Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Space Coast

We've been on the move since St. Augustine, making daily motor-sailing trips through Palm Coast, Titusville, Cocoa Beach, and, today, Melbourne to get to Vero Beach, which is within a reasonable driving distance to the Miami Airport, where I need to catch a flight in a few days.

This part of Florida is nicknamed the Space Coast because we are near Cape Canaveral. I will remember it more as the land of eye and ear exam office storefronts--and antique shops.

It seems that people around here are in the gentle process of losing things, or getting rid of things. That said, I can see why aging people choose to stay or come to this part of Florida: the light is just spectacular, the weather is easy, and there is community, like at this really great shuffleboard court, where a regional tournament was underway.

What's not to like? Especially when there are manatees hanging out in the local marinas!

Here's a slideshow of Titusville, my favorite of the Space Coast towns we've passed through.

Shopping with Gary

On our last full day in St. Augustine, we met up with our friend Gary from Manasquan, NJ--our first good samaritan and lifesaver, who had long beat us down to St. Augustine by car while we poked down the ICW. Gary took us to a colorful spot on Oyster Creek called Hurricane Patty's for lunch, where we caught him up on our travels, and he shared his special blend of funny anecdotes (MaryAnn versus Ginger comes to mind) and thoughtful suggestions/advice.

Then he drove us to one of his favorite shops, Sailor's Exchange, which, for anyone who is a packrat, a gearhead, a fixer-upper, a DIYer, or autistic, is absolute paradise. See for yourself.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

St. Augustine, FL--Day 1

Getting to Florida from NY a few days ago, after nearly two months, felt like a real arrival. Then I looked at the map again and noticed how freakishly long Florida is. In fact, its coastline is 1350 miles, versus California's 840 miles. (Granted, it's a peninsula.) We need to get to West Palm Beach or Miami before we head over to the Bahamas, and that is a long nautical distance away.

Luckily for us, Florida is a nice place. The light is golden and our hours on the ICW are lined with palm trees, dolphins, herons, egrets, and turtles.

We spent a few days in St. Augustine, the oldest continually-settled city in the U.S. We visited a fort on the water, Castillo de San Marcos National.

The fort has, since 1672, hosted Spanish, British, Confederate, and Union soldiers, plus "relocated" prisoners of war Western Plains Indians.


One might never know the homesickness and utter despair the POWs felt, but their drawings of the homeland and life they were taken from convey all that one needs to understand how inhumane "relocation" was.

After the fort, we rented bikes and explored the city, trying not to run into or get run over by the ubiquitous tourist-trollies.

We did see the Oldest House in St. Augustine, dating from around 1706.

And I went into the oldest schoolhouse in America, too! (Evan the truant skipped out.)

Naughty boys go here...
Highly entertaining animated wax-figure history lesson
Old schoolteachers
There were a couple more highlights of the day. The Mission Nombre de Dios was the first Catholic mission established in the U.S.

Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche
The grounds were beautiful. However, they also served to remind us that it's not just Christian fundamentalists who are vociferous in their anti-abortion vocalizations.

The last highlight of the day could probably be blamed for some of the sins that the Mission combats, but I liked its look nevertheless: a Howard Johnson motel that could have sprung from the pages of Nabokov's Lolita, with a famous, incredibly gigantic oak tree in the middle of its parking lot.

Here's the full slideshow...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Goodbye, Fernandina

We've moved on to Jacksonville, FL and are headed to St. Augustine, the oldest settled city in the US.  Til then, here are some more pics of our time in Fernandina Beach.

We walked to the beach then went in search of a certain bike rental shop. That walk, along what is surely the most desolate proof that the nation's housing bubble is *still* not over, at least in FL, felt like a 40-day desert test. No shade, no bench, no eye candy. If anything, every 500 feet, crappy and mcmansion-y houses were for sale, starting prices a hallucinogenic $700K.

But then we finally got there, signed the rental papers, and zipped off on an electric bike-scooter. The rest of the afternoon was fun in Fort Clinch State Park, where we ran around the fort (thankfully hands-off in its tourist philosophy) and then stalked armadillos and bobcats in the lush forest nearby.

Here's the full slideshow:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Hitchhiker Friend

Before we left Charleston, a young stranger approached the boat in the marina. He introduced himself and said that he was looking to crew on a sailboat going south. He had just come in from Virginia on a catamaran, but that boat had crew lined up for the next leg. Neither Evan nor I was inclined to invite a stranger to spend days and nights with us on the boat, helpful though it always is to have extra hands on deck. Apparently, this kind of arrangement is common enough, but we politely declined and set out on our second off-shore overnight trip.

Twenty-nine hours later, we'd motor-sailed 175 nautical miles (or 200 "statute" aka land miles) from Charleston, SC to Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, FL.

It was perfect weather for motor-sailing: very light wind, calm water with the occasional swell from a distant weather system. Evan and I listened to the soft hiss of the boat's wake spreading out ripples of quick-dying froth across the sea. The sound resembled a snake's hissing, its flickering tasting and smelling exploration of something unidentifiable in the air. We sailed past blooms of mushroom jellyfish that really did look like baby portabellas.

We saw at least four or five dolphins too, a few of which surfaced so close to the boat out of the blue that I yelped. They didn't hang out much after that, even though I apologized for the rude welcome.

Along with terns and pelicans, we noticed a small bird fluttering in crazy swoops. It was clearly not a seafaring bird--it looked like a swallow, or some other bird that should be hanging out in bushes and shrubs, hopping around on the ground for seeds or something. We worried that the poor thing was somehow lost and would just wear itself out if it didn't find someplace to land. It flew close to the boat a few times but didn't land, and we eventually outpaced it.

