Thursday, December 15, 2011

Everglades Restoration Groundbreaking Ceremony

I didn't know what to expect as I waited in the parking area at the Homestead General Aviation Airport to board one of the chartered buses that was to take us to the Everglades Restoration Groundbreaking Ceremony that cool January morning in 1997. I read about the ceremony being open to the public, so I decided to drive down to and take a look at the future of the Everglades for myself.

Most of the people who boarded the bus seemed to know each other. Members of several service clubs and growers associations chatted among themselves as our bus drove back to Krome Avenue and then turned and drove down the dirt access road adjacent to the C-111 canal. I watched out the window as the bus made the short trip to the ceremony area, thinking it was about time something was going to be done to save Marjory Stone Douglas's wonderful "River of Grass." We disembarked and were directed to one of several large tents that had been set up not far from the waters edge on the other side of the canal. We walked across the road that was created by the pumping station to the large tents set up to accommodate the many speakers and guests. Even the Homestead High School Marching Band was in attendance. There were three helicopters parked discreetly behind yellow tapes back on the other side of the canal. I noticed that none were marked with television station logos. A nearby metal sign showed numerous bullet holes and dents.

The program started on time, but it didn't take long for me to wander out of the tent and away from the social/political scene. The ceremony was well into the speeches and remarks as I walked past the refreshment area and over to the canal bank. I was looking in the water at the canal's edge when two other fellows walked up, talking among themselves. One man soon walked back to the ceremony, leaving the other alone just a few feet away. He stood for a few moments, then reached down and pulled a few weeds from the canal bank, and tossed them one by one into the water. It was Dexter Lehtinen, the former U.S. Attorney who had first filed suit against the State of Florida in 1988 for allowing polluted water to flow into the Everglades. Lehtinen's suit, along with the thirty-nine additional lawsuits the original lawsuit triggered, actually began the legal actions that eventually led to the ceremony we were attending. It appeared he also would rather be fishing.

We started chatting about Florida and the Everglades, and finally about the Everglades ceremony behind us. He would occasionally glance back at the crowd to see if he was missed, but was far more content to toss weeds in the water. It was one of those times when the bus ride was worth it. Dexter's wife, U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (who at the time was a State Representative) sponsored my daughter, Monica, to serve as her page for a week in the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee. We met the Lehtinens while giving our daughter her sendoff at Miami International Airport. He politely "remembered" meeting us, even though it had been ten or eleven years earlier. Shortly, others who had seen Dexter and wanted to say hello joined us, so I made my goodbye and slowly wandered back to the main tent in time to hear the Honorable Dante Fascell begin his speech.

The program had him listed as Mr. Dante Fascell, Esq. as he had retired from 38 years of service in the U.S. House Representatives some five years earlier. Somehow, after all those years, it just didn't seem right not to say Honorable. I listened intently as Mr. Fascell soon strayed from the political correctness that earmarked all the other speakers. He soon was talking to the people assembled in the tent as if we were all family. Everyone remembers him saying, "...seems to like to me we've been discussing the same thing now for about 50 years... There is only one way to get this thing done, and that is for everybody to work together...” Those comments are still heard today whenever Everglades restoration is discussed.

Mr. Fascell also reminisced about the flooding that swamped Greater Miami after the hurricane of the late 1940's. My uncle had told us about rowboats being used to pick up people during one flood, so I knew Mr. Fascell wasn't exaggerating when he repeated similar stories all over Miami. It was his duty to the people of south Florida to not let that happen again. He and others in political power implemented the legislation needed to protect the citizens of south Florida with a series of drainage canals and dikes. The resulting flood prevention construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was exactly the reason the Everglades had deteriorated to its present state. It wasn't done by accident or through stupidity. It was a deliberate plan to protect the citizens. It was, and remains a very effective flood control program. Now we have a different set of goals and ideals. While we can never restore the Everglades to it's original state, we can restore portions of it and reclaim much of its lost beauty while maintaining the safety of the citizens of south Florida.

I caught one of the last buses back to the parking lot, thinking maybe I should attend more of these government ceremonies. I had answers to questions that had been bothering me for years and had finally accepted the answers as something I would have done too, if that had been my responsibility. Besides, it was fun tossing weeds into the water, something everybody should do every once in a while.

George Mindling
Miami, Florida ©1998

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Envy Artists


I envy artists. You know, the people who put their talents, and quite often their very souls, right in front of you to see. You see their effort, their product, their thoughts and interpretations as they meant you to see them as soon as there are created or unveiled. I, however, am a lowly writer. My product, as individual and original as I intend, never gets to the printed page without someone altering what I create. When I use my fingers and my wit to translate my verbal image into a permanent record, no one but me see can see the original. Even the original is only a nebulous thought that often contorts and becomes a victim of intellectual metamorphosis. Sometimes an entire thought is swept away by a simple distraction, lost forever. Like the purpose of this paragraph! Seriously, I have often wished a thought could miraculously appear on my computer screen before I compound what I was trying to say! If I only had a paint brush!

Editors can say I didn't following grammatical protocol when I used the blue oil from my palette. It should have had more green than yellow because my color simply shouldn't look like that. That is regardless of the image I, and I alone, created, but they can not see because they have to focus their vision through the eyepiece of academia.

Maybe it is my shadowing. It simply can't be applied in the corners of my description because of some 18th century rule about gerunds, or infinitives, or some other idiosyncratic restriction that detracts from the image I alone want to portray. When Henry Alford wrote in his 1864 book, The Queen's English, he admonished writers from splitting infinitives. It is a good thing the writers from Star Trek weren't looking at the past when they wrote “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” And the restriction against beginning a sentence with a conjunction sucks, too! Sometimes my image only has one word! There! That blasts the idiom rule and the one word sentence restriction rather easily. Perhaps that is the problem. No one but me can see the image I create. Or is it, I alone can see the image I create? How do I get my image to you without corruption? How do I get it in print without being filtered, trimmed, or perhaps simply misinterpreted completely? If someone plays with an interpretation, alters it and makes it their own, it would be is as if every sculpture, every monument would have the corrections of a critic applied before you see it. Every statue would have a plaster patch stuck on somewhere. Every painting would be touched up, color corrected before being hung on a galley wall. In writing, the editor is the critic who controls the creative results that end up in front of you, the reader. I apply my creation to a mechanical medium and find immediately it must conform to certain constraints and limits.

