Tuesday 09 JAN 2018 – Melbourne, FL
This morning we get together some gear put on our good attitudes and go for an epic trek in the hinterlands of Melbourne. We have, through the mighty powers of google, divined the presence of a used bookstore in a far off district. For the three and a half mile journey we pass through lands rarely crossed by human foot. Cars are the primary visitors, or were anyway. Most of the walk is through an, old, and generally now defunct, commercial strip. There are local stores, many boarded up, surrounded by patches of cracked asphalt parking lots and, at times, gruff tufts of tropical overgrowth creeping in. Nothing here is like the strip of today with chain stores and ubiquitous fast food joints. Instead, this place comes from a time when words like franchise were yet to be conceived and sidewalks were assumed to be obsolete.
It’s a relief to finally get to the bookstore, but only for a minute. The air conditioning is a good contrast to the humidity building outside. Beyond that though, I am let down. The store is, as promised, quite large, but it’s the selection that is disappointing. About a third of the collection is fiction, but mostly uninteresting romance and crime drivel. Even the cookbooks are a letdown. The cookbooks! Ugh. We find a section in the way back by the bathroom that has one very small shelf with some stuff, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News is there, which Glenn gets, along with Shackleton’s South: The Endurance Expedition. Other than that, we find nothing.
Since we are now in this part of town, we walk the extra mile to get to Walmart where we pick up some supplementary groceries. This was not a planned stop, but works out well for our dinner tonight. We get a Lyft home with Michael, an autistic, extremely Christian, John Tesh aficionado, professional (not college) football lover, father of three daughters (one of whom is also autistic) with his second wife, who is originally from Ohio but has lived in Melbourne for the past fifteen years.
Wednesday 10 JAN 2018 – Melbourne, FL
Ava and I spend most of the day at Starbuck’s on our computers. Sometimes this is necessary to give you good people something to read. In the afternoon we stop by the Waterline for our final showers. This is the only marina that has let us use their facilities for free. On our way back, we stop by Patrick’s to say goodbye. He invites us over for a drink with his sleighbors (slip neighbors) Patti and Dean of the boat Born to Run. Not wanting the evening to end, we then invite Patrick back to our boat for a goodbye jerk chicken dinner. Not to be confused with a goodbye, jerk chicken dinner. It turned into a rather late and fun night, even though I think I talked too much.
Thursday 11 JAN 2018 – Barker Island, Indian River, FL
We wake up leisurely, haul in the dinghy, pull up the anchor, and leave at about 9AM. We motor on the ICW. Our trip distance is relatively short, 30 miles, but our pace is painfully slow because we are dragging a giant channel whale and don’t realize it. Just kidding, it’s because of a strong headwind and it sucked. We arrive at Barker Island on the Indian River at about 5PM. We anchor the boat in a part of the river that expands away a bit more deeply from the ICW channel. This river like so many through which the ICW travels is very shallow. The west side of the river is really part land, with patches of tall grasses making up a vast marshy fields that extend into the distance. This landscape is so alive. There’s a large variety of insects and fish and some dolphins, and many, many birds, some species which I don’t know, some that I do, including, once in a while, a bald eagle. The east side of the river is people populated. That’s where Barker Island is with its multi-million dollar Neo-classical Jeffersonian houses, with their tasteful lots, luscious swimming pools, and of course,
expensive expansive views of an unspoiled landscape.
