Small Boat Christmas Eve

Previously published in SCA January 2019

An impressive crew for a 10-footer On sunny Christmas Eve day, four of us pushed off at one fifteen. In a couple minutes current took us toward barnacles on pilings. The flood tide was so strong, tacking in the two or three knot southwesterly wouldn't help. Nothing for it but to command, "Bryce, paddle."

On starboard tack, ten and a half foot Clam Girl missed those pilings by a few feet. In a hundred yards came more barnacles on the tall concrete piers of the Cedar Key town dock.

"Paddle again, please."

Son Dural and family were in Cedar Key for a blink of an eye visit. Tonight, Christmas Eve, after a five thirty dinner, they'd drive three hours back to Orlando, and fly to Denver in the morning.

Cassie & Bryce Lanky grandson Bryce, T-shirted, red-haired and pale, paddled again. He's a seventeen year old high school senior whom his sister, stepmother, and step grandmother had told, "Put on sunblock." Dural and I were told, "Get him a hat."

Their first day, the day before, Clam Girl had carried five of us, also in light air. The extra bottom rocker added last fall helped, although she was still a bit burdened with us four.

We cleared the concrete piers with yards to spare, while twelve feet above us fishing poles slung catenary lines, yanked down current as fast as we were.

Impessive load Elizabeth Horton later laughed, "As Karen and I watched, she told me shed never seen a boat go so fast sideways." Tide range was almost four feet above the morning's nine o'clock extreme low.

On starboard tack a mile east of Atsena Otie Key, we held the one to two knot zephyr to the South Bar Channel. I gave up and asked Bryce, and Dural, too, to paddle - their banter about paddling positions "amused" twenty year old Cassie. We kept westward port tack with the leeboards up and rudder lifting, the sail drawing well sheeted between them.

At its north spit, Atsena Otie is a fine sand beach, swept and sifted by tide and weather. For dayboaters it's a delightful and convenient goal a half mile from Town, an island in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.

On Atsena Otie Key This day, Atsena's north spit was as lovely as it's always been during my decades of feeling its sand. After a couple kayakers left we were the only humans. Nosee-'ems, the likely biting bugs of winter, were elsewhere.

We talked and strolled, staring into the inches deep water riffling across the spit. Air and water temperatures were in the sixties - and no sting rays. The low sun's warmth felt good.

"Three or four dolphins!" Cassie pointed north. "Over there, too!"

Came a breeze. Maybe four knots.

Clam Girl glided away west, port tack. A dozen or so dolphins in three or four groups breathed and sounded - a few headed for us. The canny mammals challenge me. Maybe this time they'll rise close and look at us, and the camera will catch delighted faces looking back?

Clam Girl kept aiming west while the current bent us north. From the two or three fathom deep Main Channel, we passed over the long sandbar west of Town. Neither leeboards nor rudder touched. Dolphins cruised Daughtry Bay's shallows, too.

Bryce, Dural and Cassie I wanted to hear about my grandkids' lives, but their replies faded with youthful gazes around the horizon. Cassie's chatter lapsed about her coming junior year in Boulder; Bryce said little of an elk hunt planned for the day after next, camping in the Rockies. Terns flew over Clam Girl in their floaty, airy way. Migrating ducks dove and popped up.

We close reached to the bridge project, which is replacing the old one to the airstrip and three dozen homes. Dural stared at the temporary bridge, "Those are Bailey Bridge parts!" His second job out of college was overseeing the U.S. Army's Bailey Bridge System of World War II British portables.

Hugh found that sail with family immensely satisfying We fell off slowly before a soft gybe, then close reached starboard tack. Cormorants on posts studied us and pelicans preened. Ospreys shrieked intermittently before we left Daughtry Bay.

Five minutes broad reaching in the Main Ship Channel brought us back to the Island Place beach, at the top of the tide, just before four o'clock. An hour and a half for them to pack, and get ready for dinner reservations at five thirty.

Cassie emailed. She'd seen a childhood photo of herself on Atsena and recalled collecting horseshoe crab shells. Of sailing, she wrote, "I enjoyed it... all the different ropes magically gave one power over a floating vessel."

Bryce emailed, "The boat ride was calming and a bit chilly. No elk, and it was really cold up there, around five degrees."

~HH

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