The Miller Lite can was not moving now but it soon would and when it did the life or death struggle that had occupied my attention for the past few hours would start up again.
The spider had hitched a ride by hiding in the lazy jack halyards and, after a couple of days at sea, had decided to come out. He was a frail “daddy long legs” type no bigger than a quarter with no apparent markings–just a spider. The insect’s worthy opponent was now a slowly sun warming unopened can of beer. But then it hadn’t always been this way. I had just increased the odds against my delicate friend by creating a Lilliputian aluminum juggernaut.
Sailing in light air is never much fun and today was no exception. Single handed and off South Beach, the wind had died as always happens near noon this time of year. What had been a perfect morning on a southbound beam reach with the rail almost in the water had turned into total boredom. The sun was bearing down and the east wind had all but died. With nothing to bend them, the tan bark sails on my old cutter began to look and act like drying laundry. The jib and footed staysail just draped off their wires and the boom and main helplessly flopped back and forth from port to starboard as the onshore ocean swells came under the keel, rocked the boat, and headed for the beach.
Might as well get some music on the radio … I was your hero and you were my leading lady, We had it all, Just like Bogie and Bacall … Popping open a beer and dragging out my binoculars, I zoomed in on the shoreline. No topless women or even bikinis, hardly anyone–only sand, palm trees, small abandoned graffiti spattered art deco hotels, and the occasional police car. Then I remembered the last time I had visited the area I was looking at.
The conference I was attending had been at the Doral but what was a visit to Miami without dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab? The restaurant’s location was somewhere on South Beach and the food was exceptional but what I remember most was having to slip the twenty dollar bill to the guy in the tux to even get seated and the bazaar security personnel in the parking lot across the street. Crime had gotten so bad on Miami Beach that a detachment of red bereted Guardian Angels had recently taken leave from the New York subways to protect unsuspecting tourist in Florida. “If they weren’t here, neither would your car be after dinner,” I was warned.
That was a few years ago but it looks like things haven’t changed. There still was no wind and the boat just rocked from side to side as the seas rolled in. Couldn’t let myself drift too close to the beach.
Finishing the beer, I thoughtlessly tossed the empty can over onto the cockpit seat just under the pin rail. The rail is where the ropes that work the sails are coiled and hung to keep the aft section of boat from looking like a bowl of spaghetti. One of the lines had dropped a loose end down and just as I was reaching to put it back on the pin, I saw him. There was my passenger, on the fiberglass surface of the seat but hiding in the shadow of the rope. Just then another wave passed under the boat and she began a gentle roll and so did the empty beer can–right toward the tailing of the rope and my unsuspecting miniature stowaway.
The song on the radio was ending but the saga of the rolling can and the spider was showing potential for short-term boredom relief so I just sat back down, propped my feet up, hung my arm over the tiller and waited … Starring in our old late, late show, Sailing away to Key Largo…
As I watched, the spider began to move out from the shadow and toward the end of the rope lying on seat. He paused at the end and then made a quick move into the open. His target was a tiny black ant and to reach his quarry required a dash of 6 or 8 inches and then a return to gain the perceived safety of the underside of the rope. On his first attempt he seemed hesitant and scurried back before even reaching the ant. His second run looked promising but just as he seemed ready to close in for the kill; the empty can began to move with the rolling deck and soon was racing toward him. The spider, we can only assume, sensing the danger–rushed back to the protection of the backside of the rope. The can, being empty and so light, careened off the rope as it jumped right over the hunter and rolled to the other side.
The lighthouse on Key Biscayne was getting closer. When the wind picks back up this afternoon, I’ll have no trouble getting into the Bay and setting the hook off Elliot or maybe even Arsenicker Key.
A short-lived zephyr of wind took my mind off the spider and the beer can for a half hour or so but soon the breeze died again and when I glanced down the hunt was back on. This time the roll of the boat to port made the empty can reverse its course and roll back in the opposite direction just as “Hairy” (I had named him for the situation he was in) was making another run. The same result: spider tip-toes out, can begins to roll, spider runs back, can rolls over or misses rope end, spider waits a little while and then tries again. I don’t think the ant was still there but no one told Hairy.
Then the unexpected happened. Whether he got careless or just didn’t care, I’ll never know, but the can began to roll from starboard and the spider made no effort to hide. Hairy was in the open and the cylinder rolled right over him. My first thought was back to grade school and the old rhyme about ooey gooey, the worm on the railroad tracks, but before I could plan for a burial at sea, Hairy was lifting himself up and ambling on back to the rope. The empty can was too light and no challenge for my new crew.
Now the rules of the game had changed. This time I took two cool ones out of the ice chest and, hearing my new favorite lyrics once again on the radio, turned up the sound, popped one, laid the other can unopened on the seat, reclined against the transom and waited for the next roll of the sea … Here’s lookin’ at you kid, Missing all the things we did, We can find it once again, I know, Just like they did in Key …
Maybe it was the brutal coldness of the new challenger or the vibrations and its heavier rolling noise but the difference in Hairy was evident immediately. The air had picked back up a little making the side-to-side roll of the deck less regular. The, now warming, gravity bound sinister container was temporarily motionless and hanging out near the starboard rail. The first few times the swells resumed and the saga continued the roll of the can was slow and measured. Often the moving stalker never reached the dangling rope or, if it did, it would abruptly halt when it came to rest against it. When the path of the rolling menace missed the woven obstacle and the insect, now mostly hiding, it would travel on over to port and then immediately return.
Just when I was starting to think that Hairy had acquired some innate wisdom, a gust of wind came from the east, the fluid filled metallic assassin bounced off the port side and the spider decided to leave his sanctuary. The now full mainsail and rapid heel of the boat virtually hurled the heavy can back toward the leeward rail and a fully exposed eight legged pedestrian.
My next beer foamed a lot, was not as cold as I like, and the outside of the can was a little slipperier than usual.