The Story of Lady, Be
(a comedy of errors.)
Fleming Key is a man made island, created when the navy dredged the bay to have a storage point for explosives. Each shovel full of spoil was deposited on a shallow strip of bay bottom. Through time, this pile of coral and sand was washed of salt by the rain. Birds would visit and bring seeds, which took hold, growing a ground cover of Australian Pines and other scrub bushes. Eventually, the navy built a bridge to join Fleming Key to the naval base on the north western tip of Key West. This allowed construction to begin on the island, including a naval training facility and a waste water treatment plant.
Fleming Key has been off limits us regular folks since it was built. However, the boaters who lived aboard at “West Fleming,” a more refined neighborhood for the live-aboards, walked their dogs on the easily accessible shore line.
As we rounded the bend and turned toward the cove my eyes scanned the waters, where was my new boat? First I saw green inflatable alligator tied to a mooring. “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh, that’s Diane’s mooring. She put that there so no one would take her mooring while she’s cruising.” Tom explained. Then I spied a sailboat lying on her side on the beach. As we approached, Tom said, “Here’s your new boat.” I gave him a puzzled look.
“Sure,” he said “You just find the owners, get them to sell it to you for the cost of salvaging it. Then, we can tow it off the beach and set it on a mooring.” “Easier said than done.” I thought.
Looking around for the Navy Police, we nosed in to the shore. I climbed out of the dinghy, and cautiously walked over to the battered looking sloop. “What am I getting myself into?” I thought. She was about a yard into the water. I waded out to her and looked down the open hatch into the cabin. The cabin was strewn with a jumble of stuff, all thrown into the now bottom-side, previously the side-side, since she was lying at about 60 degrees from perpendicular. I glanced over at Tom, then back to the boat. I shrugged and started to look for any identifying marks that I could use to find her owner. Fortunately, the registration FL sticker was still stuck to the bow. I jotted down the numbers on a scrap of paper I had tucked into my swim suit, and returned to the dinghy. Mixed feelings of terror and elation filled my heart and mind as we putted back to the dock.
Tom was most definite about what I should do. He directed me to take those FL numbers to the Florida Vessel registration office on Truman Avenue, and find out the owners name, which I promptly did.
The lady behind the desk heard my story and kindly searched the data base. She told me that the current owner was Teddy Lea. With this new information, I returned to the Key West Bight, and started to ask around, “Do you know Teddy Lea?” Soon enough I found someone who knew him, boaters are a small community on this tiny island. “Sure, I know Teddy. He is the bar tender at the VFW.”
The VFW’s are local organizations to secure rights and benefits for Veterans of Foreign Wars. At that time, the VFW was located in a concrete building adjacent to the boat basin. It was frequented by the homeless, live-aboards and down on their luck sailors. It was a great place for some camaraderie and cheap beer.
I walked over to Elizabeth St. and went into the bar. I asked the bartender, “Are you Teddy?” He replied, “No, he will be in tomorrow at 2.” I thanked him and went to find Tom to report my progress.
The next day, promptly at 2 pm I walked into the VFW and again asked for Teddy. A white haired man behind the bar spoke up, “That’s me. How can I help you?” I told him who I was, and what I had on my mind. He looked at me quizzically. “Where did you say my boat is?” I repeated my story, stressing that with each tide, the boat was being damaged more and more as the waves rocked her up and down on the shore. I told him that she needed to be pulled off. He said, “My ex-wife is co-owner. I will have to talk to her.”
“OK,” I said, “I’ll come back tomorrow.” and off I went. I felt pretty excited.
That night, as we were going out to Tom’s boat, we went by this new vessel in my life. I noticed that her name was “Lady Lea”, and I thought, “I will have to change that name because I don’t want a vessel named so much like my husband’s girlfriend.” That’s another story.
The next day, I went back to the VFW. Teddy was there and said that he hadn't spoken to his wife but he had found the registration. He also said that he couldn't just give the boat away, so I offered him $100. He said that he would have to speak to his wife.
Next day, the negotiations proceeded. I reported to the VFW, and told Teddy again that with each tide she was being ground into the sand and rocks, and that she needed to be salvaged before she was more seriously damaged. “OK”, he said. “I’ll sell her to you, you go pull her off, and I will get the papers signed.”
With a lightness in my step and a smile on my face I happily found Tom and told him the news. He said that on his next day off we would haul her off of the beach. He also that he asked Diane if I could use her mooring until my own mooring was set and she said “Yes.” The plan was made, the date was set, and I contemplated being a boat owner.
We met at the dinghy dock; I was prepared for some dirty business. Tom had the salvage all planned. Salvaging vessels after they were blown on shore was a lucrative way to make some cash money, either by charging the owner for the salvaging, or by harvesting any and all salable and usable parts.
