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Monday, May 20, 2019

A friend lends me his copy of Sea Breezes and how surprised I was when I got to Page 17 of the August 2015 edition to see a great photo of the Grande Caribe which we went on a few years ago.

Grande CaribeMy wife and I both have said it was the best cruise we ever experienced. A bit of background... My wife is a Kiwi and I am a Yank and we live in Australia just outside Melbourne. We told another local couple of our intention of going on the Grand Caribe and they said they would join us. So we were the only real tourists on the ship on our voyage, and we were treated very well.

The ship, as the article says, is small and has cabins for 100 passengers. It only draws about six feet of water, so is able to do the trip it does as some of the waterways are very shallow. It has a bridge which can be lowered to go under low bridges mainly on the Eire Canal voyage. Our trip started in Jacksonville, Florida which is just below the Georgia State border and ended in Warren, Rhode Island the hometown of Blount Industries and also the first home of Brown University. Blount started making small commercial vessels and if you ever went out to the Statue of Liberty, it was probably one he made.

Our ship had 50 cabins on a couple of levels, all with en suites. One dining room with large tables did nicely for the three meals set at fairly early times. The quality of the food was excellent and every day we looked forward to something different. Even had grits one day for breakfast! There was a lounge which was the centre for drinks and entertainment. There was a bar area and provision for cold bottles. The vessel provided setups so there was no cost for drinks, and there is a great open deck up top where we spent all our time while on the go.

Our voyage had 39 passengers, so there was plenty of space topside. There were two captains – a Mr and Mrs called up at the last minute as the original had to stay ashore. It was a perfect combination, as our captains wanted to go north for the summer and knew the waterways due to many, many voyages and they were very pleasant. There was a CIA (Catering Institute of America) trained chef, a couple of college girls who did the waiting and housekeeping, a couple of sailors and an entertainment director.

We did about 100 miles most days and tied up every night. We went via rivers, canals, lakes and even went into the Atlantic from the south tip of New Jersey to New York City. This was a summer voyage! Each time we went into a different State, the Captain would raise the respective State flag - a nice touch. As mentioned, we began in Florida, not far from the home of a cousin, then Georgia where I had a university classmate, then South Carolina where I once stayed in a hotel run my a classmate’s parents. The only time I ever saw a one bar radiator. Then North Carolina – no connection, Virginia – fraternity brother and classmates. Next Maryland where I had another fraternity brother, then New Jersey – my mother’s home state; New York – my home state, though a long way from NYC. Then Connecticut where a cousin’s son lived on Long Island Sound and finally Rhode Island – another fraternity brother.

Because the vessel was so small, we usually docked right downtown often in pleasant yacht clubs with complete security. So although the topography was dead flat, it varied enough to make it interesting. One day on a river, the next in a man-made canal, and of course New York City going around the harbour and then up the East River to Long Island Sound and a festival at St Michaels, Maryland which was terrific. For those interested, we had all sorts of entertainment from movies (and popcorn) talks, musicians, and even an Australian wine tasting night in our honour. Might I suggest if you decide to do this trip you could fly to Miami, Florida and take the train to Jacksonville, then at the end when you arrive at Warren you could spend a few days at Newport, Rhode Island, only a few miles away. A fascinating city with lots of history – yachting of course, first library, first Naval Academy, gigantic summer homes of the rich and famous, etc. From there, it is possible to catch the train half-hour away to anywhere in the United States.

Some of the other trips, as mentioned in the article, would give a good insight, particularly the Eastern States from Chicago to the East. I grew up on the Erie Canal and think a trip on canal would be fascinating. It took about eight years to build, all by hand and the year it was completed the first passenger train from Darlington to Stockton commenced in 1825!

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