Jim Tucker reckons the concrete-hulled boat in Santa Rosa Sound where he spends his days has about 1,000 years before it crumbles into dust, settling into a mushy pile at the bottom of wherever it might be moored.
However long the boat lasts, when it does go down, Tucker will go down with it. He plans to be laid to his eternal rest in the bow of the now nearly century-old vessel, probably in a body bag encased in fiberglass inside a sealed concrete vault.
“One of the questions you might have,” Tucker surmised recently, “is ‘Is it legal?’”
After spending “about $800” with a local attorney, Tucker has an answer — sort of.
“There’s no law against my spending eternity in the bottom of my boat,” he said.
What he really means, though, after a little probing, is that there are no state or federal laws against it. And he merely shrugs off any suggestion there might be some local legal impediment to his plans for his final resting place.
“I think I own the land that this boat sits in the water on,” he says. And besides, he goes on, the Episcopal church next door includes a columbarium, storage space for funerary urns.
The story of The Boat is woven into local history. Built as an Army transport ship in 1921, it saw limited service along the East Coast. By the late 1920s, it had passed into private hands, ferrying bananas from Venezuela to the United States. It returned briefly to military service in World War II.
Back in private hands by 1951, the boat was used as a floating restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, and later in Tampa. In 1974, Fort Walton Beach developer A.P. Qualls bought it, mooring it at Brooks Bridge as The Showboat.
Tucker bought it a few years later — after barnacles had sealed a crack in the hull — and had it towed to its current mooring off Miracle Strip Parkway next to St. Simon’s Episcopal Church.
“It has been my safe haven for 40 years plus,” the 85-year-old Tucker said on a recent afternoon, sitting at the large desk in the apartment office he’s fashioned at the stern of the triple-decked, 150-foot vessel.
It’s a safe haven that Tucker freely admits he needs, as the personal ravages of a tough 22-year Army career bump against his psyche like the water lapping at the hull of his boat.
“Most of my life, I’ve been scared of something,” he said. “I feel safe here.”
Tucker began thinking about being buried in his safe haven a few years back, and after making some inquiries as to where he’d find one, bought the vault in DeFuniak Springs and had it delivered to the boat.
He doesn’t concern himself much with other particulars of his final arrangements, outside of what he’d like to be buried in.
“I’d find a body bag most appropriate,” he said. As far as the rest of his arrangements, Tucker says he’ll leave them to his daughter, who will inherit the boat when he passes.
As to when that passing might come, Tucker proudly noted that his latest medical check-up, just days ago, found him “within normal range” across a number of health parameters. But, he laughed, he got a little worried when, after the exam, his doctor asked him to follow her to her office.
In the office, she handed Tucker a Bible.
For Tucker, though, religious faith — or something close to it — hasn’t been found in the Bible. Rather, he says, he’s glimpsed it on occasion, like in the silence between the sound of a mortar round launching from its tube and the moment it finds its target.
“You learn to wish — I won’t use the word ‘pray’ — that it doesn’t hit here,” Tucker said.
At any rate, Tucker says he isn’t worried about the afterlife, even though he’s all but certain he’ll spend it in unpleasant circumstances.
“If there is a hell, I’ll be in it,” he said. But Tucker appears to figure his eternal address might be a fair trade for his earthly journey.
“I have been one lucky son of a b—-,” he said. And, he adds, “I have never enjoyed life more than I enjoy life right now. I wake up, I don’t wear a watch. … I don’t have any worries about an afterlife.”
He does, though, have one worry about his earthly sendoff, as he envisions the people gathered on the decks above his final resting place for whatever funeral service his daughter might arrange on The Boat.
A sly grin creasing his face as he considers the prospect, the irrepressible Tucker says, “A couple of them may slip down here and p— on my grave.”