The sun-drenched Florida Keys, with cobalt skies, swaying palm fronds and gliding pelicans, got under my skin more than 40 years ago. As a Maine naval reservist, official orders sent me down there more than once for a two-week training tour at the Key West Naval Air Station.
Later on my daughter married a Keys-born Floridian and settled in Islamorada, about a two-hour drive north of Key West. Advancing years got Diane and I growing less fond of Maine winters. We bought a small mobile home in the Keys, to be closer to the equator and our daughter and family.
We then wintered in paradise for 15 wonderful, memorable years. Then last fall hurricane Irma swept in, destroying in its wake not only our winter home, but the entire RV park where we lived. We were stunned. Living beside the ocean in hurricane alley, you know there is always a risk. Still, when it happens the finality of it all stays with you.
We were not the only homeless snowbirds. Irma raised havoc with the plans of thousands like us who had grown to love the Rock. Many still have not found a place to perch in paradise. We were lucky. My son-in-law, who planned to purchase a houseboat upon retirement, moved up his purchase schedule. He bought a good, used 36-foot Gibson houseboat and told us to “come on down.” He’s a good lad.
He didn’t have to offer twice. Although we had earlier in our lives tried and quickly abandoned an impulsive plan to live aboard a small sailboat, this particular floating domicile seemed to be more livable, even for us older folks. Diane flew down before the first snow to check out the Spoonbill. Two days later, she called with good news. “It’s not bad,” she said, with a smile in her voice. “I think you’ll like it.”
The Spoonbill, docked at Plantation Yacht Harbor, has been our winter home since mid-December. We weren’t sure at first. There are adjustments — like walking 100 yards to shower, shave and such. Storage space is an issue. You learn how to make the most of every nook and cranny. The bed is only accessible from one side. When the winds howl at 15-20 knots there is some rolling and pitching. But you get used to the motion, and harbor noises from boat rails squeaking against the pilings and wind whistling through the halyards.
Once a week we take on fresh water and call the dock master for a “pump-out.”
There is an upside. We sleep like babies. There is almost always a breeze across the water, and the air conditioner never runs. We eat breakfast on the fantail, and feel like rich folks on the Riviera. Marinas where people live their lives — we have learned — are very friendly places. People help and look after each other. There are sunset cocktails and social chatter on the dock; potluck suppers under the tiki roof. The idea that we are all, so to speak, in the same boat, promotes a spirit of close-knit fellowship and boater camaraderie.
Most of our neighbors on the docks brought their boats with them from points farther north. Every fall, like migrating geese, they ply their way south via the Inter-coastal Waterway.
In short, we have found boat life much more tolerable and fulfilling than we had ever expected. And to think that we wound up on the Spoonbill by sheer fate — a nasty hurricane that took away something special, but left us, in its tumultuous, destructive wake, an utterly unforeseeable blessing.
Our only regret is that we didn’t give boat life a try many years ago.