Monday, June 23, 2014

Mangoes, Two Boats And A Thunderstorm

It was time Robert said, to take the boat home. He has fixed it up, better than it's been the last seven years I've owned it and it is now restored to proper, clean running order.
It's nothing fancy, a Dusky 14 foot powered by a Yamaha 25hp two stroke I bought new six or seven years ago in Garrison Bight from the dealer. The engine ran just fine until it didn't which is what happens to machinery used intermittently in a salt air atmosphere. It seemed impossible to diagnose correctly until finally the Yamaha dude found a broken spring the size of a dime. That search was such a pain I kind of lost heart, and got sick of engines for a while. My motorcycles are extremely hard wearing but my outboard was not. Grrr.
Robert to the rescue. He empathized all right but he did more and snatched my boat and worked some private magic on it. We launched it at the Cudjoe Marina ($7). Now it's clean, reorganized and not only running right but smoothly as well. Like new.
Cudjoe Marina is delightful, a bait shop and office with a ball toting black Lab, some rumpled long term liveaboard boats and an easy to use ramp. And they tell you the old style Florida Keys are gone forever...on Duval Street maybe but out here you could be reverting to the 1960s with no trouble at all. 
The steering was a little stiff after far too long sitting stationary on the trailer but nothing we couldn't handle and we rode around to Robert's house where he picked up his wife and dog and we set out to do a little exploring.
Robert's father died not so long ago but before he did he gave Robert his boat, stored meticulously after almost no use at all, so now Robert has one more boat in his formidable collection. That he found time to do so much valuable work on mine is something of a miracle in my eyes.  
The Lightning, now named the Lee Key (say it quickly) boat, powered by a pristine 30 year old Evinrude left the dock behind Robert's home in fits and starts until he got the fuel supply situation under control and got the twist grip throttle turning correctly.  My seven year old Yamaha purred absolutely perfectly (Thank you Robert!) and sounded as quiet as a four stroke alongside his pinging and rattling Evinrude.
By the time we got out on Cudjoe Bay something rather odd was happening to the weather. No, wait, summer was happening to the weather and what had been a crisp hot sunny morning started to evolve into a classic summer afternoon thunderstorm and we were powering briskly into the heart of it.
I was having a blast, my boat rose up onto a plane in a flash and we skimmed the smooth waters at somewhere I guess between 15 and 20 mph effortlessly. Robert, in an attempt not to overwork his elderly 25 horsepower was going much slower and I found I had to stop from time to time as my tea tray was skimming too fast and streaking away. It was good to be back on the water and away from land for a while.

 However the clouds were closing in and I frantically took a few pictures with my phone before stuffing it back into the zip lock I had brought to keep it dry, in the event I myself got wet. Getting wet soon became inevitable.
We dithered momentarily in the middle of the bay contemplating splitting with each making for home alone, me ahead, Robert Dolly and Salty Dog turning back, but I was unwilling as his engine had had some issues which in the end turned out to be a blocked fuel tank vent which was starving the outboard and thus easily fixed. Which was little comfort at the time as we managed somehow to drive ourselves into the heart of a thunderstorm that cracked so low directly overhead that Dolly in her boat and me in mine, we jumped simultaneously off our seats and cowered in the bottom of our  boats. As though that would do any good in the event of a direct hit by an Olympian thunderbolt. 
 By now we were committed and as Robert had never ventured up my canal I had to lead the way as I had explored the area previously under human powered propulsion. And I knew the south side of the canal entrance has some remarkably large lumps of rock near the surface. Naturally as we skimmed closer to the canal visibility plummeted as the water turned white with the force of the raindrops hitting the surface. Within seconds all of us were soaked though I am glad to say both engines ploughed on not missing a beat. I managed the entrance without going aground, as did Robert and we pulled up at my dock under a toad strangler of a tropical downpour.  The weight of the rain is not very clearly illustrated by this picture taken from the protection of the overhang under my stilt house.
We sat waiting for the rain to end playing with our phones, as one does, and Robert and I preferred to sit outside as I knew damned well the air conditioning inside the house would feel arctic in our soaked condition. Dolly went upstairs to dry our shirts, anticipating a  cold ride home when eventually the rain would let up.
In the  end Robert persuaded Dolly a damp shirt was good enough and the sun came out, more or less, so Dolly refused my offer of a ride home in the car and they set off into the sunset. I rather envied them.
I felt like we had had a rather Swallows and Amazons adventure, skipping around in our boats, under power not sail of course, but had all been a terribly youthful adventure. More to come I hope, and perhaps a little drier.
We made a date for dinner at Square Grouper later, hogfish steak and wine, all very grown up, and my wife and I had a bicycle ride in the warm dark night air, which washed away the memories of rain.
 What did seem to be washing away was the topsoil from the empty lot across the canal. I took this picture at the end of the down pour when it was safe for a delicate camera to be out on my dock and the flow of water was greatly reduced but during the rain enough water flowed into the canal to reduce crystal clear water to a muddy brown mess. We were surprised by the force of the run off.
And I did not forget to retrieve a bag of mangoes that Dolly gave me from their tree. Robert doesn't eat mangoes (because he's weird, luckily) and these things are absolutely perfect. Its mango season so everyone has mangoes much as Up North when zucchini ripen all at once. To confirm the ripeness of mangoes generally, Square Grouper offered a mango bread pudding for dessert and that was one for the taste buds, a soft formless mass of liquid sugar and mango with gooey lumps of bread. Divine.
And I had a mango for breakfast looking out at my boat riding at the dock on Saturday morning. By Sunday we were out again, this time in bright sunshine with plans to enjoy a swim before work.
 Yesterday was perfect, with flat  seas a little breeze and big puffy white clouds under a perfectly blue sky all illuminated by a  bright burning sun. What a change a couple of days makes! We rendezvoused with Robert and Dolly and Salty Dog in the middle of Cudjoe Bay and headed for the mangrove cut to an undisturbed lagoon in the bottom of Sugarloaf Key.
We swam and taught Salty Dog to swim, a lesson that went very well as he kept wanting more. Cheyenne we left at home as heat  and swimming aren't her favorite things and here we had no beach whereon to land her. So we anchored in four feet of water and floated and talked and I laid on my back, my Crocs supporting my feet, and gazed up at the clouds drifting overhead. The salt water was the perfect bath temperature and I nearly fell asleep watching a  frigate bird dive and circle between the clouds. My ears were underwater and I couldn't hear the exhortations to Salty Dog who was having the time of his life. I wondered if i could manage to die like this, drifting away between consciousness and oblivion watching a  frigate bird wheeling on the currents. I decided I probably would manage a much more spectacular end, a motorcycle wreck long past the age I should be riding ending it all in a big oh shit moment.   
We have arranged another trip out this week hopefully for a picnic on a distant beach. I had forgotten how important a dock and  a boat are to live properly in the Keys,  silly me. Pity the poor Old Town dwellers with their chickens and parking problems and urban agglomeration of bars and noise and drunks.