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Posted By Robin & Jim

We had a great cruise into our beloved Florida Keys.  We anchored behind Pumpkin Key next to the very exclusive Ocean Reef Club at the north end of Key Largo so we could jump out to the ocean side of the Keys for the rest of the trip to Marathon.  The path to Hawk Channel is through Angelfish Creek which has notoriously shifting shoals at the mouth.  We had to transit it at the top of high tide, and our reward was a beautiful Keys sunrise as we got to the ocean.

angelfish creek sunrise

We had a nice cruise down Hawk Channel, though it's important to keep a sharp watch out for crab pots!  The floats they use here in the Keys are pretty small and they can be hard to see until they are close.  Hawk Channel is fairly shallow - 15-25' on average.  It runs on the inside of the reef so it has better protection from ocean waves; on the outside of the reef the depths drop off dramatically and the Gulf Stream current often comes very close to the edge.

The Keys are about 100 miles long - a chain of islands connected by bridges first built by Henry Flagler for his Overseas Railroad in the early 1900's.  You can see the tractor trailer on this bridge...

long key viaduct

No trip to Marathon would be complete without a storm.  We ALWAYS seem to get a little storm just to make things interesting.  This year it was only a series of smaller rain squalls, but they passed very near us and made it a little exciting.  As we approached Sombrero light we could see the closest dark clouds and rain.

sombrero storm

We dodged the weather and tucked into our usual slip well before sunset.  We have the nicest view of the sun setting into the ocean right from our slip, and sometimes we get lucky enough to see a green flash (if the conditions are right).

Early December is the usual time for the various holiday boat parades, and we enjoyed the small but enthusiastic parade that passed right by our marina.

xmas boat parade
xmas boat parade 2

We got into the spirit of it all and Jim outlined ADVENTURES in lights, and I put up a lot of our little decorations.adventures xmas lights
We've had a bit of excitement around here - some Cuban refugees made landfall by climbing on a neighbor's boat and then scrambling up onto the dock.  A good friend had a bad fall off the dock and broke his leg.  And the marina's general mgr. was arrested for drug smuggling and attempted murder-for-hire.  There's always something interesting going on around here!


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

South Florida is where the really big yachts hang out, and boats like ours are dinghies compared to the behemoths. 

We stopped to visit good friends in Jupiter, and were able to tie up in an empty slip - between two 120' yachts.  Another DeFever came in with us and we were able to share the slip.  As we were bringing the two boats in a crew member from the next-door yacht said "Oh, what cute little boats!"  Really?  But I guess it's all about one's perspective.

cute little boat

We had a marvelous visit with our friends, and I got a lot of time for crafts - beading, knitting, and even needle felting.  We taught a few gals how to needle felt, and we made some little Christmas trees.  It doesn't even matter what we make - it's just about spending time together.

felting

It's always unreal cruising through south Florida - Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami with the vast forest of tall condo buildings and trendy houses and big yachts.  It's sort of like cruising through a fjord with steep sides and amazing sights, except it's all concrete and glitz.

ft. lauderdale

We passed through the heart of Ft. Lauderdale where the docks are packed with big yachts - Bahia Mar and Pier 66 Marinas seem to host some of the largest - each one is bigger than its neighbor.  The 1% seem to be doing just fine...

bahia mar

And what happens when your mega-yacht needs a tow?  TowBoat/US has this big bubba that resides halfway between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami for pushing those megas around.

towboat

It's very had to capture the pure spectacle that is south Florida in photos - yachts with huge doors in their sides that open to reveal 40 or 50' elegant launches and jet-skis and all manner of water toys.  Crew in matching uniforms perpetually polishing and buffing... it's all pretty unreal!

It was good to leave "civilization" (a dubious term!) behind us and get into Biscayne Bay, Card Sound, and the Keys (aka "South of Reality") - back to nature and the birds and fish and a less hectic pace.

