanor Rawls.  One would be hard pressed to find a more congenial couple…they just define good folks.  The place has everything Chuck and I wanted.  It’s quiet and secluded yet is just a few miles from Brunswick, Georgia should something in the immediate area not have what we need.  Aside from all of the things listed from the above link, we particularly like the huge private lake and fishing (no fishing license required), wooded hiking trails, and the ability to just sit outside on the patio and barbeque in peace and quiet.  The Property has everything one might want in a home-away-from-home accommodation, bar none.  The only thing we furnish is our food.

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t speak or hear from either Eleanor or Bob, or both.  They both live on the property in their beautiful home a hundred yards or so away from the cabin.  Eleanor, now retired, was a lifelong dance instructor, while Bob initially worked as crew on a tugboat, before ending up as a building contractor along the way.  Both are extraordinarily interesting to talk with in a real and comfortable sort of way.  We are in love with them both.

I urge all of my friends and readers to consider staying here if the need arises for a place near the coast and Brunswick (Brunswick Landing Marina), during a hurricane, or just a weekend getaway to unwind.  I would recommend you do not book through VRBO.  Instead, call Eleanor at 912-617-7915 to make a reservation.  I assure you all these people will work with you any way they can so that your stay will be as enjoyable as can be.

Unfortunately, it appears that after more than two months of this luxury, our stay here will end on April 1st.   The boat is nearing the completion of its repairs.  In fact, early this morning Chuck headed out to Ft. Lauderdale to inspect the work and see what is left to be done…he will return later this evening, a very long drive and day, indeed.  We were told that the work would be completed by this Friday, March 9th…but they requested another week to March 16th…just in case.  Unbeknownst to the contractors, they actually have to April 1st.  But by first of April it must be 100% done, complete, totally, caput, absolutely nothing left…Chuck will find out today.  I’m looking forward to his report.

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Port side…new hull color.

 

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Starboard side…new caprail and rubrail replacing hurricane damaged area.

 

After arriving in Ft. Lauderdale, and before we found a motel, we went straight to Harbour Towne Marina to look at our boat.  It was on the hard and completely wrapped in plastic so the entire boat working area could be air conditioned for the workers.  Generally speaking we were pleased with what we saw.  The damaged caprail and rubrail had been removed, the repairs to the hull upon which they are attached had been repaired and faired, and the caprail that was not damaged was been stripped of varnish and was being sanded.  On the surface that doesn’t sound like much, but considering the damage to our starboard side it was considerable.

Over the next few days we met with the boat contractor, Starboard Yachts,  and made the necessary decisions for them to continue.  Though there were several items we wanted taken care of above and beyond what the insurance would cover, the two main things we decided were to recoat the topsides and to change the color of the hull.

Over the next few days we continued to go to the boat and visit with the workers to assure ourselves there was nothing we missed.  After a week or so, the boat particulars addressed, we once again faced the challenge of finding a more permanent place to live.

Our friend Larry McCart indicated that he and his wife, Carol Sue, were going to be in the Ft. Myers, Florida area for several weeks on a vacation of sorts.  We always enjoy being around those two and did everything in our power to try to find a condo/apartment/cottage for the time they would be there.  (Larry and Carol Sue aside, Ft. Myers is only a couple of hours from Lauderdale and staying there long term would allow us to be close enough to the boat that visiting it would be an easy day trip.) We actually even booked a cottage in the area.  But, in our haste to procure housing we didn’t perform the due diligence we should have.  We booked the cottage only to find out it was on one of the barrier islands and only accessible by water taxi.  Not only was the water taxi not free, there was also a daily charge to park our car on the mainland.  Additionally, the cottage was almost five hours away from Lauderdale.  Having booked the cottage via VRBO and the internet midafternoon of one day, by 0800 of the next we were trying to cancel the reservation.  We thought canceling the reservation would be easy; we had bought cancellation insurance after all.  But it turned out that the insurance was worthless (don’t get me started on that) and, in Florida, unlike many other states, once a reservation such as we had made is confirmed there is no cancellation; we would either have to stay there or eat the prepaid money we had put forth…unless the owners themselves would agree to let us back out of the agreement.  We managed to get in touch with the owners, however, and explained our situation in detail, indicating we simply did not read the fine print, and asked/begged/pleaded for them to allow us to cancel the reservation and get our money back.  The owners were wonderful about the situation and seemed to understand completely; they agreed to cancel the reservations at no charge and by the next day our funds showed back up in our bank account.  All was good.

