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Blessing of the Fleet

Travelogue - March 3, 2010
... O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

19th century hymn, "Eternal Father Strong to Save" - William Whiting (1825-1878)


Eight: The number of blankets layered on our bed.

55: The temperature inside Sea Gator at 8:00 this morning.

50: The temperature outside at Whistler for the men's Olympic Downhill.

Rick watches the 2010 Winter Olympics on his battery-operated TV Seven: The diagonal cross-screen measurement, in inches, of Rick's new battery-operated T.V. on which he is watching said Downhill, with Goldie and her matching blanket on his lap, photo right.

Zero: The chance that I will medal in the women's Ski-Cross during this lifetime.

Seven and counting: The number of days we've been away from shore and still haven't put away all our stuff. Our departure from la Marina last week was less an organized event than "abandon ship" in reverse. When we decided we could go, we pretty much just tossed all of our belongings and supplies aboard and motored away.

And here we are, on our way to ship-shape, but we haven't yet arrived.

Aunt Claire

First, THANK YOU for your prayers for Lu's sister, Rick's Aunt Claire. She was safely released from the hospital, and is at this moment no doubt arguing with Lu - who is, at this moment no doubt, urging Claire to just relax and take it easy. Surely the sisters are in good hands and will work it out.

Day Trip to Boca Grande

Upon the exciting event of a sunny!! Saturday morning we put on many clothes, topped off with our water-proof rain gear, and hunkered down in Bump Head for a rough 45-minute ride over to Boca Grande.

Rick and Goldie enjoy a rare moment of sunshine Poor Bump Head couldn't get up on a plane for anything, until we passed the mid-channel of Boca Grande Pass and the incoming tide was suddenly with us. We flew!

Of course we went straight to Boca Bargains, the women's club-operated thrift store, where I scored a basic-black Ralph Lauren sweater. I was browsing through the books when I thought I saw a familiar face. Hmm... I exchanged a hesitant smile with the woman who owned the face, and went on my way. A moment later I heard her say to her friend "I got this necklace in Jackson..." Ah-ha!

I retraced my steps and re-introduced myself to Olivia, Jackson resident and former Boca Grande librarian. We skipped over the small talk and got right into topics ranging from libraries in general to the Bondurant Library in particular, and on to Constitutional lore which is where we were when we rejoined Rick. My contribution to their wide-ranging conversation was mostly slack-jawed amazement as, Bump Head-like, my brain labored unsuccessfully to drag itself out of low gear. Two months of second-hand daytime TV will do that to me. But it was a fine visit and I'm very glad we reconnected with Olivia.

Glowing teak Unfortunately, the chit-chat made us late to Don and Gillian's. What a pair of galootes (Rick and I, that is). Abashed, we scurried over to their place on DAMFICARE Street for a satisfying lunch of sandwiches and Don's homemade Avocado and Potato soup, and a look-see down at the dock.

The former Jazz owners couldn't stay boatless for long and so they are now the proud if skeptical owners of a folding dinghy. But Don reports that the outboard will get them up on a plane - we encouraged them to make an attempt on Cayo Costa at the first calm sunny day - and, folded, the boat will also fit on a small R.V. Ah-ha! We hope they choose to transport it out west. It would be a fine way to get around Jackson Lake but I don't think I'd put her in the Hoback.

Groceries at Hudson's. Then we hurried back to the dock, donned our enormous pile of clothing once again, and motored back to Pelican Bay. No problems, and the wind had abated so we made the passage in 30 minutes.

Rick a-snooze near Boca Grande Pass We clambered aboard to sooth a restless Goldie. She wanted to go OUTSIDE, so Rick put on shorts for the first time in recent memory and he and Goldie both went out on the sundeck for a nap, above left. I stayed indoors to finish stowing all our belongings, and to marinate myself in teak oil fumes. It had to be done, and my goodness, the place looks nice! See above right, here is Rick's side of our stateroom, all gleaming if not yet perfectly tidy.

