Shake Down Cruise and Show Biz Christmas

Travelogue - January 4, 2009
"Ladies and Gentlemen!
Step right up for the Greatest Show on Earth!"

On the Water

Monday, December 15, 8:00 a.m., we departed la Marina on a rising tide.

All was still and quiet in the neighborhood. At Sea Gator's no-wake speed it is an hour's gentle glide through the canals of Punta Gorda Isles. We admired people's festive holiday decorations and shiny polished boats as we eased our way along in the stillness.

All was calm, all was bright.

Bad dog Until a pack of penned dogs barked our passing and between the hounds and their owner woke the entire street.

"Dammit Bess, shut UP!" the human howled. "BOW-ser, BOX-ie! Come HERE! Goddammitalltahell ya SONSABITCHES!" Oww-ooo-OOO-ooo!

Sea Gator slinked away from the scene of the chaos.

On the Bottom

Eventually we exited the canals and entered the seemingly endless expanse of Charlotte Harbor, and could hold our heads up high once again.

Charlotte Harbour There were very few boats out this lovely morning. Which is less surprising considering most snow birds were Christmas-ing up north. If our experience is any indication, traffic will be hoppin' crazy by January.

We enjoyed the peaceful crossing, yes indeed. We moseyed south then west, avoiding the shallows on the westerly shores of the Harbor. Near channel marker #1 (the start of the north-bound ICW from Boca Grande Pass) we "dropped the hook". We immediately lowered Bump Head, and it's a good thing we did because I had to immediately hop in and fly off in pursuit of a piece of paper we'd dropped overboard.

We try to be good citizens. But the paper sank before I could snare it. Sheesh.

Anyway. Back aboard, we had a snack and reviewed our procedures for entering and settling into the Boca Grande Bayou. For those readers who haven't been there on their own boat, the Bayou is a narrow channel so boats are "med" moored. It's like 90-degree parking, where you set your anchor in mid-channel, then back in to place and secure the stern. Sounds easy, but our cumbersome dinghy-lowering process gave us grief the first time we tried it (and with the expensive boats plus a seaplane in the vicinity, it's a good idea to limit one's aimless dithering).

We lashed Bump Head to Sea Gator's starboard flank and coiled in some long stern lines. Then we motored through the narrow channel into the Bayou.

Rick was just commenting on how clear the water was and how you could see the bottom... when suddenly the depth sounder flashed from 6' to 4' to 2' and the bottom rose to meet us as though it had been summoned by magic and we churned to a halt. Sea Gator's keel nestled in the soft silty bottom.



A Tangent

Experienced readers will find several points to ponder. First: "Hmm. Ya know, there is some shameless blundering and even some cussing in this year's Travelogues, y'all. That's new."

Ship aground Yes.

With some initial reluctance, the author was compelled by friends to promise to include ALL sorts of events in this year's Travelogues. Not just the sweetness and light and sunsets and all like that shit. Hence the cussing and grounding.

Ship aground It should be noted that the author discovers that the author somewhat enjoys it. Be forewarned.

Ship aground Second, the astute reader will observe a lack of panic, embarrassment, or shame at the blunder. Also new.

Heck, we were taught from day one that anybody sailing or cruising these shallow Florida waters has or will run aground in the sand. I can finally accept that, try as we may, Sea Gator will be no exception. It's like getting that first ding in the paint of your new car: you don't like it, but hey, you knew it was coming.

This is not our first "ding". But it is the first "ding" that didn't send me up a tree. So that's good.

Moving Right Along

So. There we were, there we were, there we were... surprised and aground on a newly expanded sandbar accumulating off the starboard seawall (just north of channel marker 7, F.Y.I.) of the Boca Grande channel.

Goldie on the bridge We just needed to extricate ourselves before the tide went out - to keep from teetering on our keel like the boats in the photos, above. The tide was currently coming in and would eventually float us off, so really the situation was not dire.

Careful to avoid sucking silt into the engine's raw water intake, Rick revved forward a bit, reverse a bit. A fisherman came around the bend in an open boat and Rick immediately dropped into neutral. The fisherman chugged close and we yelled "Howdy. What's your depth over there?" And the fisherman told us where deep water was.

