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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back into the 1st World

Arriving at Fernandina Beach in north Florida was, for these salty Bandits, sheer bliss.   We’ve been sailing and travelling in 3rd World countries for more than a year so felt desperately in need of some of life’s little luxuries.  And here they were - free wifi (very important after complete internet withdrawal in Cuba), sunny outdoor cafes, clean (dog poo free) streets, some great shops for a little soothing retail therapy and massive and amazing fully stocked supermarkets.  Ah, civilisation as we know and love it!

DSC_1650 But first up – formalities with US Border Protection who, due to the US embargo with Cuba, can (apparently) be a little prickly with yachts that have visited there.  However we couldn’t have struck a more friendly officer who welcomed us to the United States, issued us a Cruising License and never mentioned the C… word.  That left us free to explore.  First thing we noticed were the well tended dogs all immaculately behaved and groomed. What a joy after seeing so many sad neglected, injured, skinny and sick strays in Cuba.

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Highlight of our 10 day stay was catching up with old friends Joe and Vicki DelVecchio who live in Pensacola, about 500kms away.  We met in 1981 when a friend and I drove a car from Miami to Los Angeles and Joe and Vicki were living in Colorado.   Despite not seeing each other in the intervening 32 years we’ve kept in touch, firstly by letter and latterly email.  It was wonderful to see them.

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So…onto the 50th annual Isle of Flags Shrimp Festival – an amazing three day celebration based around the local shrimp industry.  Fernandina Beach is the home of shrimping in the US and the festival celebrates that as well as boasting a thriving art and craft market.  Sadly for organisers, the first two days of the festival were wet but the bands played on, the shrimp stalls sold shrimp and everyone tried to ignore the rain.  For us yachties it was no problem – we put on our full wet weather gear and wandered along – no one looked twice.  The final day dawned brilliantly fine so the festival ended on a high.

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We wrapped up our 10 days in Fernandina Beach in grand style with cruising friends Wayne and Betty from Bright Ayes.  They had old friends living on the island who had asked them for dinner and let us tag along. Peter and Ruth were amazingly friendly and generous hosts.

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Next day the weather was good for an overnight sail further up the coast so we headed off and 36 hours later dropped anchor in stunning Charleston.   We spent our first day exploring on bike just cruising the leafy streets admiring the beautiful old homes.

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The historic centre of Charleston has some fantastic shops and we spent hours in the wonderful art galleries and antique shops as well as the contemporary stores.  Walking the streets was a time absorbing past-time – there was always plenty to look at, gates to look through and gardens to admire. 

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Charleston is one of America’s most visited destinations and many tourists explore by carriage pulled by well conditioned and glossy coated horses.  We’d often follow one of these along listening to the colourful commentary given by the driver in a typical southern drawl.

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Sam happened to be in New York and flew down for a day and a night so it was wonderful to catch up with him.  Being a private chef based in Moscow he relishes the opportunity to try other cuisines so we spent time checking out restaurants and cafes here.  Lunch was a typical “low country” affair of she crab soup and crabcake melt.

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It’s spring in the US and that means graduation time.  We never realised what a big deal it was until we stumbled across the College of Charleston’s graduation ceremony.  The students were immaculately attired – all in white, girls in dresses and boys in tuxedo.  Parents, friends and relatives were also amazingly dressed – beautiful flowing summery dresses with high heels for women and lightweight suits or pants and blazers for men.  It was an intriguing ceremony to watch. 

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 Charleston prides itself on its beautifully restored old homes and they truly are exceptional. Most have immaculately tended gardens and a feature are the superbly planted window boxes…………………

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We just couldn’t stop taking photos………

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Weekends are pretty spectacular in this town.  Every Saturday a thriving Farmers’ Market is held in the town park while every second Sunday the main street is closed to traffic.  Cafes and restaurants put out outdoor tables while bands and buskers play and perform.

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But time after time we were drawn back to the leafy streets to admire those beautiful houses.

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After nine wonderful days the weather looked good to head on to Beaufort in North Carolina – a 36 hour passage up the coast. It will be good to get back to sea.

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