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Friday, May 30, 2014

Intruder Aboard! Where? Surprising Location....

cruising destinations, cruising safety, liveaboard, cruising transitions
This is where the intruder on our boat was standing.
I was in between him and Wayne, whose legs
you can see in our v-berth bedroom.
“Aren’t you afraid of pirates?”

This is one of the top three questions cruiser-curious folks ask, along with
  • Aren’t you afraid of storms?
  • How can you spend that much time together in such a small space without going crazy?
And yet, in ~2500+ miles of cruising in the last two years, mostly outside the United States, we rarely felt compelled to lock up our boat.  This year, other than in notoriously unsafe Nassau (though watch for a future post on the safe haven we discovered there), we did not lock up our boat.  No need.  How many United States homeowners can claim they’re comfortable doing that?

And yet, there’s the perception the world outside our country is a scary, dangerous place.

The biggest scare we got cruising was a few days ago.

cruising destinations, cruising safety, liveaboard, cruising transitions
This is my view from where I stood when
we were intruded upon.  The intruder was just beyond
the bookshelf on the left.
Where?  Here in the United States, in a town we called home living aboard over hurricane season last year, and may again this hurricane season.

“How can you not like tying off right across from Hooters?” chuckled a fellow cruiser, when I began telling him about our misadventure.  There was a free dock, welcome to overnighters, right in the heart of downtown, at lovely riverside Jacksonville Landing (Jacksonville Florida).  Music, eateries, flanked with a pleasant park complete with a boardwalk, restful lawns, trees, benches, a pavilion.  Struck us as the perfect re-entry spot after a two day passage to both celebrate and rest.  We took a walk and enjoyed the rare pleasure of being served – with affordable food, no less – enjoying people watching as part of our riverfront view.

Earlier on our walk, I noticed a tall, slender young man with beautiful, delicate features, seated on the riverfront pavilion steps. He wore dark, clean blue jeans and a crisp white t-shirt, and appeared zen-like in his still, serene pose, his eyes closed, his face pointed out over the river.

At dinner, I again noticed him as he walked along the boardwalk. Oddly, his jean tops slid down below his butt, and in between his shirt and jeans, his boxers flashed a broad royal blue band. He was wearing socks, but no shoes. He trailed a couple by a yard or so, but he appeared to not only not notice them; his walk was trancelike. His shoulders were slouched forward and down, and he was dragging his feet. 

Wayne concluded, when I pointed him out, that he seemed “just a bit soft in the head.”  Seems the local homeless shelters were closed for Memorial weekend, complained a veteran, panhandling earlier us on our walk.  We weren’t sure that was true, but could explain the presence of some of the less mainstream folks we observed in the area.

We too, appeared to be a curiosity.  Quite a few folks gazed at us on our boat, wearing expressions of wonder.  While there were two other boats docked there, they were smaller day-sailboats, around 25’ or less.  Comparatively, our 36 ½ foot boat loomed large.  Plus, we were aboard our boat; the other boats were uninhabited.

That night, Wayne and I agreed to awake at 7 am, and set sail by 8 am to take advantage of the peak current flow headed our desired direction.

cruising destinations, cruising safety, liveaboard, cruising transitions
Dawn, this morning from our boat in the very safe Jacksonville (JAX)
naval marina, Mulberry Cove.
At 7 am, my alarm went off, I got up, and Wayne snored blissfully in our v-berth bed (check out the photo showing where the vberth is and the nature of the space in our boat).  Given his understandable exhaustion after completing a two-day continuous sail, I decided to quietly make our coffee and wake him up gently with a light, loving massage at 7:30. 

At 7:45, after finishing his massage, I turned, and was startled to see only about a yard away from me, inside our cabin salon that same odd young man I’d observed the night before!

“What are you doing on our boat!?!” I shrilled.  “This is our home!”

He raised his hands, as if in supplication or apology, replying softly in an unaccented voice, “I’m not from around here.”  He turned, and melted silently away in fluid movement, up the companionway stairs and off the boat.  I watched his ankle exit off our boat and onto the boardwalk through our galley porthole window.

Wayne and I don’t believe he meant any harm, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit the incident didn’t scare the crap out of us (figuratively, not literally).

Some “Welcome home.”

Pirates?  We know where not to go to avoid them (click here for a great resource on avoiding pirates and other crime while sailing).  Heck, in our all our months the Bahamas we weren’t even panhandled once.

Oddly, it’s the complacency of familiarity in one of the richest countries in the world that for us encouraged what in retrospect we’d consider riskier behavior.  It’s atypical for us to dock; even more so right in the heart of a city* rather than in a marina, surrounded by other boats much more attractive than our humble craft to someone curious or avaricious.

*Notable exception -- St. Lucia’s Soufriere, where we locked ourselves into our hot, steamy boat – click here to read about why we did that and here for why others should consider giving St. Lucia a miss

What would we do differently?  Not stay there. Or lock ourselves in, as we did in Soufriere.  In the future, we’ll hide knives (Wayne’s more dramatically proposing placing a machete on vberth shelf) in several places around our boat, as well as looking into motion detectors.  One brilliant application another cruiser used was a motion-triggered barking Doberman recording.


What intruder boat scares have you experienced?  What did you do when it happened?  What would you do differently “in the moment”?  What preventative steps steps do you take now to avoid future mishaps?

Location Location
May 30, 2014, United States.  We recently completed a continuous 46 hour / ~230 mile Atlantic passage to the St John’s river inlet near Jacksonville Florida.  We are currently at very safe but internet-less JAX Naval Base Mulberry Cove Marina (N30.12.980 W81.40.234), about 7 miles from Jacksonville Landing's free dock.  How safe is the marina?  Base entry is via gates allowing passage of only those with military i.d., further protected with car, foot and aerial armed patrols. Once we know where we're living, we're off to store our boat for hurricane season in Green Cove Springs, FL.  There is no shortage of unpublished photos and adventure stories to fill the gap between now and cruising season and even transitional tales you won’t want to miss, like, "What two words do we say to offset our wistfulness when not cruising?"  

Cross your fingers for us, please -- we're interviewing for jobs to replenish our cruising kitty.  Tomorrow we should have our U.S. internet solution in place and will resume more frequent blogging.  Update!  Wayne just got a job offer!  Acceptance testing is Monday morning; he begins the following Monday June 9th.  I'm in the process of making arrangements to restart at West Marine.