26/01/2010/7:21 am, Fort Lauderdale, FL
We've had some wonderful gatherings over the last few days. Marc (Ma Muse) a Quebec sailor arrived Friday and we had a lively happy hour on Princess. We had seen the boat in Vero but didn't meet him there. On Saturday, Ben (Loon) with Gemma on board for a week, came up the river to tie up here at Cooley's Landing. Both single handers, Ben and Marc have been travelling together off and on for the last few hundred miles. Once again, Sandra and Steve played host. They have known Ben for many years from their Zahniser days. He left just before we got there and we didn't connect in Vero so it took until now for us to cross paths. Ben's story of his close encounter with the Jungle Queen (the big paddle wheel tourboat) down the river was a good reminder that it is essential to keep the VHF on 09 around here. That's the working channel for bridges and boat traffic. Fortunately no harm was done, but he would have preferred a less stressful meeting. The menu that night included delicious pulled pork, rice, broccoli salad and a fruit topped tart served with Sauterne - a dessert wine that Marc decided we needed to be introduced to. What a feast!
On Sunday, we invited our neighbour, Shel (Rainbow) over for happy hour. Sandra is fighting a cold so she stayed home, but Steve joined us as well. Shel is one of those really interesting characters that we have the pleasure of meeting from time to time. I'm pretty sure he is well into his 80's, has lived on his boat for over 25 years - sailing all over the place until he tied up permanently here at the marina. His wife passed on last year and he says he'd rather be here on his boat than anywhere else. The two of them retired from their jobs and set sail back in the 1980s. What stories he had to tell - of celestial navigation on naval ships and passage making with his wife. What a tease he is too. Every morning he asks Jim, "What are you going to louse up today?" Fortunately nothing yet!! I wonder if we will still be sailing in another 30 years? Imagine the places we could go!
We had a good bit of wind Sunday night and another blow with rain on Monday afternoon as a northerly front moved through. Although it wasn't overly fierce, with gusts of 10 - 15 kn, we felt very pleased to be on a dock. This luxury will end soon, but it is very nice as long as it lasts! The temperature has dropped considerably tonight - although it cannot be considered cold - and the air is clearer since the rain.
Tomorrow we are off to visit Sailorman - the local marine consignment store. I'm expecting a UPS delivery from home, and Avatar is on at the Imax theatre. We really need to do a little boat cleanup too. We packed away several bags of cold weather clothing (Thanks for those Eagle Creek vacuum bags, Liam) and I'm still stuffing every available spot with bags of crackers and nuts and chips and chocolate. Jim knocks a few maintenance jobs off his list every day just so we don't feel like total sloths.
The wind isn't coming from the right direction for a crossing for the next few days so we will continue our snail's pace and stay here for a few more days.
24/01/2010/7:18 am, Fort Lauderdale, FL
In our walkabouts lately we've seen a few different facets of life here. There is the flashy scene along the New River and down around Bahia Mar. These are big money areas with mansions and yachts (definitely not called boats at this level!) A couple of blocks back, one sees regular people going to and from work in plain grey cement government buildings. There are the park benches that some call "home". Our walk from the marina to the local Publix (grocery store) takes us through old Florida south neighbourhoods - small bungalows with dusty yards tucked off busy thoroughfares with cars roaring by. We have been surprised by the lack of sidewalks in some areas. Is everyone expected to drive? We were told that the developers were not forced to put them in. Well gee!
We've walked down Las Olas Blvd with its toney restaurants and shops - one being a bakery where I bought a fabulous loaf of walnut raisin bread. Both a drugstore and a service station that sells diesel are also within walking distance. This little marina is a gem. It is low key and small, friendly and affordable. (We're paying about $35. per night for our 36 ft boat.) The washers and dryers cost $1.50 per load; the showers are clean with plentiful hot water.
We've taken a couple of dinghy rides up the river to see more incredible yachts. The repair and refit yards are another mile or two up this winding river, and it is a real experience to see dozens of enormous yachts there. No kidding - there are millions and millions of dollars worth of boats there and tied up all along the river. We hear that at any given time, there are about a billion dollars worth of yachts in Fort Lauderdale. At boat show time in October, another couple of billion dollars worth are here. It is amazing to see the largest ones being towed up and down with a tug ahead and another one behind. Apparently that is cheaper than having the ship's captain pilot the ship in these tricky waters.
Sunday's adventure was the concern over a manatee that had come into the boat ramp area of the marina. It was a large one and had many scars on its back. These creatures are slow moving and are often hit by the props of speeding boats. Along with old scars, this one had a raw, red gash and we were all worried about her. Adding to the poignancy was the fact that she had a calf with her. We could see the little nose pop up regularly to breathe. A dog-walker called the wildlife people; I took pictures and sent them in; a sheriff's deputy and paramedics in a fire truck all came to check on her. They determined that since she was breathing regularly (every 3 - 4 minutes) and wasn't listing to one side, she was probably OK and had just come in to rest. The staff roped off the ramp for the day and by evening she and her calf had left. We've wanted to see a manatee for a long time; I wish the circumstances had been different, but at least it seems to have turned out well.
21/01/2010/8:00 pm, Fort Lauderdale, FL
It is a beautiful temperature here. The sun is hot - we are definitely in T-shirts and shorts - and it's just breezy enough to keep us from burning up.
Over the last couple of days, we've walked, laughed, eaten and ogled. On Wednesday evening, we went with Sandra and Steve (Princess) to see Capitol Steps - a comedy group from Washington DC perform at the beautiful Broward Center for the Performing Arts just down the way. We got as dressed up as we get on a boat, munched on hearty appetizers (pickled herring, cheese, sausage, veggies and spicy hummus) and set off to be entertained. And entertained we were! This troupe has some funny, politically focused routines and even we "aliens" got most of them. The pace was fast, the jokes well timed and everything in good fun. Our mouths dropped open was when the "detective" introduced himself. "First name, Hugh. Second name, Jim. Last name, Bissell. They call me "Hugeimbecile!" It's a line similar to one Jim has used before. In his version, "I'm a Jimbissell, not an imbecile!"
Thursday was Water Taxi Day. Steve, Jim and I took a short run down the river to Bahia Mar, ogling the mansions and yachts all the while. We had a short walk on the beach there and returned to meet up with Sandra and their friend Pete who had driven down from St. Lucie for a visit. Pete was kind enough to take us all on a run to West Marine and a diesel can fill up. (We can always think of one more thing we "need" and this time, we purchased a solar light to attach to the stern rail for some cockpit lighting.) We returned to the river to have lunch at the Briny Irish Pub. The food was very good, the ceiling is chock-a-block full of all things maritime so there is lots to look at, and the company was excellent! I ate a crisp and tasty gorgonzola salad while the others had delicious fish and chips - light and tender batter and tasty fish.
After a short nap (it's the heat, you know) we set off again on the water taxi. It is a great deal - $15 for a whole day ticket that allows us to get on and off at any one of 11 stops. This time we went all the way to stop 11, ... After a short walk to view the beach and check out the ocean conditions, we returned to Shooters for happy hour beers, calamari, grouper fingers and guacamole. Our trip back in the dark allowed us to play voyeur and catch glimpses inside many of the well lit homes. The amount of space given to grand foyers, massive chandeliers and soaring ceilings is impressive. Drapes were rarely closed and we could see folks working in kitchens, sitting around dining tables, and sometimes lounging on patios as they watched us watching them.
The jokes told by the guides were for the most part lame and unoriginal - but it was interesting to hear who owns - or used to own - many of the houses: inventors and entrepreneurs and actors. Blockbuster, Taco Bell, a giant waste management company (whose boat is named Business Stinks!) Sunglass Hut. Sports team owners have party places here and many actors former homes line the river - Cher, Leonard Nimoy, Dinah Shore, Vivien Leigh, Farrah Fawcett.
Another day of exploration over, we settled down for a quiet night on the river.