No Safe Harbor
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."
Budin couldn't find his insurance card in the glove compartment, he says, but did fish out a receipt for the six-month premium (good until March 10, 2000) he had just paid to Fortune Insurance Company. His interceptor deemed that insufficient as well.
"At the same time, two or three [other officers] started searching the car, turning everything upside down. Then someone came to search me," Budin goes on. "I couldn't see who it was, because he was behind me. He patted me down like the first one and also searched in my trousers." Budin relates this in a surprised tone, occasionally at a loss for words. "After several minutes a third one came up and asked me to go against the car. I don't know which one he was; I didn't really have a chance to look at their faces. He told me to take off my shoes and my shirt, and this one put his hands under my underwear and searched in my balls and ass."
Finally the first cop -- the angry one -- ordered him to turn over his car keys. The Taurus was about to be towed. Budin says when he protested the officer replied, "Okay, you want me to handcuff you right now?" So he shut up. He was allowed to retrieve his possessions from the car. Just a few days earlier, he'd loaded the trunk with ship parts he planned to sell, including a $1500 electric transformer and a $500 turbine fan. He dragged everything out on to the sidewalk.
As the tow truck was driving away, the officer handed Budin three citations to sign: one for no driver license, one for no insurance, one for an expired tag. Budin acknowledges the last was appropriate, because he was a month late in renewing the registration. But he refused to sign the other two tickets. "So the guy said, 'Let's go to the police station; I'll arrest you right now.' And I was so tired and upset that I just signed them. I asked him what did I do to make them search me like that. And he said, 'You don't know?' I said I didn't, just tell me what did I do, and he said, 'You don't know because you're stupid.'"
The police must have been convinced Budin had drugs hidden somewhere in his car or person, although he can't think of what might have caught their attention other than the expired tag. But he was not a French connection, and he says the longer they searched, the angrier they seemed to become. As the officers were leaving, Budin remembers gathering enough presence of mind to ask the name of the officer who had first stopped him. The officer turned to show his nametag, but Budin says he didn't write the name down and the best he could remember afterward was a "German-sounding" name, which Miami Police spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz was unable to track down. Budin will never forget the officer's parting gesture, though: a Nazi salute. "He held up his hand and said, 'Jawohl!' I know it sounds unbelievable, but he did it."
The name of only one officer at the scene could be verified later; his badge number was on the tickets Budin received. But attempts to contact Ofcr. Michael Eagan by phone have been unsuccessful. Budin, however, had little contact with Eagan, who was the driver of the car that stopped him. The police dispatch tapes recorded at the time of the incident have been destroyed.
Left alone on the wet sidewalk, the sky beginning to lighten, Budin looked numbly at his pile of equipment. The transformer weighed 60 pounds, the fan was 50 pounds and huge, and other items were equally unwieldy. He'd have to find something to transport it all to his boat. But right then he was barely able to put his shoes back on. "I walked to the boat," he recounts. "It was freezing. I was really desperate and tired. I made some coffee and looked for cigarettes; I'd stopped [smoking] for five months, but after that I started again. I was feeling humiliated and dirty -- these people putting their hands on me like never in my life."
After about an hour and a half, Budin says, he went to borrow a handcart to pick up his stuff. By the time he reached the sidewalk, though, everything had disappeared. So he had lost thousands of dollars in anticipated income, and to get his car out of hock would probably cost almost as much as the $400 he had paid for it.
The next day Budin asked his dock neighbor, Steve Salem, for a ride to the King's Wrecker Service office. They were informed the ransom for the Taurus would be $160. Salem paid and Budin let him keep the old car. "He didn't feel it was worth getting the car out," remembers Salem, who operates a tour boat out of Bayside and ships donated goods to churches in the Bahamas. Salem plans to put the Taurus on a boat to Andros Island, where it will make a fine addition to some congregation's outreach program. For the time being, Salem says, the car is awaiting repairs near his home in Sarasota, since it broke down soon after he acquired it.
"It doesn't really make sense what [the police] did to Daniel," Salem muses. "It seems like they did it because they could. I mean, they tore his car apart and said we're going to tow your car away without charging him with anything. An expired tag is a $52 ticket but it's not a towable offense. What they've done is not right."
Lt. Richard Walterman, commander of the Miami Police Department's traffic-enforcement detail, advises that officers have the right to search someone during a traffic stop only if "we see something that leads us to believe the person is armed or we saw a hand-to-hand [drug] transaction. Absent probable cause we don't have the right." Inside the car, Walterman adds, the only area officers are allowed to search without probable cause is the "wingspan" -- the space in front covered by the driver's reach.
As for the tickets and towing of Budin's car, another officer might have decided to go easy on the obviously drug-free Frenchman; in general such calls are at the discretion of the officer. Yet another cop might have arrested Budin. An "international driver license" (available at passport offices and consulates) is technically required to drive outside the home country, according to Walterman, but few of the many of thousands of tourists in South Florida even know about them. Thus, Walterman allows, he would not be inclined to ticket someone who shows a valid foreign driver license.
But Florida law does require anyone "gainfully employed" in the state to obtain a Florida license within 30 days of arriving; putting a boat up for sale is, Walterman believes, a form of employment. And the lieutenant agrees that an insurance receipt isn't a reliable proof of insurance; it might mean only that a binder has been issued, not an actual policy. Towing isn't mandatory for an expired registration, and some officers would be disposed to issuing Budin a citation or two and letting him drive the few hundred feet home. "But they were furious with me," Budin says, adding with a restrained bit of sarcasm: "I had hidden the drugs so well they couldn't find them, and they had to make me pay for that."
