More Road - Less Sea

 Home Up Bahamas..... Again

 

So boat safely on the hard.  Outboard delivered to Olde Towne Marina, repaired, returned super quickly, super economically and the boot/trunk of car filled with oil!  And yes, I do know the boot or even the trunk is not the part of the car that's supposed to be filled with oil.  Let's not even go there.  Suffice it to say that for the next several months we will be regularly visiting the US Post Office to collect large quantities of their splendid (and free) Priority Flat Rate shipping boxes to use as boot liners to protect our luggage.

We are on our way to Boulder, Colorado to house-sit for the parents of Zoe for whom we house-sat last year in New Orleans.  But before we really get going, we'll divert to Brunswick Landing Marina to catch up with Matt & Karen on Where II.  Although our wakes have crossed several times since, it will be the first time we've physically been in the same place at the same time since the Caribbean island of Cubagua in 2009 before we headed for different destinations in Venezuela.

So a longish lunch reminiscing and then we're off!  Just under 2,000 miles  to go.  The diary says the first stop was somewhere called Dublin, but neither of us can remember it, so probably best to leave it out of your holiday plans.  Then Chattanooga, where we'd liked to have had time to stay longer,  made up for by Mt Vernon that sounds nice, but has nothing to recommend it.  And next up is Kansas City, Missouri another nice city with a proper town centre and good restaurants.  It seems to us though blisteringly hot - but we really don't know what hot is yet!  Then WaKeeney.  Yes that is the correct capitalisation.  Some romantic Native American name you're probably thinking.  Actually no, rather a clumsy combination of the names of the two guys who bought a few square miles of land from the railroad in 1877 and decided to build a town.  WaKeeney is exactly, to within a mile, half-way between Kansas City and Denver and built as a stopping point on the railroad.  That is truly it's only reason to exist, but since the trains haven't stopped here since 1930, that's no longer a very good reason.   "You're not locals are you?" asks the lady in the general store where we've gone in search of something to blitz in the microwave of our non-descript hotel.  We are slightly bemused - WaKeeney is in the middle of the desert, a very long way from anywhere and has a population quite a bit smaller than my secondary school.  Unless the shop assistant is an alien recently beamed down from her mothership, and only just learning to imitate a human, she must know (and quite possibly be related to) every person in WaKeeney.  Is this an X-Files moment?  Must double lock hotel room door!

There's another slightly surreal feeling over the next few hundred miles as we climb slowly up towards the mile high city.  The outside temperature continues to rise whilst the snow on the mountains seems almost close enough to touch.  I guess if you live in the shadow of the Rockies you get used to it, but for us the initial impression is quite stunning.

 

 

Boulder, nestled in the foothills at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains is spectacular, and Henry and Amanda have a wonderful home on the edge of town in the shadow of the Flatirons.  Boulder's location alone would be enough to attract an up-market community, but it is also home to Colorado State University and those two things, combined with a very healthy tourist industry has produced a greater concentration of decent places to eat than in any similar sized town in the US.  All in all it's an extremely pleasant place to spend 3 months. 

Boulder is a Mecca for "The Outdoors".   There are climbing, hiking and biking trails everywhere and even the people who aren't actually climbing, hiking or biking look as if they're about to be.  Certainly there are a lower percentage of fat people than anywhere else we've been in the States.    One downside as a motorist in Boulder, is that such is the priority enjoyed by cyclist, joggers and the like and so protected are they by local laws, that many of them have long since lost the ability to turn their head and tend to shoot out from turnings and corners without warning.  It makes driving around town a nerve racking experience - like being trapped in some demented '80s video game, but with the added spice of almost certain incarceration if you come into contact with any of them.

Oh and they have very large hailstones, which is why we have a new windscreen!

The only other negative thing about Boulder, which is not in any way Boulder's fault, is that it will be indelibly etched into our memories as the place where we woke up on the 24th of June to discover that the lunatics had in truth taken over the asylum and the British electorate had voted to leave the European Union.

