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The Two Captains


2C Update #125 - Gone Aground in the US of A

(Photographs by the Two Captains)

When you have been cruising as far and as long as the Two Captains, returning to the US is a little bit like touring a foreign country. Only instead of curiosity about historical sites and landmarks, the first fascination is with the "stuff" that so involves the everyday lives of Americans...Americans that we once were, but are not quite anymore.

For Don it has been television, movies and fast food. This last I think is in reaction to the expense of eating out in French Polynesia. To be able to drive in and fill two bellies for less than $10 was, those first months, irresistible no matter how nutritionally unwise. For me, supermarkets are hypnotic. I could spend hours just strolling the aisles, considering the bounty and invariably buying more of it than we need.

In all those categories, however, it is mind-boggling the amount of junk to watch and junk to eat that is produced in this country. And while Don and I have never been afraid to spend a dollar for something we want (and when we want, we want and how!...and furthermore we want it NOW!), we are stunned by the sheer quantity of things that have absolutely no practical reason for being and the apparent American appetite for buying it all!

Can there really be enough people to buy all the stuff that Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot or Babies/Toys R Us have for sale in all these communities across the country? And how about all those clothes for sale in the mall? Do people really wear out their clothes in a year’s time? And then there’s the big ticket stuff. Can there really be enough people with the money to buy all the houses, cars, trucks and recreational vehicles built each year at the prices we see them offered for? Believe you me, when you have been out of the mainstream of American consumerism like we have for essentially the past fifteen years (boat stuff excepted, of course), returning is a shock.

We came back to the US in October to be on hand for the birth of our first grandson in December, and the details of French Polynesia Immigration law basically meant that we would have to be back in the US for six whole months. Before this trip neither of us had spent more than ten weeks in the States in over a decade. In the abstract, a first grandchild seemed like it might be worth such a commitment. In reality, neither of us was really prepared for the impact it would have on our lives and outlook.

Kai Thatcher Eberhart was born December 27, 2004 in Los Angeles, and we were there for his arrival. Nothing that modern hospitals can do can take away from the miracle of birth. When that baby’s head crowned with that tousle of startling blond hair followed some minutes later by that first wail of arrival, the wonder of reproduction was distilled into one clear emotion. WOW!

We had, you may remember, spent October traveling the East Coast by car and November ensconced in my sister’s beachfront condo in Melbourne, FL. Before flying to California we’d driven across Florida for a few days in Don’s old stomping grounds of Clearwater and then a week with Don’s folks "camping" in their 32’ Holiday Rambler RV in an Army Corps of Engineers Park at the Franklin Locks on the Caloosahatchee River near Ft. Meyers.

Those two seemingly innocuous activities set up some major moves in our near future. While in Clearwater, where the kids were talking of moving after the baby was born, we spent a little time looking at real estate. Our thinking was that if the kids were to be based here, we might want a home base nearby. We wanted something affordable, something that would be a wise capital investment, and something we could rent out while away sailing the high seas. What we found was that we were anywhere from six months to six years too late! Nothing anywhere near the water was remotely affordable.

In that frame of mind we drove south to visit with Don’s folks, staying in their RV right on the banks of the river. Every morning we got out early for an hour’s walk through the neighboring countryside. We grilled our dinners on the portable BBQ and ate outside, watching boats lock up and down going to or from Lake Okechobee. We chatted with folks in the other RVs here from all over the country, and we drove around an area totally new to us. In other words, we were living our own very familiar cruising lifestyle, only on land and in the US.

It was not the first time we’d entertained the idea of RV cruising. Many cruising sailors we know have added RV cruising to their year’s schedule, and many others have switched completely (most notably our Central American cruising buddies Mac and Sam of Sandi Lee). It was an idea we?d bandied about for the FUTURE usually with great long journeys to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska playing out on our mental screens.

But here we were, barely half-way through our projected stay in the US and up to 27 strange beds we’d slept in and still counting! So we made the fatal error. We went to look at RVs, first at the local dealers in Ft. Meyers and then making a day trip up to Tampa’s Lazy Days, the largest RV dealer in the country. This really set the juices flowing, and although we escaped Lazy Days unscathed, the seed was planted, and in California we continued exploring the possibilities and feasibilities…and to make a long story short…we BOUGHT one.

What we actually did was order it by phone. After lots of researching on brand and style, we settled on a 34’ Dolphin Class A motorhome made by National RV of Perris, California. (www.nationalrv.com). We actually went to Perris, a town near Riverside, to take the factory tour to confirm our sense that the Nationals were well-made units, and then we went to various shows and lots to zero in on the model and color combination we wanted. In the final analysis, we concluded that picking a motorhome is really a matter of satisfying your taste, and our taste leaned more to the West Coast clean contemporary styling than the mid-west country or self-conscious luxury that the bulk of the motorhomes appeal to. So, once we decided on the exact model we wanted, all we had to do was pin down the best price…and that was the one we got from Beaudry RV of Tucson, AZ.

