Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Family Reunionz

The H.M.S. Turtle is a bit
more secure on the high seas than Dragonfly.
Notice the sealed bow (where we have canvas
and screens).  That keeps big waves OUT!
Sunday was another idyllic day on the Okeechobee Waterway, and I want to tell you more about it. 

But first, fast forward, because the past two days have been jam-packed with exciting family reunions (and one TV appearance).  

(Meanwhile if you can't wait to know more about the area around Okeechobee, check out the photos HERE.)

The Waterway connects Fort Myers to Florida's east coast in the town of Stuart (about an hour's drive north of Palm Beach).  We knew we HAD to stop in Stuart, because of a special resident we just had to see.

Backing up just a sec: Whenever we dock the Cap'n says, "Whoa! Look at all the canal boats!" JOKE!  There are hardly any canal boats in North America.  In fact, we estimate there are about 25 of the quirky vessels.

But in Stuart, there IS a canal boat!  Indeed, a canal boat constructed by Mid-Lakes Navigation, the same company that built our own dear Dragonfly.  

We got in touch with the Captain of the H.M.S. Turtle, Dick Harding, and Sunday evening, having been delayed en route by a lock that--unexpectedly--closed down for several hours, we finally groped our way, after dark, past the crab pots and mooring balls to the dock. Dick was there to grab our lines.
The Turtle is a thing of beauty. (Well, aren't ALL canal boats?)  But really.  At 12 ft. in the beam she feels incredibly roomy inside. Our boat had a former life as a rental boat on the Erie Canal; the Turtle is a custom boat, which Captain Harding had fitted out to his specifications. Now he lives aboard full-time, in a space that would make many apartment dwellers green with envy. 

The cleverly fitted woodwork gleams.  The built-in drawers and "lockers" (sailor speak for cupboards and closets) hide every convenience. At the stern, where we steer with a tiller, she has an actual, nautical wheel.  And the same adorable scalloped-canvas canopy. 

That was Family Reunion #1. On Monday, Family Reunion #2: We were boarded by the Berger Girlz, my darling aunties, Marilyn Willner and Sheila Brandow, who live not too far away and (having some nautical experience themselves) wanted to experience the boat. Marilyn declared "I could live here!" and we expect her to stow away in a locker in the very near future.

And then Tuesday, Family Reunion #3: My Chicago bro's in-laws, Janet and Bob Cohen (also Florida residents) bravely scampered along our narrow side decks to hop aboard. They're passionately interested in alternative energy technologies, and the conversation flew! 

We also chatted with folks from a local TV station on Tuesday.  Florida residents, check channel 12 news today and you might see a cute canal boat flash by on the screen.

CBS Channel 12 out of West Palm Beach dropped by for an interview.  
Tuesday afternoon, we cruised a short distance to drop anchor in a little cove called "Manatee Pocket."  Cap was in the engine room and Crew was at her laptop when the phone rang.  Tom Beardsley, a former Mid-Lakes guy, calling to say, "My son is at a restaurant in Florida, and he THINKS he is looking out the window at your boat!"

Sure enough, Captain Chris Beardsley and his first mate Tiffany were on shore.  Chris knows our boat well: He's piloted her! As a 15-year-old kid living in UpState New York, he used to help orient Mid-Lakes customers who were renting this very boat for the weekend.  

We dinghied over and traded stories for hours, about such topics of mutual interest as the joys of steering with a tiller and what to do in a lightning storm . . .  plus some new fun facts, like why you should avoid feeding your scrap food to sharks.

All of which this couple know a lot about, given their occupation.  Chris's business card reads, "World Wide Yacht Deliveries."  He pilots big boats for owners who need them moved around the world.  Waves 25 feet high?  No problem!  Locking through the Panama Canal? Routine!

In fact, Chris's stories have given MY Cap a new goal in life.  Forget marine diesel mechanics.  Forget piloting towboats on the Mississippi.  Chris looks to be maybe 20-something-years-old, but the Cap wants to grow up to be just like him. 

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