However, we still had no housing…it was high season in Florida…and anything near to Lauderdale long term and available was insanely expensive.  After spending another couple of days in the motel looking, oddly, we seemed to have found a place in Naples, Florida, even closer to Lauderdale, also through VRBO, that appeared to be too good to be true.  After jumping through myriad hoops and once bitten, twice shy, we finally managed to get in touch with the owner by phone.  Almost immediately, and apologetically, she told us there was an application process.  The hang up, she told us, was that before she could rent us the place we’d have to pass muster with her home owner’s association.  She said she’d send us the forms so we could “start the process.”  All of this is taking place late at night…at around 0100 we got the paperwork.  We were blown away.  The home owner’s approval process required credit checks, background checks, personal references, addresses and phone numbers of places we’d lived in the past, and then a personal interview with them in Naples before they would allow this lady to rent her house to us…additionally, the place was in a gated community that had two full pages of rules that essentially limited us from doing much more than sleeping at night.  This place was beginning to be a real hassle, but the deal killer was that at a minimum it would take 10 working days before they would even give us a disposition, yes or no.

Full stop.  No!  There was no way we were going to go through all of that time and money for a maybe.  Well, you know what they say about too good to be true.

Having decided in the wee hours of the morning that the place above would simply not work for us, early the next morning we called the lady and told her we’d have to back out of the inquiry and why.  She said she got that kind of response a lot from potential renters.  It turned out she and her husband lived and worked in Ft. Lauderdale and had bought the place in Naples to retire to.  They thought they could rent their place out on VRBO to help pay for it, but after they bought it ran smack dab into the same homeowners association restrictions we had regarding the ability to rent it out.  She said it really wasn’t working out for them because most of her potential clients were somewhat spur of the moment and didn’t want to go through the same processes we didn’t want to go through.  She wished us luck and thoroughly understood.  We actually kind of felt sorry for her and her situation…but renting her place was simply ridiculously complex and time consuming.

As we were waiting for all of the above paperwork late in the previous night, though we hoped things would work out, we continued to look for other places.  And, actually, felt we’d never get anything close to Lauderdale that was affordable, instead having to go much further north and out of Florida.  We’d need a place for at least a month and probably longer.  The next best option was a place about thirty miles west of Brunswick, Georgia.  We made an inquiry with the owners and had indicated we’d let them know.  Early that next morning we both contacted the Naples landlord to tell them thanks but no thanks, and then immediately contacted the Georgia owners to tell them we’d take their place for a month.  We’d already checked out of Lauderdale and made all of these arrangement while on our way towards Waynesville, Georgia…roughly six hours from Ft. Lauderdale.  It was known simply as The Property.

Make no mistake, Maryland is beautiful in its own right.  Leaving Annapolis our next leg was to be Virginia Beach, Virginia via the eastern shore of Maryland.  Crossing the bridges to get out of Maryland on the way down to Virginia Beach it was amazing for us to see the bays and tributaries of the Chesapeake frozen…often, frozen solid.  One could only imagine how pretty it would be if not so cold and icy.  The area is mostly flat farm land.  Taking it slow, it took us the better part of the day to make it to Virginia Beach.

Leaving Maryland we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel just south of Cape Charles.  We arrived in Virginia Beach just before dark.  Once again, though one could see what might have been beauty in the warmer months (maybe) when we went were there it looked like a lower case frozen Miami in its heyday.  Actually, it was worse than that.  The streets were snow covered, pot holed, and hadn’t been snow plowed at all; to say it looked run down would be kind.  Virginia Beach had the general feel of sleaze to us.  Having no intention of staying we found the first motel that took pets and at daybreak the next morning left for the Outer Banks.

