Posted in Travel

The Florida Keys

 

I cannot count the number of times that I have thought about going to visit the Florida Keys in the past.  I always ended up not going as I was not sure what there was to do there and I did not look forward to the drive from Miami all the way to Key West.  These are all the wrong reasons for not going somewhere!

That all changed in 2019 as Bee and I talked about it more and more and I discovered that there were a lot of good reasons for going there.  We did so in January 2020.  We flew to Miami and rented a car from there.  Our first stop was at a Cuban Restaurant in Little Havana where we had an excellent lunch.  After lunch, we drove onto Route 1 and left the mainland USA.

Our first stop for the night was at Marathon Key where we stayed at the Hampton Inn (we are frequent users of Hilton chain hotels as they always treat us really well).  That evening, we had an excellent meal at The Island Fish Company, across the street from the hotel.

We had all day to go from Marathon Key to Key West so we decided to do some sightseeing on the way and stopped at the Curry Hammock State Park where we did a coastal trail on the North side of the Key.  Nice trail but very much in lush greenery all the way and therefore not much to photograph.  Here is an example of the typical trail we followed.

It was a very pleasant walk that only took us about 1 hour and we seemed to be the only people on the trail.

We arrived early at Key West and checked into our B&B called the Old Town Manor (details at the bottom of the post) – I would certainly recommend this B&B as it is beautiful, with very nice rooms and a great location.

The first order of business was to finalize our plans for the next day, when we were scheduled to take the Yankee Freedom to the Dry Tortugas.  This is an all day trip to the very last key, one that cannot be reached by car but only air and boat – we chose the boat.

And it is coming back from the Ferry Docks that we really lucked out!  In the main marina, I saw this boat which I thought was just gorgeous!  This poor picture does not do it justice.

As we got closer, we noticed that it was available for local cruises – a bit more discussion and we found out that the Sunset Cruise will be leaving in 1/2 hour with only 15 passengers on board.  We quickly signed up and almost ran to the B&B to get warmer clothes.

It turns out that this is “America 2.0” a replica of the yacht “America” which beat the Brits around the isle of Wight to win the very first “America’s Cup” on 22 August 1851.  It is not a perfect replica as it is made in modern materials but made to look like the original yacht.

They asked for volunteers to help raise the sails – no modern conveniences, such as electric winches here – it is all done with arm, and leg muscles.  I was only tailing, and trying to help a bit the person actually lifting the sail…

Here she is, almost fully rigged.  The wind was just perfect for a good sail and she sailed very well.

I even got to steer her!  Am I happy or what!

The two photos above with me in them are courtesy of Bee… Continue reading “The Florida Keys”

(13 Page Views)

Posted in Travel

Alaska – Part 4

We are completing our wonderful trip after such a wonderful evening.

As we are heading towards Petersburg we run into more wales.

It is impossible to tire of the view of the tail from a diving whale in such scenery – maybe you are tired of these photos, so I will try to be even more creative for this last blog.  We did have a lot to see in the last two days.

We continued to stay away from the larger cruise ships. At a distance, they are not too bad…

Cruising along Storm Islands that lies between Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.  It has an interesting light house called the Five Finger Light House, unfortunately no longer in use.  It was first lit on a very auspicious date – spring equinox of 1902, the second lighthouse to be lit in Alaska.

The lighthouse appears to be a magnet for breaching whales.  We sat there for quite some time just watching one whale and then another doing this several times in a row.  Not a full breach, but close to 50% of the whale comes out of the water in the sequence above. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 4”

(26 Page Views)

Posted in , Travel

Alaska – Part 2

Continuing where we left off the first episode at the end of Day 2 we arrived at Ford’s Terror where we were not alone.  As we approached our anchorage for the evening, another boat was already there – crowded!

We went for another walk near narrows on a rising tide.  We had no problems landing from the dingy on a pebble beach – after our walk, and after the tide rose a bit more, we had more problems getting back onto the dingy as there was no beach left.

