I Bought a $1500 Sailboat in Florida
It was a Friday afternoon in Florida; I had a couple of beers in me and a vague idea of a good deal and an adventure. “This is the kind of challenge I´ve been looking for,” was how I reassured myself as I handed over the first cash instalment. I didn’t even know how to sail.
I naively listened while the crack fiend of a salesman peppered me with strange sailing jargon and seemingly superfluous information. He seemed like a decent guy: a bit of a redneck with a gaggle of vices and a firm handshake. He was desperate for money and was missing his upper front teeth, but most of me trusted him. He told me he´d fix the head gasket and promised to take me sailing when the weather was good. His name was Johnny.
I paid him two instalments of $400 and another two of $300. The total price of the boat was $1500, so I still owed him a further $100. I planned to leave the last hundred bucks hanging – it was a weak attempt of ensuring his promises.
He called me the next Friday night asking if I had the hundred bucks on me. I told him I would need to withdraw cash from an ATM, butI didn’t have a car. He offered to pick me up and drive me to one, but I told him that my bank card was on my uncle´s boat and that it would have to wait until tomorrow. He sounded drunk and pretty desperate. He told me he’d had a fight with his “old lady”.
I offered to let him sleep on the boat he had sold me, but he declined, because apparently his old lady knew where the boat was. I imagined the two of them having some kind of violent domestic dispute on my new boat. It was an unappealing image. Then he asked me if I had 20 or 30 bucks to give him. This was unsettling. He told me that he´d like to go sailing the next day “to get away from it all” and to call him in the morning.
Three days passed with no word from Johnny. He didn’t answer my calls or take me sailing. I didn’t really care at the time – I was far more concerned about making money while the work was there, then pissing most of it away. The important logistics of my boat were completely distant from my hedonistic present.
A few days later, Johnny called while I was at work. He claimed that his grandpa had died and that he’d flown out to Arizona for the funeral. His point was that his old lady really needed that hundred bucks. He left four or five messages to the same tune. That afternoon, I dropped the cash to his wife, who was surprisingly attractive and exuberant. I suspected that she was high on uppers or excited to buy drugs with the cash I had just given her. It reaffirmed to me that this was why the boat was so cheap. Addicts give the best deals.
The next weekend, I paid for the boat to be hauled out of the water with a huge hydraulic sling. I scraped and sanded the bottom of the hull before barrier coating and painting it. Johnny actually helped me quite a lot during the process. He straightened the shaft, gave me some free materials and showed me how to replace two of the seacocks. This saved me some money and I was thankful for it.
One afternoon, I met Johnny at the boat and we planned to clear the toilet pipe. It was clogged with hardened shit. Johnny pumped it out by flushing the toilet. My job was to hold a bucket over the hole in the hull from which the shit drained. As the bucket filled with shit, I dry retched once before tipping its contents into a nearby garden bed. It started to rain heavily. Johnny gave me a beer and a cigarette and suggested that we wait for the rain to clear on his friend’s boat. I obliged, and we huddled under some tarpaulins that had been draped over the aft deck.
We drank straight bourbon heavily and chain-smoked. I stayed pretty quiet as I watched these three washed-up, old-salty-dog labourers laugh and argue and swear at each other. All the while, a hyperactive, crazed mongrel barked and yelped. Every now and then, one of them abused the dog, but drunkenly — without malice.
The rain was relentless and became deafening. I was cold and wet before long. Ron, the big fat owner of the boat on which we sat, gave me a dry shirt which resembled a maternity robe on my comparatively slender frame. I listened to everything, understood some, sipped on my bourbon and wondered what the fuck I was doing there. I resolved that this was a bizarre yet interesting insight into American redneck culture as they became louder and drunker.
Suddenly, Johnny was asleep in one of the lower berths. He had gone down to take a piss and passed out. The older couple looked at me as if to say, “The party’s over, boy,” and asked me how I was getting home. Without Johnny, I was a confirmed outsider, a witness to their fun in an environment in which I didn’t belong.
I ran back to my boat, cold and wet. I got the fat man’s dry shirt, put my legs through the arm-holes and tied a knot at my hip. I was wearing it as a large, ill-fitting diaper so as to avoid chafing my genitals on the rough textured foam mattress in the quarter berth. All my clothes were hanging up, soaking wet. This was my first night sleeping on the boat.
