Monday, May 10, 2010

Charleston Revisited

Thursday, May 6 - Monday, May 10, 2010
We're back in Beautiful Charleston, SC. We left Fernandina Beach early Thursday morning for the 150nm, 29-hour trip to Charleston. Wouldn't you know, the two massive submarine "chaperon" boats were hot on our tail out of the channel. We missed the sub - AGAIN! - but there was no missing those boat wakes. Rene managed to steer into them to keep us from getting too uncomfortable, but we sure wouldn't want to be near those things if they picked up their speed!

The trip to Charleston was calm and uneventful. We had enough wind to raise at least one sail for much of the trip, and the waves were only 1-2' high. It made for an easy overnight cruise, and even the kitties managed to stay fairly comfortable. We arrived at the Charleston jetties near 11:30am, and made our way past historic Ft. Sumter to the anchorage near the City Marina's "Mega Dock". What a spectacle! Like our last trip through here, the 3000' Mega Dock was once again home to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mega-yachts. Unlike our last trip, though, a handful of these were sailing yachts. There was a 170' ketch, Meteor, and a 122' ketch, Islandia; there were also a few others in the 100' range, including our favorite, Belle Adventure, that we first saw on the dock in Ft. Lauderdale. These beauties are lovingly maintained (granted, most likely by a crew member), and in our "humble" opinion, they put the motor yachts to shame. Not that we're biased or anything... :-)

After our first surprise discovery of Dave & Camilla in Fernandina, we were even more shocked to find another friend, Art (from our sister boat, Destiny), docked at the City Marina. We had been trying to hail a boat that we'd met in Fernandina, and Art hailed us back when they didn't answer. He had arrived in Charleston a few days earlier, having made the crossing from the Bahamas nonstop to here. So here we were, in Charleston to meet up with John & Ginger, only to be joined by the person responsible for introducing us in the first place!

John & Ginger arrived in Charleston Friday evening and took us all on a culinary tour of some of their favorite Charleston spots. Having lived in and around Charleston for a number of years, they knew some terrific places. The four of us began with a bevvie at the Blind Tiger Pub, and later picked Art up to begin the foodie part of the evening. We went to Gullah Cuisine for she-crab soup, and then the Charleston Crab House for a low-country boil (shrimp, crab, mussels, potatoes, and corn boiled in seasoning - similar to the crayfish boils we used to have in Houston). We topped off the evening with an incredible dessert at the ever-so-posh Charleston Grill in Charleston Place. Each spot was different and special in its own way, and we really appreciated John & Ginger sharing them with us.

Saturday John & Ginger picked us up for a quick trip to West Marine, followed by a tour of Middleton Place Plantation. We missed this plantation when we were here last summer, and were excited to walk the grounds and tour the home. Middleton Place was used as a family home for four generations, each of whom left its mark on history. The original owner, Henry Middleton, was a President of the First Continental Congress. His son, Arthur, signed the Declaration of Independence; Arthur's son, Henry, was a Governor of South Carolina and a Minister to Russia. Williams, a 4th-generation Middleton, would sign the Ordinance of Secession which led to the Civil War and ultimately the destruction of the family home in 1865. While only a staircase remains of the home that was first torched by Union troops and later demolished by an earthquake in 1886, a separate "flanker" (used as a business office and guest house) still exists next door. The structure was restored in 1869-1870, and was inhabited by the Middleton family until it was opened to the public in 1975. Middleton Place House is fully furnished and contains family portraits and heirlooms (jewelry, china, silver, historic documents, etc.). The home is surrounded by 200 acres of gardens, predominantly live oaks, magnolia trees, and azalea bushes. We missed the peak of the azaleas by about two weeks, but the magnolias were in full bloom and smelled gorgeous.

After spending a few hours at Middleton Place, we had a late lunch at Manny's nearby. We said goodbye to John & Ginger soon afterward, so they could get some things done on their boat before heading home the following morning. We're sorry they aren't joining us in the Chesapeake this summer, but we'll see them again when we pass through Charleston on our southbound trip. We spent one more evening with Art on Monday at one of our Charleston favorites, the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse. We had terrific food here the last time we passed through, and were impressed yet again.

We're heading out tomorrow (Tuesday) morning for the 115nm trip to Southport, NC, near the Cape Fear inlet. It's supposed to be a bit bouncier than our last jump, but we should be able to make the trip in 24 hours or less. Till next time...

More pictures to go with this Blog chapter:

Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival...and More

Friday, April 30 - Wednesday, May 5, 2010
After eating way too much in Houston, we extended our gluttony for one more weekend at the 47th Annual Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival. Remember that scene in "Forrest Gump"? "Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, blackened shrimp, shrimp gumbo..." You get the idea. Food booths are joined by artist booths (pottery, jewelry, metal sculptures, paintings, etc.), as well as live music, parades, a boat decorating contest, and a blessing of the fleet. Throw in 100,000 visitors, and you have quite a party!

