New Smyrna and Palm Coast

March 28

The delight of a sunny cruise to New Smyrna was only slightly dampened by a difficult, windy docking. In marina docking, every physical setup is different—the width of the slip, the length of the finger piers, whether there are wooden pilings that you can gently lay your boat against for control, or whether the docks are metal with worn places in the rubber padding-requiring foresight in protecting your boat with fenders ahead of time, the availability and placement of dock cleats and whether they can be of use to control the boat, whether fenders are needed at all or whether they will be in the way—all these assessments and more have to be made in about 15 seconds when you get close enough to actually see the situation. Then there is windage: this is not a sailboat, but the isinglass surrounding the flybridge—the second story—often acts like a sail. Even if it is cold, we open it all up before going into a marina to reduce the risk of an unwanted sidewise push at just the wrong time. The ideal is to dock into the wind but “ideal” is rarely reality, and one must be prepared for unwanted cross wind or stern wind. Our years of docking sailboats taught us to keep enough speed for control. We are unlearning this now, as a trawler with dual engines and a bow thruster is better controlled very slowly, even coming to a complete stop to assess the natural forces at play. (The adage is, “Never go faster in a marina than the speed at which you want to hit the dock.”) Sometimes the dock hand is competent and helpful, sometimes he is a child with little interest in the finer points, pulling lines too tight and wrapping them willy-nilly around a cleat. All this to say, docking for us still is stressful as it continues to be even for seasoned boaters! After we had docked, we saw our new looping acquaintances on Misty Pearl, Dana and Doug Belknap from Scottsdale pull in. They appreciated our assistance with their lines and fenders, and after making plans for docktails with them, we found ourselves at the same restaurant for a late lunch. Afterward, they came aboard and we enjoyed a beautiful evening on the flybridge. We look forward to getting to know them better, as our plans are parallel for the next few stops. 

The following morning we headed to Palm Coast, planning to wait out another spate of windy days. There may have been a few things to do and see there, in addition to ogling the stunning Italianate real estate as we approached town, but we didn’t get to them! Gold Loopers Charlie and Robin McVey on The Lower Place from Mississippi took us in like old friends, extending one invitation after another: docktails the first day, cinnamon rolls and coffee on the second blustery day, a 5-couple looper dinner the third. Robin showed me the t-shirt quilt she had made after their first loop (They started a second loop before they quite admitted that they had started again) and the coffee table book she had made from their blog. What expert mentoring they offered as to how to be a Looper, and once again we are reminded how good and generous the vast majority of people are—a much-needed lesson, as one watches U.S. news.

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Behind our red boat is The Lower Place. The big boat behind is not a looping boat: it is too big to go many of the places Loopers typically enjoy. The red ball fender on the stern of The Lower Place was set when a small boat lost power in the channel and was adrift earlier in the day. The list of possible mishaps in boating is inexhaustible…and exhausting.

Quaint Cocoa

March 24

Unable to snag a slip in Titusville, which is widely considered the most strategic spot from which to visit the Kennedy Space Center, our backup plan became Cocoa. Cocoa is a lovely village which boasts the 7-building Travis Hardware Store. Its history starts like this: “ In 1885, my great-grandfather, Colonel S.R. Travis, who served in the American Civil War, had a sailboat going up and down the rivers, delivering items and taking orders from Jacksonville to Fort Pierce.”  Folks say that if Travis doesn’t have it, you don’t need it. I would almost agree—except they didn’t have the marine shackle that we were after. We enjoyed poking around the dusty store and exploring the charming beachy village. 

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Travis Hardware Store in Cocoa has everything—and bigger everything than just about anywhere. “Where would you like that telephone pole, Ma’am?”
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Everything from giant wrenches to beautiful canes in this aisle. Children, beware! 🥺
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Evidence of it being a boating community…
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…with hurricane experience.

We rented a car to get to the Space Center. It being our first visit, the standard tour filled our day, starting with a bus ride around the launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building where every space craft is built—the fourth largest building in the world, and a Crawler-Transporter, one of two shuttle movers which weighs over 6,000,000 pounds, moves about a mile per hour and burns more than 125 gallons of diesel per mile. Major attractions are the Apollo exhibit which details the 17 missions and 6 lunar landings (We wonder why  our memories of this amazing history through which we lived are so fuzzy!), and the impressive exhibit of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the first shuttle to be reused, totaling 33 missions between 1985 and 2011. By the end of its final mission, Atlantis had orbited the Earth a total of 4848 times, traveling nearly 126,000,000 miles and making 7 trips to the Russian Mir space station, in addition to transporting several components of the current International Space Station and making upgrades to the Hubble Telescope. Our day was filled with big numbers—big everything—and sensory stimulation, and we left feeling awe for the dedicated scientists who made a daring dream become reality, for the national unity created by lofty goals, and for important developments and discoveries that are made when reaching for the stars.

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Kennedy Space Center
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One of the Launch Pads
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The Apollo 11 control center
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A little bit of power is required.
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A series of space suits was displayed, and one might guess that this was an early one. The circle just below the waist is a crank to adjust the length of the torso for standing or sitting. These days, suit materials and designs offer much greater flexibility!

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The well-worn and proud Space Shuttle Atlantis transported crew and complete modules which were added to the International Space Station.

