Coming to America

Saturday February 15, 2014

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When we arrived to Key West I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to go back to having internet only every 2-3 days when I could drag Matt to a McDonald’s to use their services, and usually only for an hour at a time. Imagine my surprise when as soon as the anchor was down, Matt had found a signal and already got us connected. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a story of how we never left the boat because we were busy surfing the web (although I could see that happening depending on how long we stay here), but I tell you this because we had the gift of being able to research where the hell we were supposed to go here to land the dinghy. Or do anything, really. Don’t laugh at me, I had visions in my head of getting to Key West to anchor ourselves among 8-10 other boats, and seeing shore access right in front of us, preferably on a sandy beach with no cost associated with tying up. Hello, the budget game is still running. Keep in mind that I had never researched anything on Key West before we left, only how to get there. So when we dropped anchor last night among 100 other masts that I could make out and looked at the multiplying condo complexes in front of us, I knew this was going to be harder than I initially imagined. This new internet connection of ours told us where we could land the dinghy and even how to get there from where we were. For the cost of $6 a day. Ugh.

Our internet access also allowed us to make a call to Customs to find out that we personally could not check in solely based on a phone call as our guide book told us (damn!), but that we could visit the airport the next morning and get it done there. This morning we brought our dinghy up to the marina listed online to find out where exactly it was we were supposed to tie up, and immediately got a mouthful from the marina employee for not tying up where we were supposed to. Thanks guy, that’s what I was coming to ask you. As soon as he sent us on our way with a glare in his eye, we were greeted and ushered in by a dinghy full of,…hmmm, there’s no way to say this,..hillbillies that gave us half toothed smiles as they waved us in while trying not to spill the Busch Light out of their cans. Welcome to America.

Our first important stop of the day, almost more important than getting ourselves check in, was a stop at the Post Office to pick up the care package my mom sent, the one that’s been trying to get to us since December. That’s ok though, because a longer delay meant more time to add requests to fill the box. Which then turned into two. Oops. While shuffling through the boring but necessary things, the debit card we hadn’t had access to since October, the the sewing kit for repairing sails and thick fabrics, we were able to get to the good things. For me at least, I don’t think Matt was excited. While he waded through all kinds of paperwork that we hadn’t been able to receive in months, I pulled out pairs and pairs of new sunglasses, sundresses, Skittles. There were Snickers, Starbucks gift cards, and a Snuffelupagus. Sorry, I got carried away there on my S’s. That last one was actually supposed to be gourmet coffee grounds. To say I was a little excited to receive this package was an understatement. We also received back, on loan, our Waterway Guide to Florida that we had sent to our friends Jackie and Ron when we left Florida last year and thought we’d never be back. Turns out we were wrong. We’ll just take that back for a few weeks…

From our internet connection we were also able to discover that the airport is completely on the other side of the island. Not that we’re not normally up for a hike, but when the officer on the phone last night said morning, did he mean before 12 noon morning? As in, the office will be closed, if you don’t get here in the morning?! Because in that case, even though I like to consider myself in good shape, I didn’t know if I could walk the 5 miles in less than an hour. A taxi it was going to have to be. The last thing we needed was Border Protection exiling us from our own country because we didn’t check into the country before Monday and Matt, who does actually follow the rules, couldn’t keep his wife from wandering up and down Duval St after three days at sea.

Rushing ourselves out to the Arnold Building to make sure the American government didn’t have a reason to hate us we found out that not only was the office open until 7 that night, but Border Patrol wouldn’t even be back for over an hour as they were currently out inspecting one of the cruise ships that had just come in. It wasn’t all bad though, we found a vending machine that offered Mountain Dew, our first taste of it since Colombia, and wandered through the tourist shops where they were pawning sea beans with peace signs and hearts on them for $6. I just smiled, remembering all the ones we’d collect on the beaches of the Bahamas for free.

When we finally saw life inside the Border Patrol building again, we went inside for what was probably the easiest check in procedure we’ve ever done. Even better than Cayman, which had been high on my list of We’ll never get this lucky again. Maybe it’s because we had an a-hole agent walking out the door when we first arrived to tell us that they wouldn’t be back to help us for hours, and when they did, there would be a thorough inspection of our boat, it’s contents, and every piece of food in the chill box; but we were blessed with someone much friendlier when we got back the second time. It was just one form, $19, five minutes, and we were out the door. The only thing that really, I mean really surprised me, is that not one of the officers batted an eye at my over-dialated eyes. Did I forget to mention that I got the other one this morning while doing my make-up? I guess I must have brushed one of my fingers over the spot that my scopolamine patch had been sitting on and accidentally rubbed it into my good eye. If these men are supposed to be looking for suspicious behavior, it was literally written all over my face. I looked like I had been trying every kind of drug Mexico has to offer. Maybe my tank top was just lower cut than I knew and they didn’t even realized I had a face, who knows?

Continuing on with our day of excitement: care packages and legal entry back into our country, we set our sights on finding some good ol’ American fast food. Walking the two miles from the airport to the fast food district, we passed on McDonald’s before setting our sighs on Wendy’s.  With greasy burgers and cheesy bacon fries placed in front of us, we dug in like there was no tomorrow and were soon paying for our mistake.  After not eating food like this for so long our stomachs were not liking the sudden change.  As we wandered out of the building and down the street, I think the only words that either of us could mutter were “I think I’m going to die…”.  Maybe this is the opportunity to kick our fast food habit for good?  We’ll let you know how that one turns out.

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Let’s Get this Show on the Road

Tuesday February 11, 2014

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Every single morning, one of the first things we do over a hot cup of coffee, is bring up Passage Weather to see if there are any opportunities coming up for us to make our escape. Usually once or twice a week we’ll get excited by the beginning day or two of a window projected for the next week, but as soon as the full forecast loads, we’ll find out that our window is only 24-36 hours instead of the 72-84 that we need. In a 7 day period, we can never seem to find more than 48 hours, usually not even grouped together, where the wind isn’t blowing from the north or the east, and usually pretty damn hard at some point.

While checking the weather this past Wednesday or Thursday we had seen a window come up for today, Tuesday, but given a few more days that opportunity was gone by the weekend. Strong east winds had filled in for what would be the last day of the trip, right at the point where we would have rounded Cuba and been heading through the Florida Straights toward Key West. We’d actually been hopeful that we’d come across a really good forecast with four days of good wind that would bring us all the way up to Miami, but that was absolutely in no way going to happen. So while I was boiling the water for coffee this morning and letting the week’s forecast upload, I was really surprised to see that our window was back. We had 3-4 days of wind on our side…if we left today.

Seeing this forecast pop back up we had two big questions to ask ourselves. The first and biggest one being: Do we trust this forecast? Normally we’d like to monitor something like this for a few days to make sure it’s stable and that it won’t change on us mid passage. This would now be the third time we’d seen this forecast change, going from favorable, to unfavoarable, and back again. Would it stay this way? Or would we bit hit with a nasty surprise in the Gulf of Mexico. One place you definitely do not want surprises. The other question was: Do we still have enough time to get ourselves out of here, hopefully no later than 3:00 today? Knowing that we might try to jump on a window as soon as it came up, we tried to prepare ourselves in the previous days so that if we did only have a day to get ourselves ready to leave, we could do it. There really isn’t much to do to get ourselves ready for a passage anyway. The normal things of getting everything stowed away so it doesn’t bash about the cabin while underway, run the jacklines so we’re not trying to do it underway, and getting the dinghy safely stowed and tied down on deck. In addition to that, for this passage we also needed to fill up our diesel jugs, make a quick run to the grocery store, and oh yeah, check out of the country.

With it being just past ten in the morning, it would give us five hours (if stretching it) to complete all the things above. For the first question, I turned to Matt. He turned right back to me and said “You’re the captain, you decide”. Well that wasn’t very helpful at all. I asked him what his thoughts on the weather window were. He replied that we could do it, but it would be easier if we had a better window. The one we were looking at had north winds on our fourth day, in case we didn’t make in in the three we were hoping, and there were also possible thunderstorms for some of the areas we were passing through. I decided to start checking more sources to see what they said. Wind finder looked about the same, but I wanted at least one more reputible source. And while wading through the many links and forecasts on NOAA, I found it. Winds were to be fairly low (we never travel with anything forecast over 20), waves were to be low, the only thing we had to watch out for were those possible thunderstorms. Although after sitting here now for almost five weeks while waiting for any kind of window that would carry us to Florida, I figured it was worth the risk. We were more than behind on our original schedule, and I didn’t want to still be sitting in this harbor come March.

