Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Captain Curmudgeon and the Budget Committee Sign Off for 2009.

The crew of Meredith returns home for a Christmas break with the family.

While home we will boost our Cuba charting resources and catch up with family, not necessarily in that order.

Once back in Green Cove we will travel south to Vero Beach for provisioning. Then it is off to Cuba either via the Bahamas or from Key West. The Homeland Security position reporting thing has put us off to the point where we do not wish to travel in the former land of the free any longer than necessary. As a result entering the Bahamas is the most likely bet pending change in our attitude.

Merry Christmas. May the New Year find you prosperous and happy.

Capt. C. and BC

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Budget Committee Strikes Back; (sub nom Dutch Volcano Erupts).

December 4, 2009
Green Cove Springs, FL

The best thing about Jacksonville is its Florida Times Union newspaper. Probably the best small market news and editorial content in the entire USA this newspaper's editorials take on all issues large and small and they play hardball.

Much of the rest of the town is a hot and cold sort of thing. An uncultured city it has ambition, in a 1950s American sort of way. Old Jacksonville is rotting away, traveling fast on the road to decay and dereliction. Out of the rubble soar shiny new hygienic monuments of glass, steel and concrete, especially concrete. There are some amazing highway access ramps in this city, all on display downtown. One of these disgorges its automobile effluent downtown at the base of a building "for sale". Sale is unlikely as the 20 story building has a crack big enough to catch a football in the eight lower floors. JAX is juxtaposed.

Jacksonville Landing is a marvellous free dock right downtown capable of mooring 100 boats or more. We were one of three boats. Housing about 50 restaurants none of them offer anything other than standard frozen nuclear chain food. "Wanted: Microwave Chef".

(There is a bakery on the landing, not a chain, that turns out the best peasant bread this side of that little Russian grocery on Staten Island.)

Thursday morning, hitting the tide just right at 8 a.m. Meredith left the Landing and passed through the CSX railroad bridge on the flood. Twenty Five miles of the tedious St. Johns River left us in such a state of ennui we lost the ability to speak. The Hell of the Potomac has been visited upon the South.

Leaving on the leading edge of the flood tide gave us favourable flow all the way to Green Cove Springs. We arrived at 11:00 a.m.

This was when the day started to unravel.

A mooring ball was picked up but not before we ran aground in the mooring field, a problem because we came in on high tide. Once settled we dinghied to shore to register and check out the facilities. The office was closed. The Budget Committee wanted a shower. Washrooms were out of service. Check in took another hour. We went to find the two groups of friends who keep their boat at the facility and discovered had left the day before, one pair to New England and the other to Wales. It started to rain.

We returned to Meredith in descending spirits, settled in and started to read.

A half hour later we could hear a dinghy approach. Water being such a great conductor of sound sailors are always alerted to anchors being weighed, boats departing and dinghies approaching. This dinghy came quite close and circled the boat once and then again. Then the motor slowed and quit. Interesting.

The Budget Committe perked up. Always an optimist and always looking for diversion she moved to the companionway and turtled her head out hoping to find someone wishing to "meet and greet". I stayed below. It was where I belonged in my mood.

Instead of a new sailing companion she met the owner of the boat moored 0n the ball next to Meredith. Standing on his stern he yelled "You are getting a little close aren't you." There is no question mark on this as it was not delivered in the form of a question.

The tone of the exchange was not too promising. I lowered my book and made for the companionway. Exiting I saw Meredith stern to the adjoining boat. Our boats had taken different paths when the tide changed. About 1/2 boat length separated us. Not much at anchor but we were all on mooring balls.

Until that point the decibel level of the conversation rendered individual words unintelligable. That ended.

"Well the marina knows where they put their mooring balls so I assume we are just fine" said the Budget Committee. Trouble was afoot. The tone was strained and the volume at half scream.

"They did not put them in so they don't know anything" said Mr. Petulant. "I'm not asking you to move" he continued "but I was here first".

"Bull" yells BC. "You want us to move we will damn well move. I won't spend another minute beside someone like you." With this BC jumped to the diesel panel, slammed the protective cover up and startled the Beta into operation.

"What the Hell's your problem Lady" screamed Mr. Petulant.

"Problem. It's your problem. I don't like whiny little cowards". Never ask the Budget Committee a direct question. Her Dutch genes render it impossible for her not to answer directly. "You are uptight. I could solve your problem. I have a plank on board. But we don't have a drill bit small enough for you get any friction".

