Posted on: December 6, 2015 Posted by: Cole Ruth Comments: 0

While in our holding pattern at Lake Louise, more work came in – and again, I had to drive a few miles to get enough reception to use the internet. And the weather report indicated that the storms would continue for at least four more days. So our plans changed – yes, again!

We decided to find cheap lodging somewhere outside of the rain zone. We found it in Matlacha, a place we knew nothing about – except that it had wi-fi, was on the water, and outside the storm pattern.

On our way to Matlacha I got a message from Eve, the engineer from my second tall ship (“The Marlin” in my blog). I hadn’t seen her in years – perhaps 2009 or 2010? (This was how we met.) She texted that she was in La Belle, Florida, having taken the boat she was on, the Amara Zee, across the Intracoastal Waterway through Lake Okeechobee. “I’m catching a flight to Orlando tomorrow night,” she wrote. “Any chance you’re in the neighborhood?”

Adding homemade chipotle mayo to my first fast food of the trip.
Homemade chipotle mayo for my sandwich.

I looked at the map: Matlacha was about an hour’s drive from La Belle. That day, after getting turned around twice and adding another 45 minutes onto that trip, we grabbed our first fast food of the trip – at Chick-fil-A. We arrived just as they were finishing putting their mast back up.

Tile inside the Amara Zee.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think there’s a boat in the world quite like the Amara Zee. She’s a Thames River barge purpose-built to be a traveling theater. On the outside she looks like what would happen if someone combined a sailboat and a barge (which they did). On the inside she functions as home to the actors and set and lighting designers that call her home. She has a giant open space with a fireplace, a galley, and a table waist-high from the floor. The idea is that you sit on the carpet-covered soles and eat, rather than taking up the space with seating. The tables themselves functioned as storage bins.

Reunited - ship's engineer and sea cook.
Reunited – ship’s engineer and sea cook.

We helped out a bit in securing a bunch of set pieces for the winter on her topside before joining their winter skeleton crew for dinner. Since I’d heard stories of how they had once lived off watermelon for a week when someone had donated some to them, I unloaded a few spices and items like dried mushrooms as a gift to the chef. Then we continued on to our next lodging.

As it turned out, Matlacha (pronounced “Matlachez”) is an uber-cute fishing village outside Fort Myers. For six days I worked and Greg fixed our lottery-winning trailer (one of the pieces of siding fell off somewhere on the road after we left Lake Louise).

During that time we took one other interesting side trip. My friend Chris in Alaska mentioned that a couple she knew was wintering near Fort Myers. By summer they are organic farmers in Alaska, and by winter they sail the coasts of Florida. We met up with them and got to see the boat they’ve been rebuilding – and hear their crazy story about how they got it for free. Perhaps this was the first crack that emerged in our rock-solid plan to buy Snowbird. While she is likely worth the $34,000 price tag, seeing how smartly our new friends had set up their lives and their finances, we wondered if we would be paying too much for a boat, especially given all the unknowns in our lives.

But there was another crack, too. We had also been looking at houses in Key West where the bottom of the barrel would cost us at around $400,000. Matlacha was nice – and I saw a few houses online with ocean-access docks for $250,000. Maybe we didn’t have to move to Key West, we reasoned. Maybe Greg could find boat work elsewhere, where the housing prices were cheaper…

Our "backyard" and dock in Matlacha.
Our “backyard” and dock in Matlacha.