Escape is what we are doing with all this around-the world-on-a-boat thing. But it is not all about escaping. It is also about changing things.
Still, first we need to escape! The system is wrong. The cycle of school-work-slave-retire-own-rent-spend-work-etc to infinity is wrong.
Life can be a lot simpler and relaxed. Like in this picture. This is Monkey Tom’s place in Stock Island Florida and I will write all about him soon.
Last week a friend took us for a sail on a legendary Schooner here in Key West.
The WOLF is a classic 74′ topsail schooner built in 1982-1983 in Panama City.
She is the Flag Ship of the Conch Republic Navy and a symbol of independence.
After the second day, things insidiously start to change at the beach.
10:00 a.m. – the water appears unfamiliar; lost its transparency.
11:12 a.m. – a man sitting on a bench behind us coughs discretely. No one pays attention.
12:30 p.m. – we eat flounder sandwiches I made with the leftover flounder from last evening.
1:34 p.m. – we haven’t caught a single flounder.
2:00 p.m. – a small dead fish appears on the beach. Everyone likes it. We use it as bait.
2:17 p.m. – a young couple is walking aimlessly along the shore. Both coughing.
2:22 p.m. – a second dead fish. The kids play with it.
2:23 p.m. – a third dead fish.
2:48 p.m. – everyone is coughing.
Soon, we realize that something very peculiar is about to happen and we even suspect, it is already happening! As more and more lifeless fish dreamily swims out of the sea, more and more people start coughing. The beach fills with an endless cough. It feels somehow like a prelude to a symphony.
Rumors of ocean tornadoes and biblical interpretations of apocalyptic events start circulating among coughing vacationers. Until someone explains with authority the unusual and most inconvenient situation as a phenomenon called RED TIDE. I know that sometimes the things I am writing about sound fantastical, and often they are, but Red Tide is real, I promise. Here is some scientific facts about it which I found at www.mote.org
A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call it “Florida red tide.”
Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness. The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.
Karenia brevis, or Florida red tide, kills fish by producing a potent toxin (called brevetoxin) that affects the central nervous system of the fish. The toxin can also affect birds, mammals and other marine animals.
The next day, the sea is dark, the sky grey and low; there is nothing left of the beach but yesterday memories and dead fish of all kinds lying among pieces of corals and beautiful seashells. No vacationers.
I grab the opportunity to photograph dead fishes of all kinds. It is like snorkeling in the coral reef with colorful fishes swimming about, only we are not underwater, there is no coral reef, and the colorful fishes are rather grayish and miserably inadequate. I also find them beautiful, paranoid, strange, scary, grotesque, sympatiques(fr), curious, morbid, familiar, funny, alien, worried, mysterious, sad. (At the end of this post, you will find my Dead Fish Portraiture Gallery.)
One more day passes by and the fish starts to stink badly. Nobody knows who, when, and how will take care of it.
Ivo tells me: “Let’s clean up the beach ourselves.” And I am all for it. So we volunteer to do it, Ivo and me.
Sharon, the woman who cleans the park, gives us some garbage bags, fourteen I count later, and some latex gloves, and then she leaves. With this scarce equipment, we head to the carnage scene. The smell, should I even mention it? DEAD FISH!
We start filling bags scooping the carcasses by hand, trying to fit as many as possible in the bags, as fourteen bags is not much for the amount of fish we have to collect. Some of them, the sail catfish, have poisonous spikes in the fins, and we have to be careful.
It feels like a fish genocide. Hellish eyes full of terror and sand, teeth crooked, discolored skins, gaping half rotting bodies, sea snakes twisting around gooey scaly corpses, mouths gasping for water. I am not eating sushi any time soon…
This first day we clean a big portion of the beach in front of the park and the campground. And we continue the next day. Ivo does most of the job; when he works nobody can keep up with him, everyone who knows him can confirm this. Finally, the beach is clean, there are more than thirty garbage bags lined up away from the waves waiting to be picked up. Local people and campers passing by all congratulate us and thank us. We feel proud with our work.
