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Newly Arrived in Florida,
We Take Possession of Sea Gator

Travelogue - November 28, 2005

Sure enough: here we are in Florida, living on a boat. Ack! Those of you who predicted I'd be too busy to be homesick were more than half right: we've been VERY busy indeed! And I am starting to feel "at home", so we're definitely on the right track!

As you know, we flew out of Jackson on a cold and blustery November dawn. As you might not know, we arrived safely in Florida with several daylight hours remaining. The air was warm and moist enough to swim through. First stop: PetSmart. Goldie had spent the entire day in her travel hutch beneath the seat in front of me (such a trooper - and not a peep once she realized we were not going to Dr. Ernie's) and we established her new litter box on the back seat of the rental car (!) and let her out of her hutch to roam. She explored the car as we continued south - just over two hours from Tampa to Ft. Myers.

It was after dark when we finally rolled into the marina parking lot - Marinatown, in North Fort Myers. Rick had been here on his fact-finding mission in September. He directed us to walk toward the waterfront, and when we could see to the docks between a large outdoor tikki-hut restaurant and some palm trees, he casually remarked, "There's Sea Gator."

Well, it was at that precise moment I realized that I hadn't prepared for this at all. Nope, not one single bit. Never mind all the dreaming, the considering, planning, anticipating, PACKING for goodness sake's, discussing and wondering. Well, when I saw that white hull and blue canvas gleaming in the moonlight, I just lost it. I don't know what happened, but I suspect a mental short-circuit. I started laughing hysterically. I mean, come on! Where's the snow? Where are the mountains? A boat, are you kidding me?! Pretty soon I was doubled over, tears pouring down my face. Poor Rick kept asking, "What? What? Are you OK?" I tried to control myself, made it another dozen yards and had to set Goldie's hutch down and laugh again. But I'm all right now.

Sea Gator is real. It's a pretty boat. It's a white boat. It's a big old boat, and it has a blue and an orange stripe (University of Florida, Gators, football - get it?) all the way around. It has lots of interior teak, all of which should be buffed by someone (it will be me). Some day I'll call it "she" and then we'll be friends.

Marinatown

OK, so we're at the marina. Despite the illusion of fine trappings, this boat is a lot like camping. It/She had sat here for awhile; by the time we arrived the batteries had died so the lights were pale and it was a tad gloomy. Sea Gator has two "heads", but both need some tweaking, which should be completed this week. Until then, we have to walk down the dock to the restroom/washhouse.

So the first night, predictably, I was awake at 3:30 a.m. No stranger to camping, I threw on yesterday's clothes, clambered way down onto the pier (high tide, don'tcha see), then out to the dock and I strolled. I tell you, it was otherworldly. There was a full moon that night, and not one single cloud. The air was still and gentle. The water was like glass, and the moonlight cast reflections of all the boat hulls and all the trees, crystal clear and motionless. It was completely silent, and absolutely beautiful.

And no worries about grizzleys or pumas on a midnight walk.

Well, the hike to the loo is a long one. But check out the view, above - that is the scenery we get to enjoy while walking back to the boat in the morning. Rise and shine!

Sea Gator As I said, we arrived Monday night, so Tuesday we hit our stride with a lot of errands, beginning the long process of collecting cleaning and engine repair supplies - Sea Gator is in good shape as far as twenty-year-old used boats go, but needs to come up to "code" per the Coast Guard, and up to ship-shape according to me. That day Rick's parents, Don and Lu, came from their home in Punta Gorda (about 30 miles north of here), and it was great to see them; Rick and I began what was to be a week-long junk-food extravaganza; Goldie got her sea legs immediately; and we began to unpack our suitcases and briefcases.

Here is Sea Gator, and you can see Don working with Rick on Bump Head. That's the dingy, named for its sign "Bump Head Here" (a warning or an instruction) as you duck under its deck.

Tuesday evening we had dinner at the restaurant here on the dock with Don and Lu, and during our walks back and forth and all around, we heard singing from the beer garden down the pier. The songs ranged from Donna Summer to Cher to the Eagles - I thought it was a group of singers - but in a moment of stillness here came the strains of "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, and that got our attention. We walked down the pier and listened to the rest of the show. What I had thought was a collection of individuals was one man, Jerry Ward with the Amazing Voice. That was a treat.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we experienced three day-long classes on board a 32' Grand Banks trawler, Patience. Our instructor, Captain Gary Graham, taught us the rudiments of diesel engine maintenance, electrical and plumbing systems (all review for Rick but fairly new for me), and how to turn the boat in its own length (invaluable when backing into a slip). We each practiced the twirling part: idle engine speed, hard port rudder, forward gear then quick neutral and reverse, over and over, all to take advantage of "prop walk" (the tendency of a spinning propeller to want to pull sideways, as well as push forward or backward) without gaining or loosing ground.

