Bahamas Adventure II

Once you start trailering a sailboat to South Florida to spend your summers, you lose perspective.  For example, I cannot imagine spending one free moment of our summer vacation doing anything except heading toward South Florida, sailing all around Key West and the Bahamas, or reluctantly headed back home.  Why, do you ask, do I consider this a loss of perspective?  Because what some people might call an ordeal, is to us an adventure.

Consider our first trip, when we nearly capsized the boat into the Everglades because of a broken trailer axle.  Couple this with losing the motor in our recently purchased (then) Jeep Wagoneer. What fool would want to try that again? That would be me.  Trip two, and another trailer near-catastrophe when we lost a wheel near Punta Gorda, Florida.  Some folks might think this was a sign from above.  Well, it was a sign to us to sink $500 into putting a second axle on the trailer and about $5000 into an engine and transmission for the vehicle we call “The Valdez.”  I am ecstatic to announce that on our last trip, we experienced no trailer problems.  The Jeep ran fine, right up to the moment it submerged in the beautiful, sparkling waters of Biscayne Bay. Read on.

Crystal River Manatee Experience

Being a man of eclectic tastes when planning vacations, I announced that we would be visiting Crystal River, Florida, home of the summer manatees.  After doing some research on the internet, I settled on a company called American Pro Diving Center. The guy there explained that in the summer, most of the manatees leave the rivers and go out along the coast.  They all somehow know to come back in the winter.

In the Crystal River, unlike other central Florida rivers, all the manatees do not leave.  Many stay just to keep dive centers in business.  They probably receive kickbacks in heads of lettuce to hang out during the summer.  Manatees are not just big business; they are the main attraction and motif of the cities of Homosassa and Crystal River, Florida.  So away we went, boat in tow.

We cruised into Homosassa just in time to check in at our hotel and knock the road dust off of us.  We went out to eat at the Marguerita Grill, which was West Florida's most unusual restaurant.  I’m not kidding; they had the best stuffed grouper on terra firma.  Not only that, but they had an Elvis impersonator.  No joke, grouper and Elvis.  When we returned to the motel, an outdoor wedding by the pool was just beginning.  I thought we were stuck in white trash hell.  We wanted to go swim in the pool, but Bubba and Bobby Sue were tying the knot and tying up pool area.  I could have sworn they were conducting a Billy Ray Cyrus look-a-like wedding theme.

The next morning brought a glorious sunrise.  At least that is what the brochures said was going to happen.  We did not see it, but we did manage to make it to the dive shop and get our wetsuits.  A short three-minute ride to the marina and the group of happy snorkelers were off into the crystal clear waters of Crystal River.  OK, that is a marketing ploy, if I ever heard one.  The water was actually kind of green with about three feet of visibility.  Oh well, there we were anyway, all twelve of us loaded up on a manatee-encounter pontoon boat.

We must have motored for thirty seconds out of the marina before we saw the first manatee.  I must admit it was very exciting.  Our guide was the first in the water and I was next.  I have never been accused of being bashful.  There were a couple of small manatees hanging out around this sign that said something like, “Manatee Zone.” Truth in advertising if I have ever heard it.  Cool!

After frolicking with the manatee, I swam over to Kelly, who was hanging out near the pack of people.  We were kind of suspended in the water (the wetsuits were very buoyant), when she said, “Did you just bump me?”  About that time, a medium-sized sea cow just came right up between us.  They do that, often scaring the you-know-what out of you.  The trick is to just lay there on top of the water and they come right up to you. Kelly was a regular manatee magnet, drawing the critters to her frequently.

We played with manatees for a couple of hours and then loaded up to go to a cave and a spring.  The divers dove and we snorkelers snorkeled.  It was a grand time.  We met a couple from England who were doing the Florida thing, and seemed to like it just fine.  I would to if I had to live with their weather.

All good things come to an end, and we left Crystal River very satisfied with our stay and with the manatee encounter.  We highly recommend it to anyone.  We are going back in the winter when all the manatees are back home and the water is clearer (right, like I am going to fall for that).

