13 April 2011

My Last Landlubber Birthday

Ean at the helm
This morning we woke up at the Villa Paradiso Hotel in Miami Beach, Fl.  Tonight we are going to sleep at home in Milwaukee.  In between these two events, we celebrated my 49th birthday--mostly at the airport, due to a several hour flight delay.  Our main reason for this trip wasn’t to look at boats, as it happens.  Our main reason was so that I wouldn’t have to be cold on my birthday.  Unfortunately, due to scheduling constraints, I did end up being cold for part of it.  But any birthday hour spent somewhere warm is better than that same hour spent cold, so I take whatever I can get.

We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and immediately hightailed it for St. Augustine in our rental car.  Not our smartest move considering that we were driving on about 4 hours’ sleep.  Ultimately worth it, though.  St. Augustine is nicknamed “The Ancient City” and has the distinction of being the oldest city in the U.S.  It’s a great walking city with Spanish architecture, streets and streets of shops (in one of which Jane found the perfect sun hat and in another one of which I got my Tilley), and attractions such as the restored St. Augustine lighthouse and the Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish Fort that, despite many turnovers in local government over the centuries (The Spanish, the British, the Spanish again, etc.), had never been taken over by force, only by treaty.

St. Augustine also has a beautifully maintained municipal marina, wherefrom we went on our first catamaran ride.  Not on a cruising cat, however, this was a 27 foot racing cat owned by St. Augustine Eco-Tours.  Beside Captain Aaron, just 2 sisters shared our two-hour dolphin-spotting tour of the inlet leading to the ICW.  It turns out that Aaron and his family live aboard their boat, so we had a lot to talk about.  Considering it was our first time aboard a cat underway, it didn’t feel new at all, really.  Just one more experience to further convince us that we’re making the right decision.

Since we had only one day to “do” St. Augustine, we had to make some tough sightseeing decisions and while the Castillo de San Marcos didn’t make the cut, the lighthouse did.  Definitely worth a visit, if you happen to be in the area and like that sort of thing.  

The number of “dock and dine” establishments along the Intracoastal Waterway is probably too numerous to count, so we sure it wouldn’t be hard to find a good place to eat.  And we were right—in both directions.  On the way up to St. Augustine, we ate at Two Georges Waterfront Restaurant in Boynton Beach and on the way back down to the Ft. Lauderdale area we stopped at Shrimpers’s Grill and Raw Bar in Stuart.  Both have that eased up tropical vibe: Two Georges seems a little more “designed” while Shrimper’s looks more like it just got its groove over time.  The food in either establishment is worth a stop as is the entertainment provided by boaters who labor with varying levels of finesse to dock their boats.  Make sure to get a table by the dock for the best viewing.

When Jane found an article in Budget Travel about hotels with that signature Miami Beach style, we didn’t realize 1) that Miami Beach has a historic art deco district and 2) that we’d be staying right in the middle of it.  Miami Beach is the quintessential antiMilwaukee city.  Despite not checking into our hotel until 9:30, we had to get out and walk around.  Wall-to-wall people eating and drinking and socializing in restaurants and lounges that spill out onto and across the sidewalk, open at least  until after the bars close, if not all night; hostesses vying for foot traffic; entertainment—intentional and not—in every direction.  The nightlife on a weekend night is fiercely jovial.  And then there’s the architecture.  I don’t know how the city managed to keep them out of the hands of “remuddlers” for so many decades, but good on ‘em.  Collins street, the main drag of the art deco district, is, block after block of buildings which have somehow been simultaneously perfectly preserved and brilliantly updated. All the angular exuberance of the art deco period enhanced with lighting techniques that they would doubtless have used themselves, if they’d been available.

Our last full day in Florida was Monday and we did, in fact, have some boats to look at arranged for us by our broker: a Voyage 44; a Lagoon 410, a PDQ, Classic edition, a Gemini 105, a newer Lagoon 380 and an Island Spirit.  Though we still have a few we want to see, the newer model of Lagoon 380 is quickly making its way to our no. 1 pick.  We’d seen a 380 before and our biggest reservation was the big, heavy look of the interior woodwork.  The newer models use a much lighter wood and we like them even better.  The Island Spirit is a close second having the largest salon area of any production catamaran, but they really blew it in the design of the head once you compare it to what architects Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost and Interior Designer Xavier Faÿ were able to come up with.

We’re trying hard not to get too attached to it in case there’s not one for sale or one in our price range when we’re ready to buy.  Yeah, we’ll see how that goes…