The next day we returned to Cayo Costa for a long hike, and reliable cell service at the north end of the island. I had forewarned Rick that I would be on the phone for a leisurely chat with Janet, so he came prepared. Here is the delightful view I had throughout my conversation: Rick a-snooze with Boca Grande Pass in the background, and the Gulf stretching away off to the left.

On the walk back across the island Rick noticed these fabulous growths on the Slash Pines (photo below right) which, when disturbed, emitted great puffing clouds of pollen! Soon there will be little Slash Pines everywhere.

From Ask A Scientist's Botany Archive:

Staminate (male) cones are small and form in clusters near the base of new stems in the spring, present for a few weeks in spring at the beginning of the growing season... The pollen is carried from the male pine cones to the female pine cones by the wind... They fall off after pollen is dispersed, leaving the ovate (female) cones to develop into familiar seed bearing pine cones.

And there you have it.

It's been wonderful here at Botany Bay, but the intermittent cell service back in the safe east-side pocket has made Work more challenging than we are comfortable with. Besides, we're running out of apples again, and our flame-throwing antique gas oven has just BURNED the chocolate-chip cookies so now we have none and that's simply the last straw. It's time to go.

Foggy Days and a Rant

Staminate cones of the Slash Pine Tuesday, February 23. We got up early and to our surprise - and no doubt to the amazement of the entire weather-prediction team at NOAA - the whole southwest coast of Florida was socked in with dense fog. We all went back to bed for an hour.

Better late than never, as the fog seemed to lift we ran through our pre-flight checklist, fired up the radar just in case, and motored out into the ICW. Visibility was limited to about 1/4 mile for most of the passage southward, and fortunately it cleared as we neared the south end of Pine Island Sound. Minutes after the fog thinned the place was packed with racing boats zipping everywhere. They must have been idling at the dock, awaiting their chance.

Full-time Florida boaters bemoan the snow-birds who take to the water in droves during January, February and March. Many short-time visitors don't want to waste a minute, which is understandable; however perhaps they would be well-advised to devote a few of those precious minutes to learning the basic marine courtesies and rules of the road. The majority of the radio exchanges we overheard in high-traffic areas fell along the lines of "That was a rotten pass!" and "This is a manatee zone, slow down!" and "You are a jerk!" But I think it's safe to say that folks who haven't learned to operate their boats probably also don't have their VHF radios tuned in while underway so the scoldings, while satisfying, are ultimately pointless.

Collectible CB mug Among those who do use their VHFs, the gaff that makes me roll my eyes most uncharitably is the CB talk. "Ten-four good buddy!" and "Catch you on the rebound, come on back." I didn't even know what that meant. So, God help me, I looked it up at Woody's World of CB:

Rebound = Return trip. Come Back = Answer my call.


Anyway, lots of people say it, it seems to have a life of its own. Maybe I'll start saying it myself, since it is so popular for mysterious reasons which are surely too advanced for me. Then I'll go home and build a kidney-shaped petunia berm in my front yard, for the same reason.

Once I started skimming the CB slang list I found it hard to stop. It was like staring helplessly at an accident... er... staring at a Mess-em-up. You just can't believe it can be so bad. Man in Slicker = Fireman; Motion Lotion = Gas or fuel; Diesel Juice = Fuel oil; Moth Ball = Annual CB Convention. FYI, that's a 10-34, Confidential information.

Where was I going? Right, dolphins.


Dolphins ride our wake The Sound was teeming with dolphins! Their dorsal fins sliced the pewter sheen of the water, one, two, three at a time. We heard the splashings and puffings and ran to the sides to watch, as the noise signaled that one or more of the creatures was catching a ride on our bow wave. One muscular fellow hunched his back and leapt perfectly atop the wave, riding it for several seconds until he sank - we just don't go fast enough to create a good solid wake.

The really fun rides for dolphins come from the destructive wakes off those more-engines-than-brains boats, but anyway.