Key West – Déjà Vu all over again  

We drove from Crystal River to Homestead and stayed at the Homestead Air Reserve Base.  They have excellent facilities, if you are in the military. Rooms are not always available, but when they are, the price is right.  The following morning saw us headed south on US 1, which only could lead to Key West.

We stopped at the West Marine in Key Largo.  Come to think of it, we ALWAYS stop at the West Marine in Key Largo to get rid of all that extra money that seems to be cluttering up my wallet.  There must be some sort of magnetic attraction that causes an otherwise mechanically sound vehicle to veer wildly into a parking lot not made for trucks pulling trailers and run the obstacle course of cars until parked in front of the big blue “W” sign occurs.

Eleven hundred dollars later, we strapped a new inflatable dinghy, henceforth known as “Dash Rip Rock,” to the top of The Valdez. This is actually our third dinghy named Dash Rip Rock.  The name is catchy and one that only a Beverly Hillbillies fan could appreciate.

The drive was fantastic.  Beautiful.  Stunning.  I do not know of all the adjectives to describe the drive from Key Largo to Key West.  I do know that anyone who flies into Key West has cheated him or herself out of the best part of the trip.  The forty-some odd bridges you cross over as you drive from key to key provide a breathtaking view of the most scenic part of Florida.  Islamorada and Marathon are almost paradise.  We hope to sail the keys from top to bottom one day, and see if the view is as nice from the water as from the land.  I will bet it is.

All good things come to an end, and we terminated our drive at the Fly Navy building at the Trumbo Annex of Naval Air Facility Key West.  We stayed overnight and launched the boat the next day at the Sigbee Annex marina.  We have lots of memories from this place.  From two previous sailing trips to Key West, we used Sigbee Marina and the facilities on Sigbee Annex. 

We were having a jib bag and tiller cover fabricated for us by Sail Covers and More.  They shipped it to us, general delivery, in Key West.  We received many compliments for our various blue covers on various things on deck.  I was able to snap a photo of a Key West fighting chicken next to the Valdez in the post office parking lot.  Actually, he was a rooster, but there were many chickens around.  Key West chickens are an integral part of the Key West experience. They roam the streets, virtually unafraid of people.  It is not uncommon for traffic to stop both ways while a mamma chicken and a bunch of chicks to cross the street. They are protected by law, and add to the island flavor.

We anchored in OUR favorite anchorage, which is about one-half mile off of the Naval Facility.  The water is about six to eight feet deep, and actually has good holding.  The wind stayed pretty constant out of the east at about five to eight knots and the seas only had a slight chop.  This is the best anchorage in Key West, and very few boats use it.  I hope it remains that way.

Actually, there was one other boat, a trawler, out there with us.  We see this family each year when we are in the Keys.  They spend half the year in Key West, and the other half of the year in the Bahamas.  What a life.  The guy told me that they had placed an order for another trawler (a 53’ boat, I think), and it should be in by Christmas.  I hope we see them there next summer.

We spent our days doing not much in Key West.  We swam a lot and snorkeled.  I regret that this trip was the first time dolphins did not come see us at our anchorage.  We took the new dinghy into the marina each day, and went to shower and go into town.  As small of an island as Cayo Hueso is, there is an enormous amount of things to do there.  We have to pace ourselves, so there are other things to see during the next trip.  We did climb the tower at the Wrecking Museum and blow the conch horn, though.

Our favorite happy hour spot is at Turtle Kraals.  Turtle Kraals used to be a sea turtle processing facility, back during the early 1900’s.  Now it is an excellent restaurant, bar and general hangout area.  I enjoy the oysters quite well, and mi esposa Kelly has her favorite happy hour dishes.  We usually sit on the porch overhanging the water and watch the marine life.  A small tarpon was a regular, and could really destroy a fried shrimp tail.  A small nurse shark patrolled the edge, as well as a small barracuda.  Hard to beat this place.

Other local eating establishments we visited include Chicharrones, The Old Customs House, Key West Diner, and of course, Margaritaville.  The Cheeseburgers in Paradise are truly worth the visit.  One thing that I enjoyed was visiting Peppers of Key West.  They sell dozens of hot sauces, and have a salsa bar.  This is not for the faint of heart. You just pull the bar stool right up to the bar and the bartender lays out the different hot sauces!  No kidding.  You can bring your own beverages.  Only in Key West.

