The Vernal Equinox in Fort Lauderdale

By Tom Neale, 4/19/2007


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Jungle Queen
As I’m writing this “Chez Nous” is on the famous “Miracle Mile” portion of the ICW in Fort Lauderdale. I’m no expert about these things, but as I look around, I figure there’s probably several hundred million dollars of yachts in the immediate vicinity. Most of those dollars are in megayachts. Crews scurry about the decks of these megayachts and stewards serve up scrumptious foods. Captains and mates run them. Owners fly in on jets, hang out in sheer luxury, breathe the manicured air of their super saloons, yacht around for a spell and then fly back.

It’s a Sunday, and I know that, looking to the south, I’ll soon see around five gigantic cruise liners steam out of Port Everglades Inlet. Often they pass out the inlet, one right after the other, in the late afternoon. They tower over the trees and buildings. It’s like the very horizon is moving. They will be full of pale faced tourists from suburbia bound for cruise liner paradise with umbrella drinks in hand, artificial rock walls to climb and brief layovers at straw market/flea markets where they can get their hair braided to prove to their friends back home that they’ve been to someplace cool.


1. So it’s spring and every magazine in the world is coming out with articles about getting your boat ready. Do you have time to read them all and also get your boat ready?

2. Sure, read some of them, some contain great advice.

The Jungle Queen and the Carrie B “steam” majestically by, paddle wheels turning (they aren’t real but they look really neat). They’re loaded with flash bulb popping tourists taking a “sea voyage” up and down the Intracoastal and the New River. The “Jungle Queen” takes its load of seafarers up the New River to a so called “tropical island” where they sit at long tables and eat barbecue and other food. It’s really just a secluded part of busy Fort Lauderdale, but, hey let them have their fun. The Carrie B heads up the ICW to Norfolk and Portsmouth VA for the summer season, to take people out to see the Naval Base and the attractions of those two cities.

Huge triple and quadruple deck dinner/party boats glide by. They’re full of people, but you usually can’t see the people because they’re behind the tinted glass, safely air conditioned. There are no bad hair days in there, no matter how nice the wind or salty the air. Twice today we saw weddings on these boats. We knew because the ceremony took place on the top deck where all could see and be seen. That’s a pretty special way to get married, I’d say. But the people never get their feet wet, don’t handle any lines, and don’t worry about the weather. They just walk up the gangplank, do their “boating,” and then walk down again to their cars.

Megayachts at Bahia Mar

And it seems everywhere you look are the “water buses.” The passengers can pay a flat per diem fee and get on and off as many times as they want for that day. They get to see some of the best of the Fort Lauderdale waterfront. They can get off at or near restaurants, parks, museums, the beach, shopping areas—all via water. We’ve ridden the water bus just to see what it was like. We thought it was great, not having to worry about fixing whatever might break and letting somebody else deal with the traffic. But we notice almost every time that the other passengers seem to be a bit up tight. It’s like they’re not exactly sure about this thing of being on a boat. The water buses usually dock by very gently (sometimes not so gently) going bow into a designated bulkhead and letting the passengers climb on or off while the engine is still powering ahead in forward to keep the boat in place. This really seems to bring a stressful look on some of their faces.

Port Everglades

But also buzzing past is an 18 foot aluminum john boat with a 25 horse power Merc on the transom. Two guys are kicked back in it—one in a lounge chair in the bow and another holding the outboard tiller while sitting on the stern thwart. They’re soaking in all the trillionaire ambiance of the Miracle Mile, having a great time. A big floppy dog, his mouth open and his ears trailing back in the breeze, is sitting in the middle of the john boat—I’d say that dog is one of the happiest people I’ve seen all day. (So I love dogs.) There are also sailboats in the 30ish to 40ish foot size range. They’ve been out for an afternoon sail in the Atlantic, usually with family and friends, and are heading back to their marinas. There are also Sea Rays, Bayliners and other fast cruisers. Some of these have zipped over to Bimini or Freeport for a long weekend and the people aboard are a little stunned at the culture shock of the USA compared to the Bahamas.

The pontoon boats plying the waterway haven’t been in the ocean (I hope) but the people aboard seem to be having a great time under their big canopies lounging around as they ride around. Antique looking skiffs with pretty old fashioned lines move silently through the water, powered by electric engines. There are center consoles with families, including grand parents, children and dogs. There are go fast boats with studs showing off bimbos who are showing off all the law allows and then some. And I can tell you, you sure don’t need binoculars to see them. Then there are fishing boats large and small, kayaks, canoes, row boats—in short, just about every kind of boat imaginable. And the propulsion of these boats ranges from jet drives, to super dooper turbo props to little 15 HP outboards hanging off dinghies to 3 outboards hanging off bullet boats at 200 hp per hunk.

As I watch what is maybe the greatest boat show on earth floating around me—a typical Sunday afternoon on the waterways of Ft. Lauderdale—I have to wonder.

So who do you think is enjoying being on the water the most?

Cruise ship leaving Port Everglades, view from the Las Olas Marina, Ft. Lauderdale

I haven’t taken any scientific poll, and I’m not about to. But I’ll venture a guess that the folks enjoying it the most are the ones like you and me. We’re not the ones being ferried about and taken care of by others. We’re not the ones being waited on. We’re the ones who own our own boats. We’re the ones who do all the work we can on them ourselves because we can barely afford to own them in the first place and because we like to know what’s going on with our boats, and because it’s fun to work on your own boat. We’re the ones who go when we want to go and go where we want to go (safety permitting), not where a corporate schedule or cruise line itinerary dictates.

We don’t go out on a Sunday afternoon just to show off our gold chains and our bikini clad deck decorations, we don’t go out just to prove that we can make more noise than anybody else with unmuffled monsters, and we don’t go out just because it’s the thing to do to be better than the Joneses. We go out because we like being on the water. We go out because we like owning a boat and being in charge of it. Actually, we’re a bit proud of it. That’s you and me. Here’s to us—HAVING FUN. And here’s to the season coming on. I wish for you the very best of it. By the time you read this the vernal equinox will have come, passing with its magic over your part of the world. Let’s enjoy these long days.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale