October 10, 2013 – To See a She-Man About a Boat

Now, I don’t really consider a dinghy a “boat.”  I mean, I guess it’s a watercraft.  It floats and carries people.  You can paddle or motor around in it.

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Okay, I get it.  But, if our sailboat and the dinghy were tied up together in a slip, and someone said, “Hey, nice boat!,” I wouldn’t say, “Thanks, she’s a 2001 six-seater Caribe with matching oars.”  I would, assume, like the rest of the world I would hope, that he’s talking about the sailboat.  The real boat.  (And, I will tell you, I was going to include a fun little Webster’s or similar dictionary quote here to prove my imminent brilliance, but every definition I found started with “A small boat that … ” — Bullocks!).

Apparently, the boys in blue are equally correct in their definition of a “boat.”  After a nail-biting ten minutes in NYC, Detective Whazzisname from the Pensacola Police Department finally called us back and told us they had been trying to track Phillip down back in Pensacola on behalf of the Fort Walton Police.  Turns out it was the Fort Walton guys that wanted to talk to Phillip “about his boat.”  A very important piece of information Sergeant So-and-So could have told us that wouldn’t have left us imagining Plaintiff’s Rest smashed into a pile of paint and epoxy at our dock back in Pensacola.  But, apparently, he wasn’t at liberty to disclose such vital information.  Phillip started to suspect then that it could be about the dinghy, although I was a little skeptical.  I mean we cut her off in the middle of the Gulf …

I believe you all remember the “harrowing debacle.”  When we had to literally hack the dinghy off the stern during The Crossing to save the boat:

“Afterward, we all fell into a heap in the cockpit, drenched and shaken, but feeling more alive in that moment than we had the entire trip.  I doubt Mitch could even comprehend nausea at that moment.  Our bodies were feasting on adrenaline.  We sat there, our chests heaving in unison it seemed, gathering our thoughts and wondering if what just happened had really happened.  Phillip shined a light out into the sea as it to confirm our collective inquiry and there it was.  The dinghy.  About 50 yards away from the boat, lines floating around her like spindly fingers reaching back for the boat.  She was truly out there, detached from the boat and floating away.  We had really done it.  Cut her off.  The damn dinghy.”

Now, what do you think happened to that dinghy?  I imagined it floated along, finally free as a blue-jay, frolicking with the dolphins and dorados.  Much like the wide-eyed cat in the psychedelic cat food commercial batting at little fish-shaped pieces of meat leaping about, as happy as happy can be.

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Like when the family pet passes and you tell the little ones “No, honey, Brisco didn’t die, he’s living on a great big farm, chasing squirrels all day.”  I envision it that way because that’s not the image I was left with when we sawed the dinghy off and watched her float away from the boat over big, murky waves, existing only in the single beam of our flashlight — until we clicked it off and turned our backs on her.  And then what?

Then our dinghy floated herself all the way to Fort Walton Beach that’s what.  Her journey had to look something like this:

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I’m starting to think our dinghy looked less like the doe-eyed, frolicking kitten in the cat food commercial and more like this:

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Cut me off of the boat will they?  I’ll get those heifers!

Our dinghy wasn’t having it!  She wasn’t going to let us leave her out there to drift aimlessly in the ocean.  The cat came back!  And, as fate would have it.  Having floated freely across the entire Gulf, the minute she touched dry land, she ended up here:

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Apparently she didn’t think to grab her papers before we cut her loose.  Them’s the breaks!

Someone had apparently found her in the woods and brought her in to the station.  Thankfully, we had registered the dinghy in Phillip’s name before setting off on The Crossing so they were able to track her back to us.  But, they sure weren’t in a hurry.  We learned the dinghy had been sitting there, staring sadly through a chain link fence, waiting for us to come get her, since July.  July!?  Yes, three months, sitting in a parking lot, out in the sun.  But at least she’d made it back.

Phillip met with a stocky Fort Walton lady-officer of about this size and stature:

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I heart you Melissa McCarthy.

She unlocked the gate and let us have a look at her.  She had some nautical miles on her, but it was definitely our dinghy.

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The outboard was nowhere to be found, but I’m sure that thing was toast well before she reached the shore.  I remember when it crashed into the water from the davits, oil and gas flowing out of it like lava.  I doubt it was salvageable.  As we hoisted her into the trailer and strapped her in, I started to wonder what stories our dinghy could tell us about her adventure.

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Perhaps she floated past Robert Redford in an ailing life raft, or an Indian boy and his tiger, adrift at sea.  Or maybe she hallucinated the entire time and did bat at leaping, neon goldfish.  We’ll never know.  But, I couldn’t believe she had come back to us.  All that way.  The damn dinghy.