Monday, September 15, 2014

Eight Bells For Bobskoot

Bob Leong has died and I am quite cross with him for he had long been promising himself a trip to Key West and it never happened. He lived in Vancouver, British Columbia and wrote a cheerful popular blog describing the travails of life on Canada's rainy coast.
Riding the Wet Coast
I am told he died in his sleep, lucky man, not in a wreck, slipping out of this life as quietly and unassuming as he lived it. He was touring Kentucky in his classic Corvette, one of his many passions, which included motorcycles, scooters and photography. He liked to cook and to eat and he illustrated his blog with recipes and food pictures, as well as his struggles with his waistline and his determination to appreciate exercise.
Bob had a harsh upbringing and he was proud of his "self made" status, not in terms of wealth but in terms of creating his own family and living his own life. His blog was his release and the funny guy able to laugh off his inability to evade delicious food, could by turns be coldly self reflective and amazingly open about the heartache  of his Canadian childhood. Bob also accumulated a raft of friends around North America and Europe online and in person. It was his goal to meet every moto blogger he encountered online. He was doing well on that score. 
Orin in Seattle posted this:
September 15, 2014
Bob Leong
Bob Leong, aka bobskoot (Photo: Trobairitz’ Tablet)
Word comes of the passing of Bob Leong of Vancouver, B.C. He was known to friends and fans as bobskoot, though more recently he had been riding motorcycles.
Bobskoot passed in his sleep from an apparent heart attack while on vacation in Nashville, Tenn. He and his wife Yvonne had been traveling through the South in Bob’s Corvette, a trip which included a visit to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.
Bob’s blog Wet Coast Scootin began in 2008 and was noteworthy for prolific posting and Bob’s observations on his many long road trips, first on a scooter, then on a succession of motorcycles.
Bob was also famous for sporting pink Crocs, the molded plastic footwear from Boulder, Colo.
I met David Masse in Montreal this summer and we planned a surprise for Bob when they made their planned trip to the Southernmost City next summer. So much for that. God, life is short!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A loving tribute to a great man, Bob Leong

The account of Bob's passing struck me hard. It was like a sudden blast of emptiness that hit me with overwhelming force and left a void where once there was Bob.

Like many in Bob's vast extended family, I met Bob through the internet. He reached out to me through my blog. First a comment, then an e-mail, then a phone call, and so it went.
Bob infused my blogging experience with life. Vibrant, compelling, gritty, amazing, adventurous, life. When I just wanted to get together for coffee or lunch, Bob seized the day, two days in fact, and squeezed out two amazing mind-blowing days of moto-friendship that paid dividends I could never have imagined.
But wait, there was more, so very much more. I found myself, alone, in a borrowed tent, in Bellafonte Pennsylvania, waking to the sound of songbirds and peacocks. Magic. I was there because Bob asked me to meet him there. So I went.

Bob invited me to share slices of his life. So I invited him to share slices of mine. I visited his home, I met Yvonne and his kids. He spent a few nights in my home. He met Susan and our kids. Susan, Yvonne, Bob and I had dinner in Vancouver, and breakfast on another occasion.
More than anything else, I was blessed to ride with Bob. Bob blessed my life in a small but deeply marking way.

Bob was truly one of the kindest, most gentle, most generous people I have met. Most importantly, he gave of himself. He made things happen.

None of this came easily to Bob. He was candid about the challenges he faced as a child. Challenges no child should face. Many of us might have fared worse in similar circumstances.

How Bob will be missed.

Now is the time for tributes. To sing the praises of one who touched our lives. A fellow being who lived life the way life should be lived. With love, generosity, kindness, and courage.

Safe travels Bob. You left this life the way only the very best do. Doing what you loved, living an adventure, in the company of your loving wife.
I met Bob a few years ago on a grossly overheated day in Bend Oregon of all places and we had a loud cheerful lunch with he and Sonia, another riding blogger, before departing. To meet Bob was to know a friend for life, full of good cheer and boundless optimism. Here's my lighthearted essay on that memorable encounter:
Walks With Crocs 
Safe travels old friend and prepare a place for me on the road up there.