Then - first day, mind you! - we practiced backing the monster into a narrow slip between two equally expensive boats. Yeeks! Well, we did it: idle speed, and forward gear to rotate, reverse to back up, forward to rotate, reverse to back up. "Take your ground, get as close as you can to the adjacent boat amidships..." (just don't forget about the previous student who crunched the swim platform, which you can't see from the helm station). While backing in, Rick took advantage of the "rub rail" on the boat's sides. I used it on the way out instead.

This brings up yet another interesting fact that I hadn't considered: you steer the BACK of a boat. Unlike steering a car, where turning the wheel rotates the front axle thus directing the front of the car, turning the wheel on a boat pivots the rudder (in the back, as we all know). The rudder is hit with water from the prop, thus directing the STERN to left or right (oops - port or starboard). Hence my tendency to grind Patience's stern against the forward pier as I steered out of its/her slip. Makes sense now, but who knew?

Anyway, it was sink or swim, so to speak, and we did just fine according to Cap't Gary. Thursday we spent more classroom time learning the Rules of the (sea) Road, then we motored on out into the big world: the Okeechobee River, which is part of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway). We chugged along up-river, saw wondrous sites, and learned to set an anchor so we could rest for lunch. Friday, more classroom time on navigation, and a trip down-river for more anchoring practice. Then a test. TEST?!?

Nah, kidding, we knew it was coming: we'd been spending all our evenings studying, studying. So we did fine. Rick got 100%! I got 97% (dagnabbit: foiled by a port/starboard brain fart and a deeply-held desire to complicate every simple question). And we have lovely certificates of completion to hang on our wall and share with our insurance company. Now the REAL learning can begin!

Important note for some of you (you know who you are): no barfing has yet occurred, knock on gleaming teak. All three of us have adapted well. Personally, I had expected some quality rail time, but so far so good (Bev - you were right). This is good news; it was quite blustery last week and although Sea Gator rocked and rolled in the slip, we all retained our composure throughout. Yea! That's certainly a relief!

Since that final class we've spent every day of the intervening week working on the boat: I've been cleaning and running errands, and Rick has been in the engine room and up to the helm and all around. I've been choosing groceries with an eye to storage in tight quarters and no more junk food goddammit. I also have been to Wal-Mart more than once, thus betraying every principle I hold dear. It's been a week of deflation and elation.

Goldie a-snoozin' Goldie settled in right away, and has been using the entire boat as her personal jungle gym. I tried to keep her on board by shooing her away from the pier, but the scamp! She evaded me and went sauntering down the dock until a 20-pound grey cat named Marvin inspired her to fly back aboard. Now her roamings are limited by her harness and leash when the door and hatch are open. She hasn't complained - she can glower at Marvin from above and she is getting plenty of snooze time as you see.

Unlike me. Here's why: I had enjoyed the Amazing Jerry Ward, and dinner with live music at the restaurant, but little did I know...

Come to find out there is not one, not even two, but THREE restaurants/bars/beer gardens along the dock. Sea Gator's slip is equidistant from Wally's Beer Garden to the north and Key West Cantina to the south, and is centered in front of the outdoor patio of Hurricane Harry's. Oh yes, all feature live loud music. If I have to hear one more medley of Jimmy Buffet hits, why, I'll... I'll... I'll probably hear another twenty after that. And what fresh hell is this? Karaoke! That's right, you heard me. Egads. Finally let's not discuss the drunken yahoos who pulled into the vacant slip next to us last Saturday night for a screaming fight ("Yew bin nagging me fer weeks ta git on out an' have some fun, now we're havin' fun an' yew want ta leave. Whadda ya want me ta dew? Whadda ya want me ta dew? Whadda ya want me ta dew?" How about heave over the side? And then yell some more? And just as I was expecting to hear gunfire or call 911, they fired up the diesels and roared away.)

I believe that live music, karaoke and drunken brawls are all good fun if one is a willing participant; but less so if one is trying to sleep. Anyway, now it's 11:20 on a Saturday night, and the guitar-player/singer at Key West Cantina has taken a break. It's pretty quiet at the moment. Rick is on a hike to the loo. Goldie is snoozing on our bed as though she owns it (crew discipline has been extremely lax).

