The lady waved her teeth at me desperately. Her bleach blonde hair flying in every direction and the pound of makeup on her tanned, deeply lined face, did little to make her seem less insane. A crack head I think. Or perhaps a prostitute, as she kept talking about how she was doing better cause she had a new job. The name of her job was Peter.
She was also my roommate at the Chocolate Hostel in Fort Lauderdale. And a sweetheart actually. She was so grateful when I helped her cut open the seemingly empty tube and scrape out just enough gum glue to get her teeth on before she went back to her “job.”
This wasn’t a vacation. I wanted to work on cargo ships so I had come all the way from the west coast of Canada to take a special boating course called STCW. Yup cargo. To me that seemed like such a cool adventure but everyone in my new class thought it was crazy. They were there cause they wanted to work on luxury yachts. Yuk. Definitely not my thing. I’m something of a minimalist and far happier doing physical labour than serving and being bombarded by extravagance.
Still, my classmates were great people and despite my introversion, I had fun with them during the day. We did things like going to the lake where we swam and learned how to flip over a life raft. My survival suit was so huge that it filled with water and I felt like it would drown, not save me.
In the evenings I hid away at the hostel and tried to soak in as much alone time as I could. After spending the previous three years sequestered away in the woods, hermit style, I gotta say it was tough being around humans again.
The lowest point came one night about halfway through the weeklong course. My roommate had been kicked out for not paying, so I had the place to myself. I sat alone on the couch flipping through channels, when a sudden panic filled me. I just wanted to stay alone so bad! I wished I hadn’t gone there. I missed my camper and my dog!
With the help of the song “Let it be” from the Disney movie, Frozen, which I played on repeat for an hour, I began to feel a little better. I could make it through this.
Firefighting day was awesome. Especially the hot room. Protected by our massive firefighting suits, we crawled, hands and knees, into a cramped dark space. Then they turned on the fire. I was lucky enough to be right at the front. Flames roared directly before me and danced up and across the roof above us. My knees burned through the suit, I was so close, but I didn’t care. It was beautiful and frightening and wonderful. I didn’t want it to end.
In fact, the entire trip turned out that way.
The last day of the course came and unbelievably, I was sad! I didn’t feel like I needed to be quite so alone anymore and even went out with my classmates to celebrate our graduation. At the pub I met Marc, a cute French Canadian, and we hit it off instantly. He was there taking the course, also so he could work on yachts, but he was different in that he was specifically trying to get onto a sailing yacht. Now sailboats, that was something I was interested in. For hours we hid away in the corner together, talking enthusiastically about life and boats and quantum physics.
We met up with friends at the beach the next day, where once again Marc and I spent every moment together, swimming in the ocean or walking hand in hand on the shore. That evening we rode bikes to the bridge and stood overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. It was my last night.
In the morning I walked to the airport and with every step, I felt more and more depressed (not to mention hot and sweaty, Florida gets freakin hot!). I didn’t want to go home anymore but I thought that I had to. After all my plane ticket was bought and I had plans. Back in Canada, it didn’t feel any better. It was nice to see my dog and my family and my camper, of course, but something was just off. I had changed.
Then I realized. Maybe I could have just stayed in Florida. Why the hell not! One of my biggest dreams was to have and live on my own sailboat, so why not go work on a sailboat to gain experience and save money. Only a week after being home in Canada, I was at the airport again. Not heading back to Florida, but instead on my way to Newport, Rhode Island, the sailing capital of the U.S.
I knew then that nothing would ever be the same again and that was both exciting and terribly sad. My hermitage was over and a new life beginning. One of adventure at sea! Or so I hoped… Find out in the next instalment!
P.S. The above picture was actually taken a little later in St. Augustine as I didn’t think to take any pictures during that time in Fort Lauderdale. Oh well, at least it’s me in Florida 🙂
Check out the next post! The adventure continues in Newport, Rhode Island!
Or to see how I ended up here, be sure to check out my introductory post: