CHAPTER 6 — gimme an “E”

Do arsenic and uranium have anything in common? They are both elements and show up as symbols on the Peridiot – whatever that chart on the chemistry class wall was called? Uranium either blows up things or lets you turn on the lights. Arsenic is, according to Webster, a brittle grayish-white nonmetallic substance, but to the rest of us it’s ……….. well it’s just poison!

The towers and containment domes of the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant dominate the western shoreline of lower Biscayne Bay. Ever since the Three Mile Island disaster, some people have stayed away from this entire area like it was poison. Years ago, and long before FP&L built the power plant, pioneers on the Bay must have felt the same way. This stretch of water only has four islands and they all have, essentially, the same name – Arsenicker. You have West Arsenicker, East Arsnecker, Long Arsenicker and, the smallest of them all, just Arsenicker Key. All four of them were, presumably, either named after someone that liked to poison people or some, long-forgotten, medieval Dutch proctologist.

The sun had been up for an hour or so and red marker #8 at the cut entrance into Card Sound was within sight. A light on-shore breeze was letting Le Esperance ghost along at maybe a knot and a half under full sail. Breakfast, a generous description, had been a stale guava Cuban pastry square and two cups of instant coffee with real half & half.

Last night, after I had slipped away from the madness, was an exceptionally peaceful time. Knowing that, in the direction of my drift, there was no danger of running aground, I had a lot of time to reflect. I could just lay back, rest my head on the rail, gaze up at the stars and think about happy things. We all have happy things but nobody ever talks about them because they’re …….well they’re just ours!

My happy things are usually reserved for when I’m trying to go to sleep. They don’t necessarily need to be “happy” happy things, but, if they’re not, they certainly have to be happily out of my control. For instance, I can go to sleep quickly if I concentrate on some obscure segment of Civil War history. I have a particular favorite: Grant moving his army down the western bank of the Mississippi River to cross over south of Grand Gulf and, thus, set the stage for his siege of Vicksburg. Even as a Southerner, you have to appreciate the brilliance of the march but all of what I have just said is really irrelevant. By pretending I’m a bystander, sometimes even a mule in a road-side field as the Union troops march by, I block out everything else and just concentrate on what are, in effect, thousands of blue clad, rifle toting, sheep jumping over some Louisiana split-rail fence. I can’t save Vicksburg, so there’s nothing for me to worry about……….ZZZZzZzZzzzz

Sometime in the pre-dawn hours I had awakened, still adrift and curled up on the cockpit seat. The northern horizon back toward Elliott Key continued to glow with the lumen of carnival and the faint sounds of revelry never stopped. I dropped anchor, took a pee off the transom, crawled into my v-berth forward, and blissfully crashed.

Card Sound is really just the lower end of Biscayne Bay but your mind-set changes as soon as you clear the cut. Names on the chart like Caesar, Hurricane, and Rubicon are replaced with Swan, Pumpkin, and Angelfish! The water clears up and the sea grass that flows by under the keel changes from dull brown to shimmering green. Even the neighborhood changes! The sinister nuclear power plant to the west on Turkey Point is replaced by glancing east towards the opulence of the Ocean Reef Club. The homes are magnificent and the Club, with its golf course and marina on Angelfish Creek, marks the northern end of Key Largo. It marks the northern end of Key Largo but, as every true Floridian knows, it doesn’t mark the beginning of “the Keys”. I’m still not quite there.

A familiar sound from inside the cabin – 1300 AM, WFFG Marathon – turn up the volume – he’s still with me! ……..in love so desperately, Honey – I was your hero, And you were my leading lady, We had it all……..

On a port tack and for the first time since I was off Lauderdale, it looked like I might get in some real sailing. The wind had picked up as it swung around to the SSE. Unlike Biscayne Bay, Card Sound is 8 to 10-feet shore to shore. No sand bars or shallow banks so, for the next hour or so, all I had to do was head her up, sheet um in, cleat um down, and see what heading the Good Lord had in mind.

Close hauled on the wind, Le Esperance was sailing herself with the end of the windward jib sheet cleated and looped around the tiller to hold her slightly off the wind and on course. For a single-handed cruising sailor this was what it was all about – the steady breeze wasn’t heavy enough to put the lee rail in the water, but almost – you have no crew or auto-pilot but it makes no difference. You can go and come from the cabin at will – you want a beer, go get one – need to hit the head, now’s the time – you want to see what it feels like to sit up on the forward hatch, or even climb out on the bowsprit, all while full canvas is bent and the boat is under way – DO IT! My favorite duty station at times like these is to climb out along the lee side to where the outboard wire shrouds rise up to the mast and spreader then, standing with my toes over the rail and each arm and shoulder around its own wire shroud, lean with the steady tilt of the boat out over the edge. Doing this heels the vessel even farther and lets me watch the grassy bottom with its colorful sponges and occasional sandstone outcropping seemingly fly by beneath me. Sometimes, a sudden gust will bring her over far enough that the sea comes up over the rail, my feet get wet, and I can almost reach out and touch the water! Then, as we come back off the wind, she rights herself, swings back on course, and sails on.

All too quickly, I was closing on the Card Sound Bridge. This was my first bridge in three days but, with 65’ of vertical clearance, it wouldn’t slow me down. Beyond the bridge lay the open water of Barnes Sound. The wind direction was steady but a slight course change towards the east meant that I’d need a tack or two to work my way south. That being the case, I would now have to actually man the tiller, swing over and cleat alternate jib sheets with each tack and, periodically, move from one side of the cockpit to the other. All this, while making certain not to spill any of my first creation of the day! To myself, I sarcastically mused: “life is filled with hardships”.

There is a primitive satisfaction for the male of the specie that comes with sailing. You are in total control! The wind is your slave! Damsels swoon with your every move! Pirates flee on your approach! There is no shoreline on the face of the Earth that, given enough time, you can’t set foot upon and claim for Sovereign, Church, and State………..or, after your third Johnny Walker, you can just say “screw’em all” and claim it for yourself!

This was exactly what I had in mind! Leaving, in my wake, the drawbridge and the weekend lawn-chaired refugees from Little Havana that filled the wharf side motel at Jewfish Creek, I had officially entered the Keys and Blackwater Sound was my welcome mat.

We had it all …..(we had it all), Just like Bogie and Bacall, Starring in our old late – late show, Sailing away to Key Largo…………

Still another couple hours of daylight, plenty of time to get across the Sound and anchor off the lee somewhere in Tarpon Basin. Le Esperance was, once again, close-hauled and sailing herself but there was no reason to lean out from the shrouds – the sun was too low and Blackwater meant ……. Pouring myself another scotch, I climbed up amid ship and sat along the windward handrail. I had to put on provisions tomorrow. Needed batteries for my flashlight and rubbing alcohol for the spirit bowls on the kerosene stove. Diesel, fresh water and canned goods were okay and, truth be known, I could probably make it on down to Marathon except for one thing – the glass in my right hand held the last of my ice!

What I wouldn’t give for a cheeseburger, a frosty mug of dark ale, and drinking companions that spoke the Queen’s English and weren’t all from Georgia! I didn’t need to tie up. I could just set the hook, drag out the Avon, pump her up and dingy in – but to where? There was a marina at Tavernier and some restaurants on Buttonwood Sound but I was running out of daylight and, if I tried to find them in the dark, the only bar I’d be sitting at tonight would be a sand bar!

Sizing-up the situation, I put the binoculars on the shoreline off my port bow. There were cars – there were a lot of cars, both on the road passing by and parked in front of a large rectangular wooden building on my side of the highway. Partially blocked by the trees, I only got a fleeting glance of a roadside sign but what I could make out brought a smile to my face! A combination of live music, the Florida Keys, and Saturday night meant …….. no matter what it was called, the “bean Club” had real posibilities!

But could I get there?

I jumped up, wheeled down into the cabin and grabbed my chart book. Quickly running my finger along a line to the location I was just observing – there was a wet “4” almost on top of a dry “E” which was, in turn, directly over of the =============! The “4” promised a minimum four-foot depth at low water; the “E” was the second letter of “K_Y LARGO” and the “=====E=====” was US Highway # 1!

……Here’s lookin’ at you kid – (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 Largo……

With a lee anchorage that close to shore, a busy highway almost on the beach and such an inspirational piece of advertizing out front:….let’s all chime in with the old high school cheer! Gimme a 4 – …fourrr, gimme an E – …eeee, gimme a US # 1 – …you ess number one – put’em all together and wha’da you get???? –……… “Jim’s going ashore tonight!”

CC sign                       Chart Pic

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