Stiltsville is the beginning of the Keys kind of spirit - the remnants of some buildings built out on stilts out in Biscayne Bay in the 1920's and 30's for liquor, gambling, and fishing clubs.  Over time hurricanes took their toll on the buildings and the State clamped down on further development or reconstruction.  The few remaining buildings are now owned by the National Park Service and they remain a bit of colorful south Florida history.

stiltsville


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

This trip south has been about trying new places and doing some of the "I always wanted to..." things in familiar places.  We've stopped in St. Augustine a few times before, but it was always a quick visit.  This time we were determined to see the town properly, so we took a mooring ball for three nights.

I had never been to the Castillo de San Marcos - the oldest masonry fort in the US, so that was the first stop.  The Spanish started building the fort in 1672 and it's now a National Monument.  There are a few paid staff and a host of volunteers who dress up in period costumes and they fire some of the cannons throughout the day. 

cannon firing

Another thing on our list was to take a tour of the gorgeous Flagler College - which was originally Henry Flagler's premiere hotel.  Henry Flagler may be most famous for building the Florida East Coast Railway that linked the islands of the Florida Keys together, but Henry was actually a hotel man who realized that he needed to build railroads in order to bring people to his hotels.

The Ponce de Leon hotel was built in 1888 for the ultra wealthy, and a winter season there could cost about $250,000.  The buildings, architectural details, artwork, and Tiffany stained glass windows are amazing, and the College has maintained a lot of the details beautifully.

flagler college lion

flagler college

Across the street, Flagler built the Hotel Alcazar which catered to the wealthy (as opposed to the ultra-wealthy), and it boasted the world's largest indoor swimming pool.  It is now the Lightner Museum with a varied collection of Victorian things, but the old swimming pool is a cafe where you can have an elegant lunch.

lightner pool

Another thing on our wish list was to climb the 164' tall St. Augustine lighthouse.

lighthouse

The spiral striping is distinctive, and was originally done to make each lighthouse unique so mariners would know where they were along the coast.  St. Augustine was the first lighthouse in Florida, built in 1824.  Just imagine the Keepers carrying heavy buckets of lamp oil up all those stairs several times a day, even in the summer!

For us, the views from the top were worth the effort of the climb, and we could even see ADVENTURES in the harbor - the little black speck of a boat to the left in this photo.

st. augustine view

We had a grand time exploring the town and its long history, and it's fun to learn new things.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

Some of you may know that we're moving (with ADVENTURES) out to the Pacific Northwest in the spring so we can cruise the San Juans and Alaska for a few years.  So this trip down the east coast is the last one for a very long time, and that makes it somewhat bittersweet.  We've been savoring familiar places and stopping at some new spots that we always said "next time...".  We're calling this "Southbound: The Farewell Tour".

pelicans

The first time we see pelicans when we're southbound is right where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay, but the white pelicans don't appear until southern Georgia and northern Florida.

We stopped in Brunswick, GA for fuel at the commercial dock (they have the best price and fresh fuel), and were surrounded by shrimp boats.  It's a real shame that I don't like seafood!

shrimper

It was heartbreaking to pass by Cumberland Island - which has become one of our favorite places, but we've spent so much time there that we wanted to try a new spot - Fernandina Beach, right across the Florida border.  It should come as no surprise that the town's mascot is the shrimp...

fernandina mascot

It's a sweet little town with cute shops, nice cafes and restaurants, and Victorian homes on streets with canopies of live oaks and Spanish moss.  There are also paper mills on either side of the town, but it's easy to forget they're there.  The weekend we visited they had a fishing tournament, an international Petanque tournament (similar to bocce), and a real old-fashioned All American Veterans Day parade.  The parade was fabulous - with bands and fire trucks, girl scouts and boy scouts, monster trucks, a motorized sofa (you can't make this stuff up!) and the Shriners with their crazy cars.

veterans shriner cars

People lined the streets and we all cheered and clapped for the veterans of all ages that paraded by, and everyone had tears in their eyes at the veteran's memorials.  We can never thank these people enough for their service and their sacrifice.

The town also holds a Farmer's Market every Saturday, so we stocked up on beautiful veggies, local honey, and some fresh baked foccacia.

farmers market

We had a lovely little pause in Fernandina Beach and now we understand why it's such a cruiser-friendly spot.  Next stop - playing tourist in St. Augustine!

