Monday, April 29, 2013

Ashling goes to ground

Crew Position: 42°23’N, 71°17’W – Dedham, Boston
Boat Position: 26°06’N, 80°10’W – Riverbend Marine Center, Fort Lauderdale

On Monday morning we downed tools and prepared for eviction. Ashling was being lifted out of the water and moving to ‘the hard’ (onshore) where her ‘bottom’ would be inspected and repainted.

They call it hauling out and this was our second time to go through it with Ashling. First we drive into a berth that is surrounded by a crane called a travel lift. Two large slings lie in the water beneath the boat and the lift operator positions the slings around the boat’s centre of gravity. Then he lifts the boat out of the water, fingers crossed it is balanced. Watching 11 tons of our prized possession rising out of the water, hanging in mid-air and then moving around the boat yard is nail biting at the best of times. Click here to see how it all worked out. 

With Ashling safely up on blocks, it was time to spoil the Skipper who turned 33 on Wednesday. He has been calling the shots since we left Auckland last September so it was time for a change (and a little revenge perhaps). In his birthday card he received a list of times and street addresses for the day ahead.

Blindly taking vague instructions was a little disconcerting to a man who has spent the past eight months dishing out orders to the crew. An eggs benedict breakfast, rental car and a hot towel shave eased his initial anxieties and he was actually enjoying himself before we pulled into the carpark of Fort Lauderdale Rocketman Experience. Strapping a jet pack to his back and flying around a lake was probably more fun for the First Mate but the Skipper did admit, after a stiff drink, that he enjoyed it too. 

After a tiring three weeks of boat projects, we left Ashling and the heat behind us, and flew to Boston for a much anticipated family holiday with Myles’ parents and Eithne’s aunt, uncle and cousins. Skype and email are our lifelines on board but there's just no substitute for a real, live, in-the-flesh hug. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

All aboard the crazy bus

Position: 26°06’N, 80°10’W – Riverbend Marine Center, Fort Lauderdale

There’s a gaping hole on the list of Top 10 things to do in Fort Lauderdale. Sure, there’s the beach and the Everglades and the many riverboat tours along Millionaire’s Row. But these don’t tell you much about your average Fort Lauderdale resident. For an up close and personal experience with the locals, you need to take a trip on the #1 bus.

Everyone in America has a vehicle of some sort. The roads are filled with pick-up trucks, SUVs and people carriers, the bigger and louder the better. As a result, public transportation seems to be used mainly by the unemployed, the crazy people and visiting sailors - some would argue these are one and the same :)

The #1 bus runs from central Fort Lauderdale to Aventura in the south, serving workplaces, hospitals and shopping malls. It is one of many bus routes in the city but somehow it attracts the most colourful spectrum of passengers. Like the crazy man who leaned too close to the lady sitting beside him until she roared “Dude, you need to not be touching me or I’m going to beat the f@#k out of you” and then went back to sleep. Or the lady in her wheelchair who refused to strap herself to the wheelchair bar, rolling up and down the aisle at every stop. Or the man in the back seat talking to everyone within earshot that “African soldiers - from Africa - are comin’ to sort out all this slavery in the USA!”

We’ve travelled the route at different times of the day, from different stops, even sitting in different places and still we get a show. It is scary, funny and unbelievable all at the same time. After one too many close and crazy encounters with the locals, we decided we’d seen enough of the locals and have invested in two fold-up bicycles. It has made life much easier, albeit a little less entertaining.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A sailor in heaven in Fort Lauderdale

Position: 26°06’N, 80°10’W – Riverbend Marine Center, Fort Lauderdale

With over 60,000 boats harboured in its maze of waterways, Fort Lauderdale is one of the world’s largest yachting centres and has a booming marine supply industry to boot. For every marine supply you could ever possible need, from simple sail repairs for regular sailboats to a luxury Jacuzzi for superyachts, you’ll find it all here.

