As I write this post I’m realizing that we’ve been sitting pretty on U.S. waters for the last 15 days!
I’ve been slacking, admittedly, but I have a valid excuse. A whole lots of changes happened within this short period!
But before getting into all of that, here’s a recount of our dramatic return to the United States. Because, you know,
We left Isla Mujeres early morning on May 18th, eager to get the crossing of the Gulf of Mexico over and done with, and set course straight for the South West coast of Florida.
With an estimated +/- 470 NM to go, we knew it would take us three full days and two nights to get there.
The final destination in our crosshairs, Punta Gorda, is nested all the way up Charlotte Harbor Bay on the estuary of the Peace River.
Our trip was quite rough for the first two days; not very pleasant, but bearable. The third day was spectacular, an absolute gift: sunshine, calm seas, plenty of dolphins traveling with us for hours: a veritable made-to-order day! Totally perfect, just devoid of the wind we needed to sail… So we resigned to motor-sailing the whole way.
I spent most of my time straddling the bow and interacting with “my” dolphins, couldn’t have been any happier.
But just as we approached the entrance to Charlotte Harbor, with a couple/three more hours to get to Punta Gorda, the weather suddenly turned ugly.
It looked like a squall was ahead of us, so we braced for a little wind and some annoying rain.
Within minutes and without warning, however, we got caught in the Storm from Hell which was voted hands down
THE ABSOLUTE WORST we have seen in 9,500 nautical miles of cruising!
The buoys marking the entrance to Charlotte Harbor vanished from sight; we were suddenly engulfed in the ominous dark greyness of the storm.
Constant lightning forming an “X” at the mouth of the bay kept us effectively out, like a high-voltage electrified gate, making us wonder if this was a bad omen… Maybe we were not meant to be in Punta Gorda, our chosen home-base, after all?
No time to dwell on that…Mother Nature’s special effects kept us on our toes.
The winds intensified, creating very confused seas and really tall waves. There was no escaping this: we had to go through it, period.
Tom basically pulled a “U” turn and went back out to sea trying to outrun the storm, hoping to skip the worst of it; but we still ended up being run over like roadkill…
We endured 45 knots of sustained winds with terrifying long gusts clocking at 62 knots – just a smidge under the Hurricane One level mark -, scary-crazy seas and torrential, fire-hose-quality rain.
We wore our high-tech sailing gear, yet were soaked in minutes. The water in the cockpit was sloshing around our ankles, first time we’ve ever seen that happen!
For about an hour Tom struggled against the elements, relying on his full 30+ years of sailing experience, his mariner’s instincts and every ounce of common sense. He pulled every trick he knows to keep Camelot as steady as possible. It was quite a fight, a brutal, drenched wet rodeo…
At the same time he was communicating via radio with a couple of other vessels is distress, eventually leaving them to the Coast Guard to deal with. Not much we could do to help, being in the same situation…
Where was I during all this? Too stunned to even freak out, I just sat there quiet as a mouse, hanging on for dear life. Looking back, it was quite terrifying. At the time, however, an unnatural calm enveloped me. It was just “breathe in, breathe out, try not to choke on the rain”. Tom kept his cool, like he always does in emergencies, though his eyes were a little bigger than usual… Like, uh, small saucers…
But we escaped unhurt and with no damages: finally we managed to arrive to destination, entering Fishermen’s Village Marina just 10 minutes before midnight on Monday May 20th.
With some difficulty we found our designated slip in the dark, only to find out that it wasn’t deep enough for our draft and our rudder was sticking in the muddy bottom!
We tried sneaking in another couple of empty spots, Cinderella-style, looking for a slip that would fit. No such luck.
Frustrated and bone-tired, we decided to tie up to the fuel dock for the night and figure it all out in the morning.
Exhausted and on zombie-pilot we safely tied up to the dock, then shuffled to bed only to find our bedding soaked all the way to the mattress! A hatch in the cockpit had been left open just a sliver for ventilation, and we forgot about it. All that water sloshing around during the storm found its way to our bed… *groan*.
So we had to move all the *crap* we keep piled up on the forward berth (which is slightly smaller) and finally collapsed unconscious for a few hours. Hey, we made it!
Thank you, Florida, for the warm welcome… *dripping sarcasm here*
The next morning we were assigned to a slip that fit (yay!) and settled Camelot in, finally taking a minute to briefly assess the new neighborhood. We like!
After that, it was time for legalities: we rented a car and drove to the Ft Myers International Airport to proudly announce our presence in the Nation, after an almost 33-month-long absence.
Sounds pompous, doesn’t it… It was, in reality, quite subdued…
The very courteous Customs Official who checked us back in the Country was not impressed in the least, but welcomed us back regardless…
We’re now legal.
You’d think we’d rest for a few days, right? Nope!
By Wednesday May 22nd we’d already seen and chosen our new house, on Thursday 23rd we bought a car and on Friday 24th our offer on the house was accepted.
How’s that for moving fast?
Everything went so smoothly, even buying our new-to-us car was such a quick occurrence that it felt almost prearranged!
We were returning from a meeting with the mortgage broker, driving our rental car through a neighborhood of car dealerships and used car lots on the way back to the Marina.
I casually mentioned to Tom that we might want to start thinking about looking for a car pretty soon… Suddenly he turned sharply into the first dealership (Toyota), which also had a used cars lot.
“Well, no time like the present!”, he said. “Just to take a look”, he reassured me, while I shook my head (I’m not fond of Toyotas)… But there’s no harm in looking, right?
Twenty minutes later we were seated in front of Ed the salesman, signing ownership papers. And that was AFTER our test drive! What can I say: when you know you know.
So, please welcome our newest addition: a beautiful pre-owned Volkswagen Passat station wagon (I like to haul big stuff!), gunmetal gray in color with black leather interior, in exceptionally good condition and with low mileage. All we wanted in a car, really! As soon as I sat in it, I said “Tom, this is IT!”
I have a passion for German machines, two or four wheels, it doesn’t matter…I named her “Das Panzer Tank”!
So, as you can see, already there have been a few dramatic changes in our lives.
My desire for a home-base is being fulfilled, while Tom is agreeable to keep cruising on a part-time basis; we’re both very excited about living a different lifestyle and are very eager to discover Florida as residents.
We’re definitely NOT done cruising, let me assure you. No swallowing the anchor for us just yet. We just decided to enjoy the best of both worlds!
More on the house that stole my heart, and that we’ll shortly call home, in the next post!
And no, I won’t make you wait too long. Here’s a sneak peek.