No Safe Harbor

Daniel Budin owns one of the most famous ships on Earth. Not surprisingly, that didn't stop the Miami police from messing with him.

Daniel Budin set sail from Miami two weeks ago in his 110-year-old boat, Souqui. In about a month, if all goes according to plan, Budin and his five-man crew will have crossed the Atlantic, stopping over in the Azores before arriving at the picturesque seaside town of La Rochelle, France.

Budin, a lean, weatherworn 59-year-old native of Paris, came to South Florida almost two years ago by way of Trinidad, his favorite place in this hemisphere. He lives on his boat, which has been anchored for the past four months in a glittering turquoise expanse of Biscayne Bay just north of the Venetian Causeway. Souqui is a 92-foot steel-hull tjalk, a Dutch-built cargo ship that was converted to a houseboat more than a half-century ago. She is one of the oldest ships still sailing and is something of a celebrity in the marine world, especially the European part of it, having appeared in magazines and in television documentaries, on postcards, and as a film set. Budin's profession, in fact, is art-directing movies and commercials. Over the past few decades, an occasional project would bring him to Miami, but not for longer than a month or so. He took what will probably be a temporary hiatus from work in July 1998, when he decided to come to South Florida for the purpose of selling Souqui. But as the best-laid plans often do in Miami's crazily shifting currents, everything went a little awry.

For the past several weeks, Budin was preoccupied with maintaining and repairing his ancient craft. He delights in such utilitarian work, chain-smoking Hav-A-Tampas as he goes about cleaning out the ship's water tank, adjusting the hydraulic windlass, alone in the dark, airless depths of the engine room. Hanging out barefoot in faded shorts, T-shirt, and cotton duck-billed cap, his movements on the gently rolling deck are as languid as a lion's.

This boat is the ultimate in eccentricity and old glory. Every detail of the interior and exterior construction is wondrously wrought. Mahogany paneling and flooring throughout the living quarters are burnished amber; two disembodied bronze hands, fashioned by the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin, are affixed at the cabin entrance. A salon, now stripped of the opium-den décor favored by Souqui's previous owner, still exudes a comfy decadence with its rich leather furniture, oil paintings, and a giant bronze bust of a man, identity unknown, sitting stoically on the floor.

Budin bought the boat seventeen years ago and he's poured tens of thousands of dollars into keeping it livable and operational. But now he just wants to be free of the enormous weight of caring for this museum (plus he owns and currently is renting a similar boat, 23 years younger, docked on the Seine River in the middle of Paris). During almost two years, every offer for Souqui has fallen through.

Before moving to the rent-free section of Biscayne Bay, where he has lived since this past January, Budin had been anchored farther south, at the city-owned Bayside Marina. He moved out following an ugly encounter with the Miami police. The incident is not the sole cause of his flight from Bayside and from Miami, but it did force some irrevocable changes in him and his circumstances. Afterward, for instance, he couldn't afford the $800 monthly dock rent at Bayside. The intangible repercussions went deeper: He has yet to completely shake the unease, disorientation, and humiliation that follow any assault.

"It's a terrible story," Budin begins. "Such a stupid story." As police encounters go this was hardly at the Rodney King level. But for a laid-back bohemian like Budin, with no criminal record and a penchant for dinner parties and fishing sorties, the whole thing was shocking. Shortly before 5:00 a.m. this past December 22, Budin was driving his 1986 gray Ford Taurus north on Biscayne Boulevard. He had just dropped off his son, Gilles, at Miami International Airport and was nearing the road that runs just south of Bayside Marketplace and curves around toward the marina. Gilles had been visiting from Trinidad and was booked on a 6:30 a.m. flight. It was dark and raining. In his rear-view mirror Budin saw flashing blue lights and pulled over close to the sidewalk, about a half-block from the marina entrance. An officer got out of the passenger side of a Miami Police Department patrol car and strode to Budin's window. In that instant, Budin recalls, four or five more squad cars converged on the scene.

Budin recounts the next 45 minutes as he sits at a wide, square wooden table mounted on Souqui's shaded stern. He speaks in a soft French accent in between sips of O'Doul's. It's an early afternoon in April and the sky and water are two brilliant shades of blue. Whiffs of breeze play with the smoke from his cigarillo. His brown eyes are impassive behind round, dark glasses. From inside the cabin faint strains of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique float up like bubbles past the masts and riggings.

The officer who appeared at Budin's driver's-side window was not in a good mood, as Budin remembers it. "He yelled at me: 'Why didn't you stop?' I said, 'But I did when I saw the lights,' and he just kept shouting at me to go out of my car. He made me put my hands on the car. I did that and he searched me, then he asked me for my driver's license. He was still very, very angry. I produced my French driver's license and he said, 'That's not a driver license,' and I said, 'Yes, I can drive anywhere in the world.' Then he asked me for proof of insurance."

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