For us, one extra ingredient really made Shrimp Festival an event to remember: Indigo Alley. Indigo Alley is a wine bar that was recommended to us by a local woman when we first came back from the Bahamas. Not only do the owners, Mike & Sherry, take care to find wines, local microbrews, and import beers that you wouldn't normally see in a typical bar/restaurant; they also manage to find these gems and offer them at a reasonable price. Best of all, Mike & Sherry decided to forgo the insanity of 100,000 tourists crowding into their bar for the festival and instead closed their doors to all but a few locals and those of us fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. 200 "weekend passes" were sold a month ahead of the event, and ticket-holders could come in through the back gate to enjoy the oasis of the downstairs courtyard, the hidden roof-top garden, and the air-conditioned bar/lounge. What a treat! Various friends volunteered to man the BBQ and cook in the kitchen upstairs, and patrons enjoyed free food along with live jazz & blues throughout the weekend. There were gourmet cheeses and stuffed grape leaves on Friday; Saturday offered three separate meals: coffee and breakfast rolls in the morning, croissant sandwiches, grilled sausages, burgers, and pasta salads during the day, and shrimp gumbo and etouffee in the evening. Terry was still manning the BBQ on Sunday, when sausages and burgers were followed by grilled chicken and shrimp kabobs over dirty rice. We never bothered to eat at the festival food booths...who could beat the food at Indigo Alley? And the price for this royal treatment? $20 each. Not per day, but for the entire weekend. We would've happily paid that just to have a cool, quiet spot to hang out away from the crowd! Mike is pretty sure that everyone who bought a ticket came through at some point over the weekend, but we never saw more than 40 people in the place at any given time. It was a fantastic way to enjoy the festival, and we know that all of Mike & Sherry's patrons enjoyed the gesture!

Fernandina Beach finally returned to its normal, quiet self sometime Monday. We expected to spend a few days waiting for a weather window to jump offshore to Charleston to see friends John & Ginger. Imagine our surprise when we dinghied into the marina and saw Southern Heat on the face dock! "Ahoy, Southern's Pipe Muh Bligh!" Dave was half-asleep in the cockpit, and Camilla popped her head up from down below. They had crossed over from the Bahamas the previous week, and had stayed in the ICW from Canaveral to Fernandina. Like us, they were waiting for a weather window to go further north offshore. We were thrilled to see them, and enjoyed dinner together that evening. We arranged to meet for dinner again Tuesday, but a downpour kept us all on our boats. A last-minute weather window opened up on Wednesday morning, allowing Dave & Camilla to make the two-overnight trip to Southport. We're sorry we didn't get to spend another evening together before they left, but we'll stop off for a visit with them on our way to the Chesapeake. We always say one of the best things about this lifestyle is seeing old friends in new places!

Pictures to go with this Blog chapter:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Houston, Texas

Thursday, April 15 - Tuesday, April 27
Yeeeeeeeeee-Hawwwwwwwwwww!!! Welcome to Houston, TX, where we've come to visit friends and eat at some of our favorite restaurants. It's hard to believe that it's been 13 months since we left Texas, but it's true: we cut the lines and began our cruising lifestyle on March 6, 2009. Having lived in and around Houston for 15 years, we knew we'd have a whirlwind trip to see everyone when we finally went back...and a whirlwind it was! We had over 20 get-togethers in 12 days, all involving food and/or drink of some kind. (Note to self: must diet when we get back to the boat...)

It would take a novel to talk about each visit in detail; in the interest of everyone's patience levels, we'll try to keep things brief. (We've also included links to a few of our favorite foody spots in case you want to try "CTRL" and click the link) Suffice it to say we had a fantastic time and refused to get on a scale!

Thursday, April 15:
#1. Dinner with Donna & Steve. First of all, we have to give a huge thank-you to our friends, Donna & Steve, who offered us a guest room for the entire 2 weeks that we were in town. They just bought a beautiful new home, and we really enjoyed our time at the "Retton Resort". Knowing we wouldn't get to see them much once we began running all over town, we grabbed some steaks and sides after landing at IAH to enjoy a quiet dinner and play catch-up.

Friday, April 16:
#2. Our first full day began with lunch at Phoenicia's with our good friend, Jennifer. We crammed as much as we could into an hour (one of us had to go back to WORK), and agreed to meet up again for dinner that night.