Without an editor, an author has little chance in the literary world. You may purchase a work of art based on your tastes regardless of a critic's comments. As long as I have an editor, however, there is a chance you may not see what I saw. My image then belongs solely to me. Can I get it to you without sounding like an uneducated cretin? Certainly, but you have to like the box it comes in. And I didn't get to design the box. How I envy artists!


But now the World Wide Web offers a resource unlike any other in mankind's history. One that allows anyone with a computer and access to the Internet the ability to offer the electronic world pages of writing that can be read anywhere in the world at any time. Entire books are written, shipped and read all over the world without using a single piece of paper! The written products by-pass the editors and are delivered directly to the critics, the ones who read, or delete, what ever is available. Readers, bloggers, and down-loaders have become the de facto editors. Writers have a brand new medium! We even get to design our own boxes.


"I Envy Artists" was published in the "The Florida Writer" Vol 5, No. 2, 2011 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bringing Baby Home

The following article originally appeared in the Charlotte Sun-Herald, Waterline Boating Supplement, July 15th, 1999

________________________________________________________________________ 
"Would you like to take a four day boat trip with us?" some friends asked over a glass of wine and a great Italian dinner. "We're picking up our brand new 25 foot Larson Cabrio in St. Augustine and would like you to join us as we bring it home on the water!"
We know spending four days on the water in a small boat can be a true test of friendship, but our friends had lived on a boat for several years and knew what to expect as well as we did. Since they had lived on a boat, we assumed they were knowledgeable and safe boaters. We answered an enthusiastic "Yes! Sounds Great!" and we all started making out the grocery list.
My wife, Ilse, and I left Port Charlotte a little after noon on a beautiful, sunny Thursday and drove down to Cape Coral, about twenty five miles away. We joked on the way this was only the first leg of an epic journey. In retrospect, we had no idea! We were looking forward to the trip down the Intracoastal Waterway to Stuart and then across the 154 mile Okeechobee Waterway to Ft Myers as we brought their new boat to their equally new home in Cape Coral. I had never crossed Lake Okeechobee before, and really anticipated the trip as a great way to see one of Florida's great waterways. I double checked to see I had film and batteries for the camera before we left.
Ilse and I drove our friend, who shall forever be known simply as “our friend,” over to the Ft Myers airport to pick up a one-way rental car to save time. She and her husband, who shall be forever known as “our friend's husband,” and occasionally as "skipper," had rented a van so we would have room for all the clothes and coolers we were taking on the boat. As it turned out, the van had far more room than the boat! Our friends' husband was waiting at the house when we returned so all we had to do was load the van, lock up the house, and head for I-75. We stopped at a family buffet restaurant in Lakeland in the late afternoon and we all ate as if it were our last supper. Probably in anticipation of the what was on the grocery list, and what we knew would soon be in the galley. After a bloated ride up I-4 through Orlando during a beautiful sunset, amid jokes of antacids and overeating, and a short trip on I-95, we arrived at St. Augustine.
It was well after dark but that didn't stop us from finding the new boat. It was tied up at the city marina at the foot of the Bridge of Lions. We looked it over from the floating dock, but didn't board her. She had her canvas on and apparently, according to our friend, it wasn't acceptable to unsnap it and take a look. It was an unspoken protocol, I suppose, as they hadn't yet received the keys. She didn't have her registration numbers on her yet either, having only a temporary registration. We took a short side trip to their old tie-up at the Conch House and chatted with a few of their old friends. We finally pulled into the Quality Inn a little after 11:00 pm. My lingering doubts about his boating skills vanished as we had walked along the dock where they had lived for two years. We relaxed knowing they had actually lived on a 43 foot Hatteras. 
Maiden Voyage! Baby has her 60 gallon fuel tank topped off, St. Augustine, FL
The motel was spotless, but we didn't sleep well as a squeaking room air conditioner was unbearable. We couldn't silence it except for shutting the thing off. That didn't work as the room got stuffy. Oh well, my wife always has earplugs (she swears I snore!) so I borrowed an extra pair and turned the A/C back on. After a Friday morning breakfast at the adjoining IHOP, I went with our friend's husband to pick up the boat and do a short sea trial while the wives drove to Daytona airport to turn in the van. They took a shuttle ride back to the dock and arrived just as we finished up topping off the 60 gallon fuel tank after our short, lurching sea trial. The sea trial raised flags I should have picked up, but somehow in my eagerness to accommodate our friend's husband, I let them slip by. When our friend's husband treated the throttle like an on-off switch, almost knocking the salesman over the seat, I didn't correct him. Neither did the salesman doing the checkout. He probably thought it would be rude to explain to our self-proclaimed, experienced seaman that the throttle can be gently manipulated as well as slammed from one side to the other. If I hadn't been seated, I probably would have gone over the transom. A warning sign I stupidly ignored.
It took two carry-alls to load all the food and bags. We were ready for some serious cruising. After everyone made their last trip to the facilities and a final, wide-eyed tour of the new boat, we were ready. After an awkward castoff, we were on our way down the Intracoastal Waterway on the first leg of our journey. Again, I chalked up the cast off to first time nerves. Wrong.
The trip to Daytona was uneventful and kind of pretty. In the beginning, the girls had a field day checking out landscaping and the foliage. It was fun just getting used to the boat. I took some long distance photos of the Fort at Matanzas and of the many porpoises that we saw along the Intracoastal. Porpoises were everywhere. Weather looked threatening inland, but the clouds soon passed behind us.   Our first leg to Daytona was intentionally planned as a fairly short run in case of "newboatitis", the common inability to propel a new boat as anticipated.  We had no problems at all except the newly installed trim tabs didn't seem to keep the boat from leaning terribly to the left.  Fuel economy seemed great and the Larson was running beautifully.
The Halifax Marina at Daytona is very nice. We pulled in about 5:30 in the afternoon, and after refueling, were lead to our overnight berth by the same fellow that had greeted us at the fuel dock. We followed him as he toodled along in a small skiff. The marina has security and it is exceptionally clean. The toilets and showers were great. After getting cleaned up we walked over to the nearby Chart House restaurant. Another delicious meal, but I passed on the seafood. So far the groceries hadn't been opened. 
Sleeping on the boat was a different matter. Our "bunk" was a nightmare. It was like sleeping in a matchbox. No, more like sleeping under a row of dining room chairs. We couldn't sit up until we turned sideways, toward the rear of the boat, and slipped out like toothpaste being squeezed out of the tube. I had a strange recollection of a Japanese hotel for busy businessmen where they rent little horizontal tubes, like honey comb, that you slide into and out of. Scratch Japan. At least we had a small, clip-on fan that we finally mounted to dissipate the body heat that builds up in an unventilated, closed space.
Friday was great, we were under way by 8:00 AM. Our friend's planning again proved to be meticulous.   She had made all the reservations and coordinated the entire logistics of the trip, from the rental car to making sure the spare prop was on board. I told her she would make a great project manager. She was not impressed, she's already a manager. I asked her if she had arranged the great weather. With a big smile, she said, "of course!" Like I said, she's already a manager.
We saw many Manatees, and, unfortunately, one that was mortally wounded. The gash wounds were deep and the poor animal was absolutely helpless. They should make all the boaters who want to speed in Manatee areas clean up the carcasses. That would slow them down as it is a gruesome, unforgettable sight. The Inter-coastal Waterway is a busy channel, with boats of all shapes and sizes, and speed limits would have little effect with most large boats. Knowing the areas where manatees favor is a big help, but encounters will still happen. Our skipper slowed down, just barely staying on a plane. All eyes were on the channel for the next several miles, but the injured manatee was the last one we saw.