Our exploration Sunday took us to Winter Park, a suburb of Orlando. We had learned of the small-but-worthwhile Morse Museum featuring the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and being admirers of the colorful stained glass art form, we were game. How little we knew about this giant creative spirit! One might nod at the privilege that paved his way, his father being Charles Tiffany, founder of a modest New York jewelry store, which grew to come the most prestigious silver and jewelry company in America, Tiffany and Company. Louis studied painting in Paris and by the age of 23 became a well-known and respected Orientalist painter, exhibiting in New York and abroad, but his fame was truly established through interior design. His own Bella Apartment in New York City served as an early showcase for his talent. Using family connections and financial backing and partnerships with established artists and designers, he was able to make a smooth transition from artist to interior designer. His unique approach of  fusing Eastern and Western styles became very popular and led to his decorating the most respected homes, private clubs, and civic buildings of the day, and the teams of talented designers and craftspeople under Tiffany’s watch translated his all-encompassing vision into some of the most beautiful objects of the time. Tiffany Studios succeeded in turning art into a business of awesome proportions, producing  objects desired by both the wealthy and members of the rapidly developing middle class. This museum is home to the amazing Tiffany Chapel, and in fact, this chapel was Tiffany’s tour de force. Created for the Chicago World Fair in 1893 by his newly founded firm, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, the chapel demonstrated the firm’s artistry and craftsmanship in producing ecclesiastical goods ranging from clerical vestments and furnishings to mosaics and leaded-glass windows. The chapel, it was reported at the time, so moved visitors that men doffed their hats in response. Such a jewel it is! And such indignities it endured during its history! It was finally rescued after fire and vandalism at Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall estate by the founders of this museum, Hugh and Jeanette McKean at the desperate bequest of his daughter. While Tiffany is most famous for his vastly popular creations in glass, his artistic vision left few mediums untouched: he was a painter, a decorator, an architect, a photographer, and a designer of pottery, furniture, enamels, and jewelry in addition to glass lamps, windows, mosaics, and vases. Nature was his muse, color his obsession, and exotic culture his bottomless well of influence. Late in his life, Tiffany elegantly summed up his long and prolific career as a “Quest of Beauty.” After the museum closed, we strolled down Park Avenue, window shopping and watching families and dog owners enjoying the lovely community park, and wondered what it would be like to live in Winter Park. There’s so much to do around the area! Italian dinner at a local favorite, Pannullo’s, ended a magical day.

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Lamps were an open field for development at the turn of the 20th century—consider the works of Tiffany’s contemporary, Thomas Edison! The Wisteria lamp and the Pond Lily lamps won prizes for transforming standard lamp forms into electrified sculptures from nature. 
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Tiffany’s quintessential dragonfly lamp was actually the design of one of his female designers. As is true of many of the pieces produced in his studios, he set in motion the vision, signed off on new designs, and his staff executed their tangible reality.
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This Parrot Transom was designed for a customer’s home in Rhode Island.
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The chancel of the chapel which Tiffany designed for the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago. No words can describe, no photo can capture its detail and beauty. Stunning. 

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The chapel baptistery
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As a lover of daffodils, this display captivated my fancy. Examples of several itinerations of these cast glass and concrete daffodil capitals reside at the museum. The element contributed to the Daffodil Terrace, connecting the dining room to the gardens at Tiffany’s own estate, Laurelton Hall.

And finally, two contrasting scenes from our cruise up the Atlantic ICW, at this point on the Indian River.

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You want me to drive my boat through THERE?
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Fishing Friends Forever: These ladies were enjoying the banks of the Merritt Island National Nature Preserve.

Fort Pierce

March 20, 2019

Fort Pierce is another quiet and charming coastal town with a military presence. The marina boasts two restaurants with very good food—our Gumbo from Cobbs Landing fed us three meals—and we relished a great Thai dinner in town, as well. We “Ubered” to the Navy Seal Museum; these are bits that linger with me:

  • We picked up models of various types of guns and were amazed at how HEAVY many of them are! There was an opportunity to “suit up” and climb into an inflatable dinghy with a gun for a photo shoot, which we, of course, declined. 
  • There was a model of the Bin Laden compound and details about the assignment, the practice runs in a full scale model of the compound, the helicopter that failed, the retreat with all aboard the one functional helicopter with the remains of Bin Laden in tow. 
  • We sat in the Black Hawk Helicopter which rescued Jessica Buchanan and Paul Hagen Thisted in 2012 from Somalia. 
  • I specifically looked for explanation of the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, in which militant Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 63 hostages. This was the final indignity which undermined Jimmy Carter’s legacy as President. Carter, frustrated with the slow pace of diplomacy, launched a risky military rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw which was executed by an elite rescue team. Several of the helicopters were caught in a desert sandstorm and malfunctioned as a result, and the mission was forced to abort. During the expedition a helicopter veered into a large transport plane and eight servicemen were killed. Carter took responsibility for the the mission failure, and my recollection is that the hostages were not released until President Reagan took office. 
  • There were photos of the recipients of the Medal of Honor and their incredible stories of sacrifice and heroism. 
  • The educational rigors of a Navy SEAL are impressive: Passing a battery of academic tests is required, because missions that involve diving physics, ammunition ballistics, high altitude parachute jumps, and time distance calculations for swimming, diving and small boat operations all require a strong academic baseline. SEALS must perform mentally as well as physically at a moment’s notice.

 

 

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The Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams (SEALS) were formed in 1962 at the direction of President Kennedy.

Mike and JoAnn Konczal on C U Later in the slip next to us are looping. They’re in port with a passel of mechanical issues, but he, being an outboard mechanic, is a very handy guy. Between tinkering and appointments with specialists regarding their own issues, he offered to take a look at our outboard, which, if you remember, works—but only at slow speeds. What a guy! Immediately he targeted the problem-being that only one cylinder is firing; cause, tbd. With all the labor already thrown at this engine ($$$), this should have been figured out, but at least now we know WHY our dinghy goes “putt putt” and not “vroom vroom.”