#3. That evening we met Jennifer again for dinner at one of our old local hang-outs, the Bull & Bear English Pub. Dave, Sheila, and the rest of the English crowd joined us later for drinks and merriment. Dave & Sheila have been two of our best friends for most of our Houston lives, and we wanted to spend some time with them before they left on a 2-week vacation on April 18. They were kind enough to open their home to us in the midst of their trip preparations, so we got to spend the night and enjoy breakfast and another visit with them on Saturday morning.

Saturday, April 17:
#4. There's always someone with a busier schedule than you. :-) During our trip planning we learned that one of our racing friends and one of our old neighbors couldn't join us for the respective Rowdy and Watergate reunion parties, so we managed a compromise. Geoie agreed to meet us at the Houston International Festival, which meant that we could see him as well as Kat (who was busy managing the sound systems for all of the venue's stages). It all works out somehow...

#5. As expected, we'd barely seen our hosts, Donna & Steve, since the night we arrived in Houston. (Those are the kind of house guests everyone wants, right?!) We were eventually able to reprise one of our old traditions, dinner & the pub. The real question? Bayou City Seafood & the Richmond Arms, or Mi Luna & the Gingerman? Pasta or tapas? Both restaurant/bar combos were on our favorites list, and we had good memories of each. Bayou City & the Arms were closer to home (not to mention us both having a personal history with the Arms), while Mi Luna and G-man offered a "funkier" option. Proximity and history eventually won out (Rene also hoped to see some familiar faces at the Richmond Arms), and we all enjoyed a great meal and a couple of beers. In the end, we didn't see anyone we knew at the Arms, but we were still happy for the short drive home!

Sunday, April 18:
#6. Let the eating continue... the morning started off with brunch at Goode Company Taqueria with Stacy's old cohorts from PROS. A Sunday get-together meant we could spend more time without anyone having to rush back to a meeting, and we could also hang out with spouses and kids. We got to see George and Sheeba's baby girl for the first time, and couldn't believe how much Lisa and Will's daughter had grown. Linda & George did a fantastic job of making arrangements and getting everyone together. Thanks, guys!

#7. No time for a power nap...we got back to the house, changed clothes, packed an overnight bag, and made a quick stop at the grocery store before heading north for happy hour/dinner with the "Ponderosa crowd". Gary & Deborah hosted the event and made yummy Shepherd's Pie, and we were grateful for their guest room after one heck of a party. As Rene said, "that's the only night we really went overboard." Thank goodness we didn't have an early appointment the next day!

Monday, April 19:
#8. After a much-needed power nap (finally!), we were in better spirits for our highly-anticipated dinner with Chris & Katya at our favorite French restaurant, Le Mistral. Both food and company were phenomenal as always (we really miss you two!), and we managed to close the restaurant down. You never get to spend enough time with friends on these trips, but at least we could look forward to seeing them again later in the week.

Tuesday, April 20:
#9. Our first of two impromptu lunches, we met Donna at Yia Yia Mary's Greek bistro near her office. After spending a few minutes catching up on Donna's job and family, our conversation came to a sudden halt thanks to a gyro that broke Rene's tooth. The manager came out and took our information, saying someone from the Pappas home office would contact us (more on that later). Fortunately Donna knew of a dentist who had his own lab and could get a crown done quickly.

#10. After two and a half hours at the dentist in Katy, we arrived fashionably late to dinner at Ron's to meet his new wife and baby. Min cooked a terrific Thai dinner, and we had a great time with the proud parents as well as Ron's mom, who was visiting from Holland.

Wednesday, April 21:
#11. Thanks to the gyro from hell, the day didn't go exactly as planned. Rene spent a couple of hours back at the dentist's office getting his crown put on, and Stacy went solo to lunch with some Continental friends. (Author's note: I had a great time visiting old friends and eating at the Pakistani/Indian buffet...poor Rene didn't have quite as much fun.)

#12. Rene was back in top form with a new tooth in time for happy hour with Stacy's old Book Club and their families at Kris's townhouse. It was great to see the girls and their families, and to hear about the new jobs, new babies, new homes, promotions, vacations, and the like. Continental and United Airlines have since announced a merger that will move headquarters to Chicago, so we're really keeping our fingers crossed that our friends there will come through with flying colors. Whether that means a move to the windy city or something more local remains to be seen. Considering that half of our "Continental book club" is now ex-Continental, we all agreed that a job which allowed you to afford a real ticket and be happy was a lot better than a lower-paying airline job with flight benefits!

Thursday, April 22:
#13. As most of you know, we both finished with work ("retired" still feels wrong) by the end of October, 2008. Hurricane Ike messed up our December departure, and we ended up playing hooky for 4 months before finally shoving off. Somehow, in all that time, we never managed to have a movie and pizza day with our other retired friends, John & Bonnie. (And they have a home theatre, no less!) Well, we finally made it happen today. We drank good wine, watched Guy Ritchie movies, and ate pizza as other friends dropped by later in the evening. After spending the night there, having breakfast, and watching a movie the next morning, this turned into a 20-hour visit. Do we get to count this one as a double?!