The walk was very nice – and we did not see bears, maybe because Kristin kept yelling “Hey Bear” – I have already shown you a picture of Kristin fully equipped for our defense, but she took no chances.

We were walking through beautiful scenery – this is a view of Ford’s Terror from land.

Time for portraits!  Behind is the narrow inlet that leads to the rest of the bay.  With the rising tide, the water was violently flowing making a roar, which you cannot really see or hear on this picture.

More spectacular views along the way

I liked this little pond reflecting the mountains and trees.

At the end of the walk, as we were wainting for the dingy to take us back to Catalyst, we saw a few curious harbor seals

Later in the evening, when the tide reached its highest point, we took a dingy ride around the whole bay and into West Arm Anchorage. Unfortunately it was raining the whole time so there are no pictures of that. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 2”

(34 Page Views)

Posted in Travel

Alaska – Part 1

For a long time, I have wanted to go to Alaska and it seemed to me that a cruise would give me a good chance to see some of it.  However, the idea of sharing cramped quarters with 1000-4000 other guests did not thrill me nor Bee.  When we moved back to Houston, an Alaskan Cruise was one of our priorities which became even higher when it became clear that my Dad was interested in coming to visit us and would be interested in a cruise too.

We found the PERFECT way to do this!  On 31 August, we left Houston for Seattle and later Juneau where we arrived in mid-afternoon (there is a three hour time change).

We would board our boat on 1 September around noon and therefore we had a full evening to enjoy and then a morning to ‘kill’.  We had a very nice dinner at a Fish&Chip shop right on the old harbor (In the old Warf right across from the sea plane docks – Alaskan Fish and Chip Co – it was quite good).

In the morning, we went to visit a salmon hatchery which was pointed out to us by the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel.

There are salmon stairs to allow the adult salmons to climb back into the tanks were they will lay or fertilize the eggs.  Unfortunately, we were there at low tide and therefore the salmons could not reach the first step.  We saw a few salmons swimming around looking for the entrance though.  It is amazing that even in this very artificial situation the instincts of the salmon pushed them back to where they were born.

Inside the hatchery there were four tanks which were filled (we were told) with 190,000 young salmons.  You can see a few swimming around where the lights from the windows shine but do not reflect.  The photo below shows two of the four tanks.  The young salmons spend 1-2 years at the hatchery before they are released back into the wild.  After 5-6 years, 1-5 % will return to create the next generation; the rest were food for men and animals throughout the region.

From the hatchery, we had a good look at the Gastineau Inlet, the narrow sea arm in front of Juneau where harbor seals were hunting the salmon waiting to get up the stairs.  Juneau is actually at the end of the inlet which creates a dead-end at low tide due to shallows – one can almost walk across it at very low tides.

A view of Juneau – these are not the boat we took!  The one on the left is one of the Mega-Cruise sips that just pulled into Juneau around 11:30 AM.  It has over 5000 passengers! The one on the right is a lot more modest – it si a National Geographic ship that was also loading as we went by.  Probably holds 200 passengers and that was still a lot more than our boat.

This is not the boat we took either.  It is a private yacht that left just as we were boarding ours.  For a moment, I thought it might be nice to take that one – the I discovered all the great features of the boat we would spend the next 7 days on and did not regret anything anymore.

This is “The Catalyst” – our home for 7 days.  The boat was christened in 1932 (there was only one passenger on board older than the boat) as a research vessel for the University of Washington.  She was a patrol boat in the Aleutian Islands during WWII and changed hands several more times after that.  She is now owned by a couple who take very good care of her and she makes regular voyages between Juneau and Petersburg from May to September.  We are actually making her last trip of the 2019 season.

Catalyst only has 6 cabins, 4 below the main deck, one at the back of the dining area and one (the one where Bee and I stayed) located on the top deck right behind the pilot house.  She has sea kayaks for 14 people, a fast tender and 4 wonderful crew members.  Since there were only 6 gusts on this particular cruise, we quickly became one happy family.

