“Tanglefoot,” she said over the loud speaker. Phillip and I kind of eyed each other curiously. “Tangle-FOOT!” she said again, this time with more emphasis on the “foot.” That’s when we really found out how serendipitous this whole boat-shopping venture had been for Mitch.
It was June 19, 2015 and Mitch, Phillip and I were heading down in a Beverly-Hillbilly style packed-out rental to Ft. Myers to help Mitch sail his recently-acquired 1985 Nonsuch back home to Pensacola.
Didn’t bode too well that I suffered my first “boat bite” (or I guess this would be a “rental car bite”) the very minute I stepped into the car.
Don’t ask me how. There were flip flops and a floor mat involved. That’s all I remember. But it was a bit of a bloody mess we had to deal not our very first mile into the trip. Leave it to me … But the boys got me doctored up and we continued our trek south.
We stopped in for some lunch at Panera in Tallahassee and that’s when we first heard the name: Tanglefoot. The third time the little Panera chick said it over the intercom Phillip and I started to look around to see who was going to respond to that calling. Then we saw him─Mitch─bouncing up to the table with our food trays in hand. “What do you think?” he asked, looking at us as if his question made sense. Phillip and I kind of sat there dumbly: What do we think about what?
“Tanglefoot,” Mitch said again. “That’s the name of the boat.”
You see what I mean? 6’4” Mitch Roberts finds a damn-near perfect boat, in great condition for a great price and it’s named the only single thing in the world I could imagine to be more fitting for his vessel name than “While You’re Down There.”
“Tanglefoot,” Phillip and I repeated him chuckling. It was almost too perfect. Plus, Mitch has no poker face. He holds nothing back. If he’s thinking it, you’re going to hear it. He kind of tumbles over his words sometimes they come out so fast, so Tanglefoot-in-Mouth works just as well. And it wouldn’t be long before we would actually be setting foot on the infamous s/v Tanglefoot ourselves. It was a long haul (approximately nine hours) to make in one day but we got to the docks in Ft. Myers around 10:00 p.m.─just in time for our first Tanglefoot adventure!
Stopped at the Barrel in Ft. Myers for dinner. Annie loves “Country Fresh Flavor.”
The boat was docked in a gated community with water access and slips. Mitch said the owner’s broker was supposed to have called the security gate to let them know he would be coming that day to the boat. Of course that didn’t happen and here it was─10:00 p.m.─and we find ourselves being held hostage by the little gated-booth police because we don’t have clearance for admission. Mitch tried calling the broker several times while the gate guards watched us. Mitch’s impatience was visible. “I can’t believe these knuckleheads are serious,” he told Phillip and I, thankfully behind a rolled-up window so the guards didn’t hear. After three failed attempts to reach the broker, he then tried the owner, which I thought was a long shot because it was so late and─I mean─the man is, according to Mitch, “older than molasses,” which we took for mid-eighties. But, I guess I have to admit I’m ignorant to the night life of eighty-year-olds because the owner picked right up, sounding cheery as a nun on Sunday and was able to get us clearance through the booth. For whatever reason, though─even after the phone call─there was still some very important paperwork shuffling and “processing” to be done in the almighty gate booth. You should have seen these three rent-a-goobers, wheeling around on their whirly chairs, shuffling papers back and forth, writing things down like they were solving the mystery of global warming. Mitch kept trying to roll down the window to say something to them─something Phillip and I were sure would get us banned from the place forever─and Phillip kept rolling his window back up to contain him.
Then─in an apparent effort to entertain us while the all-important “gated booth processing” procedure was completed─one of the uniformed security blokes comes out to chat with us. He pulled his pants up a few times, Barney Fife style, and leaned into the driver side window.
“Evening all,” he said tipping his hat to us.
“Evening,” we all mumbled back kind of awkwardly, keeping our thoughts to ourselves: What in the bloody name of gated booths was taking so long?
“You come here to stay on the boat tonight, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” Mitch said back, trying to be patient. I was proud he’d changed the “knucklehead” to “sir.”
“What slip are you in?” Fife asked. It seemed like he was trying to be cordial.
“I don’t know,” Mitch said, a little embarrassed, but more irritated than anything. Who gives a crap? Let us in!
“Well, what dock?” Fife followed up, now a little suspect.
“I don’t know,” Mitch barked back, now noticeably irritated. “I just know how to get to the boat. I don’t know which dock it is.”
“Well, there are only five docks,” Fife snapped, giving us a stupid, how-can-you-not-know frown.
