Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ft. Walton

I was up at 0500 hours and getting the boat ready for first light departure. The free city docks in Ft. Walton are popular, and there are only six slips available, plus the T-head dock with room for two boats. I wanted to get there early so we could get a spot. Only 3-4 of the available spots are deep enough for our boat.

We were out of the anchorage by 0600 and cooked breakfast along the way. Fresh baked biscuits and scrambled eggs. I’m really spoiling Paula. Nothing new there, though!

We arrived in Ft. Walton an hour later, and it looked like a sailboat was already on the T-head dock, our preferred spot. But it turns out that it was just anchored a short distance away. There was quite a current flowing from astern, but we eased in and moved as far to the end as we could, so there would be room for someone to dock behind us. Got tied up, and called the City Manager’s office to let them know we would be staying the night, as required. The stay is free, but you can stay only one night. They then call the police department to alert them of your presence. They come down later and just chat, and make sure everything is okay.

I was happy to see the police regularly coming to the small park adjacent to the docks. I had read reports of vagrants hanging out there, and that turned out to be the case. They ran several off over multiple visits.

Paula walked to the nearby Publix to do a bit of grocery shopping while I did boat chores. When she got back we filled the water tank and sun shower bag. We tested the water and found 130 TDS, which is very good for tap water. So we also filled all of our empty water bottles. There is no power available on the docks, but that was not a problem. The solar panels are having no problem meeting our power needs, so the batteries don’t need charging. The new 12VDC refrigerator means we use very little power overnight, so the solar panels can replenish the batteries in a few hours each morning.

There were more than a dozen restaurants within a few blocks of the docks. We took the opportunity to get off the boat and have a meal out. Excellent Mexican fare, fish (amberjack right off the boat) tacos for me, and shrimp chimichurri tacos for Paula. 

There were two sailboats moored in the slips. They appeared to have been here for far more than one night. One was definitely a derelict boat, it had no mast, all the handrails were broken off, and the window frames were sealed with black duct tape. There was about three inches of barnacles growing on the hull. Much to our surprise, a youngish couple got off the boat a short while later and left.
Later that afternoon, another trawler arrived. M/V Stylist, a 50’ Carver, owned by a couple who hail from New Hampshire, but now live in Sebastian, FL. They had purchased the boat in July and brought it down the river system, through Mobile, and were on their way around FL to the Sebastian on the east side. Nice folks, we chatted about our respective cruising plans.

A short while after they arrived a young police officer came by to check on everyone. He acknowledged they had been made aware of our arrival that morning. He said that someone had called to complain about the derelict boats in the slips and asked if that had been us. I told him that when I was accepting someone’s hospitality, especially when it’s free, I was not about to complain about anything. He laughed, and said they had been trying to find out who owned the derelict boat next to us. It had been there for months. We mentioned we had seen a young couple get off the boat that morning. He gave us his card and asked we contact the police dept. should we see them again.
An hour or so later, while Bob (from Stylist) and I were chatting on the dock, the girl who got off the derelict boat that morning walked down the dock and boarded the boat. Paula saw her and immediately contacted the police. They were there within minutes and started questioning her. Little did we know what the consequences of this would be later tonight.

As it started getting dark we decided to splurge one more time, and walked up to a small pub a block away. The reviews on the food were good, and accurate. We had a great meal, and some good draft beer from a local craft brewery. Home by 1830, watched a little TV, and in bed by 2100.
I slept fine until a loud noise woke me at 0300. It kept repeating, so I came up to the deck to see what it was. There was band of several teenagers riding their skateboards up and down the boardwalk, and doing jumps over some tree roots that crossed it. Clackety, clackety, clack… THUMP!!  Over, and over, and over, all while they were snapping photos with their cell phones. This went on for over an hour. Finally, they left, and we had blissful silence again.

I was just drifting off when I heard loud voices, very close by. Lots of cursing and shouting. Again I got up to see what was going on. At first, I could not determine where the noise was coming from. I initially thought it was from a nearby condo. But then I heard a loud smack and someone cry out. It was on the other sailboat in the slips! We had seen an older gent board it this afternoon, but now I was hearing two men and a woman. It was a very small sailboat, perhaps 24’. It was bouncing around like crazy as they struggled inside. More smacks, and the woman cried out.  Next thing I know all kind of stuff is getting thrown off the boat; clothes, shoes, a purse, coats, etc. Then the young guy who got off the other sailboat this morning climbed off this other boat. He had an armload of sleeping bag, clothes, and pillows, and proceeded to throw them on the derelict boat. At this point I felt justified in calling the police. They had requested we contact them if anyone boarded the boat, after all.

I spoke with the dispatcher for several minutes, explaining the situation. She asked some questions and then said they would send someone down. The officer was there in no more than 5 minutes. The older woman on the sailboat rushed out and started screaming at the officer that it was all his fault. It turns out that the girl the police had questioned that afternoon had spilled the beans on the guy with her. So he could not return to the derelict boat and had to bunk on the other sailboat. The older woman was apparently his ex-wife living on the boat with another guy. What a soap opera!

We decided an early departure was called for and got the heck out of there. Now I remember why we prefer a quiet anchorage to a dock, even if free. As we left, the woman was standing on the dock looking at all her worldly belongings floating away.

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