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Cruisin’ Along

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After our trip down memory lane in Cocoa, we’ve been heading north at a pretty good clip, first to the old, but friendly municipal marina in Titusville, two days in Daytona Beach (where I got to go clear back to Vero Beach for my final tooth appointment) then on to St. Augustine.

It has been pretty chilly in north Florida, as the continuing lousy weather in the East sends waves of northerly winds down this way. But the cruising is easy in protected waters. We had 25 knots on the nose coming into Daytona, but in the beautiful Intracoastal Waterway, had no more than one foot waves. Daytona Beach was a particularly good stop — huge municipal marina with all the ammenities, and a totally rebuilt downtown.

The other highlight of our Cocoa stay, other than the thrill of Neuharth-terror, was a trip out to the Kennedy Space Center, by myself since poor John was once again experiencing some back-area pain. As you know, I love air and space museums, but Kennedy is the piece de resistance on the space side. You get a real feeling for the SCALE of the effort, the size of the huge machines it took to get to the moon, the focus and dedication of the hundreds of thousands of people who worked toward seemingly impossible objectives. The exhibits are wonderfully done now, and will be even better once the new Atlantis space shuttle building opens this summer. There is a surprising amount of activity at Kennedy, even with the space shuttle program done. Three private contractors (Boeing, Space X and Sierra Nevada) are doing launches and a new rocket is being built to service the space station and deep space exploration. Plus the normal spy satellite activity.

The thought that kept recurring as I realized once again what our country had to do to get to the moon, is how paltry our current efforts to accomplish ANYTHING as a nation seem to be. In seven years, 1961 to 1968, 400,000 people worked with great dedication to solve unbelieveably complex problems. They put not one, but 12 people on the moon. Yet a simple objective like decent nutrition, education and health care for every American child is something we can’t seem to wrap our hands around. The people riding on the tour bus and eating lunch seemed to feel the same way, and you heard a lot of comments like, “This is really great, but what are we doing now?”

For all the old Gannett hands -- Cocoa has grown so much, it actually has a skyline!

For all the old Gannett hands — Cocoa has grown so much, it actually has a skyline!

Layed out on its side, a Saturn/Apollo rocket is unbelievably massive.

Layed out on its side, a Saturn/Apollo rocket is unbelievably massive.

Working end of a Saturn rocket.

Working end of a Saturn rocket.

Fire Control Room, Appollo 8.  As they run through a launch sequence, you actually see what the launch controllers saw up on the screens.

Fire Control Room, Appollo 8. As they run through a launch sequence, you actually see what the launch controllers saw up on the screens.

Vehicle Assembly Building.  The world's fourth largest building.  We could see it from 20 miles away in all directions from the ICW.

Vehicle Assembly Building. The world’s fourth largest building. We could see it from 20 miles away in all directions from the ICW.

Pad B, starting place of all the Apollo moon flights.

Pad B, starting place of all the Apollo moon flights.

Sparta gets cold in the mornings and likes to stay under the covers.

Sparta gets cold in the mornings and likes to stay under the covers.

Manatee cadging drops of water from our neighbor's boat in Titusville.

Manatee cadging drops of water from our neighbor’s boat in Titusville.

Osprey and his fishing boat

Osprey and his fishing boat

Not as many waterfront mansions in northern Florida.

Not as many waterfront mansions in northern Florida.

Narrow portion of the ICW south of St. Augustine -- every boat has its own garage.

Narrow portion of the ICW south of St. Augustine — every boat has its own garage.

From the time we left this morning to this afternoon, palm trees and mangroves have given way to oaks sassafras.

From the time we left this morning to this afternoon, palm trees and mangroves have given way to oaks sassafras.

The Way We Were

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This blog was never meant to be a logbook or diary. It’s a series of short articles about the Loop and our experiences, written largely for my friends back home.  But this post is pretty much about me, since we are in Cocoa Beach, FL, home of some of the most momentous days of my life.

In 1980 I was fortunate to be working for the Gannett Company, a huge media conglomerate, at their corporate headquarters in Rochester, NY. I was the only MBA/marketing guy on our tiny corporate staff. As such, I was involved in acquisitions and sometimes worked directly with our CEO and Chairman, the legendary Al Neuharth, a brilliant, terrifying, charismatic man, the Napoleon of Newspapers.

One day I found myself flying to Florida on a corporate jet with my boss and Al to a meeting at Harris Corporation, then the world’s leading manufacturer of printing presses and satellite communications equipment. We received a long briefing all about satellite communications technology, and I thought we were in the wrong room and had missed a turn to the paper and ink meeting.

