Title shot: The famous Flagler Frog Fountain in St. Augustine. Sadly, we once again have alternative title shots that I didn't use but can't bear to discard.

December 14, 2006
A somewhat rainy day was spent sleeping late, then riding the free bus down to the Library and the playground. We hit Subway and Publix on the way home to complete our busy, busy day. Did I spend my free time today finishing a new essay which describes how easy cruisers have it these days? Did I work on the mystery-suspense cruising novel, The Crossing, that Annie is supposed to be co-writing with me? Alas, I fear I did not.

December 16, 2006
The day was rainy and we never even left the boat. Laura did some schoolwork and watched the Crocodile Hunter movie, Annie read and started writing an essay, and later we made brownies. Today I finally started work on The Crossing, a project which has been slow to start, perhaps for good reason. At the risk of whipping the public into a frenzy of anticipation, here is an excerpt:

Out here he was connected to the real world, or at least he wasn't disconnected, and he couldn't explain it any better than that. In his previous life--and that’s what it seemed to him, a previous existence, as if he had suddenly been reincarnated when he untied those dock lines for the last time and set off for the islands--he had disconnected regularly. He would be going about his business, taking a phone call at the office or driving in traffic or just standing in the shower, and he would suddenly feel like his entire life was just a dream, so ridiculous that it couldn't be real. He wanted to open his eyes, wake up, but his eyes were already open, so the logical course of action was to close them and of course that didn't help, particularly if he was driving.
In the novel, a sinister plot is afoot to sabotage cruisers heading south for the winter, using crab pots, clogged fuel filters, lost dinghy oars, all the dirty tricks. Why? We don't know yet, although Annie is hinting that it has something to do with winning the sand sculpture contest at the George Town Cruiser's Regatta. In the movie version, all the male leading roles will be filled by actors who played James Bond, including Sean Connery as a jewel thief turned cruiser, Roger Moore, Remington Steele, Rowan Atkinson, and those other guys, too. Since this is a work in progress, we really don't know much more at this point and plot details may change, but we are definite on the James Bond thing.

Laura and friend fun neighbors fun neighbors

Photos: (1) Laura has loved being rafted up to another boat with kids. (2) Nothing beats friendly neighbors. (3) Yesterday Chuck and Allie on Kairos had us over for an incredible spaghetti dinner. David Hurd was up for the weekend from Ft. Lauderdale and it was fun to see him again, too. During happy hour, we also got to meet Ken and Donna from the Bayfield ketch Second Wind, who we last saw in the Atlantic off Charleston.

December 18, 2006
Another exciting day in Vero beach. We worked on a leaky faucet, bought and installed a new 44 foot length of 1/8" wire for our SSB antenna, and went shopping at Big Box Mart with a jog over to Best Buy to search for a battery charger for our video camera. Hard to believe there are just six shopping days until Christmas! I wish Santa would bring me a new 120 watt solar panel. I looked at our panel that was damaged in St. Augustine and decided it can't be easily repaired. Looks like the glass that is shattered across the entire panel can't be replaced since it is glued down.

Our plan is to leave the boat in Stuart for a few days and drive up to Mississippi to visit Annie's family for Christmas. Our friend and well known adventurer Beth Elliott from Chattanooga has a sister Barbara who lives in Stuart and has a dock available. We're looking forward to meeting Barbara and Bruce and thanking them in person for this wonderful Christmas gift.

In Beth's honor, I have revised the amazing story of what is perhaps her most famous adventure, Beth in a Tree.

Laura writes: "Yesterday I saw a dead turtle at the beach. Last night I painted a cat." Indeed, there was a good sized loggerhead turtle on the beach being measured by a biologist when we strolled by.

Vero Moorings Vero Sunset

Photos: (1) A few boats are solo on the moorings, but most are rafted up. (2) We're at the end of the mooring field near the bridge, and despite a little noise at night from the Riverside Cafe down the way, it's quite a nice spot.

December 20, 2006
We left Vero Beach in good spirits after a helpful marina employee assisted us with refueling, watering, and pumping out at the marina docks. I even gave him a small tip (a common practice for some, very rare for me). We motored about a dozen miles down to Ft. Pierce, where Living Well was riding at anchor. Since we'd missed seeing them in Charleston, we decided to stop for the night and visit. The anchorage here is just past the lift bridge and a bit exposed, but no worse than Cocoa and many other spots we've stopped.

