We have been home now for 18 days! One of our friends chastised us for leaving our blog “unfinished”…asking us not to be like so many other adventurers who never complete the story once they get home! And although it was never our intention to do that, I can see why so many people aren’t able to get back to blogging.
After 6 months away, returning to our “real” life feels a bit like stepping into a whirlwind. We want to be very intentional as we return to make wise choices in what we pick back up and what we leave behind. Life was too busy before we left, and we would like to slow things down. Or, if we can’t slow things down, to focus the action in a particular direction, rather than feeling blown from crisis to crisis. It is quickly becoming apparent that this won’t be easy. But then again, most things worth having aren’t easy to attain! We have faith that God will guide our steps.
So, today will be a little reprieve for me – a chance to look back to last month… and re-enter a simpler time when our world was small (29 feet) and our decisions basic (what will we eat today?, what will we do today?, where will we go today?).
We spent the month of April working our way slowly home. Our port of arrival in the USA was West Palm Beach. The density of people, crazy amount of selection in the grocery stores, flamboyance of advertising, endless cheap dining options, amount of private property (meaning no place to get to shore) and rules regulating boat traffic were all quite a change! Our first meal out was to a sports bar called “Duffy’s”. That night was one of the college basket ball final games and the restaurant was packed to overflowing with cheering fans. There were at least 10 large screen televisions broadcasting different channels. It was quite fun to sit back and enjoy the over-stimulation of all our senses (including the free refills on drinks)!
We anchored near Peanut Island a couple nights and I thought it was worth mentioning. In the midst of all the fees and fancy private shore-line of the decadent Palm Beach area, this city-funded island park was an oasis of freedom. Day use dockage was free and boaters of all varieties were anchoring their boats any old where, some swimming to shore while dodging the ferries bringing picnickers back and forth. A protected snorkeling area had been created and public washrooms and rinse off showers lined the beach. Lovely walking trails and boardwalks crisscrossed the island…and it was all free of charge. Thank you Palm Beach for keeping some natural beauty open to the public.
As an aside, as soon as we were back in Florida, we began seeing Dolphins regularly again. I really enjoyed all the sightings and encounters we had with them during our trip.
Travis had really been looking forward to checking out the ICW (intra-coastal waterway) and crossing through Florida on the Okeechobee waterway. It is a motoring trip, along a connected network of rivers, estuaries and canals. Our route took us past Jupiter Island, the richest zip code in the USA… the Atlantic bank of the ICW was lined with beautiful homes, towering trees and sweeping lawns (and more swimming pools than I have seen in my life). The grand scale of it all made the shore look deceptively close. When Rachel and Shad took the dinghy to a small beach one evening, they looked like ants and we laughed because we had been worried that we had anchored to close to shore!
At Stuart (where the kids and I spent a lovely afternoon at a Oceanic conservation centre learning about sea turtles and game fish and patting rays) we left the ICW to head east. The Okeechobee Waterway cuts right through Florida, by way of Lake Okeechobee, a large freshwater lake famous for bass fishing. Besides saving us a couple hundred nautical miles, Travis was excited at the opportunity to go through a number of locks, bascule and swinging bridges. We had to communicate with the lock and bridge masters via VHF radio. This was quite stressful for me, because when I would request passage through on their next lift or opening, I would hear back “Snnrflk blerbl crflfk”. I did not like the feeling of passing under a bridge wondering if the bridge master had said yes or had said “Don’t come any closer or we will close the bridge on you!”
The Okeechobee Waterway is in ‘gator country and we did see quite a few as we motored through the wetlands and rivers. This made swimming out of the question and so as the weather heated up we were sweltering. So, the first afternoon we checked into the Roland Martin Marina, where we knew they had a pool and showers…ah, refreshment. And we got to try Gator tail at their restaurant. The next day was really hot again, but this time our refreshment was brought by a wonderful downpour in the late afternoon. Rachel and I got on our swimsuits and sang in the “shower” on our deck. That night we watched the movie “Singin’ in the Rain” to complete the experience.
