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 possibilities!

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

I’m told I need a “Profile” …..?

JRP and Slum Dog

My Blog Master tells me I need to post a Profile …. I’m not sure I know how!


profile: definition ….

meaning: 1. a short description of someone’s life, work, character, and information about the person’s interests and beliefs.

meaning: 2. an outline of that same person’s face as it is seen when someone is looking at them from the side. If you see someone in profile, you only see them from one side.

From these two definitions I can only conclude one thing: profiles as such and offered by job seekers, politicians, and aspiring writers, risk falling into very obvious categorical traps ….. they will be hopelessly self-edifying and boldly “two faced”!

Right P                              Left P

To avoid these pitfalls I intend to state an illusion and immediately counter it with the fact. If the latter is too candid or disturbing, just disregard it! This will allow me to come off (in your estimation) as the fine upstanding, clean cut, like-minded, and adventurous elderly gentleman you were hoping for.

Illusion: I’m an accomplished “sailor” and have spent over 50 years routinely putting out to sea, first under canvas and in my latter years with only the diesel iron wind at my back.

Fact: In all of my voyages I’ve never spent more than eight or nine full nights underway and that was only because, over open water, Walker’s Cay was too far from Palm City or Havana from Key West. In reality, as the sun begins to set I’m usually tucked into some snug little cove, the hook set, and an icy drink in my hand. I’m not an accomplished sailor, I’m a fantastic “anchorer”!

Illusion: I’m a semi-talented “writer” that creates interesting characters in situations and settings that, sometimes, move a story along.

Fact: In most cases, I am the “character” and I’ve already lived the story. Then all I need to do is figure out how to just pretend I’m sitting in some sleazy dive in the Keys after a few beers and start to tell my story to …….. (only problem is: ………. is it i before e except at sea?)

Illusion: Because I am openly conservative and speak with a Southern drawl, I’m looked upon as a right-wing good-ole-boy that picnics under Confederate monuments, lives and breathes Fox News, drives a gun-racked Ford 150, and wears his “Make America Great Again” hat to bed every night.

Fact: I’m very discouraged with what is going on in Washington in general and at the White House in particular. I supported its current occupant and, seeing what options are shaping up on the horizon, I may be forced to continue doing so but he(and we) could do so much better. Do I have to surrender my judgment and intellect to remain a Republican?

I won’t dwell on the President’s Smoot-Hawley like policies on trade and tariffs … time and the markets will be the final arbiters and greed on my part forces me to hope for the best. Needless to say, I endorse his impact on the Judicial Branch of Government and I could care less what next week’s “horndog rumor” and accompanying hush-money payoff have in store …. I’ll leave that to his poor wife and “Morning Joe”! But I do have one pet peeve: we don’t need a $5,000,000,000.00 wall to keep out Guatemalans and their Central American neighbors. They only constitute the latest installment in 4 centuries of migration to our shores and may be the hardest working bunch yet assembled. The hardships they are fleeing are not unlike the pogroms against Jews in the Middle East or the 19th century Irish potato famine. The seemingly demeaning statement of: “how would the roof ever get patched or the grass cut without them?” or a variation thereof has been directed at virtually every American’s fore-bearers. Unless you stepped ashore on Plymouth Rock or the swampy landing at Jamestown, there was always somebody “better than you” waiting to curse your arrival ……….or put you in chains.

On the flip side of all of this, and without inserting its own Illusion, we don’t need porn starlets and their attorneys being featured on Sunday morning talk shows answering pointed questions from wax haired “contributors” about our Presidents libido! What we do desperately need is a media culture that will demand the resurrection and employment of an old concept …… news REPORTING! On my home cable TV hookup; Fox News is on channel 44 and MSNBC resides on 42. The Guide tells me that the channel between them …43 … is dedicated to financial news but that can’t be true. The call letters may be CNBC but, judging from the disparity in the adjacent editorializing, it must be Star Wars! ….. the distance between the adjoining galaxies is so “far, far, away”?

Over the past few months I’ve become a reluctant, almost incarcerated, soccer fan. The game is played, not with a pitch …. but on one, lasts an hour and a half, and often ends with a score of nil-nil. I endure all of this because my sole source of, even remotely, unbiased television news and happenings in the good old USA can be found only on the British Broadcasting Corp ….. go Cardiff City!

… politics and religion … why not?

Recently I responded to a left-leaning email challenge by a very dear but, in my humble opinion, mis-guided High School classmate (we’ll call her Sweetheart #2). Some of her many valid points included:

1) I’m glad for you that you are (still) able to rely on your personal initiative, but what about socially challenged folks – those who were born autistic or people just not capable of functioning in today’s or any day’s world? Are we under no obligation to try to assist them? Is the government under no obligation to provide a safety net for the less fortunate among us?

2) So, what about these people who, in your words, ” just don’t care enough to show up at the polls”. What about if they are shut-ins? Or disabled Veterans? Or don’t drive?  Or just really old? Lots of people choose mail in ballots. Theirs shouldn’t be counted? If they get “lost” or hidden in a back room, they don’t count?

3) Of course you won’t be joining any “#MeToo” rallies. You probably were never abused/harassed/attacked, right? You don’t leave your house every day aware that you have to be aware of the possibility that you might be a victim of sexual assault. Few men do. But every woman I know has a story to tell, including me.

In responding, I made the mistake of falling back on narratives relating to and quotes from three very opinionated conservative voices from the past:

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).” Ayn Rand

Nowhere is the chasm between the modern conservative and the modern liberal more apparent than in a discussion of “rights.” The modern liberal is the successor to the Jacobins of the French Revolution and their notion of abstract rights. New ones are dredged up every day in their relentless pursuit of equality, perfectibility, and Utopia. The modern conservative stands with the late 18th century British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, holding that the real rights of man are rooted in custom, tradition, faith, and that, in Burke’s own words, “whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself, and he has right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favour (sic). In this partnership all men have equal rights but not to equal things.”

“Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious”. George Orwell


Sweetheart #2 wasted no time in coming back at me with ……

“James, you can’t hide behind quotes by esteemed (now deceased) sources. We want to hear your voice, not theirs.” 


(After the passing of a day or two) ……… okay ………..

Then my voice is the one you shall hear!

Yes you are correct. I am hiding behind quotes by esteemed and deceased sources. The quotes are called laws and scriptures.

Most of the former did, indeed, originate with deceased sources. Today we call these quotes the Constitution and legal precedents and, for the most part, they originated either directly or indirectly (through amendments or Court rulings) with the “founding fathers”.

