“Sea Tow, This Is Island Dancer”
I was working as a scriptwriter and producer for a custom film and video production agency in the early 1990s. I got to do some interesting things while there, like trying to direct our sandbagged camera operators as we captured the arrival of an EMS helicopter on the roof of a hospital, while hanging on for dear life so the prop wash didn’t blow us asunder!
On another occasion we acquired access to the Indianapolis 500 race track to film television commercials using two of the bright yellow Corvette pace cars for that year. I took advantage of the opportunity to drive a number of the laps needed during several video takes from a variety of camera angles. You gain a lot of respect for professional drivers as you pick up speed and the centrifugal force begins to edge the car toward the outside of the track!
Another commercial we produced was with an actor portraying Indiana Jones as he hacked his way through an artificial cornfield our prop crew assembled in our indoor studio. The studio was equipped with a cyclorama, or type of backdrop, that was a floor to ceiling concave wall with no apparent edges. The “cyc,” as we called it, created the illusion of infinity, and on this occasion was painted to look like the entrance to a large cave in a jungle setting.
The owner of the production company was a very talented man of my approximate age, named Tim, who had started his business as a commercial product photographer. He expanded into film, and later into video. He was very generous to his employees, and often surprised staff with a catered lunch brought to the studio during production days, and hosted frequent parties at his posh bachelor home.
He had divorced several years before in an apparently bitter battle that he said cost him over a million dollars to settle. He declared himself a bachelor, and vowed that he would never let himself be hurt like that again. He always had a woman friend, it seemed, but none of them were around very long. I always figured they were looking for a commitment, and not finding any, moved on.
On one occasion he called mid-week and invited me to bring my wife, swim gear, and Kaypro Word Processor to his cabin a few hours south where he was vacationing. He said he had gotten an idea for a potential project and wanted to get me started on drafting a script. He thought we could work on the initial draft and have some fun, too. So, Lea scheduled a couple days off work, packed a suitcase, and we jumped in the car and headed South to the great Smokey Mountains near Dandridge Tennessee. That area offers beautiful mountain retreats and the wonderful Lake Douglas.
When we arrived, we found that he had a girl friend that he had brought on vacation with him. It became obvious to us over the next couple of days that we had been invited to join them to give him a buffer from her. She kept asking, incessantly, if he loved her. When he continued ignore her questions and gave no response, she changed tactics and asked if he at least “adored” her. This went on and on as she tried to get at least some little endearment from him. Lea and I grew weary of it pretty quickly, so I know he already had. Lea and I never did see or hear of her again after that extended weekend.
We did get to go back to Tennessee a few times to that general location over the next few years. Each time Tim had a different girl friend with him, and we enjoyed meeting each of them and being friendly for a week or so. We did a lot of boating, skiing, tubing, and cruising to dockside dinners in the evening. We always enjoyed the dockside eateries, and experienced some surprisingly delicious snacks and meals during our explorations.
One day, while Tim and I were in his office reviewing the script for an upcoming film production, he said that he was thinking of doing something different for next year’s summer vacation. He had always wanted to traverse the Lake Okeechobee “shortcut” across Florida, but was hesitant to do it alone. He wondered if I would be interested in doing a couple of weeks on the water. He thought we could start out at Tampa, cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway, do some diving and spearfishing along the way, cut across Okeechobee, and down the Intracoastal on the other side to Fort Lauderdale.
That sounded fun to me, but I knew nothing about the Okeechobee waterway. I later researched it and discovered that it extends from the Atlantic Ocean at Stuart, Florida, through Lake Okeechobee, America’s second largest freshwater lake, (Lake Michigan is biggest), to the Gulf of Mexico at Pine Island Sound near Sanibel Island. The waterway has a series of 5 locks which help boats through the 154 mile long waterway.
The lake is shallow, though, averaging only about nine feet deep. On anything other than a perfect day, the winds can kick up a 3 foot choppy sea very quickly, making navigation challenging and uncomfortable. For that reason, rather than cutting directly across Lake Okeechobee, most recreational boaters take the more protected waterway, called the Rim Route, along the south edge.