We have self-sentenced ourselves to community work usually done by Offender Programs and we feel we have served our time to pay for the overnight stay in the park, sneaking in the campground showers, using the free internet, and some other minor offenses. Our conscious is now cleared. Plus, we are now famous among the locals as “the crazy Canadians who do nasty job for free.” In reality, we do get something out of it. Knowledge and experience. We learn all about the Red Tide phenomenon first hand, and we learn about the local fishes.
All is left now is for the county to send some people here to pick up the bags.
The following day the sherif department calls, and not only they don’t thank us for the initiative and the free work, but they tell Sharon that we didn’t do a proper job, that we filled the bags too much and they are now too heavy to pick up… This brings us down a bit.
Anyway, they send people, collect the bags, and the Red Tide is now history.
New campers arrive in the campground and go to the beach, enjoy the warm weather, the soft sand, the cool waves. But I remember another beach.
No monument here to commemorate the departed. Only black ravens high in the air like demoniacal kites still slowly savour the smell of death.
Only this and nothing more.
DEAD FISH PORTRAITURE GALLERY
Our travels bring us to unexpected places of wonder.
After visiting a boat for sale in Marco Island, Florida, we headed towards Sarasota.
It was Monday and “The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art”, the Number One Must See Attraction in this area, has free admission on Mondays. We spend 4-5 hours in the Museum of Art and its gardens, 66 acres of waterfront property.
The museum, built by John Ringling, opened in 1931. It houses his personal collection of about 14 000 masterpieces, including paintings and sculptures by the Old Masters like Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and more; European, American and Asian works. It is truly impressive.
But for me, the most emotional moment was entering the newest gallery featuring the Coville Collection of 90 photographs of the 20th century and beyond focused on photojournalism.
A quote by Susan Sontag is the first thing you see as you enter the gallery:
All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by sharing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
— Susan Sontag
The earliest photograph in the collection dates from 1888: the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris; and the latest is of the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
There I found iconic images that I have only seen before in my Art History books. Images by Margaret Bourke White, Edward Steichen, Julia Margaret Cameron, Louis Wickes Hine, Ansel Adams, Andre Kertesz, Edward Weston, and others.
Next, we marveled at the exquisite Ca’d’Zan mansion and its Venetian Gothic architecture. We will have to return to look at the mansion inside as well as at the Museum of Circus. One day is not enough.
Our Monday finished with a walk in a park in Sarasota looking for a restroom for Maya. It was dark, about 7:00 p.m., when we entered the Sarasota Art Center as it was still open and there was a restroom for Maya!
And we ended up looking at some more contemporary local art. Surprisingly, the collection impressed me, there were many truly amazing paintings and photographs.
But this was not all! As we were ready to go, people started coming in. It turned out, there was a Flamenco Evening event, free admission, and we decided to stay! In the center of the gallery, surrounded by artworks, two classic-flamenco guitarists, two singers, a guy and a woman, and a male dancer, performed for us and a crowd of older Sarasota citizens, the most wonderful music from Spain. Viktor and Maya were both so impressed, more than by the Ringling Museum.
As the music- the magic- ended, there was vino and cheese, and a wonderful memory.
Te Quiero Verde.
For more information about the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, visit
More photos from Sarasota, Ringling Museum of Art
After Jacksonville, Florida, we go to Fort Lauderdale with great expectations to find a boat. But there is nothing for us and we are greatly disappointed…The best think that happens during our stay in this big crazy place, apart from spending a few days on the beach, is getting in touch with Harry Schell from Edward Yacht Sales, who is now our boat broker and is doing a truly amazing job researching the boats we are interested in, finding others that could be suitable, giving us plenty of good advise. He send us to Cape Coral to check out a boat. A 47 Wauquiez, French boat in good shape, one we are considering buying. We stay in Cape Coral, on the west side of Florida, for three days.
Here is an example of one day and all the things that happened in it.