We rounded into the cove and there she was, lying on her side in the surf. We had planned to do this at high tide, to make this effort a little easier, so the waves were washing higher on my legs and torso as I walked toward her. I attached the lines to whatever parts looked secure, and placed well enough to allow for towing. That skilled mariner, Tom, proceeded to slowly tow Lady Lea as I guided her from the water. She eased off the shore, slowly gaining more and more water beneath her hull, becoming more and more erect, looking more and more like a sail boat. We finally got her into deep enough water, and there she stood, mast pointing to the sun. We watched in apprehension; will she stay there or will she start to sink. The water line didn't move; she was sound.
Tom came back to shore and picked me up. Then we towed her away from the shore and out to the mooring that he had prepared for her. He passed me the bridle and I climbed aboard the boat. I went to the bow and secured her firmly. Now would begin the task of making her mine. The first part of the task was, in my mind, was to change her name.
I went below, and looked around. There were personal items and men’s clothes, a sleeping bag and some tools. There seemed to be no damaged, water had not entered the cabin, she was sound and she was dry.
Again, I returned to the VFW to meet up with Teddy one more time. I told him about the salvage adventure, and he seemed pleased. He said that he had the papers, and that his wife had signed them. We sat at the bar. I bought him a beer. I reached into by pocket to pay him his $100. He looked at me and said, “Keep your money. Just give me a kiss.” I smiled. I gave him a kiss. I became a boat owner. One of the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life; the day you buy your boat, and the day that you sell it. I would not experience that second happiest day with Lady, Be.
My Albin Vega had been partially sunk in a previous incarnation, so the interior woodwork in the bottom of the saloon was de-laminated. This sinking must have been what killed her engine as well.
In my mind, I changed her name as soon as I registered her, she was now the “Lady, Be.” I chose this name to remind me to be a lady, and to remind me that all that is required in life is simply “to be”.
I had been searching for a suitable dinghy, so I could get back and forth to my new boat. I was fortunate to see an index card on the bulletin board at West Marine. Someone was selling an 8’ inflatable dinghy with an 8 hp. motor. I called and asked to see them. The owner, Rob, took me to his boat on the dock, and pulled a huge bag from his chain locker, “This is it.” he said, and proceeded to spread it out and pump it up.
Being a neophyte to this business, I took a brief look at the dinghy. “Does it leak?” I asked. No, it didn’t leak, and the motor ran. So, I paid the man the money, and asked if I could leave it with him until I had everything that I needed to secure it. That would be fine. He put the dinghy back into the bag, and moved it onto the deck.
Back to West Marine, Tom had suggested that I buy line to string around the hull to create a bridle and painter. The painter is the line at the bow that you can use for towing or tying. “You have to get some cable to lock the dinghy to the dock. Get about 8 feet of that vinyl covered cable, and make eyes in each end. Get two of those brass padlocks with the same key. Then you can lock your motor on to the boat with one, and lock your boat on to the dock with the other. Then get all your safety gear. You’ll need a sticker so you can tie up at the dinghy dock.”
The list was made. The list was purchased. The bridle and cables were created. I struggled to get my new dinghy down Rob’s dock and over to the dinghy dock where Tom helped me inflate it. I watched in trepidation to see if Rob had been honest. Would the dinghy hold air? The man was as good as his word, and my new dinghy stayed nice and hard.
The bridle was tied on to the dinghy. We eased it into the water. We mounted the motor, and locked it in place. The dinghy had been equipped with a gas tank and hose, so we filled the tank, connected it to the motor and pulled the cord. Putt – putt – putter – putter – vroom – vroom, the motor worked; good deal! Now I could get onto the water independently. Paradise was opening to me. I could explore or go snorkeling as I pleased and I could get out to my new boat. That was my first trip in my new dinghy. My trial run took me out of the harbor, out to West Fleming, circling around my new boat, Lady Be, and back to the dinghy dock. That day the smile on my face was as bright as the May sunshine.
The next part of the process would be to set her mooring. Tom had an extra Danforth anchor, and I found a couple more used on the bulletin board at West Marine. I bought lots of chain, a bunch of shackles and 50’ of line for the bridle. Then came the task of putting it all together. Tom had planned it out, two anchors to the north and north-west, where the winter storms come from, and one anchor to the south, to keep her in place with the current of the tidal changes. The chains from these three anchors would be bought together on a big shackle. Then another chain would come off that shackle to go to the surface. We would put a sentinel on that 4th chain. A sentinel is a small ball shaped anchor that cab be placed on the chain between the vessel and union point of the other chains. This creates a triangulating effect when the boat pulls on the mooring, reducing stress on the entire system. A friend, Jeff, had found a mooring ball from the mooring field by the Seaplane basin that had washed ashore and gave it to me. I slipped the end of that final chain through the mooring ball. At the top of this chain we placed another shackle. I spliced eyes into the ends of the bridle lines, and joined them to that shackle. Mooring completed, it was time to set it.