“I told you … ” Mitch started to fire back and reach for the door handle. I thought he was about to step out of the vehicle and blow our chances of ever getting to the boat that night but, thankfully, he was cut off. Fife No. 2 stuck his head out of the booth, waved some papers in the air and said, “You all have a safe night, now,” as the gate buzzed and the arm finally started to lift, allowing us through. Fife No. 1 hiked his pants up again, because I’m sure there had been some slippage in the “which dock?” exchange and gave us a scowl as we drove by. The three of us were laughing about it─now that we had gotten in─but those rent-a-Fifes were unbelievable. How important is the maintenance of the gate log and documentation of thru traffic in a quiet gated community in Ft. Myers, Florida? I mean really?
Mitch held true to his word too. He had no idea what dock the boat was on but he knew exactly how to guide us to it. Here it was─our first time to see Tanglefoot.
Man, did Mitch get lucky. She was a sound, solid, well-built boat. Dirty as all get out but with just a few swipes of a Clorox wipe I could tell she was going to clean up incredibly well.
And, it was shocking how big the boat felt. At thirty feet, Mitch’s boat is a good five feet shorter than ours but it feels five feet bigger in every direction down below. It looked like you could line up three ballerinas in the saloon and have them each do pirrouettes and they wouldn’t hit each other. It was like a floating condo.
And, the companionway blew my mind. The entry-way is like four feet fall, with two measly steps down to the cabin floor and Mitch could stand tall and straight most everywhere in the cabin below.
No wonder Mitch said he felt comfortable on this boat. It’s like it was built for him. The cockpit is massive too. I think the fact that beam of the boat is carried so far forward and so far aft is what makes it feel so much bigger than ours. The Nonsuch is probably a little squattier in that regard (I like to call those “fat bottom girls”) which can make them a little less comfortable to sail in heavy weather, but it certainly makes them super comfortable to cruise around coastal waters and spend the weekends in. Phillip and I were both really impressed with the layout, look, feel, build and quality of Mitch’s boat. You done good, Buddy. You done good. We started poking around and tidying things up a bit and discovered some interesting eighty-year-old man finds. There was a complete drawer of canned Buds in the vberth. Think like eighteen cans in one drawer and a mounted can crusher by the companionway stairs.
It was gross─all grungy and moldy with years of dirt caked on. That was going to be one of the first things to go. But, modifications and thorough clean-up would come later. For now it was time to settle in─get all of our provisions on-board and stowed away and the boat put in a somewhat functioning condition for sleeping that evening so we could rise early and make sure she was ready to head out tomorrow morning for the passage.
Mitch was so excited showing us around the boat he kept dropping things and losing his flashlight. I can’t tell you how many times he had to ask Phillip to borrow his. We decided we were soon going to have to put a head lamp on him permanently. Or maybe a chest-mounted push light that you could just click on whenever he came near. That would have been helpful.
But, you couldn’t blame him. He was just excited. This was his boat! His very first sailboat! Tanglefoot! And this was his first time to have friends aboard and get to show her off. And (and!)─even better─we would soon be shoving her out of the slip and sailing her out into blue waters. That’s some pretty good stuff. Definitely worth a couple dropped nuts and bolts and forever-missing flashlight. I’ve never seen Mitch so giddy. Since he was all smiles and giggles we decided to give him his little Captain’s gift then─a log book and a waterproof accordion folder for all of his manuals. Pulling from experience, we know how important it is to keep those handy and organized.
After a couple of hours unpacking, cleaning and stowing, though, this crew was beat. It was well after midnight by then and we were planning to make one more provision run in the morning for perishables and then toss the lines around noon and start making our way north, toward either Venice or Clearwater. Venice was going to be a shorter trip, more paralleled to the shore. We were keeping it open as an option in case we suffered some equipment or engine failure or other likely catastrophe on the first leg of the trip. If things were going well, though, we were hoping to make it all the way to Clearwater right out of the gate. Talk didn’t last long, though, as the crew’s lids started to droop. It had been a long day. Phillip and I folded down the table in the saloon to set up the double bed on the starboard side for us, while Mitch prepared the vberth for him. The amount of room in the cabin of the Nonsuch is astounding. Phillip and I felt like we were sprawled out in a five-star suite!
Then Mitch cranked up the AC. Yes, a boat with AC. This would be a new luxury for Phillip and me. Whether it was the chill or the new sleeping digs or just the excitement of spending our first night on Mitch’s boat knowing we were going to sail it out into the Gulf tomorrow, none of us got much sleep that night.
Personally, I blame Mitch and the AC. He has got to cool it─no pun intended─with the AC because that about the coldest I’ve ever been in my damn life. I was tugging and grunting and trying to get every body part covered with Phillip and I’s shared sheet but it still wasn’t enough. I was barely groggy and froze-toed when the alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. the next morning. The first thing I did was step out into the cockpit to the much-welcomed muggy warmth. My feet prickled back to life as I walked the dewy deck with a smile. We were sailing today!
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