Elizabeth Street By Night

I was out early in the morning with Cheyenne and the moon was full and there's something irresistible about a full moon, so...
I think part of the irresistible nature of photographs that include the full moon come from the architecture in Old Town Key West that lends itself to the ghostly image of a cloudy full moon night. Even when including such banal props as a bicycle, a road barricade and something as modern as a car.
This old house at the intersection of Elizabeth and Angela and Windsor near Solares Hill is getting a make over after years of sitting there empty and forgotten. Frankly it's really getting rebuilt as there isn't much more than a shell left standing
 I love pointing my camera down Elizabeth Street toward Truman in the dark. I muted the colors slightly to get a more evocative tone from the play of shadows and light, after the rain. 
 Key West loves it's picket fences.

 And the balconies with ceilings painted blue. They say its to discourage insects and some say that he original blue paint formula from  decades ago included some kind of insecticide component.
 This house with the wildly colored paint job is always good for a photograph. 
 Oops! There's the moon again!

 And that's a street light looking the other direction on Elizabeth Street.
 Small cars make big sense in Old Town.
Cheyenne walked for 90 minutes, a winter marathon for my 13 year old Labrador. It was cool and breezy after the rain before the sun came up and she was full of energy. I can't imagine her first eight years before she was sent to the pound, no walks, no road trips in the car, total boredom. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From The Archives: Living On Boats In The Keys

The state of Florida is trying to control anchoring in coastal waters, a privilege traditionally extended to sailors by maritime law and usage and overseen by the Federal Government. Among sailors these encroachments are feared and opposed buy coastal residents see too many bad apples fouling waters, and coastlines, and not respecting local communities. Proposals to ban anchoring in Boca Chica Bay, south of Mile Marker Six on the Overseas Highway so far have come to naught but the  future is clearly pointing in that direction. Here's why:

Boca Chica Bay

Boca Chica Bay is a body of water bounded by Highway One to the north (with enough clearance to allow fishing skiffs to pass underneath) Stock Island to the west, and Boca Chica Naval Air Station to the east. To the south is a narrow channel which gives access to the open waters of the Straits of Florida. It is the perfect place to live on a boat and I am not alone in noticing this.
Over the years I have seen the number of boats anchoring in Boca Chica Bay increase by leaps and bounds. Living on a boat has always been a cheap way to hang out in Key West, and aside from the transient population of mostly winter visitors who stay for a few weeks or months at a time, there are any number of boats whose owners never move their water "craft."The waters off Key West aren't the best possible place to anchor from a boater's perspective because even though they are closest to the downtown action they are exposed in any winds that don't have an easterly component to them. Winter north winds rake the harbor and pre-frontal west winds do the same. Holding isn't the best, as it's mostly thin sand over rock and the waters are part of the main channel which carries plenty of traffic to the Gulf of Mexico. All that compares unfavorably to the closed waters of boot Key in Marathon discussed here previously. And Boca Chica isn't too bad at all if you are looking for protected waters. I took these pictures in a steady southeasterly at 20 knots gusting 25:The channel into Boca Chica is well marked, and splits just south of the old Peninsular Marine, where the right hand channel leads to the trim and inexpensive marina maintained at the Navy Base for military and ex-military at astonishingly cheap slip rents:I find it ironic that on the water, as on land, the chaos of civilian life finds itself living cheek-by-jowl with the trim and orderly life of a neighboring military base. The chaos of Boca Chica liveaboards is generally a product of the fact that this is housing of the last resort, rent free, amenity free and pretty much unregulated. The fishing boats passing between the Gulf and the Straits zip through here, passing underneath the Highway, and overhead the Navy jets in training, circle on their way to and from imaginary aircraft carrier landings at the Base:The issue as always for people living on the water is how to get ashore and in that respect Boca Chica ("small mouth" in Spanish) is very accommodating. Cars on the highway zipping past the Key Haven Shell gas station might be forgiven for not noticing the Key Have Boat Ramp that gives access to any trailered boat wanting to launch:And people who want to launch their boats from here get to do so for free:For those living on boats this is the main access point to shore side life, though many people land further up the highway in the mangroves alongside the road:And despite the abundance of garbage cans provided as a service by the county the shoreline in the mangroves is filled with debris, as is the seawall itself, most delightfully:The mangroves make for safe dockage for the variety of dinghies that the liveaboards use to get to shore; the trees carry out their natural function of acting as living fenders for the shoreline:Ashore the causeway is lined at night with parked cars and scooters and bicycles when the boaters come home from their day labors, and make no mistake this is largely a population of working people. Some use bicycles which make for a six mile pedal for someone working on Duval Street:Others use motorbikes:No, wait a minute, that one's mine! The ramp parking area does have lots of room:So there you have it, how to live for free in (or almost in) Key West.I can only say that from my many years of living on a boat, in marinas and at anchor, the best way is to be underway. Admiral Nelson is famously quoted as saying: Men and ships rot in port! Look no further than the waters adjacent to Key West to see the truth of that dictum, even today.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Garrison Bight Dawn

