The Citrus Caper of Cape Haze

February 1, 2007

We've met some delightful people who have become more than "ships in the night" on our adventures. This story tells of some wonderful people, and a casual afternoon that continues to bring a smile to my face long after it's over.

One evening in January '06, as we piloted Bump Head back to our Cape Haze anchorage (Travelogue 4), I heard a voice sing, "Ahoy, Sea Gator!"

Little Mick And there was a man waving cheerfully from the bow of the only other boat in the anchorage: a trawler that had come in while we were out foraging for groceries. I dropped Rick off to unload our purchases (I'm no fool) and I rowed over to meet our new neighbors.

Gary and Mickey W. met me at Little Mick's port rail. They were wonderfully friendly, and I learned that they had cruised all the way from Hampton, VA, southbound along Florida's east coast, then west through Lake Okeechobee and its river system, arriving at Cape Haze in time to welcome us home from the grocery store. They didn't strike me as pirates, so I invited them to clamber into Bump Head and I rowed us all back to Sea Gator for beer and/or lemonade.

Scorpion III We became friends. Gary helped us deal with another trawler who had anchored way too close to us (photo, left, after Scorpion III had kindly - and successfully - relocated) and Mickey and I spent quality time which I had seriously been missing. She generously offered loans from her cruising library, notably "The Cruising Women's Advisor" by Diana Jessie and "Cruising Comfortably on a Budget" by the late great Skipper Bob (see below for descriptions).

One day Mickey phoned (much more dignified than hollering across the water as we'd been doing) and asked if I wanted to go walking ashore with them again. I was up for that, and even Rick had had enough work for the day. So we all piled into their dinghy and Gary motored us up the canal.

Canal entrance Rick and I showed them the place we'd found to go ashore without crossing private property and without dinghying several miles north to a public boat launch. It required tying the dinghy to a pipe and climbing up a sea wall. The trick is not hard when the tide is high and the wall, as a result, is low - one gracefully steps up. But it becomes more difficult when the reverse is true (low tide, high wall) as it was on that day.

That's when they taught us "flop-and-roll". It's a fab technique that looks just like it sounds.

Cape Haze is a beautiful gracefully-aging neighborhood, just north of Placida, and we walked and walked and talked and talked. A quiet road narrows and passes between and under towering banyon trees, and it was still and warm. We headed south until we could peep between houses and spy our boats at anchor in the basin. We waved.

Banyon trees Some people were out working in their yards and we "hello"ed and visited as we went along. We came to a yard where we spied a tree groaning under the weight of millions of tiny orange globes. "Kumquats," we thought. Gosh, Mickey said, she hadn't had a kumquat since she was young, and why don't you go ask if perhaps we can pick a couple?

It sounded like a great idea! Until it came to deciding who would do the aforesaid "go"ing and "ask"ing. The four of us stood at the side of the road arguing and pointing.

"You go."

"I can't, you go."

"No, they'll shoot me."

"Me, too."

Finally Mickey and I rolled our eyes at each other, and together we walked up the driveway. Apparently citrus begging will forever be a woman's job.

Well, the driveway was kind of long, and I had half chickened out by the time we neared the porch. I told Mickey, "You're the one who wants kumquats, I don't even know what a kumquat IS!" Ultimately, when the very nice lady answered the door, we took turns. We conveyed our admiration of her yard and of its bounty...

Boat people "We were passing and noticed your beautiful yard."

"Lovely flowers."

"Amazing citrus trees..."

She pointed over our shoulders at the two disreputable men milling suspiciously in the street. "Who are they?"

Both Mickey and I were tempted to deny any knowledge of the scuzzy boat people ("Call the police!" "They've been following us!" "Quick! Let us in!") But we were too kind, or too slow-witted.

Tangerine Elevation Once that opportunity was lost, we learned that the fruits weren't kumquats (whatever that is); they were tangerines. And she assured us, "That's not my tree. The lady who lived there sold her house and they tore it down. The tree is going to be demolished; you should take some while you can." And she gave us plastic bags and wished us well.

Tangering Plan View Oh boy! Did we pick tangerines! And we ate them while we were at it. They were tiny: about the size of a slightly flattened ping-pong ball and easy to peel. Inside were ten to fourteen sections, and each section had one to four seeds. It was a lot of work, what with the constant spitting of seeds and all. But it was a lot of fun, and the "Clementine" tangerines, as we later learned they were called, were juicy on a hot day and tart enough to start beads of sweat on one's forehead.

Reflected Tangerine We loaded up our plastic bags, drunk on orange juice and giggling at the bounty of it all. And as we retraced our steps through the neighborhood we were pretty pleased with ourselves, so when we came upon a house with a prolific grapefruit tree - and an orange tree, and a mysterious yellow-orange tree - all groaning under the weight of their bounty, Mickey and I were easily persuaded to try again. We sashayed right on up to the door and knocked without hesitation.

Tangerine XSection A very elderly, very delicate lady assured us she wouldn't mind if we took some fruit (I believe her exact words were, "Please. Please, please take some fruit!") and she told us that what we thought were large pale oranges were in fact lemons, and she gave us bags to hold her grapefruit, lemons and oranges. We offered to harvest it all for her and bring them to the house so she wouldn't have to do it herself, and she declined (I believe her exact words were, "No. No!").

