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On Tour 20 – The Final Charter Chapter – Cave Diving

On Tour 20 – The Final Charter Chapter – Cave Diving

Well we are finally in the UK.

Our last charter in the Bahamas was a shocker. Fortunately the other crew, an English couple, turned out to be absolutely wonderful and we hope to catch up with them in England.

We were not sorry to leave the Bahamas, in fact we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Although we almost missed our flights as we forgot to change our clocks to daylight savings time. Fortunately David noticed in a nick of time, we were in such a hurry the only person we said goodbye to was our South African friend, the new crew (poor unfortunate people) and the taxi driver.

Bye Bye, Moorings and the Bahamas, no regrets, it was a great and amazing year, we saw many beautiful places, met many amazing (and not so amazing), people, and had some unforgettable experiences.

The day before flying out of the Abacos we probably did one of the most amazing things we have ever had a chance to do, we are glad we didn’t do it any earlier as we would have become addicted and spent ALL our money doing it. Cave diving.

Abaco has one of the most extensive underwater cave systems in the world, I believe second behind Mexico. We went with our eccentric friend Fred who had Christmas with us. Fred gave up working for the US Navy as a civilian teaching nuclear power management system to become one of about 20 underwater cave explorers worldwide.

He has lived on a 2yacht for about 16 years and pretty lives hand to mouth and has mapped about 10 miles of unexplored caves under Greater Abaco island. We put all our faith in him, to have lived through countless dives in the caves, on his own. We figured he new what he was doing.

Our first dive was a cavern in the middle of Abaco with a diameter of about 15m. The dive consisted of diving into tis puddle of water and dropping to a depth of 206 feet, about 63m.

David dropped like a lead balloon, I went a little slower to let my ears equalise and Fred stayed between us until I caught up, then he stayed deeper to be safe.  We had to be careful not to hit the bottom as it had about a 10 foot pile of debris, decayed bits of trees etc. If we had of sunk into it would have silted out the entire Cavern to about 0 vis. This was an amazing experience.

The Caverns/ caves on the island consist of a layer of fresh water on top of a layer of salt water, this is called a halocline. when the first person goes through the halocline, it mixes the two levels of water and looks like an oil and vinegar mixture.

As the last person to go through the halocline it was pretty freaky watching David and Fred turn into a oily mixture. This entire ordeal of dropping to over 200 feet in a confined space in limited visibility and watching people turn to oil was a little out of my  comfort zone is a small understatement to say the least , that is until narcosis sets in.

All of a sudden everything becomes just fine. In fact I was pretty impressed with myself to remember to look at my gauges, by this time Fred had us working our way back to the surface. On the way back the  halocline looks likes like an eerie ghost movie, with hazy clouds in the water. it was amazing , we also encountered albino, blind fish.I guess you would also have trouble seeing with no eyes. Freaky stuff. This dive was great, but even cooler was the cave dive.

The cave dive, into Dans Cave, was an unbelievable experience and we both feel very privileged to have had the opportunity. The three of us entered into a space that was just large enough to fit the three of us. We dropped to about 30 feet and then descended through a tunnel at 45 degrees with a diameter of about 2 1/2 m to about 75 feet.

We then entered into a huge cavern, that blew our minds. It was about 10 – 15m across. It was still considered a cavern not a cave as you could still see a very small penetration of light from the entrance into the cave. Fred then took us through a penetration barely big enough to get through. We were now into fair dinkum cave territory.

Without torches it was as black as you could ever imagine. It was incredible. Huge Stalagmites and stalactites. Shining the torch through some of them turned them into huge glowing crystals. We penetrated in total  to about 520 feet and did a small loop. In total we did about a 1000 foot cave penetration to just over 70 feet deep. I’d do it a again in a heartbeat. It was just random.

We flew to Orlando and had a week with our great friends Gary and Santa and their boys Alex and Marlie. In total we probably spent about five weeks in the states much of the time annoying Gary and Santa. We are grateful for their wonderful hospitality and friendship.

We caught a midweek red eye flight with Virgin Atlantic to Gatwick, in the UK and then on to a train to Portsmouth, where Charsely picked us up and drove us to his wife’s hometown of Bishops Waltham. A very quaint place not far from Southampton.

Charlesy drove us all around the country side and helped us find a poo brown Renault Traffic with a Holdsworth camper conversion. It is not the VW Kombi that I had my heart set on, but after almost a week in the Renault, I have to confess that it has gone like a trooper, for filled all the requirements, has just enough space and I am starting to grow attached to it.

In the last week we have driven to the Cotwolds via Oxford and spent the night in a caravan park in Stratford upon Avon. Had a look around then went to the Warrick Castle, which was just amazing. Then onto a small caravan park to a place called Hasely Knob.

