It's been a very long hard summer. Our American Adventure was long planned. A mutually agreed holiday away from sailing and work. We wouldn't sail, he wouldn't work. Who would crack first?
When reports came on the BBC of Hurricane Matthew battering the Florida coast our hearts sunk a little. Would the holiday be cancelled? As some of you know, getting here was a little tricky. So the thought of it all being taken away was too much. I began to obsess with BBC weather forecast.
Our first week was in Orlando which was largely untouched by the storm. We had a great time. We met friends, rode water slides and went to the Solar Bears, the local Ice Hockey team in an unforgettable experience. We screamed, shouted, laughed and immersed ourselves in American Culture. We forgot about Daytona until we found overselves on the I92 headed for the coast.
We crossed the bridge over to Daytona Beach and found our hotel. We are situated on the 23rd floor, so we rode the lift, the boys fought the desire to mimic the accents and ride the suitcases and we burst through our door. Silence followed the giggles. The view was utterly breathtaking. For several seconds nobody spoke. From the front, we have uninterrupted sea views as far as the horizon, simply stunning, words cannot do it justice. I cannot stop staring at it. I've been sleeping with my bedroom curtains open so that I can see the view on waking and also watch the moonlight dance on the water during the night. I'm usually a heavy sleeper but I've found myself awake at 2am simply desperate to see the view. It's utterly entrancing.
It's hard to believe that merely 2 weeks ago this place was being battered by Hurricane Matthew.
We excitedly ran to the pool. Towels are provided, a lovely little luxury. I stood by the towel desk and noted the sign apologising for the storm damage. I took the opportunity to ask the towel attendant about the storm. The stories flowed.
The Thursday morning of the storm the whole hotel was evacuated. Originally the plan was to keep a skeleton staff as the hotels become prime targets for looters but, due to the severity of the storm the whole hotel was evacuated. The storm hit, waves surged and flooded the beach front properties, power cuts were abundant. Staff didn't return until the Saturday for the clear up operation. A week later the hotel opened. This was one of the lucky ones.
Daytona Beach's strap line is the World's Most Famous Beach. It has the most beautiful sand which is compacted hard. It's hard to understand quite how hard until you have walked on it. This leant itself to car racing along the sand and it became famous for racing and speed trials. Even today cars drive up and down the beach. Quite a bizarre proposition for Europeans who are used to treating the beaches as Meccas. We've spent several afternoons walking the beaches. The boys chucking a football. The distruction has been clear to see.
Trees have been uprooted, fences ripped clear, wooden staircases down to the beach washed away, swimming pools destroyed. It's hard not to stand and stare. Our hotel is a large one and the workforce clearly worked hard for a week to get it back on it's feet, other smaller ones have not been so lucky. The damage has been estimated at over $57M. My guess is much higher having seen it all first hand.
Having determinely devised a holiday that wasn't dictated by the wind speed and local weather conditions. Can we sail, will we sail? We have spent the build up obsessing with the weather and then observing the aftermath. The weather plays a larger part in our lives than we give credit for.
"Oh my, I love your accent. Where are you from?". Urrm. Surely that's blatantly obvious. What's the appropriate reply? A normal response might be, Oh Solihull, or Birmingham or even close to Stratford. But England seemed to pop out of my mouth. Was that too generic? Clearly not. "England. Wow!" Surely my accent gave that one away? I was hardly going to say Texas or Jacksonville. Talk more, oh I love it. The Americans have been incredibly welcoming, particularly in the face of recent disaster.
The Aftermath is still being felt, power cuts and the like are still common place. If we can help if only a little way by supporting the local economy then that's great. Yet again the warmth and embrace by another country has been overwhelming. America, we've had a blast and Canada here we come.
My husband has this embarrassing affliction whereby he talks in the local accent of wherever we may be located. We are talking American, Australian, Irish, French. You name it they just keep coming. It must be genetic. My youngest son is at it too. They don't mean to, it just seems inbuilt within them. If we don't get deported it will be a miracle.
We are currently in America. A non-sailing holiday. My husband's request. Quite fussy honestly. A holiday without the smell of damp neoprene and a set of sailing instructions. This could be interesting.
It was miraculous that we ever made it here but that really is a story for the bar late one evening. Buy me a drink and I will happily share the tale.
Travelling distances is hard. You find yourself jet lagged and confused. We woke the other morning at 5am and congratulated each other on a marvellous sleep. On the flip side it is wonderful. I love to see how others live. I think my children are the same.
We arrived at the airport and the smell was unmistakable. It took me back to Hong Kong Days. The musty air con immediately followed by the hot humid smell is unique and special.
