Miami, Florida
25° 43.544 North
080° 13.984 West

January 15, 2005

Holidays On Zia

By Bernadette Bernon

We wound garland around the stern pulpit, arranged greens and glittering candles on the table, had Elvis serenade us with Christmas carols, and strung teeny lights around the butterfly hatch—a sparkling inboard constellation. This was Christmastime on Ithaka, in Miami.

Pomegranate cosmopolitans promote good holiday cheer, while Christmas lights decorate the foredecks along Dock Five.

We’d planned to be long gone from the United States by now, anchored somewhere in the clear waters of the Bahamas. But life always gets in the way of plans. Douglas’s mother became seriously ill a few weeks ago, went into the hospital, he flew out to Cleveland to be with her, and one month later, Ithaka is still tied here, and we’re hoping for the best.

There’s a one bright side to this change of plan, however. First and foremost, instead of being inaccessible, we are still Stateside, and able to fly back and forth to Ohio – right now a great comfort to Douglas’s mother as she tries to recuperate, and to Douglas and me, who want to help. And secondly, being here has given us the opportunity to spend more time with our cruising friends, David and Shauna on Zia Lucia, who are three boats down from us at Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove.

Shauna and David on Zia Lucia, and Christmas cookies at the Dock Five Christmas party.

Holidays, during the best of times, are a curious and conflicted experience for cruisers. As we travel far from loved ones at home, we slowly discover that the old holiday rituals no longer fit as well. We carry some holiday spirit aboard with a few decorations to make the boat festive. We invite other cruisers over to share a bit of cheer, and Douglas and I promise each other we’ll only do “a little something” for each other for presents. Since we’ve been cruising, our hard-wiring has changed, and now we no longer go in for lavish present buying – for ourselves or for others. Sometimes we joke that we had to go cruising to get off everyone’s Christmas lists, and to get everyone off ours. But we’re only half kidding. Instead, for the past few years, instead of presents, we give money in our loved ones’ names to charity. This year we bought a cow – that’s right, a real cow! -- through Heifer International ( -- that will be given to a needy Third World family, and which will supply them with milk and some income for, hopefully, many years to come.

We invest in cattle for the holidays, while Douglas blows up the traditional Christmas tree

We were not with our own families on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, but were fortunate to be with Zia Lucia. Shauna and David are foodies of the highest order, so for days we chatted about what we were going to cook, and how we would spend the days. For Thanksgiving we made roast duck with cranberry pomegranate relish, Szechwan green beans, and a tart of mangoes, strawberries and kiwis. For Christmas, we decided on an assortment of appetizers, then steamed artichokes with lemon butter, followed by a traditional fish soup in the Provencal style -- with toasted French rounds topped with rouille and grated gruyere. The table was exquisitely set, which was all pure Shauna. Our friend is, literally, a professional event planner, and lives life with amazing flair, even aboard their boat. Zia Lucia is maintained to the highest sparkling “yacht” standards by David; for the holidays, her lifelines were lit with Christmas lights, the cockpit had its own blow-up Christmas tree and below, their sumptuous saloon was decorated with lights, bunting, garlands and greenery. I never dreamed Miami could feel like a snug snow-covered New England at Christmas, but Shauna and David found the key, and created an incredible holiday ambiance.

Fish soup was the main course for Christmas dinner, as holiday lights decorated Dock Five.

Dinner Key’s Municipal Marina was surprisingly festive. On Dock Five, which has lots of live-aboards, the holidays buzzed with a carol-singing pot-luck dock party a few nights before Christmas. The live-aboard community is very welcoming here, and we’ve made lots of friends, such as Tom and Linda on Tom Cat next door, who built their boat, and have lived aboard for 25 years; and Larry and Linda who lent us a heater, and who connected me with an excellent dentist when I needed a root canal (Richard Newman); and Richard, who brought us to South Beach to take in the electric night life, and included us in an authentic Mexican meal cooked by his mother when she flew up for Christmas.

The day after Christmas, Coconut Grove was packed and hopping with the annual King Mango Strut parade, an irreverent spectacle which transforms this snazzy shopping area into a day-long ridicule of politicians from both sides of the aisle, of the election, and of all the newsmakers of 2004. Leading the pack was Kobe Bryant’s brigade of lawyers, a group of beautiful women in short-skirted dark suits carrying signs saying that, from now on: “No contract? No contact.”

There were Martha Stewart’s fellow inmates in full stripes, calling themselves “The Campy Cupcakes,” followed by a convertible carrying the two Bush twins – eerily identical to the originals -- holding campaign posters calling for “Four More Years!” But “Years!” was crossed out and “Beers!” substituted. The next convertible carried a jewel-laden “Teresa Heinz Kerry” with a campaign poster boasting: “I can say SHOVE IT in five languages!”

There was a government “official” throwing wads of “Republican” cash to anyone and everyone in Florida. Behind him was a once-beloved Florida weatherman who’d been discovered favoring little boys. His car bore a sign that read “Bill Kamal, Meteor-ologist – Looking For Junior Storm Trackers of Tomorrow,” but “Meteor” was crossed out and “Peter“ had been substituted.

There was a group of bulbous “manatees” seeking some equal opportunity, and carrying placards saying it was “Time to thin the herd! Manatees against dumb blondes!” Sponge Bob handed out his own brand of contraceptives, and sexy girls tossed out “Viagra samples” and carried a sign saying they were working “To Win The Weenie War!” Scott Peterson rode by in an electric chair.

As a girl from uptight New England, this all struck me as an amazingly over-the-top display, and I loved it. The crowd roared at every new scandalous float, and the bands and drumming groups played in between -- a terrific release for the steam and political tension that had been building over the year.

Ariel and Percival, Ithaka’s mascots, get in the holiday spirit, while an elegant Christmas witch looks over Zia Lucia.

In the days after the parade we’d all begin to hear details about the unfolding catastrophe in Indonesia, and in an instant the tenor of the holiday suddenly changed. When I think back over December 2004, I’ll think of all the kindnesses we enjoyed from our friends here. I’ll think of borrowed cars; and of holiday invitations; and of dancing on Dock Five, and of parades that made our eyes roll; and of cooking together with David and Shauna; and of a milk-cow arriving on the doorstep of a desperate family somewhere on the other side of the world; and of feeling for a short time anyway the spirit of Christmas prevailing over other events.

But then the realities of the world, and of family worries, come again to the forefront of our minds, and we were reminded of the tenuousness of life itself. A few days after Christmas, the phone rang and within a few hours Douglas was flying out to Cleveland to be with his mother. This time he carried an open-ended ticket.