We waited until he had cleared the channel behind us, then Rick tried again, revving forward. Slowly, slowly, Sea Gator inched her way out of the muck and into deep water. Yay, Rick! Yay, Sea Gator! Yay, Nameless Fisherman!

And that was that.

SEA GATOR at anchor We idled into the Bayou and followed our plan: We set the anchor in mid-channel then backed into a wide space between two sailboats. I kept Sea Gator in place with the engine and thruster while Rick hopped into Bump Head and quickly rowed away, towing our stern lines. He attached us securely with two lines crossed in the manner you would set spring lines, and we were good. We shut down the engine and stillness reigned in the Bayou.

Above right, Goldie inspects her new scenery. You can see the slips across the channel for fishing boats and dinghies, and the town of Boca Grande lies just beyond.

Above left, see Sea Gator at anchor in the Bayou Monday evening. By Wednesday afternoon we were surrounded by other boats, but they were friendly and all was well.

Jackson Hole, Tropical Style

Seriously. On the walls of the dressing room of Boca Grande Outfitters (they stock Ex Officio shorts and Columbia SPF shirts here) are photos depicting Jackson Hole fishing guides posing with trout fresh from the Snake River. And you can always stumble over an employee's panting doggie with a hanky tied around his neck. It's home sweet home.

Banyan Street We've enjoyed our previous visits here, documented in travelogues Jan. 7, 2006, Dec. 26, 2006 and Dec. 22, 2007.

One thing I tend to forget: we are the tourists here. Oh, right, now I remember. After being gently ignored for a couple of days it was fun to walk into a room filled with friendly strangers who looked me in the eyes and chorused "Hi Pat." And even THEY were discussing the mountains when I arrived, one of them had just returned from Jackson. Such a small world!

We discussed our common solution to a common problem, and the wonderful women there invited me to another such gathering at a distant location a few days hence. So my new friend Jeanne picked me up at the dock at 7:15 a.m. and we all enjoyed a pleasant hour at Nancy's condo. Jeanne and I strolled and talked afterward, and then I speed-walked back down-island in time to rendezvous with Rick for lunch at the Boca Grande Grill and Tiki Bar and it was THE perfect day.

Above right, here is one of our favorite places: Banyan Street. Below left, a nicely detailed residential landscape.

Residential landscape Rick and I attended "free movie night" at the town's Community Center. Rick saw The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (filmed in Portuguese with English subtitles, about a Brazilian child inadvertently left behind when his parents flee political persecution. Not to be confused with Home Alone). And we both attended Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, and I kept thinking "that beautiful woman looks just like Leslie L." Hi Les!

Meanwhile we shopped at Boca Bargains, breakfasted at the Innlet and dined at the Loose Caboose, and walked to the south end of the island on the bike path and back on the beach. And Worked and watched sunsets. It was a calm and peaceful week, the weather so gorgeous it baffled the eye.

One event COULD have been exciting, when a nearby sailboat became separated from her stern line. But the weather was SO calm that she just languished around her own anchor chain, tra la la. We would have taken action if hazardous weather had threatened, but it didn't and so it was not exciting and the sailboat just rested there until her owners came back the next day. Their visit with us was exhilerating as we all theorized what had happened but nobody knows. They secured her with a chain at the stern.

We wait with bated breath...

On December 21, after an idyllic week and just ahead of a winter stormfront, we removed our stern lines, lashed Bump Head abeam, and departed the Bayou with no problems. Anchored in the Harbor and raised Bump Head with no problems. Cruised to Punta Gorda and tied up at la Marina with no problems.

Shredded Tshirt What is going on here?!?

Soon I will have to either manufacture newsworthy events or disband the Travelogue.

Or borrow exciting stories from our boating friends. OK, here's one:

Little Mick reports that her captain leaned over the engine to check for a leak and the alternator belt ripped his t-shirt right off his body. The shirt was shredded (see anonymous Chippendale dancer, right) but thankfully no injuries were reported.

Note to self: Trim all chest hairs prior to working in the engine room.