Lo and behold, not long before sunset, almost an hour after we first spotted it, the small swallow-like bird landed on the stern rail! Then it hopped onto the covered fender, which was easier to keep hold of than the slippery metal rail.

It explored that section of the cockpit before taking off in a mad flutter behind the boat, up into the sky, and then back onto the boat! This happened over and over again, each time its stay on the boat a little longer than the last. Finally, the bird hopped over to Evan and me and onto our feet, our knees, our arms. Even though it weighed no more than a couple of ounces, I could feel its weight where it perched on me. It flew away again.

Next time, it walked around us like we'd known each other since land--"hey, got anything to eat?"--and hung out on the floor of the cockpit, pecking at whatever uncleaned mess dwelled down there and the fresh water we'd put out. Then, as the sun went down, Otto (we named him after the seventh visit or so) hopped into the cabin and, after checking out different areas a couple times, settled down next to a wadded-up fleece blanket on the settee, and, puffing his feathers, went to sleep.

He stayed asleep the whole night, even with our comings and goings and the constant crackle of the radio. At first light, while I was napping, Otto woke up and paid Evan a visit in the cockpit, did a couple of his usual swoops off and on the boat, then didn't come back. We missed him during the day and hoped that the rest he'd had would at least give him some juice for the six mile flight back to land. Later in the afternoon, we were glad to hear a woman on the radio announce that a yellow-breasted bird had come into her cabin. I hope it was Otto!

Besides the excitement of making friends with Otto (who, as internet research reveals, was probably a female Carolina wren), Evan and I fell into a smooth rhythm for the night watch. Once the moon set a little bit before 9pm, we took turns standing watch, one person keeping an eye for other boats in the night, listening to the VHF radio, and monitoring the autopilot for deviations from our plotted course. We found it easy to stay awake during our turns at watch, easy to fall asleep when our turn was over, and easy to wake up on our own when it was time to switch. Thankfully, the night wasn't as cold as I'd feared, and I was warm and toasty in my layers. Also, my Kindle with its built-in cover light came in very handy for keeping me alert: every 5-7 minutes or so, I'd read a few pages, cover the light (to get back my night vision), scan the horizon, check the GPS, and resume reading, ears pricked for radio communication. It was fun.

Now we're on a mooring in Fernandina Beach, FL. The sun has just set, so I'm going to go to bed soon. My head feels like a cracked bronze bell that's been stuffed with wool and packed away in a dusty crate.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Charleston, or Beauty isn't Everything

Charleston is the equivalent of a very beautiful, lazy, spoiled heir who never worked a day in his whole life. The very beautiful and graceful mansions, homes, and churches in their charming alleys and streets attest to the leisure and privilege of colonists-turned-planter millionaires who owed their wealth to the exploitation of slave labor, or "enslaved people" (more on this below).

(After the Civil War, Charleston's wealth came from banking and the stock market. But it was still dirty money. After all, it takes money to grow money, and most of Charleston's money that went into banking was old planter money.)

So, as beautiful as the city is, I can't help but feel some revolt, like when I visited the Vatican several years ago. The Vatican was the richest and most opulent place I had ever seen--it made Versailles look like a barn in comparison--and the Sistine Chapel was indeed breathtaking. But it was also a gross display of the wealth that the Roman Catholic Church could only amass by manipulating tenant-nobles and exploiting uneducated peasants.

To return to the term "enslaved people," I found it somewhat odd that our tour guide at Drayton Hall plantation was using this to describe slaves. She also used the term "enslaved laborers." A little digging around on the internet later, it appears that the terms she used are the current politically correct terms. I had no idea. I understand the intention and motivation behind "enslaved people;" namely, to emphasize that the slaves were, first and foremost, people, who, circumstantially, happened to be enslaved. There is a fair amount of debate, though--"enslaved people" versus "slaves."

For me, the question is, which term better accurately describes the injustice experienced? My first instinct is "slaves." No mention of the word "people" drives home the point that at that time, slaves were not considered people at all. They were chattel, or personal property like a chair or a horse. As a word, "slaves" leaves no room for euphemism or illusion.

That said, there is an argument against using the word "slaves" because it is grounded in the perspective of the slaveowner. That is, just because slave traffickers and owners didn't consider slaves to be people doesn't mean the word we now use to refer to slaves should reflect that too. "Enslaved people" restores humanity--and linguistic neutrality--where "slaves" does not.

I think I don't like "enslaved people" simply because it is incomplete. People who are enslaved are enslaved by somebody. Who? But perhaps this is the point: using "enslaved people" begins a dialogue, one that covers not only white planters and traders in the South, African traffickers in Africa, but also the slaves themselves and their lives before they were slaves. As long as this was a dialogue that was opened by African-Americans, cool. Otherwise, it would be like a convicted grand larcenist who had made off with hundreds of millions pointing his finger at the bank employee he'd paid a couple of million dollars to give him the account numbers and passwords he stole from. Ok, but, in the total scheme of the crime, it doesn't make him that much less culpable, does it?

Like a snowball turns into an avalanche, the day I really started to be bothered by all this, I also had a Hispanic tour guide in the Calhoun Mansion ask me if I could read Chinese. I said, nope. I'm not Chinese. He replied, "So you can't read Chinese? Where are you from?" I was going to say "New York,  Korean by ethnicity," but he cut me off and said, "So you don't read Asian? Fine, I thought you could help by reading Asian but nevermind." !!!!! THE STUPIDITY!!!!!!

On a happier note, the food here has been amazing, the sky has been crisp and blue, and we ran into friends we'd made back in the Dismal Swamp Canal. We'll stay for another day or two, then off to Florida.