Depending on your religion, or lack thereof, the sources for the latter flow from God Almighty or a prophet or prophets doing his biding. Christians, like myself, believe in canons that have all of the above very much alive but all religions have charity towards the downtrodden as a fundamental building block of their faith. Only when individuals and society as a whole turn their backs on their faith and values and assume that this is the norm of civilization do we cast our teachings aside and advocate for government intervention. In our case, this is the same government that condones and even encourages challenges by the populace to treasured references such as “under God” or “in God we trust”.

I am anything but a religious extremist. I seldom go to church. My only place of worship is a lovely spot near my home that I refer to only as the “Church of the Stump”.

Church of the Stump

Church of the Stump


I go there, all to infrequently, to read my King James, sing passages from the few hymns I remember from my youth (I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses …), and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the harmful things that have not befallen my family or myself. Christmas and Easter Sunday find me putting on long pants and a shirt with a collar and asking my wife if she’s “going to Mass or would you like to join me?” Since I choose to misconstrue Matthew 18:19-20, I treasure the opportunity to take her or one of my offspring along so as to validate the presence of Christ with the second or third person in the congregation.

I am not a demonstrably charitable man but I go out of my way to help those that, in my estimation alone, are in need and are unable to help themselves. I put great faith in the parable of the widow’s two mites and am much more apt to slip a handful of large bills into the Salvation Army kettle than I am to pledge any regular contribution to a traditional charity or place of worship.

It is admirable that you speak of wanting to provide a safety net for the less fortunate but recent history has emphatically demonstrated, once again, that “the level of need will always expand to meet the level of resources available.” I don’t want to spend my life working as hard as I do to provide for my family only to have my savings become part of an ever-expanding taxable Government resource needed to provide for a life style that has failed everywhere it has been formulated and tested …….. is it permissible to mention a few of their names? ……. East Germany, Cuba, Venezuela, the Soviet Union, and New Jersey ……


Jimmy Powell

“It is through the lens of humility that we should share the wisdom we have gained.”


CHAPTER 5 –- Linda

Linda came out of the cabin on Bert’s boat and climbed up amid ship on the junk. She could have gone directly to where the guys were partying by walking forward but, instead, she headed aft in a direction that would require a crossing near the stern and her passage up my side of the rafting.

I could hear Bert and Abner laughing as they sat starboard near the bow drinking Hialeah rum from their coffee stained mugs and dangled their legs off the side. Two tanned dark haired girls were paddling by in kayaks. They were yelling back at friends in Spanish and weren’t abiding by the dress code – they still had their bikini tops on. Bert hollered out … “Hey honey! Why don’t y’all come on over here? We’ll show you two a new way to use those paddles.”

That line, I’m sure, was a proven winner somewhere but I doubt that the two Latinas had spent enough time in South Georgia truck stops to fully appreciate its romantic overtones.

………….always long, The big bamboo grows so bold and strong, The big bamboo stands so straight and tall, The big bamboo pleases one and all…………

Lazily laid back in the cockpit of Le Esperance, I smiled as Linda walked by me. I offered her a silent salute with my raised, right hand encircled, cocktail glass. It surprised me as she hesitated on her way to join the revelers, slowly turned, and headed back in my direction. She was barefoot, wearing frayed denim short shorts and a little white tee shirt that didn’t drop down far enough. The garment reminded me of the ones we used to wear under football shoulder pads. Those abbreviated “rib-ticklers” were standard issue and, along with dip-dyed purple and white athletic socks, were designed to keep jocks from stealing them to wear to class. It didn’t work! I’ve still got a pair or two.

With a coquettish smile and slowly running her fingers along the port side handrail of the junk, she leaned toward me and almost whispered: “Permission to come aboard?”

I couldn’t turn her down, and the fact that her boyfriend was less than forty feet away and in plain sight made no difference. It even stoked my imagination.

“Permission granted, and what would the lady like to drink?”

…………Gave my lady a banana plant, She said to me this is elegant, It’s much too nice to go to waste, Cause it’s much too soft to suit my taste,….She want the big bamboo, always…..

Talking with Linda was easy. She was upbeat, sexy cute, and willing to explore every conversational doorway I might leave open. Before long the two of us had blocked out the noise of the Regatta and the other distractions. Bert and his brother had swum over to a big Hatteras in the next rafting. They had dog-paddled so they could carry over full mugs without spilling them. I wondered how long before their new “angler type” friends figured them out? Probably only the length of time it took before Abner offered one of his new acquaintances a ‘sip’! Meanwhile, Linda and I were having a good time. Two scotch & scotch on the rocks, an hour of relaxed conversation, and a setting sun let us forget the water born liquor lubricated zoo going on all around us.

“The name of your sloop, Hu-Wans-Ta-No, is unusual. It sounds Chinese, did Abner name his brother’s boat?”

Turning her gaze upwards and with a disgusted sigh–“No, Bert named it. It was his idea of some kind of practical joke but it’s just like everything else he does … dumb, dumb as rainwater!”

Chuckling and shaking my head – “why do you say that?”

“Since I’ve been on that damn thing we’ve had to pass under, I don’t know how many, a lot of draw-bridges. Most of the time, after he radios ahead to get them to raise it, the bridge tender comes back with ‘what is the name of your vessel?’ After Bert keys the mike and tells them, we usually end up waiting a long time before the bridge ever opens. Sometimes they don’t open it until Bert turns her around to show the name painted on the back end. Other times, especially after dark, they don’t open it at all and won’t respond to any more of our calls on channel 9. We end up having to wait until another boat, wanting to pass through, comes along and gets them to raise it. I’ve told him to just tell them the boat’s name is Bert’s Barge or Red Neck Raft – anything except ‘Who Wants To Know?’, but do you think he listens–NO!”

Out-of-the-blue, she laid her hand lightly over on mine. Actually it wasn’t her hand at all, only her left little finger lay over the top of my right one but there was no effort toward separation by either of us.

Something was happening? I believe the Old Testament relates to the phenomenon as a stirring in my loin … okay that’s what I’ll call it. I though to myself: “How much warmth and desire can a woman you’ve just met trigger with the contact of a single tiny finger?” I guess that’s a question best answered by the millions of men that are wrapped around one.

“Please help me Jim, I gotta get off that boat but I just don’t know how!”

Bert and Abner were still over on the sportfish next door and I could hear them laughing and having, what sounded like, a good ole time. I’m sure their mugs were close to empty and it was only a matter of time before the two Georgia boys decided to jump back overboard and join us.

“How long have you two been together Linda?”

She got this hurt look on her face and turned her head.

Immediately I knew I had taken a step down a path I did not want to travel. It was a question a man never asks a woman who has just expressed the desire to leave another man unless he intends to be part of what ever lays ahead. I didn’t know what lay ahead of me but I knew what lay behind and this was shaping up like a re-run.

Turning to face me again and, with her free hand, wiping a tear from her cheek:

“About four months, I knew him from high school in Vidalia but he was never my boyfriend or anything. He was a senior my sophomore year. One night last summer he came into the restaurant where I worked and we started to talk. Somewhere in the conversation he told me he was buying a sailboat and was going to ‘sail around the world’. I didn’t see him again for a week or two and then he shows up one night and tells me he’s ‘all set’. He had gone somewhere up the Ashley River near Charleston, bought the boat and brought it back down to Thunderbolt. That’s the part of Savannah on the Inter-coastal waterway. Anyway, one thing led to another and here I am. Why, I don’t know but here I am and I don’t know how to get out of it.

Jim, you’re so lucky to be a man. You’re not a bad looking guy but even if you were homely as sin you’d be able to have control of your own life.”

“I don’t understand Linda. I don’t have any more control over what happens in my life than you do in yours and what makes it any different to be a man?”

“What’s the difference? What’s the difference? – I’ll tell you what the difference is! Have you ever heard of any man being called an ‘old mister’ or a ‘wall thorn’? No you haven’t but if I, or any other woman, spend too much time watching from the sidelines as life’s dance goes by, I end up an old maid or, at least, that’s what people in Vidalia would call me. I can’t do anything to change anything about my life. I’m not beautiful and I’ve only got a high school diploma. What am I supposed to do – go out to the farms and dig onions with the Mexicans? The only job I can ever get where I’ll have any chance of meeting a man is waiting tables. I thought Bert and his plan to sail to, wherever, was my only chance to get away from Hadley’s Diner, Vidalia, and my mother’s probing, never ending, questions about whether I was ‘seeing anybody lately?’.

Let me ask you Jim: have you ever gone out with a girl that you didn’t want to be with?”

Not having to think too long, I replied: “I don’t think so, why would I do something like that? A guy doesn’t have to be madly in love to want to be with a woman. A lot of times he’s just horny and lets his little head do the thinking but, even if that’s the case, he’s still where and with whom he wants to be. The only times I can ever remember being in that position were when I was a kid and I got cajoled into something by my parents. It usually revolved around the daughter of a family friend.”

With a little smirk, she came back: “Right – that’s me and that’s almost every woman I have ever known. I know I’m not an ‘ugly duckling’ and neither were any of the girls I hung out with but, to a certain extent, we were all ‘daughters of someone’s family friend’ at one time or another. Unless you were a cheerleader or the homecoming queen, we all agonized when a big dance or, even worse, a prom was coming on. If you didn’t have a steady boyfriend you could only wait for the phone to ring and hope, if it did, it wasn’t the biggest ‘gorp’ in the school. Then, as the days inevitably slipped by, it didn’t make any difference who called, just as long as someone did! I can only wonder how many of my female classmates danced the night away with some guy while watching the one she really wanted to be with holding someone else. And it doesn’t stop there, I can’t tell you how many women I know that are married to that man that called on the phone but are still looking over his shoulder and wondering, ‘what if’?”

“Linda that’s just part of life. We’ve all had disappointments growing up and we can’t look back at ‘roads not taken’. My father had a favorite saying when it came to early decisions we make that affect our lives: ‘If you make your bed hard, lie in it’!”

What I was thinking, but didn’t mention to Linda, was that the English language, like life in general, sometimes plays tricks on us. In recent years I had pondered the essence of my father’s instructions. Was he, in fact, telling me that when it came to women, I should make the best of whatever ill conceived relationship I might find myself trapped in or was he suggesting that I just lay around for awhile and eventually lie my way out of it?”

“Who’s got a hard bed?”

Bert’s dripping arms and head popped up over the port side rub rail. I noticed he had already placed his filthy coffee mug on the boomkin aft. I wondered if he still had any clothes on and how much of our conversation he had overheard – hopefully ‘yes’ and ‘not enough’.

“Come on sweetie, time for you to get with it and join the party! There’s a crazy chick over on the Potentate that’s drunk as a cooter and raising hell. The way things are going down, it looks like she’ll end up put’n out for the whole damn fleet before it’s over with. She’s pissed off at her boyfriend because she caught him ‘red handed’ – well not ‘handed’, if you know what I mean, Ha- Ha! Hector’s his name and he must be double jointed because she caught him doing this other chica in the friggen chain locker. Talk about a hard bed! You don’t need to change into your bikini, go over to our boat, get the big bottle of Bacardi and just jump in. I’ll swim around and meet you. Don’t forget the rum.”

Bert retrieved his mug and disappeared in the dark water toward the stern of the Bamboo Buda.

With sad eyes and a resigned shrug, Linda stood up and walked forward along the rail. Gripping a wire shroud and gazing south toward the Keys and the blackness of the open Bay, she paused. It was almost like she couldn’t make herself look in my direction but her words were clear.

“I’ve got to get away from this man! I’ll do anything Jim, please help me!”

Linda climbed up and over the side of the junk, then disappeared. Soon I heard her splash of capitulation as she and the rum bottle joined Bert in the water. Somewhere a girl screamed in glee as the Coast Guard bullhorns continued their cautions and reprimands. The sound volume of the music from the huge speakers on the nearest Club boat was approaching the threshold of pain ……..…. Chi-ka-ka-he, Chi-ka-ka-me, she got plenty Chi-ka-ka – even enough for de mon who pee behind de tree!…….

Alone, sitting with my back to the transom, right leg on the rail and my left heel resting on the tiller, I remembered that night in Chicago. That’s why I’ll just stay here, have another drink, heat up that dented can of Sweet-Sue chicken & dumplings and take my gallon bath. Noise or no noise, that v-berth has my name all over it – gotta get some sleep.

That’s the way I planned it but, as I was toweling off after scrubbing down, my boat rocked with the stepping on board of another guest. Without my noticing, Abner had been rowed back to his junk by some of the Potentate crew. Now, standing amid ship in his stars and stripes speedo, he was giving me a loud slurring synopsis. Seems he had lost his mug overboard on the Hatteras and was too drunk to safely swim back. That meant he was also too drunk to return to the fishermen’s party so I was stuck with him – at least until he passed out.

As I wrapped the towel around me, he sat down on the rail resting his head in his hands with his elbows on his knees.

“Got no rum Abner, how about a scotch or maybe a beer?”

Beer on whiskey, mighty risky, whiskey on beer, never fear!” Abner was chanting an old fraternity house sobriety axiom to me. Couldn’t picture him in a campus setting. Who knows – maybe an Auburn grad?

……China man named Lip Long Lo, He went and married down in Mexico, His wife divorce him very quick, Because she want bamboo and not a lousy chop stick – She want the big bam..………

Abner had, obviously, turned his tape deck back on.

“I’ll make it a Johnny Walker Abner, make yourself comfortable and we’ll talk for awhile, but only for awhile. It’s been a long day and I’m beat.”

