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by Dan and Jan Ahart
While we were anchored in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, we stayed busy with modifications to Sojourner that included removing a bunk from the small bedroom on the aft, port side and constructing a workbench with storage under it. This was a project we had talked about even before we purchased Sojourner and we were very anxious to get on with the work. The result was very satisfactory. It may seem odd to the non-cruiser that we would want a work bench, but boats this size are so complicated with all the wiring, plumbing, two propulsion engines, one generator engine, ten batteries, four radios, one radar, and assorted antennas, three propane tanks, a water heater and stove to maintain, that a great many spare parts and tools must be kept at hand. To emphasize this point, we were talking to a fellow cruiser one day and she said she was appalled when she and her husband first began cruising because he wanted to take so many tools. Now, she said, she has completely changed her mind and carries only four changes of clothes to make room for extra tools and she would be willing to sleep with the tools if necessary to make more room.
Fortunately, our boat is much bigger than theirs and we can carry more than four changes of clothes. The workbench is 74 inches long and 27 inches wide. There is ample room for a vise, grinder, lots of hand tools and plenty of room to lay out parts for cleaning or repair. Underneath the bench we have storage for two six gallon plastic water containers for emergencies, a sewing machine, hand held vacuum cleaner, five large plastic bins for storage of spare parts ranging from fan belts, oil filters, air filters, pump rebuild kits, tubing and plumbing parts of all sizes, various sized clamps, spare water pumps for the engines, saws of various sizes, extension cords, spare lines of various types, ten plastic containers full of screws, nuts, bolts, washers and spacers of various sizes, sail mending tools and spare sail cloth, and even spare cutlass bearings (for the propeller shafts), and last but not least, two large tool boxes for larger tools. We also have shelves full of paints, solvents, glues, lubricants and sealers of various types, electric fittings of various types, fuses, spare light bulbs, batteries, spare electric motors, electric drills and fiberglass repair supplies. A lot of stuff admittedly, but it makes us pretty self reliant and that translates to safety. Not a small consideration on a boat.
We spent a lot of time talking to people in and around the harbor comparing notes about where we had been and where we intended to go next. First hand knowledge of safe harbors, good cruising grounds, interesting places to visit, how to handle customs and emigration in various countries and even the best time of the year to sail is all invaluable information that cruisers are willing to share with each other. In a harbor town like Marathon, one meets cruisers everywhere. We were in the local Home Depot one day and a gentleman asked where we were cruising. He noted that I was wearing a beard and a backpack - an easy tip-off that we were cruisers with no land transportation other than our feet. We had a very nice conversation. It seemed that he and his wife had recently returned from Cuba. I'm not sure we are ready for Cuba, but his personal knowledge was fascinating. And the fact that he shared his information so freely was very much appreciated. Certain clothing invites conversation from strangers. I always get a comment from someone, when I wear my Blue Bell Ice Cream tee shirt.
One of the more interesting people we met at Marathon was the unofficial greeter better known as "waterman" so named because he cruises the harbor in a specially designed boat selling water and delivering items to boaters at anchor. For a dollar a day fee, he will also watch boats for cruisers who must absent their boats for some period of time. His services are much appreciated by all the cruisers and he is quite a character to talk with. He brought us a paper each Sunday and we used the occasion to visit for a while. No one gets in a hurry in Boot Key Harbor! Waterman has been in Marathon for the last twenty years, married and divorced three times and has an opinion on everything. He lives in the harbor aboard a small sailboat, whether by choice or by financial necessity as a result of three marriages, we didn't ask. It turned out that he also publishes a surprisingly literate monthly newsletter for cruisers and could provide information on just about any subject with respect to the history of Marathon as well as past and current notables. He was also a candidate for the new Marathon city council. At the time we were talking politics with Waterman, I was in the midst of reading the Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) and couldn't help sharing a quote from that publication with Waterman. "…it may be discovered that there are even magistrates in town and country, who should be taught to shake hands every day with common-sense and Justice…" We all got a laugh courtesy of Mr. Dickens. Waterman probably had too much of both suggestions to be a successful politician. And besides, we didn't think he was very comfortable on the hustings because he complained vociferously about the need to talk to groups such as the local civic clubs and tell them what he had in mind if elected. We gathered his patience was not the equal of his opinions. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with him each week.