I really don’t know what I expected from the Outer Banks, but whatever it was I was disappointed.  There was really nothing to see, and most everything was closed for the winter.  We intended to drive all the way down them and then either spend the night in and around the Cape Hatteras light house or take a ferry back over to the mainland and spend the night there.  After hours of driving we came to realize that there was no place to stay on the Banks and we would arrive too late for the last ferry over.  At Rodanthe, we decided to turn around and drive back to Nag’s Head before heading west into North Carolina.

It was a very long day.  We finally held up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina which is worth of saying nothing about.  After breakfast the next day we continued south to Cocoa Beach, Florida.  That was another long day.

In Cocoa Beach we decided to take the time to tour the Kennedy Space Center .  The whole time we’d been in Clear Lake, though Chuck had been before, the two of us never toured the Johnson Space Center even though we lived maybe a couple of miles from it.  I’d been to Kennedy back in 1974 but figured it may have changed a bit since then, and as Chuck had never been, we decided to check it out.

It was a long day, and a long tour, but worth it.  It had changed quite a bit, but not necessarily for the better, if I remembered right.  Most of the actual space capsules and engines had been replaced with fiberglass replicas, though there was an actual Saturn Five and a real space shuttle on display.  There were other exhibits as well.  All in all, it was worth the trip.  We spent two nights in Cocoa Beach before making the trek back down to Ft. Lauderdale.  Cocoa Beach had one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at…Fat Kahunas.

Driving to South Florida from, I guess, anywhere is a real drag.  It goes pretty good on the east coast I-95 route until one gets to around Palm Beach and then  everything seems to just go to hell.  The traffic backs up, urban sprawl and general commercial congestion seems to just cave in on one.  We hate the area.  And, Ft. Lauderdale is the worst of it.  Why anyone would ever want to go to Lauderdale intentionally is beyond us.  It’s like a pestilent sore in every way.  It seems to have no redeeming values.  Crime is rampant, the people not particularly friendly, and getting from one place to the next is a nightmare.  Nonetheless, shortly after noon on the day that we left Cocoa Beach, we were back there…again.  By the end of the day we’d visited the boat and were checked in to a Day’s Inn hotel…complete with two off duty cops to guard the place.  Ugggg.

Once again an early start as we left Elkins and moved east to Annapolis, Maryland.  Joe Deneault’s advice and assurance on the road conditions were right on the money and we had no problem getting over the mountains.  Eventually we left West Virginia behind and entered the foothills that are just west of Washington D.C.

Neither Chuck nor I had ever been to D.C.  Unfortunately, because of both time and the weather we were not going to be able to spend any time there.  Nonetheless, as we drove around it on the beltway it was somewhat awesome as different exits pointed out the general direction of some of our nation’s more famous landmarks.  But, unable to stop, we simply drove past them and, again, by mid-afternoon were checked into an extended stay hotel in Annapolis, Maryland.

And, once again, the weather turned to hell.  First cold, then snowy, and then colder.

We spent a full week in Annapolis but little of it was spent actually seeing the place.  It was just too damn cold to sight see.  We cooked breakfast in our room and watched TV for most of it.  We did find a great place to eat called Boatyard Bar and Grill rated #2 on Trip Advisor.  The food was wonderful and almost every day we had dinner at the place, if not a bit pricy.  I had to have their crabcakes (at $38) and did…a couple of times.  They lived up to the hype, believe me.

One could tell that Annapolis would be a cool place to hang out in the spring, summer, and fall.  But the bitter winter weather and our lack of clothes to accommodate it pretty much put a damper on our visit.  As well, it had more than a touristy feel about it.  One day, when the weather finally subsided to a mild arctic blast, we did get out and see the town though.  The harbor was frozen and even with the very slight (read that as moderate frost bite) warm up, it was miserable.

Also, at about this time, we recognized we were going to have to go back south.  It was over a month since we’d left Lauderdale and though we’d been kept abreast on the boat repair via telephone, emails, and photographs, it was becoming apparent that there were certain decision regarding the repair and refit that we could not make unless we actually set sight on our yacht first.  The time had come to slowly mosey our way back to Lauderdale.

