July 1, the date which the Looping Adventure was to resume has come and gone, and we are not on the water. Life continues to happen.
We left Red Pearl at Wacca Wache Marina in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, and celebrated as Steph and Luke married in Boston on May 18 with a small gathering of their community there, and then again with their British community in Ireland on June 1. The couple shared affirmations barefoot and “connected with the earth.” Steve and I are directly behind Stephanie in this photo; her siblings, right of Steph; their kilted Scottish Quaker celebrant to the left of Luke, and Luke’s lovely British mum in the hat—a beautiful cloud of pink was she—and his dad, also in an Irish kilt and cap. Skies were gray….oh yes, the heavens opened and poured their wet blessings during our procession! And Midgies! Ireland’s version of our “no see ums” were thick, and the smokey repellent in the air resulted in the entire congregation smelling like campfire.
Steve and I returned to Goshen on June 11 and were promptly confronted with a health emergency with my dad, the result being a diagnosis of metastatic colon cancer. With my being his last and closest family, we delayed our travel plans to settle him back in his retirement community which has been home for 13 years, and initiated Hospice services. A few weeks later, with Dad seeming surprisingly stable, we decided to slip away for 10 days to move the boat up to the Chesapeake, clearing the hurricane belt and positioning her for intermittent and brief cruises during the next months as Dad’s condition might allow. The day before we left, a nurse called to tell me that Dad was having chest pain. The pain quickly abated with nitroglycerin, so Steve and I decided to continue our plan; but as we drove to pick up the rental car the next morning, my phone call located Dad at the nurse’s station—again with chest pain. Dispirited and concerned, we turned around and drove home, and a profound anticlimax clouded the day. In light of these complications, we have decided that cruising is imprudent at this time. Our seasons and our plans feel mixed up with the uncertainties of timing that lie ahead. We read our looping friends’ blogs as they cruise the northern waters with envy and anticipation of the right timing for us.
TRULY, our desire is to enjoy these days with Dad and to be available when he needs us. What a privilege and life lesson it is to share the journey with this courageous and determined man! As I write, he is filling in for the chaplain of the retirement community while she is away for an entire week, is preparing to lead a book discussion group which he has led for more than a decade, continues to play pool with the guys and weekly bid Euchre with friends, and joins the cloud of witnesses every Sunday at the church in which he experiences Life itself. On September 7 we celebrated Dad’s 93rd birthday with friends from his community.
And so Red Pearl sits in South Carolina, precisely inside the hurricane belt. The advent of Hurricane Dorian was most unwelcome news. In no way do I diminish what the people of Bahamas have experienced, folks who are stranded there, whose entire way of life is there, who have been separated from their loved ones, who even watched loved ones drown before their eyes. But our personal property in harm’s way is a boat, and we drove down to prepare her for riding out the hurricane when we saw the storm’s trajectory. On Labor Day, to the dulcet strains from the patio of the marina’s restaurant below us, Rock me momma like the wind and the rain,our minds were on hurricane destruction. We removed the isinglass (the plastic windows) and our brand new upholstery, we made a flip-of-a-coin decision to follow the lead of the locals and leave the Bimini (the canvas roof)in place. (I personally found this to be the best decision for our marriage, as I doubted we would ever get it up again.) Everything else taped and battened down or stowed in the cabin, we left the Myrtle Beach area with mandatory evacuation sirens blaring.
It was dusk….and we hit an opossum….and then 20 minutes later—Oh dear Lord—a dog, both just standing dazed in the middle of the road. And now having just had the car in the body shop for small details on her back end, she goes back to the shop for repairs of her front end.
The end of this saga is that, as Dorian battered its way up the eastern seaboard, South Carolina was spared the worst. Red Pearl is still on top of the water. We feel lucky, indeed.
