While it’s an exercise I truly feel we should all try to do everyday, it’s nice there’s a holiday that comes every year that really motivates you to step back, take a look at your life, and appreciate everything you are thankful for. I encourage you each to take a moment today to reflect on this yourself and see if you can name your top ten. It’s a great exercise in humility and gratitude. The adventurous life that Phillip and I currently lead and that we work very hard for is probably the thing I am the most thankful for. It stemmed from a very brave but scary decision I made when I was thirty to get divorced, move out of and sell my home, and eventually leave the law practice to start a remote writing career. And, it was this lifestyle and attitude change that has fueled each of my adventures since and it was the basis for my book, Keys to the Kingdom, which I will be signing and mailing to one of you for our Holiday Book Giveaway #2! Right after a very fun Thanksgiving Top Ten. The first follower to correctly answer the trivia question below in a comment wins! Good luck. And, feel free to leave your own top tens in a comment too. I found this exercise in thankfulness very revealing and rewarding.
In somewhat of a particular order, here are my Top Ten!
#1 My health. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to simply not be able to do the things you want to do. Even the simple ones like cleaning your house or driving a car, not to mention the thrilling and rewarding ones like sailing, kite-surfing and aerial silks. I am grateful every day that my body happily rises out of bed and to whatever I want to do, responds: “I’m in!”
#2 Family. I pay homage today to this fine, fierce fellow, John, my brother, and when we were growing up: my mentor, my tormentor (at times), my friend and my co-conspirator in crime. Also known as “Bro-Lo” (because Annie Jo is his “Jo-Lo”) and also boasting a face capable of rocking sunglasses of any kind because he looks that fucking fabulous.
And you do, Bro-Lo. Rock those shades!
#3 My youth. This Birthday Princess turned the big 3-5 this year and I feel just a few days older than 18. I’m so thankful I spend most of my days at this age on a boat in the sunshine, rather than behind a desk under a fluorescent light, and I’m so excited about the many more years yet to come, however many I’m granted. I also welcome the wrinkles and grey hairs! They’re just proof of what a kick-ass time I’ve had along the way.
#4 My sense of adventure. This was on our way to Cuba last December. I sometimes can’t believe Phillip and I sailed there just the two of us over 500 miles offshore from Florida to Cuba on our boat. While we did cross the Atlantic together in 2016 as well, there was just something about that voyage, our struggles, our fears, our accomplishments and being out there, traveling that far with just one other person, that made that particular voyage feel like the biggest adventure. I’m so glad I have a thirst and passion to see the world by boat, not to mention a boat and a buddy to do it all with!
#5 My sense of humor. Which I get from this guy. My Daddio! A man who, no matter how crappy the situation was when we were growing up (because at times it was), always found a way to slide me over on the bench seat of his truck, scoop me up under his arm and somehow make me laugh. Usually by singing some silly made-up song, a habit I also picked up. Thanks for all the laughs and silly ditties Daddio! Funny, I just now realized one of the main songs he used to sing to me was about a sailor. I guess it was a prophecy.
“Who’s that knocking at your door? It’s Barnum Bill the Sailor!”
#6 Friends (who share the same senses). These are the people in my life who also seek adventure and who also see something funny and ironic in even the most terrible of circumstances. They know just what to say, or when to say nothing at all, they call me on my shit and slap me straight when I need it, and they make fun of me when I need that, too. Someone’s gotta keep me humble.
#7 Our boat. She is the sucking black hole of our money, time, sweat, blood, money, time and money and she is worth every damn penny and drop. Plaintiff’s Rest is our ticket to the world. Even when you break, leak, groan, ooze, gulp and guzzle, I still love you girl!
#8 Food. It’s just good. All of it. So damn good. And, I’m so thankful to be a healthy, active person so I can keep stuffing my mouth full of it. This is from our first Thanksgiving on the boat, 2013, when we sailed to the Wharf to spend the holiday with Phillip’s family. Gobble! Gobble!
Annnnnd this was us about an hour later. I’m thankful for post-Turkey sleep too. ZZZZzzzzzz
#9 Wine. It just makes everything better. Particularly boat projects! Cheers!
#10 (But really #1) My Adventure Buddy. My life partner, my rock, my friend, my confidante, my Everything Buddy. My Phillip. I wouldn’t be here (a salty sailor / traveling author with the world at my doorstep) without him. Buckle up, Sir, we’ve got a million places to go!
Man, that was fun, right? I encourage you to do one of your own and go find old photos to go along with it. It’s a great exercise in humility and gratitude. And, since Phillip and I are so grateful for all of our followers here, we’ve got a Keys to the Kingdom gift in store for one of you. For fun, I went back and pulled a quick story from an old blog post about our very first Thanksgiving on the boat, in 2013, to inspire the trivia question. Funny, I mentioned several Annie docking debacles and my fear of docking, even back then. Well, that’s another thing I’m grateful for this year. Working up the courage to take the damn wheel and just dock the darn thing. You may bump a few things, you may scuff the hull, but you just have to do it so you won’t be so scared of it anymore. Docking is always going to be an adventure. Enjoy the old HaveWind tale and good luck on the trivia!
We had a slip reserved at The Wharf for Thanksgiving, so we pulled anchor Wednesday morning (November 27th) and headed over that way. We were going to have to stop first at the fuel dock to pump out before we could tie up at our slip. The wind was really howling as we neared the dock so I bundled up some more (yes, more) and prepared to jump off to secure the boat as fast as possible. We were not going to have another Annie docking debacle. Not that day.
As Phillip inched the bow up next to the dock, I jumped off (with an actual line in hand this time) and clamored around furiously cleating lines off to keep the boat on the dock. It was a bit of a scramble but we did it.
And, when the fuel boy came out to see what we needed, the first thing he said to me was: “What’ll it be, sir?”
I can’t imagine why …
My God, look at me in that outfit. Surely, it wasn’t that cold, do you think? Apparently Annie did. I can’t believe I even could jump in that get-up. But Phillip and I loved that yellow slicker. It came with the boat, and it was way too big for either of us, but we wore it anyway, for years.
For a free Keys to the Kingdom book, signed and mailed to ya: What did we call that rubber suit of yellowy goodness? And … GO!
With that succulent bird basking before us, it didn’t take long before plates started clanging, corks were popping and knives were pulled from their sheaths. Yes, we keep them in sheaths. We’re sailors, remember?
See? She is totally a sailor. … Totally.
I whipped my sea-gull carver out of its holster and went to town on that turkey.
I severed every single morsel I could off of her while the crew hauled the patio table in from the balcony (very classy) and set us a royal feast.
We snapped a few fun shots on the deck and toasted the sunset while the last of the Thanksgiving goodies were baking.
And, I can assure you none of us was donning anything that could be remotely considered a “skinny jean” for this meal. Calories don’t count on Thanksgiving – or so I’ve been told. Only stretchy pants and elastic waistlines would do for this crew. And, if what they say about turkey is true, it certainly worked on Phillip and I:
Within fifteen minutes of dinner, we were out. (Although, it seems the turkey myth has been busted! Apparently, they now believe it’s actually a combination of booze, bad conversation and boatloads of carbs. Well, we had all of that too, so … who’s to say). We were sleeping soundly, with little wishbones and sweet potatoes dancing in our heads. And, John Besh. He was definitely dancing through mine. It was a great meal, spent with a great group and was a nice change of pace from the quiet little dinners Phillip and I had been cooking up on the boat during the voyage. But, we were – as always – ready to get back on her. We spent one more night on the pull-out at the condo, ran eight more loads of laundry (including the curtains) and started readying the boat the next morning for the last leg of our Thanksgiving Voyage.
We waved goodbye to our sail groupies, tossed the lines and headed back out toward Wolf Bay.
Dinghy in tow.
The wind was blowing about 25 knots that day, though, and it was some tight maneuvering through the ICW, so we couldn’t raise the sails for the day’s jaunt. We had to motor, but I shot some Pulitzer-worthy footage of us braving the wind and weather that day.
The sun was out, though, which meant the temp was decidedly tolerable, and we weren’t suffering from frozen phalanges and snotsicles. This time. We motored from The Wharf back to Fort McRae and decided to drop anchor at one of our typical haunts, Red Fish Point (just west of Fort McRae), to enjoy one more peaceful night on the hook.
We curled up with some books and a few choice cocktails and took in our last sunset of the trip.
Great view of the pink horizon from inside the boat:
Although we had been out there ten days, it seemed to fly by. I couldn’t believe the trip was coming to an end. Getting a bit sentimental, I even made Phillip suffer through a shamefully embarrassing “selfie” to memorialize the event.
