See those orangey things to the right in the picture? Those are upside-down kayaks, which were lashed to the top of the hull (I’m sure there is a better nautical term for that) of the Blu Q, a catamaran that we took to sea on our recent trip to Key West. We always try to take some sort of boat trip when we go to the Keys, considering that there is water everywhere you look. I mean, the water in the pool at the guest house would be actually enough for me because you can see borders, and just beyond those borders are cocktails, and comfortable bathrooms. The ocean has no borders; if anyone tells you “yes it does: the continents,” slap them. Hard.
I agreed to the boat trip because I’m a sport, and I even restrained myself from doing my aqua-themed imitations: Vivien Leigh in Ship of Fools (which I’ve never seen but can just imagine); Barbara Stanwyck in Titanic— “Where’s Norman… Norman? NORMANNNNN!!!!!!!”; Harriette Johns in A Night to Remember, complaining about being inconvenienced in the lifeboat… I could go on and on. Instead, I boarded the Blu Q with aplomb and settled in for what turned out to be a beautiful ride.
We headed in a leisurely course northeast of Key West into the mangrove islands, and soon tied up at a point near Elliott Key. The plan was for the four of us passengers and one of the two crew members to man three lifeboats– I mean kayaks– and then head toward the Key, paddle alongside it a bit, and then return. It turns out that we made such great headway that we ended up circling the entire little island, paddling nonchalantly or frantically, depending on whether the tide was coming in, our out, or whatever the hell the ocean does when you least expect it to.
It was gorgeous– the water really is Blue Green, or Aqua, or Green Blue. (They knew what they were doing, those Crayola people!) We saw needlefish, and small nurse sharks– one moving along slowly, and one snapping through the water below us like a whippet. We kayaked into th emangroves, and negotiated submerged roots and overhanging limbs with ease, only getting stuck once; with a few shoves of the paddles and some really colorful vocal exercises, we were soon on our way.
On the far side of the island (The leeward side? Windward? Who can say?) we paddled past thick mangroves which were alive with birds: roosting pelicans (not penguins, as originally noted; there are NO ice floes in the Keys– at least, not yet!), seagulls, and all sorts of others. (I didn’t notice any pigeons.) In the sky above were creepy, mysterious frigate birds, circling and circling and nevercoming down to our level… I always wonder what those things are waiting for, and am reminded of Suzanne Pleshette’s great line in The Birds: “Don’t they ever stop migrating?”
Paddling the kayak was relatively easy. We’re not always in sync on land, so it just figures that we wouldn’t necessarily be in sync in a kayak floating atop a heaving ocean. Well, not exactly heaving, but there were tiny swells once in a while. Still, the front man (me) had to steer while the back man (Kirk) paddled, unless we were moving along in a straight line, which meant that we both paddled. “Just think of your Viking roots,” I suggested. “Make believe we’re in a longship heading for Greenland.” Left, right, left, right, left, right… Greenland is only six thousand miles ahead, men! Be thankful it’s not Winter! We were mostly in tandem, but it was obvious that the two other Blu Q passengers must have signed up for professional kayak lessons the week before, because they aced us. Not that we were racing, but I tend to get very competitive in these situations. (As Ethel Merman hollers in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, “WE’RE the ones in the Imperial and WE’RE running last!”) Years ago in another kayak run, we raced another couple, and won, and I was so proud… “But one of them just had open heart surgery,” Kirk said.
My impatient harangues were dealt with in a gentlemanly manner by He Who Puts Up With Me, and we really weren’t that far behind Couple Number One by the time we returned to the Blu Q. The boats were brought back on board, and we tucked into very nice chicken Caesar salads, beers, and soft drinks. The captain and his crewman treated us very well, and pointed lots of things out to us: interesting birds, fascinating fish, and threatening cloud formations. Our safety was in their hands, and they handled it all professionally. We’ll do it again next year… there are so many more movie references that I still have to put to use!