Thursday evening after dinner, we stopped by to say hello to some Loopers who had just come in that day. They were lovely, we had common Looper acquaintances, and they invited us to come aboard and share docktails and an anniversary celebration with them. We met Bruce and Bev Kness on Seaquest, Bev’s sister Cheryl and her husband Cal Freeburg on No Snow, and Greg Stephens and Nancy Turk on TxAu. What fun, inclusive people they are!

Our plans to visit the botanical garden and walk to the manatee museum next door were nixed by snotty weather and a need to plan for the coming weeks. Ah, well…

 

Crossing to Eastern Florida

March 20, 2019

We left Fort Meyers, having gratefully relished its sunny breezes. An early morning start heading east on the Caloosahatchee River and into the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) landed us at a highly-rated marina, River Forest, past LaBelle and near…nothing, really. The purpose of the stop was for an oil change, for which we hear recommendations to do every 100 engine hours….or every 250 engine hours. Take your pick! We putzed the remainder of the day, and then the technician came aboard Friday, and we putzed some more while Steve paid attention and learned some mechanicthings. I know Steve wants me to be able to share in routine maintenance, such as daily oil checks and cleaning of strainers, but after the trauma of falling into the engine compartment last June, I still get a little panicky when down there. Evidently, our engine is due a 3-day 1000-hour servicing,  but we don’t have time for that, not today!

The pickings are slim for services along this route, so we felt lucky to snag the 35-foot free dock by the boat ramp at Clewiston where we docked without assistance or drama—an extra high high-five for us! 🥳  We had 5 locks to transit on this trip across Florida which required a different  technique than the river locks we are accustomed to. Instead of using only one line at midship to loop over a floating bollard, these locks employ lines hanging down from the top of each lock, two of which I had to grab and secure, one to a bow cleat and the other to a stern clete. Our technique still is not as smooth as we like but experience is a good teacher. I wonder whether those lock operators go home and regale their friends with stories about funny things they saw in their lock that day.  The saying goes that sometimes you watch the show and sometimes you ARE the show! After docking, we hopped on our bikes and headed to town to check out the Clewiston Sugar Festival, which was the cause of the marina jam. Country Western music blared from a small arena, big screen TVs showed the action onstage close up, and festival food was everywhere. We finally settled on “Redneck Sundaes,” smoked mac and cheese topped with pulled pork, and a sweet finish of strawberry shortcake, the latter of which was exceptional. A sudden downpour dampened our spirit for exploration, and despite the dry cleaning bags with hoods that the festival generously passed out, we were ready to return to the boat. The remote dock was home to some very raucous birds, and we enjoyed being in a wild place as we spent the remainder of the evening in trip planning.

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A lovely bucolic setting at Clewiston
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Not big on selfies, we thought the moment in which we donned these elegant ponchos called for one!

On Sunday we crossed Okeechobee under cloudy skies. Winds whipped up a 2-foot chop in the middle and created the kind of ride in which one tries not to move around the boat much. There is hype about how shallow Lake O can get, and how it is not a place you want to have any mechanical malfunctions, but for the most part we had plenty of depth and an easy cruise. A flock of seagulls followed in our draft the entire way. For nearly 4 hours, the lead birds spelled one another off, and at the end two of them circled back at couple of times, corralling and encouraging the stragglers. On the other side of Okeechobee we reached our designated anchorage already at 11:30! Recalling the reviews that it was buggy and a nighttime survey of the shoreline with one’s flashlight reflected the eyes of alligators, we decided that we could make it to Stuart. We anchored in good mud in Pendarvis Cove, not our most idyllic setting, but the real estate surrounding it was nice, and lots of other boats were there. 

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Central Florida is agricultural. 
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These happen to be Cormorants, but every dock is lined with birds, opportunists awaiting the gate action to herd fish their way. 

Monday we continued the route east, entering the congestion of the confluence of the Atlantic Intra Coastal Water Way and the Okeechobee Water Way. The St. Lucie Inlet and the Indian River, with the addition of tidal currents create water-flow that require attention to timing and ATONs (aids to navigation), and traffic is challenging as well. Upon entering the ICW, we began cruising northward. With wind on our nose and a nice wide channel up the Indian River, we arrived at Fort Pierce Municipal Marina where we will spend the next few days hunkered down due to high wind. 

Sanibel Island and Fort Meyers

March 14

From Venice, we cruised down to the iconic, congested waters around Fort Meyers. It being Friday and Spring Break season, the traffic was nutty. Our hopes of having lunch in “Cheeseburger Paradise” (Jimmy Buffet) on Cabbage Key were dashed by the shortest finger piers we’ve ever seen. Snazzy power boats surrounded us at the pier, and even though we had called ahead and a slip had been reserved for us, the fact that we always “bow in” (as opposed to “stern in”) rendered disembarking impossible. We gazed at the 6-foot down and 2- foot out jump to that tiny pier and envisioned being younger and more lithe. And then we giggled at the thought of trying to get back ON the boat, and that realization made the decision for us. A lot of boats carry a step stool; finding space to store said step stool is our problem. Sooo, no cheeseburgers for us today. Instead, after vacating the slip we had just pulled into, we snacked on our cheese, summer sausage and PB-stuffed celery as we headed “on down the road again.” Even this disappointment did not mar the gorgeous day!

