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Friday, July 22, 2011

Thinking of Sharks after Indulging in a Snickers Chocolate-Peanut Butter Square...

One would only think that I would be sensible enough to avoid indulging in yet another one of those delectable yet totally decadent Snickers Chocolate-Peanut Butter Squares that recent taste forums convincingly suggest make oneself most appetizing to sharks.

But no, I couldn't help myself and once again found myself scarfing down yet another Snickers Square the other day only to later regret having possibly made myself more appetizing to you know who.

All of which had me thinking back to my cruising days aboard S/V BratCat and sailing throughout the Bahamas as well as reflecting upon a few impressionable shark incidences that are still embedded in my memory bank.

Well one such incident didn't involve me personally but was to occur while sailing from Nassau to Allan's Key in the northern Exumas. The weather couldn't have been more delightful that morning with brilliant blue skies and water to match. The steady winds and flat seas that perfect day also made for a most delightful four-hour sail.

The only prevailing concern while sailing those pristine waters that day was to keep a keen and vigilant eye out for what seemed to be more than just a few cylindrically shaped brown coral heads.

Well those treacherous coral heads seemingly lurking just beneath the surface of the water and randomly interspersed like explosive mines were nevertheless readily visible from a distance in the crystal clear blue waters that day.

It also goes without saying that any one of those lurking coral heads could have made for a bad day of sailing if one were to have had the misfortune of smacking into any one of these while under sail. But like I said, those coral heads were nevertheless readily visible and easily avoided that day.

All of which brings me back to the topic of sharks... while en route to Allan's Key, the staccato chop-chop-chop sound of helicopter blades could suddenly be heard slicing through the air all the while getting progressively louder off of S/V BratCat's stern.

It was then in but an instant that a brightly-colored orange U.S. Coast Guard helicopter could be seen flying low and fast. Its turbine engines were at full throttle as it flew directly above our mast while speeding off into the direction of our destination that by now had appeared as a shadow on the distant horizon.

Then what seemed like but a minute or two after touching down on that distant key, that aircraft was once again airborne. The staccato chop-chop-chop of the blades slicing through the air could once again be heard getting progressively louder only this time that chopper was flying low and fast and heading back to where it had come from.

Well I then turned to my then wife and commented the obvious... "I think something serious might have happened and someone might have had a mishap of sorts" or words to that effect.

Sure enough, after dropping an anchor off of Allan's Key later that afternoon and later going ashore the next morning, we were informed that a mishap had indeed happened the previous day.

It turns out that a female diver out of Marathon, Florida had had the misfortune of losing a hand to a shark. After free-diving and spearing a grouper, she had surfaced with the intent of handing over both her Hawaiian sling and speared grouper to a fellow diver patiently waiting inside their dinghy.

The speared grouper was to have then been placed in a bucket along with other bleeding fish and lobster that had already been speared by fellow divers.

Unfortunately upon extending her sling out of the water to her fellow diver securely aboard their dinghy, the grouper slid down along the shank of her sling coming to rest directly upon her hand.

It was then that a shark, that had been stealthily lurking nearby, swiftly went after the bleeding grouper thus snatching both the grouper and the diver's hand which the speared grouper had come to rest upon.

(Memo to self: Stop indulging in any Snickers Chocolate Peanut-Butter Squares and switch to Butterfingers...)

By the way... it occurs to me that both the U.S. Coast Guard and Police Officers have something in common. One would just as soon not see any of these fine public servants hanging around for fear of being subjected to a fine of sorts whether it be for not complying with a boat safety requirement or for a random traffic ticket.

But if one might happen to be in any sort of distress, whether one be on a boat or on some isolated roadside, then one is only too grateful to have them around to provide any needed assistance.

What can I say other than that I've had four speeding tickets over the years and that I deserved every one of them.

Lastly before concluding... I do apologize for making light of a most unfortunate incident. There but for the grace of "god" go I.

S/V BratCat somewhere near Georgetown, Exumas 1989.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Remembering having Briefly Sailed a Sunfish while Tropical Storm Bret Looms Offshore...

Well it happens to be that time of the year when inclement weather is the norm here in South Florida and sure enough a Tropical Storm has popped up out of nowhere, all reminding me of a very brief yet memorable sailing experience from awhile back.