It didn't take long to get back up to speed, so to speak, and we were soon cruising at three-quarters throttle.  A big cruiser, probably bigger than the 43 foot Hatteras our "skipper" claimed to have piloted, approached at full speed from the other direction.  The oncoming cruiser made no attempt to slow down or alter his course.  Its wake was considerably higher than any wave we had yet encountered.  Our "skipper" apparently thought he could jump the approaching four-foot bow-wake like a nimble jet ski.  Wrong again.  Rather than throttle back and turn into the sizable wall of water rushing at us as any experienced boater would have done, our "skipper" simply turned into the wake as the yacht passed and we immediately went airborne at 30 knots, crashing heavily back down with a bone-jarring, frame rattling announcement that our "skipper" was an idiot.  We wallowed and bobbed as the engine had died, we were rolling around, dead in the water.  We had no electronics!  The impact had knocked out the fuse panel!  To make matters worse, the impact had twisted the frames of the cabinets below decks and he couldn't open any drawers!  They were all jammed.  It took twenty minutes or so just to access the tool kit and the spare parts to replace blown fuses and reconnect wires.  We never did get one of the main pantry drawers open again.  We finally got back under way without any comments from our "skipper," but that was the last time he tried to make the cover of Boating magazine.          
We met our only law enforcement officers at New Smyrna Beach, the strictest section of the entire trip.  We got a friendly wave from the officers, but other boaters were stopped.  Our "skipper" was sweating not having the registration numbers on the boat, but we had no problem the whole trip.  New Smyrna was also where we saw our one and only floating hot dog stand! We weren't quite ready for that yet. Besides, there was the off chance we might have rammed and sunk him.
Floating Hot Dog Stand, Sebastian, FL

The run down to and through Mosquito Lagoon is straightforward, but with many local boaters in the ramp access areas we had to throttle back and be careful. The lagoon was flat and wide, and we picked up a steady, heavy cross wind. The right turn into the Haulover canal seems out of place in the middle of a long run down the lagoon. Many boaters were tied up here fishing. Several of the not real bright ones were anchored right in the middle of the channel. We had an uneventful run to the Banana River except for some woman in a bowrider that wanted to follow in our wake's flat zone. She was so close at times we could see the spaces in her teeth. She had a boat load of kids and finally passed us when we decided to throttle back and see if she would go around us. She did.
The Main Assembly Building at the Cape can been seen across Mosquito Lagoon and you can't help but want to watch a shuttle launch from the Banana River. It must be awesome. We trundled on, getting soaked from the spray that incessantly drenched us once we passed Titusville. We were running in a moderate chop and the boat seemed to be wetter than it should have been. We decided to put up the front snap-in weather screens and plexiglass on the Bimini top, but the "skipper" didn't really want to soil the new canvas.  After a half-hearted, symbolic attempt to put up the canvas, it was again rolled up and put away and we "sailored on."  By the time we got to Melbourne I was soaked with salt spray.  An uneventful but bumpy ride until we were well out of sight of the last bridge.
Then we almost ran out of fuel. We think. The "skipper" had misjudged how much farther we could have comfortably traveled on our morning fuel top-off. I didn't really see a problem as we still showed a little better than a 1/4 tank of gas, but it is always better to err on the side of safety, or even convenience. So we throttled back and went in to our first "local boaters" marina near Sebastian. I don't know the name of the place, only that the channel is only four feet deep and the attendant at the fuel pump said he had only worked there for a week.   Another guy playing the guitar in the tiki bar was absolutely alone, although loud and boisterous customers were gathered around the cash register in the adjoining restaurant.  The attendant at the fuel pump looked like he envied us. Until he watched us untie and shove off, I'm sure. After flailing around and narrowly missing the dock and several pilings several times, we slowly struggled out the shallow channel.
A short time after leaving the marina, and for the first time since we left Daytona that morning, I went aft and sat with my wife in the back of the boat. Our friend sat across from us, leaving her husband alone at the helm for the first, and as it turned out, last, time. The three of us were chatting, having a soft drink when the skipper turned violently at full speed to miss the huge steel frame of an Intercoastal Waterway marker. We were all thrown to the floor, and as I fell head-first toward the still pristine fiberglass deck, I glimpsed a huge red marker as it passed almost directly overhead. Our skipper missed the red mark in the channel by mere inches while doing 30 mph because he had been playing with another expensive new toy, a brand new GPS. He had his head buried in the cockpit instead of watching where he was going! He was fascinated watching the mark appear on his GPS screen and it finally dawned on him to look up and see where it actually was! Our friend's husband saw the mark at the last possible second and turned VIOLENTLY to miss it. It was the first time he had been by himself at the wheel while the rest of us relaxed. We missed being killed or at the least severely injured by mere inches. The boat would have been destroyed and we would have been flung against the wreckage like the proverbial rag dolls. None of us had on life jackets, and I have often reflected on that incident, perhaps the closest we have ever come to being killed.  Our stunned shock soon dissipated and we again began to enjoy still being in one piece.  From then on, nobody left the "skipper" alone.  The "skipper" was on his toes from then on, but so were we.  I only spent five or ten minutes with my wife while we were under way for the next two and a half days after that incident.
The run through Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce was really pretty.  The water there was a beautiful bright blue, so bright you think they colored it with dye.  The weather was absolutely perfect and whoever wasn't on watch got to enjoy a beautiful cruise.  We stayed that night at the Marriott Plantation Marina in Port St. Lucie and ate dinner at the Italian restaurant there.  We still hadn't hit the pantry except for lunch sandwiches.  The Plantation Marina is really nice, but it is geared for bigger boats than our 25 footer.  In fact, if "Jack," the skipper of the biggest Carver I've ever seen, hadn't been a true gentleman and helped our "skipper" bring us in, we would still be there floundering around between tide and prevailing winds.  As we finally tied up and packed away the loose ends, Jack told us about bringing his beautiful Carver down from St. Petersburg. He had come through the Okeechobee waterway, the very trip we were going to undertake for the first time the following day. The first hand knowledge is always welcome and usually comes with good tips. One of Jack's tips was to stop in Indiantown for lunch at the Seminole Country Inn.
We showered and cleaned up at their facility, which, although not in bad shape, wasn't as good as the city facility in Daytona Beach. After a tram ride to the restaurant and a marvelous dinner, it was time to pack it in for the evening. The young woman we had asked outside the gift shop had told us it was a short walk to the Italian restaurant which is another quadrant of the Plantation and not part of the main restaurant. We would still be walking if not for a cook outside the main restaurant taking a smoke break. He told us to wait for the tram. He even went and checked the tram schedule for us. You do meet nice people in these places sometimes.
My wife and I had a serious discussion when we got back to the boat, one of those "This is Really Important!" type chats where the decision has complicated ramifications. The decision whether to abandon ship and rent a car to drive home, or stick it out and face the possibility of a nasty confrontation with our friend and her husband was very serious.   I had asked at dinner how much actual sea time our "skipper" had piloting his Hatteras.  He reluctantly informed us he had only somewhat helped the captain he had hired to bring the boat up from Ft Lauderdale to St. Augustine!  The boat hadn't been out of the dock since!  Not once!  I had had about enough of his suffocating ego and dangerous ineptitude, and wanted to head for home right then and there. However, after deciding we could keep him under constant watch and supervision, we would stick it out if for no other reason than to see our friend get home safely. Sleeping was the same punishment as the night before, except the boat rolled more. I used my wife's extra earplugs for the third night in a row.
The St. Lucie River is the entrance to the Okeechobee waterway, and the first few miles show off the beauty of the waterfront homes there. We had shoved off at 9:00 am, a little behind schedule as the skipper had wanted to pump out the holding tank.  The poor dock master kept telling the "skipper" there wasn't anything coming out of the fifteen gallon holding tank, perhaps a valve was set wrong. Actually, the holding tank was still empty as everyone was afraid to baptize the new head.
After the first several bends in the river, and watching a sailboat try to extricate itself from being out of the channel near the new US 1 bridge, we settled back into the "who sees what first" mode of communal navigation. After a few bridges, we began watching for the I-95 and Florida Turnpike bridges. My family moved to Miami in 1953, so I've lived in South Florida since I was a kid. I've been over the Thomas B. Manuel bridge on the Florida Turnpike many, many times. My dad used to honk the car horn every time we crossed over the bridge headed south, a celebration of being home again. It was a strangely exciting to go under it for the first time.
The St. Lucie lock is the first lock and is several miles upstream. We were the only boat going west, and after reading the posted signs and giving the requisite two long and two short blasts, we tried channel 16 on the VHF radio. Basically a waste of time when the waterway is busy. Just watch the light next to the lock-masters station. When it flashes red, stand by and don't run into anybody. By the time the lock opened and five eastbound boats motored out, we were no longer alone in the arrival zone. We were first in line and slowly started in after the light turned green. What a thrill to motor into a dungeon. A vertical, slimy dungeon.
The Lock-master yelled down at us from what seemed to be hundreds of feet above us, "Stay on the port side, do not secure the bow line or the stern line, but run them under a cleat and pull up the slack as the boat rises." OK, so far so good. There are many pairs of lines (ropes) hanging from the rim of the lock. You grab one for the bow and one for the stern, then take out the slack to keep from floundering around the lock. The lock is maybe 15 or 20 feet from rim to low water level. To a sixteen foot runabout it must look like the grand canyon. The lock starts filling up with boats of all shapes and sizes. We ended up with a 16 foot runabout directly in front of us, and before the lock closed, they actually stuffed another sailboat in front of the runabout. The sailboat, the Phoenix, was flying a German flag. The skipper was cursing loudly in German, though were weren't sure at what. My wife is German and is a great translator. She is also very discreet. 
Water pours into the lock at St. Lucie.  Between us and the Phoenix is a small outboard runabout.
It is an impressive sight when they crack open the upstream lock and water starts pouring in from 13 feet over your head. The Myakka River isn't that deep! Come to think of it, neither is most of Charlotte Harbor! I didn't realize the inland water level was that high. When the lock finally fills and they open the upstream lock all the way, you can actually hand the lines back to the Lock-master as you are then at eye level. We got through just fine and were the third boat out into the St. Lucie Canal. The guy in the runabout, however, was terrified. He couldn't restart his outboard and he was about to drift into us as he banged against the wall of the lock. He finally got it started but his eyes were the size of saucers. I sat on our bow, but didn't need to fend him off. His wife was actually pale.
The waterway from the St. Lucie Lock to Indiantown is pretty much an uneventful ditch with several slight bends. A lot of tugs and construction barges early on, then some nice homes scattered along the north bank. We docked at the Indiantown Marina by 1:15 pm and went by van over to the old railroad hotel, the Seminole Country Inn, and had a delicious brunch. They pick you up and bring you back to the dock when you are ready to return to the boat. Just ask at the marina. They'll call the Inn for you. Delicious, but you had to put up with a smiling, signed photograph of Burt Reynolds placed conspicuously on the food counter.
We did not fuel up at the Marina. Our "skipper" had absolute faith in his books and his GPS and his float plan was cast in concrete. Fuel was to be taken on only as scheduled. We cast off and headed back to the waterway. Just after we turned back into the waterway, we met the couple in the runabout. They had tied to a tree along the bank and were eating sandwiches. They didn't wave.
The Port Mayaca lock at the lake was wide open, and we took a straight shot across the lake. The first mark is on the horizon, but not hard to pick up. It looks like you're going across the ocean except it is calm and fairly shallow, running only 12 to 14 feet deep. You can turn left as you leave the lock instead and hug the perimeter of the lake, but the weather was great and we chose the straight across channel. Our "skipper" had me drive the boat for the first time so he could play with his GPS.  I was beginning to think that was the only reason he bought the boat.  After a solid forty five minute run, we entered the channel that leads to Clewiston. He took over again, and at Clewiston we turned and went up to the waterway to Moore Haven. From Clewiston on we had the waterway to ourselves, meeting only two other boats coming from Moore Haven.  One was an airboat that seemed terribly out of place.  We saw alligators and many, many ospreys. The Melaleuca trees alongside the channel are dead or dying, as are the Australian pine trees. They are officially nuisance trees in Florida, and I made a note to see if these trees have died because of a state eradication process or if this is a natural die off. It certainly doesn't look natural. 
Lake Okeechobee rim canal, the run to Moore Haven
 We were the only boat at the lock at Moore Haven. The channel turns left from the lake rim and immediately enters the lock. The Lock-master told us we were the day's 19th lock, joking he had had enough business for one day.  He would have one more as ten miles downstream from the lock we met "Vivian," a big, red tug boat headed past us for Moore Haven.  We couldn't help but be mesmerized by a group a kids and young adults swimming in the waterway right after we left the Moore Haven Lock.  They had put a stepladder down into the dark,  murky water to get up and down the steep bank.  A local sheriff sat with his car parked alongside the pickup trucks and chatted with the adults watching the kids swim and have a grand time. Yes, there is still an America out there. Charles Kuwalt would have been proud.
We had planned to stay at the Hendry Isles Marina, but after a cursory examination of the facilities, and not seeing the fuel pump, we decided to travel on to Labelle. After several minutes back on the waterway however, our "skipper" again got the grim look on his face and throttled back to idle. "We're almost out of gas," he said, as he tapped the gauge with his finger. It was now an hour to sunset. We had between 1/8 and 1/4 of a tank of gas, more than enough for the run to Labelle. But now worry and dread set in. After the refueling yesterday, I wasn't concerned. We hadn't taken on a little more than 40 gallons yesterday, so we should have had twenty or so to go. No matter. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes boating more fun than two wives who are scared out of their wits.  We motored on slowly, and found we were just around a bend from the Ortona Lock.

