• Barbra Davis

Born For a Life at Sea? Probably Not!



This is an old article I found going through my files, dated back when we vacationed in Key West every November. Now I can look back on it and laugh – then, not so much...


Dreaming of the Sea

It all started with a Jimmy Buffett tape. While I had never listened to his music much, these songs seemed very appropriate to get me in the mood for my first trip to Key West, Florida. Indeed, the tropical rhythms were inspiring, but it was the words that really got me.


Jimmy sang of the ocean in all it's foamy gray-green, island-blue splendor. A sparkling jewel, the mother of life, hiding mankind's oldest secrets in her depths even as she provided a pathway to freedom on her back. His songs told ancient stories of sailors and tall ships and extolled the glories of a sunny day spent on the windswept water. I couldn't wait to sign up for my first sail and start exploring that vast frontier!


No more than an hour into the first day of our visit my husband and I had already learned that sailing is one of the biggest businesses in the Keys. Old wooden schooners, tiny sailboats and everything in between were at my disposal for my initial adventure at sea. This called for some careful comparison and consideration -- I couldn't help but wonder what Buffett would recommend! Hubby Jim and I decided not to rush into a decision – after all, we had a whole week on the island and the choices were numerous. We spent a day in paradise gathering pamphlets, talking with captains and reading local papers to determine which adventure we would choose. Before long it hit both of us at the same time -- a glass-bottom boat. We could see the wonders of the deep and ride the sun-bleached waves all in one perfect afternoon trip... The decision and our reservations were made immediately, but I had no idea of the sinister implications of that innocent afternoon choice.


An unwise choice

One of my favorite aspects of Key West was the food. It was abundant, inexpensive and delicious. Because we wanted to be on time for our first ocean-going excursion, we decided to eat brunch at a patio restaurant close to the departure pier. Even the special of the day seemed auspicious: crab omelet, my favorite. After a very filling meal, and with a half hour to spare before boarding, we decided to take a brisk walk and let the food settle. So by the time we actually were situated on the boat, I was feeling fine and ready for the adventures about which Jimmy sang.


I don't know what you picture when you hear the term "glass-bottom boat," but somehow I had envisioned something akin to Cinderella's slipper, and expected the entire lower half of the boat would be transparent. To my disappointment I found that the glass bottom was in the center of the boat's lower deck, cleverly disguised beneath a bank of cushion-covered seats. One didn't watch underwater the whole trip, rather this window to the sea was uncovered when the boat reached the reef and there was a more spectacular view. I could wait for the big moment, I told myself, content to ride the waves in carefree abandon in the meantime.


The trip out was perfect. A warm and sunny day unfolded before us though the ocean was a bit rough from the wind. We sat on the uppermost deck, watching the other ships glide by and smiling to see the shore slipping farther and farther from view. The reef, our final destination, was several miles out, so we were sailing at a good clip for some time. To my mind, the rise and fall of the ocean was like the breathing of some fantastic giant creature, which could easily rise up and dash us to bits at will. The frothy white caps added the only touch of color to an otherwise endless blue green blanket of water. I started to imagine what those old sailors must have felt like as they worked the rigging and sang with the rhythm of the deep. It was glorious!


The Payoff

Finally, the captain called us below decks to catch our first glimpse of the coral reef, and the colorful fish that swam, unseen, just a few feet beneath us. I rushed down the narrow ladder, eagerly awaiting my first opportunity to penetrate the ocean's secrets and see some of the "dreams" about which Buffett sang.


The small enclosed below deck area was dark and cramped. It seemed inadequate to hold enough air for the multitude gathered there. I felt unusually warm and longed for the fresh air I had enjoyed moments before, but there was the glass bottom beckoning me. Jim moved aside to create a space for me, and finally the moment came when I could see the reef, teeming with unimagined life. It was breathtaking -- quite literally.


Suddenly my stomach seemed to move with a life all its own. Try as I might, I couldn't force myself to look at the reef. Holding my head down was torture. At last there was no denying the fact that I was going to be sick. Not "sick" even, but SICK, look out below, here it comes, get out of my way sick – right here in the middle of the ocean, in front of dozens of total strangers...


Trying to appear nonchalant, I climbed the steps and rushed to the side of the boat, reaching the open sea just in time. Alarmed, my husband rushed to my side, assuring me that I didn't look too good and maybe I should sit down. Death seemed more welcome at that point than sitting, and I expressed something of that sort to him. After about 5 minutes of disposing of that crab omelette I felt well enough to collapse on the deck. There I lay in a crumpled heap, sucking in sea air for all I was worth during the entire trip home. Sympathetic stewards assured me that "it happens all the time," and a few other passengers shared my malady, but the company didn't help my misery. All I wanted was land under my wobbly legs and the opportunity to never cross a plank again. After hours of return sailing (since the trip out only took about 45 minutes, this may be a slight exaggeration), land was again in view, and I was one of the first passengers to disembark onto that lovely, unswaying wooden dock and the freedom of shore. The air seemed fresher, the sky bluer and the future brighter than it had at any time during that long, long afternoon at sea.


Later that evening, when my face was less green and my legs had regained their former firmness, I was listening to that Buffet tape again. You guessed it, once more I caught the vision of tall sailing ships, cool winds and golden sunsets, and I wondered if, just maybe, I too was born for a life at sea!

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