 


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We've been so busy either heading south or visiting places and friends that the blog has fallen behind.  In reality we're much farther south, but we saw and did so many things along the way that it's worth sharing.

After the weather finally settled post Hurricane Sandy, we continued south into South Carolina.  The Myrtle Beach area on the ICW isn't my favorite - it's long and straight and the only scenery comes from the many golf courses along the way.  One course is pretty cool though - it has a sky car that transports the golfers and their clubs from the parking lot, across the ICW to the course on the other side.

sky cars

About 20 miles below Myrtle Beach is the mysterious Waccamaw River - a densely wooded river with cypress trees and spanish moss.  It's just gorgeous in the fall and we anchored in one of the side creeks for an afternoon so I could kayak.  I just love the Waccamaw and all the wildlife, plus the spooky feeling of the cypress trees in the water.

waccamaw cypress

I paddled my kayak up some smaller side creeks, and then into an even smaller creek deep in the woods.  Flocks of wood ducks kept getting startled and they exploded into the air to fly off to a spot farther away.  The trees were so thick I could never see them well enough to photograph them.  Besides the wood ducks, I saw turtles sunning themselves on logs - plopping into the water as soon as I came into view, and I saw the tail of a big fish - I'm not sure what kind.  It looked like he was hunting and his tail was sticking up out of the water, waving gently.  I always see interesting things in the Waccamaw, and even just the reflection of the trees on the still water is neat.

waccamaw reflection

The fall leaves were lovely, and these water lilies added a nice splash of bright color...

waccamaw flower

The Waccamaw is a favorite spot and I'm glad we took the time to explore it a bit more, but the weather was still pretty chilly and we needed to keep heading south.  We even ran the generator some days so we could turn on the heat while we were underway.

As we travel we usually see a lot of birds, and it's exciting to see bald eagles nearly every day.  Ten years ago sightings were much more unusual, so it's great to see the birds making such a comeback.

eagle


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

I apologize that the blog is hopelessly out of date, but we have been busy and the pile of photographs to choose from keeps growing out of control.

When we returned from France we had 2 weeks to take care of all our various annual medical and dental checkups, and to see Jim's brother and sister and my brother.  It was a whirlwind.

Right before we left to head south we drove up to NJ to visit my brother Bob and his wife Susan. We happened to get there when they had an appointment at a hands-on winemaking place - it was time to press the crushed grapes for their latest vintage. We were joined by Susan's brother and his wife and daughter - too much fun. The whole weekend visit was wonderful, and meant a lot. Our visits with Jim's brother Richard and Carol, and his sister Margaret, Rene, and their family were also really fun. Here is winemaking in New Jersey... (my brother is the tall one and Susan is 2nd from the left)

winemaking

We were somewhat sad to leave Baltimore - it has always been a great place to stop.  It has a lot of character, great restaurants, convenient shops, and good friends nearby. I enjoyed kayaking around the harbor and walking along the promenade by the waterfront. I even saw Olympic champion Michael Phelps go jogging by me one morning. 

baltimore crab

We had to run two long days to get south before the winds cranked up, and our reward was arriving in Kilmarnock, VA in time for Suzie and Bill's fabulous Oktoberfest party. We always have a great time with them and we also got to catch up with several other old friends while we were in the area - known as the Northern Neck of Virginia. The highlight is always playing with my dog friend Darby. She came down to see if I would play just as we were backing the boat away from the dock. It broke my heart!

darby

We headed down to Norfolk & Portsmouth, VA and decided to spend two nights in Portsmouth since the town has lovely shops and nice streets for strolling. We also love the beautifully restored Commodore Theater and we were lucky to catch the movie "Argo" - which was terrific. Cruising through Norfolk is always a huge thrill - with so many Navy ships ready at their docks, as well as a number in drydock or some state of upgrade.

navy ships

With tugboats and commercial ships and even a large cruise ship, it's a busy harbor with lots to see. We thank all our military heroes for their commitment and service.