But after the meeting, Al dropped his bombshell. I was to join three other 30-ish specialists in circulation, technology and content (I was the marketing guy and de-facto numbers cruncher) to assess the feasibility of launching a satellite-delivered newspaper, which eventually became USA Today. If the first huge hurdle was met, whether USA Today was even possible, we were to write the operations and business plan. We had offices in a converted barber shop on the beach here about six blocks from Al’s house, well within range of the dragon’s fiery breath and his well-known roar. Everything was top secret, nobody was to know what we were up to. We couldn’t even associate with our newspaper friends across the way at Cocoa Today. (What happened next is extremely well-chronicled in two superb books, Peter Pritchard’s “The Making of McPaper” and Neuharth’s “Confessions of an SOB.”)

I have very mixed feelings about my year in Cocoa Beach. Professionally it was challenging, exciting and a chance to create something that had never been done, and most said could never be done. Every day was an adrenelin rush.  Personally, we had many great times, but there was a lot of conflict on the team, and the creative stress of working so close to Neuharth was huge.  I was living in luxury, in beautiful surroundings, but during my nightly strolls through on one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, I thought of nothing but USA Today.

The aftermath was much better. Before and during the launch our story became part of the Gannett public relations machine, and the “Four Young Geniuses” were jetted out to Gannett functions, board meetings, the White House and to Europe for “exploration” of the international edition of the paper. It was easy duty, because Al did all the talking and we were just to keep quiet and look like we knew what we were doing (of course we didn’t). I met and married Molly (who I had hired to run ad research and planning for USA Today) and had further adventures with the founding of USA Weekend and Gannett Media Sales.

But in 1988, I did a complete 180-degree career turn, left Gannett and worked for a series of funky, new-idea, smaller companies and start-ups. My friends couldn’t understand why I would do this, but I was increasingly uncomfortable at Gannett. Al was leaving and I just couldn’t establish any rapport with his successor John Curley and his brother Tom, my contemporary. The crazy growth period of the company was over, and hard-nosed, bottom-line managers were needed much more than absent-minded professors.  I am the world’s worst manager because I hate to manage. I detest telling other people what to do, couldn’t discipline an earthworm, and it is my firm policy to ignore all memos from Human Resources.

But today as I revisited the barber shop, walked the beach with John and talked to an old codger at my beach-front apartment, I dug down and unearthed another reason for my leaving Gannett. As the memories washed over me, I tried to bring back my friends, specific events, momentous decisions about USA Today. But I couldn’t. They were all drowned out by my vivid memories of one man, Al Neuharth. He is still alive and living in Cocoa Beach, and to me his aura still overwhelms the place.  I must have told John a half-dozen Neuharth stories – which he seemed to enjoy very much.

I was a tiny cog in the big Gannett machine, but I think in my subconscious I couldn’t imagine the machine without Al pulling the levers. In terms of personality, we were total, polar opposites and I was terrified of him. In terms of substance, Al Neuharth dreamed great dreams and did great deeds and without acknowledging it, I bought into his charisma hook, line and sinker.

So once more I owe a great debt to Al, since without that turn, I wouldn’t be here now having the best time of my life, on the most beautiful boat in the world, with John, the best crew ever.

The birthplace of USA Today -- now a Century 21 real estate office.

The birthplace of USA Today — now a Century 21 real estate office.

Pumpkin Center, Al's huge house in Cocoa Beach.  It included a Gannett conference center where I spent many days ducking, breathing deep and trying to not throw up.

Pumpkin Center, Al’s huge house in Cocoa Beach. It included a Gannett conference center where I spent many days ducking, breathing deep and trying to not throw up.

Bernard's Surf Restaurant.  Still there after 30 years.  Gannett had a charge account and Rusty the manager was practically an employee, so it was the setting for many important business meetings.  Gee, according to the sign they serve cocktails.

Bernard’s Surf Restaurant. Still there after 30 years. Gannett had a charge account and Rusty the manager was practically an employee, so it was the setting for many important business meetings. Gee, according to the sign they serve cocktails.

My apartment on the beach in Cocoa.  Top floor, beautiful view, three, bedrooms, two baths -- $535 per month, which I thought was a fortune.

My apartment on the beach in Cocoa. Top floor, beautiful view, three, bedrooms, two baths — $535 per month, which I thought was a fortune.

Cocoa Beach -- wide, empty, talcum-powder sand.  I just couldn't appreciate it then.