What a glorious start to the day in Key West, a line of clouds, a blue sky overhead and the promise of sun. Lots of sun, exactly how I like it.
Fiberglass has taken the place of a lot of the routine struggle to keep a boat afloat. Modern boats are made of plastic in one form or another, and that being the case the complexities of wooden hulls have largely been replaced by almost indestructible glass fiber mating and glue.
Walking Cheyenne past the boat workshop and Spencer's Boatyard I was reminded that not all industry starts at the crack of dawn. You'd think it would be easier to do outdoor work early in the day,
There are some who still hold with the old ways and very pretty they are too, wooden boats:
When you have a boat a boat yard is a gruesome place where your boat is out of its element, everything is coated in dust and the noise of hammering drilling and sanding is endless and all you want   is to get the work done, pay your bills and get out of there. But to walk by is to see other people's hopes and dreams and thus get inspiration far from the hard work!
Spencer's is such an anachronism in modern high price Key West (shown below with the red dot).
Yet this picture from the 1970s by Dale McDonald in the State Library of Florida Collection, shows this kind of work has been going on for a while at what was Steadman's Yard. I guess thirty years ago they became Spencer's according to their advertising.
"Steadman's Boat Yard", Key West, Florida.
Landlubbers don't quite get it usually, buying the old line that boats take a lot of work, compared to a house. In my experience a reasonably sized fiberglass boat is fairly low maintenance compared to a house. A boat consists of machinery and machines like to be used or they freeze up, especially in a salty environment. But modern boats are amazing with plastic hulls, plastic sails and plastic ropes they are tough and easy to live with.
The hard part is the anchor they can represent in your life. A boat is a constant responsibility and even though it should be mobile in a world where planes fly 500 miles in an hour and cars drive 500 miles in a day a sailboat, your home, can only do about  miles an hour and is subject to the vagaries of weather and access to deep water.
It is much harder to abandon a boat for a while and then come back to it and resume using it as though it were a house. Boats need to be aired out, their systems operated and the best person to do that is the person who owns and cherishes the boat. When you own a boat that is your home your home owns you. And a piece of you belongs to the boatyard.
When I lived at anchor near Rat Key ( the island at the top of the map above) I used to tie my dinghy up o this seawall and walk into town across Peary Court. Spencer's charged a dollar to use their dinghy dock, dump your trash and fill a water jug each day but my buddy was an appalling cheapskate and he preferred to live on the edge of society and I was easily swayed to follow suit. Looking back I was an idiot as I could easily afford a dollar a day, plus the wall was awkward to climb over and the dinghies were vulnerable to passersby. Nowadays the seawall is home to a proper home afloat. 

The views aren't all industrial wasteland:
A "bight" in nautical lingo means a  body of water indented into a coastline, as though the water had taken a bite of the land , as it were. Garrison Bight is actually human made as Flagler's railroad built up the land you see at the top of the picture above and ran his rail line across it to the Havana Ferry Terminal at what is now the Coastguard Base. In so doing this body of water became an enclosed pond with one small access to the sea outside, and less of the original bight. The aerial view above from Google Maps illustrates the geography quite well.
The boatyard lives in the shadow of the so called "Fly Navy" building on the base. It's correct name is Bachelor Officers Quarters as Key West has a dive school and Boca Chica trains a lot of naval aviators and they need somewhere to sleep.
The city also created a mooring field partly visible in the dark water to the left of the aerial view above. To accommodate those boats they also built a floating dinghy dock as seen below, a fifteen minute boat ride by outboard motor. And above we see he new shower block for their use as well. Very civilized, too bad the mooring field is so exposed to the weather, particularly winter north winds.
And of course recycling and trash disposal. And spare toilets too, on parade for inspection by my Labrador.
Its a serene spot though inside the Bight as an arriving dinghy carves up the smooth waters. Behind him you can just see the docks of the Sailing Club.
My wife and I used to be members here and we'd dock our dinghy behind the fence and sometimes sit out he rain under the thatched roof of the tiki hut, reading a book (no Kindles back then!) and waiting with the patience endowed to humans by boats.
Not all Key West is picturesque, and sometimes the waterfront takes on a slightly industrial look.
All the better to explore.