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Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Subject Moving Down Below"...

Well fellow barstool sailors, this here narrative picks up where a previous posting left off. And yep, dat' be the one when I got intercepted late one evening out in the Key West Channel by the fine men and women of the US Coastguard for not having a decent dinghy light.

In any event fast forward but a couple of days later after that little late night incident and I'm somewhat safely tied back up to a mooring ball in the exposed expanses of the Garrison Bight Mooring Field yet again. For ya' see I had gotten tired of fretting about the incessant northerly winds and of the continuously shifting Key West Channel currents.

So yeah, marina fees be damned and all that noise because I had abruptly come to my wits end worrying about my anchors constantly dragging. And let me tell ya'll dat' it ain't no fun hunkering down in front of a computer all day prepping tax returns for disgruntled clients while incessantly worrying about one's  anchors.

And to that I'll also add the unpleasant experience of when but a day or two earlier a fellow boater in that crowded anchorage off of the Key West Channel, had abruptly motored on over in his dinghy only to proceed and emphatically advise me in not too endearing terms that my boat had been dragging all over that tight anchorage in the days before.

That fellow then followed up his diatribe by then loudly proclaiming  that he didn't have "any respect" for those not taking the necessary precautions to care for their boat before suddenly opening up the throttle and motoring on back to his own boat at anchor.

And never-mind whether or not his dinky sailboat happened to be all crapped-out along with a cluttered deck to boot because if the truth be told he had indeed long since laid claim to that particular piece of anchorage. For he happened to be a bona fide anchorage homesteader in his own mind and was not to be tangled with in this particular "real estate" matter.

Nevertheless it must also be said that my first instinct was to want to tell that fellow boater to go efff himself off in a big way but I knew better because he wasn't telling me something that I didn't already know. For ya' see, I had already known that my anchors had indeed been dragging more often than not in the previous days.

So yeah, that scolding did hurt my feelings but I can't say that I blame that fellow for speaking his mind. Well heck, all I wanted was for tax season to be finally over with and for those incessant northerly winds to finally settle down so that I could set sail on out of Key West once and for all.

In any event compounding my anxiety level after that very brief, one-sided verbal exchange was that just days earlier, a bad-ass power boat had come roaring up through the channel at a high rate of speed one morning only to abruptly stop on a dime a hundred or so feet away off of my stern.

And after promptly setting down my mug of coffee along with my Sudoku puzzle book, I popped up to look out the companionway only to see and confirm that my intuition had indeed been spot-on.

'Cause now idling in place with a full crew of service members, was none other than a US Coastguard motor vessel which moments earlier had obtrusively disrupted the serenity of a fine, bright sunny morning in a big way.

Yet it was while attempting to discreetly check out what that Coastguard vessel might be up to that I distinctly observed a crew member peering right back at me through his high-powered set of binoculars all the while conversing with his fellow crew members, who by the way were all locked and loaded for combat.

So that's how it went for me for the next couple of anxious minutes... me down below inside the confines of the cabin, nervously sipping on my mug of coffee and feeling that I had been purposefully singled out for an intensive water-boarding interrogation.

Yet while awaiting the inevitable boarding, that Coastguard combat vessel suddenly powered up, spun on a dime and roared back on down the channel from where it had come from some ten or fifteen minutes earlier... much to my relief and pleasant surprise and not an anxious moment too soon I might add.

And just like that, that perplexing little episode was suddenly and seemingly all over with. At least for the moment it seemed one could only hope.

For ya' see there was now little doubt in my mind that those fine Coast Guard service members were simply confirming that my boat was indeed at anchor offshore of the super-sized Ship Channel Marker affixed on Flemming Key just like I had previously advised them late one night after being intercepted in the channel.

All of which could only mean one thing and that was that I was now on their law-enforcement's radar screen for some perceived nefarious action on my part and that this little episode wasn't quite over with.

And I'll also have you fine barstool sailors know that in my mind it was now a virtual certainty that I should be expecting a "friendly" visit from the Department of Homeland Security in the next day or so.

