Our Diary Virginia to Florida, USA
No sooner do we finish one mini adventure than we start planning the next... That's cruising for you! We've just spent the morning "planning" our trip to Cuba (nearly 30 ports of call - probably a 2-month trip). But that's the next instalment…

We are now at Key West, Florida the Southern-most city in mainland USA… A fun city it is too - a great way to finish our USA cruise. We are a little late in sending this newsletter out as we have had a hectic trip from Norfolk, Virginia to here.

Norfolk, a huge naval base with aircraft carriers, submarines and a huge array of other naval vessels lining the quaysides, is the start of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) on the southern side of the Chesapeake Bay. We spent a couple of days here just unwinding and sightseeing prior to our "mad dash" south. Hurricane Jeanne was still a threat so we timed our trip to, hopefully, miss her. The ICW is a huge ditch over 1000 miles long from Norfolk to Miami and then a further 150 miles to Key West. This ditch is supposedly dredged to at least 9 feet, but there is currently an argument with the Corps of Engineers (Military) and the individual States as to who should be responsible for keeping it dredged. In the meantime it is silting up badly and is only 3-4 feet deep in parts, with little help from the tides to keep it open. With our 6'6" draft we were limited to where Poco could go. The other deciding factor is the height of bridges; although nominally there is a 65 foot clearance on fixed bridges, closer to Florida this has been forgotten! (We had carefully measured the boat when it was out of the water in Rhode Island and we calculated that we were 57' high plus about 1½ foot for aerials (hopefully flexible!). The cruising books advise that you can only count on doing 50 miles a day due to bridge openings and difficulties in night navigation

Our first taste was a short trip of 12 miles to Great Bridge which, we had been told, was a good place to re-provision with food and drinks. We tied up to the bank, alongside a picnic/barbecue site. It was only a short walk to the local supermarket so we decided to stock up on essentials (wine and beer), plus a little food and hardware. The US hospitality continued in earnest; after enquiring about borrowing the supermarket trolleys to take back our provisions we were offered a lift by the supermarket manager instead! The prices and service were so good that we decided to return for a second load! Much to our embarrassment the manager recognized us and again offered his services! He was intrigued by our exploits and spent a short time exploring the yacht. From Great Bridge we went to Coinjock, through the marsh lands of Virginia into North Carolina. Hurricane Jeanne was getting closer so we tied up in the Marina there. While generally wandering around and chatting to the other guests, we soon found out that a number of the boats had had the same idea as us and were waiting for the storm to pass - including a 130-foot motor yacht called "Norwegian Queen" owned by a paper mill insurance magnate! Later that day we were honoured to be invited to a "crab bake" held by Norwegian Queen for the whole (not very large) marina. This turned out to be quite a hoot and lots of fun - one of the highlights of our trip.

A quick recipe for a crab bake: Take 2 barrels of fresh blue crabs (ensure you keep the lid on to stop them from escaping) allowing 10-20 crabs per person! Cover lots of picnic tables with paper (which makes cleaning up afterwards easier), allow one corn on the cob per person and cook as normal. Make up two gallons of Clam Chowder (to the chef's secret recipe….. very tasty). Serve corn and chowder as appetisers. Put lots of beer on ice. On a gas ring boil up two gallons of water with a little vinegar plus a dash of seafood seasoning. When boiling add the crabs (ensuring you are not bitten - and chase after any that escape). Boil crabs for 15 minutes (keeping lid firmly closed). Strain crabs and empty onto the centre of the table. Take crab and enjoy… Tips on how to eat said crabs available on request!!!

We had expected to stay in Coinjock for a while, but listening to the forecast indicated that Jeanne was slowing and dissipating so we decide to head further south. From Coinjock we crossed the Albemarle Sound and entered the Alligator River, anchoring for the night in the middle of the North Carolina Swamp. It was like being in the middle of a prehistoric film, surrounded by tree stumps and seething swamp in every direction. A primordial vista; you could almost feel the coal being made there and half expected alligators to swarm the boat! We managed to take lots of great photos, though. We then entered the Pungo River canal (aren't the names great!) - which took us through Cypress Swamp into the Pimlico River. At the Neuse River junction we spied a yacht with a wishbone rig heading towards us and, as it passed, we heard a loud exclamation…."It's Poco Andante!" We quickly turned the boat and laid a few yards off. Lo and behold, it was Joe from the Harlem Yacht Club. He had just collected his new boat and was sailing it back to New York - what a small world! After passing pleasantries we both went off in our different directions…….

