On the television we witness the lives portrayed by a screen writer, or the drama inflicted cast of a reality TV show, it has become a comfort to ease out of our own lives and slip into one portrayed before us, however on a 41 foot sailboat there’s nowhere to hide from six younger siblings, and a TV is a luxury we don’t have. A boring day has, by no means, ever been a concern upon Invincible, our floating home; from Sara, who’s 13 years old, making spaghetti and almost blowing up the galley from not checking to make sure the propane was off, to Mom, the captain, incorrectly reading the markers and grounding us in the middle of the channel, and walking three miles to the dentist to extract my broken permanent retainer, which turned into our “first medical emergency.” These and many more incidents lead to never a dull moment in our transient lives. Meandering along the Intra Coastal Water way, also known as the ICW, from Texas to Florida during this past month has given us numerous opportunities to express our love and, at times, self control for not throwing one another overboard.
The amazing thing with strangers is once introduced, they become more than just another human being, they have the opportunity of becoming a friend, and can appear in the most unlikely of circumstances. The plethora of kind thoughtfulness we have been given is incalculable. In Houma, Louisiana a man gave my dad a ride all over town to fill up our propane tank; in Orange , Al. Fish- that’s what everyone called him, offered his resources of transportation to Wal-Mart and helped fix the bilge pump line; at Pirates Cove, Alabama our savior of the day, Rick, appeared at a critical moment and helped us fix a very threatening steering emergency; ubiquitously we’ve had people sit down for hours pouring over charts with us, because they too had been in our situation at one time, and many more such situations. We’re so blessed to have good karma on our side, for we all enjoyed the home made chocolate chip cookies a woman brought us in Morgan City, La. when she heard of the crew of children aboard. I know not if I’ve ever had cookies so scrumptious before, and the best part was they were made with real legitimate butter, a scarcity onboard.
I find it funny, but when I thought of going cruising I never imagined some of the simple foods we’d end up craving the most, such as butter and cheese. With the absence of a refrigerator we have learned to substitute perishables with more shelf stable products, and modify our taste buds simultaneously, leading to some pretty “interesting” concoctions in the galley. Milk has been a favorite delicacy to have aboard and a rarity too, so one day the kids got curious (a.k.a. anxious) and decided to investigate the flavoring of ‘powdered milk.’ Not personally being brave enough to try it, I trusted the minions when they reported the flavor to be “repulsive,” I guess they learned why we only use it in cooking. For the past few weeks I’ve had it in mind to eat a whole batch of cheese enchiladas, though the rest of the family has yet to succumb to my Mexican, cheesy, greasiness, yearning, and would much rather settle for oysters on the half shell, or a hamburger. Though I assure you no matter what strange things we produce down bellow, there’s never a day we’ve gone hungry.
A major concern we had, which for the most part has dissipated, was the worry of storing enough food to feed nine hungry mouths- and a canine who finds it enjoyable to loot our pepperoni, and cheese hoard every now and again. The never ending plea of “I’m starvingggggg” would get on the nerves of even the most patient saint, but we manage to keep peanut butter, bread, and some jelly, within easy reach, and a handful of almonds, or a crisp apple seems to quell our tummies for a short while. We’ve had to become careful with the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables we take on when provisioning as some spoil quickly. We creatively fabricate our own edible delicacies using eggplant, potatoes, squash, tortillas, and whatever else hasn’t rotted or grown mold. We also experience some water concerns because of our potential high consumption- so along with restocking our pantry we make sure to top our water tanks off at every marina and fuel dock, and have yet to run out of our 200 gallon fresh water tank. A salt water foot pump was a vital addition to life on the boat; as we now have unlimited sea water at the tips of our toes for all cleaning and such. Though drinking salt water is a horrid idea it is a perfect compromise to conserve our precious fresh water, especially when we get to the Bahamas where a single gallon usually costs 40 cents or more.
While we trudged through a part of the ICW we passed a high concentration of chemical plants and it became a joke amongst the crew that if you were to go swimming you’d emerge glowing, due to all the petro chemicals in the water. When not stepping on solid ground for days, we could get quite artistic, so now whoever gets stuck doing dishes makes a pun about growing an extra finger or eyeball, or another odd occurrence, all in the fun of entertaining ourselves of course.