At this point Hurricane Sandy was threatening and we decided to press on to Morehead City, NC where we felt we would be well protected from the big storm. We ran a few long days, but it was worth it. We tucked into a good marina just in time, and at Sandy's worst we had 40-50 knot winds - not a problem. Luckily our friends and family in the NY/NJ area made it through without too much damage, but our hearts go out to those who were not so lucky. We spent a great week "stuck" in Morehead with boating friends and some of our local friends.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

Our last stop in the Loire Valley was the David d'Angers gallery.  David is a famous sculptor with pieces in many prominent places around the world.  He was an amazing talent, and the gallery was small, but very interesting - located in a former abbey. 

david d'angers gallery

One of the places on Jim's wish list for this France trip was Mont St. Michel on the northern coast.  The Mont is a rocky tidal island that was a monastery starting in the 8th century.  The abbey sits at the top of the tall rock, with a small town spiraling around the mountain leading up to the summit.  It was quite a climb up to the top of the abbey, but well worth it for the view and to hear about all the history of this amazing place.

mont st. michel

From there we drove to the opulent palace at Versailles, and then into Paris.  We used a big pile of Metro (subway) cards running all around the city to see as many highlights as we could in a few days.  We took a lovely dinner cruise on the Seine to see the city lit up at night, we enjoyed nice little lunches at sidewalk cafes, we toured Sacre Coeur, Place de la Concorde, the Arc du Triomphe, strolled along the Left Bank, and toured and climbed Notre Dame cathedral.  I think that was my favorite - the views of the city are wonderful, but the gargoyles were really exceptional!

notre dame view

We found Paris to be very crowded with tourists, but it was easy to understand why people find it to be such a compelling city.  It has so many sights and an endless variety of museums.  We spent just one afternoon at the famous Louvre, and I never realized that the buildings were once a palace - they are a work of art by themselves! 

louvre

The collections in the Louvre were unbelievable - you just have to try and absorb it in small bits at a time.

Of course no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower, and we got to see it by day and by night.

eiffel tower

We all took the train through the Chunnel from Paris to London.  Jim's Dad flew back to Florida and we took two days to enjoy London.  Of course we headed right to the Royal Naval Observatory to see the Harrison clocks that were used to accurately calculate longitude on ships at sea.  We walked all around the town trying to see as much as we could, wrapping up with a ride on the London Eye to see the city by night - wonderful!


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We spent about a week exploring some of the lovely towns along the Loire River, and of course sampling many Loire Valley wines along the way.  Spending two weeks in the Burgundy region spoiled us though, as we decided we liked that region's wines a bit better.  The Loire area has a large number of famous chateaus - incredible mansions and small castles built by the ultra wealthy nobles and some of the French kings.  Each one is more ornate and elaborate than the last.  Chambord (below) was one of my favorites, with a roof covered in many different spires.

chambord

Another one that we both liked was Chenonceau, set astride a small river.  It features lovely formal gardens on each side, as well a labyrinth made from sculptured hedges.

cenenceau

Chateau Usse resembled a Disney-style castle, and it was one of the very few where family members still live in part of the chateau.  It had a large chapel set off to one side, horse stables, and of course a formal French garden.

chateau usse

We saw so many chateaus in the area that we got overwhelmed - opulence overload!  But I had never been to France before and Jim hadn't been there in 50 years, so it was good that we could see so much in the time we had.

We enjoyed the large towns (small cities?): Amboise, Saumer, Tours, Chartres, Orleans - they were full of history as well as bustling with business.  The sidewalks had lovely outdoor cafes and modern light rail systems.  But all of these old French towns have narrow streets, and it was typical to see a little Postal van-let stop right in the middle of the street - blocking all traffic - to deliver a package.  The French never seemed to mind this practice - everyone just waited patiently until the Postal worker returned and drove off.

Jim, of course, enjoyed pressing his nose to the windows of the chocolatiers and patisseries - with the brightly colored and artistically decorated confections on display.

 sweet treats

Sometimes he couldn't just look in the windows, and he had to venture inside!

One of our favorite towns was Saumer - we stayed in a hotel along the river that had a courtyard facing a chateau high overhead.  The restaurants were particularly good (or maybe we were just getting better at choosing), and you have to love a chateau that has grape vines growing just outside the walls.

saumer chateau and Jim


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

Our trip through France was a whirlwind, and we made the most of our time there.  I took a ton of photos and we visited many different kinds of places.

