Friday, March 30, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Godby Alumni Cruise III

Donna and I had the opportunity to participate in Godby High School's first organized alumni cruise in September 2010, aboard the Carnival Ship Fascination to the Bahamas. We planned for it for a year, and it was our second cruise. Thanks to aggressive social networking and Teresa Deffenbaugh Featherstone, Class of 1978, President of Cruises by Sea, Inc, about thirty of us really enjoyed ourselves, and made plans to cruise together again. A portion of each cabin's fare went to the Association of Godby Graduates Scholarship Fund for Godby seniors.

Also on that memorable cruise, I played with the ship's band in Freeport, Bahamas, and Robbie and I instituted diner participation on that ship with the singing and dancing waiters in the "formal" dining room. When the waiters formed a line to begin waving their napkins as they danced in the aisles, Robbie and I joined them with ours and caroused around the room with them, too. It was on that cruise that the ship's captain greeted me personally and inspired me for what would become an extremely successful 2011 Halloween.

Sixteen months later in January 2012, many of us all again sailed into Summer to the Bahamas on the third Godby alumni cruise. Our ports of call were Nassau, and Half Moon Key, Bahama Islands. A second alumni cruise to the Bahamas had been undertaken the previous September.  

It is less than two hundred miles from Tallahassee to Jaxport in Jacksonville, Florida, and about halfway there on our drive eastward the Saturday morning of our sailing date, I received an automated call from Carnival Cruise Lines to tell us that the ship had been delayed in arrival by heavy fog, and embarkation had been moved back by four hours. We had been running late, but arrived early to be in the first throng to board after only about twenty minutes, at least half an hour better than the last boarding. We sailed a couple hours late.

After our first day at sea, we arrived at Nassau, Bahamas before dawn. On our port side between us and the island was moored the Motor Yacht Fountainhead, a 288-foot Feadship XL Series super yacht christened and launched only four months earlier, owned by Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theaters and Magnolia Pictures, and the chair of the HDTV cable network HDNet. He is an Ayn Rand fan. The Fountainhead was a third as long as our 855-foot cruise ship.

On our previous visit to Nassau, we had visited the Atlantis Resort and found it to be as spacious as it is on the commercials, but in September 2010, it had been almost deserted. The casino was small by Las Vegas standards, but it had elaborate artwork and was under construction. There was a huge pond for swimming and boating, and a relatively small aquarium, but it had an interesting underwater walk-through.

This time, we walked about downtown Nassau and purchased souvenirs for the family. Nassau's small busy streets with narrow sidewalks were crowded with tourists from our ship and various local vendors and automobiles. I was surprised to note that although drivers drove on the left side of the street, the majority did so from American-style left-hand drive vehicles, vans and buses not excluded.  

Our next port of call was Half Moon Key, Carnival's island, and from the ship it reminded me of the long shot of Gilligan's Island, but with a small visible beach from that distance. It was a beach party island, with a long stretch of beach and available boating, with a constant barbeque lunch for the day. Our dining room waiters (they were referred to as "waiters") also served lunch on the island, and it was a really nice day. I gave a dollar to the sundry concessionaires on the way out and received a nice handful of Bahamas coins.

I met the ship's Captain, Carmelo Marino, who had only been captain a few months.
If I had not had trouble depositing twenty dollars into my shipboard gambling account and inadvertently added that amount twice, I likely would not have won $39 in the first and only hand of Texas Hold 'Em poker I played on the cruise. It was a video game-driven poker game without a human dealer, and I have discovered I have less of an appetite for gambling than I did many years ago when I often played with Guy, Greg and John. Too much risk for the excitement level, and I don't have the stomach anymore for losing money unnecessarily.

I knew that Robbie and I had previously instituted diners performing with the waiters, because on this cruise, the maître d’hôtel invited us all to do just that, and we did. At dinner our last night on board, our waiters asked me to join them in singing Carnival's rendition of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane," to the tune of "Leaving on a Cruise Ship...."

Our last night on board was a rough one at sea. The ship rocked, as did the 1980's show by "Far From Over," an acrobatic performance troupe using not only pyrotechnics, but also airborne dancers, which was quite impressive in the rolling seas. It took me more than a week to get my land legs back, much longer than from previous cruises, to which I attribute the rough weather on the last night of the cruise.

A couple of weeks later, I presented Manny with a nice check from Cruises by Sea for the AGG Scholarship Fund, and by then our cruise-mates were busy planning the next alumni cruise, in January 2013, from Tampa to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, and to Cozumel, Mexico.
Friday night, March 30, I will be attending the 7th Annual AGG Hall of Fame Banquet at Godby High School's Media Center, and I will be speaking about this and the upcoming alumni cruise. Teresa will be there, and I plan to publicly single her out and thank her for facilitating our cruises and for substantial contributions to the AGG's Scholarship Fund.

I will be introducing my 2012 nominee for induction, Godby's Class of 1982 Valedictorian, Dr. Shantanu Basu, who now hails from London, Ontario, Canada. Also from Class of 1982, Mrs. Debbie Orth Shear will be honored, nominated by and to be introduced by AGG Vice-President Roger Day, Class of 1980. Other honorees include Mrs. Mary Jean Curles Yon, Class of 1974, Ms. Kathy Miller Corder, Class of 1976, Mr. Todd Sperry, Class of 1978, and Coach Darius Jones, Class of 1996. 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Patti Skates, Vice-Mayor of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, will serve as Master of Ceremonies. Manny usually handles everything else. We strongly encourage Hall of Fame honorees who can, to come back and help with future Hall of Fame banquets, and the parties get better each time.

Godby's longest serving principal, my friend Florida Senator Bill Montford, will be attending and speaking.

I look forward to seeing old friends, classmates and cruise buddies Friday night, and to the next Godby alumni cruise in 2013.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Message in a Bottle

A year ago, I received a note from someone I did not know, who let me know my old friend Paul had died. I attended his service a few weeks later. Yesterday, I was contacted by someone I had never met before, who told me the rest of the story. 

More than once, I have been surprised to discover a chapter in my life that I once considered thoroughly concluded had been very interestingly reopened.

In 2008, four years after Dave the Cat passed away, we were honored with publication as Chapter 2 in JG Annino's book "Florida's Famous Animals", and my young grandsons Dylan and Gabriel and I visited my photos and story at the "Pets in America" exhibit in the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. 

On April 16, 2011, I attended a Celebration of Life at Lake Ella for my friend and former roommate Paul Lasalle. How I met and knew Paul is recounted in 1984. I am not sure if anyone else at Paul's party had known him as long as I had. The next day, Paul's ashes were committed to the Gulf of Mexico. His friend Michelle remarked, "Paul had a good final send off at the beach". 

I had thought of Paul in recent days for two reasons. Only four days ago, I heard from Zan about the unexpected death of Dave Heuer, who was always working at Railroad Square Art Park when I was there, a longtime mutual friend of Peter's and mine, about our age. It was this week last year that I had heard of Paul's passing.

Sue contacted me yesterday and asked me about Paul. Even though she did not know me, and had never met Paul in person or known any of his friends, it was important to her to reach out to someone who had been close to Paul. Sue provided me with the unabridged narrative included below as written by her husband David Damon, submitted for Paul Lasalle's family and friends, and with respect to Paul.

RIP again, old buddy.

Heading around the point, I could see the outline of a small island, miles away. My dad is along for this sail, to the island. A few days ago, what had started as a Mothers Day outing, to do some bird watching, had turned into a day of surprises. The note in the bottle, found on the island on Sunday, was now finding its way back.

It all started when my wife Sue woke up on Mothers Day Sunday with one request, to take her out in the boat, to see birds. Our favorite spot to see birds lay miles away on a series of small deserted islands. These islands are protected by a maze of oyster bars and long stretches of shallow flats. A place only shallow draft boats dare go, and not a place to get caught on a falling tide. The boat of choice that day was a wooden 21' two masted, shallow draft sharpie. With her centerboard and rudder pulled up, she could ghost her way across the shallows in less than a foot of water. Her only source of propulsion other than sails was a pair of long wooden oars.

After rigging up the boat at the boat ramp, we headed down the long canal. Rowing against an incoming tide and directly into a strong southerly breeze, the progress was slow. About half way down the canal, I rowed over to a patch of beach and took a break. As we sat there chatting and enjoying the shade when my cell phone rang. I know, cell phone? With our fourteen year old son Gil, home alone, as worried/concerned parents, we keep a cell phone nearby. It was a friend calling to say a mutual friend , Scott, had died. I hung up and told Sue. The last time I saw Scott was just around the point from where we were sitting. About a month earlier, I was working on my catamaran at Spring Creek Boatyard. Scott pulled into the boat yard and dropped his brother off, then quickly left without saying a word. I was surprised and wondered what was his hurry that he couldn't say hello. That was the last time I would see Scott. Sue and I sat quietly for a few more minutes, then pushed off and headed back down the canal under oars, still thinking about Scott. As the day went on, this wasn't the only death we would face.