Meanwhile, the Intracoastal Waterway extends along the coasts skirting behind islands, crossing natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, sounds and canals. It provides shelter for pleasure boaters from many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.
As we talked in more detail about the adventures we might encounter, the more excited we became. We fixed a date for the next spring, and began planning. Tim was going to take care of reserving a cabin cruiser months in advance, which committed us to those dates, and I was going to research activities and locations of interest.
Meanwhile, I took a couple of advanced scuba diving classes to get certified in Wreck Diving and Boat Diving, both of which had excellent content on safety practices for deep water dives. I also did quite a bit of online research into dockside restaurants, marinas and local entertainment venues along the planned route. Back then much of the research had to be done by U.S. Mail and motor club travel kits, as the Internet was not yet as prolific as it is today.
As the date approached, we started gathering items we would ship to the dock ahead of our flight date, so everything we needed would be ready to load on the boat. Among them were underwater spear guns, something I had no experience with at all, but Tim had purchased a pair for us to use “to catch dinner.” I took one of them home to assemble and test. Once assembled, it was time to try it out, just to get a feel for how it worked.
It was a metal gun that came with a pinky-finger-size single rubber band that you stretch from where it is attached at the tip of the gun all the way back to above the trigger area where the back end of the spear is located. There is enough resistance in the band that the gun has a butt at the rear that you can rest against your body as you use both hands to pull the rubber band back into the loading notch. It took quite a bit of effort to stretch it that far, and it was quite obvious that it would provide plenty of power to fire the spear.
I was going to test it in my home, and figured I had about thirty feet clearance through a doorway in front of me, and to the next wall. I was fairly sure that the spear wouldn’t reach the other side of the room I was in, but I wanted a little margin for error, so firing through the open doorway into the next room seemed like a good idea. The spear was attached to the spear gun by a braided cord so it could be retrieved after shooting, so I knew it couldn’t go any further than the cord length. I made sure everyone knew what I was about to do, and that no one could walk unexpectedly into the doorway I would be shooting through.
I stood with my back to the outside door and faced the open doorway to the next room. I spread my feet slightly, to steady myself, aimed at the center of the open doorway, and pulled the trigger. There was the silent launch of the spear, the slap of the rubber band recoiling against the front of the gun, a bit of a pull as the spear reached the end of the braided cord, and before I could blink an eye, the spear hurled straight back and stuck in the door behind me, right between my knees! Needless to say, I gained a lot of respect for the gun right then, and I was not going to be doing any more firing outside of the water!
We were planning two weeks of vacation with ten of those days being on the water, and two days of flying out and back. Finally, it was three days before our flight to Florida, and we had packed up half a dozen large storage tubs and shipping cartons with everything we thought we would need for the first several days . . . clothing, fishing, scuba and snorkeling equipment, food, books, and whatever else we wanted handy. We all went together to ship them ahead, so they would be waiting for us on the dock.
On the day of the flight, Lea and I had met with Tim and his girl friend, Jennifer, at the production studio and drove to the airport together from there. We knew Jennifer from one of the more recent vacations on Lake Douglas. She was a Type A corporate attorney who worked with one of the large medical research companies in town. She was pleasant enough, and she and Lea struck up conversation easily, since Lea was vice president of a large mortgage firm and could easily talk “corporate-speak.” We had vacationed together previously, so she was able to “let her hair down,” relax and enjoy herself around us.
Our flight into St. Petersburg-Clearwater International airport was uneventful, marred only by the late season chill, gray overcast skies and a very light mist of early morning rain when we arrived. We had to wear our jackets and sweaters with trousers the first couple of days, but, by the third day we were in short sleeves by mid-morning. You notice the sky in our photos were pretty constantly overcast, and it wasn’t until the third day that we saw any amount of Florida sunshine for any length of time.
