(A scanned old photo from December 29, ... 1997?)
Way back in the latter half of the 1990's, my college roomie Dave, and his wife Tammi, came down for a visit. It was in December, a time of the year when frozen midwesterners sometimes think about the warm Florida sunshine. They had some free time, needed sun, and we were thrilled to host them, so down they came.
We were having those perfect Florida crystal blue skies that grace us in the winter and the temps were mild, so we all went out to sea in "Summer School", our 19 foot Carolina Skiff.
The weather was sparkling and the Gulf of Florida was cooperating with glassy seas and clear water.
(You have to call ahead and reserve those conditions and I was glad that for once I had done so ... FYI: 1-800-NEPTUNE)
The Gulf at Cedar Key is dotted with a sprinkling of sandy keys that are merely the iceberg tips of broad shallow sandy flats that go on and on and on. Much of these are covered in meadows of seagrass that literally teems with marine life.
We were doing one of my very favorite things on Earth ... cruising slowly at idle speed over water so clear that every detail of the bottom was visible. I love doing this, just gawking at the life below, the birds above, and the interface interruptions of seaturtle or dolphin breaths.
We were laughing alot too. You do that when you are with Dave and Tammi.
Somewhere along the way, someone (was it you Tammi?) spotted a large whelk below and on a whim, I dove over the side for it.
Now, at the peak of the summer's heat, water temp in the Gulf of Florida gets into the high 80's ... so warm that you crawl out of it and back onto the boat just to cool off.
This was not summer.
This was December 29.
At first, when I entered the water, it was shocking, but not too bad. We're used to diving into springs around here, and in the triple digit heat of the summer air, their 72 degree water temp feels icy. It was kind of like that for the first 20 seconds or so, and then you could tell, this was really, really different.
Of course, now everybody in the boat was looking at me, expecting me to do something FC'ish, like dive down and bring up that big whelk.
The nurse was looking at me with that, "You are out of your mind" look, but I'm so used to that I hardly noticed ... that could be because tiny icicles were beginning to form on my eyelashes and you know how that can interfere with your vision.
Funny, the water was deeper than I expected too. That's the thing about really clear water, its depth can be misleading.
Someone tossed me a mask, and with a few rattly hyperventilations, I dove down for the big snail.
It was pretty cool down there, and with my increasing numbness, the cold didn't seem so bad anymore.
I brought up the whelk, went down for a few more items a starfish I believe, and poked around beneath the boat a little while.
Funny, but I didn't remember my arms and legs weighing so much back on the boat. Had I put on weight during this swim?
And what were all these ripples surrounding me? I was starting to shiver pretty violently ... kind of like a Whirlpool agitator in a brand new washing machine.
The nurse, who had assumed control of my crew the moment I left the boat, was now commanding me back aboard the boat. This seemed like a pretty good idea, so I paddled back over to the side and hoisted myself up and over the gunwales.
Somebody wrapped a big ol' beach towel around me and THAT is when some serious body wracking shivering set in.
That was a weird feeling ... to be shivering vigorously and uncontrollably for at least ten minutes, although it seemed much longer.
Eventually, my blood, which had left my extremities for the comfort of the core, returned to my feet and fingers, and all was well.
So, maybe the next time I'll tote the shorty wet suit along just in case the urge to leap into the sea during the middle of winter strikes me again.
See? I'm older and wiser now.
No, really, I am.
It was a neat snail though.