Finally deciding on this course of action at 12:30, we really needed to get our butts moving to check everything off our list. First stop would be the port captain to begin check out procedures. Making a few copies of necessary documents, we rode the dinghy into town and walked into the office. Letting the man behind the counter know that we were bound for the States and needed a zarpe, he gave me a few pieces of paper to fill out and then let me know that I needed to get copies of them made. Getting directions to the nearest ‘Kinkos’, we searched through the back streets and found it on our second try. Bringing all these papers back to the Port Captain, he indicated he would need a little time to work on them and we should have a seat. Glancing at the clock that was now reading two, we started to worry that we wouldn’t get out of the harbor before nightfall. Even worse, while sitting there waiting we watched black clouds roll in from the south, threatening some nasty storms and making us second guess our decision to leave. Except, now that we were 90% checked out, we couldn’t really hang around for the next few days, or weeks, while waiting for another window to come up. Before we had time to even think about it more, the Port Captain called us back up and told us to bring the three sets of forms he had been working on to the Immigration office to get stamped, where one would stay there, one would be for us, and the last would need to be brought back to him. We rushed out of there hoping it wouldn’t take very long.

Luck was not on our side. What should have been a five minute process at Immigration turned into 45 minutes because it turns out that we didn’t have the receipt for the money paid to Immigration when initially checking in to Cozumel. I always keep all my papers together, and bring more than what’s needed each time I visit officials, so I knew that I hadn’t left it back on the boat. But I also remembered receiving this receipt back when we checked in. Which means one thing. Back when I handed all the papers to the Port Captain back in Cozumel to show him that I had gone through all the steps of checking in, he kept it along with all the other papers. The next forty minutes consisted of us trying to tell the current Immigration officer that we had paid while checking in, and the officer at the Port Captain took it along with everything else. She wasn’t convinced and was ready to have us pay the 560 peso fee all over again. After a little sweet talking on the part of Matt, she agreed to call the Immigration office in Cozumel to see if they had record of us checking in and paying the fee. We watched the clock as the minutes ticked by.

Without even really vocalizing if there was or was not record of us, she called us back to the desk where our papers from the Port Captain were handed back to us. I was about to begin asking questions, but Matt noticed the stamp on them and scopped them up before I could utter a word. Thanking the woman, we ran out the door before they could change their minds. Back at the Port Captain, we handed his copy to him and once again ran out the door. It was now just before 3:00 and we still had errands to do before we go.

Tearing through the aisles of the local market like contestants on Supermarket Sweep, we filled out basket up with junk food, muffins, cookies, and a few bottled yogurts. All things that did not need to be prepared and could quickly be grabbed from the chill box or pantry when we were ready to eat. As far as prepping meals for the passage, that was out the window. We just had to focus on having any kind of food aboard that would see us through the next three to four days. Back in the dinghy we took the long ride across the harbor and part way through the channel that leads to the lagoon to fill up two of our jerrycans with diesel. We had just filled up the tank in the morning with what had been in the jerrycans, so at least we knew we’d be leaving fully loaded.

It was four o’clock when we finally got back to Serendipity, but on the bright side, it literally had gotten brighter. The dark clouds that were hanging over us for a few hours were now gone, only having left a light sprinkle behind. Knowing that our family had no indication that we were leaving I quickly got a few messages out that a window had just come up, and they could expect to hear from us in a few days. It was also a chance to let my mom know that she could finally send that care package containing our new debit card to Key West, and it wouldn’t be shipped back to her because we weren’t there in time to receive it (good thing I didn’t tell her to send it back when we first started looking for a window). When I had completed that and Matt and the jacklines run, we worked together to get the dinghy up, and with engine running, could finally get the anchor up and start the 375 mile journey to Florida. I have a feeling though, as desperate as we were to get out of this place, we’re kind of going to miss it.

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