I think I mentioned before that there were about 200 plus boats anchored in Boot Key Harbor. About one third were occupied by liveaboards, like Waterman, who earned a living in and around the harbor. Some liveaboards were couples, but most were single men although we did meet a few single women. One woman in particular was very interesting. We met her at the Laundromat. She was a nurse, working at the local hospital, plus she was a Ham radio enthusiast, experienced sailor and had been to the Bahamas twice, so we had a lot to talk about. Her life style involved working only long enough to finance another voyage. As a nurse, she had no difficulty finding employment wherever she went. Another interesting person was a retired schoolteacher and widower, who loved living on his boat in the harbor because it was so "romantic." He felt he had everything he needed within walking distance of the dinghy dock, which included shopping, restaurants, library, hospital and of course the lounge at the marina where he could visit other people by the hour. A common thread of friendliness and interest in others but at the same time a strong desire for simplicity and privacy seems to be apparent in cruisers and liveaboards. of the boaters in the harbor had to have a dinghy to get to shore. Some were inflatables like ours, some were foldable and a few were rigid hull. The vast majority of which, were equipped with a small five to ten horsepower outboard, but a few stalwarts rowed around the harbor. Some boaters really take simplicity to the extreme. A lot of boaters have pets, the most popular being dogs of various types. Some have dogs for companionship, in which case the dog is usually small, but some keep German Shepherds for protection and warning of intruders. Having a dog means that the animal must be taken ashore periodically. Consequently, many dinghys are seen motoring around with a dog aboard. We have observed that all dogs sit in the front of the dinghy. Apparently dogs are not the least concerned with where they have been, but express keen interest in where they are going. Or they just like the wind in their muzzles. Either way, they also seem to know that looking good is important and thus they strike a pose of exploration and confidence at all times.
Let me close by sharing an absolutely priceless quote to which all sailors can relate. The language may seem a bit esoteric to you non-sailors, but give it a try and picture yourself on a sailing ship as you read it:
"If the ship be on the starboard Tack, close hauled, her Head North, of course the Wind E.N.E., the Water tolerable smooth, and it be thought necessary to put about and stand on the larboard Tack, everything being ready before: the first precaution is (as indeed it should be at all times in steering by the Wind), to have her so suited with Sail as nearly to steer herself, with little assistance from the Rudder; by which management her way will be more powerful through the Water; she will be brought to the wind with a small Helm… and probably not have any Stern-way through the whole Rotation…"Isn't that wonderful! Those instructions are from The Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor, by Darcy Lever, Esq., second edition, 1819, written for the British Royal Navy. Every word of it is as applicable today as it was when Mr. Lever wrote it 180 years ago, and we sailors still strive to turn a sailboat as efficiently as he describes.
I know what your thinking, ol' Dan has too much time on his hands and has gone off the deep end if he
thinks that Darcy Lever quote is wonderful. Perhaps you may be correct,
but you must understand that entertainment is all around us all the time; it
is just a different selection of topics while living on a boat. Mostly, we enjoy
reading and visiting with other people. But, we also try to visit the local
tourist attractions and historical sites because we enjoy learning about
what's around us. of other people and tourist stops, we visited the local
nature preserve and park one day. Among the usual aquariums, dioramas
and nature trail, was an iguana cage with a male and female iguana on
display. Outside the cage was a stray male iguana that wanted very badly
to visit the female iguana inside the cage. His efforts resulted only in
damage to himself as he periodically clawed and bit at the cage. His
name, don't you know - was Wild Willie. Stay tuned.