From there we drove to Kendal in the south of Lakes District, then onto Windermere for a brief drive through and eventually we found a fantastic car park to spend the night near a place called Hawkeshead – Beatrix Potter country. The following day we spent having a good look around a large part of the lakes heading up to Keswick and yep – Cockermouth.

We also spent another night in a car park on the mountain side, again it was fantastic. From there we drove through a remote and amazing part of the Northern Yorkshire Dales. We stopped in a Largish town called Richmond. From there we drove down to York and got desperately lost, even with the help of our trusty GPS  trying to find a somewhere to park the van for a night.

We are currently in a Caravan park just outside of York and Plan to head into to York for today and then move on later.

On Tour 16 – America

On Tour 16 – America

Hello to all,

It is about a month since our last update and again a fair bit has happened. Dad is recovering well from his 9 hour open heart surgery.

Unfortunately the job on the Mary Jane stalled out as the boat got left in West Palm and was subsequently hammered in hurricane Wilma. The eye of the hurricane went directly over West Palm and at one stage in its life it had the lowest ever recorded barometric pressure of 882 mb.

We were happy with our choice to get out of Marsh Harbour, while they did not get hammered the phone and internet service did go down for about a week. Freeport on Grand Bahama about 60 miles away did get hammered with a life lost. We spent about 3 weeks in the states on this visit, spending about half the time with our friends in Orlando and bout half touring around the South Eastern States.

Gary planned a 5 day tour for us so we could see as big a cross section of the region as possible. Our fist trip was to Savannah in Georgia. On the way to Georgia we stopped of at the Daytona Harley Davidson dealership. The newest and largest Harley dealership in the world. It was more like a Harley theme park with a massive show room and a Harley Hotel complete with accommodation and a Chapel to get cash & carried just in case you got the urge.

In Savannah we stayed in a great little B & B close enough to the old town that we could walk every where. Savannah is an old slaving and cotton farming town and I believe one of the first places settled in the region possibly even the States. It was a fascinating place steeped in tradition.

Melanie and I both loved it and planned to come back at a later stage. We were on a bit of a schedule as our friends Gary & Santa were keen for us to get back to Orlando to experience Halloween with there boys. After a night in Savannah we headed for a log cabin in the Appalachian mountains near a township named Butler in Tennessee.

It was about an 8 hour drive through some really pretty mountains with the Autumn leaves starting to show. At night the temperature got down to around freezing which was a shock to our system given the warm climate we have been living in. We left the Iron Mountain Log cabin the next morning heading for Nashville. On the way to Nashville we encountered a couple of things that we thought quite bizarre. The first was at a fuel stop on the out skirts of a town called Johnson not far from Butler.

We pulled up to get “gas” and parked next to us was a normal looking Jeep Cherokee except that it had a very recently killed deer complete with antlers strapped to a little platform on the tow bar. This deer had a bullet whole in its neck with blood still dripping! Inside the gas station there was a bloke with his son (about 12). There camouflage pants were covered in blood.

The amazing thing was no one but us was batting an eyelid. Not far down the track we were driving along and Melanie says “There’s a giraffe and there is a zebra standing next to it!” I nearly ran off the road. We doubled back to check it out and as we went back we spotted antelope, gazelle and kudu. We thought it must have been an open range zoo, but no it was some ones private collection. Warning keep out signs every where. Now is that weird, or is it just us? On to Nashville.

We got there late in the afternoon and went into the main drag which is The Broadway to check it out. The Broadway is like any other street in the the middle of a big town centre except there were mainly bars that had live country music playing the whole time they were open. Having seen enough to know we were going to come back later in the evening when the action started hotting up we headed for our hotel out between the airport and The Grand Ole opry.

We managed to get tickets to the 6.30pm show but had no idea who was playing. There were well over 10 performers with Winona Judd and Brad Paisley having the top billing. It was a great show and something that Melanie and I will remember for a long time. After the Grand Ole opry we went into down for a bit of a bar crawl down The Broadway. There were obviously some famous performers in town as some of the bars had extraordinarily long queues outside.

We did not feel like queueing at 10.00 pm so we started of with a smaller bar that had some great sounding country rock playing inside. Can’t remember the name of the band but they were fantastic. After about an hour and a couple of beers we moved on t another bar a couple of doors down. Another band playing more classic country or pretty much anything you requested.

Musically they were excellent and very entertaining. We stayed for a couple of hours and then moved on to another bar. We were amazed every bar had great live music and all the bands were playing for tips. After a long night we finally decided to head back to our hotel so the next day would not be a complete write off.

We spent the following day checking out some music shops and some western shops with the most extensive range of cow boy boots you could imagine. One music shop was a Gibson only outlet, it was massive and sold nothing but Gibson. It also had a workshop for repairs and special order instruments and they also assembled Banjo’s! I was in pig heaven. There were Gibson Banjo’s hanging on the wall that retailed for over $25000.00 US.