A group of four dolphins rode with us for a long time, and the creamy undersides of their bellies were visible in the water as they rolled onto their sides to look up at us (I imagined). We waved and said "Hello!" each time, just in case. And for the first time ever I saw a wild dolphin leap completely out of the air and land with a slash! No photo, sorry. But here, right, are two adventuresome and patient fellows who stayed with us for a long time.

Estero Bay Moorings

We hove into the Bay, hoping to score a nice mooring ball close to the dinghy dock, but no luck. The west (preferred) mooring field was full. Undeterred, we contacted Little Mick.

Dressed for a dinghy ride Our friends Gary and Mickey on Little Mick had decided to take a "vacation" from the moorings and go anchor out for a few days. Their mooring ball sat here, clearly claimed and marked with their boat's buoys, in a perfect location, all alone. We promised them we'd keep it warm and barnacle-free, and with their approval we snugged right up, brought the pennant and the buoys aboard in one big soggy lump and dropped the whole mess over our bit. Safe and sound.

But it's COLD here! People putter past us on their way to shore, huddled for warmth in their dinghies - one guy wore enough insulated clothing to enable him to drive an Iditarod dog sled team in relative comfort.

I wish that I, too, possessed insulated Gore-tex overalls. I'd settle for Carharts and some big garbage bags with holes cut out for head and arms.

Instead, I settled for heating up the entire boat: I decided to make cookies.

Conceding that perhaps Pelican Bay was not itself responsible for the burned cookies last week, I decided to try again. But this time, instead of wasting my time and ingredients using the marine grade iron forge, I heated our non-stick skillet and cooked up little chocolate-chip-cookie pancakes. It worked! This can be either good or bad, depending whether one is craving a trimmer body or comfort food. Today, it's all about the comfort food.

More Stats

One pair of heavy socks
+ fleece-lined canvas pants
+ one long-sleeved cotton shirt
+ one long-sleeve medium-weight polypro zip-neck
+ one fleece jacket
+ one lined windbreaker
+ one silk neck scarf
+ one woven headband
= indoor lounge wear.

It's the Friday-casual work ensemble.

Sing a song while sitting at a red light

While we had been landlocked at la Marina I learned to enjoy the four-mile golf course loop walk with a new treat: tunes! Sometimes I was so inspired I had to make an effort to not dance down the sidewalk, because I didn't want to make a spectacle of myself. For the same reason I had to work REALLY hard to not sing along.

Guitar Face "But why?" you ask.

Many years ago I learned what it sounds like when someone, unable to hear themselves due to headphones or earplugs, sings along. The result is a meandering drone, much like an out-of-tune bagpipe - even if the singer can carry a tune under normal circumstances.

The listener would stand outside the door of - oh, say, his or her brother's bedroom (hypothetically, of course) ready to call 911 (or the ASPCA) just in case there really is a rhino dying of consumption in the room. What IS that amazing sound? "Stairway to Heaven. Duh!"

Oh. Cool.

So the other night it was too windy and rough to read or Work or watch the Olympics. So I plugged in the tunes and listened while I ran through Fran M.'s yoga routine. And I became Jonny Lang's most enthusiastic backup singer. Check out Lie to Me and you'll know what I mean. Poor Rick. Sometimes, you just gotta sing.

Blessing of the Fleet

It was SO very nice of Gary and Mickey to let us use their mooring while they were away. On Saturday they alerted us to their eminent return and so we fired up Sea Gator and motored up the bay to pick up the nearest available mooring, which turned out to be back in the east 40. From here it is nearly a 20 minute dinghy ride to the dock.

Double E Surprisingly, this is the same amount of time it takes to drive from our house to Hoback Junction, plus waves and cold. By now, doing our laundry would be a public service - but I'm afraid I have to postpone it yet again because I just don't want to feel that kind of cold and wet today.