We attempted to dinghy into Harbortown Marina, where we had spent nine days last June, but were driven back by a most unfriendly dockmaster. Here's the text of a letter I will send to Harbortown and forward to the various cruiser websites:

My family and I were disappointed today when we took our dinghy into Harbortown Marina and were told, in most unfriendly terms, that we could not come ashore there. We were met at the dock by an unsmiling marina employee whose greeting to us consisted of saying, "This is private property." He did not ask us if we intended to patronize the restaurant or make a purchase; he did not volunteer any ideas on where else we might land our dinghy; he did not explain why or when the marina’s policies had changed.

I found this experience very unsettling since I had previously held a high opinion of Harbortown in Ft. Pierce. Last June we stayed in the marina for over a week, plus additional time out of the water with Indian River Boatworks. I had complimented the marina on my website (see final entry at www.stationr.org/051806.htm) and recommended it to others.

I appreciate that transient dinghies can create congestion at marina docks and would have asked permission before using the dock. I don't mind paying a reasonable fee to use a marina’s docks but apparently that is not even an option at Harbortown. Most of all, I can't understand how a service business like a marina can hope to prosper when it greets prospective customers with the words, "This is private property." I don't believe my wife, my seven year old daughter and I look like "boat bums," and I don't appreciate being treated like one.

During our last visit to Ft. Pierce my family spent well over $3,000 for marina and yard fees, car rental, restaurants, groceries, and other shopping. On this visit the grand total will be zero; we will wait to do our shopping and spending in a more boater-friendly town. I'm reasonably sure we could have found someplace else to tie our dinghy while we went ashore to shop and eat, but I had such a bad taste in my mouth that I will go out of my way to avoid Harbortown and Ft. Pierce in the future, while spreading the word to others to do the same.

Has cruising mellowed me out completely? Apparently not.

December 21, 2006
We had a fabulous dinner yesterday night on Living Well, where of course Steve and I groused about the Harbortown situation. We left early this morning and motored south into the 20-25 knot winds that had been rocking the boat all night down to the St. Lucie River, up the river another five miles to Stuart. When we got there the railroad bridge was down and as I sat there half asleep, I started wondering if getting up early was not going to pay off. Fortunately, the bridge opened fifteen minutes later and we squeezed through even as the warning bells were sounding that another train was coming.

We made our way into a narrow canal lined with boats to what I am now calling the Hotel Osborn Resort. Friendly people, great food, a beautiful home in which every room is less than ten steps away from the pool...Barbara and Bruce have it all. Bruce told me (over the phone, since he is in California at the moment) that he admired us for leaving it all behind and going cruising. I told him that if I had a home like his, I probably wouldn't have gone.

Steve G Pig Osborn Dock

Photos: (1) Steve demonstrates how the Harbortown dockmaster came at him. Okay, actually he's just cooking. (2) There are 11 Guinea Pigs living at the Osborn residence. (3) The boat is taking it easy at the Hotel Osborn dock. She doesn't even have to float, except at high tide.

December 27, 2006
What an amazing Christmas we have enjoyed! On Friday we drove fourteen hours to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where we stayed for three days with Annie's sister Rhonda and her husband Don. We had (for us) luxurious accommodations in their FEMA trailer, which fortunately had not yet been collected. Rhonda and Don's home was flooded with four feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, but you wouldn't know it now. We enjoyed lots of food, crowds of people, and of course one or two trips to Walmart. Sixteen months after Katrina, many of the businesses on Highway 90 are open and that side of town looks almost normal. If you drive down to the beach, the utter devastation is largely unchanged from what we saw a year ago, except that the road has been rebuilt and most of the debris have been hauled away.

We got back to the Osborn's house yesterday evening to find that Gary and Teri on Ishi, an Aloha 34, were docked alongside...as near alongside the dock as they could get with us in the way, that is. They had come from Baja California via the Panama Canal and spent last summer at the Rio Dulce in Guatamala. Gary is a talented musician who has done everything from piloting submersibles to teaching school. Teri is one of those people who makes you feel like an old friend after just a few minutes of conversation. Tonight Bruce and Barbara hosted another wonderful dinner for all of us with entertaining conversation and celebrity guests, including Curt Patterson, who often flies his hang glider at Lookout Mountain and knows many of the folks we used see there.

Christmas Eve Donald and Karen Hotel Osborn Yard

Photos: (1) Christmas Eve is one of Laura's favorite nights. (2) Laura got to meet our friends Donald Harville and wife Karen while we were "up north" on the Mississippi coast. (3) I love Barbara and Bruce's place. This is a view of the house from the dock.

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