Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pancakes not passports: southern hospitality for the maritime squatters

The captain’s lounge is an oasis. A sparsely furnished, brightly lit, air-conditioned haven, beyond which lies the wasteland of a boatyard.
Dust swirls down boat lined corridors in the furthest corners, where sailing dreams come to die. Up in the front where boats are in various stages of repair, muddy puddles create an obstacle course in the rough loose stone surface. Everything is a hazard. Multi-coloured extension cords criss-cross the ground like snakes playing Twister. Chemicals, paint fumes and fiberglass dust fill the stagnant humid air, mosquitos move in gangs, hiding in dark places and emerging as the sun sets. 
Our friend AlleyCat working on a new project in the yard

The only safe way to breathe in a boatyard!

Shiloh is here for some healing – replacement of her essential systems after the epic lightning strike. It takes time. There are insurance companies to deal with, surveyors, quotes, delays… For the crew it is not a pleasant visit. Nothing nice about clambering up and down a lean-to ladder to hobble across the yard for a shower or a pee. No fridge, no cooking in the mayhem of tools and wood shavings and the electronic graveyard strewn across all surfaces. By 7pm it’s 36 degrees celcius in the boat.
Shiloh's current mayhem

And this doesn't even consider the humidex factor!!!

But we are lucky. We are staying in a hotel by night. We can escape this industrial, miserable boat hospital and pretend we are tourists in St Augustine. Here to enjoy the history and the culture.
And culture we found. But not the type St Augustine hoped we’d find, with their upcoming 450th year celebrations and connections to the king of Spain.
No, we found the meth ravaged pancake eaters and fall-down-drunk biker chicks of ‘Debby’s’. We just can't get our heads around it, but pancakes for supper? It's a thing. Actually it's a thaaaaang.

It’s attached to the hotel and after a long day ‘in the yard’ we couldn’t be bothered to venture further. Our friendly waitress seated us in a torn up forest green vinyl booth and presented us with menus. JW noted the hole in his seat and the cheap prices and asked me if this was perhaps a government subsidized place, “like a soup kitchen maybe?”
He ordered something smothered in pudding-brown gravy, with scoops of distinctly institutional looking mashed potato.  

I made the quintessential mistake in a restaurant where syrup is the condiment of choice… I ordered the healthy option. I was informed that salmon could only be ordered medium well due to health concerns. I should have known. A sad plate of fishy sawdust arrived with little rocky pebbles that passed for brown rice and a few barely formed, mushy broccoli florets.

But the food paled in comparison to the clientele and our waitress who endeared herself to us right away. Must have been JW’s accent. Exotic as it is…
In her lilting syrupy drawl, she told us her name – her mother so loved the southern belles. ‘Crimson O’Mara’ inserted between regular first and last names. JW asked if her passport had all those names on it, to which she grinned from ear to ear and exclaimed,
“Passport?! I ain’t so privileged to have a passport! Ain’t never been outta Florida!” For us maritime squatters who move fluidly through borders, it's unfathomable.
Crimson O’Mara with the beautiful green eyes and brown jagged teeth then shared with us her basic life story. Pregnant at 15, which led to 3 more of the same, so that now at 30 years old she is the mother of 4. Works 2 jobs, lives in a tiny 2 bdrm apartment with hubby, kids AND her mama. Mama gets $500 a month as pension and spends $300 of that on a storage unit. Mama has ‘champagne tastes and beer pockets’ though and once bought a block of brie cheese! Crimson was so angry she (insert drawl) “threw it clear across the room!”

She was real, raw, sliced open and served with grits. She was the stuff of fiction yet here she was in the flesh – red polyester uniform, hair net and all. When we were leaving she said she enjoyed us. I couldn’t tell her how much we cherished her. She was at once our entertainment, and she tugged at our heartstrings with her vulnerability.
Back at the hotel the next morning “housekeeping!” rang out in a low husky voice. Immediately after that, two scrawny sickly pale guys, backward caps and sagging pants, burst in the door. All bushy eyebrowed and surly scowls, they scurried back out as quickly. We weren’t being robbed, though even after a few days of meeting our housekeeping crew in the mornings, I’m convinced the hotel is part of some ex-convict rehabilitation program.
We’ve changed hotels now, and restaurants too. But the Americans we meet are the same. From the Walmartians and Home Depot greeters to the fellow sailors and boatyard staff, they are all open and genuine, helpful and kind.We were even invited to speak (at a bar of course!) about our recent lightning strike by the local cruising sailors.
JW giving his talk on lightning

We are entertained despite our predicament. We are overfed if not well fed. We are missing life at sea but we are living a whole new and unexpected adventure.
They say a hurricane is coming now. We will cross all our fingers and toes that it swings offshore, but we may find ourselves amongst our new Floridian family, watching it hit from the windows of our temporary oasis.


  1. Beautiful writing, and you perfectly describe the boat yard scene. Hang in there - the Adventure will change :) xx

  2. A movie. You should consider being a writer. What you describe in words, I see.