My point is, Gary and Mickey came back in time for the blessing of the shrimp fleet. From their boat they dinghied across to the adjacent San Carlos Island and tied up near the fleet. Meanwhile Rick and I opted to take Bump Head as far as our customary dinghy dock then enjoy a long hike up and over the bridge (serious elevation gain, folks!) and a mile or so to the festival. It was great fun! We enjoyed music and entertainments, and ate delicately fried shrimp and fish.

Shrimp fleet Then we strolled past the shrimp fleet. We can see it, of course, from our boat in the harbor (see the fleet in travelogue Ft. Myers Beach) but walking past the rafted (that is, lashed to each other side-by-side) boats was another experience. The long dock was narrow, rickety and undulating - it reminded me of scenes in "Pirates of the Carribean", only it was more weathered and less romantic.

Even resting in the mud at low tide the boats seemed very large. Many were reverting to rusting hulks as they sat, and it was a sad sight. But others were obviously alive and in use. We could see personal belongings and blankets spilling out of some of the quarters through open doors, and as we walked along a man rode up on his bicycle, clunk clunk clunk along the boards, and lofted his ten-speed aboard one of the boats.

Shrimp nets We paid our $2 apiece to tour a working shrimp boat. The steel-hulled Double E was the nicest, prettiest, cleanest working shrimp boat I've ever seen (out of a total of just the one). A salty fellow, who looked as though he freely enjoyed his fried shrimps, gave our little group the run-down:

This 120' boat is typical in operating with a crew of only three: one to pilot and two to operate the booms. A minimal crew is an advantage when time comes to split the share among them. Their shrimping grounds are mostly near the Tortugas, and once there the boats sit at anchor during the day while the crew and the shrimps are all asleep, then they lower the booms and trawl at night when the shrimp have emerged from the sand and are innocently scuttling about the bottom. When the crew bring up a net-full of shrimp they immediately clean, sort and bag them and put the bags into storage at -20.

When the deep freeze is full they return to shore to unload. Such a boat can stay out for a month at a time, and the ship's owner would have them head out again the very next day if he could.

Aboard the Double E We asked why the fleet is mostly sitting idle during this, shrimp season? Answer: they can't bring in enough money to pay for the fuel. Don't they have to pay off the boats? Nope, he said most of them are paid for. Including his. Our tour guide owns and operates the nearby Deesie, the fiberglass-hulled blue boat across the fairway. In our photo, right, he gazes at it as he tells the tale. He takes it north for swordfish season in the summer, and claims to have ridden out Junger's "Perfect Storm" aboard.

Why can't they make a living if there is no shortage of shrimp? Because they are undersold by shrimps from Asia. He suggested we carefully read package labels in the supermarket: some shrimp labels say they are fresh from the "Bay" but you have to pay attention that it's not a bay off the China Sea.

And indeed, soon thereafter when we wandered into the adjacent Fresh Fish Market, right there on the dock, the only locally caught fish seemed to be the shrimp. Everything else was packaged and imported: the Louisiana crayfish were the nearest import, and there were packaged catfish from as far away as Brazil. It makes no sense to me.

Bishop and clergy bless the fleet Meanwhile the second crewman, tasked with giving us all a tour of the pilot house, was anxious to hurry us out. "I don't wanna miss my boat bein' blessed," he explained as he shoo'ed us down the stairs. "It cain't hurt me none." True, so Rick and I went, too.

Outside, a crowd had gathered before a tent where clergymen and -women representing six denominations had come to speak. A fancy yacht cruised the channel in the background, and somebody commented "He's already been blessed."

There was much hymn-singing, including the classic sailor's hymn quoted above, and brief remarks recalling St. Peter's exploits as a fisherman and quoting Jesus: "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men." And then the Bishop and clergy made a brave processional up and down the rickety planks and sprinkled holy water upon all of the boats and upon the sailors who asked.

Left, the Rt. Reverend Dabney Smith leads the processional. His purple sash was held on with an office clip, which I liked.