Watching the sun go down at Mallory Square is fun, but does not compare to a sundown off the stern of the boat.  We also watched a  barracuda that took up residence under our stern.  He was a pretty good-sized lad, and behaved himself properly. I must confess that we did not move the vessel from our anchorage.  I developed a pretty sharp case of gout (too much good eating), and was WIA.  We had to hole up in the Navy hotel for a few nights, but then we decided to bail out and try our luck in the Bahamas. Goodbye Key West!  See you in December.

Gulf Stream II – The Stories Continue

The trip to Homestead Bayfront Park was relatively uneventful. We put in and got our vessel ready to go. This time, we chose a different creek to get out of Biscayne Bay.  After motoring for a couple of hours, we broke free of the bay and entered the Atlantic.  Nothing compares to sailing out in the ocean, or at least nothing I have tried in a sailboat.  Well, almost nothing, but you get my drift. We pointed the Wild Hair east and officially left Florida at about 11:00 in the morning. 

Everything was working just fine.  The motor had us clipping along at about 5 knots. All the instrumentation was lit up like Mr. Sulu’s console.  The pods of dolphins were visiting us every hour or so.  Life was good.  We did, however, remember that the last trip to the Bahamas started much like this.  It ended in weathering five thunderstorms and heavy seas.  We had our fingers crossed.

 I had hoped for a nice, steady 15-knot southerly wind to sail on a broad reach to Bimini.  I got an easterly right in our face.  I was not opposed to motoring, but I really was looking forward to sailing across.  Oh well, I thought.  The return trip should be a downhill run.  Right.  And the tooth fairy will canoe beside us.

Moving away from the coast of Miami is always fun.  There are so many boats; you really have a lot to look at.  In fact, you had better be looking out to avert a collision. When we first caught this madness called sailing fever, I never could have imagined that two vessels could actually crash into each other.  Later that night, we would learn from a near-collision.  Later that trip, we almost had ANOTHER one  Read on.

The depth finder told the story as the water gradually turned from the pale greenish-blue to that deep, dark sapphire blue of deep water.  The depth finder gave up the fight at 600 feet, and retired for the next ten hours.  The GPS continued to click away the knots, and the autotiller was working like a champ.  My goodness, how did Magellan pull off that stunt without electronics?

For those of you who have already done the math, I confess.  Last year I swore I would not do a crossing where we made landfall at night again.  Here we go again.  But really, this time is different!  “I know the approach and the channel,” I told myself.  I had made not one, but two night entrances into the Port of Bimini. I hope I have it out of my system for next year.  Unless you really know Bimini waters, arrive during the day.  Period.

But back to the crossing.  Night was quickly catching up with us and setting in.  We were about three hours out when the rains came.  We did not get the really strong winds and mind-numbing lightning, but we got a little wet.  It definitely caused a certain level of discomfort.  But the near collision is what you want to hear about, is it not?

We were about an hour and a half out of Bimini and the bottom had dropped out of the clouds.  It was dark, wet and generally miserable.  We were booking along as fast as the Evinrude 8 hp could carry us, but there really is not much you can do.  We had already been traveling for almost twelve hours, and our butts had petrified, pickled and generally refused to provide comfort any more. 

At times like this, you tend to just hunker down and bull on through the squall.  I thought I caught a glimpse something off the port beam and asked Kelly to hand me the flashlight.  When I hit the light, I almost lost a load.  There was a 35-foot sportfisherman angling in toward us about forty yards away.  We were on a collision course and had about five seconds until it happened!  No joke, I thought my heart had stopped. 

I yanked the autotiller off and pulled the tiller hard to me, sending the Wild Hair into a sharp starboard turn.  After I collected my senses, and figured out we were not going to die, I tried to find the other boat.  The fool had eased up on his collision course, and was edging up next to us.

