We had planned to stay here a night, maybe two, but Vero Beach is very hard to leave. Velcro beach, the cruising guide calls this place. We’re on a mooring ball in a pretty mangrove swamp, just off the intracoastal waterway, manatees drifting lazily by the boat, pelicans plunging into the water beside us.
An osprey has made himself at home in the rigging of the boat behind us (not our boat, thank goodness—their windscreen is covered with white smears, not to mention little bits of fish.) He calls out to other osprey as they pass overhead. My boat. Not your boat. Just keep moving. Nothing to see here.
Every evening at dusk about the biggest great blue heron we’ve ever seen glides silently to the stand of mangroves off our bow, stalks slowly around the edge of it, hunting. What is he walking on, I wonder? All I can see are roots disappearing into the murky water.
The beach itself is just a short walk away, through the town. It’s nice having a strip of land between us and the ocean. The last thing we want to hear in the night is the sound of breaking surf, and break it does on the miles of hard-packed sand. Water foams around our ankles as we walk, little flocks of tiny sandpipers, balls of fluff on stick legs, really, following each wave as it recedes, winkling little creatures out of the sand with their pointy beaks. They turn and run as the next wave breaks, somehow managing to stay just ahead of it.
This place is a nice change from Titusville, where we spent ten days in a largely unsheltered anchorage recommissioning the boat after three months on a mooring ball. We removed the bird netting (yay! no osprey!), put the sails on (bent the sails, you’re supposed to say), then Chris did a bunch of boat maintenance–checking things, greasing things, tightening things–while I cleaned and aired out down below.
Not that we worked all the time. We would go for walks each day, across the long bridge that spans the intracoastal waterway there. We managed to watch a bit of a midget wrestling competition in the park beside the marina one day, on a makeshift stage. The huge crowd of people in front of it attracted our attention. Midget wrestling. Yes. Really.
Laundry, many trips to the grocery store to provision, fill the water tanks and the jerry cans, and finally we were on our way. Almost. First we took the boat into a dock so a diver could scrub the green gunk and barnacles off the bottom. Our top speed on the way into the marina was .7 knots. Yes, the decimal is in the right place.
Florida is an interesting and troubling place. There are mansions here that make Chris’s sister’s home in Lawrence Park look like a starter home. Their gardens are a delight to behold, palm trees surrounded by pretty hibiscus bushes, benches in the shade. But never a person. Chris says they stay inside, in the air conditioning.
Not like the man who lives in a boarded up gas station in Titusville. We passed him on the way to the supermarket one day, sitting in his wheelchair just outside the door, trying to catch what little breeze there was, a growing pile of cans—pop cans? beer cans?—a short throw away.
Later that day we sat on the bow and watched the launch of the Falcon Heavy, really an incredible sight, the rocket rising straight up out of a white, billowing cloud into the sky, a loud cheer from the hundreds of people lining the bridge. It disappeared into the clouds, but still the people watched.
“What are they waiting for,” I asked Chris.
Then another cheer as two booster rockets sailed into sight, sun reflecting off them as they sliced down towards the ocean, a loud boom reaching us only after they had disappeared from view.
A man living in a gas station. A Tesla headed into outer space. I have trouble putting the two things together.
Then there’s the shooting at the school in Parkland, not far from here, which we’re all having trouble making sense of. Some people are buying the facile “mental illness” explanation.
“Guns don’t kill people,” said a woman wearing a “Not a pepper spray kind of girl” T-shirt. Yes, she trotted out that tired argument. In the next breath she admitted proudly that she had a Glock in her handbag and she wouldn’t hesitate to use it. “In the right circumstances.”
But most of the people we’ve spoken to know that it’s more complicated than that.
“Sure the kid was troubled,” one man said. “But give a 19-year old an assault rifle and what do you think is going to happen?”
We’re heartened by the response of the students at the school, who have gone public in their indictment of policies that put guns in the hands of mass murderers. Right now, their voices seem louder—and ring truer—than the voice of their president. Maybe there’s hope.
It’s not just the pleasant anchorage and the beautiful beach that are keeping us here. Neither is it the farmer’s market, though that is excellent too. You can buy bags of cheap oranges, fresh produce, exotic orchids, alligator heads, if you want.
“What do people do with alligator heads,” I asked the man.
“They buy them for their grandsons.” Why not their granddaughters, I wondered. Maybe Keira would like an alligator head? Just a small one.
“And what do you do with the rest of the alligator?”
“We sell them for meat, tan the hides.”
No, what’s keeping us here is more a hesitation about moving further south, where things just get stranger. The population density increases, as does the gap between the rich and the poor. The cruising guide warns us that there are fewer places to anchor because the waterway is lined with expensive houses, the police will tell you to move along. In the few places it is possible to anchor, say in front of an abandoned condo development, it’s not really safe to go to shore at night, the guide says, because of the homeless people wandering the waterfront.
We’re waiting for the right wind to pop out into the ocean and sail south, avoiding southern Florida altogether, but the trade winds have set in and are blowing steadily from the southeast, exactly the direction we need to go.
So I guess we’re stuck here at velcro beach until the winds shift.
There are worse places to be.