Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
I’m not even going to try to give a blow-by-blow description of the trip, since there were times I wasn’t even real sure where I was, anyway.
Mostly, I took it easy, taking my time, poking into this harbor or that bay or another inlet, just to see what was there. Sometimes I might sail right back out again, and other times I might anchor out for an evening or two before I decided it was time to move on. On the days I stayed put, I might just spend much of the day leaning back in the cockpit and reading a book, or doing some little putter-around chore that needed to be done on the Pixie.
When I had to go somewhere, which was pretty rarely, I could move right along, but for the most part I took my time. It was especially nice after the hurried trip when Nate and I rushed down to Florida in the Harvest Time, not stopping for much of anything except fuel. I wanted to be able to investigate something if I was curious about it.
Over the course of that period, I met a lot of people who were living on board their boats, and they were almost always amazed to find that I was living aboard a Parabellum 21, which a lot of people seemed to think was a toy boat. But mostly I was comfortable with it, once I got used to it, and at least a few people seemed to envy my minimalist approach to cruising and living aboard.
It took a while to master the art of living on board a boat that small, but there were some advantages, too. On the cold mornings – and as I got farther south, there weren’t that many of them – I could more or less stay in the sleeping bag and get my breakfast and coffee going, so long as I had made some preparations the night before. The stove would warm the cabin up enough so I could stand to crawl out of the sack by the time I’d finished breakfast, so that worked well.
I usually anchored out for the night, in whatever protected place I happened to find. Once in a while I beached the boat for the night if I happened to find a good spot for it, but that only happened rarely, and after a while it just became simpler to anchor. I think I only paid slippage charges three nights on the whole trip, and then they were not large, except once.
I slowly learned that doing this kind of a trip took some planning ahead. I only had a limited amount of fresh water stowage, in those plastic jugs from the Bolivar K-Mart, so I had to find a place every few days where I could top off. So long as I thought to do it, it wasn’t a problem. I often wished I’d thrown in an extra jug or two, but I never seemed to think of it when I was at a place I could buy one. Ice for the cooler was a continuing problem, but I just lived around it since about all I was using it for was beer and soft drinks; when they got too warm, I’d just quit drinking them until I could get more ice.
It took me a little longer to learn to plan my food use. I’d brought quite a bit of canned food with me, but I went through it faster than I expected. I didn’t really pay attention to that until I had to live on peanut butter and soda crackers for three days before I got to a place with a good supermarket close enough to visit on foot. That wasn’t common, and I should have realized it from having spent all that time at Winchester Harbor – there was a reason the Channel Stop had a limited but varied supply of groceries, after all. After that, when I found a supermarket I left with as much as a month’s worth of food on board.
Back in Winchester Harbor, Rachel and I had gotten to be pretty purist about sailing whenever we could; we had to be pretty desperate to break out the kicker and motor our way someplace. That soon fell by the wayside. While I still preferred sailing the Pixie to running the outboard, if I had to head upwind to get out of some inlet or something like that, I didn’t mess around with a lot of tacking in narrow channels. A couple pulls on the Evinrude’s starter cord in those situations made life much simpler. I didn’t use a lot of fuel, and never had to worry about it; topping off the fuel tank, even with a couple gallons, gave me an excuse to pay a little money to the marina when I stopped to fill up with fresh water.
As I moved on south the weather became warmer; I suppose the Gulf Stream may have had something to do with that. There were nights that were a little chilly, but it never got down to freezing. The days were often shirt-sleeve warm, and I only rarely had to pull on my pea jacket during the day. I have to admit that swimsuit-warm days were very uncommon, at least till I got down into the Keys, where the warm ocean all around made things even more comfortable. If I found myself thinking it was cold, all I had to do was to imagine the ice on Winchester Harbor to get things back in perspective.
After I called home and the Channel Stop from Fort Myers I headed on south, taking my time. There were some stretches there when I had to get out in the ocean, but I was able to pick times when it was pretty calm. I was in no hurry, after all.
I poked around for a while in the Ten Thousand Islands area east of Marco Island, and headed down into Everglades National Park. Much of what I found was mangrove swamps, right down to the edge of the water, with few places that seemed interesting to land if there had been anything to investigate. That soon palled on me. I got outside, sailed down to near Cape Sable, and considered my options.