He was hollering to go to channel 68 VHF.  I did, and he said that he had lost all of his navigation lights on the crossing.  Duh!  He saw our mast light and was coming up to us to ask us to turn on our radio.  After the heart rate came back down below 200 beats per minute, we got settled in on our heading again.

This guy was lost and wanted to follow us in.  The first plan of action was to tell him to get off our beam at least one hundred yards.  I told him that we had been swept north of Bimini and needed to head a little south to get the channel entrance.  He insisted that we were south of Bimini and needed to go a little north.  I still had my waypoints in the GPS from last year, and I KNEW I was right. 

Well, this guy now started jabbering about us hitting a rock that was between us and Bimini.  That rock had to be 3,000 feet tall or so to be sticking out of the Gulf Stream.  I tried to reason with him, but the radio contact was iffy at best.  Time for the next surprise – the GPS stopped working!  No joke, the satellites all decided to take a break.  We started (both boats) getting error messages because of lack of coverage. 

The lesson here is this – do not rely on GPS to navigate in the Bahamas, especially at night.  They can fail you.  They failed us when we needed them most.  We kept having to turn it off and then back on.  An hour and a half later, we found the channel markers and slowly motored in to the Port of Bimini.  We do not know where the sportfisherman ended up.  He left us in search of where he thought his Bimini was.  We found ours.

Overall, the crossing was a good one, compared to the previous one.  We only had about two hours of rain, and the seas were never more than three or four feet.  We felt fortunate. Life was good.

Bimini – A Well-Kept Secret

We motored up to seawall of the Bimini Big Game Club, and settled in for a well-deserved night of sleep.  We would wake up to a crisp Bahamian morning, settle up with the dockmaster, and clear customs.  Good plan, right? About thirty minutes after turning in, there was a loud banging on our boat. 

Some security guy was yelling at us that we had not paid and we were trying to sneak in without paying.  I am here to tell you, this did not go over well with me, but I handled myself most diplomatically.  I told the idiot with the stick that last year, this is how it worked. I would handle it in the morning.  “Well,” he informed me, “there are new owners and they do things differently.”  I think the new owners of the best marina in Bimini should talk to their security people about being horses’ butts to guests.

I ambled in and paid our exorbitant fee, after unsuccessfully trying to haggle.  The seawall, I pointed out, is not the same as a slip.  It should be cheaper.  And besides, it is after midnight.  I should only be charged for half a day’s stay.  No dice.

We cleared the following morning and walked around to survey the changes.  They are paving the main drag, which is much needed.  Everything else is the same. I hope it stays the same for fifty years.  Why not?  It certainly has not changed too much over the last fifty.

Conch fritters were the order of the day at C.J.’s Deli.  If you visit Bimini, you need to go to C.J.’s. They have excellent food at reasonable prices.  It is probably my favorite afternoon place to chow down.  It is very, very local.  Actually, everything in Bimini is very local-ish.  That is what we like about this island – it is not pretentious and touristy. The best restaurant on the island for a big, nice meal is probably the Red Lion. They had excellent, but pricey food.

We made friends on our previous trip with a family there, and took the opportunity to visit them again.  We delivered a computer to their children, and did that ever make them happy.  I learned that they stayed up most of the night playing computer games.  The people of Bimini are the nicest bunch of folks you would ever want to meet, and meeting people makes the vacation even more fulfilling. You can also pick up island crafts from their straw market, as well as the famous Bimini Bread.  We had both banana and coconut bread.

We enjoyed numerous day sails in and around Bimini. Our boat normally maxes out at about six knots, but we were sailing on a blistering beam reach at seven knots on the Great Bahama Bank.  This was a most excellent day, I can assure you! I have never been able to get this kind of speed out of our Mac 25.  Sailing in the Bahamas is so much more fun than sailing around the Florida coast.

We anchored in the lee of the island, and enjoyed a couple of days of swimming and doing not much.  We were in shell heaven.  The water was crystal clear and just perfect. We even had a pufferfish living underneath the boat.  I did not tire of messing with him, and he was a good sport about it.