Two days after the incident Budin attended a Christmas party given by his friends Edouard and Nina Duval-Carrié. (Edouard is a prominent Haitian painter who lives in Miami Beach.) "When Daniel came over," remembers Nina, a fashion consultant, "that's all he was talking about, and then consequently everyone else at the party was talking about it, too. Personally I think the story is pretty strange; maybe there's some problem we don't know about; he hadn't had the car too long, and perhaps there was something the police knew [about a previous owner] when they stopped him. But I don't think there's any doubt the police acted badly."
The consensus at the party, and at subsequent dinners and gatherings, seemed to be that Budin should just try to put the experience behind him. The usual first step after a disputed police incident is to file a complaint with the department's internal affairs office, but Budin says his friends emphatically advised against any action that formal. It would be the word of Budin, a French citizen here on a temporary visa, against several sworn law-enforcement officers. Litigators, however, assert that a lack of supporting witnesses wouldn't necessarily deter them from taking such a case. "Everyone said if you do anything it's going to come back against you," Budin remembers. "They said you're going to be in big trouble."
Budin also sought advice from an official at the French consulate here, who gave him a list of attorneys he might consider consulting. Budin says he called several but became discouraged when they demanded big up-front fees. Only one lawyer, according to Budin, seemed seriously interested in taking his case. "He guaranteed me I could get $50,000," he asserts. "But then he told me: 'It's going to take two or three years -- are you ready to spend some money?' I said of course not."
One of Budin's best friends in Miami is Christian Lionet, the Latin-American correspondent for Libèration, a Paris newspaper. "The day after the incident," Lionet recalls, "I met Daniel on the boat, and he told the story many times. He was really shocked, very depressed by it, and he asked not only me but everyone else what he should do about it. The first thing I told him: 'Daniel, write your story for yourself immediately while your memory is good with all the details; afterward you can decide what to do.' I'm a journalist, and I know you will forget things afterward. I also told him I think it was a bad idea to speak to a lawyer; it would be better to talk to a reporter."
Budin was asking $650,000 for Souqui, and on South Beach and in South Florida there surely is enough wealth and extravagance to make such an exceptional vessel marketable. But Budin probably overestimated Miami's capacity to appreciate something as aesthetically arcane as Souqui. Whatever the reason she didn't sell, her owner concluded several months ago that London was the place to go. A friend has secured a space for Souqui in a fashionable new dock area, and Budin thinks the environment will be more welcoming there. Europe, after all, is where Souqui has achieved some media attention and where his other antique houseboat, Hendrika Johanna, sits sumptuously on the Seine for all of Paris to view.
Keeping up two extremely old and luxurious boats is no small enterprise. Budin purchased Souqui for $120,000 seventeen years ago and has since poured in "at least half that amount" to renovate and maintain the craft. Its efficient but 70-year-old German-built engine also requires care and replacement parts. "It just reaches a point where I don't want to keep spending so much money on [Souqui]," Budin says. Losing that boat equipment after his car was towed wasn't a crushing financial blow, but it did put an end to any capricious spending. "I used to spend a lot of money on the boat," Budin says. "Now I only buy what's necessary, and I don't go out to eat." He does admit, though, to occasionally splurging when he visits the Sailor Man, a ship supplier in Fort Lauderdale. He bought toilets the last time, three beautiful porcelain commodes for $250 apiece -- new they're $2000, he adds, almost apologetically. Reliable waste disposal, of course, is important on transatlantic voyages.
Budin also bought a used microwave oven for the journey. He installed it in the galley that he remodeled long ago, a clean and orderly area with spacious workspaces brightened by gleaming copper pots and pans hanging in rows. He toiled at tasks great (cleaning the two 600-gallon diesel fuel tanks, which require crawling, masked, into the tanks and scrubbing off the accumulated grunge) and small, such as assembling a quaint bronze CD rack from spare materials in his workshop. Three weeks before his crew (all friends) flew in from Paris, one member became ill with malaria and had to drop out. A Miami friend and seasoned sailor will serve as the fifth crewmember. Budin would prefer a six-person team but doesn't doubt this one can get Souqui across the ocean in good shape.
Another friend recently urged him to read Joseph Conrad, whose dark allegories about seafaring life in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries are considered some of the greatest works in the English language. Budin confesses he was immediately captivated by Conrad's books (in French translation) and has even copied a few Conradian phrases into the 110-year-old logbook he keeps in the ship's airy navigation room along with the CD player, Global Positioning System, shortwave radio, and a large bottle of Cuban rum. "Qui aime la mer aussi le train train de la vie a bord," reads one quotation. "He who loves the sea also loves the routine work onboard the ship."
Budin has loved the sea and the exhilarating work of sailing for almost as long as he can remember. This long voyage across the Atlantic will be the one sure thing to help him over the trauma of last Christmas. He'll leave Miami and it will all become, as Joseph Conrad wrote in his 1900 novel Lord Jim, "an incident as completely devoid of importance as the flooding of an ant heap." But it will make for a pretty good miasmic Miami tale.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.
- Three of America's Worst Traffic Bottlenecks Are in Miami
- North Beach Plots Future After Rejecting Luxury Condo Plan On Ocean Terrace
- Marlins Man Spreads Good Karma: "My Goal Is to Get Other People to Do Good"