I could see right away this wasn't going to be my kind of adventure. The dinner buffet was nothing more than a few pans of fried egg rolls. Beers were $6 a can. And the strippers on board were, on average, chubby and homely.
There were other disappointments as well. After being on board the 117-foot Canaveral Star for maybe five minutes, the word got around that we'd better take Dramamine to prevent sea-sickness. Passengers had become sick during the Star's two previous voyages.
Oh, but the allure of sex was still strong. The flier for the Buoy Club, the Brevard County company that began operating the twice-weekly, all-nude cruises two weeks ago, promised "3 miles out, there is no doubt!" That is, once the ship entered international waters three miles off the coast of Florida, anything (wink, wink) could happen without fear of breaking a law. It's like traveling to Amsterdam to smoke hash. Among people I know, the Buoy Club already had a reputation as a floating brothel.
That ability to thwart the law has caused a stir in Central Florida and elsewhere -- mostly from the television media. My brother called from Dallas to say he saw it on the news there.
Of course, moralism runs rampant with this sort of thing. The agency overseeing the marina where the Canaveral Star docks, the Canaveral Port Authority, has threatened to terminate the lease of New Port Marina if it allows the Buoy Club to continue its pleasure trips. The Port Authority, whose other tenants include the Disney Cruise line and Sun Cruz floating casinos and which contends the marina is a family environment, gave the Buoy Club 30 days to find another marina, claiming it had lied on its lease by saying it was a dinner cruise.
Ira Mihlstin, president and general manager of the Buoy Club, remained defiant and emphasized the social benefit he was accomplishing by removing adult entertainment from the streets and putting it on the high seas. Said Mihlstin to the Orlando Sentinel last week: "If somebody is coming to spend their money, we'll do whatever they want to make sure they'll have the best time."
The operative word is money. It takes a lot of it on the Canaveral Star to get the service you desire. Passengers pay $100 just to step on board. (Strippers pay $75.) Anyone who wants a semiprivate room -- 14 white couches separated from each other by white curtains -- can rent one for $200 bucks an hour. A more private room rents for $500 an hour. These are charges for empty space. If you want a naked woman, that's another $200.
One stripper tried to convince me that men didn't want rooms for sex. She said some men were embarrassed to be seen with a gyrating naked woman in the public dance area. The men simply needed a place to have a good, clean dance.
I didn't believe her, though. Another dancer already had told a friend of mine that if we wanted a handjob or blowjob, we just had to say so (and pay for it).
So what happened at three miles?
We floated among casino ships in three- to seven-foot swells. Several pasty-faced men stayed topside gulping the night air and wiping their mouths with napkins. A nauseous stripper laid down until a crew member came over to check on her and hand her some crackers. She remarked how pretty the full moon was and made a reference to the movie "Titanic." After a while she lamented, "There's nobody good to dance for," by which, I assumed, she meant me.
In the dance area on the middle deck, the most attractive stripper -- big-bosomed, long-legged, reddish hair, wearing purple lingerie -- was slumped on somebody's shoulder, sea-sick. Other dancers, pinching their nipples and bending over provocatively, were tossed out of rhythm by rolling waves. A stripper grabbed me from behind and told me I needed to "get going" and suggested she'd be my first $20 lap dance. A fear of poverty, however, forced my hand to freeze around my wallet
After a while, the stripper in purple got up and did a drunk man's walk (the boat was still tossing) over to a group of men. In the next minute she had her clothes off and was circling her ass in some guy's face -- a remarkable recovery.
The closest I came to witnessing real sex was a man who placed his hand between a naked stripper's legs as she danced on the top deck. She then turned around and danced facing the sea, at which point he began fingering her from behind. The same couple, I think, was caught by a crew member trying to go into the bathroom together, an attempt to avoid the per-room charge down below.
The whole affair was lame. Nobody should have to pay $6 for a beer. And nobody should have to pay $400 for sex. Then again, not everybody did. One guy -- not me -- scored with an offer of $50 in exchange for a blowjob in the parking lot after the boat docked. It was the best business transaction to occur all night.