The annual Cruise Queens vacation was supposed to happen last week. I figured five days out of the country would make it easy to skip TV. Our bon voyage became a non-voyage after the second day of sea fog led Royal Caribbean to cancel the February 23 sailing of the Brilliance of the Seas’ five-day trip to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. After over twenty-four hours of automated text-message updates raised our hopes and dashed them every two hours, my friend and first year Cruise Queen Terri Johnson dubbed it Groundfog Day. We were stuck in a loop that ended with the message that the Coast Guard would not permit ships to enter Tampa Bay under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Granted, this bridge had been struck before, so caution was reasonable.
Oddly enough, the weather was clear at the docks where we sixteen women gathered in matching Tiffany blue t-shirts and tiaras to await news or storm the dock. We had places to go, costumes to wear, birthdays to celebrate, and attitude to spare. We became news. TV Channel 13 and Channel 8 interviewed us. A photo of the ship in fog outside of Tampa Bay circulated among the crowd, who had spent the night at the Tampa Marriott Waterside. The ship looked more like something from a modern version of The Flying Dutchman than a vacation ship.
The Cruise Queens land in St. Augustine for shopping on St. George Street.
Undeterred, we gathered back in Polk County at Cruise Queen Pam Abbott’s home in Lakeland to formulate Plan B. Cruise Queen Kim, owner of Saigon Bistro in Lakeland, arrived with trays of food. We gently elbowed one another for the egg rolls and set plans to book rooms in St. Augustine. Tropical wear was swapped out for sweaters and long pants and the next day we caravanned to northern Florida. By Thursday morning we piled into cars to shop at the outlet mall and St. George Street and King Street. Among us, we bought over sixty bracelets, two dresses, and untold number of souvenirs, causing a financial spike in the local economy.
I introduced Terri to an art gallery where hubby and I bought our favorite paintings–Love’s Art Emporium, where we met Len Cutter and his sons. After a discussion of art and poetry, Len recited Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled from memory the way he said it would sound from a New Englander. Terri and I gaped in joy and wonder.
Len Cutter, Love’s Art Emporium, St. Augustine
We celebrated birthdays in costume. No, not birthday suits. One night we dressed as Pink ladies from Grease in honor of Amy’s birthday, and another night we dressed in 70s garb for Cruise Queen Kathy’s. Disco days, white go-go boots, yeah. We got stares at Harry’s Restaurant. Being without television (even though I was on the news) has put more life in my life. Thanks to great friends with a carpe diem spirit, we had a blast.
Leave it to friends to push boundaries. My friend and flight instructor, John Collins, invited Hubby and me to accompany him and his wife P.D. on a weekend sailing in Tampa Bay. I told him not to be offended if I stayed in a lifejacket the whole time. As someone who drowned at age thirteen, I get a teeeeensy bit anxious on boats beyond sight of land. Tampa Bay offered sailing within my panic boundaries, so I packed a bag.
John and PD love to travel. Hubby and I have accompanied them to remote Bahamian islands, to New York City, to the Albuquerque Balloon Fest, to the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Carlsbad Caverns, to Lajitas Resort along the Rio Grande in Texas, to Triple Tree Fly-In, and to Oshkosh Wisconsin for the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration. We’ve hiked, biked, spelunked, flown, snorkeled, danced, and motor-boated with them before. Sailing would be a new experience to share.
Sailing with John and PD
Hubby assured me we’d be fine. His ulterior motive included sailing lessons in our future. So we loaded food and supplies in the rental boat and John talked Hubby through motoring out of the marina. ‘Captain’ John recited terminology we’d need to know. Being a visual learner, I created images to remember them: as the bow (bowing forward), aft (using the other name for donkey), port (as if holding a glass of it in my left hand), and starboard (telescope in my right hand). Tacking, jib and mainsail were explained while I was gaping at a Mooney taking off from Albert Whitted airport over our heads.
Gently gliding by red and green channel markers, we set out on a sunny, breezy Saturday morning. A Blues festival played in the background. I tamped down anxiety by remembering how I had faced the fear of drowning by learning to swim. Even became a lifeguard in high school. Swam a mile two days a week while Hubby was in grad school. Learned to waterski and even barefoot skied. Okay, well, the barefooting experience meant six seconds of glory followed by six weeks of physical therapy. Ever get a brain enema from getting slapped by a lake? Eyelids flipped back. Later discovered why the fall hurt so bad. During my wipeout–the one Hubby still regrets he didn’t capture on video–my feet hit the back of my head. The essence of slapstick comedy is watching someone else get hurt….
About the time I was remembering the joys of physical therapy, we passed the last channel marker and John unfurled the sails. With Hubby at the helm, the boat accelerated and started to lean a little. Then more. Then about thirty stinking degrees starboard.
“Can this thing tip over?” I ask, climbing up to the port side.
“Now we’re sailing!” John’s grin didn’t comfort me. I bet it used to unnerve his mother and his sisters. From stories I’ve heard, John enjoyed pushing boundaries as a child, too. He probably started a few stunts with, “Hey, y’all watch this!”
Hubby with John and PD
I wrestled my camera out for distraction. Hoping that sitting on the bow would minimize the sideways feel of the experience, I groped railings to the very front. Look at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Look at the shoreline. Look at the other pretty boats. Look at the fin jutting up from the waves ahead. Eeeep! “Uh, John? I saw a big dark fin.”
“Probably a dolphin.”
Probably. The fin darted through waves and circled around toward the bow. Please be a dolphin. Please. Please. Please. It raced alongside the port bow close enough to hear me thank the Lord. Three more joined in as if nearsighted and trying to identify the white object cutting through waves without a motor. And THAT was the moment sailing became fun for me. That was the moment I smiled back at John, P.D., and Hubby for dragging me from my laptop into daylight.
Joni sailing for a moment
It was worth spraying on sunscreen. It was worth risking nausea and facing an old fear. It was even worth admitting to ‘Captain’ John that sailing was more fun than expected. I even tried the helm for while and let the sail fill and tilt the boat. Lyrics from a Styx tune played in my head:
Sailing near Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay.
Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.
Thanks to John, PD, and Hubby, that song no longer sounds like a threat.