With this she stormee to the bow and started uncleating one of the mooring lines. Loudly.

"That woman is crazy. What is her problem". whined Mr. Pet. The tone was still a bit aggressive but clearly he was taken aback and the volume was a horse whisper.

"I think she told you her problem". I swear I was calm when I said this and sober faced too. "She does not like whiny little cowards. She also thinks you need to get laid but this is unlikely because of your unfortunate penis size". I cannot keep from laughing. My diaphragm is quivering.

"Well You tell her..." started the petulant neighbour.

"Tell her yourself" I said as I turned to the bow and yelled "CONNIE" as loud as I felt I had to.

"WHAT!!!!!" She was so angry she was having trouble uncleating the mooring line and the foredeck was a bit of a hash. She stood up and kicked the line. She was still pissed.

"This guy wants to talk to you" I relayed. As I did so I turned and gestured to the cockpit of the boat behind us.

It was oddly empty. No one in sight. "Nevermind" I finished.

I joined the Budget Committee on the bow and we removed both mooring lines. BC swore she was calm now. I did not believe her.

Meredith drifted back a bit in the gentle tide, and the gap between her and the neighbouring boat was only about 10 feet.

Moving to the cockpit I waited until we were no more than 3 feet off the stern of the other boat. No one appeared in the other cockpit. The point having been made I put Meredith in gear and we moved to the next mooring field to pick up another ball. The Budget Committee stayed on the bow.

As we entered the next mooring field, all part of Green Cove Springs, we passed a steel boat named Anna Lee. In its cockpit, enjoying the show, was a beard with a weathered face and very bright eyes. As we passed him I said "I guess now we know who keeps Anna Lee company". The beard was old enough to know the song.

"Yup" he replied. "I spend a lot of time with her." He smiled. "Otherwise she gets sort of ... interesting". A pause. His smile broadened. "I like interesting women".

Me too, bearded guy, me too.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Meredith Races a Stationary Object

December 3, 2009
Green Cove Springs, FL

Still smarting from the armed invasion of our home by GMIBs (G Men in Black) Meredith and crew carried on up the St. Johns River into Jacksonville. Three hours of seething silence.

The air was fragranced with aromatic burnoff from the endless hectares of petroleum tank farms and petroprocessing plants which comprise the entire south side of this odd city. Nothing subtle about this fragrance JAX stinks worse than Sarnia ever did.

Enroute we weighed competing potentials: our emotional need to escape from the land of the formerly free competing with the money we had committed to flights home that would be lost if we left the country.

We're cruisers. Money won.

4:15 p.m. found us about a mile back of the Main Street bridge, the only bridge on the St. John's River which we needed to open to permit us entry into JAX proper. At 4:30 p.m. the bridge locks down for rush hour and no further openings are allowed until 6. The bridge must start to close no later than 4:27 p.m. It did not seem we would make the bridge so we slowed to search for an anchorage.

As we lost way the bridge operator hailed us on the radio. "Meredith, We cannot start an opening after 4:23" he said. "I do not make the rules but I do have to follow them. If you want an opening you are going to have to move".

I firewalled the Beta, our trusty diesel, and replied "Affirmative bridgemaster. We are full ahead. Understood if we don't make it we will have to turn off."

The diesel pinned at 2800, Meredith making 8 knots in the water, 5 and a bit on land due to the tide and river current and a 15 knot headwind, we steamed for Main Street. Bits of foam comprised of 20 illegal pollutants drained by industry into the poor St. Johns river flew off our bow wave - and our stern wave!!!! We were totally toxic man.

Totally forgotten were the goons in black.

Yes, yes, yes. But the bridge: it was going to be very very close.

"Meredith" came the call. "I'm going to start an opening now so you can hit the span at full speed. It's not how I'm supposed to do it but I want to see this. You have to judge and if you can't do make it you tell me cause I will close on your mast if you aren't through."

The wind on the bow died to zero. We hit the gap with the bridge still rising. With our mast mid span we called the bridgemaster and advised we were clear. No second to waste he spit out "YUP" and the klaxons burped the closing warning.

"Main Street Bridgemaster that was the most fun we've had all week. Thanks from Meredith"

"Meredith when are you coming back down? I want to be here."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BOARDED!!! And In The Wrong

December 1, 2009
Jacksonville Florida Reeducation Camp for Foreign Sailors

This is a personal account. For independent verification see the cruisers' resource site www.noonsite.com.