I felt glad to have connected a little more with Johnny on a social level. The more we got drunk together, I figured, the more inclined he would be to help me with boat stuff. One thing was certain: I desperately needed his help. I had still never been sailing.
On one hand, I figured that drinking straight bourbon and chain smoking with these people would be beneficial to the progress of the boat. On the other hand, I wondered whether surrounding myself with middle-aged white red-necks (in order to acquire their help and knowledge) was a path I wanted to go down. I was already an alcoholic and that seemed to be the first step.
In the end, I resolved that I would take help from anyone and everyone, no matter how closed minded, uncultured, racist, dumb, white, fat, uncouth or boring they happened to be. It seemed to be my only option.
Work ran dry and I focused more on fixing the boat. Before long I was living on it. The boat was fitted with a sink, a microwave and a radio. I didn’t have many friends in Fort Lauderdale, nor a car or any other prospects. I was at a standstill with the boat, in need of more help and direction. I drank heavily, ate microwavable meals and listened to a lot of public radio. I was 22, but I felt like an old man. I pottered around, cleaned up and fixed odd things, but didn’t feel like I was making much progress. Johnny claimed to be busy with work and rarely answered my calls.
I started to have second thoughts about my decision to purchase the boat and why I was in Florida at all. I thought about Latin culture, cheap tequila and beautiful women. Why wasn’t I in South America somewhere with nothing more than a backpack? That had been my original plan after working for a while in Florida, and it suddenly seemed a lot more appealing than scratching my head and masturbating all day. The marina got me down a bit too; it was full of rich pricks with big, slick boats and I could tell they didn’t like the look of me. I hadn´t showered for about a week, rarely wore shoes or a shirt and usually pissed in the bushes behind the carpark. I was scum to them. The mere sight of me and my grubby little sailboat offended them.
I soon gave up on the whole concept of ever doing anything with the boat. I didn’t feel that I had the conviction to go through with all this work and learning. I decided to sell it and I put a few advertisements online. I focused the rest of my attention on drinking rum.
I went to a bar called the Elbo Room and got all bent out of shape. I got chatting to an older guy with a moustache; he may have been a pilot. There was a stripper pole on a low stage, but not much of a dancefloor happening. The alleged pilot pointed to the pole and offered to buy me a beer if I got up on it and danced. I was out of money and in need of more alcohol. I leaped onto the pole, wrapped both my legs around the top of it and attempted to pose upside down as I have seen strippers do. I got the free beer.
I took the beer and started to dance. The dancefloor consisted of myself and three huge black guys. ‘Juicy’ by Notorious B.I.G. cranked through the speakers. I know most of the words and started rapping to the big black guys. I was expecting them to join in or laugh at the scrawny white boy rapping Biggie, but they encouraged me with gangster hand movements. They loved it, but they didn’t seem to know any of the words to ‘Juicy’. Call me prejudiced, but I took for granted that these big African-American party animals would know the chorus at least. Evidently, they were Bahamians on vacation and Biggie is less well known there. They bought me two beers for my troubles and told me I was “real”. I was enjoying getting free beers for lame gimmicks. I was getting drunker and more shameless.
I walked towards the pilot, who was chatting to some younger girls. I was drunk and getting really obnoxious by now. I bumped a guy sitting on a stool. I apologised and started chatting to him. He was Spanish and friendly; I couldn’t pronounce his name. We talked about various travels in Australia, India and Morocco. I liked him. He had sailed a lot in the past and had come to Florida to buy a boat.
We took his van to the marina and I showed him my boat. We got a 12-pack on the way. I don´t remember much after that.
The next day we cut a deal. He would buy a third share of the vessel, we would fix it up and sail it to Martinique. He was crowned captain. It turned out that his name was Angel.
So I guess if there was any point or moral to this story, it would be gamble everything on a vague idea, when it seems too hard, give up, abuse alcohol and be as obnoxious and crude as possible, then sit back and watch everything effortlessly unfold into perfection. It may not be your mother’s advice, or sound logical at all, but it worked for me.
Cover by Emma Simpson-Wells; inset of the washed-up author