Stephanie and Luke are getting married in Boston and Ireland, and so we’re heading home to prepare for the festivities. As I write, we’re tucking Red Pearl in at Murrell’s Inlet, SC, nearly 500 miles short of our original goal for leaving her for 7 weeks while we’re away. According to our insurance company, we are still inside the “hurricane belt,” and they are adamant in requiring that we be north of North Carolina by June 15.Some of you may remember our angst LAST spring, as we strained against this mandate, complicated by the passing of my mom and Steve’s mouth full of sores. The inability to reconcile their requirement with our reality has forced us to research new insurers, layering on additional anxiety as we assess new policies and walk away from the boat without having a decision nailed down. But, one does what one must.
I’ve said many times along this journey: Sometimes you’re lucky (…other times, not so much). I know it’s not a particularly grammatically brilliant phrase, but it just seems appropriate in so many instances. The short version of the conclusion of our stay in Savannah—and, believe me, you DO want the short version!—is that the work order kept extending. The engine work had concluded, the raw water pump finally was installed, albeit with an unnecessarily tortuous string of tradespeople. But as hull work dragged on, it was discovered that one part had not been ordered and 5 days later for some reason it still was not. Further, the fiberglass man who went to Orlando for the week end to watch his daughter’s 2-minute cheer routine in competition didn’t show on Monday as promised. And having just fixed the raw water pump, the fresh water pump suddenly stopped and had to be replaced. And so we sat in Savannah for an unwelcome two additional weeks, Steve reworking the tide tables time and again, hoping to shove off “any day,” and I embarking on a musical project—something non-boat-y to preserve my waning sanity. We became friends with Loopers Sue and Bud Hanson on Odyssey who had been towed in with both engines ailing, and we cheered one another as we helplessly waited. All said, however, if one HAS to marooned somewhere, Savannah is a beautiful city, and we continued to bike downtown and enjoy the sights and meet other Loopers.
Finally, on Thursday, May 2 at 2:00pm, we departed Savannah and did not look back! We anchored out the next two nights, passing by beautiful coastal towns which we had so looked forward to exploring. Threatening weather forecasts became benign as we cruised, and our moods lifted with wind on our faces and as we gazed down at scenery from the flybridge at beautiful homes, rustic homes, and wild coastlines. The company of dolphins on the water once again conjured up joy for the spontaneous moment.
On Saturday, May 4 we caught up with Mike and Brenda, our friends on Velsignet, who had already seen a number of sights in Charleston. With Steve and my having no sightseeing agenda in Charleston, it was just fun to be together again. We had docktails and chatted right through what might have been dinner. On Sunday we attended services at a little Lutheran Church and then went for brunch at Husk, a restaurant which had been recommended to Mike and Brenda by their neighbor in MN whose nephew is the chef. Touted by Bon Appetit as the No. 1 New Restaurant in the US when it opened in 2011, Husk features locally sourced southern cooking; on Sundays, brunchy appetizers and mains are offered, a lovely departure from the gorging-inspired buffet brunch which has become an American fixture. We savored discreet portions of biscuits with chicken gravy, baked cheesy stone-ground grits, an omelette with oyster mushrooms and aromatics, and challah French Toast with macerated berries and whipped ricotta. Mike and Brenda had exotic preparations of quail and corn waffle, and brisket topped with poached eggs. We departed the restaurant, all senses sated. What else to do in historic Charleston on the only afternoon in town? “Shopping!” you say? The guys solved the world’s problems while Brenda and I browsed inviting boutiques. That evening they joined us aboard for a lentil soup and salad supper, and we made plans to meet in Georgetown.
The 63-mile cruise to Georgetown was idyllic—the weather was sunny, windy, and temperate, and the wild grasslands invoked memories of the South Carolina coastal scenes in Pat Conroy’s novels of which I am an adoring fan. We traversed one river after another, some narrow and shallow during lower tides, others roaring to life with impressive current. We watched the wildlife in the water (dolphins are nearly constant companions) and flying above, all in seeming constant search of food, and we pondered the extensive ecosystem in which grassy fen sifts and cleanses the waters, and how easily one could become disoriented without GPS keeping constant vigil as to one’s exact location. Lulled into a semi-meditative state, I was filled with gratitude for the opportunity to see and experience this very particular sliver of life.
