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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lightning and Blunder - a hobbling adventure

Rain pours in sheets around, over, into us. A badly designed rain cover that we’ve dragged out in desperation crinkles and stretches over the winches. Rain clots and streaks and zig zags across my line of vision. Visibility is impossible. We are hobbling along against a raging current on one engine; the other overheated, steaming and pouting in it’s room.

Shiloh plodding along under stormy skies today
It's yet another stormy day and we are headed up the ICW, motoring in slow circles, waiting for a Bascule bridge to open. I have no chart plotter for navigation, I have no idea of the wind speed or exactly what direction it’s hitting us from.
Since Shiloh’s lightning strike days ago, we have been crippled. And now we are blind. The latest – engine fail – just adds insult to injury and will require JW to descend into the muddy soup of ICW water to investigate later…
Despite our predicament, I ponder what I can make for supper. Except earlier I’ve discovered all the condiments left in the dormant fridge have been invaded and are slowly disappearing under a fuzzy green colony of mold. The freezer is warm and gives off a slight gym sock, haunted attic scent.
Our choices are cans of fish or meat, some soft bruised tomatoes, a few iffy eggs. Not gourmet then. And no ice cubes for the whisky. Big sigh.
We’ve had better days onboard.
A week ago, watching our last Bahamian sunset fall gracefully into the sea, I knew we’d miss the bliss. The turquoise, the sand, the bizarre little towns. The simplicity.
We crossed a smooth, indigo ribbon of sea for 28 hours and arrived in the land of bureaucracy, choice and bling. Excess. Oh, and as a minor trivia fact - the lightning capital of the world.
After our initial customs and immigration hassles we anchored in Cocoa and headed to the shopping mall – of course! Faced with a head splitting, apparently life altering array of voice and data packages, we somehow came away with a fancy Internet wifi hotspot device and a working phone. And then the lights in the mall flickered. And the thunder permeated the building.
‘The boats!’
‘We better get back!’
But mother nature was fierce and the buses were delayed, hovering somewhere else or caught in the traffic. And we watched from the frosty halls of the mall as the skies threw down. High voltage strikes amidst the torrential rains.

Shiloh was alone. And under a violent grey sky, wind whipping, earth shuddering claps of thunder, she was struck. And 1 billion volts of electricity hit the top of her mast, flinging or disintegrating the VHF antenna before heading down through her hulls, and frying the electronics, batteries, lights, fans, fridge and freezer before exiting into the water.
The telltale smell greeted us – an acrid smoky evil. All the electronic displays were dead. An ugly quiet settled over the boat as we discovered each item and system that no longer worked.
Then came the calls and mails to the insurance company and the days of waiting for the surveyor, while the reality and severity of our injuries sank in. For me the missing stereo and TV are major. I like a soundtrack to my life. The starter battery charger is probably more important for JW. And the Raymarine and autopilot…
Luckily we were approved for moving on to St Augustine where Shiloh will be hauled out and a full survey completed. Hulls, rigging, sails, each failed system. 

But then the ordering of replacements will begin. I see weeks if not months of this ahead.
And the impaired sailing, along with camp life aboard are not ideal. A f*cking hassle in fact.
But it’s an adventure. We’ve got some great friends in St Augustine and I’m sure we’ll find fun. We’ll bring fun! We can’t control the things that happen to us, but we can control the way we deal with them. We write our life story based on our attitude.
I’m writing an adventure and this is another chapter.  A wet, thunderous and exciting chapter.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bahamas, USA: I choose adventure

People ask ‘Don’t you get bored’?

People gasp when we say we’ve been in the Bahamas for 6 months.
They scratch their heads and roll their eyes and say things like ‘Really?!’
Last night padding along yet another long white sand beach, we plotted and schemed – could we stay the whole season? – why not head further south in the Bahamas and enjoy a few more months? – what would we do in a hurricane? 
Weather plays a huge role in our lives and the storms of late have certainly kept us on our toes. Lightning, thunder and predictions of tropical storm development all around us.
In the end we resigned ourselves: we will go. America beckons. We will lift our anchor midday and set off across a little section of the Atlantic ocean and leave this expanse of paradise behind us.

By this weekend we’ll have replaced the dodging of jellyfish in the water, with dodging traffic - grocery bags in hand.
We will have the tangible memory of turquoise in our minds as the boats float in a broth of brown and grey…
A sea of turquoise off Little Sale Cay

No more searching tiny towns for the one onion and the last bottle of fresh milk in the fridge. Shopping will no longer be an adventure. Choice will overwhelm and bury us…

Organization and street lights; order and civilization, will take the place of stars in a vast sky, beaches and rocks and the distant sound of soca beating.
It’s a difficult trade off for people who’ve decided to make the sea their home. It’s like deliberately moving from a holiday resort to a concrete jungle.
It’s like choosing the mall over the beach.

But we’ve got landy pleasures planned. We’ll surely munch beignettes on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and comb the streets of tiny towns in Alabama. We’ll feel the breeze in our hair as we fly down a highway in the USA. It will be a rush.

Sure, we’ll have boat repairs and laundry and more lightning storms to endure as well.
But will we ‘get bored’??
I don’t think so.