The Covid Black Hole

Someone sent us a photo of Highwind at anchor!

We worked our way north with a couple of long legs since I was recovering from COVID and would not be able to do anything in towns. We had a night in Swansboro were David grabbed takeout and I stayed on the boat. For the next few nights we stayed on anchor.

We had also been watching the price of diesel rise and had made plans to fill up in our normal spot – Top Rack Marina, which is just south of Norfolk. However, as we began to pull in to the fuel dock, the attendants told us they had no more! As it turns out, any marina that had a reasonable/cheaper price for diesel was out of supply.

We’d run the boat to almost empty since we were anticipating a complete fill which would get us all the way to New York if we slow boated through the Chesapeake. Yikes! David quickly found an alternate fuel option in Norfolk to pick up a couple hundred gallons to defer the problem until later.

We decided to spend the weekend in Hampton, a small town just north of Norfolk. By this time, I was feeling completely better, but still testing positive. We decided to go for a short scooter ride to Fort Monroe, and since it was completely outdoors and nobody else was there, I was able to visit too. It is an enormous stone fort facing the entrance to Norfolk, and took us a couple hours to walk completely around and explore, which was fairly brutal in the 90+ temps of the weekend.

On the way back to the boat, we saw a cider place with an outdoor seating area out back and a free table far away from anyone where I could sit. David grabbed a cider flight while I stayed outside. We quickly decided that mid 90s was too hot to exist outside, though, and retreated to the boat.

We left Hampton and headed for Dare Marina, where we had planned to pick up some additional diesel. Our new plan was to keep doing small fills in the hopes that prices would eventually go down, but as we were filling up, the attendant warned us that his price was about to jump again in the next few days. Having called a dozen marinas that morning, every last one of whom were already 60-80 cents a gallon more expensive than the price survey from 3 days earlier, we were inclined to believe him, so we decided to fill all the way to nearly 1000 gallons. Then, pocketbook empty, we spent the night on anchor just outside of the Marina.

As I started to feel better, David unfortunately felt the first signs of symptoms and spent the next few days feeling unwell and the next morning tested positive for Covid himself. We spent the next few nights on anchor and arrived in Solomons, a favourite spot of ours, in time for the weekend. Our original plan was to meet up with Jan and Jim for the weekend, but unfortunately David was still testing positive and we decided not to risk seeing them.

Now our roles were reversed and I ran errands and picked up food, including the most delicious key lime pie, while David stayed put on the boat, and worked on some projects including the wiring the watermaker remote and the installation of a new backup radio antenna. I also had fun with my sourdough starter and made cinnamon rolls and pizza dough along with a loaf of bread.

We had also been trying to see some of David’s extended family on Tilghman Island, but due to timing and covid, we were not able to make that happen. We finally both tested negative! We spent the night in Knapps Narrows and tried to go out for happy hour, but since it was mid-week everything there turned out to be closed!

Cause for celebration!

We headed to Annapolis and were finally able to see Jan and Jim. We realized that Annapolis is actually closer to their house than Solomons, and decided this will be our new meeting point with them :). We had a lovely meal where we completely forgot to take any photos…of course!

We would have some friends visiting us for the next week and had decided to take the next week as vacation. On Friday evening before they arrived, we walked to a nearby wine-bar where it was standard procedure to buy a bottle of wine to drink while you waited for a table. We played some Hanabi outside while we waited.

It was Pride weekend in Annapolis, so on Saturday morning we did a scooter ride into town and wondered around. We also checked out the Benneker-Douglass Museum, which was small, but very well done.

We really enjoyed spending a weekend in Annapolis, and it has a bunch more stuff to explore on future trips.

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Seattle, A Wedding, and Covid Strikes

We flew back to Seattle, arriving on a Sunday, and settled in for a standard Seattle visit where we organized evenings catching up with various friends. I even managed to get in one class at Divine! David had a work offsite for a few of the days. This was all gearing up for a busy weekend filled with wedding events. Since it was the wedding of our usual hosts, Brent and Elizabeth, this time we stayed with Brent and Mary and their daughter Ember.

Because my work meeting schedule tends to be very busy, and I’m not great at planning ahead, when we’re in Seattle, I usually work east coast hours so as to not disrupt my team, which means early mornings and long days for me! I was glad for the weekend to arrive!