I didn’t have to stimulate the conversation. Once he started he never stopped! Virtually everything he had to say was boring beyond belief or so filled with cuss words that he had me embarrassed and looking over my shoulder hoping no one else was listening – and this was the f…ing Columbus Day Regatta! I was almost ready to tell him to either “go to bed or walk the plank” when he began to talk about his brother and Linda.

“I seen you spending a lot time with Linda, you ain’t making no move on her are you?”

He didn’t expect the truth and I went along with the game. Cocking my head slightly, pausing in contemplation just long enough, and looking him straight in the eye–“no, and I don’t plan to, but she doesn’t sound very happy. We had a long talk while you and Bert were gone. She pretty much cleared the deck. I don’t feel real good about being put in this position but she seems like a nice person and it looked to me like she just needed a shoulder to cry on. I know they’re not married, what’s the story with Bert and her?”

Abner slowly wiped the palm of his hand down over his face and held his chin between his thumb and curled index finger –

“Not much of a story, at least from what I hear. She took a Greyhound over from Vidalia and hooked up with him at the marina in Thunderbolt. Bert said they stayed in a motel near the beach on Tybee Island for a week or so but he bout run out of money and she didn’t bring any with her. Far as I know, they’ve spent the last couple of months just moseying down the coast in that sailboat. Bert says they been doing a lot of something he called ‘gunk holing’. I don’t know nothin bout no gunk holing but, whatever it is, they spent a lot of time doing it and now she’s got a bun in the oven.”

………Asked my woman what could I do, To make her happy and to keep her true, She said only one thing I want from you, Is a little bitty……….

There was no sleep. The music, laughter, and noise of debauchery overwhelmed the cool night air and the sounds were even louder below the waterline. My berth had become like the inside of a snare drum and, for some reason, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. It wasn’t her plea for help – I could deal with that. What troubled me was the haunting picture of a short dark haired teenage girl despondently gazing at a silent telephone! She was right – it wasn’t fair.

After clearing the rafting lines to the junk from the starboard cleats and retrieving my fenders, I was, ever-so slowly, drifting free on a light northerly and the in-coming tide. No need to crank up the diesel or raise any canvas, I only wanted to get away from the Regatta and back to some quiet and solitude. It was probably a little before midnight and the star-lit sky and black empty Bay down toward Card Sound promised both.

In Margaret Mitchel’s novel, another Georgia girl had said it best: “tomorrow is another day” and I was hoping that tomorrow the wind, any wind, would freshen and enable me and Le Esperance to be “gone with” it. I’d had enough of the Columbus Day Regatta and this pair of Peach State misfits. I knew I’d always wonder what had happened to Bert’s seductive crew but I had to get away from here and, unlike Linda, I had my charts and I knew how!


“they might have been lonely”

I try to remember everything. At least everything that is worth remembering.

I love to write and, as you are all aware, I do so all too frequently. Sometimes I cobble words together that make for informative or enjoyable reading. Other times I post lines that will disgrace even the trash heap they are destined for. Along the way I am helped by those of my classmates that choose to give me something to read and build on. I don’t mean just the well-meaning sentiments and “thanks for sharing” that robotically appear. I mean the words from the heart that have substance. Over the years these “footnotes on life” have taken different forms but all of them have been meaningful. Shirley Anderson being so embarrassed in public speaking class as she stood on the podium at the lectern struggling with the recitation of “Casey at the bat”. Jerry Browning’s accounting of his and his brother Jimmy’s ordeal at birth in Lake Worth being incubated in an aquarium and the strength and courage exhibited by his mother was vividly related. Danne Pillsbury telling me that Dave Parham, as a boy, learned how to drive on one of Matter & Co.’s produce truck’s night-time runs to the Miami Produce Market. The list goes on and on …

Many of the heart warming or heart breaking stories I’ve heard haven’t come to me on the internet. Connie Berry’s candid, almost tearful, confession of insecurity when she and her recently divorced mother first moved to West Palm Beach. Sammy Bigbie relating to me about his brother Abner’s last day on earth and the circumstances that surrounded it. Driving, with Frank Madsen, past an old man walking along the side of a country road ….. only to be told after we had passed him by …. “that’s my father”. Nick Coppola’s and my unspoken agreement to never mention the day he found his 33-year-old son dead or what may have led up to it.

There has even been one of these experiences that I witnessed first hand. It was the summer soon after we graduated from PBHS. I was with Carl Reetz the morning after his father had died, just a few hours before, in an automobile accident. At the salvage yard, I watched as Carl pried one of his father’s bloodstained shoes out of the collapsed floorboard of a virtually unrecognizable Thunderbird convertible.

Recently, Tom Henriksen complimented me, paraphrasing either Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, or some sports writer named Paul Gallico, by telling me that we both knew that good writing was easy … “you just open a vein and bleed”. From a man whose e-mail address ends in that was heavy. But let me challenge Tom and all the rest of you with a little test of your memories. Let’s see if a posting by one of our classmates years ago made as much of an impression on you as it did on me?

In the course of our everyday lives, when we tell people about ourselves, our families, our life experiences, and especially our up-bringing we seldom tell the whole truth. Psychiatrist earn their living giving us a place to “share” things we wouldn’t tell our spouse and certainly not our PBHS classmates. I would not want even hints of my life’s deepest secrets scattered in hundreds of places about the country even though the only injury they could ever cause would be to my pride. Few of us ever consider the fact that just by opening up and putting it on the line we might help others realize that they have not been alone in facing some dark moments in their past. What is so remarkable is that, in this case, the story was not even relayed to us as a hardship but as a story of love and understanding.

   In 1945 we lived at Southridge, or as it was called “the Projects” along with some people you all know, i.e., the Williams and Corbett’s, plus many others that we ended up going to school with thru the years. I never knew in the morning, when I walked into our living room, exactly who would be sleeping on the couch. My mother brought home lonely military guys she ran into, sometimes there would be 2 or 3. For all of you who knew my mother well, there are many reasons she might have brought them home, but I will leave it at that … “they might have been lonely.” 

I have saved and reread these lines many times and the admiration I have for the person that wrote them is boundless. Do you remember who it was?

Jim Powell


“the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”

this one is definitely ….. Ernest Hemingway

CHAPTER 4 — the rollout

By the time we had come about and approached the junk, a burly shaved headed guy in cut-off jeans had stationed himself at the aft rail and was waving his arms. Abner had recognized his brother and was motioning for me to come up on his starboard rail. He rushed to put out two fenders, one was dirty yellow and the other used to be white. After releasing the line and harness to Bert’s boat and handing it to Abner, I’d made full circle around the junk and brought my bow around so as to be able to raft up along my starboard, facing in the same direction and on the opposite side of the anchored junk. By the time I had my fenders in place Abner had tossed me a couple of cleated lines and Linda and I were soon “snug-up to Chinatown”.