Our plan was to spend the rest of that first afternoon in Tampa meeting the yacht club rental agent, Marti, with whom Tim had been making arrangements for several months. When Tim had first contacted the club months earlier, he learned that he had to have a Coast Guard approved Captain’s License to navigate in some of the waters we planned to travel. He also had to become a member of the yacht club to be able to rent a vessel for a trip as long as we had planned.
The boat rental agency was located on the North end of South Harbor Island, right under the Boulevard Bridge, across from the Tampa River Walk. So, we met there with Marti that afternoon, and Tim finished up details of registering his license with her. We each also had to provide personal identification for Coast Guard background checks, and the financial details for the rental had to be completed. Once the paperwork was finished, Marti took us out on the dock to the boat, named Island Dancer, so we could get a look at our home for the next few days.
I was, honestly, a little disappointed with the boat. It looked to me like a large inboard boat, similar to the ski boat Tim had at home. Just larger. I was expecting (hoping for?) something in the coastal cruiser class with a fly bridge up top and more creature comforts below, so when it gets too hot up on deck we could slip down into an air conditioned cabin. This one wasn’t equipped with air conditioning. But, I wasn’t financing the trip, so I had no room to complain. Tim and I climbed on board to get a look at the control panel while Marti pointed out the features; dual compasses, speedometer, tachometer, battery and fuel gauges.
Island Dancer had berths for four, a very small galley, tiny shower, and a head. It had large amounts of storage space under the berths, some overhead cabinets, a closet, and storage in every conceivable space that could be used to batten anything down. It reminded me of the interior of a camping trailer; just on the verge of too cramped, but sufficient if you’re willing to give up your normal level of comfort. I was a little concerned because Lea generally doesn’t much care for camping or roughing it. It was certainly going to be cozy, but workable, with no time pressures to worry about. After all, it was an adventure, right?
Tim invited Marti to join us for dinner at Bern’s Steak House in gratitude for all she had done to get the rental set up over the past several months. The plan was to spend the next day obtaining required licenses, renting scuba tanks, getting Tim checked out on captaining the boat, and getting our gear stowed on board for an early morning departure the third day.
Dinner at Bern’s was amazing! The broiled steaks were juicy, tender and flavored perfectly with salt and pepper. We got a tour of the wine cellar where they stored more than 10,000 bottles of wine. After dinner we went to their upstairs dessert restaurant which offered over 50 desserts and more than 1,000 after dinner drinks, cordials and dessert wines. The chocolate section of the dessert menu that had so many choices we had a lot of fun discussing various offerings while we browsed the menu!
The next day, Tim moved ahead with completing the rental details with the yacht club, which was largely verifying that he is who he said he is, and running a record check on each of us. Marti brought Island Dancer out of its indoor slip and tied up alongside the South side of the dock so Tim could take his check ride. Meanwhile, the gear we had shipped was stacked up on the dock next to the boat,
After getting the gear stowed, Tim headed upstairs to the rental office to tell Marti that he was ready for his check ride in the boat. This was his first deep water experience as a Captain, although he had rented cruisers in and around Florida in the past, and he owned a freshwater ski boat back home. None of us gave any thought to what is required to be safe on this type trip, we just trusted Tim. The three of us went to a nearby cafe where we could have coffee and watch for them to return to the dock after the check ride. We planned to go to dinner nearby and retire early, check out of the hotel after breakfast, and get to the boat so we could get started on our adventure by nine o’clock.
We watched Tim and Marti take off from the dock, Marti at the helm, and they cruised out into the channel between Harbor Island and Davis Islands and headed toward the Hillsborough Bay area. Soon the Island Dancer was back at the dock, although they had returned from the North, having circled Harbor Island, and we were watching for them to return from the South. We went down to the dock to meet up with Tim, but he just gave a little wave and hurried upstairs to the office.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Marti turned to me and asked, with a stone cold glare, “Do you know what red-right-returning means?” I responded, “No. What is it?”