After a week in Annapolis we shoved off south headed slowly back to South Florida.

One of the objectives to us cruising around on our yacht was to eventually find an area to retire.  With that in mind, once we got the boat squared away we headed north in our rental with no particular place in mind, our only constraint was that we had to check into our cabin in Elkins, West Virginia on December 20th.  We had eight days from the time we left Lauderdale to get there.

Leaving fairly early on the morning of December 13th with absolutely no plans whatsoever, we decided we’d check out St. Augustine, Florida first, it was on the way.  We weren’t impressed though we did spend a couple of nights there.

Next up, we decided to take the coast road and head to Beaufort, South Carolina.  It rocked us even less.  We didn’t even stop, instead we just drove on through it to Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston we did like.  We’d been there before in 2012 while looking for a yacht to buy.  But, having seen all the sights in Charleston before, after three nights there we were anxious to continue on north.

Somewhere along this time we heard from our friend Joe Deneault.  We met Joe last winter in Bimini while he and another friend of ours, Rod Casto (he sailed on his boat to Cuba with us in 2016), were spending several months sailing all over the Bahamas.  Joe and his wife Betty live in Charleston, West Virginia (they keep their yacht in Brunswick, Georgia).  When Joe learned we were headed to Elkins he invited Chuck and I to spend the night with them in Charleston on our way up.  Having our cats with us and all we declined the overnight accommodations but very much accepted their invitation to take us out for dinner and show us his town.  It was a slight detour but not by much and we looked forward to it.  With that in mind, we left Charleston.

Our next stop ended up being Jonesville, North Carolina.  Jonesville is located in beautiful country but there really wasn’t much else to see.  We were only there overnight and the stop was punctuated by our kitten, Spookie, getting outside, precipitating a seven hour ordeal to find and catch her that ran until 0530.  As our good friend Larry McCart said, “Spookie can take years off of your life.”  Larry had to deal with Spook last winter when she disappeared on the boat while he was looking out for her.

Charleston and the Deneault’s was the next leg.  Jonesville, North Carolina is just south of the West Virginia state line.  Very pretty country, but it couldn’t compare with West Virginia.  Chuck and I both have traveled all over the US.  There are many very beautiful areas of America.  West Virginia has to be at the top of the list.  It is simply gorgeous.

It was a fairly quick trip up to Charleston, WV.  By mid-afternoon we were checked into a nice motel.  We gave Joe a call and arranged for them to pick us up for dinner.  Right on time they arrived, and after them driving us all over the town on a first class tour of the town and Christmas lights we had a delicious meal at one of their favorite restaurants.  We’d never met Betty before but she was a joy to be around, just like Joe.  It was a great night; we hated to see the evening end.

The next day was our check-in day at Elkins.  We had a two bedroom cabin rented at a place called Revelles River Resort .  Revelles is nine or so miles just outside of Elkins up in the West Virginia mountains, on the very clear water of the Cheat River.  When we drove up we were slightly disappointed as the entire place initially had the feel of a huge fifth wheel trailer park.  But after we checked in and moved into the cabin we loved the place.  Indeed there were many fifth wheel trailers but most were permanent camps of people who parked their trailers there year round to enjoy the area in the spring, summer, and fall.  As it turned out there were only two other families there besides us.

Our cabin was somewhat typical of vacation cabins one might find in the mountains anywhere.  It was fully equipped with cable TV, wifi, complete kitchen, hot tub, etc.  We liked it.  But there was only one issue: outside, it was freezing cold.  Over the next two weeks we cooked, watched the NFL playoffs and relaxed.  On the second night there the temperature plunged to the low teens…and then just kept dropping.  For the second week the temp seldom climbed above 10 degrees in the daytime, hovering around zero or slightly below at night.  Considering we had no winter clothes to speak of, going outside was an exercise in futility most of the time.  The second or third day it snowed and for virtually every day after that it continued to snow at least some.  It was most beautiful, but extremely cold.  As it turned out, that was the extreme cold weather of late December that caused extremely cold weather, ice, and snow all the way down to northern Florida.