After Cuba, the USA has the most repressive treatment of foreign cruisers in all of North and Central America. Maybe all of the Americas but I have not checked South America yet.

This fact was driven home with prejudice aboard Meredith yesterday. We were boarded by agents of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP). We were not properly documented.

Under the Homeland Security Rules once a boat enters the USA from a foreign country the master must report to CBP every change of location or place.

Every time you move your boat the rules say you must call and inform the government. Without delay. Meredith did not do this.

Most Canadian boats do not comply with this rule. This is not out of willing ignorance of the rules but out of genuine confusion as to what the rules are. We know from experience that if you try to report you often cannot find a phone number to call. If you do reach a number the telephone head answering same often has no idea why you are calling and can even grow angry at your wasting of their valuable time.

Confusion amongst Homeland Security Border staff is so bad many boats enter the US without proper papers because the border guys, most of whom are friendly and trying to be helpful, don't know what to issue. One couple we travel with does not even have a Cruising Permit. When they crossed the border they were told they did not need one. This couple, one a bank auditor and the other a school principal, do not violate any law ever. Truly I hope they are not boarded.

Until now the USA has not enforced the reporting rules.

Well, there has been a change in the sea state baby. This country we are in just got unfriendly in a big way.

How big is the change? Well there are now convictions for failing to report in Maine and Florida. I In a case before the Florida courts at present a boat was charged with failure to report because they moved from one marina to another in the same city but failed to immediately call CBP.

Penalties are $5,000 for the first offence, $10,000 for each additional. I am sure that if they can prove you stopped 4 times enroute that constitutes 4 separate offences although no such case has come to my attention.

CBP Patrol boats are prowling the major inlets full time stopping every foreign flagged boat, vetting papers and making sure each boat has been reporting to the local SS, I mean USS detachment.

Yesterday was Meredith's turn. As I said like most Canadian boats we have not been reporting.

As we approached the junction of the ICW and the St. John's River a powerboat containing 4 agents of the CBP approached from our stern in the middle of the river. They may be government agents but forgive us for thinking of them as little better than armed thugs: four men dressed in flak jackets all wearing full wrap MIB sunglasses, hands resting on gleaming sidearms.

Boarding us they spent 30 minutes copying down every bit of information from every piece of paper on the boat. Polite but humourless (use of a "u" in this post may expose me to additional penalties for unamerican activity) when these guys finished with the paperwork they elected to grill us personally. Polite but firm.

It was insulting and unpleasant. And damned well unnecessary.

Their country, their rules.

There is no recourse. If we don't like their rules we can leave.

Meredith will remain here over the holiday. Flights are booked and mooring contracted. On our return we will leave this country. The rules are unacceptable to us and we choose not to live under them.

You might think it a loss to the US economy if large numbers of Canadians fail to populate their waterways. I mean Meredith has spent over $40K this year alone and we make no demand on any services.

US sailors are decent people and we have made many friends amongst them. Sadly the sailors do not make or enforce the rules.

Since I began writing this the Customs and Border Patrol boat which rousted us has cruised slowly past Meredith three times. It sickens me. If you are a foreigner in this country it is a hostile place.

Last night on arriving in Jacksonville Meredith called to report our arrival. There is no number listed for Jacksonville so we called Fernandina Beach CBP. When a machine answered we left our details and phone number. No return call. We called Cape Canaveral CBP. A machine answered, we left message and phone number; no return call. Called West Palm Beach CBP. Got a machine and a recorded message. Machine did not take messages.

The guys that boarded us cruised by late last evening and we hailed them. Informing them of our unsuccessful attempts to report we asked them what the hell we were supposed to do. They, all four, looked at the deck of their boat. Nothing was offered up. I asked what the Jacksonville phone number was. One said that they had about 20 numbers and you could not find it anyway. I again asked what the number was and after an extended delay one guy offered up what he thought was the local information number.

The gun toting drug smuggling terrorists aboard Meredith have now fully informed the USA of our intentions. The phone call, when we were able to find someone to take the information, was another 20 minutes repeating all of the information the CBP boat copied down earlier: Boat registration number, passport numbers, cruising permit number, how long would we be in Jacksonville, where had we come from, where were we going.

We now have this to look forward to every day we remain here.