Friday 12 JAN 2018 – Fort Pierce, FL
Today’s trip to Fort Pierce is very short, 16 miles, but we leave early in order to get anchored and positioned for a low that will be dragging through in the early afternoon. We are anchored by 1PM and, as predicted, a strong thunderstorm passes through about an hour later. We stay sealed up eating warm pita with hummus and reading books. In the evening, despite the earlier hummus, I get a craving for and make fried chickpeas. The flavor unexpectedly makes me nostalgic. When we were both living in Ann Arbor and in need of dose of chatty companionship, my friend Amy and I would sneak away, meet up at a corner table at a local eatery and order a bottle of pro secco with a plate of fried chickpeas. I had never had them before Amy, and I have never had them with anyone else. So, fried chickpeas have only one association for me, Amy. As I fry the tiny nuggets I let myself miss her painfully for the first time in a long while. I wonder how her new job and new life is going. I wonder how her girl is and what it’s like being a single parent. I really need to write to you, Amy, I think to myself. Amy moved this summer while I was getting on this boat. Because of this, I haven’t really felt her absence. Out here, all of my friends are absent. I know when I get back though, her goneness will finally, finally be real and I am dreading it.
Then we watch David Letterman’s new Netflix show. He interviews Barack Obama for about an hour. I cry for about an hour.
Saturday 13 JAN 2018 – Palm Beach, FL
We have about an hour this morning between waking up and departing. We are waiting, along with dozens of sporty fisherpeople and sailors, for the tide to turn so we can exit out into the ocean. We have been anticipating this return the entire length of Florida. I am nervous. I get out of bed. I stand in the galley. To nurse a tiny hang over I make toast for breakfast. I light the broiler on our little oven and out in the bread slice. Side one, left half; slide; side one, right half; flip; side two, left half; slide; side two, right half. Done. Butter. Eat. Dress. Haul anchor. Motor. Hoist sails. Exit.
Reunited and it feels so good. As soon as we can, we take a right turn, aim south, and click onto our course. Autopilot on. The wind is less strong than we hoped but we are moving. The swell periodically comes from port, under us, and out to shore. It’s small and slow, our ride silky. For a while, before we concede to use the engine to add speed, we glide easily along. The early morning winter sun gets only to the tips of the water’s tiny ripples. The extra light coming off the water flickers in my eyes. I will eventually break and go below for sunglasses but for now I half-stare at the water trying to simply be present.
It’s the color that wakes me up. Hey, the color of the water is new here. I have been living atop this surface of blue for seven months and I haven’t noticed it. Not really. I mean, I see it changing every day because every day it changes. Like the sky, like the light, like the faces of the people I live with, I see things anew constantly. But today’s color has jumped borders. It has gone from dark navy to dark turquoise, from military to Native American gem. It has gone from American to French. It has gone too far. When I used to design things that were really big I became obsessed with the possibility of a rousing. I imagined a drifty visitor in a space of my conjuring inured slowly by my methodical lullabies. A space, for example, that darkened so gradually one wouldn’t feel the depth of darkness about them until the punctum of a shard of light broke through, exactly when I commanded. “Oh,” the visitor would shudder, “I am here. I am alive.” “Yes,” I would say, “you are,” It wasn’t until I had a baby that I more fully understood the pleasures of putting someone to sleep without wanting to wake them up.
In the late afternoon as the sun gets low, we get in line again, this time seeking to ride the tide into the hectic Palm Beach inlet. I am at the helm. Glenn pulls down the main as Ava feeds out the halyard. We ride between large, fancy power yachts and speedy fishing trawlers. We are small and slow here. At the end of the inlet we take a left turn across traffic. We motor for a short while passing fields of private moorings. We find a perfect spot with a lot of room in front of the Palm Beach Sailing Club. Drop hook. Beer.
Tuesday 16 JAN 2018 – Palm Beach, FL
We have been tucked away on the boat since arriving on Saturday because the past two days have been wild with winds. Rather than fight them with our dinghy, we hibernated. As this year moves on, my tolerance for tiny spaces only increases. At the beginning of this trip I would have thought it impossible to stay in such a small space for days on end, particularly when not sailing. When we are underway, there is work to be done, and the vastness of the ocean, or even a river, becomes one’s limitless environment. When anchored, however, we tend to be mostly indoors which is, even with our wide beam, tiny by most standards. And still it’s fine. We don’t need more space, the three of us. It’s a revelation to understand this. We don’t argue or get frustrated. I mean, more than usual. We spend our days buried in books, we cook, I knit, Ava does school work, Glenn plays the guitar and later might work on the boat, we watch movies, we even talk once in a while. And it’s fine. Why do people make such large spaces, I wonder.