Cocoa Beach — wide, empty, talcum-powder sand. I just couldn’t appreciate it then.

Velcro Beach

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We stayed in Vero Beach an extra four days for my dentist and John’s doctor visits, but most Loopers call it “Velcro Beach” just because it’s so pleasant and there’s so much to do that no one wants to leave.

Sunday we went to an outstanding production of Les Miserables at Riverside Theatre, a magnificent professional theatre complex right across from our marina.  Great seats since our friend Oscar Sales is the Marketing Director.

Monday we toured the theatre to see the take-down of Les Mis and set-building for the next show, Grease.   Bob and Cathyrn, our friends from “Next to Me” drove up from Ft. Pierce for dinner over at the beach.   Tuesday was bowling with Marie’s kids, then dinner at their house and exercise night for Sparta getting chased around by a 2 and 5-year old.  Also had a nice lunch at a funky filling-station-themed restaurant with Dick and Dee from Sareanna, who just finished their loop right here in Vero Beach and are getting ready for the next one.

Doctors yesterday, then nothing but trip prep yesterday since John is hurting from his final treatment.  On to Cocoa tomorrow to relive my 15-minutes of fame.

Riverside Theatre -- Broadway Deluxe!!

Riverside Theatre — Broadway Deluxe!!

Loop ending is a great accomplishment, but sad.  Bob and Cathryn are going back to Seattle next week and this was our last dinner.

Loop ending is a great accomplishment, but sad. Bob and Cathryn are going back to Seattle next week and this was our last dinner.

This bird lives once slip over from us and is Sparta's mortal enemy.  "One step closer and your going to get it! Okay, one MORE step and I'm coming after you!  I'm serious this time, any closer and you're feathers" and so forth for hours.

This bird lives once slip over from us and is Sparta’s mortal enemy. “One step closer and your going to get it! Okay, one MORE step and I’m coming after you! I’m serious this time, any closer and you’re feathers” and so forth for hours.

Boat next to us has its own Tiki Bar.  Nice touch.

Boat next to us has its own Tiki Bar. Nice touch.

Canals in Vero Beach

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I’ve been doing some canal work here in Vero Beach, but nothing to do with the Erie or Welland.  Canal as in “root” — two hours Tuesday and two more Thursday.  But it is almost over and dentist Dr. Valme, arranged at short notice by Don and Carol from Turtle Kraal, our Key West neighbors, is very good.

In between sessions in the chair, we have been enjoying Vero Beach and some time with our friends Oscar and Marie Sales, and their two beautiful children Sebastian and Elissa.  Today was John’s 19th birthday, so yesterday we celebrated with a boat ride and Italian dinner, complete with birthday cake, candles and presents.  And here’s how I compensated today for last week’s week of pain.

— Awoke to a crystal-clear, 75 degree day.  Had coffee in bed while finishing the excellent novel The House at Tynebourne, a sort of Downton Abbey set in World War II.

— Rode my bike six blocks over to the beach and the Saturday farmer’s market.  Not only the normal produce, baked goods and local delicacies, but the local restaurants put up stands so you can have a cup of lobster bisque as you stroll.

— Breakfast on the beach purchased at the farmers market.

— Back to the boat to stash my purchases and check on John and Sparta, who spent the day exactly as the birthday boy requested, doing nothing.

— Rode over to the park south of the Marina, where they were having a huge antique car show.  Saw two of my favorites, the 1955 Chevrolet model in which I learned to drive and a 1958 MGA roadster.  In 1972 a friend of mine and I met up with his friend at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and drove to Daytona Beach in an MGA for spring break.  Being the smallest, I was relegated to the trunk, with my head sticking up between the seats in the passenger compartment.   This turned out to be a decent spot, since the car had no heater and the roof was full of holes, so my friends were subjected to freezing winds, while the exhaust pipe kept me cozy.

— Back to boat. Sparta gets mad when cocktail hour starts late.

Sebastian, Elissa and Marie.

Sebastian, Elissa and Marie.

Eliisa gets a driving lesson.

Eliisa gets a driving lesson.

John demonstrating his maturity.

John demonstrating his maturity.

Sparta is very good with the kids.

Sparta is very good with the kids.

The Vero Beach beach.

The Vero Beach beach.

Car show in the live oaks and spanish moss.

Car show in the live oaks and spanish moss.

How did three 20-year-old guys fit in this car?

How did three 20-year-old guys fit in this car?

Parallel parking this beast with three-on-the-tree during the driver's test was not fun.  But I had short hair, so he passed me.