A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social media networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera, [or a shadow of the camera itself] in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to find internet friends on whose pages they can post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves.
Ouch. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that doesn’t apply to us. All evidence to the contrary (i.e., me, posting a selfie on the blog), we do have a few real friends. But, the term was apparently awarded the high honor of word of the year in 2013, with the best selfie shot going to this chick:
Who totally earned it with that heroic display. Click!
It even appears our esteemed president finds himself in the ‘selfie’ mood on occasion.
Perhaps Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was not the right occasion (even Jon Stewart says tssk, tssk), but if the president does it, then I don’t feel so bad about it.
After our selfie shoot wrapped and the sun set, I got creative and baked us up one last Thanksgiving treat – some fresh homemade pumpkin bread.
A box mix is still considered homemade, right??
It was delicious regardless and we savored the setting, the silence of the evening and the sanctuary of our last night on the boat. And, as it usually happens, the best is somehow inexplicably saved for last. The very last day of our 10-day ‘voyage’ turned out to be the best sail we’d had since the last leg of the Gulf Crossing. And, I’ll bet when I start to say “another great day of sailing on the Plaintiff’s Rest … ” many of you glaze over and check out, and while I get it. I do. At the same time, I hate it for you. I know it’s just because you don’t know how freeing sailing really is. I hope, with this blog, and my meager words, over time, I can change that. I can give you a glimpse of what sailing means to us. At the very least, I can try to take you along with us, transport you, plant you right there in the cockpit beside us, one hand gripped tight around the Jenny sheet, the other wiping a splash of salt water from your face, as you watch the sails pull taut and get that roller coaster feeling in your gut when the boat heels over. Hold on to your drinks kids, we’ve got plenty in store.
With Kristen foraging our lead, the hunger games commenced. I was loaded up like a pack mule carrying the turkey, wrapped up in a foil tray, a bottle of wine, two glasses and Kristen’s purse, I believe, while she made her way to the dumpsters. Once that nutty, buttery smell hit her, she turned to me, slack-jawed and raised her eyebrows. I gave her a look of I know, right? I was glad she got to really take it in. We both summoned an image of a juicy, brown, buttery turkey,
and the scent motivated us, like predators on the hunt. Kristen rounded the corner so hard she slammed the door against the wall with a bang and sloshed some wine onto the dumpster. I was afraid, we’d blown it with a sloppy entrance, but, the boys weren’t there. The table bore only one lonesome throw-away foil tray, a used vinyl glove turned inside out and a pair of oily tongs. The vat wasn’t bubbling anymore, but it was still warm. We walked around a bit, saying “Hello?” “Hey guys?” and Kristen even belted out a “It suuure smells good out here!” I shirked around behind her to check the level on the propane bottle and the temp on the oil vat, thinking, if need be, I could crank it up and drop the turkey myself. Better to ask forgiveness, right? But there was one door by the table that we had yet to open. I lightly tugged on the handle. It would open, but I could feel some resistance and didn’t believe a hard jerk was in order. Kristen apparently felt otherwise. She came up behind me and belted a “Hey boys!” as she jerked both doors wide open. I scooted back behind one of the doors, tucking both wine glasses behind me like I was stealing from the liquor store.
Kristen stood before the open doors, dumbfounded, as if she were staring at a man on the pot with his pants around his ankles.
She immediately started apologizing, fumbling, stuttering and tucking hair behind her ears. I really thought she’d opened up the door on something slightly obscene. The smaller of the two, Guy Harvey, came out. Eyed us both and asked us “Nice ladies” what we were “in need of?” Kristen struggled and apologized, and just started snickering. I didn’t think the skinny jeans were going to carry the day at that point, so I just blurted out “Turkey.” He looked at me.
“Turkey.” I said it again. I don’t know why. “We would … ” I fumbled. “We were wondering if you would help us … if you’d like to … fry up our turkey.” I let the question linger because I didn’t know what else to do. The wine glasses came from behind my back almost instinctively, slowly as I extended them towards him, a hopeful, pathetic look on my face, and apparently that sealed the deal. “Sure, he said. You ladies bring some more drinks down, and we’ll throw the bird in.” Score one for the skinny jeans. We were getting our turkey fried!
And, here’s the real kicker, Guy Harvey, known locally as Frank Schmancy, turned out to be the head chef at a fairly new restaurant there at The Wharf — The Louisiana Pantry. And, the larger guy (the one who had given up on us during the ‘elevator conversation‘ – again, I can’t blame him), was none other than celebrity chef Tom Wolfe.
Rising Star Chef Tom Wolfe
Wolfe’s of New Orleans
7224 Pontchartrain Boulevard
New Orleans, LA 70124
Frank told us Tom had studied under Emeril Lagasse and opened up a restaurant in New Orleans — Wolfe’s of New Orleans — before making his way over to The Wharf. He was actually standing there texting John Besh while Frank injected our turkey. John Besh … My total celebrity chef crush. Little did he know. I actually had the privilege of meeting the infamous Besh at a book signing he did in Pensacola for his latest cookbook, Cooking From the Heart, and I, in typical Annie style, acted like a completely smitten, love-sick teenager – a total goober – the entire time.
Got a first edition ready for Besh himself to sign? CHECK!
Rocking the stiletto boots to be sure to get his attention? CHECK.
Ahhh … Annie Besh … Sure has a nice ring to it.
Why, Mr. Besh … you, you … certainly do look stunning in that button-down.
Phillip? … Phillip who?
Oh THAT Phillip … Okay, I guess he can be in the shot.
In all seriousness, though, we do love the book, and have cooked up some seriously delicious dishes from it. But, Besh?!? This guy – Wolfe – had studied under Lagasse, owned a restaurant in New Orleans, and knew Besh personally? This is the guy who was going to be frying up our turkey behind some dumpsters at The Wharf? Ain’t it funny where life takes you some times.
But, Frank dropped her right in, regaled us with tales of learning the great southern dishes (collard greens, grits, etc.) from an old black cook at his grandmother’s restaurant in Mississippi. The key, he said, is to use as much fat as possible. Go figure. Perhaps he did the same with our turkey, but we all agreed it was the best darn turkey we had ever had the privilege of eating. I mean, the thing had brined overnight in our complex trash bag/cooler set-up all night, then Guy Harvey injected it, and he told us it was the last turkey he could fry that day because the oil was getting “too dark.” But, ‘dark’ apparently did the trick. That turkey was incredible.
After we saddled up with the poor chum at the fuel dock who preferred to refer to me as a dude, we headed over to our slip at The Wharf to tie the boat up, secure her for the night and let the ole’ Rest rest.
Then we started snatching and grabbing everything on the boat that could use a good washin’ (which was just about everything). I seriously debated taking down the curtains. Like I said – eight days at sea. We had sack fulls – clothes, trash, bottles, you name it. Phillip and his eskimo sidekick looked like a ratty bag couple hauling all of our junk off of the boat. We felt kind of sorry for Phillip’s folks when we kindly knocked on their condo door asking ever so politely to use their facilities.
I mean, were we really going to barge in, start washing every stitch of clothes we brought with us and eating everything in sight?
Of course we were! “Pull up a chair Irene.” (Although I have to admit, I have no idea if her name was really Irene. It seems fitting, but Cousin Eddie shone so brightly in that bit, I don’t think she was ever even anointed with a name – at least not one anyone would remember).
We started running the washer immediately, tore into the fantastic spread that was laid out on the bar and started jockeying for position in the shower line-up. While we had heated some water on the boat and enjoyed a nice warm rinse-down several times during our trip, those “showers” had been brief (water conservation is always a concern) and a little cramped in the stand-up shower stall on the boat. Now, with the full use of a regular-sized bathroom at our disposal and an endless supply of hot water on our hands (or so it seemed). Phillip and I each took our turn and gave ourselves the royal spa treatment from head to toe before curling up in the main room to regale the groupies with our tall tales at sea.
Ahhh … that’s better.
We decided to get out that night and catch the new Catching Fire movie at the theater at The Wharf. For the holidays, they put on a light show every night where the lights, which cover every inch of the palm-tree lined main drag, pump and pulse to holiday music, and that was pretty awesome. Or, psychedelic at least.
But, the best part was the complimentary movie! Or so we thought. As we started to walk into the theater, the ticket booths outside were all empty. No lights were on, no tellers were standing behind them. There was no one there to whom we could tell which flick we wanted to see and pay them for the appropriate ticket.
