Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bella Blue arrives in Sarnia!

We awoke reluctantly at 8am and had a leisurely shower and shave using the clean and well maintained marina shower facilities at the marina.  Happy to once again be looking more human than ape, we walked over to the breakfast restaurant we found the day before and sat down for a greasy bacon and egg fry-up.  I had to order the iconic "biscuits and gravy" - an American classic for us to sample.  As expected it was horrible, but the rest of the food was fantastic.

We returned to the marina and the seasoned crew had Bella Blue back on the water in no time.  The morning was clear, warm and windless and now only 20 miles separated us from our final destination, though progress was slow against the 2 to 3 knot current.

The miles passed neither rapidly, nor slowly as we enjoyed our last hours on the Bella Blue.  We spent the time chatting, listening to music, and using the binoculars to try and spot any naked women in the windows of the riverside mansions we were passing.  As we approached Sarnia we entered the infamous Chemical Valley - a stretch of smoke belching factories and refineries that serve as the heart of the Canadian petrochemical industry.  It sort of smelled like McDonald's french fries.  Actually, there really was no smoke and no smell and I quite enjoyed looking at the unbelievably complex looking machines and buildings and wondering what sorts of products were being manufactured there.  I had a feeling that Bella Blue and her contents probably contained materials that came from these factories.  This stretch of heavy industrialization is what has given Sarnia a less than marvelous reputation, though a nice byproduct of this are lots of well paying jobs and cheap housing.

So on the sixth day day, after 300 miles on a sailboat, the Olson boys finally pulled Bella Blue into her new home - the Bridgeview Marina.  We called Canadian customs on the phone and were cleared back into Canada within a few minutes so we continued to our slip, got the boat tied up, then cracked a cold beer to celebrate.  It was early afternoon when we arrived and the temperature was a gorgeous 27 degrees.  After a couple drinks we went for a walk to check out the marina.  One of the reasons we chose this location was the abundance of nearby facilities.  The marina has its own pool, indoor boat storage, a well supplied boat supply store, mast cranes, haul out equipment, on site mechanics, and brand new docks.  At the base of each dock is a gazebo, fire pit and pair of Weber grills.  Directly beside the marina is a large condo complex on one side and a Holiday Inn on the other, complete with its own nine hole golf course that offers discounts for boaters.  Within walking distance are several restaurants, a Tim Hortons, a spa, a casino, a fresh fish stand and what I have been told are the best fresh cut french fry trucks in the country.  And we would learn the following weekend that we can drive over the Bluewater bridge to an Olive Garden restaurant on the US side in about ten minutes.  What more could you ask for?

After our marina tour we sat down for another beer and that is when disaster struck.  Dad was perched up on the princess chair which hangs off the stern of the boat and lost hold of his iPhone.  It landed on the cockpit cushion, took a mighty bounce up onto the rail of the boat, then jackknifed over the edge and plopped down into the chilly waters, never to be seen again.

But wait a moment!  Unbeknownst to the crew, the captain of the Bella Blue was a world renowned search and recovery diver.  With hardly a pause, I donned my swim suit, strapped on Stella's pink mask, slipped on my size 12 fins, said a silent prayer for my testicles, and slid into the ice cold water.  After ten seconds of hyperventilating I plunged into the icy depths and swam 12 feet down directly to the iPhone which was sitting neatly on the bottom.  I scooped up the phone and blasted up to the surface, leaving a muddy trail behind me.  As I emerged I had the phone up to my head and was ordering an extra large Hawaiian pizza, just to add a bit of pizzazz to the recovery operation.

The boys gently took the patient into the cabin.  Since they couldn't find any rice they packed it into a plastic bag of oatmeal and left it in the warm cabin to recover.  The day before leaving Saskatchewan, Dad had knocked the screen on something, creating a lovely web pattern of cracked glass, which gave even more access points for the water, so the prospect of a full recovery was dim, but worth a shot.  I was secretly happy with this minor mishap because we hadn't had any series injuries or disasters on the trip and every time we've done a sailboat trip of this magnitude something always goes wrong.  A major storm, equipment failure, man overboard, gear overboard, collision, grounding, take your pick.  Somehow this trip went exactly according to plan.  We didn't even run out of beer.  Three cheers for the crew!

After an intensive boat scrubbing session where we got Bella Blue sparkling clean again, we called up a taxi and headed into Sarnia to grab that pizza we were all now thinking about.  The taxi driver promised to take us to the best pizza joint in town, and along the way volunteered a comprehensive review of every single bar in Sarnia, with a special focus on the ones that featured strippers.  The restaurant he took us to did look great, but it was take-out only, and before we were able to flag him down he was flying  out of the parking lot, likely on his way to one of the bars he bragged about.  We spotted another taxi and he took us to his favourite pizza place - Firenze's - which was in a strip mall and had tables, chairs, dishes and cutlery from the 70's.  Sadly they had no liquor license so we had to settle for fizzy drinks that somehow hit the spot just right.  There were two dudes making the pies right out in the open and one of them was wearing a Pantera concert shirt so we liked him right away.  Though it took an awfully long time for the extra large pizza to arrive, it was spectacular and the four of us couldn't even finish it all, so we wrapped up the remains in some flimsy napkins and tucked them away in our pockets for later.

After returning to the boat, it wasn't long before Ana and the kids arrived.  I was very happy to see my kiddies and wife again and they were happy to see that we had made it through the trip safely and had Bella Blue shined up and moored security in her new slip.  After a short visit, the Olson boys gathered up their stuff and headed over to the Holiday Inn where we had booked a room for this final night before Marty and Curtis would fly home.  Dad wasn't flying home until the following week so we would spend the rest of the weekend together exploring Sarnia before returning home to Paris.

The next morning the lads returned to the boat for a morning coffee and a final visit and then Marty, Curtis and I jumped in the van and drove to the London airport to catch their morning flights back home.  Along the way we realized that 19 years ago we had also been on our way to the London airport after a big trip - except that time it was London, England!  That was the last time the four of us had done a trip together.  They had come to meet me while I was living in London and we had rented a car for a week and driven to Scotland and back.  So long ago, yet it didn't really seem that way.  We vowed to not wait 19 years for our next trip.

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