We’re trying a new style of cruising this year. In the past we made on average three trips a year to AVATAR, staying on board for 4-6 weeks each time. But this year Mike, having ‘flunked’ retirement in years past, decided to stay aboard for an extended visit of four months while Rod and May head home for their annual vacation. Mike’s plan is to cruise up the East Coast of the U.S. via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), something he’s wanted to do since he was a little boy growing up in Florida just a few miles away from ‘The Ditch’.
We started the trip by flying to meet AVATAR in George Town in the Bahamas, and spent a couple of weeks working our way north through the islands and the stunning crystal blue waters surrounding them. We visited islands ranging from remote outposts inhabited solely by iguanas, to Nassau where we absorbed the astounding atmosphere of the Atlantis Resort – a combination of Vegas casino, giant water park, Disneyland, and aquarium.
Our final stop in the Bahamas was the island of Bimini, only 50 miles from mainland USA. From Bimini we sailed across the Gulf Stream on a pleasant sunny day and arrived at our first destination in Florida, the Bahia Mar Marina in Ft. Lauderdale. This was our first opportunity in months to address some boat maintenance issues, so Mike and I left AVATAR In the hands of Captain Rod and some competent refitters and struck off in a rental car to see the sights, starting with Mike’s old home town of Bunnell.
Mike is a Florida boy, born and raised in northern Florida’s back country near Flagler Beach which is near Daytona Beach. Except the back country of his day is now a massive community called Palm Coast, and the brick house his father built by hand and where Mike grew up, is now a dental office. There were 22 students in his high school graduating class, and it just so happened our trip overlapped with the 55th reunion of Bunnell High School’s class of ’60. Bunnell HS no longer exists, as it was burned to the ground by suspected arson in the late 60s during the unrest of racial integration in the south. Seven or eight of Mike’s old classmates, including Fern Allen (pictured with Mike above) turned out for the reunion, which is a pretty good percentage considering the age bracket!
We also made brief stops at a few of Mike’s old boyhood haunts: the ruins of the Bulow Plantation, a former sugarcane plantation burned down in the Seminole Indian Wars of the 1830s, and the Princess Estate (above), now a state park but formerly the country estate of a New England socialite who married an exiled Russian prince and readily adapted to the title of Princess. And of course we had to stop by the Kennedy Space Center, formerly Cape Canaveral, where Mike worked the summer of 1961 on the NASA launch crew (as a self-described flunkee) for the Redstone rocket that sent Gus Grissom, the second American, into space.
We also took a side trip through the Everglades on an airboat, where we saw dozens of alligators up close and personal. It turns out baby alligators grow up under the supervision of their mothers. Who would have suspected an alligator of having maternal instincts! And we drove to the southernmost point of the United States, the tip of Key West in the Florida Keys, where we ate at the Southernmost Restaurant, viewed the pedestal marking (falsely) the southernmost point of the US (it’s really next door on a restricted Naval base), and admired a stately old home with a sign proclaiming itself to be the “southernmost southernmost house”.
I had never realized how much history there is in Florida. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, founded in 1565 and celebrating its 450th birthday this year. It didn’t take long to realize that what I was raised to think of as the founding events of our country were pre-dated by nearly 100 years down in Florida: in 1492 Christopher Columbus never actually set foot on North America. Instead he landed in the Bahamas (thinking at the time he had located India, hence the branding of natives as Indians). Spain’s Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to set foot in Florida in 1513, well before the founding of the Jamestown colony (first permanent British settlement in the colonies) in 1607 and the 1620 arrival of the pilgrims.
South Florida between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale is a high octane mix of extravagant waterside mansions, each with its own private dock and matching super yacht. Another notable feature of these palatial estates is the size of their screened in porches, some 2-3 stories in height and spacious enough to be called an aviary, frequently enclosing the back yard swimming pool. I guess it is only logical – hordes of Floridians enjoying a wonderful climate shared with even larger hordes of voracious mosquitoes and no-see-ums. As a boy Mike played in the refreshing mist of the passing neighborhood DDT truck on summer evenings. I’m a little bit surprised he’s still with us today!
On April 1 Rod and May left for vacation and officially turned over the keys to Mike and me for our extended liveaboard experience. Everything on board was shined up, shipshape, and working to perfection when they departed. Of course it only took a day or two before AVATAR decided to challenge our authority and we started having problems with the autopilot. A string of miscellaneous failures kept Mike busy deploying his electrical engineering skills trouble-shooting and replacing the offending parts. I once read an apt definition of cruising: fixing boats in exotic places!
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