Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lauderdale: A Canal Level View

Originally published on SailingMagazine.net:

I have done a lot of sailing in the past 12 months. I’ve logged more than 9,000 miles aboard my Kaufman 47 cutter Quetzal. I’ve sailed from Turkey to Gibraltar, zigzagging my way around the Mediterranean. I’ve crossed the Atlantic, completing an easy 18-day passage from the Canary Islands to Antigua. I’ve had some terrific north and south reaching in the Caribbean, calling at nearly every island between St. Martin and Trinidad. Plus, I have sailed in Tahiti, Australia and Thailand on last summer’s around-the-world jaunt. So why am I blogging about Fort Lauderdale?

Good question. You see, I maintain two worlds, or maybe I should say, parallel universes. I have my sailing program, and the home front. I conduct training passages aboard Quetzal and then leave the boat wherever the passage winds up. Yes, it makes me nervous to secure my boat in a marina and then hop in a cab to the airport and fly thousands of miles away from her. But leaving the boat in different locations all over the world has not only liberated me but also helped me keep my sanity. When I get home, I am really home, for weeks or even months at a time, time that I can devote to my family and, although my lovely, caring, generous editor at SAILING Magazine will probably go into convulsions when she reads the next line, my writing. Yes, writing is just about as important to me as sailing. And yes, this blog is heading back to Fort Lauderdale.

So now I am home. Quetzal is in Trinidad, and I am on deadline to finish a boat review for the above-mentioned editor. But I am sitting at my computer and not writing a word. I am doing what I usually do, thinking about sailing. Although my house is not on the water, it’s pretty close, and with the current drought killing trees all over the neighborhood, I can see masts from my window. The deadline was still looming this past Sunday. Yes, all of two days ago. I was sitting at the computer. The kids were out of the house, they had regattas, soccer games, debate tournaments and batting practice. A perfect time to write, right? Not really. I needed inspiration.

My wife Tadji, who clandestinely communicates with the above mentioned editor when I am out of town, suggests that we go for a paddle in our kayak, to get a bit of exercise and maybe a bit of inspiration. She phrased it differently, something about getting off my butt and then coming back and doing what I should have done weeks ago. She’s been brainwashed.

We schlepped the kayak down to the river and took off downstream. There was plenty of traffic as illiterate powerboaters were obviously unable to read the NO WAKE signs. We paddled past the sad remains of the former Summerfield Boat Yard, now just an ugly field bordering dilapidated seawalls. The developers who bought the property booted the sailboats out, tore down the old wooden docks, put up signs announcing that they were going to build a $3 million superyacht condominium slips, and then went broke.

We then veered across the river, into the basin at River Bend Marina. Fortunately the guard at the gatehouse couldn’t see us. Ambling along we checked out the boats, one of life’s great pleasures, and of course, a good way to inspire a boat test writer. Tucked between the sad floating hulks were some lovely boats. An old Centurion 32, one of my favorites. An old Swan 41 that somebody was restoring; she looked great. A new Hylas 54 looked out of place, but very nice. We both admired the stainless steel railing that ran all around the boat instead of lifelines.

Back in the river we rode the current downstream, detouring into canals with interesting boats tied up in back yards. We saw the battered Valiant 47 that Ed Pinckney sailed around the great capes years ago, she needs love. We scoped out a handsome Sabre 402, and not far away was a beautiful Hinckley B40. Right across the canal was a salty Tayana 37 and, next to it, a beautiful Camper Nic 35. There was even a Kaufman 49, sistership, but for a stretched stern, to Quetzal. She looked sleek in the water.

We continued beyond the Davie Blvd. bridge, and the current made paddling easy. We saw a Slocum 43 that a friend had recently purchased, another friend’s Hylas 49 and a lovely Bowman 46. Then we turned around. Downstream was the inspiration, upstream was the exercise, or so it seemed. Actually paddling hard, I thought about this unique perspective of Fort Lauderdale. Yes, the city has lost some its sailing luster, not all cruising boats pass through anymore, and the city has worked diligently to scare away liveaboards. Still, if you get down to canal level, and take a look around, there are some amazing boats tucked away in Fort Lauderdale.

Back at my desk I felt inspired. Two days later I e-mailed the boat review. You can’t rush art.