We arrived at Sanibel Island in much better time than we had calculated, thanks to our aborted lunch plans. Gold loopers Joe and Pat Apicella invited us onto their Mainship 430, Glory Days, for docktails and we enjoyed their stories and advice. Dinner at Gramma Dots at the marina, while highly recommended was unremarkable. Saturday morning we hopped on our new bikes and arrived at Lighthouse Beach around 8:00. Already it was packed with folks shelling, wind surfing, walking their dogs, and jogging. We had read about the “Sanibel Stoop” and observed that many take their shelling seriously! I asked a young woman if she would show me what she had collected in her little zippered bag. She explained, as she identified each treasure, that she had arrived at 5:00 and started searching for shells by flashlight. Remembering the big jar of beautiful shells that we sold in our estate sale last May, I was neither disappointed to be late to the morning search nor wishing to return another morning. But it was so much fun to watch the scene!

After an early lunch, we headed the other way on our bikes to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. We were disappointed that recommendations to allow an hour were not sufficient for our mode of viewing. The shell collections are fabulous but I would have enjoyed learning more about the mollusks that inhabit them. While studying a poster on the anatomy and propulsion of a scallop, I felt sadness for capturing and eating these fabulous creatures, and by our lack of connection to and understanding of our food sources. 😔 

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A striking display of snail shells.
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The museum is home to some of the word’s largest shells.
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This carved helmet conch was displayed in the cameo section of the museum.

The cause for our needing to rush through the shell museum was to catch a naturalist-led tram tour of the “Ding” Darling Nature Refuge, which occupies one-third of the island. (Another one-third of the island is protected from development, in accordance with a very strong resident-steered land use plan). Ding was a cartoonist and a visionary who purchased this protected land in the 1920s. We learned that the white pelican has an average wing span of 9 feet, second only to the condor in the US, and saw a number of them, just before migration time when they head north for the summer. We saw several varieties of herons, anhingas, and egrets (as many as we saw along the rivers, I never knew to look for the elegant “golden slippers” of snowy egrets). In addition, we learned about the important role that mangrove trees play in securing the coasts of Florida; their valuable protection against hurricane winds led to legislation that makes it illegal to remove or even prune a mangrove tree. Having thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon nature lesson, we found ice cream before returning back to the boat, and plans for dinner took a back seat, as the ice cream satiated our appetites.

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White Pelicans and black Cormorants.
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The tangled roots of mangroves are beneficial for protecting the precious coastlands of Florida. It is illegal to remove or even prune a mangrove tree.
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Not knowing my snakes, my recollection is that this is a brown snake in its red phase. This guy was just minding his own business smack next to the path.

In the evening, there was a knock on the boat, and there stood Steve from Just Right, a friend and fellow-Hoosier from the Rendezvous and Chattanooga. He and Kathleen (correct—“Steve and Kathleen!”) are here in Sanibel for the night with 5 guests aboard. It turns out that they will be a few days ahead of us as they cross to eastern Florida, but we hope our paths cross again as we head north—they’re lovely people!

The Sunday morning cruise to Fort Meyers was a new experience. Our pier-neighbor warned us that we would be on the “miserable mile,” and while neither Steve nor I understood what he meant, we discovered soon enough. The traffic was indeed MISERABLE! For several miles, within a relatively narrow channel there were at least several dozen boats heading toward us and looking behind, dozens as well, many itching to get around us. We were “waked” numerous times, challenging the enjoyment of my morning coffee routine; and despite extra-careful stowing, the cabin floor was strewn with telltale signs of significant rocking. Finally tucked in at Ft. Meyers Yacht Basin, we were ready to see the city. 

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The “Miserable Mile” to Fort Meyers

Monday was laundry-and-catch-up day and wedding-conference-call-day with Steph and Luke and Luke’s parents Sue and Kieron. During the conference call, a Looper with whom we left Demopolis knocked on our boat, and we arranged to have dinner with him. The afternoon offered time to explore; even though we know cyclists who brave city traffic (aka Boston madness), we felt more comfortable on foot. Historic Fort Meyers has charm with inviting eateries and boutiques in an area of a few square blocks. Come evening we shared a casual al fresco dinner at Ford Garage with Nick from Kaillany, and conversation never veered from looping topics. It was a fun evening.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford

Tuesday we toured the fascinating Edison-Ford Winter Estates, the main attraction in downtown Fort Meyers and one of the 10 most visited historic home properties in the United States. In 1885 Thomas Edison was fishing out on Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, when he noticed several varieties of bamboo growing along the shore. Of even greater importance was a “for sale” sign posted nearby. Edison was working on electric light bulbs, and he thought bamboo might serve as filaments in the bulbs. But further, his doctor had been admonishing him to spend the frigid months of New Jersey in warmer climes for health reasons, and he’d  been considering buying a winter home. Earlier that year, his wife Mary had tragically died*, leaving the young father with three children and a loan taken out to cover the cost of her burial. Having sufficiently recovered emotionally and financially by the end of the year, he tracked down the property’s owner and bought the land for a carelessly exorbitant sum.  A year later Seminole Lodge was built in the newly incorporated town of Fort Myers, and Thomas Edison and his new bride Mina became some of Florida’s original snowbirds. Mina, being the 20-year-old daughter of Lewis Miller, farm machinery inventor and founder of Chataqua, a life-long learning retreat center on the southern shores of the Lake Erie, was an educated and cultured young woman of means, and evidently was well-prepared for life with men of few words and a profusion of ideas! She had been around famous people all her life and was raised to “take charge” of situations. She became matriarch of both the 23-room Victorian mansion at West Orange, NJ where Edison’s main laboratory was located and, of course, this simpler arts and crafts winter home on 17 acres. Though not an architect, Edison drew up the plans for the home and its adjoining guesthouse. Because Mina donated the property at the end of her life to the city in 1947 on the condition that it become a museum, the property is relatively unchanged since the Edisons’ time. The house was built to take advantage of the river breezes, with full-length doors on every side that are thrown open to allow visitors a good look at the rooms over neatly labeled glass dividers. All the furniture is original: early electric-light chandeliers hang from the ceilings; gramophones sit on desks. Edison’s 800 books reside behind glass, and the twin lace-covered beds still stand in Thomas and Mina’s room. It was not long after building before the Edisons were receiving visitors, and by the 1920s they had hosted many of the country’s rich and famous: Charles Lindbergh, the Kelloggs, the Colgates, Herbert Hoover, naturalist John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone. (I can’t help but choke on these sexist “who’s who” lists. Surely strong and savvy women were included among the roles!) Edison did much of his significant work at their winter home, a lifetime accumulation of 1,093 patents from 1869 through his final year, having set a goal of producing a “minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” Of all his inventions, the phonograph remained his favorite, and Steve and I listened to examples of the original tin-foil-wrapped tubes, wax rolls (which went through many iterations), and 1/4” thick records made of a diamond-infused plastic similar to Bakelite. Another frequent guest at Seminole Lodge, of course, was Henry Ford, who was so charmed by Edison’s surroundings that in 1916 he bought the house next door, called the Mangoes. He and Edison had forged a close bond after the two met in Detroit and older inventor encouraged the younger entrepreneur to continue working on his “quadricycle” idea, even though it was derided by the public. Most of us remember Ford’s pivotal development of the assembly line in 1913, but I had forgotten that the Model T which had previously been built in more than 12 hours, suddenly could be assembled in 93 minutes! The Fords’ home has been furnished with period furniture that reflects their tastes, because it was sold to a single family whose home it was for decades until it was purchased for historical restoration, and then, of course, the Fords’ personal furnishings were scattered. In 1927 Ford, Edison, and their friend Harvey Firestone formed the Edison Botanical Research Corporation and built a lab on Edison’s property to study latex-producing plants. World War I had jeopardized the country’s access to rubber, giving latex immense strategic and monetary value. A multitude of latex-producing plants were growing on the property, and they became subject to thousands of tests in their state-of-the-art lab, which still gleams as if newly built. Here the inventors and their staff (called muckers) dried the latex-bearing plants and ground them into powder. Equipment on several tables outfitted with water, gas, and electricity (both DC and AC—Edison couldn’t hold out forever against AC) was used to determine the latex content of the samples. The distillation apparatus then extracted latex from the plant material and purified and recycled the solvents. Out off 17,000 plant samples from around the world, the big discovery at the lab was that the humble goldenrod had the highest percentage of latex content of all. (A variety that was created at the lab and produces even more latex is named in Edison’s honor, Solidago edisoniana.) The project continued for five years after Edison’s death before the U.S. Department of Agriculture took it over. (Not long after, synthetic rubber derived from petroleum stormed onto the scene, it being a less intensive process. ) In 2014 the lab became the first site in Florida designated by the American Chemical Society as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. Seminole Lodge, the Mangoes, and the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory make up the heart of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Together the properties make for a meticulous time capsule of the lives of these extraordinary people.

The Estate has done a spectacular job of maintaining not only the buildings but the 21 acres of grounds, which were home to more than 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from 6 continents before the ravages of Hurricane Irma, but is still is a worthy destination for lovers of horticulture. There are latex-producing plants—figs and banyans among them (including the largest banyan in the contiguous United States). There is also quite a collection of mango and citrus trees. The Moonlight Garden—full of plants that flower at night—is tucked away behind Edison’s study. The Heritage Garden which once grew vegetables for the Edisons and Fords to eat and to sell to neighbors now produces its bounty for local farmers markets.

The Wizard Invents gallery houses many of Edison inventions: the phonograph, the kinetoscope (an early motion picture–viewing device), an updated telegraph, and an impressive display of light bulbs. There’s also Edison’s improved stock ticker, his first lucrative invention: Edison’s device could be synchronized with all the other stock tickers on a telegraph line, eliminating the need for employees to monitor and reset them if they fell out of unison. Also on display is the electric pen, which—after failing in its original task of duplicating handwritten documents—had a much more successful second life as the tattoo machine we know today. Into the Wild covers the escapades of the Vagabonds, the name Edison, Ford, Firestone, and Burroughs gave themselves when they went off on their annual camping adventures between 1914 and 1924. What started as small camping trips grew into weeks-long excursions that included family, household staff, professional chefs, and on two occasions sitting presidents of the United States. There were dining tents and a kitchen car specially equipped with a built-in gas stove and refrigerator. Edison rigged up lights for the campsites; guests participated in tree-cutting or sprinting contests. Reporters and photographers covered the exploits like some kind of “glamping” reality show, and their stories played a major role in popularizing recreational camping.

The museum has significantly more material about Edison than Ford. In fairness, Ford moved in 30 years after Edison and stayed for shorter periods. The museum does house a gleaming 1937 Ford flathead V-8 engine, along with a history of the Ford Motor Company.** Come June, porch furniture is moved into the garage at the Mangoes, and significant pieces of furniture, such as Mina Edison’s beloved piano, are transferred to safer locations. It’s a wise move considering that the property has been hit by a dozen hurricanes since Edison’s arrival in 1886.***

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The front of the Edison winter home, Seminole Lodge.
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…and the back
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Generous porches surround the house to capture the breeze coming off the Caloosahatchee River.
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Looking through the Living Room into Edison’s Study, where a beloved phonograph and his book collection reside.