Abner liked Calypso music and may have fancied himself the ladies man. Put these two traits together in a surrounding of scantily clad beautiful women–stir in a tape deck, two huge antique living room combo speakers and a floating red-neck pagoda– and you get…

“Gave my lady a sugar cane, Sweets to the sweet I did explain, Gave it back to my surprise, Said she liked the flavor but not the size … She want the big bamboo, always long, The big bamboo grows so bold and strong, The big bamboo…

He had one speaker mounted on top of the cabin facing forward and the other near the stern. Only after we had dispensed with, what passed for, formal introductions and Linda had retired back to Bert’s sailboat, did I feel comfortable suggesting that he turn down the sound. Even then, the only place you could carry on a conversation was inside the cabin of the junk.

I was surprised. Abner’s housekeeping was better than expected. The space below deck was cluttered but not dirty and even the galley passed a cursory inspection. It was only after I accepted the invitation to sample some rum “run off by some buddies of mine in Hialeah” that things got challenging. My drink was served in a rim chipped, coffee stained, ceramic mug complete with a circular blue and white Pure Oil Company decal. What ever happened to Pure Oil gas stations?  “Sorry about the mug. I don’t have many utensil on board cause my last girlfriend stole them all when she checked out a few weeks ago. I found these java jars in a box of old fuel filters down at the City Cab Company garage. They washed up pretty good and the price was right.”

I looked over at Bert to see if his mug was as sorry as mine, and if he was going to venture a sip. It was and he didn’t bat an eye. The rum was about what I figured it would be–terrible.

Breaking the silence, I turned to Abner;

“I understand you’re in transportation?”

I had a hard time saying that with a straight face but my good-natured sarcasm went unnoticed.

Bert jumped into the fray:

“Yeah, he’s a cab driver right now but he’s got something big working and as soon as it takes off he’ll be in tall cotton.”

Shrugging, biting his upper lip, and shaking his head, Abner looked at his brother and began a family update.

“No Bert, things haven’t worked out too well with Billy. Everything was set to kick off on Sunday a week ago but it didn’t happen the way we planned. Billy said we screwed up the rollout. I’m still not sure what he means by “rollout” but, whatever it is, we screwed it up and I guess I’ve lost all my investment.”

“What do you mean you lost it, I thought you went all the way to Arkansas to be with Billy when church got out in Scarcity or where the hell ever it was? Last time I talked to you everything was good-to-go and you had your bus ticket and a 7-Eleven money-order!”

“Yeah, the name of the town was Searcy, I had forty-six hundred yeats and everything was on schedule but, like I say, we screwed up the rollout.

I was starting to feel right at home with these two. This was getting interesting and, feeling certain that I was in little danger of violating any Wall Street insider trading rules, I asked for some insight:

“Slow down Abner and fill me in from the start. What kind of investment did you make, who’s Billy, and why did you go to Arkansas?”

Head lowered, he continued:

“Billy’s my partner. He lives in Memphis. A year or so ago, he and I decided that we were tired of living by “the sweat of our brow” and came up with this idea to make a killin. Billy travels all over Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas as a traveling salesman and he’s the one that first thought of it. The way it worked was real simple, at least it was supposed to be. It went like this:

First we find a little town in the Bible-Belt South that has an abandoned worthless old building right across the street from, or next door to, the biggest Baptist Church in town. After that, we find out who owns the derelict property and negotiate a five-year option to buy and, most important of all, a rental contract along with a ninety-day rent free guarantee. We’d sign the contract and get the option for $1 because everybody would know that we were fools and that they couldn’t sell or rent the damn thing to anyone else in a hundred years! Having accomplished this in one town, we would move on to the next and so on! We had targeted seventeen locations in three States but so far we only had four around Little Rock ready to go.”

This was bazaar–I interrupted. “What in the hell were you going to do with these contracts and options?”

“No, hear me out. While all this is happening, we go to AT&T and sign up for a 900- Premium Call phone number. I even made a $350.00 deposit and had a number reserved: 1-900-244-3425. The way this phone number worked was that everybody that dialed the number was charged $2.99 for the first minute and $ .99 for each additional one. We had a long dragged-out rambling recording set up to answer all calls and we would get paid 85% of the gross billings less fees, taxes, and some other crap.”

I couldn’t stand it–“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, now you’ve got a partner, a bus ticket, a money-order, a nine hundred phone number and four shacks in Arkansas – either you’re crazy or there’s more to the story.”

“There’s more, let me finish. The day I got off the Greyhound in Little Rock, it was Saturday week before last, every thing was supposed to be ready. Billy met me at the bus station and we drove out to the motel in Searcy where he had set up our headquarters.

The first thing we did was call our 900 number to make sure it worked. By then it was getting dark so we drove over to the local high school football field because we needed a lot of space. I hadn’t gotten the money to Billy ahead of time so he couldn’t get the banners done by a professional … we had to do them ourselves. I wasn’t sure what we were going to put on the banners but I didn’t have to worry, Billy had hired a consultant on business start-ups back in Memphis. He met the guy in some bar and, best as I could tell, for just $250.00 we had both a banner design penciled out on a cocktail napkin and a detailed rollout plan to boot. Billy and I spent half the night, with only his car’s headlights, painting four four foot by forty foot signs on some white plastic roofing under liner that he had gotten a good deal on. He had two hundred foot rolls, so we had a bunch left over.

Once we had the banners painted, rolled up, and put back in Billy’s car we returned to the motel to go over our rollout plan and get a little sleep.”

At this point I was looking around to see if I could locate the “Candid Camera.”

Dead serious, Abner continued–“According the rollout plan, we had to strike hard and fast. The next morning, Sunday, we started our run at 6:00 and by 10:30 we had all of our banners strung out. We had them in Searcy, Conway, Malvern, and Pine Bluff and all but one were hung high up on the third or forth floor. Each banner was located so that, after services, the church goers would be looking straight up at them as they were standing on the church steps, shaking the preacher’s hand, and telling him how much they enjoyed his sermon. We even gave our business a name … INDIGNATION INDUSTRIES.”

Now he had me totally confused. Holding my hands out, palms up, in questioning resignation–“The banners, Abner – what was on them?”

Reaching over his brother’s head, he brought a manila envelope down from a shelf and pulled out a Polaroid snapshot. It was a picture of an old red brick four storied hotel complete with arched windows and black iron fire escapes. I wasn’t sure what town it was in but it could have been Atlanta before Sherman struck the match. What was also in the photo was something that you would never find pictured in any old Civil War tintype … a dirty grass stained white banner with crude red lettering spread between the broken paned corner windows of the top floor.


I didn’t hang around for much of the final installment. As I climbed up and out of the cabin, Abner was telling Bert about what went wrong with their rollout. I didn’t catch the details but he said something about a Monday morning article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and an FBI probe into possible RICO act violations.