The Ortona Lock master came through, as they all did.  He told us the next gas was at Port LaBelle, about five or six miles downstream. He also handed us a copy of the official waterway guide, a folded handout, listing all the marinas and dockages.  The Ortona Lock was another lock we did alone and again, without problem. We were getting to be old hands at the locks. We started off for Port LaBelle with some relief, and of course, still with some trepidation.  Even the cows drinking water alongside the waterway failed to distract our intense "skipper."
We pulled into the Port LaBelle anchorage with a sigh of relief. I noticed the gas gauge still read over 1/8th of a tank. We struggled not to crash into their fuel dock, it doesn't look like it could withstand much of an impact. We tied up and looked around the lagoon at the various power boats and sailboats tied up around the place. Except for the herons and twenty or so turtles, there were no other signs of life. The gas pumps were locked, with a sign that says, "We'll be back at 8:00 in the morning." The showers were open, and the sign at the dock-masters office says, "take time to smell the flowers." This is the perfect place to do just that. The place is past its prime, but clean and well lighted. The frogs serenaded us well past midnight as we finally ate food from our galley. We were the only people there. There was one other boat at the marina with a light on, but we hadn't seen any sign of life. We carefully lit citronella candles and sat outside on the boat free from the mosquitoes. We watched as the first of the season's thunderheads built up north and east of us. We saw a beautiful Florida sunset that no artist could capture. The colors would not be believed if seen on a canvas. This would be our last night on the boat, and we couldn't have had a better evening.
We noticed that the bread was going stale and the lettuce was past eating. Our refrigerator wasn't set cold enough. We started to feed the many turtles that swim up to the back of the boat, but a small alligator immediately joined the turtles and that ended that. We do not feed alligators as we don't want them hanging around the back door, so to speak. It also happens to be against the law as well as against good sense. After dark we sprayed ourselves with one of the new generation insect repellents. We sat on the back of the boat and played with our flashlights on the dark water, counting the pairs of orange, fireball eyes we could see in the lagoon. We counted three pair at one time, though none very close. The new insect repellents actually smell nice, instead of like poison or machine oil. The new stuff works better, too.
We found out the next morning the marina had a restaurant. In fact, the marina is part of the OxBow Golf Club. A fellow surprisingly emerged from one the other nearby boats and stopped to talk to us on his way up the short walk to the facilities. We walked the short way to the hotel and had another great buffet breakfast. By the time we got back, the dock-master was setting up his guitar and his electronic tuning harp on the screen porch of the office. He said, "just wave when you want me," and continued tuning his guitar. We waved a few minutes later, and after a full tank of gas, we were on our way.