On Feb 4, we said farewell to the kids in LA and drove a rental car to Mesa, AZ where our new rolling home was waiting for us. We took out −of-state delivery in CA, and in short order set off across the country. We drove through the deserts of Arizona and the dry basin and range country of West Texas down to Pharr in the Rio Grande Valley, where Don’s folks were wintering in their RV. There we spent two weeks learning all the secrets from the master. Well, I should say Don did, since I flew out to Miami for some hands-on learning at the Miami Boat Show with Sea Tech Systems, a company specializing in navigation and communication systems for cruisers, for whom I will be a roving rep in the South Pacific (…a whole ’nother story!) When I came back, Don picked me up in our "new" dinghy, a 1999 Saturn station wagon, all set up to tow behind the coach.

From Pharr we drove to Port Aransas, TX, a barrier island off Corpus Christi, where we parked for several days right on the beach! Next stop was Fulton, Texas where we took advantage of a promotion for a free three-day stay at a Western Horizon RV Resort. We survived the time-share pitch that required and moved on to Fort Worth to visit my niece Louisa and her husband Paul. Louisa raises and trains dressage horses, and our peaceful week on their farm was the incarnation of what we thought the RVing life would be like: quality visiting without imposition…well, without MUCH imposition. While in Ft. Worth we added a second bicycle to our road show (we were already transporting Tiffany’s across the country), and we really enjoyed cycling through the rolling ranchland around their home.

Next stop was Caddo Lake State Park on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Here the pine forests of East Texas segue into the spooky bald cypress swamps of Big Cypress Bayou. If only we’d had kayaks! We made do with hiking, cycling, and a guided pontoon boat tour of just a part of the huge maze-like bayou system. I’d love to go back in summer when it is said the waterways are choked with lily pads with gators basking among them like logs!

From the park we pushed east to north Georgia to visit cruising friends Bob & Kathy of sv Briana who were renting a lake house there for the winter. Next was a family loop through the Carolinas, then onto Savannah for a one night visit in the good hands former cruising/charter buddies Herb and Molly of sv Topaz followed by another with friends Adam and Ilinke in St. Augustine. At last, about eight weeks after we left California, we pulled into Clearwater, FL in the nick of time to celebrate Easter with none other than the same new family we had left behind in LA, now living with Don’s ex Cindy while they set up a new life on this side of the country.

So here we have been for the past month, living life in a square boat, "docked" in a "land marina" in Palm Harbor, FL! We’ve stayed longer in the States than we have in over a decade, which is also the longest we have been off the water anywhere. What do we think? Where does this leave us?

As in everything in life, it breaks down to plusses and minuses. We have very much liked living aboard the RV. Despite being gypsies, we are homebodies; although we hate to be fixed in one place too long, we very much care to have our own bed, our own bathroom, our own galley, our own STUFF along with us. Although we realize that investing in an RV, especially a new RV, is not the wise capital improvement investment we felt we OUGHT to have made at this time in our lives, we are pretty well convinced that its flexibility suits us to a "T" and that the pleasure we have gotten from getting the exact model we liked has been worth it.

We have not yet found the RV cruising community to be as simpatico as the boating one. To be fair, we haven’t given it a fair shake. Moving as quickly across the country as we did, traveling at a time when most RVers are snowbirding seniors, and being as wound up in our own agenda as we were has kept us from making more than a few acquaintances. Even here in Florida, where we have stumbled onto what may be the friendliest RV park in the State, we have been so busy with the kids that we have barely met our neighbors.

We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to enjoying some of the amenities of Stateside life: shopping in stores which have pretty near anything we might want, eating out from a whole range of world cuisines at affordable prices, turning on the TV and finding favorite shows...in English, talking to family and friends on the telephone for hours anytime we want, surfing the broadband internet! It is all very seductive.

And to our surprise, we enjoyed the driving. It is a complex and wonderful geography that spans this country, and after three months Don has grown comfortable with about any road we’ve tackled. Can’t say we’ve loved the fuel stops much, especially since gas prices have climbed 40 to 60 cents per gallon since we left Arizona! But already we are fantasizing about future road trips − to the Pacific Northwest, to Alaska (from where Mac and Sam have been emailing us a steady barrage of enticing (but wintry-looking) photographs), or even back down to Mexico. Someday…..

BUT, not this year! In a matter of days (May 4) we are headed back to Raiatea where Tackless waits for us patiently in the boat yard. I think we are ready. Don is lying awake at night mentally packing and repacking our suitcases full of boat parts and planning the sequence of his upcoming yard projects. And as you see, I have finally found a way to sum up these past months. It will be hard to leave the luxuries we’ve gotten used to, the queen-sized bed, the Pinellas Bike Trail, the Healthy Choice fudge bars……

But hardest of all will be to leave our adorable grandson, to know we will miss every little stage that will unfold in his life between our departure and our next visit, to go without that radiant smile that floods his face like a sunrise when he sees us.

We would not be the first cruisers to chuck the plan in favor of staying close to family. But as tempting as it is to stay near and play patriarch (or matriarch), the truth is that family is not merely a function of geographical closeness. It has to be function of respect and self-respect. Our kids need to live their own lives, make their own decisions, do their own thing without us hovering in the background.

And our own self-respect has to keep us moving forward, living OUR own lives, going OUR own way.

So, it’s back to sea and "westward ho!" for the Two Captains. See you back in Raiatea!


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All text and photos on this site Copyright Gwen Hamlin 2006


Published at Burlington, VT