On Friday afternoon, David had the day off and I signed off around the end of the day EST and we headed with Brent and Mary to a nail salon for mani-pedis. David even joined in, and chose a lovely midnight blue for his toes! On Saturday morning, I went to join the girls getting ready at Elizabeth’s and got a fancy up do!

We arrived early at the venue with the rest of the family to help with the final preparations for the ceremony. David, who had just finished his speech the night before started getting nervous, but he did an amazing job and wrote a lovely, funny, and heartfelt speech. It was a lovely ceremony.

Matthew had been invited to the wedding, and it was lovely to be able to spend the evening with him. The venue was a whiskey distillery in south downtown and the couple were married by David at the end of the barrel room. It was a beautiful location! After the ceremony, a long table was set up down the length of the room for dinner.

On Sunday David and I picked up some pastries for a brunch event, which was followed by ice-skating (Brent and Elizabeth met playing ice hockey). The couple had an extremely cute photo shoot dressed in their wedding finery on the ice. Elizabeth’s dress hung over her ice skates so it looked like she was just floating magically along. David had muscle memory from skating when he was younger and we had a lovely time on the ice! (Thanks Brent and Elizabeth’s wedding photographer for the photos of us!)

In the evening, there was an immediate family dinner event on a heated outdoor patio. Another lovely evening!

Sunday Family Dinner

We travelled home on Monday, which took the entire day and had decided to spend the next day at the marina – primarily due to the fact that they had several packages for us, and the office would be closed when we returned!

Unfortunately, the next morning, I awoke with a sore throat that didn’t go away. After a couple of hours, I decided to take a covid test. The result was negative and I was relieved – it must just be a cold from working long hours, lack of sleep due to pre-6am wake-ups all week, and a super busy wedding weekend. The next day, I was feeling a bit worse, but still like a mild cold. In the afternoon, I heard that someone at the wedding had tested negative on Monday, but tested positive today. I decided to take another test and wa-wa…it was positive. After two years of avoiding the plague, it had finally arrived on Highwind.

You will always remember this as the day you brought the plague to Highwind

That night I moved into our spare bedroom and all week we’ve tried to avoid each other as much as possible. It is now the weekend and David has had a sore throat all week, but is still testing negative, so we are hoping that he has been spared for now. Luckily my symptoms have been mild and I’m definitely on the upward swing right now. Unfortunately, next week I will miss a leadership offsite planning session with my company.

We’ve been mostly on anchor and I will continue to quarantine on the boat until it is safe for me to be around others. On that note, I’ll close off this post with last night’s evolution of a sunset from our anchorage.

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North Carolina – Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach Ferris Wheel

After heading out of Charleston, we spend the next week with another string of early mornings in order to maximize our pre-work traveling time to push north. We were aiming to get all the way through the Waccamaw River, where there is no civilization, and to a town with a convenient airport for flying back to Seattle for a week of in-person work for David followed by his sister’s wedding.

We spent the week at peaceful anchorages, mostly alone, working through the remaining fresh food in the fridge in preparation to fly out at the end of the week.

However, on our way to Wilmington, where in early in the week we decided would be our airport destination, we decided to stop in Myrtle Beach for 2 nights. We had been through here last year, while everything was still closed, and I had seen the huge sign for “Dolly Parton’s Pirate Voyage”. I had made David put this on our list of “things we want to do when restrictions lift”. We managed to snag tickets to the show for our second night. On the evening of our first night, I managed to convince David to head in to Myrtle Beach proper on the scooters to ride the ferris wheel. We pulled out the big scooters, since it was about 8 miles away. We discovered that the front brake on my scooter is completely broken, so yet another project for another day….

We arrived at the wheel after sunset, so we didn’t really get to see much of the view over the beach and ocean, but did get a good view of the boardwalk area of Myrtle Beach.

The next evening, I was SO READY for the pirate show. It was essentially just across the street from the marina, so after work we headed there.

Once you walk inside the building, it is an EXPERIENCE. Our tickets were for the Sapphire ship, and we were ushered in to one side of the theatre. The show is a variety/cirque dinner show with a pirate battle theme. Once the show opens, the audience is inaugurated as pirates of either the Sapphire or Crimson captains. We were treated to pole, doubles aerial silks, mermaid lyra, performing seals and sea lions, pirate sword fights, spectacular circus diving, and much more!