One evening, we were settling in to get some sleep, and I heard what sounded like another boat up next to ours.  I fumbled outside, and sure enough, there was a small sportfisherman with two young guys in it.  They said that they lost their anchor after fouling it, and had the frayed rope to prove it.  We let them tie up to our boat and swing from our stern that night.  I hope they paid back the good deed to someone else down the road. I know we had someone return our good deed later on.

The next day, we started to sail down to Gun Key.  The wind was almost nil, and we were towing our inflatable.  We were clipping along at less than one knot, not really too worried about making time (thank goodness). Kelly was laying down on her side of the cockpit (the starboard side) and I was intently studying one of our cruising guides and charts.

All of a sudden, I hear this guy start yelling.  I looked up, and peered around the big 150 genoa, and lo and behold, there it was – an anchored sportfisherman!  We were probably fifty yards from it and approaching at a snail’s pace.  The guy acted like we were bearing down on them like the Titanic on an iceberg.

OK, I must admit, we would have probably have drifted right on into his boat.  At first, I thought, this will not make the after-trip account on the website. I decided later that you have to tell the bad with the good.  In this case the bad was the language between Captain Loudmouth and me.

He had his entire family there – wife, kids, etc.  I am surprised granny and the dog were not there.  Despite this, he hurled broadsides of profanity at us, demanding to know what we thought we were doing.  I cut loose with my own broadside of retorts, not to be outdone by some yuppie fool with not enough sense to leave me alone.  I had to make a decision; do we escape, or prepare a boarding party?  Hmmm.  I finally asked him if a maritime disaster had been averted.  He seemed confused by the question, and we escaped into the horizon at a blistering one knot per hour. Sir Francis Drake would have been proud.

The lesson here is, of course, keep a watch at all times.  The fact that we were moving at a snail’s pace and had not seen many boats around lulled me into a false sense of security.  If we were making six knots, I would have been working hard to keep an eye out.  I will not make that mistake again. Collision number two of this trip was averted.

We motored back into the port and took an anchorage near the Big Game Club.  We met this really interesting couple who motored their dinghy over to our boat.  They bought a ketch in the forty-foot range, but they used to have a Mac 25, just like ours.  They had been sailing the Caribbean for three years, and were making their way back to the U.S.A., although somewhat reluctantly.  They were just like most of the cruisers we meet – kind, gracious and very good company.  I hope we run up on them in another port some other time.  If not, that’s OK, because we won’t forget them.

If you consider coastal and bluewater cruising, you will meet some of the best people in the world.  The people we meet continue to make all of our trips fulfilling and worthwhile.  We only see one couple regularly, but who knows?  Maybe the next trip we will run up on others we have met.  Cruisers are the best people on earth.  I have made this statement before, and I stand by it.

The Return Crossing – It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This!

We left early in the morning, when the Bimini roosters were just beginning to crow.  OK, maybe Bimini did not have roosters, but if they did, they would have been vocal about the hour we left.  We beat the fishing boats out.

We headed west and hammered down, pushing that steady six knots and hoping for the best.  The best is just what we got.  The mighty Gulf Stream was perfect.   The fickle lady was calm as a pond.  We were absolutely astounded.  I mean there was barely a ripple on the stream.  It was TOO perfect.

It was so perfect, that I started thinking, “OK, what’s the catch?  Waterspout up there somewhere? Submarine going to surface under us?  What?”  There was no catch.  Well, there was one catch – the wind.  You may recall that I was looking forward to a downhill run on a strong easterly.  The famous Giles luck regarding wind held true. The wind was directly from the west and dead in our face.  Oh well, that what the motor is for.

We saw many large commercial ships and a few cruise ships.  We did see one of the new Windjammer sailing cruise ships.  The ship and sails looked enormous in the distance. I would like to know how he was sailing into a headwind.  Methinks he might have had the sails up for show and the motor covertly running.

I first began to see the Miami skyline at 28 miles out.  That is half way to Bimini.  It is a little comforting, but deceiving.  You think you are closer than you are to Florida, and you are going to be there soon.  I trusted my GPS to tell me how long the remainder of the trip was.  The lighthouse at Cape Florida was a welcome site, for it marked the entrance into Biscayne Bay.  On the port side of the boat, we could see the lone houses of Stiltsville.  For those in the dark about Stiltsville, these are houses on stilts out in Biscayne Bay.  They are not attached to land in any way.  They just sit out there like sentinels guarding the entrance to Biscayne Bay.