Which by the way is what precisely happened but a few days later because dat' how it be these days with the militarization of law enforcement all throughout America... multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies, all geared up and tripping over themselves and doing their best to justify their federal funding existence.

In any event it goes without saying that after that little incident, I felt like a fugitive furtively attempting to flee from the law of sorts and that I was now somehow egregiously in violation of not complying with some obscure maritime federal law or some-such. This all for operating a dingy in the Channel late one night without a decent dingy light.

So that's how I spent the next day or so... feeling like a hunted fugitive all the while peeping out of a porthole every time a motor vessel would power on by.

Well fast forward but a couple of days later after the nasty northerly winds had finally settled down and after me pulling up anchors and sailing on back to the Garrison Bight Mooring Field.

For Blondie now found herself to be securely tied back up to the very same mooring ball that she'd been on for months on end. Only that this time I happened to have a weekend visitor aboard my boat. Not an Osprey atop of the mast mind ya' but rather a bonafide female companion.

For ya' see, my lady-friend from up on Marco had made the exhausting five hour drive across the alligator infested Tamiami Trail and on down the Keys for a few days of "camping on a boat" as she was apt to call her visits.

And it goes without saying, that her visits were always most welcomed cause for one thing she'd invariably bring along a large cooler loaded with cold beer, fried chicken, potato salad, cold slaw, pork ribs, sausage & gravy... you name it, and of course it also goes without me having to explain that the ubiquitous "booty-call" was always a part of the deal to but we need not go any further in that regard.

(See , Booty-Call, Protocol Tenant #2)

But it was while quietly seated in the cockpit the following morning that my lady-friend observed a motor vessel from the Department of Homeland Security slowly making its way through the Flemming Key Cut and on towards the mooring field. I in turn happen to be down below in the cabin blissfully unaware of what is transpiring until my lady-friend calls my attention to our new "visitor".

Together we observe the crew aboard that Homeland Gestapo vessel proceed to board and "interrogate" the captains of two adjacent boats for a good while before departing the mooring field. I in turn breathe a sigh of relief as they slowly motor on out of sight and on back through the same cut from whence they had first appeared.

And after having slithered on back down into the confines of my cozy cabin, I'm now a-think-in' that my paranoia for the past number of days had been totally unwarranted and that no one was the least bit concerned about my sorry ass.

Unfortunately my relief is rather short-lived for but a mere fifteen minutes later or so my lady friend is once again calling out to me. Only that this time she's discreetly leaning over and urgently calling out to me down below. "Hey Alex... I think that you better come up here".

And with that I'm once again springing up from the comfort of a quarter berth to see what it is that I'm being summoned for. A quick glance out of a cabin porthole reveals the very same Homeland Security vessel and crew that we'd observe interrogating fellow boaters earlier that morning.

Only this time that boat has made a bee-line for Blondie and it's me who has now been deliberately targeted for an interrogation and subsequent boarding.

Yet it was while I was fumbling around the cabin in search of a pair of shorts to pull on over my boxer-briefs all the while thinking to myself, "let's get this sh*t over with", that an officer aboard that boat could be overheard barking out to his fellow crew mates... "Subject Moving Down Below!"

And of course you don't need for me to explain to ya'll that "Subject Moving Down Below" can only be construed to be but a military euphemism for "lock and load and all's clear to shoot his sorry ass if does anything stupid".

Cause dat' how it be these days when the government gives a crew of twenty-year-olds a badge and a gun. For ya' see, single, male, live-aboard sailors are inherently suspect of engaging in illicit activities and hence fair game for gratuitous boardings and interrogation.

So indeed that's how it went for the next twenty minutes or so. Evidently they had been thrown off earlier when seeking me out cause' they hadn't expected anyone but myself to be aboard my boat and the young fellow even admitted as much.

So by now I've taken a seat in the cockpit silently awaiting for the interrogation to commence for I know the drill. Speak when spoken to, be polite, be respectful and be factual.

And that's how it went for a good while. "Do you have any guns aboard your boat"? No Sir I respond. "Do you have any knives aboard"? (Well of course I do I think to myself while tempted to remind him that I'm aboard a boat and one needs multiple knives for splicing line and such.)