Tom had picked out the spot. It was near where I was moored temporarily, and near his mooring. We loaded my new mooring into my new dinghy and putted out into the harbor. We turned toward Fleming Key, and off we went. The first anchor was dropped carefully over the side, and we backed down on it to set it. We putted east, and set the second anchor. Then we turned south and putted as far as the remaining chain would allow. As we passed the center point, we released the chain, sentinel, mooring ball and bridle. There were floats tied to the bridle lines so that they could be found again. With all three anchors lying on the bottom, it was time to “dive the Ground Tackle.” Ground tackle is the name mariners use when speaking about a mooring system like this. For a reformed landlubber, this was new-speak to me. “What was he talking about?”
“Diving the ground tackle” is the process of gearing up to dive, following the lines and chains to the anchors, and making sure that they are securely hooked into the bottom. I was anchoring into a combination of mud, sand and silt and needed to make sure the anchors were secure. Tom was kind enough to don his dive gear, get in the water and inspect the day’s work. Over the side he went; man in the water. Soon he disappeared below the surface. I sat in the dinghy and watched the bubbles. They went from place to place to place. Soon he resurfaced, and touched his fist to the top of his head; divers signal, everything is A-OK.
It was after 5 o’clock, time for cocktails at sunset, but first we had to move Lady Be to her new home, a simple tow job. We motor over to her and I boarded. This time, we would tie Lady Be to the side of Tom’s dinghy, “hip sling.” Tom passed me the lines. I tied one to the stern and one amidships. The dinghy was snug on the side, with the motor aft of Lady Be’s transom. This way the dinghy would have better control of the sloop and be able to move her more easily. I tied the alligator float back in place and let go the mooring lines. Gently gliding over the water in the late hours of the day, I experienced my first ride on Lady Be. Elation; I was “being” elated.
When we got to my mooring Tom handed me the lines from my new bridle, I secured Lady Be in place, and relaxed. I was sitting in the cock pit of my new boat, feeling the hull rocking gently beneath me, seeing the ripples in the water as she moved with the current. I felt the peace. I felt the joy. I knew that I could “be” here.
Relationships in Key West are a wondrous thing. If you find a good one, let me know. Things change, and people visit your life for different spans of time. Tom and I had an “off again, on again” kind of relationship. Now it was off, and Jonny was in my life. He was a fishing mate I met on the dock.
Schooner Wolf was leaving port for a short time. I was told that I could use her slip while she was gone. Jonny and I motored out to my boat and tied the dinghy to Lady Be. After securing some fenders for flotation we let go the bow lines. I had learned how to move a boat by “hip sling” when Tom and I had moved Lady Be. With Jonny aboard to steer and me driving, we carefully moved her to the dock. Steering was a problem on the Lady Be because she had no tiller. I borrowed a large wrench from the Wolf, and attached it to the rudder post. We were able to steer with that.
I would take the opportunity while on the dock to muck out and pretty her interior. I carefully planned what would be done. Jonny told me that he would paint the interior. He told me which paint to buy at Sherwin Williams, and how it would be the best paint for the job. We tied up Lady Be and went to work. When I cleared out the interior I found, among the clothes and blankets, a rusty hand gun. I took these things to Teddy at the VFW.
After washing her out, Jonny started painting He masked the lights with blue tape, he covered the counters, and… he cut the wires throughout the boat; he was going to replace them. You will see later that this was a mistake.
I headed off to my job, and Jonny painted. After work I returned to a beautifully painted boat interior. There was still enough daylight to get back to the mooring, so off we motored, and grabbing the lines, we secured the Lady Be at her new home.
One evening when Jonny and I were aboard Lady Be he decided to go visit some friends of his on their boat that was anchored nearby. We climbed into the dinghy, and drove in toward the green post that marked the end of the shallows. Turning back north we approached a conglomeration of vessels tied together. They looked like they were sitting on the bottom, they were. We boarded and visited for a short while.
I had no proper running lights. So, like most Key West live-aboards when driving their dinghies, I held up a flashlight with a plastic cup over the light. That made an adequate all around light, enough to keep the Coast Guard happy, anyway. We were returning to my boat, and I dropped the flashlight overboard. We stopped, and without thinking of big hungries, I dove into the dark waters and pursued the still shining flashlight to the bottom. Moments later I surfaced with the flashlight in my hand and a smile on my face. I felt like I was the hero of the evening.
