Silence is Golden
July 13, 2006
We live in a noisy world, and it seems to be getting noisier. There are over 6 billion of us on this planet and that number is increasing by 80-odd million people a year -- all of them squalling to be heard above the din. One of the things we like about cruising is the ability to leave behind the madding crowd for the comparative quiet of a remote anchorage. Not that we always manage to drop the hook in a sanctum of tranquility, mind you. Take, for example, our experiences on the south coast of Puerto Rico in the first year we were living aboard full time. To this day, we rate the noisiness of a location on a scale of one-to-ten on what we call the "Ponce scale", named in memory of the Puerto Rican port where we spent a brain numbing weekend eleven years ago. The anchoring basin in Ponce is bordered by a public promenade that features a band shell at either end. Around dusk on our first (and only) visit to Ponce, bands at both venues began playing simultaneously at decibel levels rivalling a space shuttle takeoff. We were caught in the crossfire. The aural assault continued until near dawn, at which point we had been reduced to whimpering, senseless wrecks. The punishment was not protracted, however; at first light we weighed anchor and fled.
The beat-a-hasty-retreat strategy doesn't work as well if your boat happens to be attached to a dock that you've paid a bunch of money in advance to occupy. This, unfortunately, is the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Last month we checked into Morch Marine in Belleville, a town of some 44,000 souls on the north shore of Lake Ontario. We had decided we needed a summer base from which we could provide support to Eileen's parents in Ottawa and also conduct business in Toronto. Belleville is located roughly halfway between the two cities, making it equally accessible (or equally inaccessible, depending on your viewpoint) to either. And that's pretty well all we knew about Belleville before committing ourselves to a dock space for the summer.
Our first impressions of the place were quite positive. We arrived on a quiet, sunny afternoon and were enthusiastically greeted by a couple who introduced themselves as Jim and Beth on Madcap. Madcap is a sister ship of Little Gidding and when Jim and Beth saw us approaching the dock, they rushed over to take our lines. Within a few minutes we bumped into Egon and Bonnie on Elysium IV and Gordon and Maggie, formerly on Glory Days, all of whom we know from past winters cruising in the Bahamas. It was like a class reunion. Everyone was pleased we'd be joining them for the summer. We asked them what the marina was like.
Egon said, "It's a really friendly place. I've been coming here for 40 years."
Jim and Beth, who had been there for all of two days, whispered, "You might find it just a little bit noisy." They pointed to the dockside bar and restaurant. "That's the Funky Carp. They hire bands on the weekends."
We told them that we liked live music. We had forgotten about Ponce.
We didn't have to wait for the weekend to determine that we might have entered a high noise environment. Before we had finished securing our lines, the bell tower on the town hall started ringing. We looked up at the tower's clock, looming behind our transom. It was 2:21. We soon discovered that there was also a 2:42 bell and a 3:05 bell. In fact, we found that the bell tower rings away quite happily throughout the day and night, but never on the hour.
"Maybe that's why this place is called Belleville," David said.
But we don't always hear the bell tower ring. That's because there's a steel railway bridge between it and the marina. At least once an hour, day and night, a freight train hits that bridge at full tilt and the resulting racket drowns out the bell and just about everything else, including any conversations we might be having at the time. We've gotten used to sleeping in hour long snatches; it's sort of like doing night watches in a busy shipping lane.
In the lulls between the bells and the trains there's another recurring sound -- not as loud, but possibly more disturbing. It comes from Classic Lady, the derelict wooden cabin cruiser docked next to us. The old girl is incontinent. At precise intervals of every two minutes and 20 seconds (David timed them), she excretes a stream of bilge water from her port side drain, which is aimed directly at our cockpit. We now know what Chinese water torture is all about. Apparently, so does the owner of Classic Lady. We haven't seen him since the day he brought his boat to the dock. If his bilge pump ever fails, Classic Lady will be reposing on the lake bottom inside of an hour. We won't be sorry.
All of these noises turned out to be a mere prelude to what the Funky Carp had to offer last weekend. The occasion was the annual Belleville Waterfront Festival. It seems that our marina and the Funky Carp were going to be the main focus for the event. Our first inkling that we were about to experience the ultimate sonic summit was when a tug nudged a giant rusty barge into the marina's main fairway, with inches to spare between it and the rows of finger docks. On the barge was a makeshift covered stage and a huge inflated beer can. Soon after the barge's arrival, a truck pulled into the marina parking lot and dropped off a dozen portable toilets. "This doesn't look good," Eileen said.
In a stroke of marketing genius, the marina's owners had found a way to maximize the number of paying customers they could cram onto the marina grounds. They imported the barge to extend those grounds out into the water -- smack dab in the middle of all the docked boats. Like it or not, we were about to become party central.
Three bands performed Friday night and the same number on Saturday. The place was packed out. We heard reggae, country, rock, and blues -- all very loud. The lineups at the beer tent and at the toilets were about equal in length, which says something about the profitability of recycling. We didn't get much sleep. On the positive side of things, we heard for free what the other folks were paying ten bucks a head to hear.
Sunday morning, David picked his way through a mess of empty plastic beer cups on his way to the shower building. The inflated beer can on the barge was drooping a little. The place was deserted except for one other partly clothed man coming back from the showers. David met him in the middle of the parking lot. He was off a visiting boat and looked in pretty rough shape. "Is it always this loud here?" he asked.
David said, "Loud? That was only eight-and-a-half on the Ponce scale."