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An “Edison original.” Each lighting fixture was unique and beautifully ornate. This fixture hangs in Edison’s study which was originally the dining room. The switch hangs at the bottom of the Cord for easy access.
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To Thomas’ left in the dining room sat a large wooden frame that held chimes which called folks to dinner and alerted staff as to when to bring the next course. But Thomas also installed a button under the table to the right of his knee with which he could silently call the staff to speed up the pace if he found the conversation dull, a not-infrequent situation.
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In the foreground: Orchids and bromileads volunteer and inhabit their aged hosts. Beyond: The foundation is admirably filling in the botanical fairyland, where Hurricane Irma wreaked havok.
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The Edisons built one of the first swimming pools. The pavillion to the right was the venue for frequent teas and ladies’ events which Mina hosted. The area is surrounded by inviting gardens.
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This magnificent rubber tree is in the back yard of the Mangoes.
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The main house of Seminole Lodge, viewed from the guest house. The two are connected by a wisteria-draped arbor. In the foreground is a game table on the porch. Parcheesi was Edison’s favorite game; highly competitive, he was known to change the rules on unsuspecting newcomers to the game.

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This banyan tree was a sapling when Ford gifted it to the Edisons. It is now the second-oldest banyan in the world; the oldest is in India.

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The laboratory of Edison Botanical Research Corporation, which was created in 1927 to research sources for latex to make rubber.
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As we left the Edison Ford Estate, Monarch butterflies drifted around us and birds warbled. This little guy sat atop a concrete pillar and tootled the sweetest and most varied songs. What a delight! Does anyone know what kind of bird he is?

Our experience on Wednesday was the consolation for realizing that we have insufficient time to truly immerse ourselves in the mysteries of Everglades National Park. On Wednesday Steve and I embarked on an “Everglades Ecotour Safari.” Whatever. It was recommended in the AAA book, so we rather blindly signed up. It turned out to be a hurry-here-and-there alligator hunt. We started with a boat ride and hunted for dolphins. (We LOVE dolphins! But we’ve seen dozens and dozens from Red Pearl, up close and personal.) Then came the board walk hike through a swamp, which actually was pretty cool, albeit hurried. Next, after scoping out hurricane damaged homes in Everglades City, we ate a seafood lunch, which included a couple of bites of deep fried alligator. (Tastes like chicken. No joke.) Over lunch we conversed with our fellow tour-takers, 1 American from Wyoming, 8 Canadians, and 2 Germans. What fun we had hearing their take on the US political state of affairs! After lunch, we got serious about hunting alligators, all from the van, of course. We sped by slews of them, assured that there were hundreds there. I took his word for it. The day ended with an ear-splitting airboat ride across some lake. In search for more alligators, the most interesting thing we saw was an osprey ripping at a whole fish. Sigh. Not my cup of tea, but the guide worked hard and was well-meaning. 

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Let’s go!
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Strangler vine!
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Anhinga. What beautiful markings!
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This is a Great Egret Yellow beak and black feet. Snowy Egrets have black beaks and golden slippers.

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We saw many varieties of herons. I don’t have them sorted out, except to know that this in not a Great Blue.
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“Your dog would be delicious.”
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An Osprey with his lovely catch.
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Ralph, our airboat operator, we were told, is the best in the state of Florida. Having spent an hour with him, I still wouldn’t know.

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An Anhinga
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An anhinga tree!
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A Roseated Spoonbill. It looks like he’s wearing his Wellies.
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Lurking
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And waiting
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Still waiting
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“I’ll see you in your dreams.”

Fort Meyers will be a fun memory—the best, and the not-so-best. Now we prepare already to head across Lake Okeechobee and back north!

* It is thought that Mary Edison probably died from a morphine overdose. “… By 1890, opiates were the main ingredient in everything from teething powders to analgesics for menstrual cramps. Patent medicines – so-called because they often contained secret “patented” ingredients – flooded the market. Some served a useful purpose, but they also became easy methods to get high. One famous product was Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a morphine and alcohol concoction that was marketed to parents of fussy children as a “perfectly harmless and pleasant” way to produce a “natural quiet sleep, by relieving the child from pain.” After the civil war, even more potent drugs entered the market, including the opiate heroin (introduced by Bayer around the same time as aspirin) and the stimulant cocaine, which was used in everything from cough syrups to Coca-Cola (despite the company’s stringent denials).

Opium imports hit their peak in the 1890s, right around the rise of the temperance movement, perhaps because of the demonization of alcohol, or perhaps because opiate use was easier to hide. This was the status quo until 1906, when the federal government under Teddy Roosevelt stepped in with its landmark Pure Food and Drug Act, which required any “dangerous” or “addictive” drugs to appear on the label of products….”

-Excerpted from “The Strange History of Opiates” in “The Guardian”

**Fun Fact: The term “pick up truck” comes from the early days of the auto industry. Trucks were often purchased by mail and the new owner would have to go to the local shipping depot at the train station in order to  “pick up” his new truck. The first manufactured multipurpose truck came on a Model TT chassis in 1925.

