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The Florida Series: Chapter 3

In my first installment, I mentioned the perception that many northerners hold about the Florida lifestyle being inundated with retirement communities. I have had retirement age people tell me that they don't like Florida for that reason, that they are not interested in going to an "old folks' home."

Perhaps they visited some retired relatives or friends there, and were put off by watching them arguing over the price of one brand of chicken breasts vs. another. They seemed to have nothing to do but wait for the Grim Reaper to arrive. Sadly, this does become the case with some retirees, but it certainly doesn't have to! "Retirement" is a state of mind, with endless possibilities, good and bad. Sure, if one sits around all day, doing very little, one's mind and body can rapidly turn to mush. But Florida has so much to offer, there is no need of that. Personally, I would go out of my mind hanging around with nothing productive to do, and was delighted to learn at an early age that Florida is an active person's dream. Let me tell you about boating in Florida.

Growing up in the greater Boston area, I was always a boater and fisherman. One of the disadvantages to those activities in the northeast is the relatively short season, realistically from May to October. Yeah, you'll get a number of good days before and after that time, but you're really talking about six months. In my mid thirties, I belonged to a local yacht club where some members were either bringing their boats to Florida, or keeping another boat there, to fly down and use as often as possible. I was buying a diesel sportfishing boat of ample size to make the trip, so why not give it a try? Why not extend my boating season to twelve months? The boat was built in Florida, and my first (of about 30) trip on the Intracoastal Waterway was from Miami to Boston. The adventures have been endless, with a lot of them in Florida.

After all, Florida has a staggering 8,500 miles of shoreline to travel and explore; EIGHTY FIVE HUNDRED MILES! By comparison, Massachusetts has about 1,500. I learned quickly that Florida truly is a boater's paradise, more so than just about anywhere else in the USA. It has more boat builders, marinas, repair yards, yacht clubs, residential canals, restaurant docks, marine supply stores, etc., than any other state. The best part is that a large percentage of all that shoreline is boater friendly. Protected bays and waterways are everywhere, offering calmer waters for small boats and fishing, while offshore one might be faced with 8 to 10 foot seas, or worse. Another Florida asset is its lack of rocks. Running aground on a sand bar in the Keys or Ft. Lauderdale is a far more benign- if embarrassing- experience than crashing into the rocks on a foggy day along the Maine coast!

Boating in Florida at sunset

Since there are so many boater friendly facilities in Florida, more often with short distances between them, it is not necessary to have a big, expensive boat to enjoy them. I had a condo and boat slip on Key Largo for many years. I eventually moved up to a large sportfisherman, a 54' Bertram, and quickly decided that I preferred to rent the condo and live on the boat. Still, it was a project to take out the big boat just to do some reef fishing, or run to a restaurant at another marina, so I bought a 23' Mako center console, which I kept in dry rack storage when not using it. All in, this boat cost a little over twenty grand, and provided a million dollars worth of enjoyment. I would call the storage dock, and they would put the boat in the water. In minutes, we could then be water skiing, snorkeling or fishing at the reef, or taking a short trip to Alabama Jack's, the Caribbean Club, or some other waterfront restaurant for lunch. With a similar sized boat, one can travel through protected waters to Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, or all the way to Key West, staying at one of many resorts and hotels offering dockage. It's just a terrific lifestyle, and no place facilitates it like Florida.

Let's say the concept. of boating in Florida really appeals to you, but you have little or no boating experience. Well, it's not rocket science, and you can learn quite easily. Not only are there lots of boating safety and navigation courses at your disposal all over Florida, but there are actually hands on courses available where an instructor will take you out on the water, and teach you how to run a boat! You can go as far as you like, all the way up to qualifying for say, a 100 Ton USGC Ocean Operator's license. Many years ago, I took the exam for that license, at Coast Guard Station Boston. After the exam, the administrator, a Coast Guard Officer, asked the class what we thought was the most important rule we learned. There were all sorts of good answers, but not what he had in mind. He said, "The most important 'rule' to know when you are operating a boat, is that other boaters you may encounter know nothing about the rules." Wise advice. For example, when crossing paths with another boat, YOU may know that "in a crossing situation, the vessel approaching from starboard has the right of way," but does he or she?

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