Boating Adventures | "The Mysteries of Harbor Life" by Vicki Totten

"Before I was a boat owner, I was a boat trespasser.  I would walk around the Rockport Harbor in hopes of catching one of the locked gates to the boat docks left open so I could sneak in and walk around the boats.   Even now, after living part time in the harbor for three years, when I travel somewhere there are boats, I always have to make sure and walk near them.  There is just something mysterious to me about boat life and the folks who hang out around boats, which continually draws me in that direction.  And even now that I know more about that life, I am finding there are still mysteries to unravel in my harbor neighborhood.

While some neighborhoods might boast about its proximity to stores and cinemas - when you live on the water you are in close proximity to all manners of birds and fish.  That's always been the main draw to me - wildlife and water. Sitting out on the cockpit sipping coffee in the morning or having a glass of wine at sunset, you might be joined by a bird suddenly swooping down to capture its breakfast, or by a dolphin swimming nearby with its pup, or greeted by a large egret in the morning when you head down to the showers.  

But then there are also the people who live on those boats. The boat owners in our harbor are as varied as people in any neighborhood. There are sometimes barking dogs, rowdy parties and loud music- just like in other neighborhoods. But fortunately, those are the exception rather than the rule. The main difference is that when people are not behaving "neighborly" it can have a greater impact on you, since your proximity might be 10 feet from another person's boat. This was certainly true the night I was awoken by a neighbor's music from across the harbor. I suppose the owner thought he was being neighborly when I knocked on his door at midnight and asked him to turn it down - and he responded by inviting me in for a drink. Since my husband managed to sleep through not only the music, but my getting dressed and walking across the harbor to confront the neighbor - he was not amused when I told him what had happened.

But what makes life interesting is being exposed to people who are different from me. Not only does it make me more tolerant of differences, but it also reminds me that despite our differences, we can still find things about one another that are distinctly human and worthwhile. I have become friends with people on my dock whom I suspect I would never have had any connection with in another type of neighborhood. So, other than friendly people inviting me in for a drink at midnight, who are those neighbors?

On my dock, they range from a dentist who I have heard about but never met; a couple from Austin who always come late on a Friday evening, fish all weekend, and then are gone by Sunday afternoon; a retired UT professor who always likes to anchor his boat out near Mud Island and then kayaks around the island; a man in his 80's who still sails his little sailboat by himself; a single man in his 40's who works part-time at a state agency helping people find jobs; a couple whose 17 year old son also lives on a boat - a few boats down from where they live. And then there is the retired football player who is constantly buying boats and fixing them up and the traveling missionaries who come and go between trips. And always there are the people who are just there long enough to get their boats ready for their next adventure or else are recovering from their last one - whether it is to the Bahamas, around the world, or just down the inter coastal waterway. Maybe it's partly because of the proximity, but besides being normal people, many of them are also just plain nice.

When our boat neighbors see us coming in from a sail, it is not uncommon to find one or two people waiting at our dock with our lines in hand, ready to help us dock. And if you need to borrow a tool, there is almost always someone who has the one you are in need of. It's always nice to catch up on the latest news and weather as we walk down the dock, stopping to talk with various boat owners who are outside of their boats or else sitting outside in their cockpit. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you are not outside of your boat or within an area where you can be seen, you don't bother people inside their boats. Maybe cockpits are like porches - when you are sitting there, people take that as a signal that you want to be neighborly.

In some ways, harbor life feels more like apartment living due to the close proximity of your neighbors. Sometimes it seems as though everyone knows everyone else's business. And other times, it is a mystery who to even talk to about problems in the harbor - and whether it is the Harbor Master or the Navigation District who has the final decision making authority.

As an example, there are suddenly lots of dogs on my dock - one even bit another boat owner, requiring a trip to the emergency room. A very old boat was also recently hauled in across from us with a dog that yaps every time someone walks down the dock or sits outside. When I looked on-line at the rules for liveaboards in the harbor, I noticed it says no pets are allowed. So I am left with another mystery to try and solve. How and who makes the decision to haul a non-working boat into the harbor along with a dog that is supposedly not even allowed? And how does someone live aboard a boat that can't even make it to the pump out station? I haven't been able to unravel that one yet.

The difference between how decisions get made in the harbor versus in my Austin neighborhood is that in Austin I can get involved in my neighborhood association or in city politics if I want my voice to be heard. But I'm less clear about how that happens when your neighborhood is a harbor.

And even though things aren't always perfect living in a harbor, I still find myself walking down the dock with a big grin on my face, aware of how grateful I am to call the harbor my neighborhood. It is a constant reminder to me of the changes in nature and in weather. And what could be more mysterious than a huge body of water and all the secrets it holds? Besides, if suddenly our neighborhood starts to feel inhospitable, we can always just pull up our lines and head out for another harbor - one where there will surely be some new mysteries for us to unravel.

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