My lifestyle and Jonny’s were very different, so we parted ways. Within a year he was found dead behind the shops at Lazy Way. His friends said that he had eaten some mushrooms and complained of a sore stomach. He went behind the shops to lie down and that is where he was found the next morning. Another man lost in the bars of Key West.
The story of how Lady Be got on the beach of Fleming Key is another chapter in her adventures. Teddy had agreed to rent her to a man he had met through the VFW. We all called him Bongo Billy, because he would sit in the door way of the concrete building at Jabour’s Campground and play bongo drums. There were many differing opinions about his playing. However, I would catch the beat and step in time.
It was the Saturday of Conch Republic days; there were many drunk people. I passed Billy in the lane, he was toasted. We nodded to each other, and went on our separate ways.
The next day, the news was all about a woman who had been found in the dumpster behind West Marine. It looked like it had been an accidental death. Blood saturated the couch in the concrete building, and Billy was nowhere to be seen. Rumor on the dock was that he had gone out to a boat and cleaned up before leaving town. The police found out about Billy’s association with Teddy and his boat, Lady Lea. The police cut her mooring lines and hauled her to shore as a part of the murder investigation. I didn't know that part of her story until I had salvaged and paid (with a kiss) for the boat.
At that time few suspected Billy (aka Joseph Geibel) of being the perpetrator. He was later arrested at a Rainbow Gathering in Nevada; Billy had a history of attending these gatherings. They had received an email from the investigating officer regarding the murder in Key West, and by corralling and confronting him; he agreed to surrender to the authorities. He was later found guilty of first degree murder.
My older son, Jesse, came to Key West for a summer job that year. Initially he stayed on the floor where I was living as a room-mate. After finding him sleeping on the floor for over a week, my room-mate said that he would have to leave; it was her place, after all. So Jesse was the first in my family to live aboard the Lady Be. I bought a Coleman stove and we had some bedding. I showed Jesse how to drive the dinghy. I took him out to the boat and taught him how to become a live-aboard. That became his home for the rest of the summer. Meanwhile, I lived in rooms that I rented. Jesse’s job gave him extended periods of slack time in the mid-day. With the sweltering summer heat of Key West, this northern boy would head out to Lady Be and jump overboard for a swim; what he called his “instant attitude adjustment.”
Jesse was returning to University at the end of the summer, and even though, he had done well at his summer job, he was heading north. He had worked with the Photo Crew, taking pictures of the visitors aboard the different vessels before departing for their trips, and selling them the printed pictures when they returned. He had done so well that the owner had offered him the job as manage. Mixed feelings still found him heading north. I had been missing my northern home, and decided to drive him. This did not go well with my employer at the time, and I was let go. Oh well, Key West either eats. you or feeds you, and it was feeding me.
It was a three week trip. I returned with 3 other young adults, one being my younger son Dave, and his girlfriend, Nicole; the third was my stepdaughter, Anna. This was mid-September 1998. Everyone in Key West remembers what happened that September 25th, 1998. Not only was it Dave’s 18th birthday, but it was also the day that Hurricane Georges roared across the Florida Keys.
I was between places to live, spending some of my time on board Lady Be, and some with Tom. He had decided that he would move his boat to a hurricane hole by the Mud Keys; would I like to come along? This was a new adventure for me; “Sure. I’d love to go.”
Hurricane holes are spots in the mangroves where you can tie your boat and be fairly assured that they will ride out the storm safely. There was a channel that could take the boats inside a circle of small keys, which would provide good shelter.
First, though, we had to secure Lady Be. We checked her bridle; it was in good shape. I had acquired some old fire hose, and we threaded the bow lines through the fire hose. Then we secured it at the spots where the lines would be rubbing on the gunnels of the boat with zip ties. This “chafe gear” would prevent the motion of the boat from fraying the lines. We attached another line to the mooring, and leaving it a little slack, tied it to the foot of the mast. This was done as a last resort if the bow lines frayed or snapped this might still hold her. As we drove away, I turned, said a little prayer and blew her a kiss. This was our first hurricane together, and I was leaving her.
Tom and I readied to put his boat in that hurricane hole. We went down the list of provisions; radio, check; charts, check; water, check; beer, check; rum, check. Everything we needed for a good hurricane. We were going with Henri, who was in a trimaran. Trimarans have three hulls which draw very little water. Tom’s sloop, Lady, drew over 6 feet. We drove out the North West channel and turned right, motoring along the edge of the outer keys. Watching the chart and the string of little islands, he knew that we were near the Mud Keys. Henry went up the channel ahead of us, and waited. We started up the channel; bump- bum- scrape, stop. We were aground.
Tom had a plan. I was to get into his dinghy. He would attach his main halyard to the cleat on the back of the dinghy. I would drive over there, and make the big sloop heel over. Then, while she was heeled over he would drive over the hump that had stopped us. An aside here, I had never driven his dinghy, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Well, the plan failed, his boat drew too much water. After some futile attempts both vessels returned to Key West. We secured his boat on its mooring, and wishing our two ladies well, came to shore. We were spending the hurricane at the party in the sail loft.
This is another story, the story of the hurricane and all the heroes around that event. Lady Be’s part of the story was pretty simple. She was still tied securely to her mooring, she had not dragged, her chafing gear had held, and she was still dry inside; the dinghy had a little more adventure.
I had loaned my dinghy to the owner of the Wolf. They were taking Wolf out to anchor for the storm. They were going to “ride it out.” This big vessel would have damaged the dock and herself if she had stayed in her berth. If necessary, my dinghy could provide an escape. The storm escalated, the wind blew harder and harder, blowing down the harbor, straining the lines holding Wolf from smashing into the rocks. Suddenly, one of their anchor lines snapped, leaving only one to hold that big boat. Throughout the rest of the storm, the crew on board took turns driving her full throttle into the wind to ease the pressure on that one anchor line. Meanwhile, my dinghy was tied to the stern of the schooner. As the hurricane blasted through the harbor, it picked up my dinghy and spun it like a wind sock flying off the stern. When the winds eased the Wolf returned to her berth, a little worse for wear. And my dinghy returned to her spot tied beneath the bow of the Wolf, the only damage being one of her seats had flown away. Both of those vessels and all souls survived. There were several other vessels strewn around the shore line in the aftermath of this dangerous storm.
After the hurricane, the kids came back to Key West to stay with me. It was a bit cramped, 3 big people on board a small sloop. They had no money; I had no money. I heard “The Canvas Shop” was looking for a seamstress to help repair all the torn canvas from around town. I presented myself to the owner as an experienced sewing machine operator, and began work that day. At the end of the day I was paid cash, which I gave to the kids, so that they could buy some food. It was a tough time.
After a few weeks the silt stirred up by the storm had settled considerably, enough for the next project. Tom told me that I would have to dive my ground tackle to make sure things were still in place. That meant me! I would have to don my dive gear. I would have to swim to the bottom. I would have to follow the chains. I would have to inspect each link to make sure it wasn’t broken or worn thin. And I would have to ensure that the anchors were still set. I was looking forward to my new assignment with anticipation. Tom said that we could use his dinghy, and that he would be in the dinghy with me. He was a good role model, I will always be grateful to him for guiding me on these adventures.
Sigh, OK I gathered my dive gear and some beer for after the dive, of course. We drove out to Lady Be, and I climbed into my dive gear. It must have shrunk since I bought it. The bulges seem to have moved, and gotten bigger. I could still zip it up though, so that was good. Next were fins, mask and snorkel, oh yeah, mask and snorkel when you’re in the water, Tom reminded me. I hitched the tank across the rubber boat, and set the harness so that I could get into it. I hoisted it around behind me, and started to fasten it. It was really heavy; it was so heavy, in fact, that I couldn't stay upright as I buckled into it. With each movement I gently leaned to the side, sliding over more and more, gently reclining until I rested on the pontoon. I felt ever so much like a beached whale. I couldn't move. I couldn't get into the water; I just lay there, flapping my flippered feet and laughing. Tom reached over, nudged me, and I rolled into the water, laughing so hard that I choked.
Once in the water the BC leveled out the buoy that was me and my tank. I floated comfortably, and swam to the dinghy for my mask. Mask on, adjust buoyancy, and dive. As I dove, I could see the chain leading to the bottom. I could see the silt. “He said to check each link to make sure that it is sound.” I reminded myself. I picked up the chain, and a cloud of silt exploded around me. I held the chain close to my mask; I could see a vague outline. I felt it to see if it was sound. I couldn't tell…
I swam along the chain, each time I reached for the chain a cloud of silt anticipated my move and engulfed me, the chain and my tanks. ‘Oh dear! This is futile, I can’t see a thing, and I don’t know where to go.” I guessed where the chain was going. I found three anchors. Two looked pretty good, the chain led up to them, and they were buried in the mud. The third chain led up to where the anchor was supposed to be and swirled around itself. It seemed to have created a nest of tangled chain. The anchor was nowhere to be seen. I figured that it was set, and returned to the dinghy.
Tom had cracked the first beer, and was sitting on the pontoon with a broad smile. I pretended that I had done as directed, and washed the salt from my mouth with a swig of my first beer. It was evening, it was happy hour, and I had “dived my ground tackle.”