We went back to the Grand Ole opry and set up out the front Melanie with her guitar and me with the Banjo. We got a passer bye to take a photo of us playing out the front of The Grand Ole opry. Lucky there is no sound on pictures. Late that afternoon we started the long drive back to Orlando. We drove until about 11.00pm, about an hour south of Atlanta and stayed in a dodgy highway side hotel.

The other thing that amazed us was the obsession with fire works. Fire works were available every where in the state of Georgia. They even had massive fire works ware houses that were situated right nest to the main inter-states and they were open 24 hours a day and they were lit up like christmas trees.

We finally made it back to Orlando in time to spend Halloween with Santa, Gary, Alex & Marlie. Halloween was kind of novel. The adults tell you it is mainly for the kids but it looked like the adults were getting just as big a kick out of it. Some of the adults went to enormous trouble and expense to create costumes that would terrify the kids.

The other thing that was unusual was that for such a big national celebration no one could tell us what it was really about or what its significance was. We had a day or two in Orlando before heading off to St Augustine and Savannah again. On the way to St Augustine we stopped of at the Outback Crab Shack which was on a back water of the Johnson River inland from St Augustine.

We had a Low country Broil which was shrimp, (we would call them prawns) yabbies, crabs, corn and smoked meat all boiled up in the same pot then sprinkled with cajun spices. It was without doubt the best meal we had had out since leaving home which tells you more about the food in general than this particular meal. Any way it was fun all washed down with a couple of Coronas.

We got to St Augustine to find Gary had booked us in to another quaint little B & B. St Augustine was ok but no where near as charming as Savannah. We had a quick look around that afternoon and decided to head up to Savannah first thing in the morning.

Something we have become very impressed with along this coast line is the Intra Coastal Water Way. It is an inland protected water way that runs from Miami all the way to Chesapeake bay, maybe even further I’m not sure. Melanie and I decided it would be a worth while exercise to try get a power cruiser and travel the entire length of it. A lot of it is man made and a significant engineering feat.

One thing that I am totally frustrated by is the Yanks total in ability to pour a draft beer. Melanie says I am starting to sound like a broken record but this is so amazing because they don’t even know how it should look or taste. I have been so appalled by the insipid flat things that have been served to me I have resorted to photographing some as I’m sure people would not believe they could be that bad. Oh for an icy cold Carlton at the RBYC bar.

We got to Savannah about lunch time and spent the afternoon just wandering around enjoying the old world charm. That evening we went on a ghost tour. It was a trip in horse and cart through the oldest darkest parts of Savannah over all the cobble stone streets with tales told of slavery, smuggling and of course the most famous ghost stories.

It was a memorable experience. The next morning we left for Orlando with a side trip planned to Cocoa Beach. The home of the largest Ron Jon surf where outlet you could imagine. I t was well worth the drive it was huge, it had the most amazing range of surf wear and home wares with the beach and surfing theme being common throughout. We had a huge session of retail therapy, doing a large part of our Christmas shopping.

Back in Orlando we spent another couple of days shopping and hanging out with Gary and Santa before gritting our teeth and facing up to the reality of going back to the rock. Something neither of us was looking forward to. We also managed to catch up with Richard Hill one evening in Orlando. He was over with 3 other guys to attend the Air Nautique dealer meeting.

We had a really late night and a big drink at the Aussie Steak house or something like that. Not much Australian about it except large cans of Fosters that was brewed in Canada and tasted as bad as any other American beer.

It was great to catch up with Ric and a real pity we couldn’t get him out to the Bahamas for a few days. We decide to fly directly from Orlando to Marsh Harbour to minimize the flight changes and the difficulties in US airports since S 11.

We have been finding that our relatively frequent trips to the states over the last 6 weeks combined with the stamps in our passports from obscure Caribbean islands over the last 10 months and my general scruffy appearance was causing us to get the third degree at every airport security check point and immigration check.

Anyway back to reality in Marsh Harbour.

As soon as we arrived back we were informed that we were no longer working on Meltemia and would be working on a boat called Bahama Mama. This did not really please us as we had worked really hard to get Meltemia set up the way we like it and to eliminate all the bugs in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

We found Bahama Mama in what we considered to be very average condition. So for the next 5 days we worked flat out getting Bahama Mama ready to go out on charter and Meltemia ready to take Melanies Mum and dad out on. We wanted Bahama Mama charter ready before we left on Meltemia with Melanies mum and dad so we could maximize the time we could spend with them.

The plan was to come back on dock the afternoon before we went out on charter which eventually worked out well.

We had a great time with mum and dad. They took the Meltemia out for 4 days by themselves, which would have been great. They handled the boat exceptionally well given the average conditions, rain and wind gusting over 30 knots. They left us with a bunch of christmas presents to open on Christmas day and a fibre optic Christmas tree. It was tough to wave them of. Last we heard they were bar hoping in Memphis having too many late nights and freezing.

Any way thats about all for now.

David & Mel