She said, “It is the navigation rule boats use to avoid running into each other. You have to know what it is to be able to go out there, and Tim doesn’t know it either. I’m afraid I may not be able to let him take the boat out. Where did he get his captain’s license?” I replied that I didn’t know, didn’t even know that one was required, and Jennifer chimed in with, “A friend of his.”
Marti asked Jennifer, “Do you know if he took any classes?” Jennifer replied, “Not that I know of.” Marti stared at the ground and shook her head. I asked her, “What does he need to know to get to go?” She replied, “A lot! He doesn’t even know how to read buoys, and you have to know that, or you’re going to run aground. There are a lot of islands right under the surface that you don’t see. You have to know how to navigate!”
I asked, “Well, I am a licensed pilot, and I know how to navigate using radio beacons, a map and a compass. Can that be useful?” She replied, “It might. But, you would have to know a lot more.” I asked, “Can you show me what to do, and I’ll map out a safe course tonight, and if my prep looks good to you in the morning, would you be able to let us go?” She replied, “You already know how to navigate from a map, and figure headings, so it’s worth a try. Let’s go up to the office.” We all followed her, and found Tim sitting in a side chair by her desk. He didn’t look real happy.
Marti pointed to a large map of the Gulf of Mexico that hung on the office wall, and instructed, “This is a nautical chart for this area. You can see the deep water and the shallows by the dark and light blues. The lighter blue it is, the shallower it is. The white areas are deep water channels maintained by the Corps of Engineers.”
She pointed at a green dot on the water, and continued, “The green dots mark one side of a channel, and the red ones mark the other side. You always stay between the markers, because that is where the safe water is. Returning from sea, the red markers should always be on your right and the green are on your left. (red-right-returning) It is just the opposite going out. Every one of the markers has markings and numbers to help you navigate safely, and always be able to find your position on a map.”
“Floating Red markers are called “nuns” and are triangular in shape,” she continued. “They are numbered with even numbers. Floating Green markers, on the other hand, are called “cans” and are square or shaped like a large can and carry odd numbers. Those numbers can be used to tell someone where you are. The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) markers, when you get there, also have some portion of them marked with yellow.”
She concluded, “Yellow triangles indicate that the markers should be passed by keeping them on the starboard, or right, side of the vessel. Yellow squares indicate aids should be passed by keeping them on the left side. A yellow horizontal band simply identifies aids as marking the Intracoastal Waterway.” She showed me a booklet with examples of the types of markers and markings, along with numbering systems in use.
She gave me some buoy illustrations, similar to those shown above, to study. They were encased in plastic so they could be used on board the boat, which made me happy. She also loaned me some marine charts of the Gulf area, a protractor for figuring headings, a couple of manuals, and a marine radio so I could listen to radio traffic and get familiar with the jargon. It was clear that I was going to be the navigator on this trip, if it happened at all.
Fortunately, the navigational process isn’t all that different in principle. Channel and buoy markings are critical to understand, of course, but the navigational process is similar. This trip took place in 1993, two years before GPS became available to the public. Navigation at the time was done by compass headings. I had to figure the heading from each marker position to the next on the chart, and plotted out the whole trip in a couple of hours. When I finished, the chart looked rather like the one above left with lines drawn in from one buoy to the next, with compass headings written in at each turn. I spent a big part of the evening, and into the night, plotting the map, reading and learning as much as possible about marine navigation.
The next morning, when I presented my material to Marti, she was satisfied that I had an understanding of what is involved in basic navigation, that I had selected good routes that helped us merge with, or avert, the commercial traffic, and avoid those islands that lay just under the water. She gave us some additional instructions on using the radio; we were instructed to call her, using the call sign “Harbor Yacht,” when we reached the end of Davis Islands to let her know we had reached that point. After that, if we needed anything, we were to call “Sea Tow,” which is a boat towing service which also serves as the radio “go to” resource in times of need.
