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Christmas in the Subtropics

Travelogue - December 26, 2006

First, thank y'all for your encouraging responses to the first Travelogue of the year. From your responses we learned, among other things, that one 'grounding' in over a year is insignificant; some cruisers have grounded so frequently that they are on a first-name basis with the Tow Boat US personnel. Others declare that, if any boater says he's never run aground, he's either lying or has never left the marina. Finally, we learned that sustained north winds can blow the sea out of Charlotte Harbor, thus rendering even adequate low tide depths skinny at the Harbor's north end. Well, live and learn. Our cherished reputation - "relatively harmless" - is untarnished.

Goldie reindeer

Still, here's my favorite response, sent by Claudia M. Sing to the tune of "White Christmas":

"...May your days be merry and bright!
And may all your deck brushes be frog free..."

On that festive note, Merry Christmas to all! Here is our local reincat bringing good cheer and news of glad tidings to all the world.

Boca Grande Festivities

Boca Grande was nice. We visited the island twice last year and loved it. But this was the first time we'd enjoyed it in the company of friends, and it's been great fun to share the good times with Don, Gillian and Zebedee of Jazz. Here they are, below, relaxing on their "back porch", with Sea Gator anchored nearby and visible in the background. Further below, see Zebedee sharing her holiday spirit.

Jazz family We were introduced to Jazz and her owners by way of Don's book, Seven Miles An Hour. Not to be confused with the song of the same name by Dan Bern, nor the one by Marshall Crenshaw. The book is all about "Retiring on a Trawler with Cats". Rick and I found the book to be a great introduction to living aboard. With cat. Find it at Bluewater Books & Charts.

In Boca Grande we were privileged to celebrate Don's birthday aboard Jazz, with a selection of fine cheeses and patés and all appropriate beverages. Then on free-movie-night we all trooped over to the Community Center to see "The DaVinci Code"; Gillian and I went shopping at Boca Bargains; and on their last night here we joined them for a thorough review of charts and favorite anchorages and best routes. We will value their comments on the route south, in addition to those we've collected from Mighty Belmont and others.

Zebedee Despite the pets in their holiday finery, I found it difficult to enter into the holiday spirit here. What with the waving palms and short-sleeved shirts and all. So one weekend I was thrilled to see a flyer in the coffee shop window inviting everyone to "Come Celebrate Christmas With Music, Carols & Stories!" Perfect! I invited the gang to join me. Rick and Don demurred, but Gillian accepted. Rick rowed us over to the dock at dusk and we threaded our way through town in high spirits.

At the Community Center we found our seats. The MC had a fine announcer's voice: he was the "Radio Personality" advertised on the flyer. We heard a woman sing a beautiful rendition of "Silent Night". Then the main composer/performer was introduced - he had a nice British accent and a fun way with toe-tapping carols. It was very enjoyable; he even broke out his accordion at one point, and it was tons of fun.

Later the joyous carols gave way to a poem, ostensibly about the Reason for the Season, but which morphed into a bitter rant about mass culture. I started to feel like Donald Sutherland's character in the last scene of the remake "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Would Gillian and I make it out of there alive and un-martyred?

We did. And then, emboldened, we partook of refreshments, which proved to be delicious and I must say the chocolate family was well represented. I personally had several pieces of wonderful fudge and I'm not telling what Gillian had (what happens at the refreshment table, stays at the refreshment table). We also enjoyed conversations with some people we knew and others we hadn't previously met, including the aforementioned Radio Personality. Afterward we talked of deep matters during our star-lit, chocolate befuddled stroll back to the docks.

tortoise

Well. Eventually, Don and Gillian cruised on their way, and Rick and I continued to enjoy the Island. We went on several bike rides - you can bike the old railroad bed from one end of the island to the other (eight miles). We met this tortoise, patiently making tracks down the exact center of the jogging trail that parallels the bike path. Was he planning to traverse the entire island?