“One for Catching Fire, please.”
A little stumped, we walked into the theater and, again, there was no usher standing at the little podium by the door, asking for our ticket to inspect and tear. We started to look around and wander, but there was even a second podium before the entrance to the west bank of theaters with, still, no usher, no teller, no one in sight. Phillip started to saunter toward the red sign reading Catching Fire 7:15 and we all kind of made a collective decision to saunter along behind him and not say a word. And, so we did. And, we walked right into that theater and sat our happy selves down for a complimentary movie, deciding they must have just decided to allow free showings for the holidays. Lucky us!
Until Phillip’s sister, Kristen, came rumbling in. We had apparently lost her during our saunter to the smell of butter, salt and the melted yellow plastic they drizzle on the tortilla rounds they call nachos at the concession stand. She was loaded down with two nacho packs, the BIG BAG (patent pending) of popcorn and two large sodas as she shuffled and crinkled her way toward our seats. She chucked a few popped kernels back and mumbled, “Man, these movies are expensive,” to which we all responded with raised eyebrows. Expensive? Kristen looked back at us with an equal stare of confusion. “At the concession stand,” she said. “They charge you at the concession stand.” Whoops. Figuring we’d settle up later, we curled up to enjoy us a mighty fine pitter show.
And, after the show, we went immediately to the concession stand to pay for our movie. Naturally. What kind of people do you think we are??
When we got back to the condo, Phillip’s mom started rushing to the back porch to get at the turkey. Earlier in the day, Phillip and his mom had dunked the turkey in a cloudy bath of salt and spices, sacked it up in a Hefty trash bag in an over-sized Igloo and set out on the back porch. Phillip said we were “brining it,” which I had never heard of before. Growing up, our Thanksgivings involved the thawing of a pre-cooked turkey and a Wal-Mart run for a jar of jellied cranberry sauce, the kind that sloshes out onto the plate with ring imprints on it, an exact replica of the can it came from. Phillip’s “brining” looked, to me, like he was baptizing the turkey in a bath of murky salt water and Joe’s seasoning, but, with my canned-garnishes background, I wasn’t one to judge. I was along for the ride either way. But, apparently, they hard forgot to take the gizzard and some other little bag of giblets out of the turkey before baptizing it, so Phillip’s mom engaged in a rousing bout of what I like to call turkey wrastlin’ which I, naturally, filmed for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
Video here. And, you gotta love Paul’s comment at the end: “Now, Mary, go wash your hands.” Priceless!
With the turkey officially violated, we set her back out on the porch to continue brining for the night and Phillip and I curled up on the sofa bed in the living room (agreeing through whispers that our v-berth was far more comfortable), but we knew we’d soon find ourselves back on the boat. So, the sofa bed it was.
We woke Thanksgiving morning to a beautiful sunny day. We decided to get out and putter around in the dinghy a bit and check out some of the boats in the marina at The Wharf.
But, we never expected what we encountered on the way back. As Phillip and I were walking back from the boat, the smell captured both of us immediately. We turned to each other in silence, eyebrows lifted and a mischievous grin growing on both of our faces. It smelled like nuts and oil, cinnamon and butter, like pie but more savory. Like a syrupy piece of pecan pie drizzled with rich turkey gravy, a symphonic concoction of scents, like an exorbitant feast of dinner, dessert, nuts, bread, oil and gravy, all laid out at once, a delectable cloud rolling into us. I describe it like it was laid out as an endless bounty, a full Thanksgiving spread with all of the fixings, because that’s what it smelled like, but when we turned the corner, we found only two pot-bellied men, standing near some stained dumpsters and a rusty door that read “Employees Only.” The men were leaning over a white fold-up table, with throw-away foil trays littered about and a couple greasy pair of tongs and were bundled up and staring into an over-sized steel vat of oil, bubbling and sputtering, and emanating that savory, succulent smell that had overwhelmed us.
They were frying turkeys. Although a relatively new culinary phenomenon – I think the whole turkey frying revelation started about 4-5 years ago, it seems quite mainstream now. You drop the whole dad-gum thing into a vat of peanut oil, completely submerged, and let that oily fried goodness soak through every pore of the turkey until it is utterly saturated, unable to hold a single more drop of fatty, peanut-drenched nectar. A fried turkey is the best turkey. Period.
Phillip and I salivated, swallowed, wiped our mouths instinctively and tried to make mindless small talk as we walked by. “So. You guys frying turkeys?” I mean, really? I was even embarrassed by the question. The guys should have responded, “Nope. We’re just standing around a vat of oil on Thanksgiving to fry us up a batch of Ore Ida crinkle fries.” It was one of those “small-talk” questions that you regret later, but you can’t think of anything else to say in the moment. Like when you’re on the elevator with someone you know lives in your building and while you have absolutely no inclination to talk to the person at all, common courtesy tells you have to say something, so you open with, “ Boy, it sure is getting cold out there.” The weather. That’s equivalent to commenting on the obvious. Of course they were frying turkeys.
The larger man gave us a light nod and walked back inside. I can’t blame him. The smell had obviously brought us in, and he wanted no part of the lame elevator conversation that was about to ensue. That left Phillip and I with the thick, stocky, corn-fed boy that remained, donning a long-sleeve Guy Harvey shirt stretched taut around his mid-section and a baseball cap shoved down over a shaggy, dishwater brown mop that fell around his ears. But the guy was friendly, thankfully, and seemingly looking for a distraction. “Yep. We’ve fried up several this morning.” It was a kind answer, a patient one. Phillip and I had sort of stopped, if only to bask for a moment in the nutty aroma, but once the mystery scent source was confirmed, we didn’t have much else to go on, except the weather. So, we gave him one quick “Well it smells delicious. Happy Thanksgiving,” and went about our way. Guy Harvey held up some tongs and said, “Thanks. Y’all too.” We walked just a few steps in silence, thinking the exact same thing. Damn, I wish he’d fry up ours. “Ours” was currently swimming in the Hefty trash bag on the back porch, looking anything but appetizing.
We cracked the lid of our turkey cooler when we got back and stared down at the goose-pimpled skin of our white, veiny bird, trying to conjure the warm, nutty scent. Phillip finally broke first, with what we’d both been plotting since we’d walked by that oily vat, “We oughta ask him if he’ll fry up our turkey.” I hesitated for a minute. Gave him a skeptical frown and shoved my hands in my pockets. But Phillip had an idea brewing and there was no stopping him. “I’m serious. You and Kristen put on some lipstick and go sweet talk ‘em.” I laughed, a little too casually, and wondered if Kristen had heard him. Then, from down the hall, I heard a “Oooh, I’ll wear my skinny jeans too!”
My eyes widened as a sly smile spread over Phillip’s face. This was happening. I gave Phillip a quick wink and headed back to hustle up Kristen and all her accouterments. I found her squeezing into a pair of dark, midnight denim pants and slipping a soft, purple cashmere sweater over her svelte figure. She whirled around to face me with a devilish grin. “What do you think? Wait … what are we doing?” I loved it. The girl had no idea what we were about to be hustling, but she was ready regardless. And, she looked flawless. Thick, chocolate brown hair cascading around blue eyes and porcelain skin. “What am I asking for?” I couldn’t help but laugh. It was clear Phillip had sent her on many a-similar errand and she easily jumped to the task. But, she looked impeccable. I started to think we stood a chance. If she could entrance the two corn-fed boys near the oil vat long enough for me to blurt the request in or, if need be, throw the damn turkey in myself, we were going to be in business. She looked at me with a frown, though. I was still semi-eskimo, bundled, my hair having been smashed under a toboggan all day and donning jeans, a work shirt and still in my rubber rain boots.
Kristen had her work cut out. She started in on me, throwing a sweater on, ratting and poofing my hair and smudging several different pink, powdery substances on my face. I had to chuckle as I watched the rest of the clan stand around us, salivating and admiring Kristen’s handiwork. The masses were hungry and she was making me over like Katniss herself to win over the boys at the Vat Capitol. We were catching fryer.
Phillip packed up the turkey for us and a bottle of wine, intended as an easy sacrifice if needed to seal the frying deal, and sent Kristen and I out the door with a mischievous “And may the odds beever in your favor!”
