This EPIC blog post has been written over the course of weeks (I started writing 21 days ago). Like fine wine, my prose needs to age and mature before its potential is realized. When first I began flailing at the keyboard, it seemed only natural to begin with the following humorous (and, at the time, à propos) opening line.
Four-score and seven hours ago, our motor yacht pulled into her slip at Downtown Sanford Marina in Sanford, Florida. It was fully three months in the making. There were missteps. There was a totaled car. There was pestilence. There was a cheap flight to Baltimore followed by a long drive from Solomons, Maryland. There were new friends, historic vessels aground, boat rides with friends, manatees, gators, and finally “The Voyage Home,” but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s get back to just after our arrival in Astor, Florida. Crazy happened, and I have yet to enumerate any of it for our dear BLOGophiles.
Those who remember our departure from Florida on April 1, 2022, which predates this BLOG's first entry by about three months, will recall that one of the last things we did before casting off lines was to park our beloved red Toyota Prius, “Ruby,” with our friends, Velma and Kip McConnell, who graciously offered a corner of their Palm Coast, Florida property to store our car. Chris and Cherie (AKA Technomadia—or later in this BLOG, also the "Sanford Chris and Cherie") followed us in Blooper, their van, to Chez McConnell where we carelessly tossed the keys to Velma, who was sick with COVID-19 at the time, turning around and returning to Sanford with the Technomads after a lovely late lunch at a nearby restaurant. The next day we all cast off lines to do a little buddy boating on the St. Johns River before parting company for Stinkpot to continue north. You can read about all the places we ended up in earlier blog entries and also on our Facebook page. Suffice it to say, we went north and returned south, and when we tied up in Astor, we wanted to retrieve our car.
Kip graciously came to the marina, picked me up, and brought me to his house where I became reacquainted with our car. Ruby looked just fine, but, once inside, it was hard not to notice the smell. During the 7½ months of being parked, unidentified members of the order Rodentia had clearly made Ruby their home for part of our absence, and so I drove back to the marina with the windows down.
We cleaned and vacuumed the car, replaced the cabin air filter and did everything we knew to in a futile attempt to purge the malodor. We continued to use the car, airing it out before every trip, but after about three or four days of doing so, I got into the car to take a short drive to the nearby market, only to be greeted by a barrage of dashboard lights, an engine that sounded sick, and a car that refused to go into gear. Our furry stowaways had clearly done greater damage to the car than simply stinking it up. We filed an insurance claim for rodent damage on November 14, 2022. A tow truck was sent over and the car was taken to a dealership in nearby Deland, Florida for assessment. After more than a month of insurer deliberations during which the car was lost by the dealership on their own lot (they found it), we were told the car was totaled, and just after the first of the year, we were remunerated quite generously for a 16-year-old car—receiving a check for roughly what we paid for it almost nine years before.
Of course, we couldn’t be without any sort of wheels for all that time, and we weren’t. No sooner had we found out that Ruby was to be towed away than I started making plans to go pick up our “other car”—my trusty 2006 Toyota Highlander which we left parked in Solomons, Maryland at the home of dear friends, Aaron and Cristin. We, of course, had no idea that the Prius was to be totaled, but I had a sneaking suspicion that we might be without a car for a few weeks and renting a car seemed ridiculous. I hopped online and found a $29, one-way flight from Orlando to Baltimore the following week. I grabbed a ticket and, after a lovely ride to Orlando’s airport from boat neighbor, Chris, was soon spirited away to a much colder climate that was enjoying a blessedly warm day.
As an aside, Frontier is not an airline you should fly unless the tickets are stupidly cheap. It’s an uncomfortable cattle call. You will not enjoy it. $29 from Orlando to Baltimore? Yes! It was absolutely 10% the cost of any other airline’s offering. I’d do it again, but not for a farthing more.
On the ground in Baltimore, I was greeted on the ground by Kim—dear friend of decades, music supporter extraordinaire, and recent purchaser of a slick BMW. She was waiting for me when I exited the airport, and after a moment of “hiya” and “howzitgoing,” we were making tracks toward Solomons.
Now this is the moment in the story when I should tell you that one thing I forgot to pack with me was the key to my car. Fortunately, there was a copy of it squirreled away in Cristin and Aaron’s garage. Unfortunately, they are living in Düsseldorf, Germany for Aaron’s final, pre-retirement, US Navy-required, three-year tour of duty on foreign soil as a navy flyboy mucky-muck. Mind you, knowing that I was going to get the car, I had already asked that the key be retrieved by Cristin’s house-key-toting neighbor and deposited inconspicuously under the floor mat in the then locked car. I texted Stacey about my faux pas, and she set about trying to get in touch with Cristin to have the car containing the key left unlocked. It took a few hours, and several of my nails had succumbed to nibbling in the meantime, but eventually Stacey let me know that she had successfully “made contact” and that the key had unfortunately already been “deposited,” and the car had been “locked in the process, as originally intended.” Too late….
