A Tale Of Two Cities

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(and Also Two Boats And A Captain)

  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...” - Charles Dickens   “A Tale of Two Cities”) Those were the opening words famously penned in 1859 by Dickens in his classic story of social evils, unrequited love and ultimate sacrifice. Surprisingly, and more mundanely, those words can also be applied to my feelings the last few weeks. London and Paris were the “two cities” about which Dickens wrote. This story is actually about just one city - Key West - which would probably qualify as just a neighborhood in those other two cities, but which can also seem like two cities all by itself. On one side, it’s the city I almost always love. A city with a Duval Street party area that rocks until daylight and rivals any in the world; yet a city where you can live two to three  blocks away, as I do, and hear a pin drop at 11 PM. A city where you can find most of those things you need to live on a daily basis within an easy walk or bike ride; yet a city where, because of its limited size and lack of major chain retail stores, finding and getting some specialty items you need can be a royal pain in the butt. A city with wonderful weather most times; yet a city where, in the boat-related businesses, prolonged fronts and high winds can wreak havoc on a charter boat’s ability to book and/or run trips. A city where a local can enjoy the wonders of it most easily and cheaply when the tourists aren’t here, e.g. early fall or between Thanksgiving and Christmas; yet a city where, at the same time, we curse the lack of income caused by that lack of tourism. A city filled with a happy conglomeration of some of the nicest but most unusual people in the world, including multi-millionaires and homeless; straights, gays and in-betweens; artists and barbarians; whites, blacks, and a palette of other skin hues; all living together and helping each other make this place such an easy one with which to become enchanted; yet a city where, because of it’s “party town” atmosphere, it’s often tough to find employees and/or subcontractors on whom you can rely to be where they are supposed to be on any given day. Those “two cities” can often cause a conflicting “love/hate” feeling which, fortunately, is always only a temporary one, before you start to once again realize that you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. c-photoThe thoughts expressed above fairly accurately express the emotions I experienced the month of December. I have those same emotions at the same time every year, as do alot of other local business owners, but they were magnified for me by a series of events that occurred contemporaneously with the usual slow tourist time and routine day-to-day business issues. First, the weather in 2012 had been problematical all year - we just didn’t see the conditions we expected when we expected to see them and it seemed like we had an unusual number of windy and rainy days at the wrong times. The latter made it difficult to book trips or run ones already scheduled and we lost an unusually high number of opportunities to make money. Adding to that problem was the fact that we had unusually warm water all year which, I believe, affected fish migration through the area, and caused us to have an unusually large number of “slow” offshore fish days. It’s a lot harder to book trips when potential customers see your boat come back to the dock with a minimal catch of smaller fish. The second major cause of my emotional ambivalence was the fact that I was also in the process of trying to find a new full-time fishing mate after having the same one for the previous four years. To work effectively, a captain and mate have to form a cohesive team - sort of “two bodies, one mind” - and you just don’t have that until you work together for a good while. I didn’t have that anymore, and that made trips more stressful. Further, I made a personal decision not to run a trip unless I was fairly certain that the mate I had for that day could provide the level of service our customers had come to expect. Therefore, not being able to find a good “fill-in” mate on a given day (for, among other reasons,  the “party town” problem mentioned above in my discussions about the Key West dichotomy) cost me several other trip opportunities. Finally, our boat itself, was a significant factor. As with my comments about Key West, this story involves only one boat - mine - but she really is “two” boats. She’s the one I love most times, but also hate intensely at rare times. While my boat is a great one and well-made, it is a “B.O.A.T.” - “break out another thou” - and things do, and in my case did, break. In this case it was electronic throttle controls several weeks ago. The air conditioning started to “weep” water shortly after; closely followed by the onboard fresh water tank pump failing; then an exhaust system leak; and, most recently, a coolant leak in the port engine. None of those by themselves should have been crushingly expensive or totally unexpected in a 22 year-old boat but, taken together in such a short period, cost a pretty penny, especially considering that we lost a substantial amount of trips/income while being down for  repairs. The throttle repair required ordering new ones. My old ones were obsolete and parts were no longer available. That lost two days, plus another for the install, which also required substantially grinding out the inside of my console to get the new ones to fit, all because they were just about a 1/4” wider at the base. The exhaust system repair required moving our annual boatyard bottom painting visit from January to December and cost fifteen more trip days as we waited for parts to be custom fabricated in Fort Lauderdale, i.e., I couldn’t get it done locally. (See my previous thoughts about Key West.) Add in the days we lost for the A/C, water pump and coolant leak issues, and I easily lost close to month of potential trips in the last few weeks. With parts and labor added, there went a tidy chunk of my yearly profit margin. I’ve got to admit that I had moments of thinking “why am I doing this?” - like when I spent eight hours in a 4’ high, 4’ wide and 10’ long space in my engine room working on the pipe and hose that caused my coolant leak. But then that miracle would happen again. I’d see an old friend or customer (who are often the same person), we’d have a great day on the water, share a few laughs and more than a few beers, and I’d fall in love with my “two” cities, my “two” boats and my life all over again. Better yet, my boat seems to be “well” again; I think I have a good candidate to be my next full-time mate and, at least, have now identified a few very able “free lance” fill-ins; and a lot of my good customer friends are calling about trips. So I once again feel about my job and my life as I did before my recent ills. As Sydney Carton said in “A Tale of Two Cities” as he headed to the guillotine to give his life for the happiness of the woman he loved, so she could escape to a new life with the man she loved: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done....”


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