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Date: 12 Nov 2010 02:34:00
Title: Finishing the refit

Thursday night

We're still in Annapolis but Saxon Blue is now back in the water and we're moving back onboard tomorrow. The boat has been on the hard in Bert Jabins Yacht Yard since just after the Annapolis Sailboat Show at the beginning of October. While she was there, the guys at M Yacht Services have fixed a lot of the little problems that we'd found and even replaced the damaged stanchion bases and the toe-rail over them. All the jobs have been completed with great attention to detail and I'm impressed with the quality of the work.

With Saxon Blue out of the water, we could investigate how well she'd fared below the waterline. I was worried that the rubber bump-stops in the folding propeller had disintegrated but they were just worn and a bit split. We've replaced them along with the anodes on the prop and we took the opportunity to polish and grease the prop and shaft. I'd been wondering about raising the level of the anti-foul paint to protect the hull a bit better and we got that job done while we had the chance. I'm really pleased that I did. We now have lovely dark blue anti-foul right up to the level of the white boot-top line. It looks even better than it did before and will stop us getting ugly green growth just above the waterline.

While the boat has been on dry land, we couldn't live onboard so we asked Kali to find us somewhere to stay. She asked around and found a bed and breakfast where we could stay. It then turned out that we could rent the whole house for less than two rooms of B&B so that's what we did. It's a wooden building built in 1820 very close to the dock and, by the time we move out tomorrow, we'll have lived here for nearly two weeks so it feels like home. We've been able to just walk out of the door and explore Annapolis, particularly the nearby coffee shop.

For the first couple of days, I felt anxious to be sailing again and frustrated to be unable to do so. Andrea and I had a bit of a mini-crisis about why we were hanging around in Annapolis instead of staying at our lovely White Hill. Then we realised that we were in America with nothing to do but investigate and see what goes on. Andrea also wanted to spend some time working on her art and had enough room in the house to set up her computer and stuff to really get something done. What with exploring Annapolis, working on Saxon Blue and planning the next stage of the trip, we've been busy all the time.

Originally, I thought we were going to continue following the coast of the USA south through the Carolinas and into Florida before crossing over the narrow straights to northern Cuba. Kali had been discussing how best to reach the Caribbean with local sailors and they'd suggested a safer route. The trouble with going along the coast is that it's all very shallow with few good anchorages and, as you get further south, the winds and currents turn against you. In the end, you arrive in the western end of the Greater Antilles on the windward side of Cuba and everything is up-wind from there. Not ideal. Many cruisers from the USA avoid this by going down through the Bahamas, a route colloquially known as the "Thorny Path" because of the many reefs and the contrary winds and tides.

The locals all recommend another route - head just south of east from the mouth of the Chesapeake until you almost get to Bermuda, then turn south and head for the smaller islands at the north eastern tip of the Caribbean. That way, you sail on a reach in the northerly winds off the coast of the USA then pick up the NE tradewinds just aft of the beam and sail downhill all the way. The locals don't bother stopping in Bermuda but we've decided to follow this route and stop on the island as we go past. Bermuda has a long history as a British base in the North Atlantic which was particularly important after the loss of the American Colonies. It also has a long history as inspiration for the famous Barry Manilow song about the Bermuda Triangle which means Andrea has been singing that for days.

In amongst sorting all that out, we've been exploring Annapolis and finding out more about the history of the area. The colony of Maryland was founded by British settlers who soon became wealthy by growing Tobacco and shipping it out on the many rivers that criss-cross the area around the Chesapeake estuary. They built elegant brick houses in Annapolis with the money they earned from their plantations in the countryside, all farmed by slaves and indentured servants. The British fought some very expensive wars to protect the colonies from the French and then decided to recoup some of the cash by taxing the colonists. They promptly came up with a lot of reasons why any such taxation was against their inalienable Human Rights as slave-owning plutocrats and declared themselves independent. A combination of colonial intransigence and typical British heavy-handedness let to war and Independence.

Four of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence lived in Annapolis and we visited one of their lovely houses, guided by an extremely knowledgeable young woman. After the end of the war, George Washington resigned his commission in the State House here which event allegedly averted any tendency towards a military dictatorship in the new USA and set the country on course for democracy.

The other main claim to fame for this little backwater is the presence of the US Navy Academy where 4000 midshipman train to be officers in the world's pre-eminent navy. Andrea and I went for a visit there and were surprised to find that we could just wander around at will having waved our drivers licences at the guard. Americans are ID mad. They demand that you show ID just to get on a train but they never cross reference it with anything. The fact that you have it is seemingly enough to guarantee that you're a responsible member of society. Anyway, we spent ages in the Naval Academy, much of it looking in amazement at a genuine space capsule, the one used by the first American in Space. It's tiny. There was a silver-clad model inside it and even getting in there must have been a mission. Claustrophobic or what? His head is just inside one side and his feet nearly touching the other. He sits there on top of a slightly adapted WWII rocket and then gets hurled 300 miles downrange in 15 minutes via a point about 100 miles up. He then steps out and says "What a ride". No wonder they rule the world. Crazy.

There was a very good museum of naval history in the Academy but the best bit was a collection of English ship models, mostly the ones made by the shipwrights at the time that they were building the incredible ships of the line. The models are perfect, even down to the interior details that can't be seen without an endoscope. They also had bone models made by Napoleonic prisoners of war, one of them in Portchester Castle. I was a bit outraged that these uppity colonials had managed to assemble such a fine collection of English artefacts but then, if they were still in the UK, they would be hidden away in a cellar to make way for the latest interactive experience in what passes for a museum.

Anyway, I'm tired of writing now after a day working on Saxon Blue. We've had electricians, riggers, air-conditioning repairmen and shipwrights onboard in the last two days. I've been checking all sorts of stuff, fixing some things and assembling others to get her ready to sail again. I'm knackered!

Harvey

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