I have to admit our night with the riff raff ended in a cloudy fog that I cannot adequately capture with written words (mainly, because I can’t remember it). I only know we made it back to the boat at some point and fired up the heater without burning any blankets or appendages because we woke up there, alive and surprisingly warm, despite the temp drop to the mid-30s that night. We blinked and squinted our way back to the ole’ Cove mid-morning to meet our buddy, the infamous Mitch, for a greasy cheeseburger (perfect hangover cure) and were pleased to learn from the friendly Cove Crew that Pirate’s Cove is reportedly the place where the reigning Parrot Head himself wrote the smash hit Cheeseburger in Paradise.
I have to say I’d agree with him. The cheeseburger was first rate.
I also found this fun review of the place, which I think confirms my rendition of the riff raff we found at the Cove:
“Cheeseburger in Paradise!”
Reviewed February 21, 2013
“Best burger north of Sea and Suds. This is a locals hangout-don’t come here if you are in a hurry, have an attitude, or are an overbearing Yankee – you won’t like it!”
I think the same rings true for sailing in general, so the Cove was an easy fit for Phillip and I. We certainly enjoyed our time with the riff raff. Plus, being tied up to the dock near running water and restrooms is nice. We spent a few hours the first morning hauling several one-gallon jugs of water back and forth from the dock to fill our water tanks on the boat and by the fourth or fifth trip, one of the Cove Crew told us: “You know you can just pull around here and use the hose.” They really are a great bunch. We stayed a day or two at the Cove, but we knew we had a front coming that was going to bring some strong northeast winds (30 mph gusts were predicted), and we did not want to be tied up to the dock, banging around, when those winds hit. So, on Sunday, November 24th, we tossed the lines and headed over to Ingram’s Bayou to spend a few nights on the hook.
Several local cruisers had told us about Ingram’s Bayou and described the little inlet as a well-kept secret, preserved and pristine, like camping on some tucked-away river. That sounded perfect to us. We donned our sailing gear and headed west.
But, sadly, we were not able to do any sailing. It’s a tight, short passage on the ICW from Pirate’s Cove to Ingram’s Bayou so we had to motor. And, it was pretty chilly. So much so, we kept our hands tucked away in warm places and steered with other body parts:
Knocking me out with those American thighs!
Now, after the anchor fiasco at Fort McRae, we were prepared to drop 150 feet of chain this time if necessary. We were going to shoot for a 10:1 ratio – at least. I started layering on the Gorton’s fisherman outfit as we took a lay of the land, made some rough eyeball calculations of our swing radius and prepared to drop anchor.
Before it was all said and done, we had laid out about 165 feet of chain. We were not going to find ourselves jumping up and down again all night, watching the shore and worrying about our anchor. Or so we thought. Feeling firmly planted, we did what we do best when we drop anchor – made cocktails (some Oohh Shiiiiit!s) and toasted the sunset.
That last pic is about as good as Lyden’s Swan over a Crack – in my humble opinion. But, it’s easy to capture such brilliant shots when you have such an exquisite backdrop. Ingram’s Bayou was indescribably beautiful.
But, our first night there, the front came through and we experienced some of the most powerful, horrific winds ever to whip over our boat. Laying in the v-berth, we could hear the wind howl over the deck, the halyard lines would shimmy and vibrate and the anchor chain would groan and creak until the boat finally shifted resulting in a thunderous pop of the chain. It sounded deceivingly destructive from below, like the boat was surely cracking at the seams. But it was not. We checked several times during the first couple of hours that night and, although we were swinging around wildly, facing north one minute, and hurling around to the south the next, we were decidedly not moving. Our 165 feet of chain was holding fast. And, we had added some extra chafe guards to our snubber line that were doing their job as well. We were secure. And, thanks to Mr. Heater, we were warm, too. We hunkered down for three brutally cold and windy days in Ingram’s Bayou, with friends and family constantly checking in: “You guys okay?” “You staying warm?” “Are you still out there?”
We were definitely out there. “Out there” is where we always want to be, cold front of not. We spent three of the most quiet, relaxing, peaceful days I have ever spent anywhere bundled up in Ingram’s Bayou, reading, napping, cooking, eating and just enjoying the serenity.
Oh, and drinking. It appears we did a bit of that, too. We tend to. Reading was the favorite past-time, though. I polished off Gillian Flynn’s other novel – Dark Places(a deliciously twisted follow-up to the infamous Gone Girl) breezed through David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day(an entertaining perspective from a gifted satirist) and dove right in to Garth Stein’s Art of Racing in the Rain (a dog-lovers’ dream – a true treat of a book). Phillip entertained me with hilarious, hearty sea stories from Frank Papy’s Sailing: Impressions, Ideas, Deeds, before he really dug into Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True, which he devoured and described as one of the most engaging, honest renditions of the human condition he has ever encountered. It’s on my list.
We did venture out into the cold on occasion to check the depth of our swing radius and explore the little inlets and sunken treasures in the bayou.
My Gorton’s fisherman outfit continued to layer and grow with each outing.
The jacket doesn’t zip, so I strapped on a fanny-pack style pfd to hold it all together.
We had a slip reserved at The Wharf for Thanksgiving, so we pulled anchor Wednesday morning (November 27th) and headed over that way.
We were going to have to stop first at the fuel dock to pump out before we could tie up at our slip. It had been eight days on the boat, folks, think about it. The wind was really howling as we neared the dock so I bundled up some more (yes, more) and prepared to jump off to secure the boat as fast as possible. We were not going to have another Annie docking debacle. Not that day.
As Phillip inched the bow up next to the dock, I jumped off (line in hand this time) and clamored around furiously cleating lines off to keep the boat on the dock. It was a bit of a scramble but we did it.
But, when the fuel boy came out to see what we needed, the first thing he said to me was: “What’ll it be, sir?”
After some serious Annie muscle, what I believe to be a minor rotator cuff injury, and — Phillip’s infinitely better idea — a little patience (turns out we had flooded it), the outboard finally cranked. It seems even when you buy a brand new one, outboards are just finicky critters that you have to baby about. Go figure. But, chilled to the bone, we puttered on back to our boat and hunkered down with Mr. Heater.
Aside from the oven, engine and long johns, it is the only heat source on the boat and this little guy cranks out some serious heat. As chilly as it got during that trip, I never found myself cold on the boat with this little heat machine running. We cooked up a feast (lamb chops, sauteed mushrooms and kale salad), set a kerosene-lit table for two and curled up for another night at Fort McRae.
The next day, we pulled anchor around noon and headed on over to Pirate’s Cove, which was about a 3-hour jaunt west:
We were able to sail for a couple of hours before we made it to the tighter parts of the ICW that require the motor and actually passed some friends on the way who were out kiting at Johnson’s Beach.
We made it to Pirate’s Cove around four-ish, secured the boat and settled in at the dock.
Instead of a cozy night in, we decided to get out and throw back a few with the locals at the Cove. Now, anytime we pull into an old salty harbor, we always expect the local riff raff to provide some mild form of amusement, but, what we got at the Cove was — aside from that random midget burlesque show we caught back in the spring — one of the most entertaining and bewildering nights of our lives. I swear to you – every bit of this is true. And, thanks to the Pirate’s Cove live webcam (I’m serious: www.piratescoveriffraff.com) and my phone – it was also documented in vivid detail by yours truly for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy:
We walked in around 6:30, I guess, looking for a drink and an outlet. The place was littered with a few run-down looking regulars. Hell, we probably looked like a couple of run-down regulars. Without saying a word to anyone, we started roaming the perimeter for a usable outlet so we could recharge our laptop and phones. Living on the boat, we had no qualms plugging in anywhere. Well, I say we, but Phillip is actually worse. I threw a shy smile to the bartender as I mozied around each wall, subtlely, or so I thought, looking for two available prong holes, while Phillip unabashedly started shimmying behind the soda machine and shaking the cords that ran from the back of the machine and the coffee pot, shouting loudly enough for anyone to hear, “Which one is this?,” as he shook it violently. “Trace it back. If it’s the coffee pot, unplug it.” I looked around suspiciously, thinking the electricity Nazis would surely come and kick us out, but Phillip, who was half bent over the soda machine by now, one leg kicked up in the air for balance, said “They don’t give a shit, unplug it.” So I did.
With the computer juicing up, probably coincidentally so I could memorialize this tale the next morning, we finally made our way to the bar. And, as it always seems to turn out, Phillip was right. They didn’t give a shit at all. They could have cared less whether we walked the perimeter five times, spat on the doorstep, barked and walked away. It was unlikely anything we did could interfere with their “atmosphere.”
We were at Pirates Cove, which I believe is technically in Josephine, Alabama, but by reading the haling ports on most of the dilapidated old boats in the slips there, I took it for a “place” all its own. The building itself was basically a pile of driftwood and sheet metal fastened together in some manner with rusty nails and caulk. I was actually surprised they had electricity at all.