It was only about forty miles as the crow would fly to get down to Marathon, in the heart of the Keys, but I’d either have to cross open water to get there, or go way east, then come back west. I’d never really considered the Pixie to be a boat that I’d want to take out very far on open water, but the distance wasn’t very far, the weather promised to be mild and stable, and finally I decided what the hell.
The Pixie didn’t have much of a compass – it was just something taken from the stuff Nate had accumulated in his shop – and I wasn’t sure how much I could trust it. But, I figured it would at least take me generally south, and it would be hard to miss the Overseas Highway since I would be heading right for the middle of it, so I would be bound to come up on it somewhere.
I got going early the next morning, ran out of the little bay on the kicker, and as soon as I got offshore enough got the sails up. The wind was in the right direction to be flying the jennie, so I got that up and just let the wind take me south. It was exhilarating and a little scary to be out of the sight of land in the Pixie, but by the middle of the afternoon a low length of land appeared before me. It proved to be Grassy Key. As soon as I got close enough to pick out some landmarks, I realized that I’d come pretty close to Marathon. Considering everything, that wasn’t bad.
That day was the farthest from land I got on the whole trip. I really felt like I’d accomplished something! It is a hell of a lot different to be twenty miles from shore by myself in a little inland lakes daysailer – or, at best, weekender – like the Pixie than it was to be a thousand miles from land with thousands of other people like I’d been on the Kennedy.
The Keys proved to have the climate I’d been looking for – even at night it rarely got down to needing the pea jacket, and it was often swimsuit warm. Unfortunately, the Keys are pretty expensive, so I usually just stayed by myself in the remoter sections, like the wildlife refuge, although I still had to find a place to top up on fresh water every few days.
A lot of the water around the Keys is quite shallow, although often with a good sandy bottom. One of the nice things about the Pixie being a centerboard boat was the fact that I didn’t need deep water, especially to anchor, a couple feet was a plenty, and I didn’t have to run the anchor line out very far. That gave me options other boats didn’t have.
One afternoon I was at anchor in some very shallow water in some little probably nameless bay on a key somewhere north and west of Big Pine, when I happened to notice a somewhat bigger sailboat coming into the bay under motor power. I guess they thought I was in deeper water than I was, because they headed more or less toward me. Before I could say or do anything, they ran aground, probably not more than fifty yards from me.
“You all right?” I yelled over to them when they had the motor shut down.
“I guess,” a voice came back from the boat. “But we’re stuck. Can you give us a hand?”
I swung off the Pixie – I was wearing a swimsuit – and walked over toward them in the knee-deep water to see if I could help.
There were two bikini-clad girls and a guy on board. The guy looked a little embarrassed when I got over to them. “This is a swing keel boat so it can go pretty shallow,” he explained. “I figured if you could get in there, I could get in there.”
“Hey, I have a centerboard boat,” I told him. “I only draw about eight inches of water.”
“Well, shit,” he shook his head. “Do you think you can help?”
With one of the girls to run the outboard, the rest of us got our shoulders up against the bow of the boat and gave a big heave, and soon they were back afloat. We found a somewhat deeper spot for them to anchor – still not very deep – and soon we were sitting around in the cockpit, having a pretty good discussion. The next thing we knew, it turned into a boater’s potluck. I waded back to the Pixie to get some stuff, and we spread out in the cockpit of their boat and ate it.
It turned out that the trip was supposed to have been two girls and two guys, but one of the guys hadn’t been able to come. It was a dry-charter boat from out of someplace in the Keys, and I got the impression that none of the three of them had as much sailing experience as what little I’d had. All three of them – I found their names were Bob, Sharon, and Melissa – were from somewhere up around Atlanta, and were on a week’s vacation. In the course of the conversation, I explained that I had been a charter boat captain on the Great Lakes – well, all right, I stretched the blanket a little bit – and was down here for two or three months. As always, they were amazed that I’d be living aboard a boat as small as the Pixie.
The sun got to be low, and we’d each had a couple beers from the boat’s cooler before I suggested that it might be a good idea to call it a night. I’d really enjoyed the afternoon hanging around with the three, but it was time to go so I waded back to the Pixie. I was down in the cabin, getting stuff arranged for the night while it was still light, and considering having another beer and a cigarette out in the cockpit to help it get a little darker, when I heard a knocking on the side of the boat.
I poked my head out of the hatch to see Melissa standing there in the half light, still wearing only her string bikini. “Yes?” I said.
“I thought you might like some company tonight,” she said. “Bob and Sharon have been up in the front bunk screwing themselves silly every night and it’s been driving me crazy. I’m so goddamn horny I can’t take it anymore.”
It wasn’t long before her string bikini was lying on the deck, with my swimsuit right next to it. It had been a while for me; the last time I’d been with a woman was Susie, back up at Debby’s wedding. Melissa and I had a pretty good time; she wasn’t exactly Debby or Susie or Annette, but she was a damn sight more interested and interesting than Brittany. We wound up going a lot later than I was used to.
We woke up the next morning to another knocking on the side of the boat. We were still tangled up in my narrow bunk – it was about the size of a three-quarter bed when I had it made all the way out. The knocking proved to be Bob, inviting us over for breakfast. Before breakfast was over with, we’d worked it out that Melissa would ride with me for the rest of the week, and we’d poke around in the islands together.
We wound up having a fun five days. Neither Sharon nor Melissa were very good at keeping their bikinis on. They spent a lot of time sunbathing on the boat decks or occasionally a little beach we’d find here or there. Sometimes we’d leave their boat anchored offshore a bit and use the Pixie as a dinghy so we could run right up on the beach.
I was sorry to see the day come when the three of them had to get back on their boat and sail back to wherever it was they’d chartered it. Melissa and I had had a fun time, but I think we agreed early on that the fun was only going to be for that trip. Other than sex, we didn’t have a lot in common; she was a well-paid dental assistant, while I was admittedly an unemployed boat bum. But, for a fling, it was pretty good, and the time I spent with her made me realize that all was not lost for me in the relationship department.
Things seemed a little slow after that, and I decided it was time to move on. After the three of them sailed off, I pointed Pixie’s bow toward Key West, and that was where I wound up spending Christmas, and one of the few nights I was in a slip for the night. It was a very expensive slip, so I only stayed the one night.
I called home and the Channel Stop again at Christmas. Everybody was glad to hear from me, including Rachel, except for the fact that she complained that if I’d called home a little sooner she might have been able to fly down and spend a couple weeks with me, but the timing just wasn’t going to work out now. Otherwise, I was told that things were still pretty cold at Winchester Harbor, the place was full of ice, and it was clearly going to get worse before it got better. That made me feel pretty good, since I was watching another couple of bikini-clad beauties walk up the street when Barb told me that.
There are some scattered islands on to the west of Key West, usually pretty unnoticed. I gave some thought to sailing out to them, or even clear out to Ft. Jefferson. But, that was quite a ways out and I figured that I’d pushed my limited navigational skills and the Pixie’s not very reliable compass about as far as I dared on the trip down to Marathon. I poked around the closest of the islands a little – they were within reach – but finally I decided it was time to head back to the mainland.
I took my time working my way back up the Keys, mostly on the north side but occasionally on the south side, stopping often. It was early January before I made it as far as Key Largo. I was tempted to stay longer, but thought there would be more to see farther on. I was to wish later that I’d hung around in the Keys some more. I’d gotten used to the relative peace and wildness of the places I’d been anchoring out most nights.
Once I got into the Miami area, and the Gold Coast north of there, I was less comfortable. For probably fifty miles I found very few places where I thought I’d be comfortable anchoring out, but I did find a couple places as I worked my way on to the north. It was only after I got north of West Palm Beach that I got back to my usual program of poking my nose into various places to see what there was to see, and ambling on when I felt like it.
The weather was cooler than it had been in the Keys, not cold, by any means, but cooler. After all, this was the coldest part of the year, so I suppose it was to be expected. I only saw bikinis in the warmest parts of the day, and didn’t often put a swimsuit on myself. Up in this area the Intracoastal was a much different animal than things had been in the Keys, too. It was still pretty busy.
When I stopped places, I usually asked around about work, preferably as some sort of a boat crewman. There weren’t a lot of openings, but I wasn’t looking all that hard, either. Several times I walked into one charter fishing operation or other and explained that I had experience on the Great Lakes. No one seemed interested in that, but I was occasionally able to strike up a conversation about fishing.
Three times I was able to parlay my experience and my interest into offers to go for a ride on a charter boat, and of course I took the opportunity. I learned that they did things considerably different than Nate did them, and, as far as I knew, were common practice up there. There were some things that I thought they could have done differently and a few lessons I thought could be applied up north, too. I made a mental note to bring them up with Nate if I got the chance later.