Arriving in Georgetown in the late afternoon, we enjoyed a soup supper on Mike and Brenda’s boat. A refresher course on Pinochle was so absorbing that we didn’t think of the time until 12:15. Given that we were seeing the sights of a small town the next day, there was no particular need to stick to the Loopers’ normal schedule (“Looper midnight” being 9:30), so we finished the game and dinghied back to our boat at 1:00am.
The following morning Steve and I toured the Kiminsky House, full of colorful history. Built by a father for his spinster daughter at the ripe old age of 20, the 3-story house required expansion after she married the town sheriff and assumed custody of her 3 nieces and nephew after the death of their parents. 200 years later in the 1940s it became the home for Harold and Julia Kaminski, both from prominent families and the subject of scandal, he being 20-some years her senior and Jewish, she being Protestant. The couple eloped and then embarked on extensive world travels, collecting beautiful furnishings for their home. The community must have accepted them at some point, for Harold was elected mayor, and the couple entertained in style, easily seating 24 at their dining room table. Having no heirs, Julia left the entire estate to the town of Georgetown, including a stunning 13-diamond brooch which was her signature piece of jewelry.
After lunch with Mike and Brenda, we all toured the Rice Museum. Production of rice and indigo yielded the amassing of enormous wealth in this county in the 18th-19th centuries. The many swamps and low-lying areas along with a West African labor force made the cultivation of rice highly profitable. Enslaved laborers cleared the cypress swamps and and flooded the rice fields from the rivers by digging canals, ditches or floodgates, a process which required knowledge, engineering and technical skills, which, ironically, were provided by the enslaved West Africans, who were experienced rice farmers. By 1840 Georgetown produced nearly half of the total rice crop of the US, exported more rice than any port in the world, and “Carolina Gold” was in demand worldwide. Enslaved rice plantation workers provided their owners the highest per capita income in the American colonies and they continued to earn huge profits up to the Civil War. That the cultivation of this labor-intensive crop became unaffordable with paid labor after the Civil War was predictable, and the final demise occurred as rice production was mechanized and the soft South Carolina soil would not support the heavy machinery. The area finally found economic stability again in the early 20th century through the production of clear yellow pine, and the sweet town continues to bob and weave through market trends. Docktails were on our boat, and our third game of pinochle failed to determine whether Steve and Brenda or Mike and I were the better team. 😉 We called it a day on Looper schedule, as we were all cruising the following day. Good-byes were sad, as we won’t be able to catch them on the remainder of their Loop after this break from cruising, but we have tentative plans to reconnect next winter in Florida!
We left Georgetown Harborwalk Marina for our final cruise for a good while, a delightful 20-miles. Here, too, at Murrell’s Inlet, we are meeting with service folk— a diver to check our propellers, because we hit something on the Wacamaw River on Monday, resulting in a slight vibration; and a canvas craftsmen to quote snap-on exterior Sunbrella window covers. The window covers that came with the boat are worn and mismatched, and a good set will provide privacy, allowing us to get rid of the 3 beige curtains-on-a-bungee, which fail miserably in the aesthetics department.
I have kicked myself for my indecision about things that needed freshening up on 13-year-old Red Pearl, as our current mode of renovating along the journey is stressful and inefficient. And then I remind myself that the path of discovery is not always straight. Every Looper reads the books by Captain John Wright, who has 7 loops under his belt, proudly claims to have never paid more than $30,000 for a boat, and recommends that Loopers think of their boat as transportation, rather than a home. Steve thought this made sense; I had my doubts but, noting that I feel no need to decorate my car, agreed to give the concept a “go.”“Go” having been given, I’ve discovered that the boat is NOT just transportation; we invite friends aboard, host docktails and simple suppers, and we have spent a LOT of time at port. As we anticipate another 1 1/2 years to complete the Loop, we have decided to embark on a few additional improvements, and 7 weeks should be enough for window covers without causing further delays….right? 🥺
So now we’re off to Indiana, Boston, Ireland, and Minneapolis! The Looping adventure will resume July 1.