WHAT FUN! It was a great way to cap off a long week of traveling north, and we didn’t have too far to go the next day where we arrived in Southport where we’d leave the boat while we flew to Seattle.

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Tied up in Charleston, Golden Hour just before sunset

Normally when in Charleston, we stay in a marina that is on the eastern side of the city, but that marina was full when we called to make a reservation, so we ended up at a new-to-us marina on the west side. We had made arrangements ahead of our arrival with a boat wash/wax/detailer that we had worked with before to wax and wash during our stay – something we hadn’t done to the decks and below since Michigan and not for a year to the above-decks!

We arrived in the morning and were put out at the end of the “megadock”, a half-mile-long finger dock on the west side of the city. We completed our work day, then headed into town for dinner. I managed to make reservations for our first night at a restaurant called Laurel. Our entire meal there was excellent, and we had a lovely sparkling rose that was suggested by our waiter. He even bought us a glass of the wine we initially tried to order to compare to his suggestion and he was completely right – the one he suggested was much better!!

Since we’d been doing so many early mornings in order to push north as quickly as possible, we decided to sleep in on Saturday morning, and then had brunch on the boat with some breakfast meat from Cocoa Village. In the afternoon, we pulled the scooters off the boat and headed into the city to re-visit a distillery and brewery where we spent the afternoon playing games.

Hanabi at the brewery

While at the brewery, we managed to make reservations at a restaurant called The Warehouse. It was a tasting menu, which was delicious and we had excellent service. Over the course of dinner, the background music had gradually been getting louder and louder and as we were approaching our dessert course, we noticed that the tables behind us were being moved. Our waiter came over to our table and apologized and explained that at 10pm, the restaurant turned into a night club!! Indeed, as we were eating dessert, it got crowded and loud behind us. We finished up our excellent meal and headed back to the boat for the evening.

Dinner, before the night club

On Sunday, we had another lazy morning and then hopped on the scooters to visit the Powder House Museum, a building that had stored gunpowder during the revolutionary war. Though small, it was an interesting museum.

David in the stocks

We returned back to the boat just as the cleaners were finishing up a sparkling Highwind.

It was wonderful to spend another weekend at Charleston. This is one of our favourite spots on the ICW!

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Hellish Experience at Hinckley Stuart

Look, a giant hole in our boat, in the wrong place, that’s still here to this day.

Note: this isn’t really designed to be a standard blog post for readers to read and care about. This is an accounting of an unbelievably horrible and expensive experience dealing with what should have been a very reputable shop. At this point, I just want this post out there to try to prevent other customers from making the same mistake we did: using this establishment at all. If you’re a standard reader, don’t read it unless you’re really bored.

We’ve been accumulating winter projects for the boat for much of the year aboard. Last year, we had such a great experience with Hinckley in Maine, across several different projects, that we ended up communicating with Hinckley in Stuart and deciding to embark on several major and many minor projects with them while we had to spend a month on work travel flying around the world. And so, at the end of February, we pulled the boat up, spent a week having them scope projects, and then flew away for a month. What should have been around 30k$ of work ended up turning into 71k$ of half-finished, mismanaged, boat-damagingly-bad jobs, that we back negotiated down to 54k$ to get our house back from their threatened months of legal purgatory. And here’s how that happened.

The first week, while we were on the boat, we worked with our service manager, and scoped out several of the more nebulous projects to see where we wanted to land. I had a 15 page google document with all projects listed, scoped, with pictures, descriptions, and more, that they used to form the basic project plan. We quickly figured out, from initial estimates, that we wanted to scope our more advanced projects way in, which was not surprising in the slightest, but arrived at proposals that made us happy, both for cost and scope. We departed on great terms with work underway on some basic jobs, and then communicated via calls and text with our service advisor for the next couple weeks.

The first major project, and a substantial crux of the dispute, was a big job where we destroyed a stack in the middle of the boat that had the washer/dryer and a cabinet in it, to instead place an RV fridge there, and move the washer/dryer over to across the hallway, to replace where one of the two fridges is, and take out the other fridge and build a simple box cabinet. Quite a bit of work, but nothing horribly complicated. We worked with our service advisor to get the estimate down to $11,900, which was a bit higher than we wanted, but we were hoping for some very high quality work that we’d come to expect from Hinckley, so we were willing to pay for it. As they got started, they said that the cabinet over the fridge was going to make the ceiling modifications far more complicated and we could get the price down by about 2000$ if we pulled out the requirement. I figured I could build another cabinet myself down the line if we wanted it, so we took the discount.

