Tales from Geezer Boatworks

by Paul Browne
Geezer Boatworks

The Pelican Pete Stories
Part III – Seasoned Voyageurs

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 Upper Class

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 better way.