For you see, it was while vacationing in Cozumel and but a mere hour or so after disembarking from a flight out of Dallas, that against my better judgement, I foolhardily elected to rent a Sunfish for a quick afternoon sail before a category four hurricane was to make its arrival the next day.

Tourist activities were already being cancelled left and right by hotels and proprietors alike. Storefronts along the main beach front could also be seen being busily boarded up as well.

There were not to be any scuba excursions, or blue water fishing or even any reef snorkeling until further notice. Even the ubiquitous Pirate ship wouldn't be motoring out anywhere any time soon for an evening of boisterous and decadent frolicking.

The only activities that still remained available to tourist and that had yet to be cancelled were four-wheeling on the other end of the island and of sailing a sunfish. And it had already been announced that sunfish rentals would not be resuming the next morning.

Well of course, I just had to make the most of what remained of that afternoon and after forking over payment for an hour's time of rental, I'm dragging my Sunfish out to the waters edge when I hear the vendor calling out to me in Spanish, "sale rapido"!.

Well that young man who had just rented the Sunfish out to me certainly wasn't kidding and I was already second guessing my decision to want to go sailing after feeling the strong gusting winds blowing hard ashore and of seeing a lot of chop out in the water.

Payment nevertheless had already been made and requesting a refund was simply out of the question... (Hey it's Mexico for goodness sake and the concept of a refund was most certainly unlikely to happen to say the least.)

So in the water I go and no sooner had I dropped the keel and tightened the sails, when I feel the boat lurching forward while swiftly carrying me out away from the shoreline.

The gusting winds of that imminent hurricane had me immediately fearing for my well being all the while that dinky little boat slammed into one wave after another. I can't help but vividly remember this very moment, my rear-end being constantly lifted off the settee of the boat only to then get slammed back down hard against the hard fiberglass every time I'd hit a wave.

It was all I could do to keep that Sunfish upright and I had but one prevailing thought in mind and that was to sail immediately back to shore and live to sail another day.

I suppose that my first clue before pulling away from shore should have been that no one else was out sailing that day but heck, it was already too late for that. I now had but one pressing concern and that was to make a clean tack and to head on back to shore without capsizing the boat with me in it.

Needless to say, I was much relieved after successfully tacking for my one and only tack. Even the constant slamming of my rear-end up against the hard fiberglass was now somewhat bearable knowing that I was headed to shore.

I couldn't get off that Sunfish fast enough and I was most relieved that I hadn't capsized for I'm sure that I wasn't experienced enough to upright that treacherous little boat in such strong gusting winds.

That vacation turned out to be a memorable one if only because of how miserable it made everyone feel. That hurricane in September of 2002, cut a swath through the Yucatan Peninsula, eventually went offshore and then had the temerity to remain virtually stationary for days on end thus keeping everybody stranded at the hotel with nothing to do but drink themselves silly at the bar.

The irony of it all is that our flight to Cozumel had initially been scheduled a week earlier but was purposely rescheduled so as to avoid air travel on the anniversary of 9-11...

That brief sail couldn't have lasted more than twenty or so minutes but nevertheless had me fearing for my life the entire time I was out on the water. I can now unequivocally state that sailing small boats is certainly more challenging than sailing the larger ones.

The above image is of me preparing to set sail on my Sunfish back in the day.
Las Croabas, Puerto Rico 1997

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Making Pizza and Delighted to be Off the Boat if Only for a Couple of Days...

I'm somewhat convinced that I've yet to embrace the "Cruising Lifestyle" and all it's inconveniences because I find myself more often than not climbing off my boat, dinghying ashore, and driving across the state to visit my lady-friend if only for a few days loitering in a real house.

And making pizza from scratch while sipping on a few Heinekens is certainly a most relaxing way to loiter an afternoon away if I may say...

Check out Chef John's six minute video on how to make the perfect pizza dough courtesy of Wolfgang Puck.

My pizza sauce was pretty basic... Hot Italian Sausage Links, a can of diced tomatoes, a chopped onion, a good many cloves of garlic, olive oil, thyme, oregano, and lastly toasted fennel seeds.