We wake up early in the morning under a mango tree in a park next to the beach. The air fresh, the wind tamed, everyone greeting us Good morning how are you. We go jogging and then, just when we are ready to leave for the beach, we meet David and Doris. They are curious about so many things and come visit us inside the motor home. Our first guests since we left Canada. Most people so far have been suspicious of Baba Ghanoush, even racists. They see her old, wrinkled, poor looking, not like the luxurious expensive shiny motor homes, and they immediately form some sort of a negative opinion about us. Once, they even called the police just like that, to check and make sure. People are like that, they judge you based on appearance, based on your clothes, based on your haircut, based on your car, based on the things you own, based on your disorders, and they don’t even try to get to know you before they sentence you to eternal disapproval. There are some exceptions and David and Doris are an example of such an exception. “If I don’t open this book, how will I know what is written inside. If I don’t talk to you how will I know what kind of a person you are”, says David. And we talk for some time. We talk for the amount of time needed to get to know each other.
Then we go at the beach. Viktor doesn’t want to come so he stays in the motor home reading and relaxing alone. At the beach, Maya makes a new friend, Briana; I make a big sand alligator, Ally.
Shortly after we are all set up at the beach, Doris shows up, tells us there is a Thanksgiving dinner today at the church; we should hurry up if we want to get some free food. She takes us with her car to the church. There are many people inside a huge haul sitting around big tables. We all take a seat and we are immediately served by young volunteers. Everyone gets a full plate of turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, it is so tasty! We even get two portions to go, one for Viktor and one for David, who missed the party. Before we leave, we (and a hundred more people) get a big box full of potatoes, some canned greens, bread, and a nice frozen turkey, everything free! I can’t stop smiling, I love this!
An hour later we are back at the beach again. Briana is waiting for Maya, Ally is waiting for me. Next, we feed birds, we see a girl doing a back flip, we meet three boys with a shovel digging a pool, and we cut Maya’s hair at sunset, as we have planned it, as a ritual, as a performance for the ocean and the seagulls, as a tribute to the sand alligator of Cape Coral who became alive at midnight and forever disappeared in the night waters of the Mexican Gulf.
I believe that there are no good places or bad places in the world. What we consider a good place is a place where we had a good experience and vice versa. We develop a relationship with a place. A good relationship can transform the most common, sad, even desolate place into a good place. A bad event can spoil your relationship even with the most beautiful of places. The hardest thing is leaving a good place and its good people, Briana, David and Doris, thank you for being good friends even only for a day…
Cape Coral was a good place to us.
Let me take you for a tour of our old caravan Baba Ghanoush, so that you can get an idea of where and how we spend a big portion of our days and nights since we left home in the beginning of November.
You can come in trough the driver’s door but better don’t if you are not the driver. Better use the main entrance on the right-hand side and please take off you shoes, as we are trying to keep it clean. When you enter, you will be surprised, almost not going to believe how spacey and nice it is inside. This is because you are judging our Baba Ghanoush based on her outside appearance. I admit, she is not in her prime, looks old and wrinkly; a total wreck just days away from falling apart and passing away in RV heaven, God bless her soul. But I am telling you, she is good spirited and healthy as a horse, as a hundred horses and more! Haven’t you learned already, the true beauty is inside, el cuerpo es solo un estuche; lo que importa es lo de adentro.
My first impression of Baba Ghanoush was, Wow! she is huge! There is place for two additional seats between the driver and the passenger seat on the front. Behind the driver seat there is a couch along the wall facing a small table and an armchair on the opposite wall behind the passenger seat. On the small table Ivo installed a 32 inch flat screen TV and Viktor plays his x-box on it. This area is the living room which becomes Viktor’s room at night. He sleeps on the couch which is big enough for a tall and thin person like him without even opening it. When he is not in a lazy mood, he does open it and the couch transforms into a queen-size bed.
Next, step into the kitchen and the dining room. A table big enough for four with two double seats on both sides is where we eat, study, draw, and play cards in the evenings when we don’t run the generator in order to save on gas and so we have no electricity. Ivo, Viktor, and Maya play this new card game Magic Cards full of creatures, lands, artefacts spells, sorcery, and other such things that can give you the shivers, while i prefer to read a book or write. For light we use three solar-battery lanterns and we can also use the stove which runs on propane and thus cook meals without the electricity on. Sometimes we run the generator for a few hours and then everyone gets comfortably in front of some sort of a monitor. Viktor usually plays Skyrim or Mindcraft on the x-box, Maya plays Animal Jam on line and Ivo and me we use internet to research boats and marinas. We get free internet at every McDonald and at many other places everywhere (next to motels, coffee shops, marinas, etc.) Sometimes we watch film together. Last time we watched Werner Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder and we all fell asleep before the end of the movie. It is not my favourite Herzog film but it is still an amazing transformation of archival documentary underwater and space exploration footage into a fictional story about a failed extraterrestrial invasion. It is so weird it is hard to describe, but if you are familiar with Herzog you know what to expect. Kind of.