We arrived in Savannah and were delighted to learn that Velsignet was only a few hours behind us. Mike and Brenda are heading home, too, and are tucking their boat in at a different marina. But in the few days between, they decided to dock and see the sights of Savannah from Thunderbolt, where we were. We were moved to the “basin,” which is a part of the “yard,” adjacent to but separate from the marina, due to the work for which we are scheduled. I did laundry and we made good use of our down time. When Mike and Brenda arrived, we had docktails (often we drink water!) and shared travel stories. We decided to explore the Bonaventure Cemetery via bike, just a few miles from the marina, famous for its beauty and famous “residents.” We located the grave site ofJohnny Mercer of “Moon River” fame and a Jewish section andHolocaust memorial. Then, it still being early, we decided to continue down to the river district downtown. Historic Savannah is laid out in squares, each similar yet inhabiting its own personality. Twenty-two of the original 24 from the English design still exist, spaced 2 blocks apart each way, and serve as green space for the residences and quiet businesses which face it. The profusion of Spanish moss draped Live Oaks add stately elegance and shade everywhere and just beg one to slow down. Bright red camellias dot the landscape and fill in less expansively than the earlier-blooming azaleas did a couple of weeks ago. Down by the river is a touristy area, but a wizened local directed us to Spanky’s for supper. It was precisely what we were looking for—a local dive at which almost everything on the menu was deep fried! The claim to fame was “the original” chicken fingers; of course, we asked our server what that really meant, and he didn’t know, but enthusiastically endorsed them as delicious. They were. We stopped on the way home at Tubby’s Sports Bar and watched sadly as the Notre Dame women got bested by one point in the NCAA final tournament game.
The following day held a succession of delightfully lucky touring serendipities. Before setting off for town, I was disappointed to find that no tickets were available for the most popular historic house tour, but as we wandered around town, we happened upon the Owens-Thomas house and decided just to see if there might be tickets—and there were 4, giving us 45 minutes to preview the videos and history. It was an interesting peek into an urban home run by enslaved people. Built by a cotton plantation owner and slave trader in 1819 and utilizing the youthful cutting edge skills of architect William Jay, the family lost prosperity and was struck by a yellow fever epidemic and sold the house only 3 years later. For several years it served as a boarding house, one guest being the wildly popular Marquis de Lafayette who gave a speech from the balcony of his room. Finally the house was purchased at auction by the William Owens, planter, lawyer, and politician (mayor of Savannah and Congressman) and his wife in 1830 for $10,000. Its English Regency architectural style demanded symmetry which sometimes compromised functionally; and faux finishes were the fashion, begging the question, “Why wouldyou want real marble baseboards (wrought iron banisters, walnut doors, etc.) when you can pay so much more to have fake ones?” The docent always referred to “enslaved people” rather than “slaves” and “owners of enslaved people” rather than “masters,” and raised the uncomfortable reality that the Owens’ beautiful lifestyle was dependent upon their 400 enslaved workers, on these workers’ lack of personal time and space, on the conflicting messages of genuine fondness and stern control that even their most trusted house workers endured. After the tour, we rode around the famous Forsyth Park and then were able to snag a reservation for early dinner at The Olde Pink House. As we approached the restaurant we gave pause at the sight— the place was swarming with cameras and news media and the line awaiting entry wound down the steps and around the block. What dumb luck!—This was their grand reopening 102 daysafter a big kitchen fire! The staff was in top form and, despite our showing up with bike helmet hair, we had a lovely, memorable dinner. Thunder storms greeted us as we left the Pink House, making the 6-mile ride back to our boats memorable, too, and warm showers back at the marina felt even better than usual. To cap off our lucky day, we utilized our access to a lovely captain’s lounge, as guests of the boat YARD, rather than the marina. What a great spot to watch the finals of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament with our popcorn and snacks—a great end to a really fun day.
After a day of fielding questions from boat service providers and preparing to leave the boat for a week, we flew home for a packed four days with Steph and Luke in Goshen, attending to wedding planning, visiting my dad, celebrating Mom Hollenberg’s 90th birthday at Pokagon State Park, a venue which has been meaningful to the Hollenberg family for many years.