Friday, April 23:
#14. We met up with Stacy's old friends and colleagues from Continental's Revenue Management team at Mo Mong. We were thrilled that Eric's wife, Dhenu, could join us and bring their 4-month-old baby girl. She was adorable, and her mom and dad looked like naturals. It was great to see everyone, and again hope that the people who do such a fantastic job at Continental make it through the CO-UA merger in good shape.

#15. Time for the Watergate marina reunion party! This was a chance for us to get together with our old neighbors at WYC in Kemah. While most of the trip up to now had felt like "nothing's changed", this was the one place where we felt a real twinge of melancholy. Hardly anyone is in the same slip that they were 13 months ago. Dream Away is gone, as Jim & Kitty are on a glorious cruising adventure of their own in the Caribbean. Troy and Deana have taken Storyville to another marina with floating docks, as have many others in the wake of Hurricane Ike. It took us awhile to find Frank & Julie, Kat & Trey, Rick, and Steve, all of whom have moved to other docks while Watergate dredges pier 18 and adds new docks. Jim & Nancy's boat, Topaz, may be the only holdover on our section of pier 4 (now called pier 23??) who hasn't moved.

Fortunately, our sentimental journey didn't last long, and we spotted Chuck & Connie on the far end of our old dock. We got to catch up on the latest WYC goings-on, and were soon joined by some of our old neighbors. In the end, most of the boats we were looking for had only moved to the opposite side of the pool. How good to see the familiar boats...and faces! As we began heading for the BBQ area, we spotted three dinghies heading our way. Troy & Deana, Steve, and Raymond were all over in a marina near the boardwalk, and dinghied their way to WYC. Now the party could really begin!

Saturday, April 24:
#16. What a gorgeous day for a fun sail with our old Rowdy crew! The sun was out, and winds were blowing around 15kts. We had a great time cruising around the bay with old friends Bill & April, Christie & Scott, Tim, Rob, and new crew member Sheila. We also spotted a gorgeous red-sailed boat that one of Christie's friends built.

#17. What's a sail without dinner at Noah's Ark afterward? Christina, Scott, & Tim joined us at our favorite Kemah hang-out spot for some great seafood and water views. Noah's is a little off the beaten path, but it's well worth a visit!

Sunday, April 25:
#18. Yep...still eating! Back in the days when we were homeowners in West Houston, we used to have a monthly reservation for the wine dinner at America's. The food, company, and service was incredible, as were the accompanying wines (more often than not). We really debated attending another wine dinner while we were in town (April's wine dinner was on the 26th), but John & Bonnie told us that they'd begun attending America's new brunch. Scheduling and curiosity won out, so Sunday brunch it was. We met John, Bonnie, and a few other friends, and enjoyed the 60+ item spread. If you've never been to America's (and if you're ever in Houston), you really need to go! We've been there for business lunches, wine dinners, regular dinners, and now brunch. It's always worth the trip, even if you only go for their legendary tres leches dessert!

#19. We'd love to say we took a 2-hour power walk after brunch to get ready for our next meal, but it just didn't happen. :-) Sunday-night dinner was held at Chris & Katya's home, and as our old traditions dictated, everyone brought a course while leaving the main dish to our hosts. Jennifer brought her prosciutto & dried cherry salad, we brought a garlic & olive baked brie, and Donna & Steve brought a yummy rum cake. Kudos really went to Chris and Katya, who made fantastic stuffed smoked pork chops and mushroom risotto. The meal was awesome as always, and the best part was getting to spend more time with so many of our great friends. We also loved getting to see Chris & Katya's little girls, and couldn't believe how much they'd grown in a year. They're adorable and incredibly sweet-tempered. Their parents should be proud!

Monday, April 26:
#20. A last minute addition: lunch with Jennifer at the Yard House. A few people recommended that we try this spot, which was nestled in the heart of the new "Citycentre" complex at Town & Country. The food was good, and they had a huge selection of beers (if you like that kind of thing).

#21. Our last dinner date was at Frank & Nina's home in Missouri City. Frank is an old college friend of Rene's who moved to Houston about six months ago. Nina cooked us a fabulous Malaysian meal, and we enjoyed spending the evening with them and their little boy. What a great way to end the trip!

Well, that's it. We loved every minute we spent in Houston, and our only regret was that we forgot to take pictures more often than not! We had an uneventful trip back to the boat, which was in perfect shape (albeit some serious waterline growth thanks to the lovely water in the ICW). Hopefully we'll get back to Houston in a year or two for another visit. In the meantime, there's always e-mail, Skype, and Facebook. We miss you all!

Some of our (too) few pictures: