Oh, how I love boating!
My dad has had a small aluminum boat as long as I can remember. Not a fancy bass boat, not a fast speedboat. Just a small, open boat – wooden bench seats, and you steered with the ’tiller’, no steering wheel needed. Basically you grasped a handle connected to the motor, and turned it to steer the boat, as well as control the throttle.
I loved that boat. Since it was open, you sat pretty close to the water. I loved sitting by the edge, and trailing my fingers in the water as we motored along. I loved feeling the waves slap the thin metal beneath my bare feet… the salty spray would mist my face till it was dripping, and I would taste the salt on my lips.
Kneeling in the front of the boat – I would delight in the ocean wind rushing over my face. I would turn and look at dad, sitting there with the wind plastering his straight black hair back over his high forehead. He looked even more like his Cherokee heritage, with the sun shining on his face, bronzed dark by the Florida sun.
We would skim over the water – scooting between tall sailboats and running past fancy yachts, until we reached the island. It was a small island, you could walk from one end to the other in five minutes. we’d get off the boat and wade to shore, stepping carefully around the broken beer bottles. We sometimes found the most magnificent seashells there.
I remember one time we found a huge shell, but it still had the little creature inside. We took it home, and mom was sweet enough to try and cook that thing out – poor mom. Our kitchen reeked for hours.
About once a year, we would do a Philippi Creek boat ride. Philippi Creek ran through the Pinecraft park, and while everyone else was content to photograph it, fish in it, etc, my dad put his boat in it.
We would put the boat in the water at the park, then mom would drive the boat trailer home while dad, my sister and I would get in the boat and putter slowly downstream.
I say slowly – because it was slooow. At least at first. That creek is quite shallow at some places, and the sand bars change constantly. I would sit in the very front of the boat, and I was the official lookout for sand bars. I would strain my eyes to see the bars before we hit them. Sometimes I would see them in time, and sometimes I wouldn’t. Then we’d hear a soft ‘thud’, and dad would patiently pull out the paddle, and poke it into the sand, pushing until we floated free.
We floated through tall beds of reeds, growing 8-10 ft tall. We went slow over the beds of seaweed that wanted to tangle the propeller. We went quietly past herons and cranes, standing elegantly on one leg. The manatees were dark lumps in water as we floated past.
We cut the engine to barely more than an idle when we went past the mansions built on the river’s edge, where they put up signs that warned: “No Wake”. We looked with amazement at the huge yachts and perfectly manicured lawns that were part of The Rich People’s Places. They were winter homes of millionaires and movie stars. I looked with longing little-girl eyes at the built-in swimming pools and expensive swing sets.
The sun beat down hot on our heads, and I would run my fingers through the cool water, then run my wet hands over my face. I watched the gulls overhead, and gazed at the fluffy white clouds. It would take several hours till we reached the Bay.
We would always end the Creek ride with a stop at a small fish shop. We would tie the boat to a piling, and my dad would walk to the fish shop and use their phone to call mom. She would drive the van with the trailer down to the dock.
While we waited, dad would buy a smoked fish, and we would sit at the picnic table and eat it with our fingers, right out of the foil. The smoky flavor was delicious! Then we would get back in the boat and run it around to the docking area, where mom would be waiting.
By then it would be dusk, the lights twinkling on all over the city. The air would be getting cool, and my face would be caked with dried salt residue.
We would load the boat onto the trailer and pile into our orange VW ‘hippie van’. Then we’d drive back home, tired, sun kissed, and salty. But oh, that was the best way to spend an afternoon!