iguana

We continued northward off-island to a fun restaurant we found last year called "The Fishery". It was a warmer ride back after lunch, and the infamous Gasparilla Island iguanas were out and about. Here is a specimen:

fish guy We stopped at the beach and met this fellow, laboriously dragging these eight 6-gallon jerrycans out of his car, filling them in the surf and lugging them back. I couldn't contain myself so I asked him what he was up to. He said he has many huge salt water aquariums and needed "fresh" water for his fish. He said he still has to clean the tanks sometimes, that this water is just a tune-up and will by no means fill the tanks, and that he performs this ritual every seven to ten days.

Another day we rode southward to visit the old Boca Grande Lighthouse. Here is the beach with the lighthouse in the background:

lighthouse

If we turn around... watch out! Dredging operation in place in the gulf, feeding sand to the beach. I learned about the operation in a conversation with the captain of the Emerald Express, the barge commissioned to ferry employees to and from the dredge. Meet Captain Eddy in our article Bus Driver.

drege pipe

We also had the opportunity to enjoy more free movies presented at the Community Center. Last weekend we saw "An Inconvenient Truth", and last night we saw "Joyeux Noel." I would highly recommend the latter for your holiday viewing pleasure. Briefly:

On Christmas Eve, 1914, French, Scottish and German soldiers are lined up in their trenches within ear-shot of each other, and a momentous event occurs that changes the destinies of four people. The film is dedicated to the soldiers who participated in spontaneous cease-fires on that Christmas Eve. It was a wonderful film. I won't give it away, but here's a hint:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schlaft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute heilige Paar.
Holder Knab im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

library garden Rick On Wednesday's bike ride Rick and I visited the historic Library. Formerly a private residence, it is now a serene and lovely place to be enjoyed by all. Right, Rick admires an extensive shell collection in the arcade. Left, see the adjacent garden, with the roof of the arcade just visible on the right. This was only one of several nice gardens we visited.


Olivia M Moments after taking the garden photos, we met Olivia M. Here she is, visiting with Rick at the Library entrance.

What a small world! Olivia guides raft trips for Jackson's Barker-Ewing in the summer, and works at Boca Grande's exquisite library in the winter. We talked of many things: oceans and rivers, beaches and mountains, traffic and serenity. Note her bike. She says she seldom has to leave the island (except for a couple of grocery shopping extravaganzas per season) and is therefore able to use her bike almost exclusively. I think she said she fills up her car's gas tank maybe twice all winter.

Olivia told us about a holiday boat parade scheduled for the Bayou that very night! Oh boy! We returned to Sea Gator and Goldie, finished dinner and cleaned up in time for the parade.

We had the best seats in the house! We donned our no-see-um protective gear and settled in on the bow to watch the parade. There were maybe a half-dozen boats; it was small but very festive. We had great fun waving and calling "Merry Christmas" across the water to merrymakers. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Boca Grande.

boat parade

Speaking of no-see-ums, the greatest single contributor to our quality of life is the no-see-um net screens I made for Sea Gator's door and hatch. Using the modern miracles of elastic and Velcro we are pretty secure in here. Still, my legs are a mess of insect bites from every venture outside.

La Marina des Collards

We returned across Charlotte Harbor to Rick's folks' house on December 21st; it was important to beat the incoming storm. Which we did, in fine time, and remained tied to their dock for the duration of the storm (lots of wind and rain) and the holiday.

Our Christmas included a much larger boat parade at Punta Gorda Isles (60 boats); an excellent visit with Louise, with Rick's Aunt Roshni and Uncle Arther, cousin Marc and Marc's friend Roger from USF, and many of the Collard family's Florida friends. Lu has a great deal of experience preparing a holiday feast for her large family, so we had a wonderful Christmas day dinner with 13 guests and food for 48. It was a perfect day.

We hope that you, too, had a wonderful Christmas, and thank you for listening!

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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