 

 

        

 

Our time in Boulder sadly comes to an end on 15th September and we're on the road again.  Our destination is Toronto, Canada and that's what we have programmed into our navigation software to get us started.  We follow the Rockies north for a while before turning right, then   "Bear left in 1200 miles" chirps the lady in the phone.  That's not a direction you're ever likely to hear in the UK.  The rolling corn fields soon become monotonous.  Fortunately we have some stops planned along the route.

Glossing over places like Des Moines, which is for the best, our next proper destination is Chicago.  Say Chicago and the things that spring to mind are electric blues, bootlegging and most of all gangsters.  It was also the beginning of the old Route 66.  But our recollections will mostly be of stunning architecture and "The Bean" at Millenium Park.

 

Detroit next.  Home of the US motor industry, but our first stop is the Motown Museum, an unprepossessing detached house next door to an undertakers.  And it has to be said it wouldn't really be worth a visit unless you happen to be on the tour with a group of large ebullient black ladies who know all the words and all the associated moves to every Motown song ever recorded.   Go with them or don't go! 

Next day it's off to the Ford factory and museum, which may not sound too exciting unless you're a total petrol head, but actually was a really worthwhile day.  I'm sure we all have a picture in our heads of how a production line works and I'm sure Ford's facility is by no means unique, but nothing prepared us for the overall sophistication of the process, which is breathtaking.  Not breathtaking enough of course to make either of us ever want to apply for a job on an assembly line - just the opposite, but truly impressive!

It's cold and damp and almost before we know it we're crossing into Canada, which turns out to be very different from it's southern neighbour - more than we had ever imagined.  But, before we've been there anywhere near long enough to get a feel for that difference, the first thing we notice is that Canada is expensive.  That gasoline price - is for a litre?  OK, it's not in the same league as European fuel prices, but still a shock to the system.

Our first stop was to be Mississauga, outside Toronto, with John and Pat who'd been our neighbours in the boatyard at Fernandina.  They took us to see Toronto and we started to get a feel for that "difference".  Shopping in a huge market which felt like Europe - we even bought Foie Gras!  Lunch in a pub which felt like the UK.  Then buying wine in the only place it's available in Canada, in a government-owned store which felt like........ I don't know - Saudi Arabia?  A day on our own to visit Niagara Falls - really, is that it?  It's not very big is it?  Have you heard of Iguazu?  As Crocodile Dundee would say "That's a waterfall!"

Then we spend a few days with John and Pat at their cottage on scenic Lake Couchiching before driving cross country to our next  house-sitting assignment, 3 weeks in Kanata - just outside the Canadian capital of Ottawa.   We visit the museums in Ottawa  and tour the city on a brilliantly sunny but cold day.  Canada in the autumn is truly spectacular, although all those maple leaves are much better seen out in the country where it's not your job to rake them up!

 

It's late October by the time we leave for Montreal and already very cold and wet - just as well the old city of Montreal is blessed with an abundance of good restaurants without the need to walk very far.  Look for Verses if you ever visit.  We drive on through Quebec province, though sadly we don't actually make it to Quebec City.  Away from the big cities everything does now have a very rural French feel.  We stayed at a gte overlooking the lake at Piopolis and could have been in the Dordogne.  We also discover the excellent restaurant La Salle a Diner - hidden out in the woods and only open two days a week - and I suspect (or like to think) we are the only English couple ever to have eaten there.

The following morning we wake to a decent covering of snow - not something we've seen close up for a very long time.  A sign, if we needed one, that it was time to hurry south!  We cross the US border into Maine at a place called Coben Gore.  Actually, describing Coben Gore as a place is a bit like calling Bristol Rovers a football team.  Coben Gore is a gas station (on the US side of the border of course) and a pair of immigration offices and that is it.  Inexplicably, since both countries drive on the right, the US immigration booth has been build on the right-hand side of the road, making it impossible for the driver to speak to the officer without either leaning across to the passenger window or getting out of the car (in the snow) and walking round the car.  However, business is quickly concluded, our passports returned and we're off.  But wait a minute,  before we get a mile down the road, there's an odd feeling of unease - wasn't it just a bit too quick?  Lindy checks the passports.  They have no entry stamps or visas.  I suppose we are at that moment technically illegal immigrants!  Back we go.