So while Kim and I were making the drive from BWI to Solomons, I had to decide how to deal with this latest wrinkle. Do I call the auto club and have them meet me there to save time since I’m about to make an all-night drive back to Florida? Do we just drive to the car and see if the smart auto locks detected the key fob and refused to lock for Cristin’s neighbor? I decided there was a fair chance that her best intentions to lock the car failed and so we did the latter. Upon arrival beside my chariot, I tried the driver’s door and it popped open! Smart auto locks for the win! I grabbed the key and fob off the floor board, swung the door closed, hit the “lock button” and said to Kim, "Let’s eat!"
Back in the Beemer, we made for The Pier, a nearby restaurant that is, predictably, on a pier. With the usually-gorgeous Solomons Island sunset hiding behind the overcast, we enjoyed the views out the windows and the conversation over a lovely dinner, the tab for which was deftly snatched from view by Kim’s expert sleight of hand and dealt with without my knowing while I was in the men’s room. Following an after-dinner caffeine injection, Kim returned me to my vehicle where we said our good-bye, and I pointed my steed southard at around 6PM.
I will save you the point-by-point recounting of my six-state, twelve-hour overnight odyssey, but suffice it to say, 800+ miles later, I arrived at Astor Marina & Motel around 6AM and took a well-earned nap shortly thereafter.
At this point, I pause my writing, only because this seems like the end—it isn’t. There is still a month or more to go before we’d know that our Prius would be totaled by the insurance company and large check cut.
Blogger’s fatigue shrugged off, and realizing that my flight to Baltimore happened on November 30, 2022, with my overnight drive concluding at dawn on December 1, suffice it to say, with wheels at the ready, we settled into a routine in Astor. Our new slip being a mere hour’s drive from Sanford (in ideal conditions), I reconnected with my favorite pub there, The Sullivan, and began booking gigs shortly before our arrival. So sure were we that we’d have a working vehicle when our weary feet hit the sod that I had to borrow a car from our friends/dock neighbors Chris and Cherie (the Astor contingent) to play the first of the shows in late November after the Prius died, but all the other shows have been since December 1, so I was able to make them with the help of the Highlander.
The holidays came and went. 2023 began. We took boat rides with friends at the marina—including one trip on Chris and Cherie’s (the Astor version—I'll explain this fully in a minute) 12-ton Chris-Craft to try and fail to pull the 140-ton, WWII US Army tugboat, ST479 Tiger free from where she settled aground nearby as the river's flood waters subsided. We also cast off Stinkpot once as well when our friends, Kip and Velma, visited, and we voyaged up river, not to tug on a tug, but for a day outing to a waterfront restaurant we came to like during a different boat ride on our dock neighbor, Dan’s zippy cuddy-cabin cruiser in December. We also took a cruise on friends (from Sanford last year), Gary and Liz’s boat one afternoon to Silver Glen Spring Run. They keep their boat in the Astor marina as well, and generously asked us to join them. At some point between boat rides, I contracted COVID-19. I had three years of bragging rights as a “NoVID,” but no more. It was a mild case, but did finish with an irritating cough that is now, blessedly, mostly gone some six weeks later.
As we made ourselves ever more comfortable in Astor, we started really getting the lay of the land, foraging among the stores within about 40 miles for the galley staples we had been missing. Stacey has been on a healthy-eating mission for most of the last year after receiving news of some less-than-ideal bloodwork before we left Sanford last spring. It was not without a perfect last hurrah. The lab that drew her blood was right beside an artisanal donut shop, so she returned to the boat with a dozen under her arm; I recall that they were delectable. Since then, she really has grabbed the bull by the horns, having mostly given up meat, dairy, and refined carbohydrates, except for special occasions and meals out when she sees something particularly attractive on the menu. Early in our stay in Astor, she had repeat bloodwork done, and got the all-clear from the doctor, but she feels so good, having lost some weight and gained a healthy outlook that your humble scribe is supporting and half-heartedly emulating what she is doing, though with a bit more pork fat, cheeseburgers, ice cream, and butter involved. All of that means that we had been searching for stores that cater to clean eating. We made a couple pilgrimages to Trader Joe’s in Winter Park (between Orlando and Sanford)—a store we generally only go to when we absolutely need something because traffic can be dicey and navigating the parking lot is a horror show. In exploring the towns nearest to Astor, by late January we had just found two great health food stores, one in Ocala and another in Deland. These two stores were really going to pick up the slack and allow us to significantly limit the frequency of our pilgrimages to Trader Joe’s.