We enjoyed the snow as much as anyone but simply were not equipped for it.  As our departure date loomed ahead we began to worry a bit if we would even be able to get out of the mountains with the icy roads and all.  Joe had worked as an engineer with the West Virginia highway department before retiring.  We decided to call him up and ask him what to expect of the roads considering the current and predicted weather that was to come.  After checking his sources he assured us that our anticipated route should be good to go.  He was right, and we had no problem negotiating the two lane roads that led us first deeper up into, and then out of, the mountains as we shoved off for our next stop…Annapolis, Maryland.

Well, it’s been a long time since we last posted here.  No excuse, it’s just there’s been a lot going on.  Will once again try to catch up on things with a series of abbreviated posts.

In early December of 2017 we brought the boat back to Ft. Lauderdale to have the damage from Hurricane Irma repaired.  The insurance claim had been approved and the repair contractor was lined up and waiting on us.  Soliciting the help of our good friend Fernando Barta in Key West, we sat out for the overnight sail back up to Lauderdale, leaving around 0600.  Right around dawn of the next day we approached the Port Everglades entrance channel.  By 0800 we were tied to the fuel dock of Harbour Towne Marina…shortly after we moved the boat to the contractor’s slip.  A bit later, Fernando flew back to Key West.

During the week, we met with both the repair contractor and our insurance adjuster to square up the particulars of having the fairly sever damage to our yacht repaired.  Everything was a go.  We now had to find a place to stay for the next forty five to sixty days while the work was to be done.

All along the plan was for us to get our yacht into the hands of the contractor and then split from Lauderdale and allow them to get the work done.  Chuck and I are both fairly particular when it comes to work being done on anything, with our yacht we can be downright anal.  Neither of us had any desire to hang around Lauderdale nitpicking the repair daily.  Ever since the hurricane all we wanted to do was turn it over to the repair contractor and leave, only returning when all of the work was completed.  We decided we’d go north for a while.  We just had to find a place north to go to.

It was just a week or two before Christmas and neither of us was too optimistic as to what we’d be able to find on such short notice.  Nonetheless we persevered, with the intent being to find a cabin/apartment/home somewhere and then travel from there to various outlying places.

After a bit of legwork, we found a cabin in Elkins, West Virginia that was affordable.  It was in the mountains, snow was predicted, nice cool weather and close to other areas north we’d hope to visit.  We made the reservation through the New Year and looked forward to the holidays, football, and lots of home cooked meals. 

On December the 13th we locked the boat, loaded up the kittens, and headed out.

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We followed Irma from the time it was a named storm.  Me, because of having been raised on the Louisiana gulf coast and Chuck having lived in the Texas hurricane zone for years, make following storms from the moment they leave Africa just something we do, whether we are within the storm tracks or not.  So, with great interest we followed Irma.  Freedom being berthed in Stock Island Marina Village less than a mile from the Florida Straits increased our interest in Irma.

As the storm tracks increasingly indicated that Irma would make land fall in South Florida, our interest morphed into concern and worry.  Both of us had seen on way more than one occasion what even a direct hit from a Category 1 or 2 hurricane could do.  We hoped Irma would follow a more easterly track and fade harmlessly into the Atlantic.  But, by the Tuesday before the storm it was more than obvious there was a high enough chance of a hit, if only a glancing blow, that we had to start preparing Freedom from the potential effects of the storm.

We removed the two head sails and tied our main sail securely to the boom.  We removed the four dorades and installed their plugs.  Everything not absolutely hard connected to the boat was removed or disconnected and stored below.  The bimini and dodger, along with any other canvas was removed and stored.  All lines were recoiled.  We put out eight fenders.  We made sure the boat had sufficient food and water to last us a week.  And, then it was time to secure the boat to the dock.