We had planned to seek shelter at Oriental, but the shelter there looked bad so we crossed the river and anchored in Adams Creek. Hurricane Jeanne was now getting closer so next day we ran up to New Bern, further up the Neuse River. We tied up at the Sheraton Marina next to the hotel, where we could use all the facilities - what luxury! Jeanne came with storm force winds and lots of rain but, thankfully, nothing major. New Bern, whose claim to fame is the birthplace of Pepsi Cola, was well worth a visit with pleasant walks and "historic" buildings.

Time was now pressing and the deadline for getting to Miami was getting closer… Tropical forecasts looked good - no hurricanes on the horizon - so we decided to make haste to Charleston, South Carolina and wait there until the last possible moment before taking a direct route to Miami. After the weather cleared we headed for Beaufort, North Carolina and anchored just inside the spit overnight. Early the next morning we left the brown swampy waters of the ICW behind us and were in the Atlantic again. The 36 hour trip from Beaufort to Charleston was uneventful with a pleasant reach all the way. We anchored just off the city marina for the weekend.

Charleston was lovely - lots of interesting walks (their public transport was non existent), but HOT, damned HOT. The locals reckoned that the steam rises out of the ground there; we can believe this! Saturday night we treated ourselves to dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Restaurant, which was great fun. Christine even won a prize in the Forrest Gump trivia quiz - presented by a Tom Hanks look-alike! The shrimps there were really great, too. Monday morning soon came and we set off for our last leg to Miami in light winds and glorious sunshine. As soon as we got offshore the humidity dropped and the climate was pleasant again!

The trip to Miami is over 400 miles with an encounter with the Gulf Stream on the way!!!! After the second day the wind rose to 20-25 knots. With a reefed main and genoa we reached south and just off Cape Canaveral we hit the Gulf Stream. Tall, square waves from all directions - very uncomfortable. The best tactic is to keep close inshore for flatter water, but we had the Cape to round - so it was "grin-and-bear-it" for 24 hours. During one of the worst bits our "salvaged" dinghy (which we were towing) flipped over and broke free! It had become a bit of a liability and we certainly weren't prepared to turn around for it in those conditions, so we let it go. We tried to call the US Coast Guard to warn them of this (and also to ask the whereabouts of the current limit of the Gulf Stream) but after repeated failed attempts to contact them we gave up! Our faith in the US Coast Guard dropped even lower… We finally round Cape Canaveral and came inshore; two miles off the seas slackened and the current eased and we finished our trip to Miami doing 7-8 knots in a deep blue sea, under white and fluffy clouds and joined at last by some dolphins!

We arrived at the Miami Beach Marina with 36 hours to spare before Doug and Shirley arrived. This gave us just enough time to clean the boat (inside and out), do some laundry, rearrange the storage, and get the lie of the land. Next day we made it to the airport (by bus) and were delighted to meet Doug & Shirley whose flight arrived just as we did! They managed to stay awake until bedtime, courtesy of a walk around the Art Deco area of Miami Beach. Next day, after doing some grocery shopping, we checked out of the marina and headed south towards the Florida Keys. The first exercise was a Man Overboard drill - instigated when Doug's hat blew off! Hat successfully retrieved, we took a trip through the city and along part of the ICW and under the last of the bridges (Mile Marker 1092) towards "No Name Harbour" on Key Biscayne. The Florida Keys are shallow; we found this out the hard way by running aground twice before we found the "deep" water into this little harbour. D&S had their first taste of coconut-fringed beaches and diving off the back of the boat into warm blue water.