This morning we do finally get a chance to get off the boat and mostly because we want to exercise, we head to land. We dock the dinghy at the Palm Beach Sailing Club, where we buy services for a week for $84. This includes showers, our first stop, naturally. Services at this club include a very welcoming invitation to use the facilities as if we are members. This means we can hang out and use the wifi, go to the bar, and even attend the party that’s being held Friday night. It does not, unfortunately, mean we can do laundry, since they don’t have it.
Then we head out. We walk a bit over a mile to the Northwood neighborhood, an area here in West Palm Beach that appears to be undergoing a gentrifying process of being turned into an “arts district.” Why do cities always create arts districts as revitalization projects? Maybe if they had maintained budgets for the arts in the first place, they wouldn’t have to revive these areas. Besides, it all feels a bit formulaic now, having seen a number of cities using similar strategies. Nevertheless, I like this area of the city a lot. The transformation seems less harsh than in other cities, this district still feels affordable. Perhaps it’s because the plans are not complete, but I am hoping that it is strategic. Our first stop is a coffee place, Harold’s, a small, half indoors half out spot, with mismatched midcentury furnishings and arty murals on the walls. We charge up our computers and do a little work while sipping on teas. I always seek out these little local spots for coffee because it tends to feel like a place where the young (?) entrepreneurs of a neighborhood are making a go of it. Glenn does the same, but with beer. It’s one of the primary, and most enjoyable, ways we get to know a town. When we get hungry for lunch, we grab some pizza a couple of blocks away at a cheap place Glenn knows about. He lived here for a month two summers ago when he was working on the boat.
We have a plan to go to the grocery store. We are pretty low on food right now, but we are not ready to end our day in the city yet. Instead we head over to Clematis Street, the touristy area with a lot of bars and restaurants and a Design Completely Out of Your Within Reach store, which we peruse at Ava’s encouragement. We grab a drink at the Mexican place on the shady side of the street, the place where they make the guacamole right at you table. Glenn will later say, “I don’t get why they do that,” and Ava will have to explain the pleasures of watching someone make food in front of you.
We head to the water’s edge then. At the end of Clematis is a park and directly off, in the water, is a popular anchorage. It’s a nice place to anchor because it’s right in the heart of the city and it has well-maintained docks, but there are no bathing facilities here, so we decide to stay where we are. We take a left turn and walk along the esplanade past a large, fancy marina. This place is mostly for very large motor yachts, the kind Goldfinger owns (is he still alive?) Along its docks the people we see seem to be workers not owners. Because the people who own these boats, larger than our family home, also own even larger homes, and are therefore hardly ever come here. Amazing.
At the end we take a right turn onto Flagler Memorial Bridge. We cross into Palm Beach arriving on axis with a street lined with reedy tall palm trees. The atmosphere here immediately feels a tiny bit tonier. We enter a bookshop meant to have a good collection of architecture books, which it does though they are of a taste more ornate than mine. As we look around I also notice a number of anti-Trump books. I let my guard down a little here in Mar-a-Lago country. In walk a finely dressed couple of ladies, one of whom loudly declares that she is here to pick up her order for the book Fire and Fury. They have a tall stack in the back, I can see it, but apparently this is the only store in Palm Beach that is carrying it. The lady seems to think the other places are sold out because “everybody hates him.” I, however, wonder if the other places ever even carried the book.
Our last stop is Publix where we get a good amount of groceries. We get a Lyft home with Leo, who’s been living in Palm Beach for the last fifteen years but before that in Miami and before that he won’t say because he’s busy worrying about the way that Lyft works and quizzing us on whether we know what TMI stands for.