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Stock Island Marina essentially sits at the end of the Safe Harbor Channel.  It is short and straight shot of about a half a mile or so from the marina to the Florida Straits.  Freedom was berthed on the dock that was the closest to that channel.  We weren’t happy with that.  We requested to move just one dock in so as to be protected by the potentially huge swell that would rage right up that channel should the storm hit even a little bit to the west of Key West.  There were multiple slips available when we made the request to move.  Just one dock closer to land would make a huge difference should the storm directly hit the area and the floating outside docks start oscillating.  Our request was denied.  We were given a roundabout bull shit excuse that other boats might be coming in with reservations and the marina didn’t know which boats would actually make the move and show up, and which ones wouldn’t.  Quickly it became apparent that the real reason was that the charter yachts would move there; they were even more exposed than we were.  Trying to argue with this marina is moot and a useless exercise.  So, we settled into securing Freedom where she sat.

After securing the dink as best we could, we laid out our fenders and secured Freedom’s starboard side to the floating dock.  There were ten lines, two at the stern, four amidships, and four at the bow.  In addition, there were lines from each of our port cleats to the floating dock cleats of the vacant slip next to us.  A total of fourteen lines holding Freedom to the dock.  All were three quarter inch lines; all but three of them were three strand nylon.  At the end of the day, we sat in the cockpit reasonably assured we were tied off well.  We did debate adding additional lines as well as pulling Freedom off the floating dock in a classic spider configuration, even discussing the issue with our good friend Vanessa.  In the end, however, with two days to go and with the storm now more consistently seeming to be on a track to hit somewhere between Key Largo and Miami, we decided to lay by our rows.

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We spent the last day or so doing whatever we could to help our friends, Nancy and Fernando, secure their boat.

And, following the weather.

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We didn’t like what we were seeing.

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From being through more than a handful of hurricanes we were fully aware of a hugely important point…there is a tremendous advantage from being on the west side of a hurricane.  The wind is less, the rain is less, and the storm surge is less.  One doesn’t even have to be that far west.  Forty or fifty miles can be the difference between a very blustery day, and major damage.  The day before Irma hit the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was predicting the storm to make landfall around Key Largo, well over a hundred miles to our east.  The National Weather Service (NWS) was predicting winds in Key West to be in the 70-80 knot range, strong but manageable.  We felt OK about things.

But, later on, the forecast began an ominous change for the worse.

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Later in the afternoon on Friday, the NHC began indicating the storm was tracking a bit more westerly…the NWS gradually began increasing its wind forecast for Key West as well.  All along the NHC predicted a northerly turn but to their credit readily admitted they didn’t know when or where that would occur.  As time went by, it seemed that each six hour forecast discussion put the storm moving more and more to the west…bringing Irma closer and closer to us.  Some of the storm tracks even predicted Irma would track to the west of Key West.  Honestly, for me, it was like living in a slow moving nightmare.

We briefly but seriously entertained whether we should leave the Keys, but after careful consideration decided not to.

The Saturday morning early before Irma hit, Chuck and I packed everything of value we could think of and were picked up by our friends Nancy and Fernando.  We had much earlier accepted their invitation to ride out the storm in a double concrete block building that was the current location of a local television station…located a very short distance from our yachts.  There were seven of us:  the owner of the station, Nancy and Fernando, and other friends, Jeanne and Sean.

Once unloaded in what we began to call the Bunker, we settled in for what we knew would be a long eighteen hours…and watched the weather.  Each forecast brought the storm further west, closer to Key West…and not by a few miles, but 40-60 miles at a time.

Eventually we lost power and the television feed…shortly after that cell service went down.  The last forecast I personally saw was that Irma was going to hit where it eventually did…just east of Key West.  Stock Island was just at the western edge of the eyewall.  The worst of the storm for us was between 0300 and 0700.  It was a near sleepless night, at least for me; I slept on the floor of the cat room, with five growling cats…a towel for a pillow.

When daylight came the wind was still quite strong.  Mid-day, the wind had subsided enough that we decided to brave things and go check on the boats.  Chuck and Sean went in one car, Fernando and I went in his.  Though the storm surge was not very high it was enough for there to be some flooding on the way to the marina.