We made Miami before dark, and headed for our favorite back-in-the-U.S.A. Miami anchorage, No-Name Harbor.  We met this really neat couple there, and they invited us over to their boat.  They had a forty-two foot ketch, and were coastal sailing for a few weeks.  They live on board the boat up at Ft. Lauderdale, but they were on an excursion.


We drank beer, ate pistachios and told stories until late in the night.  Just another of many encounters with cruising people.  I gave them my card and told them we hoped to hear from them.  Again, if you are thinking about cruising, you will meet some of the most interesting people at the most interesting places.

We rose early to the sound of the Miami roosters crowing (another lie) and struck out across Biscayne Bay.  A pod of dolphins broke through the glass-smooth water nearby. We spent a couple of hours spotting rays, fish and other mentionables in the bay.  Biscayne Bay is REAL big, and takes a while to transit from north to south. 

We arrived at Homestead Bayfront Park, and decided to put the boat up in a slip for the evening.  We were exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to go to the motel at Homestead Air Reserve Base and collapse.  We got a slip, loaded up all the dirty clothes (a lot) and clean clothes (just a few) and headed on in to the inn.  Another trip complete, and we felt pretty good about ourselves.

The Sinking of the Valdez – a Maritime Tragedy

The next morning, we slowly woke up, sore and tired from the trip.  Why do I always feel so tired and sore after a crossing?  It was the Fourth of July, and we intended to pull that sailboat out and enjoy a few days in beautiful Miami.

I wanted to see South Beach (never seen it), Monkey Jungle (never seen it) and other points of interest.  Want to make the gods of fate laugh?  Just make definite plans.  We got to the boat early and motored it to the seawall at the park.  With the help of a few local non-English speaking amigos, we lowered the mast and secured everything in record time. Life was good.

First let me set the stage for the events that were soon to take place.  Homestead Bayfront Park is huge.  It has eight or ten ramps.  The parking lot could probably accommodate two hundred trucks and trailers.  It was the Fourth of July and everyone in Miami has to get out on the water then.  In short, it was the worst sort of chaos – that is holiday chaos at low tide. Low tide is important to remember.

The boat being all tied down, strapped down, and ready to travel, I went to get the Valdez and backed her in.  It takes longer to load a sailboat than a regular power boat.  This is not lost on all the anal orifices, I mean kind Miamians, who charge the boat ramps at high rates of speed. They are very vocal about taking too long.

This being the case, I endeavored to get the trailer in the water, put on the emergency brakes, and hustle to the boat.  For our boat, if the bunks are under water, the boat will load properly.  That is what you look for – back it until the bunks are submerged.  Works every time.  I have done it a couple of dozen times.

I have not done it at low tide in Biscayne Bay.

The back wheels were perhaps in six inches of water.  The tires were perhaps two feet from dry land.  No big deal, right?  I got in the boat and drove it up on the trailer.  It did not go up far enough.  I backed it off and did it again, this time driving all the way up on the trailer. Victory was mine!

And then it happened.

The Valdez began to slide backwards into the water.  Once it started, it could not be stopped.  I was dumbfounded.  I yelled for Kelly to stay back.  I was really surprised at the ability of a Jeep Wagonner to float.  Even with the window open, it floated for about ninety seconds.  Then it went down, like the Chevrolet commercial says, “like a rock.”

My emotions were swirling around like mobile homes in an Alabama tornado.  I could not do anything but just watch it go down.  Of course, the boat floated right off.  I quickly tied it off and hopped on the dock to survey the situation.  By this time, I had a dozen or more “helpful” people who were also surveying the situation. My keen, analytical mind and sage sense of judgment escaped me as I searched for a quick solution to the problem.  Like Rainman, I watched the contents of the Valdez float out - helpless a I could be.. And then it was over.  The only evidence of a submerged vehicle was the inflatable strapped to the frame on top of the truck.  The dinghy as actually at water-level.