We returned to the boat 6 days later, expecting progress to have been made on the work orders. As it turns out, our return was MUCH earlier than necessary, as we found the sweet engine mechanic just getting a start on the 3-day 1000-hour maintenance routine. This was not what we thought we had scheduled! But, not to worry—some other pieces and parts are delayed, too, which means we have another week to explore Savannah.
On Thursday, Steve and I took off on our bikes again for downtown to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, rated the 5th best restaurant in Savannah by Trip Advisor. The 90-minute wait on the sidewalk raised questions as to its worth, but it turned out to be a fun experience. We were seated at tables of 10, already set with platters of meat and side dishes and sweet tea all around. Fried chicken, chicken and noodles, meatloaf, barbecued pork, sausage and rice, green beans, butter beans, creamed corn, squash, rutabagas, macaroni salad, potato salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, white rice, candied sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, collards, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and corn bread, cucumbers, cabbage, and baked beans—all one could eat—were then topped off with a choice of peach cobbler or banana pudding. Mrs. Wilkes’ grand daughter Shirley introduced herself and made certain that we were pleased with our experience, and as I thanked her after the meal, she apologized for our wait. Steve and I were grateful that between us we had cash enough to cover the meal, as no credit cards were accepted and we overheard other guests comment on how many blocks it was to the nearest ATM. From there we rode to Forsyth Park again to sate our need for beautiful green space. Bordering the park is a magnificent spreading Live Oak named the Candler, a 300-year-old tree with 110-foot width. We read a placard about the activities that have surrounded that tree through the years: a poor house and hospital, orchards and cattle, prisoners of war. Due to its declining health, in 1985 the Candler Oak’s easement was donated to the Savannah Tree Foundation, and with restorative treatment it has rebounded and is expected to continue thriving for many years. We admire the value that the community obviously holds for these botanical treasures. En route back to the boat, we met our friends on The Journey, Dale and Merna Hartwig, who we met at Dog River in Mobile and subsequently crossed the gulf with. We celebrated their crossing their wake that day (meaning that they completed their 6000 mile Loop) and we had such a good time hearing about their experiences and learning what they have planned for their next chapter. Ah, one just never knows what the day will bring!
The following days blur together, colored by our yearning to get back on the water, our desire not to squander the opportunities in Savannah, and an acquiescence to the situation holding us here. Friday (Good Friday) was dark, stormy, and cold with a tornado warning. Saturday we enjoyed a bike ride and checked out the Earth Day festivities at Daffin Park. We marked Easter Sunday by pumping out our holding tank 😜 and making a big breakfast of cheesy grits, fried eggs, and Pillsbury orange rolls. Not at the same time!
Our attempt to ride to the Wormsloe Historic Site on Easter was thwarted by the realization that roads were too narrow and traffic too fast for us to conjure up a mythology of safety. We visited via courtesy car the following day, enjoying the famous 1.5 mileLive Oak Avenue and learning about the founding of Savannah as a colony, barring land ownership, slavery, and spirits. The resulting lifestyle proved too rigorous, the community failing to thrive; it thrived finally—and sadly—after reversing all three of these ethical touchstones and embracing the norms of the time. Wormsloe is a tabby ruins of a fortified house built over 6 years in the mid-18th century by Noble Jones, who was an English settler. He was loyal to the crown; his son Noble W. Jones was a patriot and attendee of the Second Continental Congress. The family story is interesting, and a lovely historic house stands sheltered behind fences and mature landscaping on the grounds, home still to Noble Jones’ descendants.
Last evening we were delighted to have dinner with Mike and Brenda, just back from MN and also raring to go. As we continue waiting for a new raw water pump, still awaiting some hull work, I am signing off on the Savannah chapter. Maybe closing it will bring closure to the work order, as well! We’re hoping to be back on the water tomorrow—fingers crossed!