Continue reading “Alaska – Part 1”

(45 Page Views)

Posted in Culture, Travel

Greece – Santorini

I am very late, but I want to continue the Greek Odyssey before I start other trips.
From Amorgos, we headed to Santorini, the place I probably anticipated the most of the whole trip. There is indeed room for disappointment here.

As we left Mykonos, we passed the fast ferry probably coming from Santorini.

GreBlog120

We approached the Caldera from the South and this is our first glimpse of Fira, the main ‘urban’ center in Santorini

GreBlog121

This is Oia, the city right at the entrance to the caldera.  We will explore this on foot our last day.

GreBlog122

Another view of Oia – the main sites are all right at the top of the caldera, and there are wide open spaces in between these.

GreBlog123

Fira – You can see the path that descends from town to the old port, now only used for local tours.

GreBlog124

Continue reading “Greece – Santorini”

(388 Page Views)

Posted in Culture, Food, Travel

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast – Part 2

After 5 days in Naples, Bee and I moved to the relative tranquility of Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples, on the Amalfi Peninsula, and the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and Capri.  We had ten more days to explore this part of Italy, rich in History, Art and Nature.

We went to Capri on our first day there – the weather forecast was not ideal for the week to come and we thought we wanted to take advantage of a reasonable day to explore the island.

Unfortunately, two cruise ships had arrived overnight, and all passengers from the ships were also going to Capri.  Our ferry into the island was full and we could not get the return trip we wanted, so had a return earlier than we wanted initially.

Still, the day started positive – we booked a boat trip around the island, which included a visit to the Blue Grotto and wandered around the harbor while waiting for the departure.  It was very interesting to see that even though this is a very touristy island, there are still people here doing traditional work, such as fishing out of small boats.

SorBlog051

Here is a general view of the main harbour.  On the side of the mountain in the background, you can see the first few houses of the second town in Capri called Anacapri.

SorBlog052

Taxis on the island have been somewhat modified to cater to the expectations of local tourists.  It is obvious that the maximum expected speed on the island is very low, or this type of roof on a car would not survive very long.

SorBlog053

On the trip around the island, we first passed by the Blue Grotto.  We were told that unfortunately the tide and the wave were too high to be able to visit the grotto that day.  The entrance is very tight and it is often impossible to go through.  However, it looks like some people are making it, so I am not sure if the boat captain was telling us the truth or not.

SorBlog054

At the Western tip of the island, on Punta Carena, stands a very tall light house.  It is critical to mark the entrance to the Bay of Naples where there has been a busy port for many centuries.

SorBlog055

Again, we can see that normal life continues around tourism – this gentleman was fishing probably in the same way they were doing it 100 and 500 years ago!

SorBlog056

Continue reading “Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast – Part 2”

(769 Page Views)

Posted in Culture, Travel

Scotland – Part 1

In late May, Bee and I spent almost two weeks in Scotland to take advantage of two holidays that occur close to each other. This meant that it only cost us 6 vacation days!

We left work after lunch and headed for Zeebrugge where we took the ferry to Hull with my car. I had been to Zeebrugge quite a number of times on a sailboat, but I had never seen the port from the higher vantage point afforded by a large sea-going vessel. It was also a very nice day, which made for a particularly memorable sight.

As we maneuvered to get out, two tugs stayed close just in case we needed help. This is looking back towards the yacht club, where I usually come from…

As we come out of the harbour, I realise that the visibility is particularly good. I can clearly see the high rise in Oostende and even the coast beyond it.

It is very difficult to show you the true effect that this view gives. Below is a view of the coast from Zeebrugge on the right all the way to the first barrier of the Delta Project in the Netherlands at the far left. You cannot really see that on the photo below – but trust me, it is there.