Marti wished us a great journey as Tim backed the boat out and turned down Seddon Channel, which runs along the West side of Harbor Island. There were commercial buildings lining both sides of the channel at our launch site, along with restaurant umbrella patios, marinas filled with power and sail boats bobbing lazily up and down in the light wakes of passing vessels. Pleasure boats intermingled with cargo ships working into or out of their docks. It reminded me of the river tour in Chicago, where you pass through downtown’s commercial district with skyscrapers right up to the water’s edge. But, here, you also have the commercial boats pulled up to refineries and other types of industry lining the shorelines. As we progressed slowly down the channel we began to see dozens of private residential slips lining the sides of the channel between the industrial ports of call, with attractive neighborhoods along each shore.
Ahead of us we could see the South Harbor Island lighthouse, and beyond that was a heavy commercial area, including a lot of oil facilities. We were approaching the entrance to East Bay, and falling in behind a cruise liner that was coming out of port and heading to sea. Also off our left side tug boats were turning a large cargo ship and maneuvering it into position. We had really calm water while in the channel between Davis Islands and Harbor Island, and now, out in the Hillsborough Bay, we were experiencing a little bit of light chop, but nothing uncomfortable. The ladies had gone below to get out of the early morning chill.
As we passed the end of Davis Islands, about two nautical miles from where we launched, I radioed “Harbor Yacht” to let Marti know that we were entering Hillsborough Bay and that everything was proceeding as planned. Tampa International Airport and Seaplane Basin on the south end of Davis Islands was to our right, and Pendola Point ahead and to our left. With the shallow-draft of island Dancer, we could easily parallel the main shipping channel, taking in the coastal scenery, all the way to the Intracoastal Waterway without having to interact with the commercial boats to any degree.
Our plan was to quickly steam over to the Intracoastal and then take our leisure the rest of the trip. I had laid out our course on the charts and knew where to look for the buoys we wanted to use, and the compass headings to the next one. In most cases we could stay completely away from the commercial vessels while staying in deep enough waters. We had to be aware of man made islands the Corps of Engineers are making. Some are just under the surface and being filled with sand and silt they are constantly dredging from the shipping channels.
I marked the shipping channel in yellow-gold on the chart from where we launched at South Harbor Island (top right), to the Intracoastal entrance, and the unexpected diversion we took is marked in red. As you can see on the map, from where we launched until we passed McDill Air Force Base, on the Interbay Peninsula, the bay is protected on three sides by land, and only about two-and-a-half to three miles wide, which keeps the water fairly calm. As we passed Pine Key, however, the expanse from one shore to the other is about twelve miles, and we began experiencing heavier seas.
The waves were initially fairly small, like on an inland lake, but quickly increased to one-and-a-half to two feet high as we got out into the shipping channel. As we proceeded southwestward the waves became heavier yet, with an occasional one that jolted the boat pretty well.
When we hit one of those taller waves, we would hear the ladies, down in the cabin, laugh or shriek with surprise as the bow of the boat rose and fell with the wave. As we took up a West-Southwest heading in the shipping channel, we were doing some rolling back and forth as we bobbed and weaved, taking the waves at an angle to lessen their impact on the boat.
We continued on that heading for about three and a half miles, then turned more toward the South again, and the farther we went the choppier the seas became, and the time between waves was only a few seconds now. We were heaving up the front of a wave to the top, and then the bow would slam down into the water. Tim continued steaming, but soon we heard screams from the cabin. Lea was shouting something, but we couldn’t understand her because Jennifer was also screaming. Tim slowed the boat to drop down off plane, and I went below to see what had happened.
Jennifer and Lea had been laying down on the beds just ahead of the middle of the boat, so they wouldn’t be thrown around the cabin so badly. Those beds are pretty narrow and have raised wooden trim on the outside edge which holds the fitted cushion in place so it, and you, don’t slide out of your berth when asleep on a rolling sea.
The sea was very choppy now, with the bow of the boat slicing into the front of the waves, flying sharply to the top like a fishing bobber, then slamming down into the valley between waves. One of those big waves had tossed the girls into the air, and when they came down, Jennifer landed on her hip on the berth’s raised trim and knocked her hip out of joint! On the next wave, she was tossed in the air again, came down on the same hip and forced her hip back into the socket! She was crying and screaming wildly because of the extreme pain and the fright of not understanding what had just happened to her.