55 Chevy.  Parallel parking this beast with three-on-the-tree during the driver’s test was not fun. But I had short hair, so he passed me.

John's 19th birthday.

John’s 19th birthday.

Sensory Overload in the Ditch

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Heading north from Miami we decided, I think wisely, to get through “The Ditch” and into central Florida as quickly as possible.  It is narrow, crowded and full of bridges on the negative side, and on the positive side is a lot to do and especially the Ft. Lauderdale area deserves a lot more time than we could give it.

So off we went at our breakneck speed of 7.5 miles per hour all the way through North Miami, Port Everglades and the beach suburbs (Delray, Papano, Hollywood) to a quiet night anchored at Lake Boca Raton.  It is difficult to describe the scenery other than “opulent.”  Huge houses, hundreds of hundred-foot yachts, luxury condos by the mile.

But that was just a precursor to the REALLY fancy stuff in Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches.  The marinas in particular blew me away because if you took a picture of them from the air, they would look very much like our home base at Guilford Yacht Club.  But the scale would be all wrong,  because all the boats are 150-200 feet long instead of 25-40!  I don’t know where all the money comes from.  Because of business, I personally know about six people in the entire world that could afford to live like this, and I know one who actually does (Hi, Bruce!).  So who are these people?  Has all Latin America and Asia moved to Miami?

We decided to sample a bit of luxury ourselves at Olde Point Marina in North Palm Beach.  It’s part of a big condo complex and absolutely first class — great docks, private shower rooms, restaurant on site (they deliver to your boat!).  But the boating economy is still so bad that with our Looper discount we paid a whole $64 bucks for a berth with the billionaires — and they were glad to see us.

We are now esconsed in nice little old Vero Beach Municipal Marine to get John fixed up and see our wonderful friends, Oscar and Anne Marie Sales.

About 70 miles of the ICW north of Miami look just like this -- plus 30 or so bridges to get through.

About 70 miles of the ICW north of Miami look just like this — plus 30 or so bridges to get through.

palace 1 palace2 palace3 palace4 palace 6 palace5

Right in the middle of the opulence is Port Everglades.  How they turn these babies around in the ICW is a mystery.

Right in the middle of the opulence is Port Everglades. How they turn these babies around in the ICW is a mystery.

Port Everglades cruise ships make the Key West models look tiny.

Port Everglades cruise ships make the Key West models look tiny.

4decker

Nice four-decker. The big balloon-like structure on top houses a NASA-level satellite dish for instant communication to the world’s markets and watching “The Family Guy.”

This Italian number will do 50 knots on the way from one oil refinery to another.

This Italian number will do 50 knots on the way from one oil refinery to another.

"Bookends"  Obviously owned by a librarian, right Mary Jo and Sally?

“Bookends” Obviously owned by a librarian, right Mary Jo and Sally?

Palm Beach Marina -- south end.

Palm Beach Marina — south end.

Palm Beach Marina -- north end.

Palm Beach Marina — north end.

Olde Port, North Palm Beach

Olde Port, North Palm Beach

Sparta was not impressed by any of this.

Sparta was not impressed by any of this.

Memsahib Goes to the Mall

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We decided to try something totally different for our two-day stay in Miami, and docked at MiaMarina, a city-run facility smack dab in the heart of the city.  It is totally surrounded by Bay Front Mall, a retail mall with an entertainment theme, since it seemed like every other establishment was a bar or restaurant.  Reminded me of the Duval Crawl — the Miami Melt or something, because if you had a mojito at every place in the mall that sold them, you’d be having something like 30 mojitos.

Our first day we did what loyal Americans do — went to the mall.  Ate in the really good food court, had Starbucks, bought a camera, got some gourmet, organic cat food for Sparta — which she won’t eat.  It’s WalMart Friskies same as her childhood in Alabama, or she won’t eat it.  Maybe I will — $2 a can and it looks pretty tasty.  For our evening entertainment, we sat in the cockpit and mooched off the surprsingly good oldies music blaring out from the Hard Rock Cafe, just one dock over from the boat.

Next day we did a trip to Little Havana, for a great meal at El Cristo restaurant, a diner kind of place where the food is fabulous and (supposedly) totally authentic.  So we tucked into the pork, plaintains, yucca, tamales, red beans and rice and this delicious hamburgey kind of finely-textured stew full of olives, garlic, spices and what I think were sweet plaintains.  I asked our very nice Spanish-speaking waiter what it was and he proudly brought out his best English to inform me it was “Ground Beef.”  “Ah, Ground Beef, bueno, delicioso.”  Again, absolutely wonderful food, but if I ever get to Cuba I will ask to tour the garlic fields — they must be vast.

