I’ll cross the raging main;
I’m off to my love with a boxing glove,
Ten thousand miles away.
-- “The Walloping Window Blind,” Charles E. Carryl
We were all on time at 3:00 p.m. at the church. All the paperwork was in order. Drivers were ready. We moved on out toward Indy and the airport. Check-in was easy. Our only glitch was my learning the night before that Delta had a checked-bag fee for domestic flights, which upped our expenses $150 each way (curse their hides). We waited around just a bit in the airport before leaving for Atlanta.
Our crew consisted of Cora, our crew leader (in her first starring role); she, along with Abby and Dakota rounded out the girls. The boys included Crew president Jeffrey, T.C., and Zach. My fellow adult was Julie, Abby’s mom. This was Julie and Abby and Cora’s first high adventure trip. Zach had done the last National Jamboree. Dakota, Jeffrey, and T.C. are old hands by now.
Boring is good
It means the plan is working
Happy as a bear in a chocolate shop
The flight was very full on the way to Atlanta. We sat in the very back of the plane, which always makes for a lively ride. By the way Julie gripped the seat in front of her at take-off, I could tell she was not a good flyer. Still, things went went well. We grabbed a bit to eat in the Atlanta airport, boarded our plane for Miami and arrived about 11:30 p.m. in Florida.
Our plan was to find a quiet corner and sleep a few hours before continuing on for Sea Base. It worked, but the air conditioning made it like sleeping in a meat locker. Also, the endless loop of the same old announcements never stopped. I finally realized I had earplugs on me and put them in to get some shut-eye.
We were out of the airport early. We had a 15-passenger van from Enterprise at our command and we were heading south to the Keys. We grabbed a bite to eat at McDonald’s and were making great time. Then we got onto Key Largo. The “highway” that runs all down through the Keys is mostly 45 mph. It’s like the main drag of a strung-out, two-hundred mile town. Still, we were so ahead of ourselves, we figured we were kings of the road.
Then we arrived at Sea Base on Lower Matecumbe Key. There, they informed us that we were at the wrong base. Our program operated out of the Brinton Environmental Center another fifty slow miles down toward Key West. Somehow, I missed that in all the stuff they sent me; nevertheless, we were so ridiculously ahead of our time we were still too early to check in by the time we arrived at the place we were supposed to be. That being so, we were directed back up the road a few miles to a hard-to-find spot, the world-famous No Name Pub, where we had pizza and pink lemonade.
No Name Pub gets its name from its location on No Name Key. Its interior is decorated in signed currency (mostly dollar bills) stapled to the walls and ceiling. It has the appearance of really old, dirty, shag carpeting. Very unappetizing, until you realize that there’s something like $75,000 in real money there. Quite a decorating motif. After a very tasty lunch, we returned to the Brinton Center where they were ready to check us in. We met our mate, Sarah, who would accompany us throughout the Out Island Adventure.
We're in the money
No Name Pub
Brinton Environmental Center
Meet your Mate
Sarah directed us to our temporary quarters, where we dumped our stuff and changed into swimwear. We then went down to the marina for our swim checks. This is the part I’d been dreading, and not just for myself. Suddenly, the youth all went shy when Sarah asked for volunteers to go first. Finally, Julie and I said the two old people would go first. We jumped in and began to demonstrate our technique.
I made two discoveries. Sea water is way saltier than I remembered. Yuck. And, saltwater makes you more buoyant, which makes it easier to swim and float. We did fine; I even got a compliment on my technique. A good omen, I thought.
Shade your eyes
The two whitest guys in Florida
After swim tests, we went on to basic snorkeling training. I had always had problems with masks and snorkels, so this was not something I was looking forward to; in addition, I have always found it difficult to breathe naturally through my mouth. But I was determined to try, and it seemed to be working for me. Cora was having trouble with her mask: her hair was caught in it. In attempting to help her free it, I brushed up against the dock.
Mistake! Sarah had warned us not to make contact with the submerged part of the dock. Why? Fire coral lives there. Within a minute, my left abdomen was on fire. Soon, huge, flaming welts were raised. I went off to apply something soothing to that while the training went on. The fire coral continued to bother me to varying degrees over the next couple of days. The welts were much better, but still visible even after getting back home. Yikes!
After some fun and games in the marina, we had some time to just look around. We noted the big catamaran, BSA Scoutmaster II. Lovely. Then, we loaded a dozen water jugs onto one of the skiffs and filled them up. This would be our entire water supply for our time on the island.
Himself goin' to sea
Yours for just an arm, a leg, and a soul
Cheap at the price
Training continued on the Quarterdeck, an open area underneath the galley. Sarah emphasized the Three Esses (3 S’s) of Sea Base Safety:
Big Munson is a barrier island. All kinds of stuff gets washed up on the shore. There is no place it is completely safe to go barefoot.
We would need to apply and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day and after every trip to the sea.
Okay, so water doesn’t begin with an S; they just nabbed one from “snorkeling” (making it norkeling in local parlance) to be sure they had three esses for alliteration’s sake. We were told we should each drink at least four liters of water per day. They aren’t kidding about this, either. Sea Base conditions are even less tolerant of skimping on water than Philmont's.
After all this prep, we still had an opening show to go to and a slide show on local plants and wildlife after that. I found myself dozing off in the latter. We were finally done by 9:30 and headed for bed.