The dining room becomes Maya’s room a night. The table falls down a bit so that the cushions can be arranged to form a nice comfortable bed. Opposite this dining table is the kitchen with a few cupboards and drawers, the stove, a sink , a microwave, and a fridge. A small but well equipped kitchen. It has everything we need to store products and prepare tasty meals. So far I have made soups, potato salad, scrambled eggs, spaghetti, and even palachinki (the transcription for the Bulgarian word for crepes). Palachinki is our family’s favourite breakfast and there isn’t a soul in the world who would refuse a hot palachinka with strawberry jam under any circumstances, I am sure. For those poor creatures who still haven’t tried them, here is how the make them:
Mix 3 eggs, 3 cups of milk, and 3 cups of all purpose flour, a spoon of sugar (honey or brown sugar will do as well), a bit of salt, and some vanilla. Poor about half a cup of the batter in preheated non-stick pan greased with a bit of butter before every palachinka. Flip them when one side is ready. Eat them hot!
You can wrap just about anything in a palachinka; ham and cheese your favourite jam, Nutella, etc. They are like the bread in a sandwich, only much tastier. And be careful, you might get addicted!
For lunch we eat whatever is available, trying to keep it healthy and inexpensive. Here is an example:
One package hot dogs $ 1.00
Half a dozen eggs $ 0.80
Two pound sweet potatoes (boiled) $ 0.70
A third of 1 package wheat bread $ 1.00
Two beers $ 1.40
A third of one celery $ 0.30
total (for four people) $5.20
(The beer here is so much cheaper than in Canada, we feel obliged to drink one or two per day, plus it is a wise think to do in the Floridian heat.
On the back, just before the big bedroom, there is a big wardrobe which holds all our clothes and a small bathroom with a toilet, a sink, and a shower which we decided not to use unless we stop at a campground with a full hook up. Instead, we use showers, toilets, and laundry available at every marina we stop for a night or other places. This can be very inconvenient, but we are kind of experienced and used to this way of travelling given that we have been working as long distance truck drivers for years now, so it is not a problem at all. Besides, now most of the time we are stopped at one place and spend much more time at the beach or at some marina and not actually travelling. It is fun to find alternative ways of doing things and so far the craziest thing we’ve done was taking a shower at the beach, with soap and shampoo, and all.
As you see, our vehicle is also a 3 ½ apartment furnished with everything our humble family of four needs. The only problems we have with Baba Ghanoush is the amount of gas she consumes ( about $1,000 to get from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale in two weeks), and finding parking space in crowded cities. We learned a $300 lesson here in Ft Lauderdale a few days ago, when she got abducted and towed away from the parking in front of a small shopping mall while we were blissfully splashing at the near beach. Now we know where to park and where not to.
Meanwhile, we are fast forwarded to Florida. At the first marina we stop in Virginia, several people, a boat broker included, advise us not to loose our time looking for a boat in North Carolina or South Carolina, not even in Georgia. “The boat you want is in Florida”, they say, after we tell them what boat we are looking for.
We are looking for 44 feet or bigger,thick fibreglass, none of the fancy popular models like Catalina, Beneteau, Janeau, which are appealing to the eye and affordable but lightly built and are so called “pleasure boats”, not fit for extended blue-water cruising. Has to be a sloop, or only one mast, not a ketch (with two masts); cutter is better than a centre cockpit, but this is one thing we can compromise with; draft 6 feet maximum; step on keel mast; in good general condition especially the hull. We are not much concerned with speed, we are not going to race her, but we will live in her and take her around the world, so it has to be safe first, as well as sturdy and comfortable for a family of four.
A 44 footer is considered a big boat, and for this reason mainly it is most probable to find one in Florida, the sailboat capital of the world.
