You know you’ve crossed a threshold—and not a good one—when your kids start calling you “cute.” The first time it happened, George and I were visiting my daughter, Kate, when she was at FSU, and we’d all gone out to hear a college band. We were having a good time dancing when we noticed a cluster of her friends standing by the bar and eyeing us with affectionate amusement. “OMG, don’t you totally love them?” one of the girls cooed. “Too adorable!” agreed another.
Kate and her older brother, Matt, were just as amused a few months later when we announced we had bought a kayak.
Matt and Kate grew up on Siesta Key and learned to handle boats at an early age. By the time Matt was in middle school, he was taking his dad’s fishing boat out alone—he used to call me at work during summer vacations to ask how to cook his latest catch—and Kate was never far behind. They can paddle canoes like Lewis and Clark, ride inner tubes down roaring rapids, and now they even seem able to walk on water—or at least, stand on it, when they launch their paddleboards from our dock and glide off across Little Sarasota Bay, sometimes with Kate’s dog, Emma, perched on the board behind her.
I, on the other hand, like gazing across the bay and rhapsodizing about its beauty, but operating any sort of watercraft is a different story. I’m not only mechanically inept but constitutionally timid, a trait intensified by a lifetime of reading adventure stories full of cataclysmic storms and shipwrecks in shark-infested waters. When the kids were young, I happened to read about a family with five young children whose boat capsized in the Florida Keys. Thanks to the father’s exhortations, they all clung to an oversized cooler for two days, until help finally arrived. After that, every time Matt and Kate left for a boating weekend with their father and stepmother, I was the Cassandra standing at the door calling out—they still love to imitate me—“Never give up! No matter what happens, never give up!”
In contrast, George is a natural athlete with boundless confidence; but even though he grew up in St. Lucia, he—like a surprising number of Caribbean islanders—had no experience with boats. His mother, who was raised in the inland countryside, was terrified of the sea, and she’d forbidden her children to have anything to do with it.
Matt and Kate were clearly diverted at the idea of such unlikely—and ancient—mariners. “How are you even going to get into the boat from all the way up on the dock?” Matt asked me. Kate was more encouraging: “You can do it, Mom!” she said. “Never give up!”
She looked at Matt and they began to snicker.
Undaunted, George and I began practicing—in private. We had our share of mishaps. George is a big, muscular guy, and the first time he stepped into the kayak, he didn’t balance his weight, and the boat immediately flipped over.
Lesson No. 1: Unless you know what you’re doing, it is impossible to turn a capsized kayak back over again—it just keeps filling with water. After an hour of standing in chilly, chest-deep water, trying over and over again, I finally
went next door to ask our neighbor, a fishing captain, for help. He righted the boat in seconds.
We faced other hurdles, too, including George’s tendency to shout contradictory orders and blame my paddling when things went wrong. We came up with a brilliant solution to that problem: George sits in the back and does all the paddling, while I lounge in the front. Soon we were enjoying pleasant expeditions around mangrove islands, spotting roseate spoonbills and baby manatees, and even taking picnics to nearby Midnight Pass beach.
By Christmas Day, we decided we were ready to go public. We hosted a big family dinner, and afterwards, as a dozen or so of our guests warmed themselves around the fire pit in the back yard, George got out his gift to me, an expensive bottle of my favorite champagne, and announced we were going to paddle off and toast the sunset.
“Isn’t it too cold to go out in the kayak?” my brother, David, asked, but George just smiled and tossed me a jacket. As they all watched, George dragged the boat to the dock, slid it into the water and beckoned for me to get in.
I stepped in gracefully, and George followed without even rocking the boat. Exuding confidence, I gave a blithe wave and pushed off from the dock with all my might. But I must have pushed too hard, causing the kayak to spin around and hit a piling. The paddle flew out of the boat, and both us lurched towards the dock, trying to grab it before we floated away. In what seemed like excruciating slow motion, the kayak started to tilt, and the last thing I remember before George, I and that lovely champagne fell into the dark and freezing deep, was seeing Kate’s shocked face and hearing the first crescendo of what would become a dock-rattling roar of laughter that reverberated even six feet underwater.
You’ll read about more salty adventures (and misadventures) in this first-ever issue devoted to Sarasota’s beautiful waterways and boating lifestyle. Welcome aboard!