From there to the next lock at Franklin is really pretty. After LaBelle it is more like a real river than a ditch. Most bridges are no problem, not counting the railroad bridge over in Port Mayaca if you are in a sailboat with a mast over 49 feet, but there is one swing bridge that even a canoe would have problems with. Well, a really BIG canoe with a Bimini top would have trouble. OK, canoes wouldn't have any problems at all, but we had to put down the canvas Bimini top. We passed underneath without problem. 
"Vivian" is hidden behind the huge barge as she enters Franklin Lock. 

Just before we reached the Franklin Lock, we again met "Vivian". This time she was headed west toward Ft Myers, going our way, so to speak, but pushing a 255 foot barge. We passed "Vivian" and one more bend in the waterway, then had to idle back for the flashing red light at the lock's arrival point. At first, it seemed to be just another wait for the lock to clear, with the "skipper" jockeying the boat around a little bit amid idle jokes and chatter. It was a beautiful morning. Then the barge slowly emerged around the bend in the river behind us. "Vivian" was gaining on us as we now waited a little nervously for a green light. She was looming larger and larger in the waterway behind us. Soon, "Vivian" and her huge barge were directly behind us. Our "skipper" began to fidget, he was not happy.
After we realized we were going through the lock together, I got on the radio and asked "Vivian's" skipper if he wanted us in front or behind as we entered the lock. Actually, commercial traffic has right of way, but the lock-master said we would both fit in the 400 foot lock. The slow, southern drawl that came back said we could do as we pleased, but it would probably be better for us in front of the barge. So we went in first. "Vivian" put a spotter with a radio on the front bow of the barge. The spotter said they were headed back to "Nawlins, finally, after seven months here in Florida". He said mama was gonna be happy.
We were on the starboard side of the lock, as far up as we could go. The "Vivian" and her barge stayed on the port side, actually quite a distance back. It still looked like an aircraft carrier from where we were. All went as smoothly as we dropped the two feet or so down to the Caloosahatchee River and the lock-master signaled our departure. As the lock master opened the gate, a huge fish rolled right in front of us. I yelled up. "Hey, you got porpoises in here!" He laughed and yelled back, "No, those are tarpon!"
It isn't far from there to the familiar red and white smokestacks at the FP&L plant on the Caloosahatchee River. They'll be gone soon as the plant switches to a new generator. Boaters were popping up everywhere soon after we past the I-75 bridges. Traffic was heavy by the time we got to the Tarpon Point turn off at marker 92. The run through Ft. Myers is filled with traffic headed out to the gulf, even on a Monday afternoon. We passed by the Robert E. Lee Motel, where we had spent a couple of weekends many years ago while our daughter sailed in the Florida State Pram championships, the old COPCA, Clearwater Optimist Pram Class Association, series. The regattas were held in the river just behind the motel. The river was quieter then. There were many state regattas over at the Lani Kai on Ft Myers Beach, too, but those days are also past. I couldn't help but muse there were no more bridges to the gulf after the US 41 bridge then.
We got to the house at Cape Coral by 12:30 PM without a major mutiny or serious grounding, although I pulled a boner by not finding a mark after we passed the US 41 bridge. No problem, just a course correction that needed to be implemented prudently and efficiently. After finding the right canal, and slowly idling under the low bridges that dot Cape Coral, we pulled up right behind the house. A small round of applause and after the bath room breaks, a glass of iced tea and lunch. We unloaded the boat and prepared to take it over to it's berth at a nearby Marina
The last part of the adventure was without doubt the most dangerous. The skipper and I took the new boat from Cape Coral to a marina on Ft Myers Beach. Idiots crossed our bow by a few feet under full throttle with complete disregard for right of way. Many, if not most, boaters showed absolutely no regard for safety, much less courtesy. From off shore racing catamarans cutting channel markers to flats boats running through sailboats, it didn't take me long to see this area is just like Biscayne Bay in Miami, perhaps worse. I was glad to get out of the area. It was a good feeling to finally tie up at the marina and see the wives waiting on the dock. While we were loading the car, we heard a marina employee tell a new boat owner, "Oh, you don't need any boat courses! Just remember right on red returning and you'll be just fine." We finished packing in silence. I couldn't help but think our "skipper" would be right at home here.
The boat got good performance marks, but I couldn't honestly give any credit for comfort. With only one seat to see forward, (not everybody wants to rub knees with the Skipper) and being far wetter than I thought she should be, it wasn't much fun to ride in other than in absolutely flat seas. But I didn't buy the boat, and I'm sure the new owner was thrilled with the new "Baby."
I had been standing in the hatch well for the last two days, field glasses and charts in hand. It was the only way I could stand "watch." My wife saw only what was visible from the side or over the stern, and rarely got to look over the front of the boat. Personally, I think it is a great lake boat, but then, I don't think much of many of the new designs.
How did our friendship stand the trip? Well, we all need a break, but we won't be taking any more boat trips with them. We talked on the phone last Friday, we've all got our photos back. We may get together next week, have dinner and swap photos... maybe.
Right now we are still catching up on sleeping with our legs stretched out.


George Mindling
Port Charlotte, Florida
©1999-2011 All Rights Reserved - All Photos by Author

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Impermanence


“That's the word that comes to mind,” Peter said, “Impermanence!”

Unfortunately, I hadn't heard the question. Our meeting of the Sarasota Chapter of the Florida Writers Association was having a discussion of impressions of readings we had just heard, and I had thoughtlessly wandered off mentally while taking notes about the meeting. I caught Peter's response and scribbled it down on a fresh page, but I missed the question. I was stuck with “Impermanence!” staring at me from the otherwise blank page. I'm pretty sure we weren't discussing Buddhism, but Rod, our moderator, soon moved to a different speaker so I was left adrift in a room full of avid, attentive listeners who decided “Impermanence” was indeed the right word!

The word bounces around in my mind like bug in a Mexican jumping bean. It magically appears on the computer screen as I sit here typing. How do I rid myself of this enigma? I can only envision one quick definition of impermanence, and it has absolutely nothing to do with our meeting!  Impermanence is my definition of the Internet.  Can I sneak in an article about the evolution of the electronic media that has so revolutionized our vocation, or avocation, redefining impermanence, as a blog component of last Wednesdays' meeting? Probably not, they're a sharp group. But, here goes anyway.

Nothing better defines impermanence than clicking through your bookmarks on your PC. Really! Try it! Start at the top of your bookmark file and click your way down the list. See how many of your favorite websites are nothing more than a “404” error. Impermanence! Those valued treasures that you so diligently marked for future reference fall victim to today's economics. If no one pays money to keep that website active, it fades into the ether as easily as it came into being. As a matter of fact, it disappears in a single keystroke!

Web sites disappear so much quicker than the printed word. Once the Internet has pulled down your website, you are on your own. If you didn't electronically copy the material to your own temporal universe, you are out of luck. There is no recourse.

Books are not subjected to the same stark, brutally traceless removal from the face of the earth! Your library may remove old, tattered, or unpopular books from their shelves. Brick and mortar book stores may not ever carry the printed material you want to read or buy in the first place, but there are resources around the world dedicated to saving the printed word. The Library of Congress is dedicated to that end, but who saves the websites? And how could they?

Anything found on the web fits the definition of impermanence. Don't believe me? Just click through your bookmarks. Let me know at my e-mail address, let's see, this month it's aah, no. not that one, let me see if I can find the current one I use...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Withdrawal


It's as bad as if an old friend had died. One who stayed with you, no matter what. Always there when you needed them, one to carry you away from the tedious routine of life, one to make you forget your trials and tribulations, if only for an hour a day! Reliable! Yes, and flexible, too! Always available for you through the wonder of Digital Video Recording, or TIVO if you couldn't meet their 1:00pm schedule! When the day was more than just tumultuous, or a disaster, filled with planning that didn't work, and workers who didn't plan. Cars that failed, friends who weren't, or doctor's appointments that were for all intent and purposes an exercise in futility, you could always count on Erica and Tad and all their friends and family to whisk you away to Pine Valley, if only for a brief trip into a land where your thoughts and worries were simply suspended in time. The fantastic actors on one of America's longest running soap operas supplied the drama in every conceivable form of social commentary possible. From gay and lesbian situations, to social acceptance for injured war veterans, to racial injustice and women's rights, All My Children never shied from its social conscience.

On Friday, the September 23, 2011, a part of my wife's daily routine ignominiously faded away. She began watching AMC when she was pregnant with our daughter back in 1971. She remembers when Susan Lucci first appeared on the show, way back when.  Through old VHS tapes and later rewritable DVD's, while working as a stack supervisor for the library at Florida International University and for a short, miserable time for Eastern Airlines, she usually found a way to fit the daily suspension of routine by watching All My Children.  Skipping commercials, of course.  Even after spending 13 years with IBM as an executive secretary, Erica Cane's escapades and marriages were always there to offer the escape to a land where romance and treachery were non-stop.  Retirement from one career was no reason to change, and after ten years as a yoga instructor, All My Children was again blended into quiet evenings whenever there was a free hour or so. 


We still love to identify the myriad corps of actresses and actors who used the daily drama as a springboard to fame over the many years. 
 
We didn't get to see the final show. We were traveling, out of town when the show was broadcast. We had set up our usually reliable Digital Recorder to capture the show, but for some reason, a technical problem arose during the show and we only got to see disjointed, incomprehensible segments of the finale. Sadly, my wife turned off the TV and picked up a magazine. I said, “We can find it on the Internet, come on, let's go sign on!” But, no, it was like an appropriate end, one that really wasn't consummated. As if, maybe, they weren't finished after all. If she didn't see the ending, perhaps it hadn't occurred.


She knew something was wrong when earlier this year the show was uprooted from New York and relocated unceremoniously in L.A. “That's the handwriting on the wall!” She said. She was right. Executives at ABC decided what the viewers wanted was another cooking show. No, what they really wanted was a better return on the production costs, and a cooking show is far cheaper to produce, and therefore needs a smaller audience to be profitable. The audience will be smaller by one, certainly. No matter how depressed and sad she may be, my wife will not watch daytime ABC. Aah, withdrawal. Or, as someone said, the wrath of a woman scorned. I'm surprised she still watches Dancing with The Stars.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lessons Learned


I met Russ Kyper at the first Dearborn Street Book Fair several years ago in Englewood, Florida, while I was attending my very first book fair as an author. 

I was second display from the entrance to the book fair, next to Priscilla Hurd, author of "The 13th Goddess, A Tale of Atlantis." Priscilla had a marvelous display with professional looking backdrops and cutouts. Me? I had a plastic model of the Mace tactical missile my book was about. I also had newspapers from 1954 extolling the new missile programs at Cape Canaveral, and of course I had my book, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers, on display as well, mounted vertically on a display pedestal on the side of the display table. I watched with envy as Priscilla sold book after book, while I on the other hand, got to hear war stories from every veteran who needed a captive audience to talk to.

Many people stopped and read my material, then moved on without saying a word. A few nodded and smiled, but only the veterans stopped to chat. And chat they did. I probably should write a book about the myriad experiences I heard from men, and several women, describing their incredibly varied military pasts. Several browsers, however, triggered warnings when they told stories often seen on television, some quite distorted from the truth, as personal experiences. Not every airman was stationed at area 51. Aah, human nature!

After realizing I hadn't sold any books, Russ suggested perhaps I needed a specialized audience, as I might find at the  Buchan-Dearborn fly-in. He invited me to set up my display at the next fly-in and exuded confidence I simply needed to be in the right place. After one overweight, middle-aged woman, stopped, looked at the missile and raised her eyebrows and said, “Is that phallic, or what?,” I decided he was right and packed in the missile model.






So, early on a recent gusty, overcast Saturday morning I packed the Toyota with a folding card table, a box of books, and everything I had used before and sat off for the grass strip airport known as Buchan-Dearborn. Russ had asked over the phone if I had a display tent, or set up. When I told him I had nothing more than a table, he said “No problem, we'll set you at the end of the display area.” In theory, that works well. However, if the two closest vendors are no-shows, the stark emptiness of an open airfield only magnifies the pitiful inadequacy of your display. 

Believe me, this is a test of your belief in yourself and what you want to do. Talk about being exposed!  I unloaded and looked around, and decided not to wait any longer on the Coast Guard display, which was supposed to be adjacent to me, or the display that was supposed to be adjacent to them. How pitiful my little table looked!  I had worn my daughter's gift shirt that said boldly across the front, “Ask me About My Book!  No, Really” and I decided I wouldn't back down now.

With the 20 knot winds blowing across the field, it was impossible to set any displays more than just laying books on the awkwardly tiny card table. No, I didn't sell any books though many of the visitors went out of their way to see what I offered.  I did, however, meet a B-24 pilot who flew 17 combat missions in the Pacific, a Clipper ship pilot from Pan Am, and a restaurant owner who drove over from Punta Gorda rather than fly because of the windy, gusty weather. Three people actually asked me about my book, but they didn't buy it though!

The weather was a major factor this year as only four aircraft actually flew in. Other aircraft were taxied across from the other side of the airport so there were at least several airplanes for the crowd to see. No book buyers, though. None.  So, when the first drops of moisture dampened the table top, I decided to pack it in. I again met some neat and interesting people, but I've found my type of book has an audience even narrower and more specialized than I thought. 

Displaying to the general public doesn't sell my book. Amazon seems to do just fine, people who are interested find it, rather than me trying to sell it to the world. It just became available as an Ebook and I have no idea how I'd sell that at a display.

The airplane crashing in the background is actually a toy glider thrown by the boy in the blue hat. 





However, If I ever decide to collect material from aging veterans struggling to find someone to listen to their stories, I'll just set up a book display. Works every time. 

George


Monday, October 3, 2011

Corse Cliente


Fresh roses to go with breakfast!  Corse Cliente treats its guests well!

Having had the pleasure of being guests of Ferrari Corse Cliente during the recent Petit Le Mans (yes, they spell it Petit Le Mans) at Road Atlanta, I have come to two conclusions: One: there are no fat Ferrari owners, and especially no overweight wives or girl friends! Two: the absolute height of tackiness is wearing a Lamborghini T-shirt to the Ferrari VIP Hospitality Suite. Yes, someone actually wore a black Lambo T-shirt to the suite!  Corse Cliente is the part of Ferrari that supports their clients’ motorsport activities in the GT championships, among other things. That means fresh roses on the breakfast table along with fine white linen tablecloths. And of course a breakfast of the same caliber to match.



Oooh!  A horsey!

Our daughter and her husband arranged for my wife and I to be included in the guest list for the Ferrari hospitality suite overlooking the main strait at Road Atlanta. Quite a change from when we first came here in 1977 when our daughter was six years old. We drove up from Miami in our rather barren Dodge van just to watch the old IMSA Camel GT 100 mile race. That was back when Al Holbert drove his blue and yellow Chevrolet Monza to the class win for the IMSA race. We sat on blankets on the grassy hillside and got sunburned in the early April Georgia sunshine watching the Porsches and BMWs battle it out for the overall win.

We actually left that very first race early so the van wouldn't boil over while stuck in traffic leaving the race. Didn't work. We only got about 30 miles from the track before we got sidelined with the temperature gauge going off the scale and steam rolling out from under the hood! A trip to remember as we had to have the radiator replaced just outside Stone Mountain. That solved the problem for about two hundred miles and we boiled over again! 

We limped into Miami at four in the morning as the cool night air was the only way we could do over 40 miles an hour and not overheat! But it was the start of our love affair with Road Atlanta, and especially the international 12 hours of endurance racing known as the Petit Le Mans. The full 24 Heures du Mans is of course in France, and is the famous 24 hours the epitomizes sports car road racing.

For my 65th birthday, my daughter arranged for the both of us to take the Skip Barber driving training class at Road Atlanta. After a morning of having my daughter blow my doors off in Miatas, RX-8s and even the lane-changing exercise with the MX-3s, we got to do 30 laps of the full track in two-liter Formula Dodge race cars during the afternoon. I finally got to use my old VW driving habits of driving straight-cut gears and double clutching on downshifts.  My daughter was raised on automatic transmissions so here I finally had an advantage.  Great stuff!  Yes, we are very familiar with Road Atlanta.

We enjoyed the courteous and friendly service of Corse Cliente, and we certainly enjoyed the food! The location was marvelous to watch the pit action as well as the racing from the famous downhill turn twelve and into uphill turn one. It was nice to have a real porcelain toilet, in the appropriate Ferrari black, of course, rather than the odoriferous fiberglass porta-potty that has always seen too many users.

Still, sitting in the grass and having the ability to move from corner to corner has its appeal. After all, sports car racing is about different lines and different techniques, different viewing angles, and best yet, getting close to the noise and smell of fast racing cars.

All in all it was a marvelous experience, certainly one to be remembered. The last time I was at the Petit Le Mans, I burst my appendix just after the race and spent several days in a hospital bed. But, aaah, the racing was great! 

We'll be back again next year. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to be guests of Corse Cliente, but if not, we'll be found on the hill overlooking turn five.