Every year my wife's side of the family has a summer get together. The location rotates from year to year.
This year, since most of them live in the New Port Richey area, we said, "Let's keep it simple and just go out to eat one evening and then spend the weekend at the camp out in the Gulf. "
"Summer School" (my boat, newbies) was pressed into service as a shuttle, as was the boat of my brother'nlaw Chuck.
The plan was that we would ferry people and cargo (food!) out to the camp beneath a beautiful blue Florida sky.
Reality check ... see above photo.
At departure time, Chuck's boat would not start and mine (which had just got back from the shop) was acting kind of cranky.
Chuck is pretty much the sweetest, nicest person on the planet, so it wasn't long before a friend had loaned him not one, but two boats, one of them being the tiny little Craig Cat boat off in the distance in the top photo.
Now, I would not have taken my children out into that maelstrom if we were just going boating. We were heading out to that camp off in the distance. All we had to do was avoid waterspouts (yes, there was one) and lightning for a short distance and then we would have shelter.
Safety first you know.
A seabird flying inland under a storm cloud is not the best harbinger of a good day at sea, but sometimes they get it wrong.
After a brief squall, the sky cleared as it so often does in Florida, and the rest of the day was excellent with calm seas and just the right amount of cloud cover to buffer that Florida sun.
I took the photo above from Summer School as I circled the camp in the afternoon.
My niece Mckenzie is demonstrating the most common use for the inside ... eating.
The camp is basically a cube of shelter sitting atop pilings driven into the Gulf bottom. It's a one room cabin with some beds, galley, and a table inside. Most of the time at camp is spent in the water or on the wraparound deck, so the inside is barely used anyway.
This device was a truly amazing kid occupier. The little ones loved bouncing on it and were content to play on it for long periods of time, which meant the big kids were free to snorkel, tube, wakeboard, etc. The bottom of the raft is mesh so the ocean comes on in with you.
Most of us were in the water continuously, getting out only long enough to eat or drink, and then jumping back in.
A few of us spent part of the day snorkeling slowly looking for cousin Jeff's wedding ring which slipped off when he playfully lept from the little Craig Cat two seater boat as it zoomed by. We all knew it was a needle in a very big haystack, but we had to try just in case.
We looked really hard, but never found it. Mine is out in the Gulf too, somewhere off Cedar Key, so I could relate.
Junior (driving) and his cousin Jeff scooting around on the borrowed Craig Cat boat. Junior's usual Prince Valiant hairstyle is blown back by the wind in this picture and I can see the man who's been quietly growing beneath the curtain of teenager bangs.
In the upper left picture, Katie is demonstrating that even though we are 10 generations removed from Minorca, the Mediterranean "talk with your hands" gene is still active in our line. She's explaining something to boyfriend Conner who seems to actually understand her.
The lower left picture shows the two newlyiest weds, Monica and Jeff being serenaded by Jeff's brother Joey. Both "boys" spent time in Iraq and/or Afghanistan with the US Army ... as did their older brother Professor Chuck who couldn't be here for this trip.
The upper right photo is my niece going for the last wakeboard ride of the day and in the bottom photo, another niece with a pinfish she caught and released.
I had some dockside contemplation time.
Tranquil looking isn't it?
Well, it was just setting us up for one more adventure ... lulling us into a sense of complacency.
At around 10:00 pm, with another squall coming in off the Gulf, we headed in to port. We had enjoyed a long day and an evenings fireworks display put on by Chuck, so the day had turned out very nice considering it's stormy beginning. Some of our clan spent the night out at camp, but we had not planned to do that on this trip so our day was complete ... we thought.
The rain was cold as I piloted Summer School back into the 'Cotee river channel, but it was a short ride to Chuck's house where I could moor her for the night.
We tied her off in a light rain and headed to our lodgings for showers and bed.
The phone rang as I was just dropping off to sleep.
It was Joey, a little breathless ...
"It's pouring out here and your boat is filling with water... I just bailed it out, but it's still coming down hard. It's going to fill again, it was full to the gunwales when I started bailing."
Now, my Carolina Skiff will not sink, even full of water, but obviously that is not a good thing, so I said, " We'll be right there!"
Back out into the rain (and now some pretty incredible lightning) we went.
Mrs. FC followed in one vehicle because I had to leave the JEEP at the boat ramp park, and then get driven over to Chuck's house where Summer School was floundering. It was one of those tropical downpours that causes road flooding in a matter of minutes and we drove through flooded streets most of the way.
At one point, I got out and walked down the center of the road just to make sure it wasn't too deep to drive through.
We made it to Nick's Park and left the JEEP and trailer there, then drove to Chuck's.
I had my finger's crossed that being flooded would not have shorted anything out and that the 12 year old Johnson motor would start.
With some much appreciated assistance from Katie's boyfriend Conner who came along to help, we shoved off and cruised slowly out the canal and into the river in a driving rain with lightning cracking overhead.
It was 12:45 am.
The nice thing about loading your boat in the middle of the night in a tropical thunderstorm is you have the boat ramp all to yourself. Strangely, no one else was loading or launching their boat at that hour.
We got her loaded and drove back through flooded streets, anticipating the second hot shower of the evening.
In the end, the weekend was a great success punctuated with moments of tribulation and challenge.