I want to preface this by saying that I love the Florida Studies Program at USF St. Petersburg, and this little tale should in no way reflect negatively upon it.
I do, however, have a very different word for a certain other program at USF.
See, I’ve gone on a few excursions with FSP this semester. I spent a weekend at Fisheating Creek, playing with wild hogs and battling water lettuce. I went to North Florida and ate Apalachicola oysters. I had a great time and had absolutely no reason to believe this trip would be any different.
I should have realized the potential for problems when I realized that this trip was organized somewhat outside the program.
We were supposed to leave Friday morning, sail to Cabbage Key, and come home early Tuesday morning. All for $120, which included most of the meals. Sounds fantastic, right? I agree. So much so that I talked two of my friends into signing up for the undergraduate section of the class.
Well, Friday dawned windy and cold, so they (and I’m carefully leaving out references to who “they” are) postponed the trip for a day. Saturday rolls around and I head down to the docks. Still windy but we’re leaving. As we’re about to push off, I ask about our itinerary. I mean, we lost a day, so how are we going to get to Cabbage Key?
That’s when I should have run screaming, because the answer indicated that we didn’t really have a plan. Now, I am the master of no plans, love not having a plan, don’t really believe in them. But I long ago accepted that the majority of the world is not like me, and nine times out of ten when people say they don’t have a plan, they’re full of shit. When they say they don’t have a plan it actually means one of two things: they’re lying or they have no clue what they’re doing. Both of these things differ DRAMATICALLY from not having a plan.
So we shove off and leave the harbor… and encounter gusts to 38 knots. We sail on, the dinghy flying behind us. Yes, flying. Little windy. No biggie to me but when I start to get wet I know we’re in trouble. Not because we’re going to sink but because I suspect we’ll have to stop soon. Which we do, at the Holiday Inn Sunspree by the Sunshine Skyway. It’s 12:30 in the afternoon. Our captain announces we’re going to dock here for the evening.
I, at this point, do the only logical thing and call a friend to come get me after a few hours. I mean, I’m 15 minutes from my house and I have no desire to crowd in with eight other people on a boat that sleeps six. Oh, yes, did I not mention that? Yeah, it was a little crowded.
The captain says we’ll shove off “at first light”, which we work out means 8 a.m., so I return at 8 a.m. and he’s nowhere near ready to go. By way of excuse he blames the time change. Now I ask you… do you need to have your watch set properly to know when it’s light out?
We leave shortly before 11, and I realize we’re not going far but I still cling to foolish hope that we’ll make, oh, I don’t know, someplace south of Anna Maria. It takes us almost four hours to get from the Skyway to Egmont Key, during which time several people (not including me) start to puke. Here’s where it gets interesting.
One woman also pees while puking. All over the cockpit. Lovely. Delightful. When we dinghy into Egmont Key on a dinghy with a motor that no one apparently tested before we left the dock – it keeps dying and we have to paddle to shore- she lies down in the sand and proceeds to tell me about it. She does not change her pants; you can see the stain on them.
So you can understand why, when we left Egmont at 5 and our captain asks us if we want to stay at a marina or at anchor, the majority of people who paid for the trip say a marina. I desperately do not want to spend the night on a boat that someone has peed all over and no one has hosed off. Also, a lot of people are fairly queasy and say they’d like to at least eat on solid ground. The captain tells me that if I can find a marina at Anna Maria or close to it on my iPhone we’ll dock at it. Not sure how that became my responsibility, but whatever.
So I find one and he tells me there isn’t enough daylight to try and find it. OH-kay. I mean, we have three hours until sunset and a nice wind, but whatever. At this point I’m ready to kill them all, because all I’ve heard for the past day at sea is how quiet it is out on the water. Over and over. Loudly. Three people at a time competing to say it the loudest.
“Gee, it’s so QUIET out here!”
“I KNOW!!! THERE’S NO NOISE! IT’S GREAT!”
“I LOVE IT! YOU KNOW, NONE OF THAT CONSTANT BABBLE!”
Are you fucking kidding me?
This continues until I’m about to wrap the lot of them in the storm jib and throw them overboard. It’s a 37′ boat; there’s nowhere I can go to escape them. I briefly entertain the idea of swimming for shore or staging an all-out mutiny – I think enough people want to bail out at this point that we can take the boat – but Peepee Pants (who still hasn’t changed, by the way) is on the side of the “GOSH, it’s so QUIET” crew, and she’s a big woman and as annoyed as I am I don’t have the rage to take her.
We drop anchor by Emerson Point on the Manatee, but only after we head up into the Manatee and I actually overhear the captain ask “Are we on the Manatee now?”
And then the next morning I realize he and the professor are meeting up with friends who have dropped anchor on the same stretch of river. Gee, maybe that explains why we “didn’t have enough daylight” to go anywhere other than the river.
We sail back the next day and, because SOMEONE’S hell bent on sailing, it takes us five hours to get from the bay pier at Fort DeSoto to the harbor at USF. At one point our speed over the ground as a half a knot. For those of you playing the home game, no, we hadn’t hosed the piss off the boat yet.
BONUS: As we’re about to cruise under the Skyway (OK, it was actually a 90 minute sail away, but we were physically very close to it), I went and got my camera. And dropped it. It bounced off the deck and, you guessed it, into the drink. We retrieved it and I’m guessing saltwater won’t hurt a digital camera, right?
Isn’t that just slap you in the ass fantastic? I blow $120 on a cruise to Egmont Key (why take the $20 ferry when you can spend six times that?) AND I lose an $800 camera to the sea.
Look, I know this sounds whiny and bitchy, but here’s my point: $120 was a great deal to get to Cabbage Key, a place I’ve never visited. But when the plans changed I wasn’t given the option of a refund. No, I get the option of a sunset sail one night. Around Tampa Bay. Um, dude, I don’t know if you realize this, but we live on a peninsula on a peninsula. I’ve been in Tampa Bay before. I can get out there anytime I want. I can’t get to Cabbage Key as easily. How about delivering what you promised?
I’m all in favor of sailing. I love boats, sailboats more than any other kind. But NOT when they become a floating party where you’re lured on board for one reason and once your money is a distant memory the game changes. Lesson learned: never sail with strangers, not even for class credit.
So, to recap:
1. Egmont Key, not Cabbage Key.
2. A night at a Holiday Inn by my house, not at Longboat Key.
3. A night anchored by liveaboards who didn’t appear able to sail or motor anywhere instead of at Cabbage Key so the captain and the teacher could catch up with a friend. Gosh, isn’t he scenery beautiful? Look, we’re anchored around the very people who give boaters a bad rap. Let’s blend in…
4. Pee in the cockpit for the last 36 hours of the cruise.
5. Camera all gone.
Let’s do that again.