I get an early picture of the demolition work progressing, but it’s hard to tell anything from the picture other than that their sawsall skills are a bit haphazard, which starts making me worried, but the service guy insists that it’s just the first cut and will be cleaned up later — fair enough.

Another week passes, with a few smallish questions and some basic status updates, but sounds like all is on schedule and budget, and then I get a text from the service guy saying that today didn’t go how he expected, he ended up getting let go, I should call the company in the morning to figure out what next steps are, but that I should be very wary about cost overruns with the other managers. He goes into details about how he was let go unceremoniously, but likely because he was constantly revising bills down by 50% or more because the service department was always go so horribly over estimates. Not terribly surprising that they let him go, but his messages are going to be good evidence down the line for us about how unapologetically systemic this behavior is here.

So first thing in the morning, I call the shop, and the new manager says that she’ll get me a full accounting ASAP. We talk later that day, and I’m told that we’re something like half done with the fridge/washer project and the bill is already at 17k$ for that project alone. I freak out, since the boat interior is literally chopped to pieces and now we’re basically hostage. I tell them to get the bare minimum done from here to get things back together, since we won’t even be back in the country for another week, much less back at the boat. We set a date for our return and schedule a meeting with the head of service for that morning.

By the time we get back to the boat, the stale bill (for this one project) is at 19k and they say a bunch more work is yet to be added to the total. When I have my appointed meeting, they put another bill on the table for around 26k (for this one project) with everything added in, and I’ve already gone over the boat and seen that the woodwork is shoddy (jigsaw cuts over the edges of the fridge hole, formica already delaminating, etc.) and that the pantry cabinet was never made — there’s still an old fridge in place there.

Further annoyingly, they made the box several inches larger than it needed to be in all dimensions, making the office more claustrophobic than it was before, despite the incredibly clear instructions in the fridge manual to add zero extra room around the listed box dimensions, because the cooling is carefully engineered to flow through designated channels. Then, they also put the fridge on top of a ~14″ high pedestal that they found in the wall when they demoed it, so that the fridge goes nearly all the way to the ceiling. So not only is the box far too large, but it also goes up so high that the room feels even smaller and essentially removes service access to the ceiling panels over it, and looks pretty awful from inside the room. Now that they’ve cut such a large hole in the wall, it’s going to be a complete bear to rebuild the room, so it’s likely to never be properly fixed, but it’s infuriating how this turned out.

Oh, and also the fridge was throwing error codes that took me hours to diagnose and fix. Oh, and the first time we were in vaguely heavy seas, the fridge shifted and dropped an inch or so, and the freezer was locked behind the lower retaining panel, requiring me to break the panel to get it out to let us get into the freezer. I haven’t yet dismantled the box to figure out what critically moved and figure out how to properly support the unit.

So we’re at about 3x the estimate, with a shoddily done project. I argue with them and they literally say to me, “it’s only an estimate, this was a big project, we think you got great value for your money here.” …

At this point, since we end up doing a couple back and forths where I complain about the bill and they send me away to ruminate internally, I’ve had a chance to check over major project #2 — the bow thruster.

So, we had them install a bow thruster tube, for a backordered bow thruster, so that whenever the thruster comes in, it’s a few hours of work after being hauled to put the hardware in place. They estimated around 5000$ for this, and that was actually right on track with my guess ahead of time — it’s a lot of work to build a fairing, make a giant hole, mount a tube, glass/gel it all in, etc. The tube costs about 1000$ on top of that, so we had them go ahead and do it.

I sent the manual for the thruster over, which they confirmed receipt of, and I gave them three locations, in descending order of preference, to install the thruster, based on where it would fit the very explicit clearance requirements in the manual. The manual said the tube needed to be twice the diameter in length. 250mm tube, 500mm min length, and some other requirements around the top of the tube on the inside to fit the motor unit. Guess how long the tube is where they installed it? 200mm, and that includes the fairing making it “longer” than it would otherwise be. The thruster would literally be in free water sticking out either side of the hole. It’s not even close.

