Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lake Ontario - Florida Keys

So now it was time to take off on our first extended trip off the Great Lakes. We set a date of September 1998 and were determined to stick to it. In retrospect, it wasn't all that hard to do. Once we realized the boat would never be 100%, the rest was pretty simple.

Lisa gave her notice at the bank while I continued to work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for Oceaneering (and would do so throughout the trip).

Departure Day, Stoney Creek, Sep 1998
Our boat was our home, so we didn't have to worry about a house-sitter. And of course, NO KIDS! We had put alot of time and money into the boat, not everything was ready to go (still no depth sounder), but we felt confident to leave.

After a farewell party with friends in family in Port Dalhousie, we set off for Toronto to deal with a few last minute details. After an exciting evening trying to get into Toronto Harbour, we followed the Lake Ontario shoreline down to Cobourg. It was here that we were to meet another family heading south, Terry, Kim and Bryn Ferencze. Our paths were to cross numerous times over the next 12 months, and to this day we have remained friends (as a matter of fact they are cruising the Bahamas right now).

So we left Cobourg early in the morning and set off for Oswego, NY. Once in Oswego, and of course after clearing through Customs and Immigration (what a mess that was!!), we un-stepped our mast and started our transit of the Erie Canal. After 350 miles and 34 locks we arrived in Castleton-on-The-Hudson near the top of the Hudson River. With the help of Terry, Kim and Bryn, our mast was re-stepped and we were ready to head towards NYC!

On the Hudson River

The trip down the Hudson River was a surprise to both of us. It is a really nice trip, especially with the fall colours of the surrounding forests. The shoreline is very rural, with both low, rolling hills and some dramatic "mountains" in the area near West Point Military Academy.

The day we arrived in New York City was cold and gray, with a strong headwind slowing our progress. Other than Toronto Harbour, this was the only other busy harbour we had sailed into. We quickly learned that water taxi drivers are no different than yellow cab drivers! They own the waterway, so you better get out of their way! Our original was to anchor behind the Statue of Liberty (you were free to do this pre-9/11), but decided to get a slip for the night instead.

So a couple of days in Jersey City, New Jersey (directly across from Manhattan), then we were off again.

A day out of New York Harbour brought us to Atlantic Highlands , NJ. Little did we know that 8 years later we would be back in AH buying out current boat!!

We spent a day trying to get some parts for our little 2hp Honda outboard, then it was time to set-off on our first night sail on the Atlantic Ocean. We followed the Jersey Coast, past Atlantic City, to Cape May, NJ.

After a couple of days in Cape May waiting for decent weather, we headed off mid morning for another overnight run down the coast to Norfolk. Once in Norfolk, we picked up the Intercoastal Waterway and started the long trip down the US eastern seaboard to the Keys.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is a series of interconnected natural (rivers, bays) and man-made (canals, cuts, channels) bodies of water running from Mile 1 in Norfolk, Virginia all the way 1200 miles to Miami, Florida. Often referred to as "The Ditch", it's a really interesting way to see the USA. Most people would be quite surprised how much wild, pristine and undeveloped area there is still remaining on the east coast. The ICW travels through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

As with any boat trip, our's had it's share of surprises. The first major surprise was that our 30-year old gas engine didn't seem to like saltwater!

Here is a picture of Connemara II on the hard in oriental, North Carolina awaiting installation of our new (used) Volvo diesel engine! Needless to say this was an expense we did not expect. As with most things, something good came out of this incident, that being Lisa's "adoption" by a retired cruising couple, Bobbie and Gord Blowers. They were on their trawler next to Lisa (they lived in town), and once they heard our plan for Lisa to live on the boat in the yard while Mark was away at work, they insisted she move into their house with them. We still keep in touch with Bobbie and Gord, and they are still out there cruising!! Thanks again guys!! See you soon.

Dodging shrimping boats off the Georgia Coast!

Fresh shrimp in South Carolina

Having left home in late September and stopping travel while I was at work, we finally got to Miami and the nice weather. This marked the end of the ICW and the start of the Florida Keys. We followed Hawk Channel, which is basically a route inside the reef on the Atlantic side of the Keys. Our plan was to get to key Largo, where our friends Jaimie and leah were to meet us. Prior to their arrival we spent about a week anchored just off Key Largo. Our days were pretty routine. 1. Up for breakfast. 2. Pull anchor around 1000hrs and motor 20 minutes to the reef. 3. Tie off to a mooring ball 4. Swim, snorkel and sunbathe all day 5. Back to the anchorage around 17oo hrs. 6. Shower, have a drink (or a few!), get the bbq going and sit and watch the sunset.

It was alot tougher than it sounds!!!!

Stiltsville, just south of Miami

After Jaimie and Leah left, we moved further down the keys to marathon, where we were joined by our friend's Cheryl and Brent. Unfortunately this vist was cut short as I had to leave for a job in New Zealand, but the few days we had together were alot of fun.

So after I got back from New Zealand, Lisa and I had a few remainingdays in the Keys before pointing the boat back North (ahead of Hurricane season). We were experiencing problems with our new (old) engine. The best speed we could make was 3 kts!!! So from the lower Keys back to Oriental we managed to commit the ICW to memory. Long days, not much progress.

So after 10 months, Connemara II was in a yard in Oriental and we were now living in a small duplex we bought in Port Colborne. Time to get serious now!! Lisa off the pill, try to make a baby!

This story will have to wait until the next posting though.