The floorboards leading in and out of the main door were worn down at least an inch by foot traffic alone. Well, let me take that back, mammal traffic. They were at least four dogs roaming around at all times, one of whom was equal in weight and stature to a small pony with black, wart-like growths the size of baseballs formed at each of his elbows from years of laying on wooden floors. His name was Tiki, but the bartender repeatedly referred to him (yes, him) as a “needy bitch.”
Rick, the bartender, looked like the lead singer of the Grateful Dead—that Jerry character that I believe is since long gone. He kept pushing sweaty, wavy hair back from his face and stroking his white bushy beard. He wore a purplish luau-like shirt that buttoned down, although I don’t think it would have reached around the massive beach ball of a belly that protruded from his mid-section. It seemed to function more as a wearable handkerchief than anything as he would occasionally pull the tail end of it up to his face and blow his nose in it without ever missing a beat. But, for a bartender, he was exceptionally well-spoken and delightfully entertaining. Engaging each of us at the bar only when provoked and even then, only ever so lightly, with an interesting tale or observation. He was, by far, the best “soft-sell” barkeep I’ve ever encountered. He had greeted us with an appropriate “Hey guys,” when we walked in but had left us entirely alone while we walked the walls of his establishment suspiciously and fiddled with his drinking equipment, but it was as if he sensed it when we started to turn his way for a drink. His salutation then changed to “What’ll it be?”
You gotta love the live webcam. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to refresh it throughout the night on my phone and capture these shots:
Here’s Rick – sporting his luau shirt-slash-hanky:
We ordered two rum runners and settled in on two of the sturdiest damn bar stools I’ve ever had the privilege of resting my rump on. They were made out of exactly four pieces of wood, two sides, a seat and a support bar/footrest about halfway down. Each piece was at least eight inches thick and the whole stool weighed about forty pounds, a design I personally believe was intended to prevent stool tippage and usage of stools as weapons as we later witnessed a 300-pound patron who went solely by the name ‘Bama’ teeter on one repeatedly but not fall over. Phillip and I wrestled two stools up to the bar just about the time Rick Garcia slid our drinks in front of us. He then let us be to soak up the banter that was already brewing up nicely and acclimate to the atmosphere.
There were two regulars seated next to us who had clearly had a few but their slurred small-talk was still incredibly entertaining. The man next to Phillip had a full, blonde seventies shag and liked to try to speak with an Australian accent (although they both attempted German and Brittish throughout the evening). His comrade to my right was a clean-shaven, crew-cut gentleman who I believe actually was German, or at least had mastered the accent far better than his “I’m okay, you’re okay” compadre.
As Phillip and I perused the pizza menu, I heard the Shag say “We need a really great toast, something like ‘To the Fuerher!’,” which appeared to please the German. They shouted the sentiment with raised glasses and downed their shots with fervor while Rick Garcia was already making them another round.
Intrigued by the Hitler exchange, I had missed the stringy pizza man that had snuck up on Phillip. He was holding a pizza box open as if it contained some illicit substances, looking back and forth quickly over each shoulder and speaking in low tones. I leaned in to get a better listen. “Now, you want to get the MaryAnn’s mess with extra artichoke and spinach. Always extra spinach,” he said to Phillip in a whisper. The kid was probably all of twenty-one, with a grungy toboggan hat slid to one side on his head, cheek bones jutting out from underneath it and bony prominences sticking up along the back of his neck like a rooster’s mane. As quickly as he had appeared, he slipped a quick peak over his shoulder, closed the lid to the pizza box and slinked away. I asked Phillip what had sparked that encounter and he responded with only a slow shake of the head and a long pull of his drink, but with a smile slowly stealing over his mouth. We knew then and there we were definitely staying. We were certainly not going to find any entertainment better or free-er than this.
The whole crew:
We followed the junkie’s advice and ordered the MaryAnn’s mess – extra spinach – and another round of “rummers.” The Shag and the German were debating again over some previous exchange they had had at that very same bar last week, the Shag apparently recalling it one way, and the German, another. As the Shag was clearly making up details, “Yes, yes, I recall, I was wearing my flannel shirt and sipping a bourbon, when – yes, that’s it, I can see it clearly now, I’m having a flashback to … ”
“Your other personality obviously,” the German pitched in, “because you don’t wear flannel and you sure as hell don’t sip bourbon.” That did me in. I couldn’t then hide the fact that I had been watching them unapologetically like a movie. Blissfully staring. But, I couldn’t help it. The German was sharp and witty and the Shag was a perfect stupefied surface for his comments to bounce off of. But, unfortunately, as it happens, laughing at an old drunk’s joke at a bar is like feeding a dog at the table.
You’ll never shake him then. The Shag turned to me and widened his eyes, like a flower blooming before me. “Oh, what do we have here?” Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. But, he and the German both turned out to be incredibly smart and wildly entertaining. It was the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination and they both recalled, with vivid detail, where they were and what they were doing when they got the news. Although the Shag claimed it it must have been the memory of his other personality because he wasn’t actually that old. Rick Garcia piped in with an entirely inappropriate but perfectly-timed joke about someone who, legend had it, asked Jackie-O upon her return, “So, aside from that, how was your trip to Dallas, Jackie?” This quip garnered a roar of laughter from the bar-seated audience and was repeated, re-hashed and utterly used up by the time the night was over. The Shag would come back from the bathroom saying it smelt of copper and cat urine, to which we would all respond with “So, other than that, how was your trip to the men’s room, Shag?” The German griped about the piss-poor drink he had got on his last flight, and we would all respond with a “So other than that … ”
What we had failed to notice, however, during our bonding with the regulars was the bond that had been forming between the junkie with the pizza box and Bama, who had been stumbling in and out of the joint all night. Bama and the Junkie had somehow found each other in that sparse, dusty bar and were now hunkered together at a sagging picnic table behind us, one arm draped over the other’s shoulder as they belted out “on the cover of the Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stone … ” Bama was a smooth baritone and the Junkie, a raspy alto, but they made a decent duet and us bar hounds raised our glasses and swayed a few times in honor of their harmony. This was entertaining, at first, buy they repeated this verse every nine and a half minutes, approximately, throughout the night and by the fourth rendition we all began a collective eye-roll when they would strike up.
Two drinks in, our pizza finally came, a heaping, melting mozzarella-covered miracle and Phillip and I dove in, dipping whole slices in ranch, wiping swaths of grease from our face and washing it down with rum drinks that seemed to get stronger by the pour. The Shag had hunkered down and was scribbling something on some receipt paper he had pulled from the register.
I figured he had fallen prey to his intoxicants and was reaching that head-hang stage where one finds himself capable of only mono-syllables and drool. But, mid-way through another “cover of the Rolling Stone” revival, he emerged with a snap, flipping his blond wig back mightily and shoving his receipt paper drawing before me. “Ahhh .. a Lyden original,” Rick Garcia said, eyeing the piece. The drawing was actually an incredible sketch of a woman’s face, exceptionally detailed and shadowed, particularly considering it was drawn with only a ball-point pen.
Original, I thought. Rick, ever the ‘reader,’ sensed my inquiry and responded, “He’s an artist. Won something up in Fairhope for painting that … what was it Lyden? The swan over a crack?”
The Shag, now known as Lyden, handed me a business card that boasted the incredible swan over the crack with his name and website on the back. He was indeed an artist.
And a handsome one at that, pre-shag:
I fumbled the card around a bit, trying not to utterly destroy it with the massive quantities of pizza grease that coated my every finger, while I watched Rick Garcia use his purple luau cloak to simultaneously wipe the grease from his own face and blow his nose single-handed. “It serves many a-purpose,” Rick said completely unapologetically as he continued splashing together another concoction for Bama and the junkie at the other end of the bar.
While they were momentarily silent, enthralled by watching the mammoth Tiki eat a piece of cheese, the German engaged Rick in yet another riveting topic: employee theft. “So, how did you stop them?” He was asking about the apparently many-preceding bartenders who had managed to, night after night, sneak a few key dollar bills from the register, to which Rick Garcia responded by merely pointing up toward the corner of the bar to a camera. “We filmed them,” he said. “It’s amazing how accountable people get when they know they’re being videotaped.” Phillip and I eyed the camera intently while Rick continued. “We just put it on a live web cam so we could watch from afar, and we haven’t had a thieving ‘keep since.”