We knew she had to have medical attention right away!
I hurried topside and told Tim what had happened and that we needed to get her to the hospital. I glanced at the navigation chart quickly, but it doesn’t indicate facilities on shore, so, it was no use for locating a hospital. The boat was idling, bobbing up and down on the waves, which was painful for Jennifer, but at least we weren’t slamming the hull into the water.
Lea was trying to keep her balance as the boat bobbed and swayed, trying to find a pain killer tablet for Jennifer. It would be only a little help, but might reduce her pain somewhat while we took further action to get her some medial attention. I decided to call for help, keyed the radio microphone and said, “Sea Tow, Sea Tow, this is Island Dancer.” A man’s voice quickly came back, “This is Sea Tow, Island Dancer. How’s it going?
I explained what had happened, that Jennifer was in a lot of pain, and she needed medical attention. He then said, “Do you want to declare an emergency?” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I think I went into a bit of shock as images flashed through my mind of that being like, “May Day, May Day.” I shuddered at the thought of Coast Guard rescue helicopters and cutters rushing to the scene, divers jumping into the water, and extricating Jennifer from the cabin! I couldn’t imagine how much that would cost, or if you would have to pay for it, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to declare an emergency!
After a moment. I replied, “Sea Tow, we just passed Green Marker One Charlie, headed toward Niner-B-Boy, is there somewhere close we can meet an ambulance? I’m sure we can get her to shore” He responded, “Bradenton is off to your left, and St. Petersburg right behind you starboard. Your choice.”
I glanced at the chart and could see that navigating to St. Petersburg was going to take a few minutes to plot my course due to the barrier islands, but, on the other side, to our left, Port Manatee has a nice, wide, channel cut right to it. We could get started there right away, without having to do any plotting. “Sea Tow,” I said, “Can we use Port Manatee? I can get us over there pretty easily. It’ll probably take us twenty minutes or more.” “Port Manatee it is,” said Sea Tow. “We’ll dispatch the ambulance and notify the Port. Good luck.”
I gave Tim the next heading we needed to take to change our course, and recommended that we stay off plane. Even though that is slower and consumes more gas, the slower speed would be easier on our passengers in the cabin below. Sure enough, as we moved slowly toward the deep water Port Manatee Channel, we bobbed up and down uncomfortably on the passing waves, but at least we weren’t crashing the bow or tossing the girls around. We had to go about three-and-a-half miles to get to the Port, which seemed to take forever, but soon we could see the ambulance, and other vehicles, parked at the end of Apollo Street at the Port.
As we idled up to the cargo ship docking area, which was a few feet higher than our deck level, we heard one of the paramedics say, “Well, we could cut the top out of the cabin and hoist her out.” Jennifer shouted, “Oh, no! I’ll get out of here!” I think I was too shocked at the thought of cutting into the boat to even respond! I just tossed the fenders out to protect the boat from the concrete wall, grabbed a rope thrown to us, and snugged the boat up close. Also on hand were the harbor master and a member of the harbor security department, who were graciously allowing us to use the Port for our emergency. There was no cargo ship in dock at the moment, so the deep water port worked out well for us.
Meanwhile, Lea helped Jennifer hop over to the doorway of the cabin on her good leg, where Tim met them and helped Jennifer find a seat where she could be tended to by the paramedics. Lea sat next to her on the deck, and Tim stood by to mind the helm, while I climbed the short ladder up the side of the concrete dock to explain the situation to the waiting officials.
The paramedics quickly examined her and determined that her hip was, indeed, back in place, and she could wiggle her toes, though it was still very painful. After talking with her for a few minutes, they asked if she was ready to try to get up on the dock. Replying that she was, two of them had her put her arms around their shoulders, and use her good leg to help move up the ladder, with them lifting most of her weight.