***Text largely excerpted from edisonfordwinterestates.org website 

Back again…

March 7, 2019

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Mom on her 90th Birthday

After two weeks at home, we are back on Red Pearl and raring to go! We had a lovely time with our parents, celebrating Mom Hollenberg’s 90th, and quietly spending Mom Barr’s birthday with Dad. We went to doctors appointments, met with friends, and shared dinner with nephews. And then we returned to Red Pearl with dear friends Joel and Beverly Eikenberry in a rental car. They spent 2 days with us in St. Petersburg on the boat, but we were disappointed that high winds prevented us from truly introducing them to the cruising life; instead we opted for a quick 2-hour cruise during which winds did not exceed 12 mph. We revisited the Dali Museum, picked up our new folding bikes, enjoyed delicious stone crab at Billy’s, and made a quick sashay to St. Pete Beach, which is gorgeous when the weather is inviting—but it was not! On our last day in St. Pete we reconnected with friends Jeff Sickels and Twila Liggett over a leisurely lunch and talked about a possible rendezvous next winter in the Keys. 

 

Before returning home in February, Steve and I spent a lovely day in Sarasota on the Ringling Estate. We enjoyed the fabulous art collection which John Ringling amassed, comprised primarily of works of Baroque European masters, and toured the stunning home, Ca’d’zan, of John and Mable Ringling. John (1866-1936) was one of five Ringling brothers of the circus legacy, and his job was to seek talent for their circus acts, traveling the globe with Mabel. His wealth, built apart from the circus business through investments in oil, ranching, railroads, and real estate, made him the 13th wealthiest man at one point. In 1924, he and Mable finally began construction on a permanent home. The 36,000 square foot residence was the setting for lavish parties, hosting guests such as Will Rogers and New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. Built for $1.5 million, it is valued at nearly $21 million today. Mabel died only 3 years after moving into the home from Addison’s Disease and the complications of diabetes. Nine years later, at John’s death, the tangled web of his convoluted financial affairs, hounding creditors, bitter family rivalries, competing state and local governments, and a scorned former and second wife took 10 years to wind its way through probate. At his passing, John’s art museum and residential estate were left to the people of Florida, and $311.00 remained in his checking account. After leaving the Ringling estate, we drove to St. Armands Circle, remembering how exciting the shopping seemed 40 years ago when we discovered it. (Call us jaded.) We stumbled onto the Columbia (Restaurant), at which I remember the Cuban preparation of our filet mignon way back then, and we savored another memorable dinner there. 

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The garden in back of the Ringling Art Museum is filled with copies of Italian sculptures.

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Banyon trees and simple large-scale gardens abound. Mabel had an award-winning rose garden which is still barren this season.
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Such fabulous, exotic architecture! Ca’d’zan—House of John—a typically chauvinistic name.
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To the left in the water would have been the Ringlings’ 125-foot yacht….

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Tomorrow we head down the western coast of Florida to Venice. Time is shorter than we had hoped, due to time spent in Indiana and the press to be north of the hurricane belt in May before we head to Ireland for Stephanie and Luke’s wedding. It’s ALL good—special time at home, and weddings abroad! But we are tantalized by the idea of returning next winter for some of the stops we’re having to bypass this time around.

St. Petersburg

Feb. 11

We finally are cruising as we envisioned, and we are “chasing 80 [degrees]!” After a thoroughly enjoyable cruise south, we arrived at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, a 600-slip facility. We were asked to tread water for 45 minutes, while a disabled yacht finished fueling and was docked before we were assisted in docking at her bow. We were to be the last boat on the transient wall, with a nice distance between us and the next boat. I was showering for dinner when I heard Steve yell in an unusually high-pitched voice. As I threw on some clothes to be available for whatever Steve needed, I heard it again and then I felt the impact. (Can we just have an uneventful, thoroughly sunny blog with no drama?!) Marina personnel, evidently, changed their mind and directed a madman on a 30-foot boat to our stern, and he had absolutely no docking skills. As he jammed his boat back and forth from forward to reverse at RPMs way too high, he rear-ended us. It actually was our dinghy that he rammed, which swings a bit on its davits, and nothing seems damaged at this point. We are mystified by his lack of concern and his immediate claim that he’s been boating for 26 years and this is the FIRST time he has ever hit anything. First of all, with his lack of finesse, his claim is highly improbable; second, anyone who needs to make a claim like this is probably lying (as one might observe in our current political arena); and third, most boaters, if they are honest, miscue at some point in 26 years, and are wise to learn from their mistakes. We have witnesses of the event and spent the next morning fighting the system 🤯 to file a report with the FWC (Florida Wildlife and Conservation), verifying the skipper’s information, and waiting to assist with his lines as he departed in order to avert another impact—which we WOULD have had, as his plan for releasing his lines would not have controlled his windage. Steve helped him think it through and, thankfully, he was willing to use Steve’s strategy. 

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Red Pearl, on the left, tied up at the St. Pete Municipal Marina.

With that bit of unpleasantness behind us, we rhapsodized over the treasure at the Dali Museum. St. Pete was the recipient of the over-80-piece collection of philanthropists Reynolds and Eleanor Morse from Cleveland. (More of their story is at the end of this “rhapsody.”*) The collection moved into its current, hurricane-safe home in 2011, and the museum quickly became self-sustaining within two years. One gets a sense of Dali’s quirks as one approaches the building, with its “avant-garden,” extensive use of stone, and the bulbous-shaped geodesic protrusions from an otherwise severe cement cubical structure. We toured with a docent who shed light on this flamboyant personality and mischievous provocateur, whose work was influenced by his fascination with math and science, his vibrant dream world, his love for opera, his preoccupation with religion, and sex. Salvador Dali, born in Catalonia, Spain, was the third in his family by that name, preceded by his father and his deceased brother. Some of his psychological influences can be traced to his parents’ belief that he was an incarnation of his brother who was two when he died.  A prodigious child artist, Dali attended the prestigious Academy for Art in Madrid; however, he was neither a compliant nor a serious student and was finally expelled shortly before final exams for declaring that no member of the faculty was competent enough to examine him. 

We learned about Dali’s stylistic periods. Quite capable of competing with Dutch and Flemish masters, he found realism boring. Invited by others in the Surrealism movement, he joined this avant-garde group, one in which fantastic and incongruous imagery are irrationally juxtaposed, such as one experiences in dreams. He married Gala, a woman previously married to a Surrealist poet and 10 years his senior, who was truly his muse throughout his life. In the 1930s the Surrealism community expelled him, largely over his fascination with Hitler as expressed in a few of his works. Gala and Dali moved to the States due to WW II in 1940 and lived in New York and California for 8 years, during which time he met the Morses. In his classical period of the 1950s, he created 19 large canvases, characterized by meticulously detailed images of religious, historical and scientific themes, or what Dali called “nuclear mysticism.” He became obsessed with geometry, DNA, divinity, and experimented with visual images. His last large work was painted in 1975, a mind-shattering visual illusion entitled “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.” This fabulous work exemplifies his mastery of perspective and light. We learned about some of the imagery in his eccentric work: ants representing death and decay, a reminder of human mortality and our impermanence; melting clocks being an impression Dali derived from a melting wheel of Camembert cheese and representing the timelessness of the dream world and, conversely, the omnipresence of time and its mastery of the human world; the spiral, which Dali deemed to be nature’s most perfect form, and its presence in his work representing cosmic order. After several hours, Steve and I were enlivened, but also saturated and overwhelmed. We will look forward to another visit!

Dali:  “The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary , their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition.” 

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Each plexiglass triangle is unique and has its place. This portion of the building withstands up to Category 3 hurricane winds; the 18-inch-thick cement walls, Category 5.

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Grotesque clocks, inspired by a melting wheel of Camembert cheese, represent the omnipresence of time and its mastery over the world, and the timelessness we experience in the dream state in Dali’s work.
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Dali’s most famous masterwork, “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes a Portrait of Abraham Lincoln”
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Dali felt that the spiral was nature’s most perfect form. This inlay in the patio is found in the garden surrounding the museum.

After the Dali, we went to see the Chihuly Collection, similar to but smaller than the exhibit in Seattle. We marveled again at this iconic glass blower’s huge, whimsical, organic work. Afterward, we watched a glass blowing demonstration by local artists. 

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We feel joyful when we experience Dale Chihuly’s fanciful creations.

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On the way back to the boat, we passed a shop on Central Ave. that sells folding bikes—ONLY folding bikes. We would love to have bikes on this journey, and stopped to learn more and were able to test drive a couple. After researching and shopping, we returned a few days later and put a deposit down on them. 

Dinner both Friday and Saturday were in the

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With Twila Liggett, Jeff Sickles and Oscar.

company of Jeff Sickles and Twila Liggett, friends from last winter at Suntex Marina in St. Pete. We didn’t know them well, but he’s quite a story teller, and she is a creative woman with grit, the developer and producer of “Reading Rainbow,” a children’s TV program encouraging a love for reading, and the proud recipient of TEN Emmys. We’ve had fun reconnecting with these lovely people. 

 

Sunday was low-key, with a good walk through the Old Northeast neighborhood past beautiful old homes, to Florida’s first roadside attraction, Sunken Gardens, open in 1903. A small botanical garden, it was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours in the shade of a huge variety of majestic palms and a nice array plantings, visit with personable parrots, and wonder at funky flamingos. Lots of families with little kids were there… and everyone was smiling!

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Such funny birds! Elegant and awkward at the same time.

 

We have now moved the boat from the Municipal Marina to Suntex, where we will leave Red Pearl while we drive home to the frigid climes. We’ll celebrate both mom’s birthdays—Mom Barr’s with Dad, remembering many happy celebrations in the past, and Mom Hollenberg’s 90th! The Hollenberg family will gather at Pokagon in April to celebrate this landmark. We now have a few days to do some small chores aboard and to explore the area a bit more via rental car, reveling in the lovely sun and cool breeze.

*More on the Morses:  Reynold Morse worked in the plastic molding business, and Eleanor was schooled in Music, French and Spanish. They first saw Dali’s work in a traveling Museum of Modern Art show in 1943 and being drawn immediately to it, bought ”Daddy Longlegs of the Evening — Hope!” (1940), as a wedding present to themselves. Within a year they had purchased three more Dalis, all from the early 30’s. ”We plunged instead of hedging,” Mr. Morse said, ”and after a while I was becoming known as the nut who was backing a dark horse. Or vice versa.” They embarked on a sometimes turbulent friendship with Dali and his wife, Gala, regularly visiting the Dalis’s villa in Port Lligat, Spain. They had first pick of his New York gallery shows and usually paid the tab for post-opening dinners at the Pierre Hotel. Mrs. Morse’s linguistic background made her instrumental in translating and disseminating Dali’s writings and ideas to a wider audience. In 1989 by order of King Juan Carlos of Spain, Mrs. Morse received the knighting that is the highest honor the Spanish government can bestow upon a non-Spanish citizen. Having collected over 100 paintings and more than 1000 sketches and drawings, the couple sought a place where their collection would benefit the public and remain intact; and the city of St Petersburg was the only applicant willing to comply with all of their requirements. In 1997 The American Benefactor placed the Morses in the 100 Most Generous Americans for this gift.