Sunday, July 25, 2010

When I was in college, I did my fair share of bar hopping.  It wasn't unusual to go to three or four bars in one night, taking in the 'ambiance' of spilled beer and sloppy drunks.  To make the evening a success, all I needed was a pitcher (or two) of beer and a good supply of quarters.   Happily those days are behind me now as I would much rather spend the evening in one spot, quietly contemplating the finer points of the local cuisine while sharing a bottle of wine with 'The Admiral.'

Okay, so I will admit it right off the bat.  I am boring.  There.  I said it.  Give me a comfortable place to sit for the evening and I am happy as a clam.  I don't need to work the room anymore.  I hate being in a place where you have to shout to be heard and where everyone there is so much younger that you look like you are visiting your college kids during Parents Weekend.  Its quality over quantity for me.  I can nurse a 10 year old Pinot all night long and never get up once.

That being said, a significant amount of our 'on shore' boating experiences have either begun or ended at a local establishment.  I am not sure why that is so.  I would like to think that when we first arrive on the scene, a quick drink gives us a chance to chat up the bartender a little so we can find out if anything is happening in town.  Maybe we are just thirsty from all the work of dinghying ashore.  Who knows?

Anyway, we go to a few bars now and then.  Who cares right?  We are old enough.

There is just one small problem.... and its with me.  I have started this slightly strange habit of photographing our food and drink.  I know its weird.  I know its embarrassing.  Kim doesn't particularly like it either as flashbulbs going off inside a quiet and darkened bar seems to draw attention to us.  But, I like it anyway.


I think this all started when I was flying the international routes at Delta Air Lines.  We went to a lot of pubs/bars/cantinas/beer-gardens back then and I wanted to share the experience with those back home.  Every bar had its own personality.  Unlike the places we have in the States, European bars have a lot of character.  Visitors can get away with almost anything over there.  You can do the dorkiest things and the locals will just look the other way and mutter to themselves, "toursits!"  I routinely would take a few shots (photos) at every place we visited and now have a pretty good collection of my favorite hot spots.

So, we are in Saint Augustine and we stumbled upon the neatest place.  It was styled as a Spanish Tapas bar but decorated in early Ernest Hemingway.  Sort of Antonio Banderas meets Old Florida.  I thought it was really neat, as did Kim.  On top of that, it was 100 degrees outside and they had the a/c on full blast.  It was heaven to be inside.

We could sit anywhere we like as the place was deserted.  It had just opened for the evening and we were the first to arrive.  I immediately saw these huge overstuffed couches that ringed the lounge area.  Those soft cushions had my name all over them.  I was going to settle in for the long haul at this place.

They had a terrific wine list, lots of imported and local brews and a menu that was out of this world.  On top of that, they had live music scheduled for later in the evening.  It doesn't get any better than that.  So we worked our way down the menu ordering a little of this and a little of that.  Being a tapas bar, it was set up for little portions meant to be shared.  Perfect.

So the server starts bringing out all this wonderful stuff and I can't help myself but whip out my camera and take a few shots with every new dish.  Each plate was more interesting than the last.  The colors were vibrant.  The presentation was a work of art and the taste... well you'll have to take my word for that.  I am not sure what they were thinking back in the kitchen.  Was I a food critic?  .... an author researching his next cook book?  ... a chef, scoping out the local competition?  They didn't know.  All they could tell was that there was a strange person out there, taking lots of photos of the food. 

We spent three or four hours there that night and I must have rolled off about 30 pictures.  I was like 'Rainman' with that camera.  No crouton got off digitally uncaptured.  Finally Kim told me to knock it off as I was becoming a pest.  Enough was enough.

"One more picture," I said.

"Tourists!".... must have thought the waiter.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

There is the old adage that says there are "those who have and those who will".  Now I know that saying can apply to a lot of circumstances however in the boating world, it concerns running your boat aground.

Up until last week, we were part of the group that "will".  Unfortunately now, we are part of the group that 'have'.  Yes, I am here to say that we ran our boat up onto a sand bar in Saint Augustine harbor.

We were having a wonderful day cruising from Palm Coast northbound towards Saint Augustine.  The plan was to spend a day or so there, taking in the sights and enjoying the oldest city in America.  We made it to the anchorage that is just off the city's sea wall and were looking for a place to drop anchor.  There are a lot of boats parked here as it is a popular place to go.

We found what seemed like a good spot:  not too close to the other boats, but close in enough to the dinghy dock that we didn't have to trek a mile or so to get there.  Anyway, we were getting set to drop the anchor when at the last minute, we had a small problem with the chain tackle.  (one of the bridles was stuck).  I ran down to the engine room to get a tool to fix it and by the time I got back up on deck, the current had moved us a little closer to the boat parked next to us.

Not wanting to be elbow to elbow with our neighbor, we put the boat in gear and swung around to get back to where we were.  Now the navigation instruments told us we were in 13 feet of water, and that is a lot for us.  We have two of these gizmos and they both said the same thing.   However, in the short time we were moving the boat, the depth went from 13 feet to 3 feet and the next thing I knew, we were not moving anymore.

Astonished, I checked out the depth finders and they confirmed my worst fear.  We were stuck.

I am not really sure how we went from 13 feet to 3 in such a short distance, but we did.  Apparently the harbor has a lot of bars hidden here and there and we caught one.  Okay, so it is no big deal.  Besides our pride, there wasn't any damage done.  The key was not to make a bad situation any worse.  How do you do that?  Well, many boat pilots might try to power their way off the sand bar.  Not knowing exactly what you are caught on or how far forward it extends makes this a bad idea.  Other pilots will try and go backwards (from whence they came) and while this is a plausible game plan, you really don't know how far up on the bar you are and you certainly don't want to damage the props or rudders.

The safest and least expensive way to go is to determine if you are at low to mid tide and simply wait for high tide to lift you off the obstruction.  This was certainly an option for us except it was hot out and we wanted to get into town as soon as possible.  Option two is to pick up the radio and call for help.... which is what we did.

In the boating world, there are a couple of "Triple A" type organizations that will come out and help you in these situations.  They are really great to have.  If you run aground, run out of gas or your engines simply quit working, they will come out and tow you back to safety.  One tenth of a boat unit a year is cheap insurance in my mind.  Anyway, we have always subscribed to this service but have never used it.  I thought now might be a good time to cash in on our annual benefit.

So I picked up the radio and gave them a call.  I told them what had happened and where we were located.  They said they would be there in 20 minutes and they were.   After a bit of paperwork and some small talk, the rescue boat operator tied one end of a line to one of Maya's stern cleats and attached the other end to his boat.  A few minutes of soft backwards pulling and we were off the bar.

The guy was very nice and he took great care of our boat and our egos.  Neither was damaged beyond repair.

In some ways this was another rite of passage for us.  No longer newbies, I think we can safely say now that we are part of the ones that 'have'.