Once at the marina we went to our boat first, Chuck and Sean were already there when we arrived.  After a bit I saw our mast and it was upright…I was relieved.  After we parked I saw Chuck walking toward me.  From a distance I could see the dock rash on our starboard side.  Chuck said we’d taken a major hit against the dock, thousands of dollars in damage, he said.  I was stunned, from a distance, it didn’t look that bad.  As I walked up to our finger pier I was amazed at the severity of the damage we had sustained. 

Though Freedom was floating with no list, proud as ever, her starboard side looked like it had been attacked by a jack hammer and chisel.  Most of the stantions on the starboard side were bent or broken.  Roughly a third of the rub rail amidships was simply gone.  A full third of the corresponding cap rail was destroyed.  Ten feet or so of the hull was severely gouged as though some monster had pounced…the fiberglass was demolished almost to the core in places.  Our television antenna had disappeared. 

After inspecting the damage we feel the damage went down something like this.  The major wind, out of the north, pushed the starboard side of the boat against the dock.  Initially we feel the fenders and lines protected the hull.  But, it is obvious as the wind picked up, Freedom started rocking as the more robust gusts came and went.  This oscillation eventually increased to the point that the solid teak rub rail managed to start hitting the 2” X 12” protection boards on the side of the floating dock.  These protection boards on the dock, only nailed in place, eventually came loose.  The same protection boards served as a cover for the roughly ¾” steel studs and bolts that actually hold the floating dock together…once the protection board came loose Freedom was at the mercy of these bolts.  First the rub rail was destroyed.  And, as the winds increased, the bolts chewed right up the fiberglass hull, taking the cap rail down.  Once the protection boards that shielded the bolts came loose, with the steel against wood and fiberglass, the mighty Tayana never had a chance.  From looking at the height of the dock and distance from the rub rail to it, we figure Freedom had to be rocking back and forth from center at least 30-40 degrees.

The damage was significant.  Here it is:

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IMG_0517Sean and Fernando’s boats didn’t appear to have been damaged much, though Fernando’s boat did have his swim platform demolished.  Sean also had another boat that had been on a mooring ball during the storm.  He has since located it with manageable damage.  After we took a few pix we returned to the bunker to wait for the still strong winds to subside more.

Later, Nancy, Fernando, Chuck and I visited Nancy’s home on Key West; it survived.

We had a Honda portable generator the bunker needed.  We made three trips back to Freedom before the winds and chop died down enough for us to actually board and retrieve the generator.

After we got the generator back to the station, the wonderful comradery of our bunkermates aside, Chuck and I were ready to get back to the boat.  Fernando and Sean were understandably elated their yachts had survived with the relatively minor damage they took.  But, for Chuck and I, there was little at that point to be joyful about.  We needed to get back to the boat and the alone time required to fully process our situation.  Fernando and Sean were the bomb, helping us to load all of our things and get them on the boat in spite of the blustery winds and continuing rain.

Once on the boat, we turned on the gen set and sunk into the misery of knowing our boat, though seaworthy, had very severe damage that would need to be addressed; damage in all probability that could not be repaired in Key West.  I suppose the overwhelming feelings we had were ones of just…hassle

Perhaps I may have initially handled things a bit better than Chuck did for he, rightfully so, felt the entire issue would ultimately fall on his shoulders…but I was more than a bit demoralized myself.  With the cats keeping close to us, we had a good nights sleep in our bed, genset humming.

The next day, Chuck started to go down the coulda-woulda-shoulda road regarding how we prepped the boat.  I put an abrupt stop to that from the get go.  Sure, in hindsight, we might have prepped the boat differently now that after the fact we saw the consequences.  But, the truth of the matter is there were boats tied up exactly as ours was, no more than a hundred feet or so from us, who had come through the storm unscathed.  Boats that were prepped way less secure had also weathered the storm with little to no damage.

The damage to Key West from Irma was, in ways, unusual.  The amount of real property damaged on Key West proper seemed somewhat light, certainly not catastrophic.  That’s not to say there was not a lot of damage, there was.  Lots and lots of trees, shrubs, and carports were destroyed, but not what one might expect.  Most assuredly, the 130 mph sustained winds just east of Key West pretty much leveled much of the real estate from Cudjoe Key on over to Marathon…damage was substantial.  But, being just 20-40 miles east of the eyewall spared Key West, just no doubt about it.