“So, we’re live right now?” Phillip asked. “Well, live, in a sense,” Rick Garcia responded. “It refreshes every two minutes. Here, let me show you.” He started fumbling around with his phone trying to look up the website, grumbling to himself that his “smart phone” was in fact “retarded.” He looked up with a frown and told us, “It seems I don’t have enough lapband.” Lapband? Phillip and I shared a confused look. “Lapband. Band-lap. What is it?” Garcia asked. “Bandwidth?” Phillip and I said in unison. “Yeah, that. I’ve had the lapband too – didn’t seem to have enough of that either – but bandwidth, that’s it.”
Luckily, it turned out I did have enough “lapband” and I looked us up on the old riffraff webcam. The first image that came up was of Phillip and I, eyebrows raised, watching the junkie/Bama band in yet another encore of “the Rolling Stones … ” an event that had occurred two minutes earlier, and so, by our calculation, was then set to occur again in approximately seven minutes and thirty-four seconds, give or take. When we refreshed again, I was pointing vigorously at Rick Garcia, making, I’m sure, a refreshingly witty comeback to his Lapband mishap.
We continued to refresh the webcam throughout the night, reliving each moment, exactly two minutes later, and enjoying immensely the greasy pizza, recurrent Stones revivals and the engaging banter of the Shag, the German and Garcia.
After three hours at the bar and four rummers in, Phillip and I found ourselves immersed totally in their “atmosphere.” I watched intently as a new couple sauntered in, keeping their distance, initially, from our group. The woman wrestled a massive barstool into place and nudged her partner when she first noticed the mammoth Tiki, a sight that was now normalcy for us. The Bama/Junkie duet struck up again, and I watched the couple share the same look Phillip and I had shared only hours prior. Oh, we are definitely staying. I knew, in just a short amount of time, they would join us at the bar and, before long, feel we just as we do now – like part of the local riff raff.
Heeding Phillip’s shout for help, I scrambled out of the companionway hatch in my skivvies for a quick, chilly look-about, and he was right. We had definitely moved. The anchor light of the ‘nice and tight’ boat that had come up on us around sunset, which had once been inline with our cockpit, was now inline with our bow. Gulp. And, although it was dark, we could both make out the shoreline in the moonlight and it looked to be about ten feet closer than it had been when we had settled in for the night. Apparently, the 5:1 ratio we had dropped wasn’t enough.
You see the chart here where it says “too short – anchor may not hold.” They’re sugarcoating it. It should say, “you didn’t lay out enough rode, you dumbass – you’re screwed.” At least that’s how we felt. It was clear the boat was inching back toward the shore. We were going to have to pull the anchor up, motor forward and drop her back down. Snot was already freezing to my face, so I scrambled down below and started snatching every item of clothing I could find and throwing it on. I probably looked like a bag lady when I came up. I had on my long johns, Phillip’s t-shirt, leggings under pajama pants, a couple of scarves wrapped around my neck, a Christmas sweater, a tobaggan, my foul weather jacket and rain boots. But, I’m sure I made it look super sexy and smoking hot.
I refuse to believe I actually looked like this:
“Hey-haaay Cap’n! Let’s drop us an anchor!”
In the blistering cold, the black of night, we did it. We pulled the anchor up. Now, if you recall, Phillip has told me before that two of the most entertaining things you can watch a couple do are dock and anchor. Either is sure to be a catalyst for whatever tension might have been building between them during the trip. The process usually involves a lot of shouting, subtle (or not so subtle) insults and accusations and eventually name-calling. I am proud to say that Phillip and I have become pretty adept at it, and our process involves only hand-signals and code. Particularly after this trip, where we gained a good deal of anchor experience. Me, in particular, who works the bow. On our boat, we’ve got a windlass which pulls the anchor up by motor.
It’s a nice luxury to have since our rode is entirely chain, with the anchor alone weighing approximately thirty-five pounds. We also have a deck wash that hooks in at the bow and pulls in sea water to spray the mud off of the chain as the windlass hoists it up. From the first time he used it, Phillip always said “The deck wash is king!” And, while I agreed it was a handy little device to have when you’re pulling anchor, I wasn’t quite as enamored as he. Until, I had to learn the hard way (it seems that is the only way I truly learn) when the deck wash got clogged one time, and I had to hoist approximately 20-30 bucketfuls of seawater up to the bow to wash each link of that retarded chain off via bucket slosh, cursing it the entire time. Covered in sweat and my biceps and lower back screaming at me by the time I finished, I trudged back to the cockpit where Phillip made me reiterate it again. “The deck wash is king, right?”
Yes, the deck wash is king.
But, the only bad thing about the deck wash is that it sprays water everywhere. Particularly when the wind is howling and you’re spraying right into it, as we were that night. While my “bag lady” look was warm when dry, it was anything but when wet, and I got soaked. By the time we moved forward and re-dropped the anchor (100 feet plus this time, and nothing short of it!), I was frozen through. My fingers were barely functional and I couldn’t even feel my toes. I swore the next time we pulled anchor, I was busting out the Gorton’s fisherman outfit. Head to toe. And I did!
Misses Gorton ain’t got nothing on me! I rocked that number.
With our anchor secure, we woke the next morning to find the shore at a nice, safe distance.
With 100 feet+ out, and a clean swing radius, we felt good about the anchor and decided it was time to go toodling around in our dinghy to explore our anchorage. Now, while you all are familiar with our downtrodden dinghy that made it’s way back to us from the middle of the Gulf, while she was making that wayward trek, we had a very generous boat buddy, Bottom-Job Brandon, give us an inflatable dinghy we could use in the meantime. The thing is awesome. It packs down a little bigger than my stand-up paddleboard and fits nicely in the aft cabin on the boat for passage. Once we anchor, we break it out, put the floorboards in, air it up – and GO!!
Like Daffy Duck and the Abominable Snowman …
“I will love him and pet him and call him George.” And, for those of you with too much time on your hands – video HERE.
all summer long, Annie loved on the dinghy, rubbed on it, cleaned on it, fixed it up and made it her own.
We even got an outboard for her right before the November trip.
After some research and debate, we decided to go with a 3.5 horsepower, water-cooled Tohatsu. It weighs about 45 pounds and we lift it(by hand) from the dinghy up to a mounting board on the stern rail.
Outboards are not cheap and if dropped in the water, I’m sure they sink right to the bottom, either irretrievably so or, even if retrievable, they are likely forever ruined in the process regardless. So, you can just imagine our first nervous, wobbly-kneed hand-off from Phillip up at the stern, to me down bobbing in the dinghy. It was hairy and there were a lot of “You got it?” “You got it?” “You sure you got it?” ‘s that were exchanged back and forth – but thankfully we got her down safely and mounted firmly on the transom of the dinghy. I don’t think I’ve ever gripped anything so hard in my life. My knuckles were white and my fingers were gnarled tight around her. I was NOT going to be the one who dropped the engine. But, it’s now a fairly routine exchange and we manage it fairly easily, without all the nerves and tension. Still a death grip, though. The death grip is key.
With the sun just rising on our first morning of the trip, and our boat now securely anchored, Phillip hopped in the dinghy and fired her up for a morning ride.
We cruised on over to Fort McRae first and poked around. The fort is no longer standing, but there are some old barricade walls and tunnels to explore, and it does feel pretty empowering to stand up at the peak and look out onto the Gulf knowing this was one of three spots where massive barricades were erected so many years ago to protect Pensacola’s shores.
We then dinghy-ed back across the chilly waters to Sand Island to go exploring.
It really is gorgeous there. Pristine and untouched. We frolicked along without a care in the world. Like a goofy couple in a Kay Jeweler’s commercial. Hands clasped blissfully together, we skipped back to the dinghy and patted her gently as we nestled in. We both smiled warmly at the outboard and commented on how shiny and pretty she was and how well she was running that morning. How well she was running. She WAS running. Had been anyway. Phillip pulled the cord, had to have been 20 or 30 times, but she would not start. Refused to start, or even to try. That bitch! She had turned on us.
We sat in the dinghy looking out across the water at our boat, and I know what you’re probably all thinking. Stop your whining Nancy and row! Sure, we could row. Assuming the wind was light enough. But, we still had nine days to go on our trip and plenty of little inlets and places we wanted to explore — in our dinghy — and we bought an outboard for a reason. This was America dammit and we’d spent our hard-earned U.S. dollars on that foreign motor. I wasn’t having it. I shoved Phillip aside. Let me at her!
