Over the past few months my COPD has been catching up with me here in my small, anchored sailboat near the Coquina North Boat Ramp on Anna Maria Island, FL. Simple tasks like going forward to check the anchor rode leave me gasping for air. More and more I’d say to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Since I exist totally on a small Social Security deposit each month and a pittance in food stamps renting a room or an apartment ashore is financially out of the question. So, my choices boil down to returning to the Republic of Panama where I lived for eight years or “living in a van down by the river.”
I have three arterial stents, and I’m carrying some rather large kidney and bladder stones. The medical care I encountered in Panama was excellent and very reasonably priced, especially compared with the U.S. And I liked the fact that I was given the doctor’s cell phone numbers. I also liked that meds are all “over the counter.” No doctor’s prescription needed.
But the problem with Panama is it’s a “Pay up front” system. I’d have no insurance if I was down there. No company is going to insure a 78 year old guy with COPD and three arterial stents. If something serious happened to me there I’d have had to put up, IN CASH, a couple of thousand bucks to be admitted into one of the two private hospitals in David (dah VEED). You don’t even want to think about having to go to the government-supported hospital there. Sometimes, it’s been said, you have to provide your own bed linens. Panamanian officials and doctors really don’t like expats who have no health insurance and end up in a situation where the government has to take care of them when they need to be hospitalized. Who can blame them? I don’t want to be one of those people. It was one of the incentives for my repatriation three years ago.
One of the smart things, and there haven’t been that many in my life, that I did when I moved to Panama was to keep paying Medicare Part B. Many who expatriate drop this coverage to save the $140+ a month. But then, if they have to repatriate and sign on again, they are accessed a penalty and it’s hefty. I didn’t sign up for the Part D, prescriptions, when I turned 65 because wasn’t on any meds then. Now, because of the penalty, I’ll pay $100/month, FOREVER! Well, at least until I die…
So, really, the only solution is to remain here and move into a van. Lots of people have, and why not? It would actually have more living space than this 22-foot sailboat. I have a nephew in North Carolina who is a total gearhead. I’m going to rely on him to find a van for me. I have total faith that whatever he would choose will be sound and a good value. I’m in no big hurry so he can take his time.
It’s over three and a half years that I’ve not had to pay any rent, living anchored here off of Anna Maria Island, Florida. You can kinda do that in a van by “stealth” parking in urban areas or camping at state and national parks and on Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers areas. My dad did that quite a bit in his travels. But he was vacationing, not doing it because he had to.
When I posted on Facebook that I was going to have to move ashore and live in a van the owner of a campground near Ocala, Florida wrote and said they rent van spaces for $295/month. That’s do-able on my limited income. If I was in Panama I’d be spending up to $350/month for a place to live. Shortly after that a Facebook “Friend” I’ve been following and corresponding with for several years wrote and said that I could keep a van AND the boat at some land he owns on the Saint Johns River. It wouldn’t be free, of course. I’d pay half the electric (he lives on a boat there, too) and internet connection and “maybe $100/month to help with taxes.” Seems like a pretty good deal to live at THIS spot…
There are two ways I could get there. I have a boat friend, here, that has a trailer that could easily haul my boat. Load it up at the nearby ramp and we’d be at the new location within three hours. I’d pay him, of course though I don’t know how much. Didn’t ask. But knowing him for the last three years and being friends it wouldn’t be excessive.
But where’s the challenge in that? Where’s the romance? Where’s the ADVENTURE?
No, I’m going to get the boat over on its on bottom. It’s roughly a 650 mile voyage. It won’t be a fast trip. I generally can’t go faster than five miles an hour when everything’s going well. And there won’t be any long days at the tiller like when I was nearly four years younger and headed out on my first trip on the boat towards what I’d hoped would take me to Louisiana. We all know that ended up being rescued off the boat and taken to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital suffering from complete renal shutdown caused by severer dehydration. I put in some 10 and 12 hour days on that trip. No more of that. The last trip I made, about a year and a half ago was down to Cayo Costa, about 75 miles away. I took did with five and six hour runs. Pecking away at the journey in baby steps.
I could leave almost immediately, but in the recent Tropical Storm Eta, my kick-up rudder was damaged. I need to repair it. It’s an easy fix. But I still came out better than the NINE boats that sank up at the big anchorage by the Bridge Street Pier. In one instance a large catamaran broke loose from its mooring slammed into a good friend’s boat which caused them to be separated from their mooring and drove them into the nearby “Day Dock” at the city pier. Pete got off and helped get Shawn off the boat and onto the dock only seconds before the nearly six foot high waves forced their sailboat, and home, beneath the dock sinking it. A total loss but at least they’re alive. Fortunately her family lives in Bradenton so they weren’t forced into a cheap motel.
With the exception of a 15 mile section of the Rim Route around the eastern and southern edge of Lake Okeechobee I couldn’t traverse because a swing bridge with just 11 feet of vertical clearance was being worked on and couldn’t open, until I get to the Saint Johns is back tracking over ground I’ve already covered.
I’ll be able to do that part of the Rim Route now that my mast is down and my air draft is a hair over 7 feet. I can sneak under it now. I might have to open the Fort Denaud swing bridge on the land cut section of the waterway. It has vertical clearance of only 9 feet. But I snuck under the 9-foot bridge at Blackburn point on my way too and from my last trip to Cayo Costa. Other than that I don’t think I’ll have to open any bridges.
I took my mast down three years ago when Hurricane Irma was set to roll over us here on the island. I decided not to put it back up for a couple of reasons. One is that on my 600 mile journey from Lauderdale to Carrabelle and back to Anna Maria I didn’t have the sails up but, perhaps a half dozen times. Then, with my COPD, raising the damned things left me tuckered out, and my arthritic fingers made the job painful. Since I’d done practically the whole trip under power I just decided to use the boat as a “terminal trawler.”
All along the Indian River there are dozens of spoil islands where I can spend the night. Many of them are set up with picnic tables and charcoal grilling facilities. I’m looking forward to that section of the trip.
There will be days when I won’t travel at all because of weather. I’m not going to be spending my time plowing through a rainy day. And since it’s winter there will be cold fronts passing through every couple of weeks that will keep me holed up somewhere. On the first trip I spent almost a month anchored in the Suwannee River waiting on the weather. A couple of weeks in each direction.
I also avoid travel on weekends. That’s when all the amateurs are out and many of them believe the boat is incapable of moving if they don’t have an alcoholic beverage in their hands. Better to drop anchor in some peaceful gunkhole Friday afternoon and wait until Monday before continuing on.
I love the planning of a trip. I use a program called Pro Charts on my iPad for plotting routes. Coupled with my small GPS receiver via Bluetooth it acts as a plot charter while underway giving me information such as speed, courses to steer, time to destination, etc.
I also rely on a site called Waterway Guide. This is indispensable. It shows where there are free anchorages and docks. Marinas if you want them, bridges and, most importantly, places along the way to refuel.
There are things to get done before hoisting the hook and I think I’ll wait until Christmas is over and the new year begun before heading out. Should pull into the new home port sometime in the middle of February.
This is the route I’ll be taking…