The sun was getting low over the Okeechobee Waterway; only four o'clock and time to find a safe nook to anchor for the night. These November days were getting short, although still warm and sunny, even hot! As we turned into an inviting cove two miles west of LaBelle we spied a weathered looking center cockpit sloop with light blue topsides. "That's PRECIOUS CARGO! It's Patrick and Alice!" sang out Carol.
We had met the crew of PRECIOUS CARGO briefly at Man O War Cay in the Bahamas last winter. Originally from Ireland, they had been cruising and living aboard for years, though only in their 40's. It seemed amazing to find them in the middle of southern Florida, the only other boat in this pristine, isolated, anchorage. We waved wildly as we entered the cove. Patrick appeared on deck dressed, in the European fashion, only in skimpy briefs. Peering into the setting sun, he didn't have a clue who we were, but he waved back politely anyway. After we dropped the hook in five feet of water we grabbed a bottle of cold chardonnay and some munchies and rowed our little brown Wren over to visit. The Wren is our calling card; the folding wooden dingy is the first thing people notice and what they remember longest.
Patrick had dressed up for the occasion; he had pulled on a pair of old khaki shorts over his briefs. Carol and I reintroduced ourselves and explained where we had met, but his puzzled look told us he still didn't have a clue who we were. I pointed out the Wren and I could see a light go on. "If you had her tan bark sails up I would have known you," he said in his soft, Irish accent. "I remember you sailing around Eastern Harbor at Man O War." "Are you sailing solo these days?" I asked, having seen no sign of Alice. "Alice is still in Ireland. We hauled and stored the boat in Fort Myers, the cheapest place I've found, and we flew back home for a visit."
We opened our wine and offered Patrick a glass, but he declined and went below and came back with a warm beer. There was a wind generator spinning merrily on the stern, so I asked if he didn't have refrigeration. "No, takes too much power, more trouble than it's worth. The Wind Bugger allows me to leave my running lights on all night on a passage, and use an autopilot. Wind vanes don't work well on center cockpit boats, too much friction. Oil lamps work all right for reading." "Carol and I just got a 50 watt solar panel. It seems to be doing a good job keeping our battery topped up. We only use it for one light and our VHF radio. We want to install more lights, and a cd/tape player would be nice." Patrick shook his head. "You would be better off chucking all your electronics overboard. They're addictive. Next you'll be wanting radar, refrigeration, water makers. More things to spend money on, and then break down and cost frustration and more money. You're better off without them." "Well, we have two fiddles, a guitar, a flute and a tin whistle on board that don't require any electricity. Perhaps we should let it go at that."
"Is Alice joining you soon?" Carol asked. "She is supposed to fly in to Fort Myers the end of this month. I just got PRECIOUS CARGO back in the water a week ago, and I'm getting her back in order. This past summer I had a chance to cross the Atlantic on SPRAY, Joshua Slocum's boat. It took me 10 seconds to think about it and say yes, but Alice wasn't too keen on the idea. She stayed with family in Ireland while I crewed. It was a long, wet, cold trip. Took us 67 days, hand steering all the way. No winches or electronics on SPRAY; all heavy block and tackle and gaff rig."
"Alice and I had planned to buy a home in Ireland, and when I arrived we looked around, but prices have gone out of sight. We had planned on about 60,000 pounds, but quite ordinary houses were going for 200,000. pounds. We have been cruising full time for over five years now, and Alice would like to settle down to a home that's not in danger of sinking. She likes getting places, but doesn't enjoy the passages. Myself, I would be content to sail around in circles. We had quite a row when I decided I had had enough of Ireland and was returning to the boat. I'm afraid it might be bad news when she gets here." "How long have you been together?" "Twenty years. She's coming because she wants to be with me, but I'm afraid she's had enough of sailing."
The conversation drifted to other topics. We talked about small boats versus big boats, simplicity versus compexity. "I bought PRECIOUS CARGO to have a boat large enough for two people to live on full time. I would like to build something smaller, in steel. I am a welder by trade." When Patrick talked about boats and sailing his eyes lit up and he became much more animated even though his voice stayed the same. When he spoke about Ireland, houses and Alice his shoulders slumped like a heavy weight was on them. His body Irish said more than his words.
We asked about LaBelle, just ahead on our own trip. "It's a nice town. It reminds me of Irish towns, has a real "town" feeling to it. There are public docks you can tie to for free for three days. The library is right there, and although you can't borrow books they have lots of old paperbacks they give away. Restaurants and food markets are a short walk away. There is a good hardware store and a great used book shop. Speaking of books, have you any on board you care to pass on? I can stay away from civilization a long time if I have plenty of reading material."
"We'll see what we can do." By this time the sun was well down and we had to get back to TIME ENOUGH before the vampire-like mosquitos decended upon us. Every night at 6 PM sharp they had driven us below decks and tested the tightness of our netting. "I hope everything turns out all right with Alice, however it turns out."
"Thanks for rowing over. I've been here three days without speaking to another person. Generally I like wilder, secluded anchorages, but a little company is nice now and then. Hope we will meet again."
"I guess you never know," I replied. "Hopefully Alice will be on board then, and we can play some tunes."
Back on board TIME ENOUGH, with the mossies buzzing loudly outside the screen, I asked Carol "What is Patrick's last name?" "Precious Cargo" she replied. "That will do." I wondered what, or who, the precious cargo was that gave the boat her name.