My Inner Writer had set about drafting the account of the local Sarasota tourist mishap, even as it unfolded only this past Saturday.
The out-of-body detachment somehow made the situation less personally threatening, and the hysterical laughing, even though it was mingled half and half with angst of the unknown, made us all seem to be good sports as we anticipated reading about ourselves in the local paper. There might even be pictures.
“Look at this” said Walt, a Sarasota businessman, over his Monday morning read, droopy bathrobe sleeves dipping in and out of his coffee cup.
“Says here that nobody was hurt. That’s pretty amazing. But sounds like all 48 were suffering from hypothermia. Man!” He whistled his relief that he was warm and dry. He squeezed a napkin around his bathrobe sleeve, and mindlessly tossed the sodden lump toward the sink. She pretended not to see.
He read on, his wife not far away, but swimming against her own particular currents already before her work day.
“One of the victims described a beautiful February day as they waited on the excursion boat to depart” he read.
“Some of us were noticing a dark cloud to the west, but others said don’t worry, the captain has radar and weather information on board, and would do the right thing if the winds continued to increase.”
Reading between the lines, the winds did just that. The captain, not so much.
The article quoted shivering guests from out of state after the trauma had ended. They described how the first half hour of the excursion was delightful.
Fred First, visiting from the Blue Ridge mountains, said he especially enjoyed the close pass to the heron rookery and the chance to see both white and brown pelicans in the same view through his binoculars. He was disappointed when the squall line they had been watching overtook them after they had disembarked very briefly on Edwards Island–an artificial bit of ground created decades early from dredged bay bottom, now overtaken mostly in invasive and non-native plants that were foreign to him.
“From that point on, I began thinking that the trip should be curtailed and the shortest and quickest and least windy route home taken to get us back on dry land. We could see almost a mile away that the water was churning in an alarming way. I’m not sure the captain was as forewarned as I would have expected. I’d say winds increased to 30 mph or more. But the crew seemed intent on getting us our money’s worth.”
The breakfast reader continued reading to no one in particular: “Even in water that rough they followed their regular routine, trawling a small net, then bringing on board the gathered sponges, sea horses, puffer fish and such to place temporarily in a small aquarium for the on-board naturalist to discuss and pass around.” He poured another cup of coffee, nesting cup in hands for its warmth, nibbling at a piece of dry toast.
Betty Pompano, a seasonal Sarasota resident, was incredulous. “We were struggling to stay on board and that girl was sticking sponges in our face to smell. She asked for a volunteer to stick out a finger and let a sea horse wrap its tail around it. Some guy behind me said “I’ll show you a finger. Get us out of here! He was joking. Mostly.”
“It got really absurd after the captain finally pointed the flat bottomed boat into the wind and waves and headed for the dock” said an unnamed survivor. “The boat could barely move forward against the wind. Every time the bow would go up on a wave, we knew that when it went down, a drenching curtain of salty water would come down on us. It happened time after time. The winds got even worse. We were soaked clean to our underwear. Most of us were not nearly prepared for this kind of hardship. By the end, we looked like drowned rats. There weren’t many smiles.”
Medical personnel waiting at the home dock marveled that all were able to stay in the boat in the rough seas, and then were able to walk stiffly off when they finally docked. “When people–especially frail or older folks– suffer that degree of hypothermia, it often becomes impossible to stand or use hands to hold on. We’re happy that all remained calm. Another 15 minutes exposure would have resulted in much more serious consequences.”
Representatives of the responsible facility were not available for comment.
The bay–they had told us–was only 3 to 5 feet deep. Maybe. I did not want to find out by vertical immersion. The seated variety was uncomfortable enough. I worried most about my cell phone and my wife. But not in that order of course. Well, maybe.
We didn’t stick around long enough to find out if others had soaked cell phones or other complaints. Blue wives continued to convulse and shiver long after we got in the over-heated car. Back home, dry clothes and pina coladas helped.
We were so absolutely exhausted that the anticipated evening at the jazz club didn’t sound so good to any of us. We stayed in, and called friends back home to tell of our ordeal–a vacation adventure we won’t soon forget.
And I never did get to hold that seahorse. Maybe next time.
CAPTION: I only got the phone out after we were no longer in the bow wave soaking part of this carnival ride. Oh, bad choice of luxury lines. We were surprised nobody got sea sick. But as I look at the pasty fellow in the yellow coat, he would be my first candidate.