We had planned to spend one more beautiful day in St. Augustine, but the touristy bits had soured us a bit, and with an eye on the weather, we decided to make a run for our next destination. Amelia Island Marina is not a happenin’ place, but it was a good spot to wait out another couple days of rain and high wind. During the first 24 hours Steve made multiple rounds, readjusting lines and fenders to better secure the boat in the high wind, and I stuck my nose out once to retrieve cheese from the cooler on the flybridge: it was that sort of day. Getting low on provisions, I was rather proud of the dinner that scrounging produced—chicken roasted with onions, garlic, green olives, lemon slices, and olive oil with a side of maple-glazed carrots. The next day we took the courtesy car and provisioned! But first we drove to the historic district of Fernandina Beach—a couple blocks adjacent to a state park—which includes the Pippi Longstocking House. Pippi Longstocking, is not a real person, of course, but it IS a real movie (“The New Adventures of…”), and this was the 1987 set, a colorful Victorian home with a copper-roofed cupola and mature gardens—charming!Dinner was take-out Sushi…. And that was Fernandina Beach!
A lot of angst, primarily on Steve’s part, went into planning the next leg of our journey, because the tidal range is 6-7 feet. We don’t have tides in the Great Lakes and the Caribbean, so this is a whole new wrinkle in boating for us. We had made a reservation at a marina before reading the recommendation for matching wind and tidal current when crossing the potentially choppy seas of St. Andrews Sound, and a rising tide to pass the shallow water by Jekyll Island, both impossible with our itinerary! After gleaning some local knowledge, we scrapped the original plan and decided to anchor just south of these areas, staging our approach the following morning at high tide. Having now left Florida and entering Georgia, we felt lucky to find ourselves that afternoon in Terrapin Cove, a lovely spot with a few other boats and that our dear friends Mike and Brenda Finkenbinder finally caught up with us! They cruised 80 miles to get there and “rafted up” to Red Pearl, avoiding their need for anchoring and offering easy access for socializing. After docktails on the flybridge, we shared Instant Pot vegetable beef soup which I had made that morning and spinach salad and killer brownies which Brenda whipped up. We had so much to catch up on since our escape together to New Orleans in January! The night was windy and roll-y, the 10 fenders between our boats creaked and groaned, and none of us slept much as a result, but it was so worth it!
The next morning after shared coffee time, we headed off, they for a day of cycling on Jekyll Island, and we to a further destination. (We all are flying out of Savannah next week to our respective homes, but we have service work scheduled and need to be there earlier than they do.) It was a beautiful cruise along the Georgia coastline, wild, desolate, and swampy. Rain was in the forecast for nearly the whole day, and so we felt lucky to have a merely overcast day. We delighted in nature’s gifts: a sea turtle ducked beneath the surface just ahead; dolphins dipped in and out, at one point six playing in our wake; elegant terns stalled in midair, dive bombed and speared fish with sharp beaks; bald eagles and ospreys swooped for their prey and carried them off in their talons; black cormorants ducked underwater and emerged, barely able to fly with feathers water-laden and hung their wings out to dry perched atop a piling; and pelicans patiently awaited handouts from fishermen. We anchored at Fridaycap Creek seemingly early, around 1:00 to take advantage of the next morning’s high tide to again avoid risk of running aground. We puttered and napped and soaked in the beauty of our bucolic spot.
On Friday this is Steve’s Log entry:
Rain all day was forecasted but we didn’t see a drop! Ended being a lovely cruising day. We got out the “foulies” for nothing! Our passage for the day included: Buttermilk Sound, Altamaha Sound, the very shallow Little Mud River (was fine at high tide), Darien River, North River, Dolby Sound, Old Teakettle Creek, Crescent River, Front River, Sapelo River and Sound, Brunson Creek, Johnson Creek, N. Newport River, Medway River, and St. Catherine Sound, and finally to Sunbury Channel—all in only 50 miles! Sunbury Marina is very small, not very busy, but floating docks are excellent and staff is very accommodating. Nothing here except the restaurant which was excellent. The seven-mile side trip to visit here was worth it!
