Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Quarter Quandary

I do not know how it works in the rest of the world, but here in the Pacific Northwest you will find that ports and marinas offer a very limited set of services for your nightly slip fee. For your one-dollar-per-water-line-foot, you get the privilege of tying your gorgeous hunk of plastic goodness up to their nasty, tar-covered, rotting wooden dock. If you have a very, very long electrical cord, you can drape it like a popcorn string across the dock to a plug somewhere south of Olympia and leech power off the land grid. If the sea godz are with you, you might also find a water hose somewhere within a hundred yards of your location. Everything else costs money.

Basically, I am not particularly impressed with the variety and quality of services available to us in most of the marinas we would like to casually tie up to for the night. In fact, I'm so unimpressed that most of the time when we're out and about, Don Quixote doesn't bother. Oh sure, we like the amenities of the small coastal towns and island villages as much as the next cruiser. But rather than spend $38 just to stop moving for a few hours, we prefer to drop our anchor about 50 feet off the marina entrance.

Yes, we're that big, French two-hulled wonder blocking your way in. We are the poor white trash with the laundry dangling next to our feet on the rails as we sip box red and comment about the quality of your boat and rigging as you slowly motor your way into the exclusive yacht club docks. We are the loud family attempting to wash five filthy bodies in two-minute bursts in the women's shower, screaming at the cold water, and laughing hysterically at bizarrely creative soapsud hairdos. We fill your washer and dryer with towels, throw rugs, and blue cloths, hog the newspaper while we sip lattes in the marina cafe, and generally devastate the free book table wherever it might be found.

Yes, we are the freeloaders.

Initially, we were very quiet – even sneaky – about this. We would park the boat someplace just out of sight... perhaps behind some 40-foot legacy of the sailing dark ages slowly rotting into oblivion on a mooring ball within site of the marina. Rowing our dinghy softly to the guest dock in the dusky hour when sensible sailors are firing up the grill and pouring out the martinis, we would sneak into the laundry room, the shore head, and the local grocery.

But then we discovered probably the most important bit of information about marinas: Nothing is free. Nothing. Your slip fee is really just that – a slip fee. To do laundry, you pay. To shower, you pay. Even to pee, you pay. And the universal coin of the realm is the quarter. Two quarters to shower, four to wash, six to dry. The marina is a beast which consumes quarters faster than an SUV sucks gas.

And the quarters are unidirectional. This isn't like Vegas or Reno. At least in those venerable cities, you pour silver dollars into the machine and in return you get bells, bings, beers, and the occasional lapful of silver dollars. If you break a $20 at the 7-Eleven, you receive a handful of shiny silver coins in return.

Quarters in a marina, however, disappear. They go into the machines and are inexplicably never seen again. You can ask the harbor master, but he'll tell you to use the coin machines. You can try the coin machines, but they are – to a machine – busted. The grocer can't help you, and the bar won't. The bank is in town and is either closed or requires that you walk up a steep cliff roughly the height of a small skyscraper. And when you get there, odds are you will find that they won't sell you quarters unless you have an account. Or they don't have any quarters left because every other mariner within a mile has already cleaned them out.

Wild Thang
Wild Thang
Uploaded by toastfloats
I don't know where the quarters go. It's one of life's mysteries, I suppose. It ranks up there with hanging chads, the Bermuda triangle, and the popularity of Rush Limbaugh. All I can do is recommend that before you ship out, you invest in a metric ton of this precious metal.

The long and the short of it is that fee for service marinas stripped us all modesty and discretion. Now we don't bother sneaking around. We drop anchor just outside whatever seems a reasonable boundary of “marina water” and load down the dinghy with dirty laundry, smelly children, and a suitcase of quarters. Then we roar into town, guns blazing, coins flashing, voices raised, “Your clean water, or your lives!”


Unknown said...

I once said I would marry my now-husband once we had enough quarters to do our laundry, and my co-workers promptly gifted me with a miniature laundry bag with $60 in quarters in it. It was a wonderful, creative gift. And now I know what to give you for your birthday, if only shipping were not so expensive! Can't you hold up a Chuck E. Cheese or something? ;)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hey, Toast! That comment by 'rodrigo' is spam, pure and simple... You might want to turn on word validation, as annoying as it is.

Toast said...

Thanks static. I think I will. *sigh*