Arriving, Miami, FL.  Or could this be Bobby's Fish Camp?  Nope, Miami.

Arriving, Miami, FL. Or could this be Bobby’s Fish Camp? Nope, Miami.

The Miami River.  It's in there somewhere.

The Miami River. It’s in there somewhere.

Miami Harbor coming into Mia Marina.

Miami Harbor coming into Mia Marina.

Memsahib at the Mall.

Memsahib at the Mall.

MiaMarina.  Central city marinas are really fun.

MiaMarina. Central city marinas are really fun.

Miami Heat play in the big building that looks like a spaceship

Miami Heat play in the big building that looks like a spaceship

John at El Cristo waiting for the garlic to settle.

John at El Cristo waiting for the garlic to settle.

Northers Hit the Northerners

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We are slowly working our way up the Keys to Miami, but it has been slow going in the “northers” (big, cold for here) north winds that seem to be sweeping through about every two days.  We caught a break getting out of Key West, but then got stuck in Marathon a couple days.

Getting “stuck” in Marathon is not such a bad deal.  We were coming in and it was raining and starting to blow.  So John and I looked at each other on the way to the mooring field with that, “Do we really want to get down the dinghy and put on the engine and go in and register and get soaked” look.  We were passing by Burdines Waterfront, where we had stayed during the Superbowl, so I gave them a call on the radio and they had the first empty slip they had had for a month.  So we pulled out Molly’s credit card, and in we went.

Burdine’s is what the Keys are all about — laid back, cats and dogs wandering around everywhere, tiki huts for shower rooms, every kind of boat imaginable, from those with varnish you could use to shave to Chinese junks.  The Chicki-Tiki  restaurant is GREAT — every kind of seafood, totally fresh with a top price of 10 bucks.  They wouldn’t let me buy ice, “Nah, you been here before, just get what you need.”

Met up with two of our favorite Loopers, Bob and Cathryn from “Next to Me.”  They had their very interesting sailing friends, Jim and Phebe, down from the North, so we  had them over to the boat for cocktails, then joined the local Looper contingent at Porky’s for dinner.  Cath will always occupy a warm place in my heart, since she was standing on the dock with a big, icy Bloody Mary for me when we pulled into Tarpon Springs after our Gulf Crossing.

Then we caught a half-day weather window to Plantation Key Harbour in Islamorada, where we were blown in for another two days.  I can’t get much of a feel for the Middle Keys.   I rode my bike for miles and about all you see is motels and schlocky restaurants amid the ridiculously heavy traffic.  The water side looked nice as we headed north, though, and our boat neighbors were very nice folks.

We crossed from the Gulf side of the Keys to the Florida Bay side after Marathon, and it is very different than anything we’ve seen yet — very shallow water, and thousands of isolated, uninhabited mangrove islands.  Since the water depth is shallow, but consistent, a small boat can go into the back country for miles and get that “backpacker” feeling of total isolation.  We are at anchor right now at Jew Point, the last wild area before we hit the Miami suburbs (and another norther) tomorrow.

Burdines

Burdines

Northers bring out the sweaters and flanels for the Memsahib crew.

Northers bring out the sweaters and flanels for the Memsahib crew.

Loopers consuming pork at Porky's.

Loopers consuming pork at Porky’s.

Now THIS is a Wooden Boat.  1963 Trumpy, our very friendly neighbor at Islamorada.

Now THIS is a Wooden Boat. 1963 Trumpy, our very friendly neighbor at Islamorada.

Islamorada -- plam trees, tiki, huts, water, sand.  Ho hum.

Islamorada — plam trees, tiki, huts, water, sand. Ho hum.

Florida Bay Islands

Florida Bay Islands

Sailboat coming through one of the many mangrove cuts we traversed today.

Sailboat coming through one of the many mangrove cuts we traversed today.

Back to civilization -- Key Largo

Back to civilization — Key Largo

Our beautiful anchorage at Jew Point.  Hard to believe we're a five iron from Miami.

Our beautiful anchorage at Jew Point. Hard to believe we’re a five iron from Miami.

Sparta loves being at anchor, because she can go anywhere without a tether.  Here she is trying to climb into the engine room through one of the vents.

Sparta loves being at anchor, because she can go anywhere without a tether. Here she is trying to climb into the engine room through one of the vents.

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