With Big Mom tended to and Alabama in our rear-view, Phillip and I set to planning our Thanksgiving voyage. Due to the rush trip to North Alabama for the funeral and the lost time from work, we both needed to put in a few days at the office to make up for it before we took off again, so we settled on a departure date of Wednesday, November 20th, which would still leave us 10 whole days at sea. Now, while a trip east to Carrabelle, Apalachicola and the like was still do-able, it would be a stretch as Carrabelle, alone, is a two-day passage, assuming good weather, and I can tell you what we did not have that week was good weather. A front was set to pass through, leaving us with 25-30 mph winds and a predicted 6-9 foot sea-state. Not something you want to jaunt out in just for fun. There were plenty of anchorages we had heard about on the western route, so we decided to stay protected along the ICW inshore and head west in search of (what else?) — women, whiskey and gold!
Here is an overview of our planned voyage:
We planned to head over to Fort McRae first for a couple of days on the hook, then ease in to Pirate’s Cove to dock up and hang out with the local riff raff for a day or two. From there, we would jump over to Ingram’s Bayou (a place many of our sailing buddies kept telling us was one of the most beautiful, pristine anchorages over that way) to drop anchor for a couple of quiet nights, before we made our way over to The Wharf in Orange Beach where we had reserved a slip for Thanksgiving. Phillip’s clan was also planning to rent a condo there for the holiday and we – as true cruisers tend to do – were planning to make full use of their facilities! There is nothing like a hot shower and a washer and dryer after seven days at sea!
All told, our trek out west was going to be about an 8-9 day trip and we had planned one last anchorage on the way back (likely Red Fish Point – just near Fort McRae) for one last night of solitude before heading back to the real world.
So, we set off on a brisk sunny Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 20th) and headed to our first stop — Fort McRae:
Now, we’ve been to Red Fish Point many times, so the passage across Pensacola Bay and through the little inlet by Sand Island was all too familiar territory. No sweat. We could make that sail with our eyes closed (assuming, of course, no other boats, bouys, or a shore). Stevie Wonder style!
But, we had never made the “uey” around the corner and into the inlet between Sand Island and Fort McRae.
And I’ll have you know I had to Google the word “uey” for the proper spelling. Urban Dictionary says:
Cab driver : “I’ll just bang(make a/take) a uey on the next stoplight”
Although I’m not sure that’s just a “New England” thing. I think ‘to bang is to make’ rings true just about anywhere.
We had a phenomenal sail over. But, I will say, we had not been out on the boat in weeks and I think just about any conditions would have been ‘phenomenal’ to us as we were just thrilled to finally have water moving across the hull. Although many may disagree, runny noses and chilly fingers just aren’t enough to make any sail UN-phenomenal in our book. But, apparently we were a little rusty. I’d love to say we executed the ‘uey’ around Sand Island perfectly and eased right on up into our anchorage by Fort McRae. But that’s just not how it happened. As we were making (banging I guess the New Englanders would say) the bend, the boat lurched forward and let out a slight groan. With my hands on the bimini bar, I could feel the soft, thud of the ground we hit below. And let me just say for the record – although I’m a little reluctant to admit it, we have done it a time or two now (run aground) – but it’s never a feeling you get comfortable with. It’s a sickening, discomforting movement of the boat and instantly identifiable as contact with the treacherous bottom below. Thankfully, for us, it was a soft, sandy bottom and Phillip had the sharp skipper skills to back us out, “bang out” a bigger loop and get us into Fort McRae with our keel in tact.
Now, I’ve heard some people refer to this anchorage as “party alley” because it’s usually chock full of sailboats, power boats, trollers and the like. Hence the “party.” But, we were hoping that on Thanksgiving it would be pretty sparse so we would have plenty of room to spread out. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. There were three other boats in there, a marker for some sunken hazard, a bouy and a tight shoreline that we had to deal with. Enter the infamous Swing Radius. Now, most of you are smart enough to make a pretty good guess as to what that is, but humor me for just a moment for the newbies.
Imagine your anchor as the center of the circle. The radius, then, is the distance from your anchor to the stern of your boat:
Using the radius, you can then plot out a hypothetical ‘circle’ your boat could occupy depending on which way the wind or tide pushes it. Now, with several “obstacles” around us – three other boats, an immovable marker for the sunken hazard, a bouy, and a nearby shore with outstretched shoal, we had to be sure we dropped enough anchor chain (known as “rode”) to hold our boat secure while not creating a swing radius so large it would allow us to strike the surrounding obstacles. We typically like a 7:1 ratio. Meaning, if we were in 7 feet of water, with 4 foot freeboard (distance from the water line to the deck), that’s 11 feet total depth, so 77 feet of rode.
Now, while getting the anchor set right is important, making sure we had a proper cocktail at sunset easily trumps it. So, with the tight parameters, we dropped about 55 feet of anchor chain (an approximate 5:1 ratio with our ten feet of total depth) and set to our evening ritual. A book and cocktail at sunset. Could there be anything better?
But then another boat pulled up nice and tight near us and set us both on edge. We started looking around, running and re-running our calculation of the swing radius and speculating, once again, as to the approximate distance to the shore.
With both of us being born fierce litigators and each a few drinks in and, thus, a little more ballsy to boot, Phillip and I embarked on an exhaustive debate about the swing radius. I made a rough calculation and explained to Phillip my educated guess as to the radius, to which he naturally responded:
With no one else on the boat with us, a riveting discussion ensued, in which I had to drop some serious geometry knowledge on Phillip that, if translated to a demonstrative aid, would look something like this:
Simple, right? I thought so. Or at least I was sure, in my eloquent, unslurred, precise and persuasive frame of mind, that it was. And, I told Phillip as much. To which he responded:
Fine by me! I had made my peace with it. I offered my best pitch – full of reason and geometry and gin – and my plight had fallen on deaf ears (or ogling eyes – although I consider them to be synonymous). I set about to “banging out” another drink or three and resting my weary mind while Phillip got up about every hour to try and make out the markers and shoreline in the dark of night as the wind began to howl over the boat. I kept a shoulder turned to him, pretending to be sleeping soundly (lah-tee-dah) as he was checking GPS coordinates on his phone, but I was wide awake and just as worried as he. The sounds and motions of the boat from below were incredibly deceiving. What could just as easily have been the wind and a smooth shift of the boat in the water sounded, in the v-berth, like the keel wedging into sand and the boat preparing to tip over. Neither of our weary minds were resting. Phillip made one last trek topside, and I heard him walk up toward the bow, my eyes following the sound of his footsteps in the dark. Then I heard them pound quick on the deck above as he scurried back to the hatch and shouted down to me:
I guess that’s the thing about plans. That’s all they are until they come to fruition. Phillip and I had planned to travel east over the Thanksgiving holiday and make a straight four-day passage across the Gulf to Carrabelle, but, as it always does, life seemed to have something different in store for us. We had planned to leave on November 15th and had spent the week provisioning and planning and getting the boat ready, when I got a call mid-week from my Dad that changed everything. My grandmother, better known to all as “Big Mom,” the strongest, most stubborn southern woman I’ve ever met, passed away on November 13, 2013.
Now, while any death is sad. It’s the end of a life, the severing, or distortion, at least, of a connection you made with someone. It’s a loss of something irreplaceable, a person. It’s sad. Always. But it’s also inspiring and stirring. What better motivator could there be than a humbling reminder that our time here is most certainly limited. That every moment passed is one lost forever, and that, no matter how long it may seem when looking forward, looking back, life is nothing but undeniably all too short. My grandmother lived eighty-six full years on this earth, fuller, even, than I had imagined. It’s funny how we forget that the people in our lives exist outside of us. I learned, while sorting through old photos for her funeral that, long before I was even a gleam in my father’s eye, Big Mom had already experienced a lifetime of adventure. I found pictures of her hiking in Alaska, riding a furry Clydesdale-looking horse in thigh-high snow, splashing around in the ocean at the ripe age of eighteen, skiing, skating, dancing and laughing, always laughing. I even found a picture of her in a pretty ‘racy’ bikini for the times (1955) and have to admit I was nothing but proud. My grandma was hot! While I didn’t know her as this adventurous spit-fire, that was before my time, I do remember the many years she spent schooling, scolding, spanking and shaping my Dad, my aunt, my brother, my cousins, all of us, into the people we are today.
And I do mean “all of us.” Spanking was allowed by anyone in the “village” in those days, and kids behaved in those days.