Our aim was to get to Key Largo before the 13th when Doug & Shirley were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. We had hoped to stop at an intermediate anchorage on the way but another grounding in the main channel scuppered this idea. So it was a long sail to Key Largo - although we saw a few turtles on the way.

Key Largo (the start of the Keys proper) was a little disappointing. The whole of the north Keys are thin strips of land covered with mangrove trees joined by causeways and bridges forming US Highway 1. We anchored off Rodriguez Key but found that it was a too far to the coral reef national park and the bus transport along the Keys a little hit-and-miss. However Doug & Shirley found a nice "resort" hotel where they spent their anniversary night - enough said… We, on the other hand, went shopping and found a really great store to stock up on clothes!!! So we both have new wardrobes for the coming year and Christine found a dentist to replace a lost filling. We also found a good "tiki" bar on the water where quite a few happy hours were spent! The weather was yuck so we sat out another day before moving anchorage to Long Key, where we were able to get ashore to view the mangrove-fringed beaches close at hand.

We had been travelling along the Hawk Channel, which separates the Keys from the reef. From Long Key we took a side trip out to Sombrero Reef where we were able to sample the delights of snorkelling on coral reefs - complete with barracuda and nurse sharks!!! And lots of jelly fish - much to Shirley's horror! That night we arrived at Bahia Honda, probably the nicest anchorages in the Keys, just off a palm-fringed beach, with lovely walks in the state park so we decided to stay an extra day!

We had been away from civilization for a while and shopping was high on Shirley's agenda so a few days in Key West was planned. En route we included a side trip to another reef at Looe Key on the way for some snorkelling. Although the waves were a little high, the fish here were huge and plentiful - and there is something magical about having lunch miles out to sea moored in turquoise water under deep blue skies… (Apart from the mooring breaking!!! But that's another story…)

The short trip to Key West took us outside the reef, where "blue water sailing" became reality for Doug & Shirley - and as far away from a cold October day in the UK as you can get! And to cap it all off, a group of dolphins joined us for a short play around the bows!!!

Key West is different from any other part of the US we've been to. Laid back, party atmosphere and with a touch of the Caribbean/Latin in the town. The favourite past times are eating out, watching the sunset, doing a "pub crawl", or just walking around. We did all of these (including a visit to the local shopping malls)! Sadly D&S had to leave us and took a shuttle back to Miami airport. Our time together was all too short and hopefully they have taken some fond memories back to the UK with them (plus a bag full of Christmas presents for the kids and a new wardrobe for Doug!).

The week following their departure was Fantasy Fest - a week-long party culminating in Halloween! An unbelievable experience - and difficult to describe without upsetting many of your internet firewalls… People of both sexes, all shapes, sizes and ages strolling through the streets wearing not much at all - although some body paint was (sometimes) applied to strategic bits of the anatomy! The body painting artists set up business in shop fronts along Duval Street (where a lot of the action took place) and the process itself viewed by all the passersby. We're putting a selection of the photos on a separate page on the website - but be warned, these are not for the faint-hearted and are of an adult nature! Partying started on the Monday with many of the bars and restaurants holding "themed" parties (eg toga, foam, "'Ho' and P*mp" parties, etc) and climaxed on the Saturday evening with a formal parade through Key West including 70 floats! Unfortunately, the hot nature of the previous days' photos must have burned out the camera - which promptly died during the parade… missing some of the better photos! The whole experience was amazing fun!

Interspersed with the fun of Fantasy Fest we have been taking advantage of the large supermarkets to restock the boat ready for the next few months in the Caribbean. Met a helpful fellow cruiser working in the local chandlers and were invited to join he and his wife, Mary, at the marina for their regular Monday evening "sundowner" party - which was great fun. Thanks, Gene! We've also taken advantage of finding a business centre, whose address we could use, to order various bits and pieces over the internet, and receive some mail from Kim in the UK.

At this stage we hope our last piece of post will arrive about 10th November and we can head south to Cuba for our next adventure… Communications may be difficult there so replies to emails might take some time - but please keep them coming - we enjoy them all!


Virginia to Florida
Fantasy Fest