Monthly Archives: May 2016

Is This My Future?

I’ve been a huge fan of Paul Theroux’s travel books, “The Great Railroad Bazaar,” “The Old Patagonian Express,“ etc. and have just finished “Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads” where he travels through the deep south of the United States. For me it doesn’t measure up to many of his earlier books, but at the end he wrote something I can identify as I approach three score and fourteen:

“Often, talking with someone in the South — a young farmer, a fifteen-year-old mother, a perspiring and potbellied policeman, an indignant gun nut, a toothy preacher, an idle college student, a genteel bank clerk, a harassed community volunteer, or an insulted citizen — I gathered from their response that I was speaking a different language, one that caused them to open their mouths in incomprehension and squint at me. At first I took it to be my Yankee manner, the affronted wanderer, the unlikely stranger with unexpected questions, someone to be appeased or placated.

“No, it was something else. It dawned on me slowly over months that to them I was an old man, who didn’t really count for much but who needed to be humored or grudgingly respected. This response made me mutter and shake my head, because I didn’t feel old. I felt — still feel — I am in the prime of life. But it’s wrong to say that aloud or to object; protestation is a grim old coot’s standard reflex. The hardest thing for anyone healthy to accept is increasing age. Yet why should you feel old if you’re not infirm? I was fit enough to drive all day, hundreds of miles, and to manage this trip; to be lost and to find my bearings; to endure abuse at times, to take the knocks and reverses of the road and a degree of skepticism or hostility from folks en route. Possibly some of them cupped their young hands and whispered behind my back, ‘De old man.’

“A news story I heard on my car radio gave me a clue. The announcer said, ‘An elderly man and a child were struck by a car late yesterday afternoon as they crossed Mabry Road near Highway 49 in Tutwiler,’ the sort of details that resolved themselves into the jerky afterimage of an unlucky man holding a child’s hand at duck, on the road, on foot in the heat — because the man was old and poor. Then more facts: ‘Warren G. Beaver, seventy-two and his granddaughter…’

“I laughed out loud and punched the radio off. Elderly!”

Is this how I can expect to be received if I buy a boat and cruise the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway? Or sailing down the upper Mississippi? An elderly old coot?

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The Boat I Want and Why

About a year ago when my friend Stephen suggested I move back to the States and that we’d look for a boat for me to buy and live on I wasn’t ready to pick up sticks and leave Panama. But the kernel had been planted and I started mentally masturbating about what kind of boat I’d look for if I did make the move. The exercise begins by figuring out HOW the boat would be used.

If I were to return to the States I wouldn’t want to live on a boat stuck in a marina. Been there, done that. But I had a reason I was living like that…I needed to work to make money and survive. I survived but I didn’t make much money. I always had something going where I paid little to no rent at all for nearly five years. (Then I fell in love, moved ashore, and now both the bitch and the boat are gone…) Now, having retired and getting a Social Security deposit every month I don’t have to worry about survival any more.

So, if I was going to be on the move, where would I be going? Well, it’s something I’ve named The Great U.S. Inland Waterway Challenge. You don’t have to cross oceans to have nautical adventures. In fact, you don’t even have to go very far to have them, either. Unfortunately most people thing that “cruising” means traversing large bodies of water while fighting gale-force winds. Not so! Taking your boat to a lake or estuary and investigating parts of it you’ve never seen before is just as valid a nautical adventure as sailing single-handed around the world in a 10-foot boat.

There’s a ton of water-born adventuring to be done inside the boundaries of the United States. For instance there’s the “Great Loop.” That’s a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States by water.

loop

There are clubs, Facebook pages and internet groups devoted to this enterprise. They even have a website and burgee…http://www.greatloop.org

burgee

Well, I’ve got that one under my belt. In ’74, my first captain’s job I took a 43-foot Hatteras tri-cabin from Burnham Park in Chicago, went the lengths of lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie, out the Erie Canal, down the Hudson River and then did the entire 1,100-mile Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway single-handed. (Ive since run the Atlantic ICW four more times. Three times south and once south to north.) In ’75 I left Burnham Harbor with a couple on their 51-foot sailboat and we went down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and then happened to end up at Bahia Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale, FL where I’d ended the voyage the year before.

What else is left? Lots. There’s the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway for an additional 1,000 miles. I’ve done a couple of little segments from Destin, FL to New Orleans and little parts of it in Louisiana when I was running inland crew boats around Morgan City, New Iberia and a few other sections.

Then, I thought, if I had a small enough boat that was easily trailerable I’d haul it up to Minneapolis and come down the Mississippi all the way to the Tennessee river, veer off there and take the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway to Mobile. Already done that segment of the Mississippi from the confluence of the Tennessee to New Orleans in ’75. Coming down the river I’d have to stop a couple of days at Lock and Dam #20 in Canton, Missouri. It’s 30 miles or so north of Hannibal and the home of Culver-Stockton College that I attended for three years.