Canada vs. America: The Decisive Hockey Game

Visiting the fleet was fun, but it was getting chilly and the sun was thinking about setting.

America-Canada hockey Rick and I continued down the island to Salty Sam's marina and its boisterous sports bar The Big Game. We swung open the door and holy cow! The blast of noise just about knocked us off our feet. We could barely make our eyeballs stop vibrating long enough to locate Gary and Mickey and their friends; we staggered over to their table and fell to our seats in a daze.

There was a lively contingent of sports-loving Canadian sailors gathered in front of a half-dozen large TVs mounted on the wall, and the rest of the room was filled with lively boisterous Americans. There was a lot of flag-waving, and some humorous hats which I doubt the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Well, if you saw the final hockey game of the 2010 Winter Olympics you can imagine the racket! The opposing groups became alternately more lively or loudly disgrunted as fortune favored one team over another. Eventually I was drinking my diet Coke through a straw with my hands pressed over my ears, and I could still hear every screech.

Hocky is exciting to watch even if you don't care about the sport because there is no down time. Twenty minutes of play meant twenty minutes of continuous action, and that was good. When the Canadians beat the Americans in overtime to win their country Gold, our table agreed that that was fine, both teams had worked and worked and worked, and Silver accessorizes more easily anyway.

Unfortunately, all the audio overload somehow disconnected my inner ears and I battled a bout of vertigo right there at the table while eating my pizza, but eventually I recovered and we were able to leave safely. Gary and Mickey kindly offered us a ride in their dinghy but we knew the walk would help, and it did. Soon we were home and telling Goldie all about the game (she didn't care).

Exercise is Good for Us

One good thing about being out here in the back 40: Here Sea Gator is anchored just across the channel from a semi-derelict canal, which leads directly to shore behind the semi-derelict Topps Grocery Store. Which is just two doors down from a familiar room which, every Tuesday morning, is filled with nearly two dozen compassionate women. When I walked in Maureen called out "I know you!" and I was greeted with hugs and cheek taps all around. We spent an hour discussing common problems and common solutions. Hallelujia.

Zumba ad Later that night Rick dinghied me back to the alley and I walked two doors in the other direction to the Bay Oaks Recreation Center, and there enjoyed an excellent ZUMBA class! In the parking lot on the way in I met Chris, who introduced me to the layout of the class, slipped me the secret truth about the age of our instructor, introduced me to her friend, and told me all about where they were from. When I shared my story, Chris exclaimed "What can you do when you're on a boat and it's so cold and windy and stormy?" I answered, "Complain."

When class was over Rick came back in Bump Head, and we had a VERY rough ride out to Sea Gator. It was dark; the wind was howling, the waves were thrashing, we were soaked in short order. This Bay is subject to fierce tidal currents, which often exert a more powerful force on boats than does the wind; when the current is running counter to the wind it's a real washing machine. Tuesday night both wind and tide were powerful, but the current was winning: Sea Gator's stern was facing the wind. Rick brought Bump Head to the swim platform which was fully exposed to the wind and waves. Bump Head hit the platform and one of the cat protection devices snapped off and was seen no more. We both reached to grab the platform and Bump Head nearly tipped as the wind hit his bottom.

Well, we made it safely aboard, and Sea Gator bucked and spun on her mooring as wind and current battled. Several hours later the tide hit its low and Sea Gator abruptly spun bow-to the wind, and set calmly. The wind still screamed, but the boat's motion into the wind was as it should be. Whew!

GOldie snoozes This afternoon, again the wind is picking up and the tide is shifting, and so we're staying aboard. Hang on, buckaroos!

Exercise is Good for Goldie

No, it's not really. She hates it. She wants to loll in the sun and, if that's not possible, she wants to burrow her paws and nose someplace warm, like between Rick's knees.

We hope you, too, are safe and warm. Watch out for that ice and keep all four tires, four paws, and two feet firmly on the ground.

Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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