In Hinckley’s defense, I showed them the hole and the manual, and they admitted “we can’t really charge him for this”. But then, I asked what to do about fixing the hole, since this is thousands of dollars of hull damage to repair, and they said that they’d refund the labor cost for the thruster install, but that’s it. So now we’re out a thousand bucks for the tube and thousands more to get this hole repaired by a competent shop. Cool — definitely a reasonable response to admitting that you did a bad job.

The stories are just equally weird and dumb from here. We wanted to get two waste hoses behind the two heads replaced, and they originally estimated 1000$, which seemed like a lot, but it was a shitty job that I didn’t want to do, so I said ok. They got into the job a little deeper and said that all of the waste hoses on the boat are actually not waste hoses and need to be replaced with proper waste-compatible hoses, and estimated 2800$ to do everything, parts and labor. I cringed a bit, but again, shitty job, so I said okay, it’ll at least all be new and last another 10-15 years. We get to the end of the job, and the bill is for 8000$. “They had to do a bunch more work than they thought, so it just took a long time, and there were a lot of parts costs.” I didn’t know what to say.

One of the big reasons we came into the shop in the first place is that, as regular readers know, we’ve been fighting vibration issues, especially with the starboard engine, for ~9 months now. After all the other shops had done smaller jobs, we wanted to go nuclear and entirely remove the shafts, couplings, and props, and send it all away to a prop/shaft shop with a scanner. So they did this, somehow managing to charge us 6000$ of labor just to remove the parts, despite that a shop in Deltaville, VA had literally just done this exact same job with one guy in a couple afternoons, 9 months earlier, so it’s not like they were seized up with 15 years of corrosion or anything. They also did stuff like charged 1 hour of labor each for three separate trips to the prop shop to drop off individual shafts and props, 3 days consecutively, 3 weeks before we were going to return to the boat — it’s not like there was a mega hurry to do them one at a time.

By the time we got the final bill with reinstallation, we were north of 10k. They did end up doing some extra work to debug what appeared to be a bent strut on one side, but that was a small portion of the cost in the end. And they ended up only doing the alignment out of the water, never doing it in the water after settling, which, from talking to multiple other shops, sounds like the number one rule of doing engine/shaft alignments.

Those were the most egregious jobs, money-wise. There were a pile of other large annoyances:

  • They were asked to do blister repair on a zone of the bottom, then barrier coat, and then do a bottom job. They ended up doing no blister repair, no barrier coat, and the basic bottom job was 6000$. So now we still have the major blistering problems that was why we went in to get a bottom job in the first place, no barrier coat, and an early bottom job.
  • We asked them to look into a leak on the bridge, and in the writeup, clearly stated that we had pulled down ceiling panels, and the leak is coming from forward of the leak. We’d already eliminated a few sources of potential leaks by re-sealing things, leaving one likely location needing re-sealing. So, we get the bill, and they’ve done 500$ of leak checking, pulling down all the ceiling panels and determining that it was all dry and the leak must be further forward. Thanks.
  • They installed a salt water washdown pump, which, to this day, lightly trickles water out when activated, and I haven’t yet figured out why — there’s plenty of voltage at the pump, and it’s 3.3GPM, so something else is awry.
  • They installed a new 48V windlass, which I clearly told them was 48V and to not wire into anything, and wired the old 12V power line directly into the 48V setup. Fortunately, anticipating something like this, I hard disconnected the line at the panel, so it didn’t damage anything.

So, at the end of all of this, I’m staring at the 71k$ final bill, pointing out all of these errors, and also how their service contract clearly states that estimates must be approved by the owner for all work done and any work over the estimate must be approved as well. After all that, they say that they can remove the most recent bill entirely, which gets us “down” to 54k, since the final invoice hadn’t hit the system yet, and then they wouldn’t have to work with the CEO directly to go further (I suspect this is them trying to save face with corporate and not arise suspicion). I say that’s not good enough, we’re still way over even at 54k. They go away for a while and come back and say something to the effect of, “this is the best we can do. Pay this and leave and never come back, or we’ll take your boat and you’ll have to work it out for months in the legal system.”

So, we paid their extortion, got our boat back, and will never return. And neither should anyone else.

