Saturday. Daughter Cheryl rented a pontoon boat for Fathers Day somewhere in Deland for a picnic on the St. James river. The plan was to pick me up early Saturday morning and head out for breakfast with the rest of the gang. It was OK with me– free breakfast–right up my ally. There was George, my son in law and Cheryl’s husband, and my grand daughter Cheri, in from Kentucky for a short stay to study with her Aunt Cheryl , a commercial artist in her own business. Breakfast was right on track with hot coffee, big, fat warm bagels and breakfast sandwiches. Yum! After the feast we headed for Deland to pick up the boat. It was already 87 degrees out and the temperature was slated to soar over 100 by noon. No matter, it was Cheryl’s fathers day gift to George and me and we were just looking forward to a great day on the St. Johns, heat or no heat. She had packed two coolers chock full to the brim with picnic goodies and drinks. YES!
The ride to the rental place was a bit more uncomfortable then I bargained for because the cars AC that Cheryl borrowed was barley cooling. Oh, well, I chalked it up to OJT for the real hot stuff to come in an open boat in a river full of Florida alligators. Ho, hum. An hour late for the nine o’clock rental pick up, the operators could care less. Cheryl had rented it for the whole day–back by five pm. It was her nickel, after all. George got the obligatory “how to run the boat” rules and we were soon off in a cloud of white foam and a Hi Ho Silver. It had a Bimini top that helped shade the more delicate among us–like me–from the Sun. George drove while the bikini clad girls distributed themselves amongst the UV rays of ole’ sol. I was under the green canvas canopy, reading the Sunday papers in the cool 20 MPH breeze. Life was good.
Cheryl’s cell phone rang. It was her daughter Keri calling to let us know where to pick her and her friend Jamie up. “Where,?” I asked. “At the I-4 trailer camp in Sanford,” she replied. “That’s thirty miles from here–how come she didn’t meet us at the rental place?” “Oh, she had to wait for Jamie, who wasn’t sure what time she could get off work.” Up the St. Johns we went. I could hear those coolers calling. Part of the plan was to find a nice, shady spot on the tranquill river, comfortable in the shade of a couple of big ole’ Cypress trees and hang out while all them goodies disappeared.
This is what happened instead.
George was doing a masterful job of guiding us to the pickup point–thanks in part to Cheryl’s GPS. An hour and a half later we saw Keri waving frantically from the river bank. No Jamie, though. For the record, the drive from the pickup point to the rental place was about twenty minutes by car. Oh, well–again–not my nickel. Jamie? She couldn’t make it. Keri scrambled aboard and we were off in the direction we came from, looking for that shady spot. About noon, we spotted a serene cove with a stand of fifty foot high Cypress trees about eight feet out from the shore. Right out of a Florida tourist guide. Nirvana, here we come.
George nosed the craft neatly in between them and the swampy bank. The throttle in neutral, we drifted slowly into the arms of those wonderful shade trees. George reached for an on shore branch that was sticking, out, beckoning his caress, to help guide us to a comfortable stop.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose!
Standing just behind the Bo swains chair, I was ready to help him pull us closer to shore. Suddenly, the branch exploded in his hand in a blaze of buzzing, black flapping wings. He screamed –“Wasps—Wasps!!” In a reflex action, he instinctively groped for the throttle and shoved it to the firewall. The boat leaped to the command and rocketed backward, at warp speed, away from the trees into the black river whence we came. Pandemonium. I ducked, in an attempt to avoid the aluminum tubing that was heading straight at me, having been violently torn loose by the sudden trauma of the tug-o-war, fast boat vs big cypress trees. I thought it would whiz by. Not a chance. It bounced off my head, tearing a gash, knocking me off my feet. In our haste to get out of there, the rigging had obviously snagged on one of the branches of those deceptively beautiful Cypress trees, as the ensuing melee ripped the canvas to shreds, we zoomed backward into open water. The piece of metal rigging slammed into the seat I had been in only moments before, gouging a jagged hole deep into its innards. The tubing simply snapped from its mooring caused by the sudden jolt of the engine as it revved up, the front of the boat lifting high into the air as the prop dug deeply into the black water in response to the sudden fire walling of the throttle. The girls were up front. They instinctively ducked for cover as poor George attempted to fight off the angry mob of black two inch long wasps, protecting his eyes by wildly flailing his arms in the air. He was no match for the wasps. The boat zigzagged, backward, uncontrollably across the river toward the opposite bank, as I tried to gain control. At that moment, I would have bet my life hat we were going to smash into it and be crushed like an eggshell.The image of flailing around in alligator infested waters was not inviting. The splintered aluminum rigging and green canvas were being violently dragged, twisting and churning along side the speeding boat, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins, splashing in and out of the angry plume of white foam, just as they trail behind and next to cruise ships. No one was at the controls. Dazed, I hesitated what seemed like only a split second before instinctively grabbing for the throttle and pulling it down, hard. It some how clicked into neutral–dumb luck, to be sure. The boat slumped dead in the water, only feet from the opposite bank.
Time for damage control. I looked around the deck, visually making role call. The girls seemed OK.George was swollen and bleeding from the stings of the angry horde of Florida swamp wasps he encountered seconds before. Thankfully, the nasty critters didn’t follow us across the river. The canopy was demolished. A gaping hole replaced the portion of the seat I was sitting in just moments before the attack. The girls were confused and frightened. Panic subsided. We carefully started pulling the shredded canopy from the river, ever mindful of the unseen inhabitants below. No one had any desire to fall into the black water. We laid the tattered Bimini top out on the deck in front of the control console as gently as possible, almost respectfully. Plopping into the captains chair, I eased the controls forward, guiding the wounded craft into deeper water. Cheryl tended to Georges sting wounds as best she could with what was contained in the tiny First Aid kit, as I slopped a gingerly dunked wet towel over my boo booed head to stop the flow of blood. It was pounding like a trip hammer. Understandably shaken by the incident, we all kind of sunk back into the cushy seats and breathed a collective sigh of relief at our enormous stroke of luck. Or was it? With no canopy to shield us from Florida’s blistering summer heat any longer, I turned for home, limping down river to the boat ramp whence we came, for the ultimate meeting with the rental people. Couldn’t wait for that encounter. Maybe they wouldn’t notice, huh? We silently thanked the powers, that we were all still in one piece.The goodies would have to wait. It was now just after 4:00 O’clock, perhaps just a tad early for the hungry rivers inhabitants to invite dinner guests? What would you have done?