The Okeechobee Waterway empties out at Fort Myers, on the Gulf of Mexico. After 3 full days of motoring across Florida, we took it easy and anchored by an island off of Captiva Pass. We had a lovely afternoon swimming, walking the beach, fishing and people watching. Shadrach caught a mullet while standing in the water. This was pretty amusing, as they do not go for lures and he hooked it in its body when it swam past him! A local guy told us how to cook it….but it was not our favourite. From the beach and our anchorage, we could see dolphins swimming and playing. I began swimming out to them, but chickened out knowing that the people beside us had been fishing (successfully) for shark! It was a pretty idyllic evening. We ate our supper in the cockpit and watched fish jumping, dolphins fishing and birds diving! That night, a knocking noise was keeping us from sleep. Rachel got up and went out on the deck to try to figure out how to stop it and then Shadrach realized it was a drum…a Red Drum. The male fish of this species makes the noise to attract a mate by hitting its air bladder with a muscle! Pretty cool.
Now it really felt like we were on the homeward stretch. We took a couple days sailing north back to our starting point in Tarpon Springs. On the way, we stopped at Madeira Beach. At the tourist trap at John’s Pass, we purchased the mandatory saltwater taffy and had a great time watching pelicans and other birds fight over scraps thrown by fishermen cleaning their catch.
At the end of our sailing journey, we anchored near the docks and boat ramps of the Anclote River Park. It was a busy park on the weekend…Travis had fun watching all the chaos as hundreds of boaters loaded and unloaded their boats in the strong current! My aunt and uncle came out for some boating and to help us pick up Sesame (our van). Rachel was very glad to be reunited with Sesame! We enjoyed taking a couple days to shop, clean the boat up, pack up etc in preparation for taking our boat out of the water.
Without too much drama, Schemma’s mast was taken down and she was lifted back onto the trailer. We set out the next morning for our week long van-ride home. We really enjoyed this trip. We visited restaurants on our list of “must-tries”. We watched the scenery change from summer back to early spring. We counted road kill again (over 60 deer this time, 15 armadillos as well as a wide assortment of birds, reptiles and rodents). It was apparent that more animals were active (thus run over) in spring! We wandered around the Opryland Hotel one evening in Tennessee and stayed at a hotel with an adjoining waterpark and ride park in Wisconsin Dells. This was quite a change from the Truck stops where we spent the rest of our nights!
We continued retracing our steps with a lovely visit with my Grandpa, aunt and uncle and cousins in Wadena. We crossed the border without incident…which greatly surprised Travis who had envisioned them tearing the boat apart. To re-acclimatize ourselves to Manitoba, we spent two nights at our family’s cabin in the bush. It really did feel good to take time to unwind, and to reclaim our identity as prairie Canadians!
We arrived home in Winnipeg on the evening of April 30th. We expected to spend the evening at my parents’ house and kind of sneak back home one night early.
But the kids were far too anxious to see Daisy (our dog). So, we moved the party to our house and had a really warm welcome from both Daisy and (more importantly) the lovely friends we live with. I came home to a really clean house, which was great. Reconnecting with family, church mates and other neighbours made the first week home pure joy! Both our kids have found it easy and enjoyable to jump back into school and have picked up with friendships where they left off. This is a huge blessing. And although Travis and I are wading through the post-sabbatical blues right now, we definitely feel confident we are returning to a life filled with loving community and purpose. It has been gratifying to see that while we were away our community functioned without us and met challenges with wisdom and teamwork. We are so grateful to our friend Dave and his wife Hannah, who took on much more than we had predicted, looking after our housing business while we were away. They were quite happy to give back the cellphone and keys when we returned!
It feels strange to have this adventure, which we dreamed of and planned for for so long, be behind us. There is a sense of accomplishment mixed with some sadness. We have definitely fallen in love with the cruising lifestyle and left a little of our hearts in the crystal clear ocean waters. It won’t be soon, but we are already dreaming of when we will return!