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Northern Florida

After a month away from the boat and a few weeks of visiting with people, David and I decided that we would spend the next week on anchor as we made our way north to St. Augustine. This we did, with very little photographic evidence :).

We had made plans to meet up with Bethy and Alex one more time again in St. Augustine. Funny how it takes us a week to get from Cocoa to St. Augustine on a boat, and our friends can hop between Cocoa, Orlando and St. Augustine via a quick drive! We spent a lovely evening on Friday and at a huge Portuguese dinner that was delicious. They headed home on Saturday after brunch and since we had just received our new internet antennas David decided the afternoon was a perfect time for a boat project! After our last debacle dealing with the antenna when we had to replace broken plastic brackets with new metal ones, I can tell you I was not looking forward to this project. Despite already having wires threaded from the old antennas, we struggled quite a bit and what should have been a 1 hour project turned into a 3 hour project and we both ended up with a bit of sunburn.

On Sunday we set off for another week of anchoring. Last year on our way north we had taken the outside route, skipping most of Georgia on the ICW to arrive at Charleston. This year, the weather has been particularly windy for this time of year and we would be unable to go outside. As we were heading north past Jekyll Island Marina, we heard someone hailing us on the radio. It turned out to be some of our Looper friends that we had last seen in Key West. We slowed down and had a quick chat as we were driving by. We had also reached out to our friends on St. Simons and it turned out they were in town due to some unfortunate structural issues with their deck. We made some slight changes to our plans and ended up staying in a marina and meeting up with them for dinner – a lovely unexpected surprise. They invited us over for dinner the next night. Since Endeavour-Highwind is too large to now fit on their dock, we decided to anchor at the mouth of the river on which their house sits, and we’d take the dingy to visit in the evening after work. It was a lovely evening dingy ride and I was struck by the oddity of the normal that is our life on the boat – driving a dingy up a peaceful river as our commute to visit with friends.

The dinghy ride on the way back, however, was significantly more precarious, as it was a nearly-moonless night, at low tide. Imagine a blind canyon run for several miles to get back to the boat.

For the rest of the week, we have enjoyed some further quiet anchorages and sunsets and plan for our last leg through Georgia, heading to Charleston for the weekend.

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Cocoa and Disney

After Mark and Robin left, we remained at Cocoa in order to visit with Sara, a Seattle friend who was in the area with her partner, Drake, for a work trip. In addition, a mutual friend of ours, Bethy, had recently moved to the Orlando area. Bethy and her husband Alex drove out to Cocoa and on Friday night we hosted a huge dinner party on the boat – my first time cooking a 3-course meal from scratch for 6 people on the boat. We had a great evening catching up.

Alex and Bethy stayed on the boat with us and the next day we ate pastries for breakfast and then played some mini-golf. I am extremely bad at mini-golf and lost by a large factor. However, we had a great time!

Alex and Bethy are big fans of Disney, so I knew I had a good opportunity to make a trip happen – only 2 years after our failed plans with Matthew only days before the parks shut down for Covid. We would only have one day, so I requested that we go to Hollywood Studios since I wanted to see the Star Wars zone! David is not a fan of crowds (people) or rides, so he decided to stay on the boat for a day of relaxing and video games. Alex, Bethy, and I drove back to Orlando on Saturday night so that we would be close to Disney in the morning. We work up early and started booking rides on the app, then headed to the parks for a fantastic and magical day! The Star Wars zone is incredibly detailed and I can only imagine how it must feel for a super-fan to walk up to the Millenium Falcon – much the same way I felt walking up to Hogwarts, I imagine.

Even though it was Easter Sunday and very busy at the park, Bethy and I had a fantastic morning – we ended up waiting in line for a few rides, and used the app to book fastpass times for other rides in the afternoon, by which time Alex joined us. Bethy was very patient for all my selfie poses!

Just before our reservations in Olgas Cantina for drinks, the sky opened up and it began raining. And I mean torrential downpour! We waited under an umbrella for our reservation to be called and made a mad dash in to the building.

By the time we had finished our drinks, it was close to the park closing time, and luckily the rain had scared most of the people away. I managed to convince Bethy and Alex to ride one more time on the Rise of the Resistance ride, and we had a little fun in the Hall of Stormtroopers.