She remarked that she felt so silly about getting injured like that, but they responded that this type injury was very common in that area because of the mighty waves coming into Tampa Bay from the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
As she was being situated on the ambulance stretcher, Marti drove up! She had been monitoring the Sea Tow channel and heard us discussing our predicament, and headed right out to make the 40 mile drive to the port. She made the trip much more quickly than we had by water! Jennifer asked the paramedics if Lea could ride with her to the hospital, because Tim and I would have to stay behind to help Marti secure the boat, and would drive to the hospital later.
As the ambulance drove off, Marti gave us driving directions to a nearby private dock where she could tie up and secure the boat prior to taking it back to South Harbor. She handed me a marine radio, and said, “Just in case we need it.” As she took the boat out of the port, Tim and I drove her SUV to meet up with her, and then she drove us to the hospital, where we found Jennifer in better spirits after an injection that helped relieve most of her pain.
After a couple of hours of rest, she was given a pair of crutches, released, and advised to take anti-inflammatory medications to reduce her discomfort as needed, and that it would be several days before all traces would be gone. She was also advised that she should stay off the boat for a few days as the motion of the boat would be painful. Tim rented a van to carry us and our baggage, got us checked in to a nearby motel, and made arrangements with Marti to pick up our gear from the boat the following day.
As Tim and I unpacked the boat the next day, we discussed what we might do with the remaining days of our vacation, what gear we should keep with us, and what we would ship back home. We decided that we would mostly do touring along the coast to explore some of the islands along the Gulf Coast, but none of the planned water sports, since Jennifer was out of commission. We thought perhaps a day at Disney World might be a nice respite, since Jennifer could use a wheelchair, and we could take in some of the entertainment.
So, we sorted through the gear, repacked, and shipped several of the crates back home. The rest we loaded into the back of the van and transported it to the motel.
We made a day of it at Epcot Center the next day, taking in some shows, exhibits, eating at the Biergarten Restaurant, and just enjoying some people watching. Jennifer wasn’t up to doing anything strenuous, but was a good enough sport to tolerate her pain and tough it out in a wheelchair. The Disney fireworks and parade that night, of course, were outstanding productions.
We spent the next few days of vacation driving around the Tampa and Sarasota areas just taking in the sights, enjoying the beautiful white sand beaches, and admiring the lovely the sunsets. We drove down to the Venice area to check out some available land in which Tim was interested.
By this time Jennifer was able to get around on crutches, and said it actually felt better to get out of the van for a few minutes every once in a while. The land had just been opened for development. There were a large number of lots available that already had channels and boat slips, and many had “sold” signs already posted on them.
We had a good time seeing the variety of lots that were available, and Tim took a large number of photos of ones that particularly appealed to him. We wandered for a couple of hours, discussing the pros and cons of the various locations, and as we looked at one lot, Lea noticed that there was a large alligator up on the bank in some short grass. After she pointed it out, we became aware, that even though it was some distance from us, it kept repositioning itself so it pointed at us whenever we moved. We decided it was time for lunch, so we left, and laughed at Jennifer as she quickly hobbled her way to the van and alligator safety.
We drove on down the coast, visiting Cape Coral, another area Tim was considering for a land purchase. We spent the biggest part of one day just driving around the area, enjoying the scenery, and looking, from the curb, at houses for sale. We had some great food and a lot of laughs just seeking out those “homey” little pubs, cafes and restaurants along the way. We visited several spectacular white sand beaches with gentle waves lapping the shoreline and shells and prehistoric shark’s teeth galore.
Then we drove over the causeway to Sanibel Island, and stopped at the Port Sanibel Marina just across from the lighthouse. The marina was the center of activity, with boats coming and going, shoppers browsing through the merchandise, or heading to the Lighthouse Hole restaurant upstairs. on the to drive through the wildlife preserve, stopping many times along the way as we spotted wildlife of all kinds. The waters in the preserve are beautiful coves surrounded by tall palm trees and mangroves. The view from the observation tower was breathtaking, and thanks to the handicap ramp, Jennifer was able to make it up there and enjoy the views.