How about pulling the boat up to Pittsburgh, PA and going down the Ohio in the wake of those great shantyboat inspirations Harlan and Anna Hubbard? At least as far as the Mississippi once more. From there I could have it trailered to Sioux City, Iowa and run the 735 miles of the Missouri River.

So, what kind of boat would I need to do that sort of thing? Well, first of all it couldn’t be too big. It would have to be a “Trailer Sailer” with a retractable keel or centerboard so it would be easy to move around the great distances between, say, New Orleans and Minneapolis cause I’m not going to be able to sail against the current all that way, All along the Gulf ICW in Florida and Texas it’s SHALLOW so draft is a big consideration. My beloved Nancy Dawson drew four feet and so needed  five feet or better under her keel to do well. Many trailer-sailer have drafts as little as a foot and some even less than that.

Roaming around on Craigslist and other boat for sale sites I see that there’s a slew of trailer-sailer boats in the 23-foot range that can be picked up for under $2,000. When I brought this up to my friend Stephen he said, “Yeah, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable on something around 30-feet?” Well, probably! I’d also be a lot more comfortable on the 85-foot Jolie Aire that I ran over in France for three years, too. What’s your point?

I’ve mentioned in other posts about building a pilot house onto a small hull to give standing headroom in the cabin. I DO WANT to stand up when I’m cooking, at least, and to put on my pants.

But the best thing about a small boat in the 23-foot range is that it’s a LOT cheaper than a 30-foot boat.

In and around Fort Lauderdale dock rates are $1.50 to $2.00 per foot per day. So, for a 30-foot boat it would cost $60/night @ $2 and $45/night @ $1.50. For a 23-foot boat it would be $46/night @ $2 or $34.50/night. A difference of $15 or $10.50 at the buck and a half rate. Some of the marinas, though, charge on a minimum of a 30-foot boat no matter how much under that it actually is. Others charge at a 25-foot rate. Even that way it’s $50 a night @ $2 or $37.50.

So, let’s take the lower rate and assume, in all these numbers, that I’ll have to spend one week a month at a marina. The 30-footer would cost me $315/month. The 23-footer would be $241.50 a month, a $73.50 a month savings. Even at the 25-foot minimum rate the $262.50 is a $52.50 savings on my $1,100/month SS check and equals 17.5 gallons of gas @ $3.00/gal. Assuming I can get 12/miles per gallon that one month savings at the lowest amount will get me roughly 210 miles further up the river.

Of course I wouldn’t be spending much time at a dock in Fort Lauderdale to begin with. So let’s take a look at an out-of-the-way place like Steinhatchee up in the Big Bend area of Florida…

At Riverhaven marina in Steinhatchee, FL, up in the Big Bend area of the Gulf Coast, the cost for an uncovered slip is 50¢/foot a day. So, easy-peasy, a 30-footer would go for $15/day. The 23-footer would be $11.50/day or $3.50/day savings. No big deal. But the weekly difference would be $24.50 or, over a year that’s $294. That would be 98 gallons of gas @ $3 gal. or 1,176 miles under the crank-up keel.

Let’s say I wanted to spend the winter months up there. The monthly rate is quoted at $149.50 and for a four-month stay it would set me back just under $600. Not bad when you consider that my half of the duplex rent when I lived in Fort Lauderdale six years ago was $600/month.  In fact, the monthly rate at this marina would be just half a buck short of what I’m paying for rent in Boquerón.

So, let’s go over to Texas since I plan on running the ICW all the way to Brownsville…

In Corpus Christi, at the Corpus Christi Marina short term slip rates are $1.50/ft. = $34.50/night for 23-footer and $45 for the 30-footer.

Across the way at Islands Moorings in Port Aransas doesn’t matter if it’s 23-foot or $30 the rate is $35 per night for vessels up to 32 feet and then they’re gonna nick ya $7 to hook up to 30 amp electricity. At the end of the line in Brownsville and South Padre Island there are several marinas but most don’t list their rates. It’s sort of a “Surprise, you can’t afford to be here…” situation. The one place that DID list a rate for transient dockage is the Sea Ranch Marina at South Padre Island and 23’ or 30’ or any feet it’s $65/night though they’re generous and throw in the electricity at that price. And people wonder why I’m so inclined to say TUCK FEXAS!!! But if I want to complete The Great U.S. Inland Waterway Challenge gotta go there.

In 11 days I find out if my new choppers are going to fit. If they do, I’ll give it a month to make sure they don’t need to be adjusted and if all’s good to go then I’ll be having my 74th birthday party in Fort Lauderdale. (July 9th)

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