A couple of weekends ago, my wife BJ and I were en route to our marina to spend a much-anticipated day aboard Betty Jane when something serendipitous happened. We’d just left the local West Marine store, where I’d picked up a few odds and sods, and were proceeding along a secondary street that toodles off in the direction of the marina when, hard to starboard, there appeared a cardboard sign stuck in the lawn of a bank. An arrow pointing to the right was emblazoned upon it (left was the direction we needed to turn in order to get to the marina) as well as the following words: Nautical Flea Market.
My wife and I have been married for a long time. And the fact that she swerved to the right without hesitating even a little (or saying a word) is a total testament to the degree to which she can read my mind these days. “Wow,” I exclaimed, “A nautical flea market…I don’t think I’ve ever been to a nautical flea market…cool!”
Within a few minutes we were pulling into the parking lot of a venerable Jacksonville establishment called Pier 17 Marine, obviously the spot we were seeking. Banners and colorful posters proclaimed various maritime sentiments all over the lot and a whole host of tables and booths were set up with all sorts of stuff, most associated with recreational boating but some simply tossed in for good measure. And on top of all this bounty, there was another that most assuredly floats my boat--food, the aromas of which were wafting about enticingly.
With breakfast having transpired at a decent interval prior, we opted for “The Large Shrimp Lunch Plate” off a truck parked under a neighboring tree and shared it while walking around the extravaganza. Jacksonville shrimp, by the way, are generally the real deal, coming from the nearby offshore waters of the Atlantic. No pale-faced, farm-raised, chemically-fed imports from South American or elsewhere need apply. And these babies were tasty, I can tell ya—lightly and exquisitely batter-fried, hotter ‘n hell, and backed up with French fries and what we call “slaw” (a cabbage-concocted confection served chilled from the reefer) in the South.
Eventually the crowds got a little tiresome and we decided to leave the parking lot and check out Pier 17 itself, an immense barn of a place operated by Cynthia J. Segraves (shown above in the vicinity of her cash register).
Holy Smokies, folkies! I’ve never seen a wider, wilder assortment of marine paraphernalia in my entire, freakin' life. I mean, there was everything I could think of in there (like charts, pubs, bronze and brass hardware, arcane MSD parts, sea kayaks, anchors, rode, lanterns, pumps, line, safety equipment…the list could go from now until the cows come home) and oodles of stuff I still find it hard to believe actually exists.
Did you know, for example, that Rule (the bilge pump folks) at one time sold paint—Cynthia’s got cans of the stuff on her shelves. Or that you can still buy a brand-new Grumman aluminum square-stern canoe—Cynthia’s got one somewhere back there in the shadows with the sheen still on it! I believe Grumman got out of the aluminum-canoe biz about the time Tricky Dick got out of the Whitehouse!
Anyway, word on the street is that Cynthia’s mother, Grace Bell Segraves Rogers, who ran Pier 17 for ages and ages and ages until her passing about a year ago, knew exactly where everything was in the store, right down to each individual screw, nut, and bolt. You could just stroll in on any given day and BAM!, without getting out of her chair behind the counter, she could tell you precisely where to look for what you needed. She’d do this by first telling you the approximate location in terms of horizontal distances or measurments (kind of her own take on latitude and longitude) and then add height above the floor to zero in.
“I can do about the same thing,” says Cynthia with a smile. And quite frankly, the next time I need to come up with a Betty Jane-related component I figure is virtually extinct or impossible to find on this big ol' blue planet, I’m planning to stop by.