Gave my lady two coconuts, She said to me … this is okay–but, I know you want to be nice to me, But what good are the nuts without the tree

Church Pic

This one is only for my family …..

Note: This email was originally sent out in December of 2013. Since that time many of my generation have passed on but I need to include these lines on this site. I have built a very extensive Family Tree going back to 1747 and have accumulated a large data base of individual family member responses. For obvious reasons these will not be included but can be shared with anyone who might be interested. All this being said; if you’re not one of us “just scroll on down the page”.

Dear cousins,

In the summer of 1988 I visited the basement of the Public Library in North Wilkesboro, NC and began a journey of genealogy. I won’t bore you with details but we have a very interesting past and it’s a shame that the memories die out with each generation. Years ago, one of our distant cousins came up with the idea of putting together a book entitled All of us by George. George Powell built the first brick house in Lenoir, NC and is buried with his father (Elias) and one of his sons (Elias R.) in the cemetery at the Lower Creek Baptist Church. Before he died in 1875, George had many children by two wives and the valiant attempt to trace the Powell family from that point on proved a daunting task and, to my knowledge, was never achieved.

Now we, as a legacy for future generations, have a chance to put together a book of our own. We might call it Pitching Horseshoes! We can all write our part of the book by just picking up where Mama and Papa Powell got us started with a 1925 photo of the whole family. We have this photo courtesy of George and Lee and it’s too precious not to share and follow up on!

I am attaching the photograph, and another of just the brothers and Papa Powell, to this email. I want you to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Our time is running out and if we don’t tell them about the old home place in Horse Shoe and the family that lived there – these pictures will, like so many others, just be added to the trash heap of time.

Now the important part!!

Get back to me with a list of all the of the descendants and spouses in your branch of the Family (example: all of the people descended from Eugene and all of their spouses). If possible, be very specific! Date and location of birth, date of death, and Full name are a must. Marriage date, occupation, education, military service, addresses, phone number, email, and any other items of interest can be added. We can do it, but we better hurry!


Jimmy Powell (James Reid Powell) born : Fletcher, NC – May 26, 1940

(772) 223-9482

3352 NW Perimeter Rd., Palm City, FL 34990



(cir. 1935): standing left to right: Ernest, Clarence, Papa Powell, Eugene, Charles

                        on the ground: Dewey, Jim Reid


                        (cir. 1925): Jim Reid, Ernest, Dewey, Clarence, Dohnov (Clarence’s wife)

            Charles,       Mary,     Papa Powell, Mama Powell,     Bessie,             Eugene

….. a feathered point of view!


Yeah, just give me a minute or two. I’ll be okay as soon as my head clears up. I flew into this damn black tinted glass wall panel. There ought to be a law against letting you guys build houses with those things. Looks just like an opening under the overhang ….. then “bang-o”, you fly right into it!

Don’t get so close and watch that thumb! Remember, I’m the one that just got knocked out and just because I got up on your finger and let you pick me up doesn’t make you the President of the local Audubon Society. Who the hell are you anyway? I may be just a dizzy catbird with a bad headache but you are the most decrepit looking thing I’ve seen in the whole neighborhood. Your beak looks like it has a brush underneath it. Your feathers are all white and scraggly and what are those red spots on your head? I bet they’re mites! You never get rid of those things.



Wait a minute, who’s this taking my picture? You think that just because I crash into this pile of glass, termites, and bleached out old cypress that you can feature me in one of your “touchy-feel-good” photo shoots or some low budget back to nature documentary?


bird3I don’t think so, and those are mites ….. I’m out ‘a here!

CHAPTER 3 — Regatta


Obviously he was “up” right now but the drunk swinging from the end of the mizzen boom on the passing ketch wouldn’t be up for long. He was wearing a Seminole Chief’s feathered war bonnet, a short gold raincoat and, what looked like, a tomahawk-patterned pair of garnet diapers. The only direction this guy was headed was straight down – either by falling into the water or, when the helmsman brought her over to a port tack, face first on to the aft deck!

“Where is everyone headed?” – I yelled out as he swung past me.

“Regatta man!, Regatta!”

Confused, I hollered:

“Where’s the race end?”

The ketch was probably 48-feet and flying a gigantic skull and crossbones off the stern. As she was leaving me in her wake, the swinger, yelled back:

“End – what end? There’s no end because nobody gives a crap about the race, this is the regatta man – the F…king Columbus Day Regatta,…….. Go Noles!

They kept coming and the procession of sailboats that had been both following and filing past me for the last hour wasn’t the only act in town. Every conceivable thing that could float had filled Biscayne Bay and was headed south: cabin cruisers, sportfish, head boats, ocean racers, run-a-bouts, open-fishermen, and even pontoon houseboats! It was the latter that caught my attention. Almost all of the houseboats had stage-like platforms built up on, and covering, their entire topside? The banner rippling along the side of one spelled out: Kathy’s Kat House Tavern!

……..Wrapped around each other, Trying so hard to stay warm, That first cold winter together, Lying in each others arms, Watching those old movies………

Turning the AM radio off, I thought to myself – No time for you Bertie. It ain’t cold and today I’m not watching, listening to, or even thinking about anything old! ….but now, …. The “Lying in” and the “Wrapped around” parts have some potential!

I could see the commotion a mile or two away. All morning long the boat traffic had been funneling toward green marker #3 and the cut through Featherbed Bank. After clearing the shallow water it looked like everybody was turning east and coming to a stop. From this distance it looked like a giant nautical yard sale but now, just ahead, something was happening!

What was playing out in front of me didn’t make sense. Just to the east of the greenie, a line tied to an open-fisherman was dragging a sailboat. What was strange was that the long towrope wasn’t secured at the sailboat’s Samson post or bow cleats – it came down at an angle from the masthead. The outboard’s pull had brought the, apparently grounded, vessel over on her side. With no sails up, she was being tipped over and slowly hauled along the bottom and towards the channel. Two people were standing in the water on the far side lifting and pushing near the sailboat’s bow with their backs to the hull. The obvious danger was that the tip of her mast was now only inches from the Bay. The water was too shallow to fully sink her but, at this rate, she was well on the way to becoming a laid over swamped barnacle farm!

All in an instant, it happened – the keel of the dragged sailboat reached and dropped off the shear coral face at the edge of the cut. Now free, she swung violently, dropping the wading and pushing crew butt down into the brine and then sprang upright. That was the good news! The bad news was that the torque created by the taunt towrope and the abrupt verticality of the mast had sheared the masthead pulleys. The towline had been secured to the main halyard and now both it and the one used to raise the jib were useless.