My lady-friend noting my incredulity of being asked a dumb question saves the moment and interjects, "We've got kitchen knives...does that count?"

More questions follow, "Where did you sail in from? How long have you been here?" followed by even more intrusive questions like whether or not I had a job. At last I'm asked to furnish some ID, a request which I promptly comply with.

Meanwhile my lady-friend somehow thinks this whole interrogation thing is a hoot of sorts and can't help interjecting random commentary about the proceedings and chuckling away at her own utterances. "So... Is that a bullet proof vest or a life preserver or both?"... chuckle, chuckle, chuckle... cackle, cackle, cackle.

Upon which that young crew member succinctly and emphatically responds with a simple "yes" before proceeding with his line of questioning.

Eventually I'm asked whether I have any objections to him briefly peering into the cabin from the companionway. I respond no as if I had any choice in the matter.

And while he's peering and simultaneously taking in a deep breath of air, I'm asked, "Do you have any illegal Cubans or bales of weed aboard your boat?" obviously asking the question in jest but then yet again maybe he wasn't.

But before I can respond, my lady-friend chimes up yet again and says, "Nope, but we do have some ice-cold beer in the cooler. Would you like one?" chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.... cackle, cackle, cackle... (Oh lord, be quiet... I think to myself.)

Needless to say that question went unheeded and a response was not forthcoming. By now I'm wishing that my lady-friend would simply stop chattering and let that officer do his job so that we can all be on our way.

But that's when the fellow turns to her and proceeds to ask her for some ID and then subject her to a long list of questions. It is this turn of events that has her immediately sobering up and stopping with the gratuitous chatter.

She proceeds to explain that she resides on Marco Island and was just visiting for the weekend and that she is a critical care nurse and that she is a solid citizen.

What she doesn't tell that young man however is that she's what's called "A Second Responder" in her line of work and that she might be the one attempting to save his pale, scrawny ass one day and that she's seen more dead people than one can shake a stick at.

Well that boarding did indeed finally come to an uneventful conclusion with a Gestapo boot print on my deck as the only evidence that Blondie had been boarded by the Department of Homeland Security that morning.

In any event my lady friend doesn't begrudge public servants practicing what they train for whether it be the US Coastguard or the Department of Homeland Security or even Fire Department personnel and EMT s chasing after a minor in-town fender-bender.    

And she's often apt to exclaim, "If ya ain't any good when it doesn't count, then how will you know if your're any good when it does?"

And I'm reminded of a bumper sticker last spotted at a local marina parking lot... "Attitude, the Difference between Ordeal and Adventure."

Yippers... dat' be the Department of Homeland Security monitoring your sorry ass at all times....

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Michael McCloud Sings the Key West Blues...

Nettled alongside the waterfront in the Historic Key West Seaport is the Schooner Wharf Bar. It's often described as rustic, charming, laid back, and as the "Last Little Piece of Old Key West".

In any event I got to thinking about that open-aired popular tourist destination the other day after having loaded some tunes into my CD player.

For ya' see, I had purposely avoided listening to Jimmy Buffet or anything else that might perhaps even remotely remind me of Key West after having set sail and leaving that place in my wake. Eight months of Key West and of its so-called frivolity can have that kind of an effect on a fellow.

Nevertheless I did eventually relent and tune in some Michael McCloud, Live As I Can Be into my CD player. This after having sipped on a few cold beverages a weekend or so ago.

Now Michael McCloud, for the unenlightened, is a fixture at the Schooner Wharf and routinely performs in the early afternoon. This troubadour is what others might describe as your "quintessential musical storyteller" whatever that eight syllable word might mean.

And while I'm thinking about it, Michael's songs come across as humorous yet at the same time as rather mournful. They all seem to be tinged with insightful melancholy of unfulfilled dreams and of a wasted youth.

Buffet's songs on the other hand will have ya' believing that Key West is all about frivolity and about sipping on margaritas while chowing down on cheese burgers in paradise every day which ain't the case at all. Unless of course you happen to be a tourist as apart from being a local.

Here are a few of his more memorable songs and lyrics along with some of my gratuitous commentary.

