Tuesday, May 28, 2013

BOAT = Break Out Another Thousand

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

Once again, crew and boat are back together.

Saying goodbye to the last of the relatives in Washington DC, we boarded the last flight of our holiday in the USA and returned to Ashling in Fort Lauderdale. There was an initial moment of panic (read: Skipper almost had a heart attack) when we arrived back at the boat yard to see an empty space where Ashling stood when we left her three weeks ago. How could someone steal a 35-foot boat on dry land? A quick chat to the yard manager and we found her tucked away in a corner, away from the main thoroughfare where she could be kept clean and dry.

While we had been away enjoying the delights of the East Coast, Ashling had no shortage of visitors and we returned to find her in ship-shape again with a new spray dodger, signage, rigging and water tank. Together with the hundred and one other things which we have ticked off on our to-do list since arriving at the yard, she now feels like a whole new boat. It hasn’t come cheap and there have been some healthy withdrawals from the bank account but it has all been worth it.

No more sea spray with our new spray dodger

New signage

Repaired water tank

Later this week we will cast off the lines again and set sail on the final chapter of our adventure, an estimated 4,000 miles and 40 days across the Atlantic. It has been some time now since we’ve been at sea and we’re quietly excited and scared, all at the same time. 

The last few days will be filled with the usual stress of preparing for a blue-water passage – provisioning for food, water, fuel and gas; availing of the last hours of precious internet access; securing clothes, tools and books so that everything doesn't tumble out of cupboards when the first wave hits. Already the predictable Murphy's Law has taken effect with last minute problems of topping up gas for the fridge and killing a computer virus, while waiting for fibreglass foam to dry.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the United States. Granted it took us some time to convert to pounds and quarts and inches, figure out the funny 4-way road intersections and quickly calculate 15% of a bill for a tip. However we have met some wonderful people over the past two months, sailors and landlubbers alike, who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. The friendliness and helpfulness of complete strangers has bowled us over and we're glad to now call some of those strangers our friends. It may not have been an adventure at sea, but it has definitely been one on dry land.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Don't give up the ship"

Crew Position: 38°89’N, 77°03’W – Washington DC

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

The United States Naval Academy, located in Annapolis, Maryland, is the undergraduate college for young American men and women who wish to enter the naval forces. On our way back to Florida, we stopped by to visit the 338-acre campus and see if we had what it takes to become a naval seaman, or seawoman. 

Founded in 1845, the Academy is proud to list 1 President of the United States (Jimmy Carter), 2 Nobel Prize Winners, 24 Members of Congress (including John McCain) and 52 NASA astronauts among its past graduates. Every year 1,300 new students join the Academy for four years to study engineering and science, and receive navigation, seamanship and naval training. They are called Midshipmen (equivalent to a naval cadet) and many will ultimately go on to become officers in the US Navy or Marine Corps. 

"Don't give up the ship" was the dying command of James Lawrence, an American naval officer in the War of 1812 between the USA and the British Empire. Meant as encouragement to his remaining crew, it has since become a motto of perseverance for the US Naval Academy. We were happy to adopt his motto for the remainder of our journey at sea but with rigorous physicals, a strict daily routine and a requirement for waking up when you're told (a tough challenge for one particular Ashling crew member!), we decided the Navy was best left to those with more discipline than two cruisey sailors.

Sweeney cracks the whip
No rest for the Middies

USNA training vessel
Always jobs to be done

Captains talk tactics

4,000 mouths to feed...
...and 4,000 bodies to sleep

First Mates

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Playing ball in Boston

Crew Position: 40°71’N, 74°00’W – Manhattan, New York
Boat Position: 26°06’N, 80°10’W – Riverbend Marine Center, Fort Lauderdale

Sport is taken to a whole different level here in the United States. Walk into any bar and you’ll see a dozen TVs, each with a different sport. In some bars and diners, you don’t even have to share – you can have a TV at your table, complete with a sports TV guide and remote control! Athletes are celebrities and feature regularly in the daily news – how they’re playing, where they’re going, who they’re dating. It’s a full time job keeping up with it all.

