During the final week in the UK we managed to meet up with lots of family and friends, including Carol who was our ARC neighbour in Las Palmas in 2011 and who we last met in January 2012. 4 year old George took his mum, Sabrina and me to a soft play centre, a good introduction to what being a grandparent might entail. Tearful farewells once again reminded me of how much we miss people when we are away.
Our journey home to Beyzano was superb from start to finish. Steve gamely got up before 5am to drive us to Heathrow’s Terminal 5 where we had the luxury of the business class lounges for breakfast, using our penultimate batch of air miles. We had also been able to pre-book our seats on the Airbus A380, a plane I saw before she went into commercial use as the fuel and landing gear tests were performed at Filton, Bristol. I remember the gigantic wheels continually going up and down for months and the glee at work when the evacuation test was completed well under the required level.
British Airways has changed some of the rules lately, meaning we could only take 2 bags in the hold but they could weigh an additional 9 kgs. Who would want to lug around a bag of 32 kgs is beyond me though, so our 4 bags still weighed under 23 kgs, the allowance you would get in Premium Economy anyway. On top of that, despite the full cost of seats being thousands of pounds, you still can’t reserve one until 24 hours before the flight. This seems poor customer service to me as I wouldn’t want to pay another 85 pounds to book it earlier.
Anyway, gripe over, we had a wonderfully quiet and smooth flight. The upper deck business cabin was only a quarter full, so we had a steward to ourselves and could have sat where we liked. We both looked at one another in astonishment once we were airborne as there was no big power surge or seemingly any effort to get the huge plane off the runway. I have seen her take off empty from Filton and the pilot climbed very steeply and threw her around a bit, as she is clearly a very nimble aircraft. The cabin crew let me explore both decks and talked about how it is to work on board. A bit cramped in fact, as the space has been given over to the customer rather than the crew and they probably didn’t get consulted when the requirements were being written.
The food was top class as was the entertainment system but I could have done with another couple of hours to get some sleep. I was just too excited to finally get to fly on the A380!
We arrived early into Washington DC and as we had used our visa to enter the USA before, we didn’t need to fill out any forms. Immigration was quick and painless and he gave us 6 months as we showed him our cruising permit, valid to April. He told us we can extend for another 3 months in December if necessary. Customs was a breeze too as our bags were already in the hall awaiting us and there was no red channel to declare anything, not that we had brought any excluded items, even dumping our beef oxo cubes before we left the UK just in case. All our jars of chutney and marmalade survived the journeys too.
At the airport we planned to take the 5A bus into the city and then walk for half an hour or get a taxi to Union Station. As the bus barely has any space for luggage we weren’t looking forward to it. Then we saw a Shared Van sign and for just 10 dollars more than the bus and taxi, at 39 dollars, 3 of us were sped direct to the station in a van big enough for 15. Excellent. Only issue was that we then had 5 hours until the train left but again, brilliant service from Amtrak and we checked in our bags for the train to Jacksonville. With just backpacks, we spent time in the multitude of shops and restaurants at the station before sitting in the park for a while watching the commuters go by in the warmth of the late afternoon.
The train was big and spacious with lots of legroom and an airline style seat with a table, footrest and seat extension flap so it was really comfortable for the overnight trip. At Jacksonville our neighbour, Sylvia, was there to meet us and our baggage turned up too. In no time we were back on board Beyzano and she was just as we left her with not a trace of mildew or any water in the bilges. Brilliant!
We unpacked, then crashed out for a few hours, waking only in time for the social evening at 1700 so we could eat something and get back into USA time. A couple of glasses of wine later we were asleep again but woke at dawn to get the mainsail back on whilst there was no breeze. This is always a big job with the battens to go in and the 3 reefing lines to feed through the 6 blocks as the sail is hoisted and we needed to get them in the right order. Next the sprayhood and bimini went back on to give us some shade and protection from the rain showers and we washed the decks. It is very humid and hot in Brunswick now, so we quickly packed away the blankets and cold weather clothes for the autumn.
Our plan is to leave Georgia after the 4th of July festivities and head to Beaufort (pronounced Bewfort) in South Carolina on Wednesday, an overnight passage of 110 miles. Next will be Charleston, then on to Georgetown, Cape Fear and back into the ICW at Beaufort (pronounced Bowfort) and inshore to Norfolk and the Chesapeake. We have been busy getting Beyzano ready but still have a few tasks to finish off. The track needs lubricating before we hoist the genoa; the new steaming light bulb has to go in half way up the mast; the gearbox oil and engine fuel filters have been changed; I have a new tap in my heads; we are full of water, gas, diesel and petrol and Sylvia took me to the huge Publix supermarket to do a major restock. I have been cooking and freezing passage food, cleaning the boats and creating routes for our next month. Using parts we brought back from the UK, we have a new water heater element in place, a new life ring light, a new compass light and the ship’s clock works again.
Both the engine and generator worked straight away and even the outboard started, something that can be an issue after a few weeks idle. So all in all Beyzano has been wonderful as usual and we can head off as planned. Having said all that, we have made a big decision, one which we hoped being in the UK would help us make and we are going to put our beloved home on the market later this year or early next. It was certainly easier to leave for our adventure than decide when to give it up but we now feel we have done all we wanted to do, spent time in virtually every island in the Eastern Caribbean, sometimes many times and we had the wonderful season in the Western Caribbean and Cuba learning about different cultures and immersing ourselves in their ways of life. We contemplated going down the Eastern Caribbean chain one last time and spending a year diving in Bonaire but we don’t want to keep going round in circles and have other things we want to do, such as skiing, getting a puppy and seeing the cities of Europe. Once we have cruised the eastern coast of the USA and possibly the Bahamas, then we will be happy to return to the UK so we can spend more time with family and friends there. Not sure we will move into our house for a few more years though, as a canal boat life has caught our attention again and would make the perfect stepping stone to being back in a static home. We hired a narrow boat twice before for holidays in England and Wales and already know what type of layout and equipment we need and I have over 20 canal related websites bookmarked. A real plan but for now we will continue to enjoy Beyzano and exploring the USA.