So, instead of packing the boat for a voyage, Phillip and I packed a couple of suitcases with our black Sunday bests and headed up to north Alabama for the services. And, holding true to my belief in the power of stories, I chose this one for the funeral, as I believe it captures the essence of the woman we lost that day:
I was quite the cowgirl when I was four. Well, I made a good run at it least. My Dad was the actual cowboy and I was his handkerchief-wearing, boot-and-spur sporting miniature. If Dad was getting on a horse, so was I, in the front, right up next to the horn. One day, I was riding with my Dad on one of his new roping horses, Rusty. My brother had hopped on the back so we were three-deep, horseback and walking along the gravel road from the pastures down yonder up to Big Mom’s house.
Now, I can’t tell you what happened exactly. I barely remember the actual fall, but Dad tells me the horse was stung by something. A hornet, probably, based on the welp he found on the horse’s hind quarter later, but Rusty reared back on his hind legs, his fronts doing that classic Black Stallion bicycle kick, and threw John right off the back. He then came down, firmly planted the’ fronts,’ and gave a massive buck with the back, launching my Dad and I up and over his head. Now, it was a good thing my Dad held on to me tight when the horse reared back so I wouldn’t fall, but not such a good thing when the horse bucked us over his head and we smashed into the ground, me on the bottom and all two hundred and ten pounds of my Dad on top, and slid across the gravel road and into the ditch.
My Dad had a look of horror on his face when he rolled me over, pushed a blood-soaked swath of hair and bits of gravel from my face, and asked me if I was okay. I tried to respond but, although I can’t explain it, I had a clot the size of Kansas in my mouth. I do remember that. I also remember the world jostling around me as he scooped me up and started running toward the house shouting for Big Mom. And, Big Mom was, I guess, all of fifty-nine at the time, but she hoisted me up close to her body and hauled me up every stair in the house, saying, just as calmly as ever, “Now, let’s see what we got here.” In the bathroom she started drawing a bath and I saw a couple bottles of hydrogen peroxide on the edge of the tub, a home health product I was all too familiar with. That was the stuff that made a tiny little cut that didn’t hurt at all bubble and fizzle and burn like acid. I knew what it was capable of and I saw Big Mom dumping bottles (bottles!) of it into the tub. I started wriggling out of her grasp, protesting and wailing and begging for “Anything but that!”
But Big Mom wasn’t having it. Even my most fervent rebellion was not going to stop her from doing what she knew was right for me. With strength I had never imagined her capable of and not a single word, she plopped in that vat of acid and every laceration on my body started fizzling and frothing until it looked like a bubble bath. I was flailing and sputtering and shrieking at her in protest, when she grabbed me by my bloody, foamy chin and–this part I will never forget–said “Awww hush, you’re alive ain’t ya? It ain’t that bad. Hell, I swish with it.” And, then she did the unthinkable. Big Mom tipped the bottle of hydrogen peroxide up and took a swig. I sat there dumbfounded, totally silent, only the soft sound of my fizzling skin floating between us, as she swished that foul stuff around in her mouth three of four times, her eyes locked tightly on mine. She then spit a white foamy mouthful out next to me in the tub and gave me a firm “hmmpph” look that shut me up entirely. I forgot completely that my skin was burning off, that I was in pain everywhere, or, even, that I had fallen and skid across gravel. Clot? What clot?? Big Mom had just swished with hydrogen peroxide!?! Could there be anything worse? And, just like that, I stopped complaining, I stopped crying and I agreed with her. It really wasn’t that bad.
And, it was a lesson that stuck. There have been many times in my life when something that seemed tragic at the time happened to me and, for whatever reason, my mind flashed back to that foul bath, my fizzling skin and the look on Big Mom’s face as she swished and spat. You’re alive ain’t ya?
You’re damn right I am. And, I don’t intend to waste a minute. Phillip and I knew we were going to have to push the trip back and, likely, plan a different route, but we didn’t mind. We didn’t care where we went, really, as long as we went. While we prefer sunshine and cocktails, we know rough seas and foul weather are going to be part of it, too, and will likely be just as memorable, if not more so. Either way, as long as we’re alive, it just ain’t that bad. We still had time left and a voyage to plan.
Isn’t that what you’re all thinking? At least that’s what I get asked three times a week. (Yes, I’m talking to you Bleeke!) Soon, people. Soon. Stick with me. But, I’ll tell you, even when we do get there, it’s not going to be any more beautiful than this:
And, when we cook up a meal in the galley off the coast of some remote island in the Keys or Bahamas, it’s still going to look like this:
Adventure is relative and can be found anywhere. Usually, it’s the act of getting there that’s the real “journey,” not the destination itself.
But, you want to see us on a passage. I get it. So do we, minus the transmission fluid catch this time. Although I’m sure you want to see some equally entertaining minor disaster occur that we have to resolve in true MacGyver fashion with bubble gum, nail polish and sheep shears (all of which we keep on the boat for just such an occasion).
I’ll see what I can come up with.
Trust me, we were ready to get back out there, too. With the summer pretty much behind us and all of our major boat chores done, the rubber gloves finally came off,
and we set down to plan our trip. Which we, of course, had to do over wine and dinner – a whole roasted snapper, anyone?
Between work, family and my obligatory appearances on the rodeo clown circuit, we had about two weeks to work with in November. Yes, we do plan to go longer and further later, but that will have to come later. All evidence to the contrary, we do have to work. I can’t stress to you enough how expensive boats can be. Now, let me remind you how far the actual Keys are:
I think even MacGyver’s scruffy eyebrows raised with that one. It’s about a four-day passage offshore, if made straight. That’s 96 hours of solid sailing, which means someone always at the wheel, even with auto-pilot, you still need to keep a lookout and stay close to the helm, particularly at night. This means, for four days, you only get to sleep in one-to-two hour snatches. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain sense of freedom, adventure and accomplishment when you finish a passage, but it is also a very tiring stint at sea, even in the best of conditions, exhausting and harrowing in the worst. If we made the four-day passage straight to the Keys, we would need a day or two to rest and recover and that would leave us about one day to enjoy the Keys before we had to start meandering back, two or three, perhaps, if wanted to make another four-day epic passage back across the Gulf. But that would put us on a tight schedule, and we learned the hard way during The Crossing that you can never be on a tight schedule when sailing. You have to build in a cushion for the weather. It’s just part of it. We hated to push the Keys trip back, but it had to be done. Trying to squeeze it into the tight travel window we had this winter was not going to allow us the time we wanted to truly enjoy the Keys. Plus, there were plenty of places we wanted to cruise locally and enjoy. We decided we would make the trip to the Keys in the spring (after skiing season – of course – that’s a must!) and stick around these parts in November.
Phillip and I decided to head East to Carrabelle.
That’s about a two-day passage straight. Forty-eight hours, assuming a good weather window. If you recall, our boat spent some time over in Carrabelle when the transmission went out, and we really enjoyed poking around the sleepy little mariner towns around there, which feel like they’ve been preserved in time, when sea-faring sailors roamed the streets, rum bottle in hand. We wanted to head back and spend a couple of days immersing ourselves with the old salts and eating some of the best fresh oysters I have ever let slither down my throat.
We then wanted to take our time heading back inshore, protected along the Intracoastal Waterway (as much as we could … we would have to pop out into the Gulf for several stretches where our mast height (50 feet) won’t allow us under the bridges). We pulled out the charts–and the snapper–and started plotting our passage.
And, what meal is complete without fresh homemade bread and salad? … None we know of.
The plan was to hope for good weather, so we could head straight for Carrabelle, spend a night or two there boozing with the locals, then mozey our way back to Apalachicola for some local fare, another night or two to booze again and get our fill of fresh oysters. Then, we thought we would check out Port St. Joe, a great littler marina there, Cape San Blas (lots of cool anchorages there, too), head back to Panama City in hopes of catching another sighting of our Lady Legs-a-Lot (you remember those heels!), then make the twenty-four passage offshore back to Pensacola.
Even with a few extra days’ cushion for potential bad weather, this trip, even taken leisurely, would still easily fill two weeks. We planned to leave November 15th and return on the 29th. This was going to be a significant passage for the two of us – heading offshore for a four-day passage. While I may have proven some creative gumption and gusto in surviving the dinghy debacle and transmission fiasco during The Crossing, this was going to be my first true offshore voyage as First Mate. I started glossing over our old sailing books again, working expletives back into my everyday conversation, upping my rum tolerance and practicing my knot-tying skills on empty wine bottles. Oh, and watching weekend-long MacGyver marathons. That helps too.
A two-week passage in the blistering winter? Done. I was packing all my gear.
Aside from the mullet, MacGyver ain’t got nothing on me!