The Pelican Pete Stories
Part III – Seasoned Voyageurs
time I wrote you, we had barely escaped from an
encounter with unfriendly natives. Here’s what happened
next in our cruise around Florida:
Pete Learns about Barnacles
We had been on the move or on
the hook for a few days. It was time to get ashore for a bit.
It was close to supper time, when a marina with a waterfront
bar and restaurant came into view. We could see folks eating
and drinking beer, hear them talking loudly and laughing. Even
though the wind was onshore, I swear we could smell the barbecued
ribs upwind across the water. It was too much to bear. The rudder
went hard right, and we pulled in. There was a narrow channel
along side a long fuel dock, leading into slips protected by
a breakwater. The dockmaster was attending a marine patrol boat
at the fuel dock. There was another boat there too. It looked
like the local water cop was giving him a rough time. I waved
to the marine patrol, and he sort of gave a little grimace and
a mini-wave. But then he caught himself, put his thumbs behind
his belt. Tough guy. On the way by, I asked the dockmaster where
we could tie up for the restaurant. "Back there",
he said, pointing upwind. I swung the boat to port and started
backing and filling in the narrow channel. But the wind grabbed
us and pushed us towards the entrance to the marina. I was resigned
to the embarrassment of going through the entrance sideways,
but before I knew it we were close to the breakwater and Pete
had jumped ship with a dock line in hand. Problem was, he hadn't
secured one end to the boat.
Well, Pete looked at the dock
line; I looked at him; the folks in the restaurant looked at
us; and while we were all looking, the bow of the boat caught
the corner of the breakwater, spinning the General neatly so
he pointed where we wanted to go. It was pretty hard not to
see the humor in it. I pushed the engine into gear, whipped
a tissue out of my pocket and waved goodbye to Pete, leaving
the poor guy standing there with his bare face hanging in the
wind. I headed for the fuel dock laughing, figuring Pete would
have to walk all the way around the breakwater and meet me at
the restaurant. Not Pelican Pete, that wasn't his style. I heard
a great splash and then a tremendous cheer from the restaurant.
I turned around and there was Pete, swimming across the channel,
holding his shoes, his clothes, and the dock line out of the
water with one hand. He tossed his clothes up onto the boat,
and made for a ladder on the dock. "Not there Pete!"
I hollered, but it was too late, Shipmates. He was standing
on deck. His feet were bleeding.
Boy, did I ever feel like two
cents worth of cat meat. Barnacles had sliced him good. We cleaned
up the wounds, poured bleach over them - that's all we had for
a disinfectant - and stuck Band-Aids all over his feet. The
dockmaster came to help us tie up. "You all Canadian?"
he asked. We nodded. "I knew it. When you jumped in the
water, the marine patrol looked at me and said, "Must be
Canadians."” And with that the dockmaster went off
to fiddle with his fuel hose. Pete and I climbed up to the dock.
"Funny guy eh?" said Pete. "Yeah, a bit strange
eh," I said. "I wonder how they knew we were Canadians,"
mused Pete. "I dunno,” I said, “Let's go eat,
eh. I'm hungry. Wait till you taste southern barbecued ribs,
Pete. They're great." And we hobbled off together towards
the restaurant, where we were greeted with more applause. Pete
never mentioned his feet for the rest of the trip.
Hobnobbing with the
There are lots and lots of big
boats in Florida, especially around the larger cities, like
Miami and Palm Beach. Folks with too much money, if you ask
me, not that anybody ever does. Anyway, when we turned west
into the St Lucie canal, Pete and I got a chance to meet some
of them. Let me see now, we ran into the rudest, most ignorant,
most lubberly stinkpot driver who ever disgraced Florida waterways.