While I was having a fantastic day, David was having his own version of a fantastic day on the boat sleeping in, playing video games, and working on coding projects. We were reunited later in the evening (our first day apart in over 2 years) and started making our plans for heading out of Cocoa.

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Boat Projects and the Space Coast

After some negotiation, Hinckley finally agreed to release the boat to us, and mid-afternoon we were able to launch the boat into the water. We immediately left and went to a different marina in Stuart where we planned to stay for the next week to assess the full situation in the boat and complete the most important unfinished and messed-up projects that we would need in order to fully operate Highwind. Top of the list would be identifying and fixing the error message on the new fridge, wiring up the windlass so that we would be able to anchor, confirming that we still have a washdown up front that works (to spray mud off the anchor as we pull it up), and adjusting David’s desk to fit in the remaining office space due to the new fridge box being built too big.

While we were gone, we had also received the repaired watermaker from Spectra and new blinds, both of which needed to be installed so that we could get rid of large boxes taking up most of the living room before David’s parents arrived to visit!

We had a bit of a busy week with work during the days and full evenings of boat projects to complete.

It was pretty stressful, but we managed to finish everything in time to head out of Stuart on Friday and head to Ft. Pierce where we celebrated with a sushi boat.

On Saturday, Mark and Robin arrived about 15 minutes after we had finished stowing away all the tools, tidying up, and vacuuming! Mark’s birthday was on Sunday and we celebrated by visiting a local brewery and then a cider brewery.

We capped off the evening with some delicious Thai food.

For the beginning of the week, we headed to Melbourne, where Mark and Robin explored while David and I worked. We had been checking out the launch schedule at the Kennedy Space Center and a rocket launch was scheduled for mid-day on Wednesday. We decided to adjust our plans slightly and head to Cocoa for a good view. As it happens, the launch was postponed to Friday, but regardless we arrived mid-week in Cocoa. David managed to find some VIP launch viewing tickets, so we prepared to take Friday morning off for the experience.

We arrived a couple of hours before launch and were shepherded onto a a bus where we were driven to the Saturn center for our prime viewing. We had no previous knowledge of what was launching, but it turned out to be the first mission of Axiom Space, a manned mission aboard a Space-X Dragon with the first all-private civilian astronaut crew heading to the ISS for a 10 day mission.

We had a fantastic view from 3 miles away from the launch pad.

Sadly the rocket was actually behind the structure that you can see in the picture, so we were not able to see it while we were watching the count down, but we were able to see when the crew boarding arm moved away to the side.

We watched some promotional videos from Axiom on a live-stream, and also there was a live-speaker at the bleachers providing us with information regarding the launch.

Finally the clock reached the 5…4…3…2…1 and the rocket lifted off. A few seconds later the sound rumble rushed through us and we could feel the vibration in our chests.

It was an incredible experience! I did record on my phone, but was looking at the ship with my eyes (the light from the engines is blinding!).

I hopped on and off calls for the afternoon while David and his parents visited the museum, though I did get to see the full Atlantis exhibit.

On Sunday we did a kayaking tour through the mangroves. We hoped to see some manatees, but unfortunately we did not. We did get to kayak through very narrow tunnels made by the mangroves where I tried unsuccessfully to steer the kayak and David tried successfully to ram our kayak into his parents’.

It was lovely to have them on the boat with us and we had a great visit!

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Big Sky and Return to Florida

We arrived in Big Sky on Saturday afternoon only a little jet-lagged and hoping that David’s curse would be lifted and that we’d see some new snow while we were there. Although we had planned to rest and recover from jet lag on Sunday, when we awoke, it was snowing and there had been several inches of new snow overnight, so we put on our ski gear and headed out for a fantastic day of skiing with friends, including Brent, Elizabeth, and Timur. Unfortunately Michelle had recently broken her ankle so was laid up at the house.

The next day was a beautiful bluebird day, which gave us some amazing views from Eric’s gorgeous house.

Unplanned, David’s “vacation” week had been filled with staffing meetings, and while I had not planned to take a full week off, I was hoping to be able to take a day or two off for some skiing, except my calendar was filling up as well! As it turned out, we did not get any new snow for the rest of the week, and we ended up working full days. However, we had lots of fun in the evenings, spending time with friends and playing games.