Once clear of the mouth of the canal I rowed far enough out to give us room to set an anchor. I threw out the anchor to hold us in place while I set the sails. With the strong wind and waves in the open bay, I worked quickly to get under sail and off the hook. Once under way she settled down as we cut through the waves. Her flat bottom became a vee bottom as she heeled over in the stiff breeze. Her tall unstayed masts bent at the top, spilling the excess wind, just as they are intended to do. She briskly danced her way across the bay kicking up her heels, she was in her element, I was too. I raised the centerboard on several occasions as sand bars and oyster bars became clearly visible, she slid across them every time with just inches to spare. This was my favorite kind of sailing. Most of my sailing lately was on a large catamaran that draws about three feet of water keeping me out in the channels and in deeper water further offshore. I hadn't realized how much I missed sailing in the shallow bay. This is great, I thought, that's about the moment the centerboard jammed in the up position after bumping a bar or two. Unable to get it down, we were sailing sideways and quickly loosing all the ground we'd worked so hard to get. I pointed her up into the wind and dropped anchor once again. Over the side I went. Diving under the boat I pulled and pried, eventually the board came loose and a piece of wood that was wedged up into the trunk dropped down, problem solved. 

It was taking awhile, three hours had passed as we scooted through the gauntlet of oyster bars on our final approach to the island. The island blocked the south wind as we made our way just feet from the marsh grass in the calm protected water. It was so picturesque, the island in the background, the birds in flight and my wife on the bow in her floppy hat. I pulled a camera out of the bag and snapped a few quick shots. Rounding the the point of the island we head into the open Gulf, the waves quickly built along with the wind. One last tack and we'd be headed right for the only beach on the island. In 15-20 knot winds, a fast moving flat bottom boats tacks very quickly, she did. So quick that I hadn't grabbed the main sheet in my hand, I'd also carelessly set the camera on top of the bag on the floorboards at my feet. As we came about, the wind hit us hard, knocking her down to the point that a wall of green water poured over the wide gunwales and into the boat. In scarcely the bat of an eye it had all happened, I grabbed the mainsheet and released it as I scooped the cameras up. She settled down quickly and sprinted toward the island. My wide-eyed wife, cameras and assorted other gear were all fine, and mostly high and dry. 

The north end of Smith Island was directly ahead about fifty yards away. I sailed her up on the beach as the hundreds of gallons of water sloshed around under the floorboards. Sue jumped out of the boat and headed down the beach to find her birds. I stayed behind and bailed and bailed paying for my careless mistake of not having the mainsheet in my hand to spill wind quickly, especially on such a windy day. 

Now this brings me back to why I sailed back to the island a few days later.......

I'm headed out this afternoon in my sharpie to return something that Sue and I inadvertently removed from an island while we were sailing on Sunday. It was a series of strange events that started on that Sunday afternoon.... Sue wanted me to take her out in the boat to take pictures of birds for Mothers Day. That afternoon, after about three hours of fighting wind and tides from the wrong direction, threading our way through oyster bars, sand bars and islands, we pulled the boat up on the beach of one of our favorite islands. (But not before having the centerboard jam, diving overboard to free it, and then getting knocked down by the wind once in a very near capsize)....back to the island. While walking along the shore Sue found a wine bottle with a note in it which she proudly brought back to the boat where I was bailing water from the near capsize. As the sun was setting, we sailed back home with our treasure, feeling pretty good about our afternoon adventures, near misses and treasures found. Later that evening, we were all very curious about the bottle with the note. We tried to get the note out with no luck. Sue shook it hard, only sand came out. Gil tried a wire but the note was pushed down in the bottle where it had partially opened up. More sand came out but not the note. I commented that all the sand must have been put in the bottle for ballast, to keep it upright as it "sailed" along in the waves. Not one to be defeated, after Sue and Gil gave up, I put the bottle in a paper grocery bag and handed a hammer to Sue. After all, she'd found it and it was Mothers Day, she was to do the honors..........opening the paper bag we carefully pulled out the scrolled up piece of paper, from the pieces of broken bottle. Smudged and dirty we knocked the dust off of it as we unrolled it. The note was on what looked like very old parchment paper, burned along the edges. The note was a carefully placed, thoughtful note remembering a special person in someone's life who had died, way too young and by his own hands. Under a photo of a man fishing with his dog were the words: "He was infuriatingly unaware of how much his good heart was appreciated and valued". The sand and dust we were shaking out in the kitchen, we now realized were Paul's ashes, now mixed with the morning's coffee grounds.

With a renewed respect for what we'd found, we carefully gathered Pauls ashes and put them in a safe place. A few days later my dad and I sailed Paul back to the island. On a beautiful afternoon, in a picturesque spot on the middle of the island, dad said a few words and I spread Paul's ashes under a canopy of palms. It was the same island where we'd first found Paul, only now, he was free of his bottle and part of the island. I cannot imagine a more peaceful place to be.