Take Me With You

Thinking about blowing major cash at the boat show this week? There is a cheaper way.

Miami, like the human body, is mostly made up of water. Still, many of us never get further than the occasional dunk in a few yards of shark-infested surf. Simply put, none of the 53,290 boats currently registered with Miami-Dade County belong to my friends. Poor, boatless bastards like me make up the county's dry, bitter bones.

While we worm through soul-sucking gridlock, they troll, motor, and glide. They "weekend" in tiny Caribbean countries we've never heard of; they party in international waters. This week more than 100,000 people will be in town to ogle the gleaming schooners and yachts on offer at the Miami International Boat Show. Some may even plunk down the quarter-million dollars required to buy one, while we get to wait in line at drawbridges and watch as they floar merrily home.

Like the rest of us, I have yearned to boat since I arrived in Miami last spring. But the truth about boat owners is that you're probably not going to meet one on the street. They're too busy counting their money, massaging their boats, battling pirates.

Jessica Hische
Jessica Hische

But they do have to go home, eventually.

So I decided to put on a tie, part my hair, and canvas their neighborhoods for boat friends. Sure, I took some doors to the face. But I had a cleft in my chin and a dream in my heart: namely, friendship in exchange for some rich guy's water access.


One bright Sunday afternoon, I marched into the heart of the Venetian Islands.

Rich people created the quaint archipelago out of sand in the Twenties so they could have somewhere to go in their boats. Today, it remains a haven for the kind of people who would build an island for their own amusement.

I arrived at midday and began my journey on Rivo Alto Island. Outfitted with guard gates and cameras, many of the homes there threw up considerable obstacles to the door-to-door friend seeker.

An army of servants provided the islanders' last line of defense. Their instructions, I gather, are to answer the front door and maintain total confusion until you leave. Some even exhibited a chameleonlike ability to not speak whatever language in which I addressed them.

"Hello, do you have a boat?"

"Que?"

"Tiene un barco?"

"What?"

Soon I came upon a normal house: a walkway, a front door, even a doorbell, which I eagerly rang. A gray-haired man with a strong chin popped his head out of a second-story window.

"Hello," I called up to him. "Do you have a boat?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Great," I said. "Will you be my boat friend?"

Extensive pause.

"What does a boat friend do?"

"I don't know," I answered. "I've never had one. Presumably they take you out in their boat."

A minute later, the front door opened to reveal the very picture of a boat man. He wore shorts and loafers and a blue Hawaiian shirt dotted with little sails. His even tan offset the glow of his shiny white teeth.

"How many houses have you solicited so far?" he asked as he dialed the number on my business card.

After confirming that I had a job, the man introduced himself as David Siegel. He told me to call him the next day.

The next hour or so yielded more gates and servants. Just as it was getting dark, however, I caught sight of a man putting up the robotic canopy on his Mercedes SL500. He bore several symptoms of boating: khaki shorts, receding hairline, the whiff of money.

His name was Neil Sandberg, and he agreed to be my boat friend without asking a single question.

"Great!" I replied. An awkward silence ensued. "When do you go out normally?"

"The weekend," he answered. More silence.

He handed me a card and asked me to call him early in the week. I couldn't believe my luck: two boat friends in the span of mere hours.

When I spoke to Siegel the next day, he added one condition to his offer of boat friendship: I would have to pass a boating safety course. He worried that he might suffer a stroke, heart attack, or aneurism on the water. Should I be left to control the boat without some kind of education, we agreed, it would mean certain doom for us both.

But as the days wore on, I decided I didn't want to take a boating safety course. I never heard from Siegel again.

Soon came an e-mail from Sandberg, my second potential boat buddy, who just days earlier had seemed so eager:

Calvin—

I do recollect making your acquaintance, but must confess that I did not quite understand what it was that you were requesting. Was it that you wanted to discuss boating issues, or alternatively (as it now appears) were you asking that I take you boating with me (candidly a prospect that I did not then fully appreciate)?

He added that his boat had "popped a strut" and probably wouldn't work for the next month or two.

I could take a hint; rejection is a big part of door-to-door boat friend seeking. But Sandberg's failure to grasp the meaning of the term "boat friend" is what upset me the most.

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