"Light Blue"

'Behind you!' — Christmas 2007

'Behind you!' — Christmas 2007

Living the 'nightmare'

USA: months 7 and 8

15 December 2007 to 31 January 2008

As I write this, we have just passed our second month of immurement at Harbortown Marina, living on board our floating caravan, with the waterline getting blacker and blacker from the muddy creek which flows into this smelly, noisy hole in the mangrove swamp. We are tied up to the most southern dock, mistakenly carrying the name of the romantic island of Islamadora.

It is also the fuel dock and the dock to which the very large gin palaces tie up and spend thousands of dollars, filling with fuel and water. We are getting used to being disturbed and having the sun blocked out by these mobile floating condominiums. There is also a large ferry-type fishing boat which fills with dozens of noisy locals eager for a day’s fishing, but not before running its engine for an hour, spilling diesel fumes across the dock into our cramped abode. Opening our hatches results in regular coughing fits as we choke on the noxious discharge.

Every day, a dredging crane enters the marina and works continuously lifting bucketfuls of slime, clay and mud and with incredible spatial awareness, dodges the piles, yachts, stanchions and dinghies to deposit its loads into two 30-foot skips, which are then taken elsewhere for landfill.

We are about 30 yards from the marina restaurant and bar, which teems with loud and jovial merrymakers on a daily basis, at lunch and dinner as they eat and drink at this very popular hostelry. Our boat is bombarded with cooking fumes and the raucous frivolity of diners and drinkers, whose chatter rises in volume according to their alcoholic intake. Sitting in the cockpit is no longer a pleasure.

The inside of our boat resembles the living room of Steptoe and Son, as we have had to strip the deck in readiness for the painters and store everything below. To enable the stainless steel grab rails to be removed, I had to remove the head linings from the saloon, and they are now lying through the forepeak and into the saloon.

Every morning between 0530 and 0700 hours, several goods trains sound their horns for minutes as they pass along the back of the marina 300 yards away. These trains, drawn by up to four diesel engines are over 100 x 40-foot carriages long and rumble noisily along the track. They blow their horns as they pass over the several level crossings close to the marina. It makes for an early rude awakening.

But we can always escape from the boat to the marina and walk into downtown Fort Pierce, which is two miles away along a very unpleasant dual carriageway, where one is subjected to the carbon monoxide poisoning of the lorries and trucks as they wend their way to other exotic Florida destinations. The community bus service only runs Monday to Friday to Avenue D which is about a mile from the marina.

No pleasant sightseeing here, but a brisk walk into town, avoiding Avenue D, where we have been advised not to venture, probably for the same reason that a police car is always parked outside the local supermarket and the police officer is often seen standing watching shoppers pay and pack their shopping. This is no Palm Beach, but a very poor part of Florida, where a woman stands at the traffic lights every day, with a cardboard sign, begging for food, where businesses are few and far between, rubbish lays uncollected and poor unfortunates hold garage sales on their front terrace, selling their worldly goods to eat. This is a far cry from the rich Yankee north and we can see why the country is divided.

North Hutchinson barrier island

If we don’t want to go to downtown Fort Pierce, into which millions of dollars has been invested to preserve it and beautify it with Spanish-style condominiums, pastel-coloured buildings and fancy bars and restaurants, we can always walk the two miles to the beach on North Hutchinson barrier island. This beach runs for hundreds of miles along the eastern coast of Florida and is only broken by the inlets, which lead into the Intracoastal Waterway, which runs virtually parallel to the coast.

The beach itself is wide, sandy and leads to turquoise waters, which are clean, reasonable warm and a pleasure to swim in. Moreover, there is hardly anybody on the beach, as the locals don’t swim in the winter, despite the temperature being in the mid 70s. There is also a nature park on the barrier island, where one can drive or cycle or walk through. Interestingly there is a road sign, which states 'Drive carefully, bobcat crossing'. We didn’t see any wildlife at all when we cycled through there, but everyday one sees hundreds of turkey vultures soaring on the thermals above the area. They are drawn by the landfill site which lies some miles to the north of Harbortown Marina.

On a nature note, at the marina there is a small island, probably measuring 30 yards square, which from nightfall to daybreak is populated by large blue herons, little blue herons, brown pelicans and ibis. At dusk they glide across the marina in flocks to alight on their island and at dawn take off for their fishing grounds. It is a spectacular sight but their droppings make a complete mess of one’s deck and spray hood.

So what facilities does the marina provide to make our stay more enjoyable. Six very efficient and well appointed shower rooms to cater for 400 moorings. six further WCs. A very comfortable lounge with air-conditioning, television and VCR and computer, sofa and armchairs and a book swap, a postal system, welcome cabin, with very helpful staff and three courtesy bikes. The marina staff could not be more polite, cheerful and ready with information.

Having now been here for eight weeks, we know all of the staff by first names and they know us and they are still interested enough to ask us about the progress of work on our boat.

But enough of the miserable side of our existence in this marina and Fort Pierce because, I hear you say, they must have some good things to redeem it. Well they do. There are wonderful people living on boats permanently in the marina, who are so friendly and helpful, welcoming and chatty. It is a marina at which cats and dogs are permitted to roam at will, which makes it more homely. We have met some genuinely generous yotties, who have loaned us their truck, taken us shopping or just invited us for sundowners or full dinner.

Downtown Fort Pierce, which to those of you uninitiated in the vocabulary of America, means the centre of the town and not as we thought the roughest part, is being subjected to grandiose beautification, with building on every block, pretty promenades, a fine selection of restaurants and a large public library open to all (air-conditioned with easy-chairs, a couple dozen computer terminals and an excellent reference section).

Every Saturday morning there is a farmers’ market on the seafront, and the fresh vegetables and fruit, seafood and diverse foreign cooked foods tempt us every time we visit it. They always have live music playing in the market, which lends to the atmosphere. There are two restaurants close by the seafront with grass roofing and open to the air as the climate is so warm.

Living the dream again

Well what have we done since I last updated, which has been 'pleasant and delightful'. Well we’ve had several extremely pleasant evenings with various yottie friends. With Dave and Tony from Montana, we sang some new folk songs and practised some old, but the two which touched us most were 'The North West Passage' and 'Sailing to Philadelphia'. Dave plays flute and guitar, while his wife plays mandolin. Tony and Parson Jack Russell 'Schooner' spent Christmas Day with us while Dave was visiting relatives in Spain and a wonderful time was had by all, with turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding and loads to drink. For once I had a smoke, well half of one very tasty Romeo and Julietta cigar. No I haven’t started smoking again, in fact it was the first since 1995.

Just after Christmas, we went to a Greek restaurant with Tony, who is a professional belly dancer. Halfway through the meal a Canadian belly dancer, Yvonne, circled the restaurant, plying her very attractive trade which did not manage to put me off my food. I didn’t look too closely at her gyrating hips and belly button, otherwise I might have gone blind, so I closed one eye.

With two other friends, Mike and Jill from England, who have been having their rig remodelled, have joined us on several Friday evenings for a 'Ruby Murray' at a local curry restaurant, made more enjoyable by their company and because there aren’t many curry houses in the US. Then recently, during a long evening on their boat for dinner and sundowners etc, Siobhán learned the basics of two card games, whist and bridge.

We had a further equally charming evening with Frank and Joan-Ellen from Cape Cod on their brand new boat, which at only two-feet longer than ours is so much more comfortable, spacious and well-equipped (including TV and microwave.) The food and drinks were perfect and the conversation was extremely interesting and diverse. As we have found with so many American couples and individuals, they are friendly, welcoming, very eager to hear about our travels and tribulations and have many different ideas in respect to their country and the administration of it.

Outside the marina life, we went to a bull riding rodeo on a very rainy day, but luckily it was under cover. The object of bull riding is for young cowboys to stay on a bull weighing about a ton for eight seconds. The bulls meanwhile are trained to buck and roll until they have thrown off whatever is on their back. It was a most enjoyable evening with lots of cheering, whistling, stamping of feet and hooting by the entire crowd and not a bit of trouble in sight. The crowd, like all of the Americans we have met or come across have been polite, well-behaved, law-abiding and well dressed.

We also hit the sales in the nearby malls and picked up some very good bargains, because of the rate of exchange at $2 to the £1, the 60-70% off and additional bonuses, if one is from abroad. Once again we were surprised that most of the clothes are manufactured in the Far East or Central America, but rarely in the US.

We visited a boat show, with over 500 boats exhibited but not one boat with a full mast or sails. Likewise the tents were filled with exhibits related to sports fishing boats. The trip was a complete waste of time for us.

An update on the boat repairs

Preparations for the paint respray

Preparations for the paint respray

As I write, 3 February, the boat is being masked for spraying next week, we are hauling her on Tuesday and she will be finished by next weekend. The sails will be ready in three weeks and the riggers are trying to pull out all stops to prepare the mast and rigging for the same time. The stainless steel work is complete and ready to refit. In the meantime we have taken all the piping off the heads and through to the holding tank and to the outlet and having discovered they are well plugged with lime, we are changing the whole system. Consequently, the saloon, forepeak, galley and heads are in utter confusion. Only our bunk (or as the American boat salesmen call it) our master suite is clear and our haven, so we retire to bed to read. At present I am reading the seventh book in the Poldark series to Siobhán.

Well I think that just about does it for now, so I’ll sign off until next time. I will wait until we are just about ready to set sail again, which will be at the beginning of March. March 2008 that is.

In the meantime, love to all our readers and please believe that we are enjoying life and each other’s company still despite the drawbacks. After all it is sunny, about 80 degrees, we are surrounded by nature and we are fit and healthy.

Lots of love and keep on reading

Lawry and Siobhán

14 December 2007

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