It is fortunate that the trailer was at a slight angle.  As the Jeep slid backward, the trailer jackknifed.  If that had not occurred, then the Jeep would have floated right out into the channel and into seriously deep water.  Lucked out there!

My first thought was to “pull that thing right out of there.”  I actually had a couple of bystanders ready to help.  I took the chain rode off the anchor and got a 200’ line out of the boat.  A guy named Greg Jay, who turned out to be a guardian angel and great American, backed his truck up to the ramp, and we conferred.  I was going to dive down and hook that sucker up, and then we were going to snatch it out of there. 

First I dove down to retrieve my fanny pack. In it were both of our driver’s licenses, both military ID’s, both passports, my ATM card, credit cards, the works.  I opened the driver’s door, and received a surreal vision.  There were playing cards floating everywhere.  It looked like a scene in a Stephen King movie.  Very weird.  I thought, “What are all these cards doing here?”

I poked around the submerged vehicle, but could not locate the missing fanny pack.  I decided to wait until we pulled it out, and went to hook up the chain and rope to the frame.  After looping the chain around the front leaf springs and getting a good knot on a double-looped rope, we were ready.  Well, I thought we were ready.  By this time, we had drawn the interest of about fifty locals with nothing better to do and two police who were there as general security. 

The male police could have cared less what we tried, but the female was dead set against us pulling it out.  She was kind enough to call a tow company, though.  While we waited, the park manager came over and explained that this happens sometimes five times a week.  In fact, at another nearby park called Black Point, it is worse.

While we waited for the tow truck to arrive, about three ramps down, a bunch of people started yelling.  A truck was sliding into the water, just like ours.  They had a person behind the wheel to jam on the front brakes.  It held, with the truck only partly in the water.  They got a park truck to pull it out.  These ramps are unreal.

They have this really slick algae that grows on the ramps.  You just cannot put your tires in the water.  Back home, we back as far down into the water as we want.  No problem. Do this in South Florida at the Biscayne Bay Parks and you will be swimming for your car also.  The problem is especially bad at low tide. 

Now call me silly, but I think they might post a REAL BIG sign explaining this to people. How about this for a headline, “We lost 250 vehicles here last year.  Do not put your wheels in the water.”  I think that might solve a lot of problems before they occur.

About forty minutes after our truck went in of the water, a commotion happened about eight ramps down.  A brand new Jeep Cherokee went in and submerged.  Bam, just like that, gone. Fortunately for him, there was a gargantuan wrecker was on the way, courtesy of the Giles family. 

The tow truck arrived.  It was big enough to pull the USS Enterprise out of the water, much less a modest Jeep Wagoneer.  Soon, a flatbed arrived to carry the soggy vehicles away.  The police said they would have to bring divers out to hook up the vehicle.  This is where I asserted myself.  By this time, a sergeant had arrived.  I told him I was going in to hook it up.  The lady police gave me the “Sir, I advise against this; we are not responsible” speech.  I bobbed my head politely and headed back to the briny brown. Did I mention I was an Army Engineer? Essayons! We don’t need no stinking divers. 

After wrapping the monstrous chain and hooking up the massive cable, the wrecker guy started pulling it out.  He actually slipped down in the water, getting soaked.  I missed this, but Kelly told me about it.  At the price I was going to pay, I had a right to some comedy relief.  I thought about asking him to slip again, so I could watch this time.

When the trailer got to the appropriate depth, the wrecker guy says, “Put the boat on the trailer.  We will pull it all out together.”  Now thinking he was the South Florida version of Mother Theresa, I did.  He yanked both Jeep and boat trailer right out of the water.  He then charged me separate recovery fees for the truck and boat.  Mother Theresa? Ma Barker is more like it.

As the Jeep was emerging out of the agua, I and about ten helpful bystanders were looking intently for my fanny pack to come squirting out of the window.  It did not.  We did not find it at all.  It was gone, gone, gone. Poseidon is probably wearing it now.