Here I have enlarged a few details so that you can see them better …

A container carrier coming into Zeebrugge offers a great opportunity for an artsy shot, against the sun that will start to set in a few hours.

Continue reading “Scotland – Part 1”

(5532 Page Views)

Posted in Culture, Sports

The “Engineer’s” Cycle Ride

At the end of June, I went on a great cycle ride with a few friends.  I did not tell them exactly where we were going, other than the starting point, but I knew that, like me, they would be fascinated.  I had not been able to plan the weather, unfortunately, and so it was cold and we had a littl;e rain, but fortunately nothing serious.  We started riding along the Canal du Centre, which soon branched into two section, the old canal and a new canal that was built in the early 90’s.

I have borrowed photos from my friends as well – not all photos below are mine.

As I said, the weather was not great, but we were still having fun.

In order to build the new canal, engineers had to ‘improvise’.  They could not necessarily follow the lay of the land (a canal needs to be rather flat!) and so there were places where they had to build a canal-bridge over streets and other obstructions.  Here is the larger of these bridges.  It is nice to notice that technology can co-exist with traditions: there is a shepherd watching a flock of sheep grazing on the side of the pond below …

The first major stop of the ride, and also the reason why the new canal had been built: The new Ship Elevators at Strepy-Thieu.  These are now the highest such elevators in the world with a height of 73 m; as a comparison, the world’s highest standard locks are on the Irtysh River in Kazakhstan and are 42 m high (the 6 Gatun Locks at the end of the Panama Canal only lift ships a total of 25.9m).  I had recce’d the ride in March, when the weather was a lot better and took this photo.

We approached from the other side.

Continue reading “The “Engineer’s” Cycle Ride”

(7069 Page Views)

Posted in Culture, Travel

ZAMBIA and VICTORIA FALLS

As I mentioned in the last post, we left Botswana and Kasane to cross the Zambezi River into Zambia and Livingstone.  However, even this can be an adventure.  We had no problems on the Botswana side to register our departure.  There was a very long line of trucks waiting to go across, but fortunately we were able to by-pass all that.  We were told we had a “private” ferry across and this is it…

This little boat is going to carry the ten of us plus all our luggage across the mighty Zambezi River which is currently in full flood!  I am not sure that Bob is convinced …

Here is the meeting of the Zambezi and the Chobe – additional current and eddies are caused by the two large rivers meeting.  More dangers for our little “private” ferry.

There are “real” ferries that cross here – this is the main crossing point between Zambia and Botswana but also Zambia and Namibia as there are no direct routes.

The landing on the Zambian side is like a large beach.  However, it is also filled with trucks coming and going.  It looks like a massive traffic jam and we are not sure how we are going to get out.  We are immediately assailed by souvenir sellers – funny, we did not have any in Botswana – here they are about as aggressive as I have know, not taking the first 20 “No’s” for a definitive answer.

We are soon stuck in the middle of large truck and parked cars in our air conditionned mini-bus – comfy, but not going anywhere.

We are not alone in that situation and one enterprising man from South Africa has decided to find a way out.  He is the one facing the bus.  He got us to back off a little, so that the big white truck next to us could also move and free his car.  After that, the truck was able to advance enough so that we could also pass and we moved into Zambia proper.  We are now making progress towards Livingstone, the large city nearest to the Victoria Falls, which is about one hour away.

We crossed through Livingstone and headed towards the fall.  For a while now, we are seeing the plumes above the trees indicating where the falls must be.  Just before we turn off the road towards the hotel, we get a quick glimpse at the Zambezi about to disappear over the falls.

Continue reading “ZAMBIA and VICTORIA FALLS”

(3115 Page Views)

Posted in Sports

Channel Sailing Regatta

I interrupt my trip to Slovenia again to relate another experience I had recently.

Middle of October is the time when Channel Sailing organises its annual regatta for clients.  Channel Sailing is the company where we hire the boats that we sail with during the year.  Every year, at the end of the season, they organise a regatta for their clients.  It is competitive, but it is also friendly and offers an opportunity to those who are not used to race to get a little excitement in controlled conditions.