He was dragging the biggest wake I've ever seen behind his 50
foot gin palace. Must have been a good seven foot wake. In contrast
to that disgusting display of despicable manners, we were invited
to raft up to a magnificent motor cruiser at a town dock, and
us with our mildewed bimini and chipped up paint. Most of that
dock was occupied by a forty foot sailboat, in spite of a sign
specifying docking stern or bow to only. Once I met a fellow
“yachtsman” when I was busy with my regular morning
ablution, a procedure that involved me shirtless over a bucket
of soapy water, and considerable splashing and sputtering aft
of the cockpit. I looked up from under a towel and there he
was, about six feet above me, standing on the foredeck of his
gold-plated yacht, holding onto the lifelines, and gliding slowly
past us in stately splendor. I'm not sure, but I think he actually
wore a blazer and a captain’s hat. "Gidday,"
I said, "Fine morning." "Hello," he answered,
"Where are you headed?" What makes me think he would
have changed places for a while, given an opportunity? Did his
interest in us and our boat actually give that impression? Or
am I suffering from a certain reverse snobbishness? Was the
fellow really wondering if I had fallen out of a space-time
wormhole and landed in the St. Lucie canal? If you cruise a
small, slow, salty boat around Florida, you'll have lots of
opportunities to ask similar questions. I suppose if you're
interested, you might even find some answers.
The Dreaded Lake Okeechobee
The locks on the St. Lucie canal
are different. They don’t have the usual buried valve
to fill the lock. So Pete and I found ourselves inside the lock,
hovering behind this monster stinkpot, when the gates actually
started to open, and the water simply poured in from Lake Okeechobee.
Quite a trick, but it was sort of eerie to sit in the boat,
look ahead and see the top of the lake at eyeball level. Soon
enough however, the levels equalized, and the lock gates swung
open wide. Pete and I gazed upon the big lake spread out before
us. Sure enough, the wind was building from the west, and there
was a chop on. There was no place to anchor or dock on that
side of the lock, and we were running out of daylight, so I
pointed the General's bow towards the aptly named town of Pahokee,
the southernmost point on our trip. We'd take the more sheltered
peripheral route across the lake, but first we had to traverse
an open section to Pahokee.
We pulled into harbor none too
soon, just as the wind was starting to howl. And it was at Pahokee
marina that Pete jumped ship. He was out of time, and I think
maybe just a little short of patience with the old man, although
he never allowed it to really show. The Resident Love Goddess
arrived to take his place for the voyage north along the west
coast. There are a few good stories to tell about that part
of the voyage too, including our struggle with the dreaded Lake
Okeechobee. But that's for another day. These stories are about
the trip Pelican Pete and I made a while ago, and that's enough
for now. I suppose I started the cruise figuring I'd show the
young lad a thing or two. But actually he showed me a thing
or two, things I was glad to see.
So what will it be Shipmates?
Will we rise with the morning light? And through the open scuttle
will we hear the dolphins' breath blowing water droplets skyward
around the boat? Smile because we know that they’re making
underwater whoopee at dawn. Smell the sulfur from the match,
then the primitive scents of hickory smoked bacon, slightly
burnt toast, and coffee percolating gaily. A breakfast juggled
skillfully over two burners and two knees. Will we remember
our grandfathers doing the same when they were alive? Sit out
on the still wet deck, feeling the first rays of the sun chasing
the damp chill from our clothes.
Later will we crank the little
diesel into life, wish our hands were harder as we pull the
wet rode? Will we feel alive, just a little apprehensive, poking
our noses around the point into the building chop? Plot the
course, trust the compass, guess the current, grin when a speck
appears way out there. It could be the marker - now we're pretty
sure, and we're heading right for it. Around the marker, no
more smashing into it now, no more ducking spray. Now it's a
sweet downhill run. See the waves loom behind you. Feel the
stern lift so easily, always just in time. Hear the bow wave
hiss and the engine speed pulse slightly. Three hours and we'll
be home free behind that island. Then it's a snug anchorage,
a good supper, maybe a little rum and coke and a game of cribbage
under the kerosene lantern. A whole 50 miles made good today.
Dry bunks and sound sleep under rough blankets.
These blatherings have
been about my son and me, but they could have been about your
son and you, and that’s why I wrote them. You know, it
doesn't matter too much whether you enjoy yourselves all the
time. You need a little adversity to make an adventure. Not
too much, you don't want to threaten life or limb. But it won't
work if you try it in an overpowered gin palace equipped with
all body-softening modern conveniences. Shakespeare said it,
"Sweet are the uses of adversity." And it doesn't
hurt to have a clearly defined goal that you can strive for.
What could be clearer than to physically get from point A to
point B? So if you want to know what your son is really like,
take him poking around the coast in a small boat. There's no