Dinner with friends, Sean and Louise, at the Halifax River Yacht Club in Daytona, on Wednesday, December 14, 2022. Their yacht, Vector, was tied up there for the night, and they extended a dinner invitation to us. They didn't need to ask twice. Click the photo to visit Sean's blog post about this time.
The morning after my first successful trip to the store in Deland, I got a Facebook message from Luke at our beloved Downtown Sanford Marina (formerly Monroe Harbour Marina), to which we were still hoping to move as soon as they had space for us. The message said, “Dave, what size boat do you have?”
A little excited, I quickly typed back, “38’ Bayliner.”
90 minutes of optimistic pins-and-needles waiting later, he replied, “Matt was holding a gun to my head to get you in.....lol”
Matt is one of our friends who lives in the marina in Sanford as well, and we know now that several of our other friends there had also been asking Luke and his boss, Evans, to make room for us. Was our patience and our friends’ persistence about to pay off?
The marina is still very damaged from the high water following hurricanes Ian and Nicole, and repairs are happening slowly since the city-owned facility didn’t have the budget to swing such major repairs. The videos above from Technomadia show the devastation from the unprecedented flooding in Sanford. There are still two entire piers that are damaged beyond repair, removing some 40 slips from circulation. Officially, the marina is still not accepting new boats, and will not be for quite some time, even short-term transient boats, but this conversation with Luke seemed like it might be moving toward an exception being in the works for Stinkpot.
“Ha! We're waiting with bated breath,” I typed. “That whole place is like family to us, so we're very excited to get home.”
30 more minutes elapsed before I saw the words we longed to hear appear unbidden on my computer screen: “You just won an exciting stay at the Downtown Sanford Marina.”
I accepted the offer, and after a bit of logistical discussion, we agreed that Stinkpot would arrive in its assigned slip, 34B, Monday morning, January 30. Being that it was Friday, and I was still pretty worn from my COVID convalescence, we took our time preparing to leave, despite our excitement to return “home” to Sanford. We decided to make an overnight at anchor out of it. We took one more run to the grocery store to make sure we’d have everything we might want. We began stowing, tying down, and otherwise preparing Stinkpot to be underway after two-and-a-half months mostly tied to land.
We told the Astor Bridge Marina & Motel’s manager, Julie, that we’d gotten the good news, and we’d be getting underway soon, thanked her for everything, settled up any final bills and paperwork. On a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, we topped off our potable water tank, started the engines, disconnected the shore power, brought our dock lines aboard, and Stinkpot gently nudged back out into the St. Johns River for her final 30 mile, upstream push to Sanford.
We had a beautiful cruise up river, saw many manatees (click for a story), turtles, and countless birds, both large and small. We ran all the way to Sanford, but stopped short of exiting the river onto Lake Monroe. We anchored for the night in Butchers Bend—a favorite anchorage where the 5G cellular internet is blazing fast, to a level unlike anywhere else we've been. We had dinner and enjoyed a peaceful, gorgeous night on the hook. The next morning, without rushing, but with great anticipation, we started the engines, weighed anchor (complete with a messy wash-down process after bringing up 35’ of mud-encrusted chain) and started toward Lake Monroe, savoring every minute of our sun-drenched 8-mile cruise home.
When we made the final turn into the marina, our dear friends, Cherie and Chris (Sanford contingent—I know this may be confusing, but Cherie and Chris in Astor is a completely different married couple from Cherie and Chris in Sanford. Same first names—different folks) came down the dock to excitedly meet us, photographing Stinkpot’s triumphant return for posterity. Already knowing that our new slip was immediately beside the slip we occupied last winter, I brought Stinkpot around the right side of B dock, and with no current and nary a breath of wind, backed down into the slip in one smooth movement. Chris and Cherie caught our lines and helped us make fast in the dock and then bid us a brief adieu to give us time to finish deploying lines, connecting shore power, shut down systems, complete logs, etc. All that done, we disembarked to the marina office to fill out paperwork and get our keys to the marina gates. Later that same afternoon, C&C gave me a ride to Astor to pick up our car.
Since then, we’ve gotten back into “Sanfording”—enjoying this town we came to love last winter. We’ve taken evening strolls nearly every night. I have been playing frequent gigs at the pub. We’ve enjoyed being within short distance of grocery options. We still have to pinch ourselves periodically, but we’re absolutely loving to be back, and this entire experience of living on a boat in places we otherwise would never even know about, continues to amaze and inspire.
Thus concludes this fun-filled episode of Life on a Boat, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that we have brand new designs for our t-shirts and other “Stinkpot Merch” in our TeeSpring Store. Jet on over and find a little something nice for yourself!
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Stacey and Dave are nomadic explorers who travel the waters of the eastern United States aboard their Bayliner 3870, m/v Stinkpot.