Dave and Nicole found a room in town, so I was alone aboard Lady Be and made her my home. I had my own little piece of paradise. In the mornings I would rise at sunrise, and after dressing I would climb into my dinghy and drive into town. I would tie up in the Key West bight, right under the bow of the Wolf, and climb up on to the dock. I used the Wolf’s bathroom card for showers. Then I would, grab a coffee and head off to the Canvas Shop. Mid-afternoon would find me going back to the Wolf to prepare it for a sunset cruise. After the cruise I would join the crew in having a shift drink, then climb back aboard the dinghy and zoom out of the bight. As I motored out of the bight, I would look behind and see the wake generated by my little dinghy and 8 horse motor. It felt very empowering. I felt like I was becoming my own hero.
On board Lady Be I had the Coleman stove, some bedding, some dishes, a coffee pot, some books, a cooler, a bucket for a head, and 1 gallon water containers for hot and cold running water. The hot water was left in the sun to heat and the cold was stowed in the cabin. Due to short sighted thinking, there was no wiring to allow for lighting. I had to make do with flashlights. When I didn’t use the showers on the dock, the shower was in the sole of the cockpit with the 1 gallon water containers. The head was the same place, with the bucket. Life was good, the weather was fine, and the kids were close by.
Through this time, the relationship with Tom was off and on. I would go to the house that I had shared with husband #2, and spend some nights. I would stay aboard some nights. I would be with Tom some nights. I was living in 2 worlds, the life of a live aboard, and the life of a jilted wife. I knew which one I preferred. I knew which one brought me freedom.
Life continued, being at the house, being on Lady Be, being with Tom. Autumn progressed. As the nights got longer and colder, so did the evenings. Living on board Lady Be would mean either hanging out in the bars until bed time, or chilling on board with flashlights for lighting, and warm clothes for heat. I started spending more time at the house.
As the seasons cycled around, spring brought with it warmer days and longer evenings. Paul and Bronnie, friends of Tom, had a sail shop on Seidenberg Street. They were going to sail around the world. Would I like to take over their space? Yes, I would. I moved my sewing equipment into the shop, and started sewing slipcovers for the gentry of Key West. I was sewing during the day, sailing sunsets in the evening, and sleeping aboard my little boat. This was my heroic life in paradise. In my new shop I created some beautiful cushions for the cock pit and v-berth on Lady Be. Now I could sleep under the stars.
Spring also brought the Western Union into port and Tim into my life. His son was crew on the Western Union, and Tim was living in his VW camper, Gus the Bus. He was tall, blond, handsome, available, and he didn't hang out in bars, all good references. He loved boats, and soon joined the crew of Wolf as Terrible Tim. He and I would sail on the Wolf. After the trip we would stay on the dock for our shift drink, then climb into my dinghy, and singing in unison, drive out to the Lady Be. “Oh they were sure of Victory…”
I had a board cut that would fill in the center of the cockpit. We would pull out the board, the new cushions, and blankets and settle down to sleep under the stars. Late spring brings the summer rains. At about 3 am the clouds would cover the stars and the first drops would hit my cheeks. I would wake up and crawl into the V berth; Tim would pull the blue tarp over himself, and stay on deck. Life was wonderful.
Mid-summer, Tim was offered a house boat to rent, so we moved off Lady Be and into this houseboat, Miss Maggie. The dinghy continued to be our commuter vessel, as we went to and from the Bight.
I received my divorce settlement in late spring 2001. I moved into my own apartment. I decided that it was time to give my Lady Be some lovin’. Her hull needed cosmetic surgery; her engine was dead weight in the hull; there was only one tattered sail and no tiller; the wiring went nowhere and no one could make any sense out of it anyway; the outboard motor mount was wobbly; and I had some money.
Tim and I hitched her to the dinghy and drove her over to Spencer’s boat yard. The channel to the launch ramp is tricky, so as I proceeded up the channel, I went straight, straight into the rocks and hit bottom. After a few bumps we were over the rocks. At least I was going into the boat yard. Nevertheless, she was safely hauled and placed on braces for me to start the work, for me to make her as beautiful to the eyes as she was to me in my heart.
Grinding, grinding, grinding each day, holding that grinder overhead, moving it back and forth. I loved doing the work; I love the satisfaction of seeing those dings in her hull disappear. I loved to look along her side and see it as smooth as a baby’s skin.
But, grinders are heavy, my shoulder decided that this work was not to be done by me, and I strained some tendons. Then, Tim was injured. He fell and severely injured his head. He was medivacked to Miami. Now I was without his assistance, and without my own full capability. I would have to hire people to work on the boat for me. Friends came and went; I paid them to help me, the costs of beautifying Lady Be soared. The project dragged on without our contributing efforts, and the bills at the boat yard stacked up, as each day added more dollars to my expense.