Christmas at la Marina

On December 21st, Rick and I treated Lu and two of her lovely friends, Theresa and Helen, to A Christmas Carol at the Barbara Mann Theatre in Ft. Myers. We all dressed up and had a lovely time, it was a great way to get in the Christmas spirit, considering the lack of snow in southwest Florida.

For Christmas Day Lu had invited many of her dear friends and family members to dinner, and we all cooked and laughed and had a grand time. We wish you all could have been there. We also wish that we had thought to take a photograph of the entire group but alas we did not.

On New Year's Day we walked around the block to a festive neighborhood celebration at the home of Elaine and Jim of the sailboat Wynsum. Nice food, nice conversation, it was a fun day.

Cà d'Zan and the Ringling Estate

Back in March '06 as we departed Sarasota northbound, we had seen the glittering Ringling mansion on the shore. We were very curious and had wanted to visit, but this was our first chance to get back and check it out.

The circus dining tent So the Monday after Christmas, Rick and Lu and I treated ourselves to the Ringling Museum Estate, the former home of John and Mabel Ringling of Ringling Brothers circus fame. In the early years of this century Ringling had adopted Sarasota as the winter home of his traveling circus, providing the city a huge financial boost and thus forever endearing himself to the community. The estate was bequeathed to the people of Florida upon Ringling's death in 1936 and is now under the stewardship of Florida State University.

The estate encompasses 66 acres and features multiple circus museums, John's and Mabel's palatial home (Cà d'Zan is Venetian for "House of John"), an enormous Museum of Art, fabulous rose gardens, and the historic Asolo Theater (built in 1798 in Italy and purchased as an artifact to be reconstructed on-site in the 1950s).

The circus midway Good gad. We were unprepared for the immensity of the place, the extent of the exhibits and the variety of sights to be seen. It was rather circus-like, now I come to think of it. It was Colossal! A Stunning Spectacle, a Dazzling Display, an Arresting Array of Awesome Exhibits! Yay!

Well. We decided to plunge right in and worry about getting our bearings later.

Our first stop: The Circus Museum. The first building of the set contained an incredible, vast, scaled miniature of the traveling circus in its heyday. We walked through a tiny version of the whole process, from railroad yard to vacant lot to all the private dressing tents through the Midway and Big Top. It was SO cool. Here's what we learned:

The food train, the first of four circus trains, arrived in the pre-dawn hours and it was off-loaded using teams of draft horses and enormous cooking and dining tents were erected. The circus purchased staggering amounts of fresh produce and bakery goods and dairy products at each town, so it was quite an event. When the workers' (performers, animal trainers, cage sweepers, wardrobe seamstresses, laundresses, dozer operators, engineers, conductors, barkers, vendors, bookkeepers...) trains arrived they ALL, in their hundreds, sat down in their assigned seats for breakfast served by waiters. See the dining tent with part of its roof peeled away for our viewing pleasure, in the first photo above right.

The circus animal tents Soon the animal train arrived, and everybody practiced and bathed and fed animals and put on outfits, and by late afternoon the show went on! The performance ran about 2.5 hours. Before completion of the last act, the food train had already departed for the next town where they would begin setting up in the pre-dawn darkness as soon as they arrived.

There is the miniature Midway, above left. The photo, right, depicts the animal tent, and in the distant background you can see Rick in his orange T-shirt viewing the Big Top.

I did not take any photos of the Big Top itself. Partly because the lighting was difficult and partly because it was too much to take in. How many times have I pointed at my head (or your head) and observed "It's a three-ring squirrel circus in there"? Well, there was the three-ring circus, but with people, and and I stand by my metaphor. Anyway.

Essentially they moved an entire town overnight. Rick and Lu and I were flabbergasted (Stunned! Amazed! Agog!) contemplating the logistics of the enterprise. By comparison, sometimes it's all one can do to pull one's self together enough to fetch the mail and a quart of milk given an entire afternoon. We were overwhelmed, we must rest, so we found a garden cafe and ate fried circus food, hotdogs and a soda.