While on the Nivernais Canal and the Yonne River in Burgundy, we stopped in the large town of Auxerre.  Even a large town has many cathedrals!

auxerre

We explored the town and enjoyed the many restaurants as well as the bakeries.  Jim loved the gorgeous pastries and dessert treats in the patisserie shop windows.  I don't know how the French stay so slim with their devotion to fabulous breads (croissants, pain au chocolat, baguettes) and pastries.  But we wore the calories away with miles of walking and exploring all the little side streets.  The town had a lot of houses built in the 15th century - so impressive that those houses still stand today.  Imagine the stories those buildings could tell!

We explored the wonderful cathedrals - some built in the 12th century.

auxerre cathedral

It's amazing to think of all the skilled workers carving each stone, the architects who designed the soaring ceilings, and the muscle to raise these heavy blocks of stone to build each cathedral.  They are magnificent.

In Auxerre we took a day trip over to Chablis to see the famous vineyards and sample some of the different grades of Chablis wine.  The Grand Cru was really good but even the lower grades of wine were lovely. 

We enjoyed the rest of our canal boat cruise through the countryside and the little towns.  I liked the forests and rolling hills, and these beech trees with big green clumps of mistletoe growing everywhere.

mistletoe

After two weeks we picked up a rental car and headed to the Loire Valley to see the towns and chateaus and more cathedrals.  Our first stop was Orleans - a beautiful town that celebrates Joan of Arc, and we lunched in the shadow of this cathedral.

orleans cathedral

The carvings and details inside and outside of the Orleans cathedral was just stunning, along with the stained glass windows and statues. 

inside orleans cathedral
Many of the larger windows illustrate the story of a particular martyr - grim tales of struggles for power and cruelty, all in the name of intolerance.  Lessons history seems to repeat.

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We are currently cruising in France with Jim's Dad (Le Grand Fromage).  He suggested the trip last fall, and we agreed - chartering a canal boat in Burgundy and then touring the Loire Valley, Mont St. Michel, and Paris by car.  It has been an interesting change of pace - running a small boat on the very narrow Nivernais Canal.

We departed from the Le Boat base in Chatel-Censoir with our 37' single-screw boat.  It's a pretty nice boat - two staterooms, a separate shower, a nice little galley and airy saloon, a bow thruster, and even a diesel heating system that is very handy for taking the chill off the cabin after the cool (chilly!) nights.

chatel-censoir

The Nivernais runs along the River Yonne - a major thoroughfare between Italy and Paris (and the northern coast) from ancient times.  Julius Caesar came through this area in 44 BC, as well as Atilla the Hun, Napoleon, etc.  There is a great deal of documented history of over 2000 years here.

The Nivernais Canal was used for over 400 years to float logs from the Morvan Forest down to Paris for heat and construction materials, and the adjacent Yonne River was used to transport blocks of stone and other supplies to Paris prior to that.

chalk cliffs

The Canal is very narrow, as are the locks (there are many) and bridges.  A towpath is now a bicycle path running along the canal, and we've seen many local as well as touring and camping bicyclists as we've traveled.

Each of the locks on the Nivernais are operated by hand, so locking is a bit time-consuming since the tender has to walk around and open and close the gates, and operate the sluices to fill or empty the lock chamber. 

 helping the locktender

You can see in the photo how narrow the locks and bridges are. The bridges are also pretty low - sitting at the upper helm station I can often reach up and brush my fingers against the bottom of the bridges we pass under.  Some of the charter boats have sun umbrellas or bimini tops, and they need to pay attention and lower everything before they go under the bridges!

We've been stopping to explore little towns and villages, though sometimes the (only) restaurant is closed.  It's a good thing we provisioned with a few things we could fix for dinner since we've had to do that a few times when towns didn't have any options.

dinner aboard

Fortunately we've had marvelous weather - cool nights but warm days in the high 70's or low 80's.  We've been enjoying the local wines and fresh croissants as often as we can.

in the lock with bikes

We have bikes aboard so we've been exploring a bit farther when we stop.  We'll continue to report from France as we cruise along...