So, things didn't work out entirely as planned with Froesie, what with me wanting to reach the US asap while my hosts were delayed by boat selling, visa bureaucracy and wanting to stop in as many places as possible. Tuesday 3rd saw me in the library of the Sacred Heart University, San Juan - libraries have been my sanctuaries during this trip, with electricity, internet, air conditioning and a quiet working environment. I love them. Along with researching Puerto Rico's history/status as a US colony/economic crisis/mutual aid in the face of hurricane damage and lining up potential contacts, I also looked up flights to Miami. Yes, things were bad. I was about to book a flight for Sunday, but I had second thoughts and decided to make the booking the next day, in case there were responses from local groups and an extra day might mean mutually interesting visits.
Wed morning, on my way back to the university library, I stopped for a quick wash in the marina showers and got talking to a French Canadian woman. She mentioned that someone called Tom was sailing back to the US, so I decided to find him. I found him. He said, 'I'm sailing to North Carolina in an hour'. Gosh.
I scrambled to get back to Froesie, anchored in the middle of the harbour with no possibility for telecommunication. Luckily Franko and Rainer's dinghy landed on the harbour wall at the same moment as I arrived and they were only too happy to delay their departure while i gathered my things from around the boat. An hour or two's delay waiting for the customs office (someone was off sick) gave me time to use the wifi on a neighbouring boat for quick phone calls home, setting the email auto-responder (result, first time i've remembered) and an apologetic tweet to the Puerto Rican groups I'd contacted the previous day.
And then I joined Tom Saxe, retired USAF para-rescue commander, on board Aladdin, bound for Beaufort, North Carolina. Like Rainer & Franko, he's happy single-handing - it's remarkable how many solo sailers I've hitched with, under the circumstances. Aladdin is a 43' long sailing boat with a genoa and staysil, 3 cabins (i was in the bunk room), 2 bathrooms, auto-pilot, wind-vane, water-maker, fridge & freezer. The most luxury yet, 10' longer than any previous boat. And an all-over bimini - in other words, a giant canvas/plastic structure (a bit like our old family frame tent, mum!), so you can be outside in a raging storm without getting very wet at all - which we were. We navigated our way between storm cells, watching the lightning coming from different directions, it was very exciting :-) Finally, after all the excitement the wind died down and we motored a lot of the way the last day or two, deciding to go to neighbouring Morehead City instead, where I was more likely to find buses and couchsurfing hosts.
Docking at 8am on the morning of Saturday 14th, after a 9-day trip, we were pretty tired and only really managed a tiny bit of cleaning (too tired to hose her down and rinse off all the salt) and then a wander around town and a giant ice-cream. The lowest tides in living memory left Aladdin grounded and a foot or so higher out of the water, so when the tide came back in, we moved her forward out of the slip by about 3 yards, which seemed to do the trick. I didn't find any hosts in Morehead City, and booked bus & train to Durham for the following day.
Sunday morning saw me on the dock, in the rain, with my giant rucksack - for the first time casting off the lines and watching a boat I've been on sail away into the distance.