Our final day approaching Savannah found us focused on getting through the infamous Hell Gate at high tide, 10:15, requiring a departure at 7:15 to make that happen. I’ve been fighting a cold, the kind that makes you feel like your eyes are buried 2 inches into your skull, so was not very receptive to Steve’s wanting to experiment with springing off the dock or to his questioning my clove hitch while doing said experiment. I finally just went back to bed, foul weather bibs and all, and left Steve to his meditations on Hell Gate. I emerged from my nap feeling more human, and we weathered a bit a rain, which sent us down into the salon where we could stay dry, but later we returned to the fly bridge. After tying up at Thunderbolt Marina, we enjoyed docktails with Gold Loopers Jill and Richard Spurlock on Jill Kristy, a 26-foot McGregor (sailboat) and Bruce and Bev on Daytripper! They had a lot of tips and stories, and we admired their spunk. Thunderbolt Marina will be the home for Red Pearl during scheduled maintenance and as we fly home to Indiana for Mom Hollenberg’s birthday bash. Savannah’s elegance and history make it a high point for many Loopers, and we are excited to have arrived here.
Winds having abated, we enjoyed another lovely day cruising to St. Augustine. That afternoon we took a leisurely spin through town, venturing into art shops and poking down cobblestone lanes. We happened upon Kernel Poppers, boasting over 250 flavors of popcorn! After sampling Loaded Baked Potato and Wasabi, among others, we stuck with more traditional options that made our hearts sing and purchased small bags of salty Caramel Kettle Corn and Butter Rum. Dinner at Columbia was a treat, and we were scouting out the fish menu before we realized that this was a sister restaurant to the one we enjoyed so much at St. Armands in Sarasota.
The next day we got down to business seeing the sights! AAA suggested the jump-on-and-off trolley, so we booked it, not realizing how walkable the area is and how hokey the sights at farthest end are. We learned a lot of history at the Governor’s house, which also became the first United States Post Office. Those lessons were reinforced at the Castillo de San Marcos, swarming with costume-clad docents on a Saturday morning, regaling guests with stories about the 9 previous forts which had burned down; how 430,000 blocks of Coquina stone were quarried and used to construct this fort which protected 1700 people during a 51-day English bombardment; and a cannon demonstration. Tour guides expressed pique about school children being taught history through English eyes (Jamestown being the “first settlement” in 1607), as St. Augustine was incorporated a full 42 years prior. Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s mission being to convert the “savages” to Catholicism, all that was required for freed African slaves and Native Americans to be absorbed into the mainstream of society was to join the Catholic Church, and many did. With the influx of Spanish men vastly outnumbering that of Spanish women, racially mixed marriages were common and unremarkable, and the resulting culture was a rich amalgamation of traditions and cuisines. We toured a small museum on pirate culture as it affected the city and learned a bit about the colorful life and draconian code of ethics aboard a pirate ship, and saw some pirate treasure. St. Augustine has multiple threads in its history, through the American Revolution (Spain assisted the colonists in this war), the Civil War (the Spanish had long before freed slaves), and the establishment of Florida as a tourist destination. Henry Flagler was big here, having established the first railway down the east coast of Florida, and two fantastic hotels to pamper the tourists who traveled this railway. While we would have enjoyed seeing more of the stellar Tiffany architecture and opulence and the many Tiffany windows at these hotels, we just ran out of time. But honestly, by this point we were a little annoyed with some of the touristy things we had gotten sucked into and felt done with St. Augustine. We enjoyed a Thai dinner with Dana and Doug Belknap, and we stumbled into an amicable political discussion after they learned we are Mennonite and made correct assumptions. They will be crossing their wake soon in Norfolk, but they will continue cruising the Down East Loop, up the northern seaboard and around Nova Scotia. We hope to see them again!
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.
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.
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 whyour 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.
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 offusing 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, producingobjects 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.
And finally, two contrasting scenes from our cruise up the Atlantic ICW, at this point on the Indian River.
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.
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…
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.
The arena at the Clewiston Sugar Festival blared country western music.
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.
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.
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 LighthouseBeach 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. 😔
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.
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.
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’dbeen 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.***
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.
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.