One of the best investments, for memories sake, thus far was spending $3 for an all day bus/trolley pass in New Orleans, Louisiana; it was both an entertaining and inexpensive way to view this historic city. I know not what my parents’ were expecting by taking myself and six younger siblings on Bourbon Street, but we sure did get an eye full, even with it being the middle of the day. We became the “adopted ‘white’ family from Texas” by the local Queen of drag, Ashley. “She” became our impromptu tour guide, and history buff sharing with us the history of Monsieur Lafitte, the famous pirate, and taking us to the best po boy sandwiches around. Nevertheless it was a bit unusual to be lead by a black drag queen not actually dressed fully in drag; I guess that’s just another outing on Bourbon Street. We furthermore ventured through the French Quarter Market, visited sporadic shops along Canal Street, and saw more housing for the dead than that of the living; the trolleys and busses gave us an eyeful of the copious cemeteries in New Orleans, which seemed to be on every corner. After filling up our diesel tanks and checking the charts we were ready to start across Lake Ponchitrain, and onto the next leg of our journey.
Since our becoming “land hobos,” as I like to call live-a-boards in general, due to the fact we are completely on our own when it comes to anything on land, going out to eat, and buying groceries becomes an adventure all its’ own. When the recommendation for “fabulous Cajun cuisine” that’s “just up the road” sounds promising to a hungry child, only to discover that in reality it is a 10 mile hike, it tends to lose its’ charm. In honor of the variety of places we’re visiting, tasting a bit of culture is always fun and an educational experience, especially when it’s a 20 piece assortment of the greasiest fried chicken, EVER, in the heart of Louisiana! When setting up anchor along the Alabama coast we were visited by a passing sailboat inviting us to go down the waterway a bit farther to a little place called “Pirate’s Cove,” that boasted the best cheeseburgers around, (so good Jimmy Buffet felt inspired to pen his famous song “Cheeseburger in Paradise”) how could we refuse such an offer? After eating them three meals in a row I can candidly concur, they were pretty darn fine. Pushing a grocery cart, loaded with provisions, through Apalachicola, Florida was full circle to “land hobo-ness” and we have the local grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, to thank for their permission to utilize their four wheeled contraption so we could make it back to the boat without feeling like a pack horse. We often find ourselves wandering along the side of a highway, or neighborhood, searching for a laundry mat, market, or restaurant, wandering into local convenience stores and asking for directions. The amusing inquisitive looks never end, and nor does the fun, though after the third mile our legs begin to resent the fundamental way of “getting around.”
Getting to our next major destination, Naples, Florida, which we arrived on the 14th of February, we once more had to travel into the Gulf of Mexico. We had done a wonderful job of avoiding the nightmarish days we had experienced in our first outing in the Gulf, thus none of us were ecstatic to hear that the fixed bridges in the next portion of the ICW were not high enough for our needed, 53 foot, clearance. Leaving the protection of the ICW through the “Pensacola Pass” on February 2nd, we were gracious for the sunny skies and decent wind; not excellent for sailing, but motor-sailing was feasible. Continuing on our path South, South East heading, and hugging the shoreline within 20 to 50 miles, we went along without much incident that was until the 5th of February. It wasn’t just the bad weather, heavy seas, or seasickness running rampant amongst the crew that turned the day sour. No, all of that would have been bearable, for we were all safe, if not a little uncomfortable. The hardest thing about that 20 hour day was not being able to lay anchor, and getting to bed, till 3:30am on that miserable morning. Somehow our lovely navigator, *cough cough* mom, hadn’t noticed that our destined entry channel was neither deep nor wide enough for comfortable passage in big swells, so we had to venture on down the unforgiving coast till reaching Apalachicola Bay, 22 nautical miles farther, travelling about 4 nautical miles an hour.
So far we’ve run aground, lost control of steering, been as sick as dogs, haven’t showered in over a week, experienced fists flying, and words of hate, yet even in all that chaos we choose to continue on together, figure that one out! It’s the little acts of kindness, a fresh batch of cookies, or an extra hand in the engine room, given to us by total strangers that keep our hopes high for the future to come. Though at times the lack of personal space can drive a person barmy it’s amazing how the kids find ways to entertain themselves, and us. It’s safe to say there is always something of interest occurring on our little vessel, the absence of a television and some creature comforts is a small price to pay when we find ourselves listening to Jimmy Buffet and enjoying another “cheeseburger in paradise”.