So, instead of Virginia Beach, as we had planned, we go to Jacksonville, FL, skipping three states. We stop at the first little marina we see there, and ask two guys on the pier who to talk to about a sailboat. They are very helpful and welcoming people, both offer their own boats which happen to be for sale (it looks like every boat in Florida IS for sale), but as soon as we tell them we need 44 feet and over, they back up. They have smaller ones. The office at the marina is closed already, it is almost 7 p.m., but we can talk to a broker there tomorrow, they tell us. We thank them and we go to the public parking not far from there. We are not parked yet, when two cops surround us flashing their lights. What the hell!!! The guys we talked to called the police! The police (two young women) can’t tell us why. They actually don’t know why. Nobody knows. I bet, not even the guy who called them knows why he did it. Probably he thought our Baba Ganoush looks suspicious. I bet this is it. They have never seen such a weird old motor home inhabited by people who claim are looking to buy a boat the size of a ship. I admit it makes no sense. Still, it is not enough reason to call the police, is it? Is this how the people of Florida show their hospitality to us, friendly Canadians? I am outraged. The police checks our ID-s, I give them my expired student card, and everything looks OK. Even our 1988 motor home seams to be legal and we are finally left alone. I am mad for the rest of the evening, I can’t believe it. I want to find the guy who called on us and scream at him. But I don’t.
Next morning, we go to another marina and we talk to a woman at the office who seems extremely amused at the fact that we don’t have a phone. She laughs so sincerely I start thinking it is funny myself. She gives us a phone number of the best broker in town and even lends us, poor people, a phone. One hour later we meet a guy at the biggest marina- a port- in Jacksonville area. It is impressive. We haven’t seen anything like it so far. A dirt road leads to 10 huge piers. We drive by big fishing boats and old ships, cranes and alien-looking rusty structures before we get to a small building in the middle of a boatyard. Most of the boats are out and dry, bearded people busy around them, scraping them, patching them, painting them.
This is a hardcore marina, nothing like the fancy one in Virginia. There are trailers and motor homes even older than ours permanently parked on the sides amidst old dark trees, thick vegetation climbing all over them.
Here old captains live while fixing their boats; people from other places and times, more ancient then mythology itself, full of stories and ocean salts. We feel at home.
We meet our broker excited; we will finally visit a sailboat for sale! He points to a boat, nice and big enough, but we don’t even go in to see it, it is not good enough for Ivo; the keel is too big, the draft is 7 feet, it is too much. Ivo knows exactly what he wants and he will not compromise. He is like that with everything and I kind of envy him for that. So this one is out of consideration, and after a short talk, the broker tells us there is nothing like the boat we imagine, not here at least, and he goes away. We are a bit disappointed…
We spend the night parked there, next to the water. It is the quietest of all nights since we left, and the hottest. All the buzzing and screeching, all the noises from the busy daytime machinery go to rest. As the dark falls, little lamps illuminate the boats from the inside like Halloween pumpkins and only black cats are left out to roam the night.
The next morning we talk to some of the boat owners and meet some interesting people at the porch in front of the office, free coffee for everyone, who give us much valuable information.
It is amazing how much we have learned for the past days just talking to people. The best advise everyone agrees on is “Just go strait to Fort Lauderdale and South Florida. The boat you are looking for is there”, they say. And they know.
Thus, we get to Fort Lauderdale only two weeks after we left home and we haven’t visited a single boat so far.
There were a few problems with our motor home, so we waited two days in Ashland, Virginia for our Baba Ghanoush to be fixed in a truck repair shop. We got new tires, front alignment, new springs, and repaired drag link. Total $1300… Big blow for our budget but still a lot less expensive than if we had done it in Canada. Now we are upgraded and there shouldn’t be anything major to repair any time soon.
Today, finally, we started looking at some boats.
And some of the boats looked back at us.
The people we met were happy to give us all sorts of advise.
We learned a lot about where to look for a boat, what models are best for our needs, what size boat will be most suitable for extended cruising with two big kids.
The weather in York River Haven Yacht Club, Virginia is peacefully orange at sunset.
We didn’t find a good boat for us here, so tomorrow we will be going to Virginia beach. We will be visiting lots of marinas in Hampton.
We are hoping to find one there!