The only power evident on what, up until a moment ago, had been the “sailing” vessel was an old long shafted British Sea Gull outboard. It was bracket mounted on the starboard quarter of the transom with some sort of feeder fuel line disappearing into the fiberglass hull. The craft had obviously seen better days. The only teak trim was in the handrails and wench pedestals – both would challenge the definition of the term “bright-work”. The hull was dull and dirty and her name, one-hung-something, was amateurishly painted in Chinese like Arabic script just below the aft rub-rail.

Furling the jib, cranking up the diesel and dropping my main and staysail into their lazy-jacks, I coasted to about twenty feet aft and off the stricken vessel’s starboard. The soaked crewmembers were climbing back aboard using a portable ladder hanging off the rail. The first guy on deck was probably 5’ 10’’, thin but muscular, dark ponytail, a bleached tuff of beard just under his bottom lip and a tastefully small gold left earring. Wearing jeans, he striped off his thin white tee shirt to reveal an almost hairless chest. His right shoulder was emblazoned with a, probably barracks inscribed, globe and anchor above “USMC”. The next crewman out of the water was wearing a matching soaking white wet tee shirt but chose not to take it off. She didn’t have any tattoos!

Linda Toner-Santos was about 5’3” and 105 lbs. with olive skin and raven black hair. She had changed into a bikini with, what looked like, a homemade beach cover up. Turns out, her father was Portuguese and had left her mother soon after Linda was born, thus the hyphenated moniker. She smiled at me and, almost immediately, began to ask questions with personal connotations. This was no yelling across waves exchange, she was relaxing not six feet away as I sat on the starboard transom corner steering Le Esperance by pressing the tiller with my left leg. We were under power but the way she was acting made me feel like we were alone in a canoe on some mountain lake. All we were missing was the picnic basket.

She was filling me in on what had happened before my arrival. Seems Bert, her boyfriend, had waited too long to try to start the outboard and, having not dropped the sails, when it failed to crank they had drifted out of the narrow channel. Heeled over by a gust of wind, they had run aground on the sandy bank. They could pivot the boat around if they got in the water and pushed but the only way to get her off the bottom was to lessen the draft by heeling her even further and bringing up the keel. That’s when a Good Samaritan had offered a 200’ line along with instructions to attach it to the main halyard. The rest I had seen.

In being drug off the Bank, Linda and her boyfriend had not only lost their masthead pulleys, they had also let the Sea Gull be submerged on its mount and now it certainly wouldn’t start. Seeing their dilemma – and her in her tee shirt, I had heaved-to and asked if I could “be of assistance?” What I had in mind didn’t include a tow but after hearing the situation – here I was. Linda was on my boat because, after running aground, they found their battery was dead and without the VHF radio they couldn’t contact Bert’s older brother Abner.

Abner, it turns out, was a cab driver in Dania. He lived on his boat and had brought it down to Elliott Key yesterday to set his anchors and get an early start. It was some kind of Chinese boat he had picked up when a local sightseeing outfit had filed for bankruptcy. Linda and Bert had been in touch with him as they had worked their way south on the Inter-coastal Waterway. All three of them were from Georgia but Abner had been down here for about three years. Bert’s plan was to raft up with his brother and, in Linda’s words, “get a little crazy at something called the Columbus Day Regatta!”

Linda settled in, making periodic attempts to raise Abner on my VHF but she didn’t seem too enthusiastic. I was beginning to wonder what the story was with this lady but, with the dung-ho-who or whatever it’s name was in tow, it would just have to wait–-I was headed to…?

The Coast Guard passed on our port side. She was a standard 25’ RHI Defender Class with five or six guys on board. I waved – they didn’t. The patrol boat turned out to be one of the three or four such vessels assigned to direct traffic and keep the drunk Regattateers from drowning or running over each other. Linda was still trying to hail Abner on the radio but, with all the traffic, she would have had more success using smoke signals. The Cubans were still walking all over each other on channel 16 and we had no idea where to start looking for him or his boat, even if we knew what it looked like. There was some semblance of order amidst the chaos. Hundreds of craft were roughly lined up, either as a single boat anchored fore and aft or in rail-to-rail raftings with only one of the group tied to the bottom. Roadways, of a sort, had been left open in a southeast to northwest orientation between the lines at anchor. There appeared to be five or six “blocks” of these raftings, each being one vessel deep and a half to three quarter mile long. The “roads” were filled with celebratory semi-naked commuters swimming or floating in all directions while the Coast Guard RHIs threaded their way cautiously through a human bouillabaisse, bullhorns helplessly giving oral primers on laws against alcohol on Federal Property and public nudity. Mixed all through this congregation, but primarily in the middle, were the bedecked houseboats I had seen earlier. They had gone through a decadent metamorphosis. The upper-deck platforms had all become bandstands, fast-food restaurants, sports bars, discos, even a “float in movie theatre!” They were decorated with flags and bunting and elaborate light shows for evening enticement and entertainment were franticly being set up.

Twenty minutes later Linda had given up on trying to contact Abner on the VHF and we were wandering aimlessly around the southern edge of the anchorage. With Bert in tow, I didn’t want to chance heading into the bowels of the beast. We had gotten almost to the far end of the southern-most row when, that had to be it!

I say “it” because no one could ever refer to what I was looking at as “her” or “she” or any other customary nautical feminine pronoun. It would be an insult to all women!

The Bamboo Buda was a cheaply constructed replica of a 17th century Chinese junk. It had three bamboo masts, a big one amid-ship and one each fore and aft that both looked like after thoughts! The sails, now lowered but laying in the piles where they had been dropped, looked like those I had seen in harbour photos of Hong Kong and Macao: lateen rigged, bamboo-gaffed, fully battened and ugly as sin! The wooden hull was brush painted some God-awful shade of burnt red and its gold trim was peeling off. The thing was probably 65 feet long and had, at least, an 18’ beam. This wasn’t a boat – this was a Ming Dynasty floating slum!


CHAPTER 2 — be advised…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group. Be advised that channel 16 is a hailing and distress channel only. Take all other traffic to another working channel. US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, out.” The Cubans were driving them crazy again this morning!

VHF radio transmissions in most maritime locals are a classic example of societal necessity, Anglo-Saxon civility and common courtesy. And then there’s Miami and the upper Keys. Anywhere else the typical message sent out on channel 16 might be a true emergency, a hailing request for a marine operator’s assistance or a come back transmission to some other vessel. Regardless of the exact nature of the communication, the conversation would be immediately switched to another, agreed upon, channel to ensure that 16 remained available. Even when a boat with children aboard is reported sinking, I’ve heard some seemingly heartless Coast Guardsman routinely come back with “Please acknowledge; switch and answer channel 23 alpha – US Coast Guard, out”

A man’s voice crackled back on the radio:

“Jodete y aprieta el culo Guardacostas!