Ice-hockey and basketball are ‘in-season’ at the moment but when it came to choosing a sporting event to attend, we went for the ultimate American institution. Baseball. Back in New Zealand, red socks are synonymous with the legendary yachting hero Sir Peter Blake who wore red socks for good luck during the 1995 America’s Cup. In Boston however, ‘Red Sox’ refers to the much-loved local baseball team.

Their home ground is Fenway Park, the oldest major league baseball stadium in use in America. For locals and visitors alike, a home-game is an experience to remember so like good tourists do, we kitted ourselves out in Red Sox supporter’s gear and joined the throngs at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.

With a little help from our cousins, we picked up the basics of the game – ball, bat, bases, how hard can it be?! Well apparently it is quite hard. The pitcher throws the ball at about 90 miles per hour. The batter tries to hit it as far away as possible, giving him a chance to run around the field, tagging three bases as he goes. If he runs a full circle in one go, it’s called a home run and the crowd goes wild. If he doesn’t, he makes it to first or second base and the crowd stay in their seats.

To the uninitiated (read: us), it seems quite similar to cricket. Lots of men stand around in a field. They shuffle around, waiting, watching. The pitcher throws the ball and the batter doesn’t move. Silence. The pitcher throws the ball again and the batter watches it go past him, then flexes his shoulders and changes his grip on the bat. More silence. The pitcher bowls a third time, the batter ‘wakes up’ and hits the ball. The crowd erupts as he sprints around the field while the shuffling men in the field try to catch the ball. Then before you know it, he’s back at home base, another player has stepped up to bat and the shuffling and silence starts all over again. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Roadtripping through New England

Crew Position: 41°65’N, 70°28’W – Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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

Walking through Boston Common on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was hard to imagine the tragic event that took place just three weeks ago. Families were having picnics in the park; couples were strolling through the gardens; street vendors were competing with each other on who sold the best hot dogs. The only reminders of the bombing were the banners and t-shirts that read ‘Boston Strong’, a silent statement of the Bostonian spirit and a sign of the city’s commitment to unite in the face of adversity.

We followed the typical tourist trail through Booah-ston - eating at Quincy Market and drinking at Cheers bar - before setting off on a roadtrip through New England. Driving up through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, we stopped off in the many small, quaint, picture-perfect towns that dot the coastline. In Salem to look for witches (and found an Irish woman!). We walked around ‘The Perfect Storm’ harbour in Gloucester before driving by the Bush family holiday home in Kennebunkport – no welcome mat there, so we shoved on inland towards New Hampshire.
A quick snog in Vermont

As we crossed the borders between states, we noticed the subtle differences like the state slogans - 'The Spirit of America' in Massachusetts ‘Live Free or Die’ in New Hampshire; ‘Vacationland’ in Maine - and the not-so-subtle differences like sales tax rates. The USA has over 9,646 different sales tax structures, ranging from 1% to over 10% depending on the town, state and item. Different rates between states is understandable when you consider the size of the country and compare it to different tax rates across Europe. However some of the categorisation does seem to border on the ridiculous. Like one state which taxes decorative pumpkins but not edible ones; or another which taxes ice-cream cakes according to the ratio of ice-cream layers to cake layers; or the one that taxes clothing accessories but not fur clothing.
'Goose Pond' outside Keene AKA local swimming pool

Flying the flag in Keene
On Wednesday evening we arrived in Keene, New Hampshire where the local Heneghans welcomed us with open arms, home-cooked meals and a hot tub. We put away the maps and guidebooks, and enjoyed a few days visiting places that only the locals know about. We even fitted in an early morning climb up Mount Monadnock, one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. As we caught our breadth at the summit, we realised that, for the first time in a long time, we couldn't see the ocean... 
The New Hampshire forest makes a welcome change to the ocean horizons
An alternative to shopping mall walking

Mount Monadnock. Done.

Extended crew photo - one American, four Irish and six Canadian