On Friday, it was time to head out of Montana and back to Florida where we would be able to finally see the result of the month of work being done on the boat. We knew that the situation was not good and that the boat would not be ready to go into the water until Monday at the earliest. After mulling over a couple of options, we decided to keep our Friday flights and booked the weekend in a hotel in Stuart. Since we wouldn’t even be able to access the ship yard, we decided to organize an impromptu visit with Bethy and Alex in Orlando, so on Saturday morning, we rented a car and drove out to meet them. We went to Disney Springs for lunch – which is a Disney-ified outdoor mall and then spent a few hours wondering around.

We returned to Bethy’s house for the afternoon to hang out, and then decided to grab some dinner before David and I drove back to Stuart. Unfortunately, when we went outside to start the rental car, the engine wouldn’t turn on! Enterprise roadside assistance estimated 90 minutes, but Bethy’s neighbourhood group came to the rescue and we were able to borrow jumper cables and get the car going. We had a lovely dinner and then returned to our motel in Stuart.

The next day, we walked down the street from the hotel to a brewery where we had some beers, lunch, and played a board game on the ipad. In the afternoon, we decided to go and see a movie – Uncharted – our first time being in a movie theatre in several years!! For dinner we went to Benihana and sat with a couple who had never done teppanyaki before!

Early Monday, David had a meeting scheduled with the General Manager at Hinckley, so we left the hotel, and braced ourselves for the ensuing nightmare – the story of which will constitute its own blog post!

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As we were about to try to fall asleep on the plane, the person in the row behind us told us that the Aurora was visible from the window. We opened our window to see the most amazing view of the lights dancing outside. This was my first time seeing the phenomenon and it was absolutely spectacular. It felt like we were flying right through it. My pictures are very blurry and just do not do it justice.

We landed in the early afternoon on Saturday and new we needed to find things to do so that we would not crash early. Since we could not get into our room yet, we left our luggage with reception and headed out to find some lunch. We decided to head back to Divinis, which we wrote about in our last Prague post (A Week in Prague). We had a spectacular lunch while trying to keep each other awake :). We headed back to the hotel and were finally able to access our room for a shower! We then headed around the corner to a thai massage place which was lovely, but also I have to admit that I napped a tiny bit. Oops! Next we went to a Banksy exhibit, which was very well done.

After that we grabbed some pizza for dinner and then headed across town to do an escape room. The room was Alice in Wonderland themed and very well done!

On Sunday, we decided to visit a town outside of Prague since we’ve already hit most of the major tourist attractions in the city. We hopped on a bus to Karlovy Vary, a town in the mountains known for its mineral water springs throughout town that are supposed to be drunk for their healing powers.

You are supposed to purchase a special ceramic mug with an integrated straw (available at ALL the souvenir shops around town), and then fill and drink. The water is naturally sparkling, and varying degrees in temperature. To me, the taste was so awful that it made me gag. I was only able to taste from 3 of the springs before I quit. David meanwhile drank from all of them!

The architecture in the town is just beautiful! We spent the morning walking around and locating the springs, some of which are located in these amazingly beautiful and intricate colonnade structures.

In the afternoon, we took the funicular up the hill to the Diana lookout for an amazing panoramic view of the city. At the top, there was also a mini-zoo with the most adorable piglets!

Rather than take the funicular down, we decided to walk down, in the direction of a well known landmark – the Jeleny Skok, a statue of a mountain goat. After following the signs for a while, our anticipation building, we eventually found the statue, which was actually not even actual-sized, but very cute!

Jeleny Skok!

We continued walking around until it was time to catch our bus back to Prague. It was quite a challenge to fight the jet lag and stay awake for the bus ride, and we had a quick dinner before we headed back to the hotel to crash.

For the rest of the week, David worked from the Outreach office while I worked full time in the EST timezone from our hotel room. I don’t think the hotel cleaners appreciated me turning them away every day!

On the last morning, I finally had time in the morning to take a walk through the city before starting work. I wondered through the Old Town Square and across the Charles Bridge.

On our last night in Prague, we met up with a colleague of David’s who was currently on vacation in the city, and went to a “cave restaurant” – one of apparently a few in the city! The restaurant is downstairs and decorated to feel as if you are in an underground cave. We had a fabulous tasting-menu meal.

On Saturday morning, we woke up super early to get to the airport for our 3-flight travel day to Big Sky Montana, which will be our last week away from Highwind.

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