Immediately after the storm we took stock of our supplies.  We felt if worst came to worse we were good for a good week to ten days, much longer if it really came to it.  Nonetheless, supplies were quite limited here on the boat.

As is often the case, everyone came together here.  Our Delorme inReach sat tracker acted as a lifeline for loved ones with its ability to send unlimited text messages.  We made it available and many here in the marina got messages out before cell phone service resumed.  Our friends Mike and Craig brought us a care package of bread, sandwich meats, canned goods, booze, and cokes a couple of days after the storm as well…Fernando brought us booze and ginger ale…we lent him our generator until power came back on.

I’m always pretty amazed with the outpouring of support after major calamities.  Every time, the local area rightfully brags about how their community comes together as if their community is somehow special.  The reality is there is nothing special about how Texas citizens responded to Harvey and Ike…how Louisiana citizens responded to Katrina and Rita…how New Jersey citizens responded to Sandy…how Mississippi citizens responded to Hilda…nothing special whatsoever.  They are no more unique that the response got from one in the Caribbean, or the way the community came together here in the Keys after Irma.  When there are times of need, people come together and give for the greater cause…everywhere, no matter what.  I’ve seen it before and I’ve seen it here in Key West the past couple of weeks.  It’s a wonderful thing to witness.

Things are very much on the mend here post hurricane.  FEMA, state, and county aid is coming in.  Just a few minutes ago I even saw a team of Baptist First Responders from North Carolina in the local Publix.  We have water though it needs to be boils.  We got our scooters back yesterday so we have transportation.  Electricity, cell phone service and internet is back up.  Trash is starting to be hauled off in a noticeable volume.  A few of the bars down on Duval Street are back open, as are the grocery stores and gas stations.  It’s only been twelve days…I’m sure it will look even more different and on the road to recovery a week from now.

The cliché hater I am, I have to admit there is one that holds true:  The plans of a cruiser are written in the sand at low tide.  What do we intend to do now?  The truth is we don’t know.  We feel we will be lucky if we can have Freedom repaired in six months.  With Hurricane Maria destroying even more of the Caribbean as I type, there seems to be little reason to continuing on down there.  We could go north up the east coast…or sail on down into the western Caribbean.  Chuck and I both have our own ideas relative to the possibilities but have indicated to each other we have no intention of making any decisions until after Freedom is repaired.

Lastly, perhaps some might wonder how we feel.  That’s difficult to really answer.  Honestly, we are still processing the situation.  I’m a little more of a count-your-blessings kind of person than Chuck is.  Nonetheless, it’s easy to look at our boat at the moment and not become bummed out.  It’s easy to fall into the why me blues.  While talking to someone on the dock the other day she said something that was most true.  She said she had a hard time feeling fortunate.  I think that pretty much sums up our state.  We are, at times, having a hard time realizing just how fortunate or lucky we are, particularly when we know so many here and in the Caribbean that have either had their boat sunk or severely damaged way more than ours.  Our yacht is fully insured, it’s seaworthy and all of the systems are working and intact and, most importantly, we are alive.  Many more, many more, or nowhere near as fortunate…I cry for them.

Sure we have a major PITA experience ahead of us getting our boat repaired, but repaired as good, or better, than it was it will be, rest assured.  We have a marine surveyor coming to assess the damage and look at the boat with a professional eye…he’s surveyed the boat twice before.  During the repair, the location of that repair still undetermined, we do not intend to stick around but rent a car and go on a road trip.  It’s been well over a year since we have been off the boat and are due for a road trip anyhow.  In the interim, we have several guests that are due to arrive in a few weeks that will take our mind off of things for a while.  Once they leave, we’ll get back on track and make the decisions that need to be made relative to the repair.

Well, that’s the scoop. 

Every time I go through a hurricane I hate it.  This one was no exception.