Boat People: The Sad Tale of Cross-Eyed John

We meet lots of “characters” during our travels on the water. Boat people are a special breed. Cross-Eyed John is his own kind of special. He was homeless in Key West for several years. He started selling roses on Duval Street and saved up enough money to buy an old sailboat. He wanted to escape the Keys, and his addictions, by sailing away from it all.

Now John had never sailed. He ran aground multiple times on his way up the west coast of Florida. He got lost in the fog. He actually stopped and asked for directions! Somehow, he made his way to Punta Gorda without killing himself or sinking the boat.

I met him at Gilchrest Park one day as I was about to scrape barnacles from the dinghy bottom. He introduced me to a homeless man in the park and suggested I pay the poor guy to do the dirty job. I agreed. John called himself JR that day. He said he had been sober for several months. He had a job. He was turning his life around. We’ve crossed paths several times over the past four years. Most recently he took a mooring ball outside Laishley Park Marina, where we are staying. He had cut off his very long hair so I almost didn’t recognize him. He was drunk.

He told me he’d been arrested for battery up in Sarasota, and had a pending court date. A rough and tumble liveaboard of questionable sanity was beating another boater with a dinghy oar. John stepped in and wrested away the weapon, gaining stitches in his face in the process. He then beat the man senseless.(his story)

After a few days in the neighborhood, John shows up towing a small skiff.


He wanted a motor for it. I happened to have one for sale. We came to terms and he promised me he had the cash. He’d come back the next day with the money. He left the skiff tied to the dinghy dock.The next morning I carried the outboard to his skiff and installed it before he arrived. It wouldn’t start. Kim comes down and finds a wallet on the dock. It belonged to John. There was close to a thousand bucks in it. John shows up with a sob story about how he lost his wallet so he can’t pay me. Kim to the rescue. She hands him his wallet and he can’t believe the money is still there.

Meanwhile, I’m cussing and spitting at the motor which still refuses to start. I take it back off. Clean the carb, pull the spark plugs, check the fuel filter, etc. No go. John, who is drinking beer at 8:30 in the morning, says he ain’t buying if it don’t run. Fair enough.

Eventually, I was able to make it work. It started, and with some more tinkering I got it running smoothly. John was thrilled. He rode it all around and came back to thank me for hooking him up so well. He brought me beer as a gift. He went out for a joyride.


Then he ran out of gas. He didn’t run out of beer though. He floated on Charlotte Harbor and drank until he passed out. He awoke the next morning. He’d drifted up the Myakka River all the way to El Jobean. Someone towed him and his skiff back to Punta Gorda, where he could get gas at Fisherman’s Village. A one-time owner of the skiff, just happened to be there. This person recognized the skiff, and called the police to report it stolen. John says, he was doing some odd jobs for a person who cleaned up foreclosed properties, and they GAVE him the skiff, to get rid of it. John had no title for it.

All gassed up and feeling fine. John proceeds to speed through a no-wake zone on his way home. The FWC pulls him over. The skiff has no valid registration. The officer calls in the old FL numbers and discovers that the skiff has been report stolen. Uh Oh. She also decided that he may be a little drunk, so she gives him a breathalyzer. He was drunk indeed. She calls the Sheriff’s office and multiple cops arrive by boat and by car and by truck. The only thing missing was a horse. Seven cops take John down and cuff him. Off he goes to the pokey.

After a few days in jail, John shows up at my boat. He was officially charged with
BUI, (boating under the influence) He’s had five prior DUIs in his lifetime. He managed to convince the Sheriff’s people that he didn’t steal the boat, but it is now gone. His new motor, (my old one) was impounded. We were able to convince them that his ownership of the outboard was legit, and he’s getting it back. They also found an ounce of marijuana in the skiff. He’s uncertain if he will be charged with that. He still has to face the battery charge in Sarasota. He’s pretty sure he’s going away for at least 18 months, possibly longer. The judge told him not to drink until this thing was settled. He was drinking as he told me his tale.

All he’s worried about is his boat. We discussed what he might do with it while he serves his sentence. If he loses it, he’ll be homeless when he gets out. I’ve talked with him at length lately. Somewhere in his scrambled mind is a good person. He understands right from wrong, but he just can’t stay sober. When he’s drunk, he makes very poor decisions. I’m sure there’s some mental health issues as well.

Cross-Eyed John, Drunk John, JR . . . whatever your name really is – Good luck. Maybe the jail time will sober you up and start you on the right path. Then again, this won’t be his first prison term. Some folks never learn.

3 thoughts on “Boat People: The Sad Tale of Cross-Eyed John

  1. wrmcnutt

    It’s not that he doesn’t learn. It’s that it doesn’t matter. The Thirst is all that matters. (I have it in my family.)

  2. Ric

    Life, for what it is worth, is a series of events which is for every person, uniquely individual. Right or wrong, good or bad, it is for no one to judge but the single person who’s life it is. Pour a cup of water from your well of life for every person you meet, what they do with it is entirely up to them, but don’t ever question what they do with what you have provided them. You can’t possibly understand what they do with it or why. Just hope you gave them what they needed for the next day/week/year/lifetime that was missing before.


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