And if they don’t stock it, some suppliers even offer to custom-make it for you instead. To understand this fully, I've been told that it is like shoe-shopping. You see the perfect pair of shoes but the store doesn’t stock your size and to be honest, you have always wished you could have one shoe a little bit smaller than the other. The assistant apologises (!) and offers to custom-make a pair for you instead for just another few dollars. This, apparently, is what a sailor feels like in Fort Lauderdale.

New solar panels soaking up the sun
And so, after seven months and over 10,000 miles, Ashling is finally getting her well earned R&R and TLC. Nothing is broken as such but the Skipper has noticed the telltale signs of a boat that needs some love. Every day we tackle the never-ending list of jobs and visit one supplier after another in search of parts, like new solar panels or a replacement gas burner for our cooker or a fiddle for our main sheet (translation fails me, try Google!).

In sailor-speak, each of these jobs is called a ‘Project’ and just 
Skipper finally finds a quiet spot
like in the corporate world, it’s a challenge to keep it in budget and delivered on time. Unlike the corporate world (one hopes!), as soon as one Project is completed, it’s replaced by another two. It’s an expensive process but usually the bank statement helps us to draw the line between ‘want to have’ and ‘need to have’. However at the very least, we will leave Florida next month with the boat rigging (ropes and wires that hold up the mast) replaced, the boat-bottom repainted and anti-fouled, and a brand new spray dodger (wind shield) to keep us dry in the cockpit as we cross the Atlantic. 

Our home in Fort Lauderdale is Riverbend Marine Center, a boatyard that is like a marina without the perks. It’s dusty. It’s noisy. It’s busy. Without a doubt, we are the smallest sailboat in the yard and every day we are reminded of this. A 106 foot motor catamaran beside us has been under refurbishment for the past 18 months. (Fred, the French foreman, calls it an old boat as it was built in 2004. What would he call Ashling, built in 1982?!) This week we spent two days researching and installing two solar panels. Fred spent two days installing a full Miele kitchen, the size of which would fit twenty of our solar panels!

Small boat, big boat

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ashling meets the Gulf Stream

Position: 26°06’N, 80°10’W – Riverbend Marine Center, Fort Lauderdale

Every kid growing up in Ireland learns about the Gulf Stream, the warm current in the North Atlantic that gives the country its ‘mild’ climate. What they didn’t teach us at school was how fast it can move. Normally the Gulf Stream travels at 1-2 knots through the Atlantic and in some areas, where the sea water is constricted by land, it moves faster.

As we approached the southern tip of Florida on Tuesday, the numbers on our speedometer started to slowly creep up. 5 knots...6 knots...7 knots. We had entered the Gulf Stream! Ashling eventually settled around 7.5 knots but for the record, let it be known that the maximum speed of 11.2 knots was reached on the Skipper’s watch. Normally we would only reach such high speeds in big seas or high winds. Yet here we were, on a beautiful sunny day, flying along in an easy, slight sea. Whatever about the moderate Irish climate, kids should learn that this is a magic sailing carpet and a pure joy to travel in.

And it really is warm – the water temperature hit 30°C at one stage! We’ve heard this makes for good mahi-mahi fishing but Skipper hasn’t been fishing lately. (Apparently he is giving the fish a chance to regroup before he returns, all guns, er, rods blazing later in the this space). Warm water also makes for scary thunderstorms at night. Flashes of lightning travel for miles and it’s no picnic sitting on a boat with a tall pole sticking up, inviting the lightning to hit.

Finally on Thursday we arrived at our destination - Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On our first day, we took a wrong turn in our dinghy looking for the Immigration Office and met the County Sheriff out on his boat. When he opened the conversation with “Sir, what are your intentions?” we realised our intentions to continue up the canal were probably not to his liking. We gulped, took a deep breath and replied “Sir, we are lost”. Always best to state the obvious in these kind of situations.
When we finally reached the Customs Office, we were expecting a full interrogation and possibly a search of Ashling. However it was refreshingly straightforward. Our trip to Florida last month ensured that our visa was in order and all the necessary background checks had already been completed. As our paperwork was processed, we chatted to one of the officers about his Irish ancestry. He asked about our trip and where we were going next, handed us back our stamped passports and said “You guys are nuts. Now get outa here!”