Then the fun started.  I knew Kelly’s purse was back in the room at the Air Reserve Base.  In it was an ATM card and a credit card.  I explained this to the wrecker guy.  No problem.  Greg, who offered to pull us out initially, said he would tow our boat to his house until we could arrange transportation.  Without him, we would have been screwed.

The wrecker guy said, “If he was going to take the boat, then you have to pay for the boat recovery fee.”  I said “You have the Jeep, so that is collateral for the boat tow fee.” “No dice.”  I explained that my wallet was gone, but I could get to him within an hour or so with cash.  Still, no can do.  Finally, my wife had the sense to volunteer to go back to the wrecker yard with the guy.  The wrecker guy brightened up and offered, “Hey, it’s OK.  We are having a big cookout!  She can eat with all of us.”  Now my wife will not even eat food from any establishment that sells gas.  I could just see her chowing down in the junkyard cookout.

After the flatbed had both trucks loaded (ours and the new Jeep that went into the drink), a speeding vehicle pulling a boat clipped the front bumper, tearing it almost off the wrecker.  The wrecker gets wrecked.  If that is not poetic justice, I do not know what is. I told you it was crazy on the Fourth of July south of Miami.

We took the Wild Hair over to the Jay Family’s house and dropped it.  Then they took me to the Air Base.  I did mention that I lost my military ID.  And it was the Fourth of July with heightened security.  No problem!  I just told those security police what happened and told them to call the Inn and confirm that I was staying there.

They did just that and then got an awful suspicious look.  The Inn said there was no such person there.  Now the supervisor was on the way and I was in a particularly foul mood. I finally got my point across and they let just me go to the Inn, which was next to the gate. 

The fools who checked us in the night before did not actually enter us in the computer.  We were staying there, but not checked in.  After grabbing dry clothes, the ATM card and a credit card, off I went. We made it to the towing yard, and recovered my wife, who had been treated quite well there.  I do not, however, think she participated in the junkyard BBQ.

The Valdez was totaled.  Plain and simple, if you submerge a vehicle in salt water, forget about it.  The people at the towing lot were very experienced with this type of accident.  They gave me all the paperwork I needed, and off we went, sans one 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.  The mood was grim, indeed.

Well, Greg took us by his house to put a few things in the boat.  He, his wife and family were so gracious to us.  They invited us to stay for a real cookout, and we did.  We had a ton of fun, and slowly began to laugh at ourselves.  We regained our sense of humor about the situation, made some good friends, and had a good time.  The next time we go to South Florida, I know one family that is going to be taken out to a big dinner on us.

I enjoyed talking to Greg’s father.  He used to sail on iron ore boats in the Great Lakes.  I, of course, talked to him about the Edmund Fitzgerald.  Obviously he was not on that boat, but he was on a similar one.  He had some great stories and I really enjoyed hearing them.

But the problem arises of how to get the Wild Hair back home.  We called a Penske moving truck rental place, and got a good price.  Even without a license, we got the truck and prepared to head home.  Forget South Beach, Monkey Jungle and any other place we might have wanted to see.  LaGrange, Georgia was looking real good by this time.

We pulled out and took Highway 27 all the way to almost Ocala.  This was a neat route.  It was reminiscent of the Florida I knew when I lived there in the seventies.  We got home, put the boat in and went home to collapse.  That night, as we laid around, exhausted from the trip home, lightning hit our well wire and fried it to the tune of $4,000.

Oh well, we dealt with that also.  We have since purchased a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited to pull the Wild Hair.  It has an air bag, so I guess it floats.  As far as the trailer goes, I intend to have the tongue extended five feet, to prevent any more shenanigans on the boat ramp. If you have read this far, you may think that we would be turned off by our ordeals, but that is the farthest from the truth. I look forward to seeing New Year’s Eve from the cockpit of the Wild Hair in Key West.

Kelly & I do not just amble on from day to day.  We LIVE our lives.  I saw this slogan once that said, “Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.”  I mentioned it in the first paragraph.  Excellent view of life!  As I creep up on forty, I think to myself that I don’t want to hit sixty and wish I would have done all these things we are doing now, and didn’t.  But I do not think that will happen.


Chip Giles
September, 2002


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