I worked my way on north, still taking my time. One of the things I really wanted to do was to see a rocket launch at Cape Kennedy. I had no idea when one might be scheduled, but at least I could stop someplace and ask. Finally, at Cocoa I was able to find a guy at a marina who told me that a Titan III launch was scheduled in the next few days. Apparently he got asked that question a lot. That was worth waiting around for, and he pointed out to me the best place I could go to watch it from the boat.
While I was fueling up at the marina and doing a few other odd things, I happened to notice a girl sitting next to a huge backpack, and we got talking. It proved she was doing much the same as I was, just backpacking around Florida, hanging out till winter was over with up north. “Hey,” she said finally, “Are you going over to Playalinda Beach by any chance?”
“Might be,” I told her. “I’ve got a few days to kill before the launch.”
“Well, that’s what I’m doing,” she said. “I thought I might be able to do some stealth camping over in the National Seashore before the rocket goes up.”
“What’s this Playalinda Beach?” I asked. I hadn’t heard of a town by that name.
“It’s a nude beach,” she grinned. “I always wanted to check one of those out.”
It turned out her name was Danielle, and it didn’t take very long for her to get invited for a ride over to the beach, and it grew from there.
Danielle proved to be one of those people who had lots of opinions, usually strongly held but often with no basis in reality – and she was willing to tell me about them whenever she got the chance and then some. However, it was nice to have some female company for a change, so I decided to put up with it, which was made simpler when she saw the tiny berth at the front of the boat. “Why don’t I just sleep with you?” she suggested.
I told her it was fine with me – it had been a while since Melissa, after all. Then she went on to say, “Just one thing. While I really love the preliminaries, when you get around to sticking it in me you’ll have to stick it in my butt.”
“I can’t tolerate the pill and the chemicals probably aren’t good for my body,” she explained. “Besides, I don’t trust rubbers. I actually like taking it back there. Sometimes if a guy doesn’t know what he’s doing it can be a pain in the ass, but I figure it would hurt a hell of a lot worse to squeeze a baby out of my crotch nine months later.”
“Well, OK,” I said. “It’s your ass.”
We wound up spending the next several days together. She reported that while the Pixie was pretty small, it was better than sleeping in a tent. As I had learned with Melissa, the bunk was pretty narrow for two of us but we made it work. We did actually get over to the nude beach, beaching the boat on the back side of the island where it’s located and walking across to it, but it was a cold and windy day and we saw no nude swimmers or sunbathers. Danielle and I did strip off our clothes for a few minutes just to be able to say we’d done it, but it didn’t take us long to put them back on.
We got back on the Pixie, sailed up Mosquito Lagoon and poked around in the islands behind Eldora, Plantation Island to kill a couple days in hopes it would warm up. Since the launch was getting close we headed back down Mosquito Lagoon to take another look at Playalinda Beach, but the weather was no better and we didn’t even get off the boat. It did prove to be a pretty good place to watch the launch, however, and we were sitting in the cockpit of the Pixie watching the rocket as it went up the next day. In some ways it wasn’t as good as you see on television since we were several miles away, but it was still a sight to see.
That pretty well ended things with Danielle and me. Not long after the rocket went up I put her ashore at the same place we’d gotten out to hike over to the nude beach. She wanted to spend the spring hiking and hitch hiking up the coast, and had plans to hike the length of the Outer Banks at Cape Hatteras. She told me that there were several gaps in the island barrier with no ferry service. If she couldn’t hitch a ride on a boat she planned on swimming across, wearing a wet suit with her gear in a small rubber raft. She had both in her pack, which is partly why it was so large. I frankly thought she was crazy as hell in more ways than one, and I’ve often wondered if she made it.
Still, it was a little sad to sit on the Pixie and wave goodbye to her before she started trudging through the sand to get over to the beach. Like Melissa, it had been clear from the beginning that there was no future for us. She’d been an interesting person to spend several days and nights with, but we’d already gotten tired of each other. The rocket launch had been the only incentive for us to stay together for as long as we did.
With Danielle gone, things quieted down a bit, and I was wondering what to do next. Finally, I decided to head back to the north. It was the end of February, spring break season was approaching, and I thought it would be interesting to check out the action at Daytona Beach.
But as it worked out, I never made it that far.