Fruit gatherers And so we picked grapefruit, lemons and oranges.

My my! The fruit was very fragrant. Gary used his penknife and sliced open an enormous lemon for us and we squeezed its juice right into our mouths. It was sweeter than any lemon I'd ever tasted, and wonderfully refreshing.

From our experience that day I would guess that citrus fruits ripen all at once, and that they are like an over-abundance of zucchinis in other neighborhoods of the country. People were thrilled to share. And we got carried away; the plastic bags soon split, and Gary was persuaded to remove his shirt and tie its arms together to make a large pouch, and we filled it while he clutched it, grabbing at loose lemons as they slid about. He griped, but we paid no heed.

Well, we shared our bounty with others in the anchorage, and there was still an abundance.

This day became known aboard Sea Gator as the day of the "Citrus Caper". What do you think, did you have to be there? Or can you taste the cool, sweet/tart lemon juice on your lips?

Little Mick and Sea Gator soon went their separate ways, but weeks later Gary and Mickey caught up to us in Sarasota and even delivered take-out pizza to our boat. What a luxury! They soon passed north of us. Of the other folks we met at Cape Haze, Steve and Diane on Aurora headed north, and Sandra and Chris on Critcher Cat went south.

It's a special joy to come upon friendly faces in unexpected places, and we've been fortunate to meet some very fine folks.

Tangerine can-can

Mickey and Gary recently reminded me that we also salvaged some plants from the doomed tangerine yard. They were lovely groundcovers with thick, fuzzy silvery foliage and burgundy tips. I recognized it at the time as a house plant that I'd received from Deb W. (and subsequently killed, alas). We selected some starts with rootlets, let them "harden off" and planted the shoots in cut-off milk cartons full of Florida topsoil (sand).

Lavender Scallops

Later, Rick and I saw a specimen of our "liberated" groundcover at Sarasota's gorgeous Marie Selby Botanic Gardens and I wrote to Mickey: "Remember the succulent starts we "liberated" from the tiny-orange-house lot in Cape Haze? Well, there was a nice bed of them in the Succulent Garden at the Selby Gardens in Sarasota! The plant is called "Lavender Scallops" (Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi); it's native to Madagascar. We got a real kick out of seeing a familiar "face" in the Selby Garden!"

After nursing mine up to Tarpon Springs and back, I planted it at la Marina des Collards where it silently and determinedly returned to the dust from whence it came. While Mickey reports that hers "is still in the bottom of a milk carton and in the FL sand and it looks better than most of the plants in the house!"

Tangerine can-can

Mickey's suggested readings for cruisers:

The Cruising Woman's Advisor: How to Prepare for the Voyaging Life

"Let's face it. The cruising life is different for women. But most of the how-to books about cruising seem to be written for men, and by men. Until now...

"The book isn't limited to Jessie's opinions alone. She also interviewed 21 prominent women sailors of varying ages and backgrounds, the kind of women you'd love to talk to if you could ever get them together in one place. Their thoughts give the book a uniquely broad perspective.

"...But do we really need a woman's book about cruising? Many of the topics Jessie covers - safety at sea, choosing the right boat, dealing with heavy weather - have been covered time and again in other cruising books, but not from a woman's point of view. For instance, length and rig aren't the only things to consider when choosing a boat. Author Lin Pardey, one of the sailors Jessie interviewed, maintains that "the kind of boat you want is one you can sail home alone without help because your mate had a heart attack."

"And in "Fearing The Weather Ahead," worry isn't pooh-poohed as some trivial emotion we should just nip but as a valuable tool. Worry pushes you to be prepared. And preparation is what it's all about. And if your mate won't teach you, or you don't like his style (the Bligh factor), a number of sailing schools are listed in the appendix." (Reviewed in Southwinds Magazine).

The Cruising Woman's Advisor: How to Prepare for the Voyaging Life by Diana Jessie (International Marine, Camden, ME), ISBN 0-07-031981-2. Find it at Hamilton Marine, click [Books] then [Educational].

Cruising Comfortably on a Budget

Skipper Bob has cruised more than 40,000 miles on the East Coast of the United States. His travels have taken him up and down the Intracoastal Waterway numerous times. He has completed the Great Circle Route and sailed to both the Bahamas and the Dry Tortugas. He has taken his trawler through the Erie, Rideau, Richelieu, and Trent Severn Canals.

Living aboard for more than nine years, he and his wife have experienced just about everything the waters of the East Coast have to offer. This book sums it all up:

Living and cruising on a boat in the coastal waters; What kind of boat to buy, how to outfit it; Where to go and stay, and how to live comfortably all on a budget. Tips on saving thousands of dollars while cruising the East Coast, Great Lakes and the Inland waters, ICW, Bahamas and Canada.

Skipper Bob has published a series of guidebooks that will make your travels on these waterways much easier, safer and less expensive.

Cruising Comfortably on a Budget by Skipper Bob (Skipper Bob Publications, PO Box 391, Windsor, PA 17366-0391). Find it and other Skipper Bob guidebooks at Skipper Bob Publications or Landfall Navigation.

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