There is the usual excitement following the acquisition of the hire car with driving on the funny side of the road in a funny car with funny laws. I forgot to put my headlights on. No-one seemed much fussed. I also pulled part of the plastic dashboard off in an attempt to put the handbrake on. When to turn at lights? Apparently you can right turn when you please. I've yet to have this officially confirmed. Part of the wonderful rich tapestry of travelling.
The supermarket. One of the best holiday excursions. A true indicator of a country. A frantic search for the funniest biggest items we can find. That's a good game. America is utterly super sized with gallons of milk and portions bigger than you've ever seen. Pricing is funny. Eggs cost nothing but deodorant that's a virtual luxury.
I love it. I want to sit and soak it all up. The funny accents (even my families own attempts), the food super sized and unusual, the customs (they are so jolly and nice). I like to think I could ever tire of it all.
So what does a non-sailing holiday hold? Swimming and lots of it, followed by water slides and thrilling rides. We are all mild adrenaline junkies at heart. Dress it up how you like but it's all the same. Do you think there's no pecking order over who was the bravest, fastest, best? You can't have met my family. I've been involved in underwater breath-holding contests, races down waterslides (the kids haven't learnt the heaviest wins yet) and who is the bravest on the crazy rides.
We are only a short way into our American Adventure but we are fully immersed. Freddie wished the supermarket assistant a 'Good Day' in a perfect American accent and I have a very smooth bottom from the waterslides.
I am so looking forward to the next 10 days. I'm hoping for minimal wildlife encounters (mainly snakes) and I'll be sure to be purchasing the local products both good and bad.
My inability to say no often catches me out. So when Rich suggested we take the Olton Mere Youth to the Draycote Laser Open in October, I wholeheartedly agreed it was a brilliant idea.
Then Rich started asking the adults to join in the club outing. Great. Then he asked me.
I had 12 weeks. That's totally ages to learn how to sail a Laser. Isn't it? As a family we have 2 Lasers, one decent, one not so. My eldest Son quite rightly gets first dibs on the decent one which leaves me with the ropey one. The ropey one leaks, has a selection of slugs and snails living on it, has a very special outhaul and downhaul all in one system and is really embarrassingly filthy.
I tried several times to protest that the boat wasn't suitable. The only reply back was that my son has sailed it really rather successfully and to quite frankly, be quiet.
I decided I would give it a wash before we left and remove some of the farmyard animals living on it. My day however didn't quite pan out how I'd hoped and I ended up with 40 minutes to wash and load the boats onto the road trailers. I arrived at the Mere to find the trailer allocated didn't have a jockey wheel and was eye wateringly heavy to drag. That coupled with the discovery that the decent lasers trolley had 2 flat wheels and was broken didn't help matters. Finally, the trolley was too large for the road trailer and I'd forgotten all the ties to tie it to the trailer. A proper useless disaster. Many other families arrived and loaded their boats onto their lovely working trailers and I burst into tears. Big fat tears. I was totally and utterly hopeless and had failed my son.
I found my friday night friends and they comforted me with a big gin whilst dear Rich quietly sorted the trailer situation and Ed tied the boats on the next morning.
We arrived at Draycote the place was buzzing. 14 of us travelled there making the total open count to 38. We rigged our boats, listened to the briefing and set off on the water.
Just before I left, Rich enquired if I remembered to take any water with me, something I constantly hound my own children to do. No, I replied meekly and he shoved a bottle into my hand. It started to rain quite heavily as we waited for the race to start. Then, to add to my joy, my boat started to leak and fill with water. Hmmm, I thought, clearly the ropey boat was properly ropey. I waved to the safety boat and summoned them over. "Excuse me I said, my boat is leaking". "Really?" Came the reply. "If you sink we will come and save you.".
Ok, so I was on my own with this one. Think, Jane, Think. Yes the water bottle. I took a quick swig, then poured the rest away. I then proudly used it as a bailer. I figured I could bail as quickly as I was filling up. Ben Ainslie can, so why can't I? I made the start line bailing furiously, announcing to anyone who would listen that my boat was sinking. As the race started I focused less on the bailing and more on the racing. The rain subsided as did my leaking boat. I realised my stupidity, it wasn't leaking but merely filling up with rain water. How silly did I feel.
The rest of the day passed without incident, save for the rookie errors in failing to spot a ridiculous bias on the line. We had wonderful camaraderie on the water, it was a real treat to sail together with all our OMSC friends and ones we'd made on the water. I came 6th overall. Totally and utterly delighted. Olton Mere had some cracking results of 1st, 2nd and 3rds but more importantly everyone had achieved and we'd been a wonderful team.
We regrouped back at the Mere for Fish and Chip celebrations and birthday cakes made by the very talented Gill. We shared stories and laughed, a world away from the tears of 24hrs previously.