Conch Republic Song... National Anthem
I'd Rather be Here, Just Drinking a Beer, than Freezing My Ass off in the North.. This island is the life I choose. She's freezing her butt off while I'm wearing cutoffs...

Peace and Quiet...
I ain't bothering nobody who don't want bothered... nobody's bothering me.

Closin' the Bars... 
Somebody take him home, he won't make it alone out there on his own, somebody please take him home.

Billy's Bayou Barroom and Backyard Barbecue...
*delightfully entertaining*

Today's the Day...
*A mournful tale about furtively searching for offshore sunken treasures.*

She Gotta Butt...
*funny as all get out and about a fat waitress with attitude whom nobody liked*

Waitin' Tables...
She's ten years on and ten years gone, lessons of life serving drinks, and waitin' tables.
*A decidedly mournful song that epitomizes the working struggles of your typical service industry worker while she serves up beverages to party revelers.*

Just Came Down For the Weekend Thirty-Five Years Ago...
*Key West is indeed the End of the Road where some folks just came down for the weekend and never left. And Michael will also be the first to tell ya' that he was burning at both ends of the candle and then some in the middle.*

Chasing the Wind... I'd rather be chasing the wind than to do anything on the land.
"Any of you folks have any romantic illusions about living on a boat? Well don't you do it! The average life expectancy of a boat is about forty years. So odds are it's gonna' sink with you in it. So don't you do it. So if someone wants to show you how cool their boat is then go see it. Go sailing, go diving, go snorkeling, go fishing ... but don't you buy no boat!"

*A funny intro before Michael launches into his song which brings to mind a quote that my lady-friend is fond of reiterating, "If it flies, floats, or f****, then rent it!"

I suppose that I could go on and mention a few more of his tunes but I've reminisced enough for now. In any event, some life experiences are definitely not to be repeated. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An Indelible Memory Of An Aborted Plane Landing...

The recent spate of airline mishaps has me for whatever reason reflecting back on an impressionable moment while apprehensively observing a commercial jet airliner make its final approach into Key West.

For you see it was while Blondie-Dog was tied off to a mooring ball in the Garrison Bight Mooring Field that a previously forecasted front would be slamming the Keys later that lazy afternoon. The bright, sunny weather earlier that day would soon be a thing of the past. Inclement weather along with its howling, gusting winds was forecasted to be hanging around for days on end.

And so it was after having piddled the better part of the day while ashore and while doing a whole lot of nothing, that I finally acquiesced to doing the prudent thing for a change and loaded myself into my dinghy and motored my butt on back to my boat before the bad weather was to set in.

In any event it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes or so after securing the dinghy and settling in for the evening that Blondie's halyards suddenly started rattling and making a whole lot of racket. Gusting winds had indeed made their forecasted arrival. And with that, Blondie had suddenly pivoted to the other side of the mooring ball all the while straining to remain in place.

And it goes without saying that I swiftly put down the paperback that I had only moments earlier started reading to step up into the companionway and marvel at the weather event as it roared on in.

Yet it was at that very moment when off in the not too far distance that I could see a Boeing 737 jet airliner gently swing around from the south end of the island as it made its final approach for landing. But that's when the plane appeared to be laboring to maintain altitude while way short of the runway. It seemed as if a micro-burst might have perhaps happened upon the scene. And I can distinctly recall thinking to myself, "This doesn't look good".

But that's when the plane could suddenly be seen banking hard to left with its powerful engines now exerting maximum thrust. In but a few moments that plane would be flying directly overhead after having aborted its landing. That plane couldn't have been more than but a couple hundred feet above the mooring field while screaming on past.

And all the while I'm pumping my fist and thinking to myself, "Way to go pilot!... well done!"

I watched that plane for the next ten minutes or so as it gained altitude far off in the distance towards the Everglades. That plane did indeed eventually swing around to make a safe and uneventful landing.

And insofar as those passengers are concerned, I've got to believe that they were in a most celebratory mood and I don't doubt for a moment that they were all imbibing copious amounts of alcoholic beverages along Duval Street later that evening. I'm pretty sure that's what I would have been doing had I been aboard that flight.