 

According to the officer in the booth there has been a misunderstanding and a very strong implication that it was our fault.  However, we are to park the car and come into the office where we are handed over to another officer or, more correctly, group of officers.  In fact it's hard to imagine what so many immigration officers can possibly do at this little office in the middle of nowhere.  I don't think another car passed in either direction all the time we were there.   We guess Canadians mostly come over to buy cheap gas and then go home, but it's harder to see what brings anyone here from Maine.  However, all that aside, after much discussion and some searching in drawers, a big book and a stamp are found and we start again.   Everyone is charming, there's no hassle, we just get the impression that it's been sometime since anyone has entered the US here who is not either a US or a Canadian citizen so they probably don't do this very often. 

Half an hour later we are clutching brand new 6 month entry visas and on our way again.  The snow starts to reduce as we drop down through the pine forests towards the coast, though it doesn't seem to get much warmer.

We have a few days to spend in Maine with its mountains and pine forests, its tiny fishing villages and crenulated coastline it's another special place and easy to see what draws people here - in the summer at least.  It's not actually until we reach Portland on our way to the New Hampshire border that it really feels that we have arrived back in the US proper.  After that it was on down the East coast, we hopped the ferry from Connecticut to the tip of Long Island so as to approach New York from the East.  In doing so we passed through one of the same Jersey turnpike booths that Tony Soprano passed through at the beginning of every episode.  If only we'd known - we could have had Alabama 3 on the music player and bought cigars.

 

From there on south we were on familiar territory (even to the extent of another detour to Brunswick for dinner and much drinking with Where II) but to round things off we were accepted for a 2 week house-sit in Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville, not too far from the boatyard at St Marys, Georgia (and yes that's right, there is no apostrophe in St Marys 'cos that's how they spell it here).  This allowed us the luxury of being able to visit the boat and get some jobs done before needing to move back aboard.  So, by the time we actually climbed up the ladder, on 18 November we'd be virtually ready to splash.............................

Sorry, must have nodded off there and entered some sort of fantasy world.  Of course we weren't ready!  It would be another month when with new navigation lights, new wind generators, new bottom paint and a host of other stuff completed, we would be ready enough to start waiting for a high enough tide to get us out of the marina and down the river.  And just a word about the yard at St Marys:  We've been in a lot of boatyards now - North of the equator, South of the equator and on both sides of the Atlantic.  We've for sure been in boatyards which are more sophisticated and with better showers, toilets and laundry facilities.  However, we have never, ever been in a yard we would so readily return to or heartily recommend as St Marys.  A yard where you are welcome to work on your own boat (rare in the USA!),  where they provide aircraft boarding steps instead of ladders to get on board the boats (a blessing for ageing knees!) and where absolutely everyone genuinely wants to help with absolutely anything you need.

All that said there's no boatyard quite that good that we're not happy to leave and at high water springs on December 17th we dropped into the water and motored off to anchor before taking the following day's high tide down the river to Fernandina.  It has to be said that this whole process would have proceeded much more smoothly if one of us had remembered to switch the fuel supply to the main engine back on.!  As it was we ground to an embarrassing halt only a few hundred yards from the travel lift.  Thankfully in enough water and with enough space to drop the hook whilst trying to work out just why the engine had stopped.

Our next staging post would probably have been a mooring ball in front of Fernandina Marina, but that had been seriously damaged by Hurricane Matthew and was completely closed including the mooring field and the dinghy dock.  So we just dropped the anchor there for the night and slipped out of the St Marys river entrance at first light the following morning for a wet, rolly and foggy trip down to beautiful St Augustine.  We had a mooring booked for Christmas and New Year, which would be our third opportunity in just a few months to eat and drink far too much in the company of Where II and to meet some new friends from Canada on Quetico and Patty Jean.

 

 

Home Up Bahamas..... Again

 

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Last updated 5th June 2017