The days on the hard were filled with opportunities and surprises as well as the erosion of my money. One day Scotty came by with a beautiful tiller, and presented it to me as a gift. I hired Jeff to do the fiberglass work. He decided that to secure the outboard motor mount he would stiffen it with a piece of plywood, and then cover it with fiber glass. I asked and he complied. He coached me how to put some of the fiberglass in place around the inside of that motor mount. Now I could fiberglass.
I hired Jacques to take the fuel tank out of the keel. I thought that it was taking up too much space. He started early in the day while I was at work. When I arrived at the boat yard that afternoon I saw my engine lying on the ground. I didn't remember asking him to take that out… I thought that Art said that he could fix it. Jacques was speaking about how horrible it was taking out the fuel tank. He said that it had been full, and he had to deal with all that old diesel. I’m not sure what he did with it, but when I arrived, it smelled like he had bathed in it. When I asked about the engine, he just said that he thought that he should take it out too because he couldn't fix it.
After a while, my shoulder recovered enough to do some of the light work and Tim returned to normal, for him. We would say “Tim puts the fun in dysfunctional.”
We painted her hull; roll and tip was the technique, I rolled and he tipped. “Always keep a wet edge.” he directed. When we finished, it was beautiful. I had decided on a champagne hull with a brick-red waterline. We measured out the water line, and stretched the tape. The definition of that water line made her look outstanding. I hired the boat yard to spray the desk. Lady Be and I gradually got closer and closer to her launch date.
When Jacques took the engine out of Lady Be he cut the wires, hoses and pipes. Where have I heard something like this before? This was not discovered until we were launching. I was standing in the cockpit, Lady Be was in the sling, and we were being lowered into the water. Suddenly, I heard water flowing beneath my feet, inside the boat. I clambered below, and looked into the engine compartment; water was pouring into the boat. I stuck my head out the companion way and yelled that there was water coming in. They stopped lowering the sling, and we hung there, mid launch. One of the workers, Chris, climbed aboard and looked below. Sure enough, when the engine had been removed, the salt water intake pipe was simply cut and not sealed. A cap would have to be put on that open pipe.
They lifted Lady Be out of the water, and suggested that I pump out the water, which I did. Chris came back on aboard with a torch and the pipe fitting; he welded the end cap in place. We allowed that to cool and resumed the launching. Everything was fine. She rested in the water. She was ready to move.
I had Tim in the dinghy to tow Lady Be out of Garrison Bight. It was getting late, and my mooring was around the other side of Fleming Key. I didn't think that we would make that passage before dark. I decided to go to one of the moorings in the mooring field at East Fleming and tie up. On board, there were no proper mooring lines, so I grabbed what I could find, and tied to one of the mooring balls. We returned to Miss Maggie to celebrate, and I was off to my apartment for the night.
As dawn was crawling across the sky, my phone rang. “Did you tie a boat up in the mooring field last night?” “Yes. Why?” I said. I was told that my boat, the freshly painted Lady Be had washed ashore, and was rubbing against the side of the sea plane launch ramp. “Oh no, I guess the line that I found last night wasn’t secure enough.” I thought.
I threw on my clothes and drove over to the navy base. The guard at the gate looked at me like I was nuts when I told him that my boat had washed ashore on the boat ramp. He let me on base anyway. I drove over to the ramp with my heart in my throat, what was I going to find?
As I drove up, I was surprised and pleased to see the mast pointing toward the sky. I exploded out of my car and ran over to her. Lady Be had drifted to the side of the ramp where there was just enough water for her to be afloat. The flare of her hull hovered over the side of the ramp, and with each wave she was gently rubbing up and down against this concrete bulwark. I looked carefully; my new paint job was still unharmed. “Thank you Creator for small graces.”
I called the water taxi, “Hello Arnow. My boat is adrift over by the seaplane launch ramp. Can you come and tow her to West Fleming?”
“I can be there after I take some people to shore. Give me about an hour.”
“OK.” I went to back my car, climbed in and turned on the radio. I closed my eyes and listened to the music. I tried to free my mind. The image of the new paint and the bouncing boat kept sweeping through my thoughts.
Eventually Arnow arrived. He pulled in close and had a look at the situation. He suggested that I climb aboard to steer and gently pulled her off the shore. As I was towed around the end of Fleming Key remorse filled my mind that we hadn't taken the time last evening to complete the transit, and that my poor boat was washed ashore. I attached her securely to her own mooring, Arnow took me to shore, and I returned to the base to retrieve my car. Twice ashore in our relationship; this time she survived unscathed. Lady Be and I, these girls were lucky.
