JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- An old shantyboat sat at the end of the dock at Seafarers Marina on Trout River Drive for 16 years. It had weathered strong waves, winds and dismayed looks from visitors over the years. Described as down right ugly by its owners, Shantyboat was admired by the hundreds of writers who dared to hop aboard and learn from a teacher with a sharp tongue and quick wit.
"I smoke cigarettes, I swear, I'm obnoxious," said Lynn Skapyak Harlin. "There I could be whoever I am. And if they didn't like it they could leave."
Shantyboat was a place to teach lessons learned in her lifetime, more than seven decades. It's where she held classes for aspiring writers. Harlin and her husband Jim, purchased the boat in Georgia in 1995. But with Hurricane Irma came pounding waves that ripped apart docks and sunk boats that were in some cases people homes, for Harlin it was her dream.
"That's all that's left," said Jim Harlin. He shook his head while pointing to pieces of wood barely intact. "That's the front deck. So we were afraid that it had sunk right there but several people saw it going away."
There's a large makeshift sign on display at the begining of the broken down dock that reads: "Boat owners only. No visitors, no guests, no sightseers." The sights that remain following Irma are not appealing. There's caution tape tied from one loose post to another and beyond the warnings are battered boats, some ripped in half.
"People have lost everything and we're whining over this ratty little floating shack," said Jim Harlin. "But we love it. This boat over here that sank that was a man's home and it's gone. A lot of them have no other place to go. They have no other home than these boats that they live on and no means to really get another home."
Management at Seafarers Marina estimate the damage will total at least $250,000.
"That's mother nature, that's the whole package," said Lynn while looking out on the Trout River's calming waves. "Any boat owner will tell you it's the best and worst thing that could happen to you and your boat. So you have to take those chances."
Harlin says losing the Shantyboat was like losing a part of her body. It appears the old boat and Lynn's stern ways have touched a lot of people. One of her writers started a gofundme page for the couple just a few days ago and it has already raised more than 3,000 dollars.
In her own words, Lynn Skapyak Harlin: "It is 2:30a.m. and I can't sleep. Yesterday Keitha Nelson, ch12 news reporter & her cameraman Todd came to Seafarers Marina to talk about the loss of the Shantyboat. She asked me a lot of questions and as usual I was my flippant self. But now after replaying what she asked and what I said I really want to tell what the loss of the boat is to me. The Shantyboat Writers Workshop was a refuge where writers black, white, young, old, rich and not so rich all were equal. It was a melting pot of creative, imaginative and dedicated folks who came for one purpose to make their writing better. All I did was share craft techniques and show them how to pick out what worked and what didn't work in a piece. This was exciting. I got to watch & listen to writers become better at sharing their stories. The magic of the Shantyboat was the people who dared to trek down the dock and step into a place were they were with writers who all cared about words. All the writers' styles, stories and characters were their own and none of them sounded nor wrote alike. They all learned the tools of the trade, the craft techniques that all writers need to make readers care about their characters and turn pages to find out what happened. I loved what I did but more than that I loved where I did it. Our Shantyboat was where I was happiest being surrounded by folks who wanted to make their stories the best they could be. The boat is gone but hopefully the lessons the writers learned will live on in the stories they create."
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