The entertainer at Wally's is doing a Jethro Tull piece, can't say I've ever heard anyone attempt that before. Gotta hand it to him. Also to the octogenarian the other night who, while we were having dinner at Harry's, performed karaoke "Wind Beneath My Wings" with full body gestures, but that's another story (OK, I'll tell it: He didn't appear to be lit, so out on the sidewalk afterwards I congratulated him on his courage. He told me he has a karaoke machine at home and has rehearsed up to 100 songs so he can perform his talent for people. I thanked him for sharing his gift, because his lack of self-consciousness was truly a wonderful thing).

We are blessed with good neighbors. The slip to the north is vacant unless it is usurped by invading hillbillies, and the next dozen or so slips north in line are occupied by charter boats, dark and idle unless they are used for classes (like Patience, for example) or are out and about on a charter. The slips to the south of us are rented by full-time "live-aboards". What a life! They work regular day jobs and live on their boats. Next door to us is a sailboat; they are gone for the long weekend. Next to them is the trawler Reef Monkey, where Marvin and his people live. Then it's a very very long row of sail and motor boats, and the people all seem nice. The charter company is also the brokerage with whom we worked to purchase Sea Gator, which is why we're here working and learning from their staff of naval mechanics and maintenance people. We are glad we've been in such a good location for the time being.

Meanwhile, Rick has been in contact with his clients and conducted a remote demo which resulted in a sale, and I finished a revised Landscape Plan and sent it to the interested parties in time, so the work situation appears to be do-able.

It's been mostly work, but some play! Rick's dad and mom, Don and Lu, have been enthusiastic supporters of our plans, and we've enjoyed spending time with them. Lu's birthday (39) is this week so we look forward to getting together with them for that event as well.

Rick, Don & Gillian And on our first Sunday evening, we received a visit from our new friends, Don and Gillian W. - owners of the trawler Jazz, and author and heroine, respectively, of the cruising memoir Seven Miles An Hour. There they are with Rick, in front of a lovely sunset. After spending the better part of a year exchanging emails with them about Don's book, our plans, their boat, etc., it was a real treat to meet them in person. We treated them to dinner, where we covered many topics of conversation, and they patiently answered all of our beginning-boaters' questions.

Note Rick with no beard! That's his snorkeling look.

Mike & Laura Lee We spent Thanksgiving at Rick's Uncle Arthur and Aunt Roshni's home in Largo, near Tampa. Rick's parents were there of course, and several of his mother's cousins and friends, and Arthur and Roshni's daughter, Shireen, and her new husband Steve. And Rick's brother, Mike, and Mike's wife Laura-Lee and son Nathan, all down from Rhode Island for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a wonderful day of food and conversation, and we enjoyed it immensely.

Mike, Laura Lee and Nathan came with Don and Lu to visit us last Friday, on their way to see alligators in the Everglades. See, here we have Mike and Laura Lee, and below we have Nathan with grandpa and his dad. This is a notable photo of Nathan, because it captured one of very few rare moments he was not smiling. Don't let his stern demeanor fool you - he's a charmer with a smile to melt your heart.

Nathan Which brings us to today, and the recent rendition of "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" wafting in from the north. Oops - now she's warming up to Donna Summer's "Last Dance".

We talked to Don W. this evening, and because we are hoping to have our ship's documentation and all engine work completed by the end of the week, we hope we can join Don and Gillian "on the hook" (at anchor) in Bimini Basin by next weekend. That's the goal.

In pursuit of that goal, I spent most of today huddled close with Rick in the engine room. It's not as romantic as it sounds - we were measuring for a new septic holding tank. Then we bailed and I scrubbed and cleaned the bilge. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

Did I mention there are palm trees fronting the dock? As of this morning they are festooned with multiple garlands of red, green, yellow, blue and white Christmas lights. How bizarre is that?

Gearing up for the holidays, the Salvation Army is manning their red buckets outside the Wal-Mart. Wearing short-sleeved shirts and Santa caps, the volunteers wipe their perspiring brows with their forearms and the searing sun glares off their little gold Christmas bells.

And did I mention that I have been wearing shorts, tank top and sandals every day (except Thanksgiving when I wore a skirt and sandals), and that we sleep with the windows open? Well, it's hot and steamy in the engine room, and you know that's not how I meant that. And my hair now has body (not as much as Nancy's or Rhea's, but pretty spunky), my bangs have ringlets, those nasty fine lines around my eyes have eased and I don't wear moisturizing lotion.

It's all so NOT Wyoming, it might just as well be the moon. But it's a lot warmer and friendlier.

"I need you by me
Beside me
To guide me...
So let's dance
The last dance!
Let's dance
The last dance
To niii iii iii iii iii ite ! !"

Sure, why not? Please write back and tell me what you are up to. Meanwhile, I hope with all my heart that you are safe, happy and well. I miss you all just as much as if I were homesick!

- Pat

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