Lavish digs at the Ringling Mansion Next stop was the home mansion, Cà d'Zan. It was designed by the happy couple following their obviously enjoyable trip to Italy. The home is either garish or opulent, opinions varied. But everyone agreed that the sheer weight of its ornamentation was staggering. The exterior is entirely covered in multi-colored tiles - that's why it glowed as seen from the Bay. Inside was gilt and silver and mirrors and marble and fine woods, and all of the ceilings on the first floor were hand-painted murals, and the stone- and tilework were perfect down to their tiniest detail.

Next on our walk, the rose garden! Mrs. Mabel Ringling planted the garden and then replanted the majority of rose shrubs each year. Now, years after her death, cultivars are available which can better stand the climate.

In fact the second half of the garden is now an accredited American Rose Society "Miniature and Mini-Flora Roses" test garden, one of only eight where new varieties of rose are evaluated for Awards of Excellence and prior to commercial production. Here's how it works:

Rose Garden Citing the increasing popularity of miniature roses and the integral part these roses were beginning to play in national, regional and local rose shows, in 1973 the American Rose Society Board of Directors resolved to undertake an active, impartial testing, scoring and rating program exclusively for miniature roses...

Each entry was to be tested for a two-year period, with no more than five awards given in any year... Thus the ARS Award of Excellence for Miniature Roses was born.

Elements used in the two-year evaluation include novelty, bud form, flower form, opening color, finishing color, substance, habit, quantity of flowers, vigor/renewal, foliage, and disease and insect resistance...

Mrs. Ringling would have liked that.

Finally, the Art Museum. The Ringlings traveled the world extensively and brought home many souvenirs and works of art. There were reproductions of classic Roman bronzes; a gallery full of gloomy depictions of bleak Flemish farms where apparently the sun never shone; medieval Italian religious paintings of the type which inspired Danté; French renaissance masterpieces in which everybody wore flimsy see-through blouses that kept falling off left and right, and finally there were some very lovely modern landscapes. Not a cheerful Monet garden in the lot - surprising considering Mrs's love of flowers - but an unending supply of bosoms and ropes, singly and in combination, and perhaps we have John to thank for those.

We also learned that there are three Circus trains still traveling the country. After "experiencing" the excitement of the arrival of the circus in town, it's no wonder every kid with a longing for adventure wanted to run off and join the circus. I am firmly in the Clowns=Creepy camp, but I wonder if it's too late to join?

All in all it was a Dazzling Day.

Errands and Boatwork and Fun...

ACME products I rode our one functional bicycle to (and this is their real name) ACME Bicycle, in search of replacement spokes. We had learned last season that defective stainless steel bicycle spokes from China have flooded the market within the last few years and most of them found their way onto our wheels. So one by one, the spokes sproing and break, and one by one Rick replaces them. Which begins to make less and less sense when you compare the cost of all new spokes against the cost of a new wheel, but there you go.

So I rode to ACME Bicycle and after all that backstory they did not even have the right size spokes.

Aboard LITTLE MICK The man offered to order them in for me and that's when I had a Wile E. Coyote flashback: picture a brown paper parcel labeled "ACME" and containing stainless steel spokes and a clutch of explosives with the fuses hanging out. No thanks. Rick made do with the replacement spokes he already had.

We returned to Boca Grande one more time, this time by auto and to visit our friends Gary and Mickey on Little Mick. Gary, wearing a non-shredded T-shirt, showed Rick his latest boat project. We had dinner on the boat, and then the boys and their dad gave me a lift into town and back - I had forgot we had brought a car! - in their rented golf cart. It was an excellent visit, we are enjoying meeting our friends' family one batch at a time.

...And on the Sea Again

Goldie w/ Mr. Scratchy Sunday, January 4, 10:30 a.m., we kissed Lu goodbye and departed la Marina for the wide blue yonder. We are heading across Charlotte Harbor for Cayo Costa, then we will cruise on south. Surprisingly, we haven't made firm plans although we have several interesting possibilities in mind. We'll see what the weather does.

Goldie celebrated Christmas by brutally shredding her new Mr. Scratchy. This is a super special Scratchy, the patented Scratch Lounge. You see, it has sides. My hope is that the sides will retain some of the tons of shredded paper that Goldie generates by exercising her claws. So far, so good!

Please, please have a safe sane and sober New Year, and thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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