Oye, Luis tenemos tres mas pez rey, pero estamos fuera de la cerveza. ?Cuando vas a volar el muelle?”

I don’t believe the fisherman’s suggestion was anatomically possible but evidently the Coast Guard radio operator had either quit caring or just didn’t understand the instructions.

Again the VHF sprang to life…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group. Be advised that channel 16 is …

I turned it off.

An old Irish blessing asked for “the wind to always be at your back and the sun to shine warm upon your face.” Irishmen obviously never spent any time sailing in these latitudes. I’ll have to put more gook on my nose in a little while and having the wind at your back is a pain in the ass. If I had a bigger headsail and a whisker pole I could go wing and wing but, as it is, I’ll just let the main full out and hope for the best. No need to unfurl the yankee. It’ll just be masked and worthless with the wind coming from aft.

Last night I decided to anchor in the old channel on the south side of Key Biscayne just off the entrance to something that shows on the charts as “No Name Harbor” – never been in there. I set the hook early. The breeze was shifting to the southwest by the time I cleared Cape Florida and the lighthouse coming in from the Atlantic. Around here, an afternoon weather system shifting quickly clockwise east to south to west usually means a north or northeaster overnight and the wind always increases. No need to chance it by going on out into Biscayne Bay and turning south. There was no place to duck in short of the shallow water at the north end of Elliott Key and I didn’t feature a night of hobby horsing at anchor in open water. Facing a headwind in the channel, I had dropped the canvas and cranked up the engine. The 2 cylinder Volvo-Penta diesel is my faithful companion, and I stopped being a purest years ago when it’s comes to narrow passages, shoals, and stiff currents.

Just as I had put out the danforth, the NOAA weatherman on the VHF, whom most sailors refer to as “Doctor Doom”, had confirmed my forecast by predicting 25 knot north to northeast winds subsiding to 10 to 15 by morning. With a taunt anchor rode and in the lee of the Australian Pine covered island, my two or three glasses of cheap red had led to warmed-up Chinese pork fried rice and the last of my head lettuce for a salad.

Unless I’m going ashore, my routine never changes: After evening meal – heat water in kettle on kerosene stove, wash and stow cook and flatware as more water begins to boil, and then pour some hot and cold water together to fill a plastic gallon jug. Hopefully it’s dark or I’m in some hidden cove because, striped down with soap bar and towel in hand, my next step is up into the open cockpit.

Le Esperance only carries forty gallons of fresh water but a gallon bath is always required of captain and, if there is any, crew before bedtime. Once you learn how to ration the jug of water it’s not too hard to wash off the day’s sweat and grime but sometimes you have to forget modesty.

On one occasion I was forced to anchor for the night off the little public park next to, and virtually beneath, the Las Olas Blvd. Bridge over the Inter-coastal Waterway in Ft. Lauderdale. The sun had set well before gallon bath time but, with all the streetlights and other nighttime activity, it never got dark. Long after I had finished my dinner, pedestrians crossing on the south side of the bridge were still stopping to look straight down at me. Sitting aft next to the tiller, I remember pondering the situation and pouring myself another Johnny Walker.

About 9:00 I said “to hell with it”! The hot water in the kettle had cooled and a couple of curious gals had ensconced themselves on the bridge not a hundred feet above me but I was taking a bath.

Buck-ass naked, gallon jug of cold water in hand and having had one too many, I stepped up the companion way and out of the cabin.

The women were still there, now unabashedly gawking in my direction.

Cupping my hands together and bringing them up to my mouth, I faced them full on and hollered out – “If you see something God didn’t create, just kill it with a stick.”

I slept well and the bridge was empty in the morning.

Honey, can’t you remember, We played all the parts, That sweet scene of surrender, When you gave me your heart, Please say you will, Play it again, Cause I love you still, Baby, this can’t be the end……We had it all, Just like Bogie and Bacall

Bertie Higgins, my newfound friend, brought me back from memories. Just as well, I’m having too many lately.

More marine traffic on Biscayne Bay than I remember. Miami’s getting huge and I think everybody here buys a boat right after their first bicycle.

Two gazillion horse-powered muscle boats roared by. Each had a helmsman and single crew, both standing upright leaning on butt props and wearing sound protection headphones. One was painted to look like flames were coming out of the wake off the bow and the other was jet black with alternating stainless steel lightning bolt and dragon head pipes covering the mid-ship exhausts. My assessment of the situation was that those guys were probably a little bit higher up on the Dade County evolutionary chain and had progressed from bicycle to Harley and then to boat.

“Mierda, Marco, No puedo creerlo! ?has visto las tetas de la chica? Estoy dando la vuelta. Creo que estoy el amor!”

A momentary pause and…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard…

What are all those sailboats doing?

Without my noticing, the entire horizon behind me near the west shore of the Bay had filled with sails. All manor of riggings were evident but it was the multi-colored spinnakers that stood out. With the mid-morning skyline of Miami as a backdrop, I was being pursued by hundreds of sailboats and they were all gaining on me. I know this is Friday but what I was looking at was no weekend get-a-way! It’s almost like a nautical jailbreak and they’re all headed in the same direction – my direction. Whatever they’re doing, it won’t take long to find out. Give them another hour and I’ll be part of the pack.

It didn’t take that long but trying to hail the first vessels that flew past me was impossible. There were three of them and except for the ballooning spinnakers they all looked the same. Fifty, maybe sixty, foot sloops with forward swept transoms, laminated mainsails, and masts that scraped the clouds! I’ve only seen sailboats like these in races like the America’s Cup. What are they doing out here and what the hell is going on?

My first thought was that this had to be a race of some kind, but to where? Reaching down into the cabin, I picked the binoculars up off the step and panned the waters of Bay dead ahead. There weren’t any buoys to mark a course and on the heading they were on the next stop was the cut through Fetherbed Bank and the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point.

Before I lowered the binoculars, I swung my gaze over to the deck of the nearest passing super boat. The voluminous headsail was bright orange with “Club Cleavage” emblazoned in bold black over the shadowed outline of an exotic longhaired nude. Ocean racers often have their sponsor’s logos featured on the hull and sails but they’re usually more on the order of “Chevrolet” or “Mutual of Omaha”. The pornographic spinnaker didn’t hold my attention for long. I’ve never seen so many people on the deck of one boat in my life. The crew, if you could call them that, were all young guys and gals and, along with their laughter and plastic cup libations, they were all wearing the same thing from the waist up–the skin they were born with.

I quickly swung the viewing field of the binoculars to the other sloops that had passed me by. The overall scene was a little bit different on these two, but very little. The moniker-laden spinnaker on the race leader was ice blue and the other’s was raspberry with white stripes. The visual differences in the crews?… well, there was one rather unique tattoo…

This didn’t look like any ordinary competition, but if it was, I’m betting that the winners will be the ones that finish last.