In my life with Lady Be so far, the only way that I had covered ground with her was by tow or hip sling. I had yet to use her as designed, as a sailboat.
Big boats and mariners seem to find each other. One day, while aboard The Wolf, a tall man walked up. Conversation from dock to vessel is common place. “Where are you from?” “ Isn't she a pretty boat?” “Do you want to go sailing?” Some would add, “I have a boat, too.” Then the conversation goes, “What kind is it?”
|A different Albin Vega|
Well, this man had an Albin Vega; he had it moored in Annapolis. This certainly sparked the conversation for me. We shared some adventures; he told of his sailing expeditions. I mentioned that I had never sailed my boat. He said that he would go with me. We made a date, and met on the dock at the assigned time. We dinghied out to Lady Be, climbed aboard and rigged her, for the first time. I had been given a jib, so we hanked that in place. It was small for the rigging and only went part way up the stay. That was fine for me. I was going to sail my own boat. The tattered main sail was good enough, so up it went. We dropped the mooring lines, raised the jib, and we were under weigh. I felt the wind pulling her through the waters. I saw the curve of her sails. The pull and push of the new tiller pressured my hand. The sounds of the lapping waves thrilled me. I looked up and saw the frigate birds silently circling. Under the sun, moving through the water, I was complete.
Time passes, things change. The navy was dredging the ships channel, and dumping the dredged material onto Fleming Key. All vessels within a specific area had to move. Lady Be was in that area, I had to move her, or the navy would impound her and move her for me.
My new boss, another Tom, helped me with this one. We used his skiff. We motored out to Lady Be midafternoon, after working in the morning. I sat in the skiff as he dove down and retrieved my anchors. Anchor one and two came aboard easily. Anchor three was so firmly in the mud, that he could not lift it. That one was definitely set. Tom #2 figured that it had hooked into the mythical “Navy Chain”. This is a chain that was left on the bottom of the basin beside Fleming Key. Each link is about 10” long, and if you can hook your ground tackle into that you are definitely secured. By chance, Lady Be was hooked in; too bad that I had leave that anchor and move her.
We towed her across the harbor to the North West side of Christmas Tree Island, and set the moorings. As we drove away, I looked back; knowing that my story with Lady Be was coming to an end. I was looking for someone to buy her, and I was trying to rent her to someone to live aboard. I would even entertain rent-to-own. I had a nice apartment, and knew that I would no longer spend my nights gazing at the stars from her deck, or sleeping in the V berth on my homemade cushions.
There were a couple of men who lived aboard, supposedly as renters. Getting the rent money was always a challenge. There was an agreement to purchase; again, getting the money was a challenge. I was spending my summers in the north. There was a new grandbaby and I needed to have her in my life. I was becoming distant from Lady Be. There were other boats in my life, boats that paid me instead of costing me. The dinghy was used up by unthinking renters; the pin holding the engine in place, lost; leaks appeared in her hull; the floor boards, lost. She was no longer my reliable ocean scooter.
A year would go by, and the only time that I would go out to see her would be to change the lines on her bridle and check the chafe gear. She stalwartly continued to be there on her mooring, with men passing through her like the lovers that passed through my life.
My affair with Lady Be was losing its glory. In May of 2004 I moved north to care for my mother. I returned that fall for a short time and met up with Tim. He invited me to go to Hawaii with him; another adventure, sign me on.
I contracted with an associate, George, to look after Lady Be, and perhaps to sell her. I told him that the bridle on Lady Be needed to be replaced. He said “No problem.” We signed some papers of understanding, and off I went. I trusted my vessel to another. Even though I loved her, she had become a lodestone around my neck. The care and attention she required was a huge challenge to me since I no longer lived in Key West full time.
The following hurricane season saw a parade of hurricanes stomp across the Keys, beginning with Hurricane Dennis and ending with Wilma. As June 1st approaches everyone is on tenterhooks, in apprehension of the coming storm season, “Have I prepared sufficiently?”
A couple days after hurricane Dennis passed, I got the call. “Your boat disappeared in Hurricane Dennis” George said. I was shocked. “Tell me more.” “I went out there after the storm and she was gone.”
There was no point in asking anything more. “She was gone.” My heart and mind swirled with mixed feelings. Grief at the loss of my special love, my project boat, for so long with no progress, my retreat, my piece of paradise. And relief, I no longer had to worry about her.
There were no tears. I was grateful for the love that we had shared. Both my sons and I had the opportunity to live aboard, to drive back and forth in the little dinghy, to watch the wake furl out behind and feel like we were our own hero. I only hope that she danced off to some distant shore and gave another woman the opportunity to become her own hero.
Thank you Lady, Be.