Well, controlled conditions is maybe not quite the best way to describe what we had again this year.

As usual, we arrived on Friday evening to take possession of our boat for the week-end, in this case Foxtrot, a 37 foot Jeanneau

By the time Nick and I get everything organised, it is drink time.  First we have to have some snack, so we dig into the lunch supplies for cheese and salami

Nick brought some excellent Rum.  Since the beer is not cold yet, and Xavier has not brought the wine, we have no choice!

Allan and Annemie joined us later and we went for a very nice dinner in Zeebrugge.

The next day, Saturday, the wind has picked-up significantly and it rains occasionally.  Sailing will be tough! After the briefing, at about 10:30, we sail out of Zeebrugge into the North Sea.  Even this close to shore, the waves are high (3+ meters) and because of the harbour and shore, are not very regular.

Since we are running with the wind, Nick asks Allan and I to set up the spinnaker pole to hold the genoa.  It is a struggle as we have not done it for a while and make a few mistakes, but we get it done.  Unfortunately, both Allan and I are now a little seasick and with the weather and waves, there is little chance to recover…

As we approach the committee boat, we manage to take down the pole and sail normally.  There are only 4 boats today and we get ready for the first race.  Nick is steering and we all help as we can.  I am still coping, but Allan is looking greener by the minute.  On top of that, it is getting colder and we are all struggling to stay warm.

We get a good start and head for the windward mark – with the high waves, we can only see the mark when both it and us are at the top of a wave, so finding it is not easy.  However, at least we have a rough idea where it is, so we head in that direction.  As we get closer, we finally spot it and head for it.  We are second as we round the mark and head on a reach toward the next marker that we expect is to the left of the first mark.  After several minutes, we see nothing.  We head upwind to search there with no success.  the rest of the fleet seems to be mystified as well.  One by one, the boats give up and start running back to the committee boat and the leeward mark.  Nick does not ask us to set up the spinnaker pole – good – I feel woozy and that would spell the end of my breakfast.

We find the leeward mark but then the committee boat cancels the race.  We find out that they could not set the second mark and therefore we should only do an up and down, just like the America’s cup.

Is is now noon and we have not had a complete race yet.  We get ready for the first race again.  Good start, we now know where to find the first mark which we reach in second place.  Back  to the leeward mark, which we almost missed until Allan saw it than the finish line and we come in second! Good result.  I am surviving (just) but Allan is very cold now.  We have a long debate but decide to do one more race then stop regardless of what the organisation does.  Over the radio, they indicate that the next race will be just start-windward mark-finish, no leeward mark. We ‘survive’ again the last race, finish second again and then head for home … which will take more than one hour since we are heading into the wind and into the tide.

As soon as we arrive inside Zeebrugge harbor, I feel better!  We finally tie-up at about 17:00.  The rest of the fleet is right behind us as there was no additional race – wise decision.

The next day, the wind is down, the sun is slowly coming out, but the temperature is even lower.  It is only 5 C and with wind still at 20-30 km/hr, the windchill is very low.  We are fortunately equipped for it as demonstrated by Xavier and Nick.

We do five races on Sunday.  we win two, finish second, third and fourth in the other three.  We all get to steer a race.  For mine, we take a terrible start as I am blocked away from the start line by the other boats and have to do a 360 at the last second.  We start last, but are able to come back to a credible third place (which is later corrected to fourth as the boat behind us has a better handicap).  Races done, it is time to relax and head back to Zeebrugge.

It is still very cold!

Back at the West-Hinder Marina, we pack up our stuff, clean the boat, put everything in order and wait for the announcement of the final results.

Overall, we ended up in second place, same result as last year.  A good result considering.

Two and a half hours to drive home and I get there absolutely exhausted.  I was in bed before 9PM!

(1020 Page Views)