Later, we drove to Captiva, and stopped at the Bubble Room Restaurant for dinner. The Bubble Room decor is outlandishly tongue-in-cheek to the max, with so-old-its-funny-again pranks like the Tunnel of Love and gorilla cage, both of which provide memorable photo ops, as does the hilarious outdoor seating. The menu is very similar to any Americana restaurant, but their claim to fame is their extensive and decadent dessert menu, with elegant temptations for every sweet tooth.
The sunset that evening was stunning! Bright red-orange skies low on the horizon highlighted the Azure blue evening sky above and blended dramatically with the sun’s reflection on the tops of foamy waves as the gently rolling Gulf surf surged along the sandy shoreline. After the sunset we drove back to the motel to plan our next day’s activities.
A few days later, with the end of vacation approaching, and Jennifer feeling quite a bit better, Tim rented a small inboard boat for the afternoon. We moseyed around the protected waters around Venice where the wave action is more like the lakes we were used to back home. We soon pinpointed the beach where we had found shark’s teeth a couple of days before, and enjoyed taking the time to greet fellow boaters and take in the beauty all around us.
We cruised lazily down the Intracoastal taking in the sights and just enjoying some time on the water, cruising by sparkling white beaches with their abundant and beautiful shells surrounded by exotic palms and lush vegetation. The area along the south side of Venice has grown tremendously in the years since that trip. Whole new parcels of land have been created by land developers and the Corps of Engineers as they continuously dredge shipping channels to keep them open, and sometimes create barrier islands to facilitate commercial and leisure boating and often reshape harbors.
During our outing we spotted some pretty umbrellas grouped together off our port side, so we headed over that direction, and cruised right up to the Marker restaurant, which sat on the water’s edge. It looked like just the right kind of understated eateries we liked to discover, and it proved to be intriguing enough that we decided to have lunch.
There was no dock or slip available, so we just tossed the anchor up on the sandy beachfront. It turned out that we were on the “back side” of the restaurant, and the umbrellas were for their outdoor dining area, which suited us just fine.
The menu at the Marker was quite informal, just photocopies on printer paper, with deep fried seafood of all types available. The day’s special was scratched out on a chalkboard above the order counter. Just what we liked! The food was very tasty, and served up home style in unpretentious paper plates and plastic forks wrapped up in paper napkins. As of this writing, the Marker restaurant is now fine dining, and that whole area has built up, with a 55+ community within walking distance. That’s a far cry from what we experienced on that first trip when there was an aging sail boat loaded on a trailer right next to the umbrella tables!
We cruised slowly on down the bay after lunch, just enjoying the scenery, tropical lifestyles, and seaside activities that are so different from those back home in the Midwest. As low tide approached, we could begin to see some of the islands that are under water during high tide, and decided to anchor near one and do some snorkeling. We also collected some shells on a low tide island about the length and width of a football field, with nothing on it but seashells and our footprints.
On the whole, the Tampa-to-Ft. Lauderdale trip went bust, and turned from an intricately planned adventure to impromptu and impulsive experiences. Sometimes those are the most fun times, when nothing is planned ahead, and you just do whatever comes to mind. If you look closely at the Tunnel of Love photo above, the tee-shirts Lea and I are wearing are titled “Impromptu Tours,” which Lea designed on a whim with tongue-in-cheek, to poke fun at all the planning and preparation we had done.
Reflecting on that well planned, but ill fated trip, I think we are probably very fortunate that our course was changed. We were well outside our comfort zone over deep water in rough seas. Our captain was not experienced in deep water boating, improperly acquired his Captain’s license, and I was foolish to think that just because I could navigate correctly, that we would be alright. The sea quickly proved us wrong. We are fortunate that nothing any more serious than a dislocated hip is what we have to write about.
The moral of the story? Don’t blindly trust that a person can do everything they claim to be able to do. Check it out. Before you put your life, and in this case, the life of my spouse, into another person’s hands, make sure that they are qualified to protect you with knowledge and experience.