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Conch Life
The Florida Keys
2009 – 2011
Sombrero Beach on July 4th
~ Sombrero Beach on July 4th ~
Sombrero Beach, Marathon
A July 5th Independence Day
Beep……..beep…….beep……beep. The alarm was sounding in its muffled, diminutive tone – completely inaudible over the storm raging outside. Having fallen into a deep, celebratory stupor, neither the whistling winds nor the whispering warning awoke us. It took the air horn of a neighbor to finally shake off our REM. In a very Stoog-esque manner, Don and I bumbled into our shorts and t-shirts to go check out the situation top sides.

It was the twilight hours of July 5th, the night following a day full of revelry and merriment. Don's mom Linda had brought our two little ones, Erin and Camryn down from Ohio for a summer visit that spanned the holiday, and all five of us were spending the night at anchor.

Sombrero Beach was the focal point for Marathon on Independence Day, and the balmy weather meant boaters from far and wide would flock to that little bay. We couldn't resist giving our family a front row float to the festivities and fireworks, so we packed up some traditional fare, and joined the flotilla of craft headed toward the beach.

Red, White and Blue Miss Lorie
~ Red, White and Blue Miss Lorie ~
Star Spangled Bay
By the time we arrived, the little lagoon was thick with clumps of boats rafted together, fringed by deeper draft vessels such as ours moored along the outskirts. Holding off the beach was notorious for being poor; silted, shifting, sea-grass covered sands that offered the flukes little more than a precarious purchase. But the calm seas and clear skies lulled us into complacency. We tucked in, dropped a scanty scope of chain, and planned to do a better set once the day-trippers cleared the bay.

Then the riotous frivolity commenced. We barbequed off the back of our boat, picnicked in the cockpit, then took the dinghy around to visit all our carousing comrades. With each of us dangling a leg in the bath-water warm sea, the girls and I straddled Dinky Duck for a fun, bouncy ride.

Music filled the little cove, crowds filled the coast, and everyone was in high spirits. Joe and friends served frozen coladas from his Mainship "Joelopy"; Sandy shared sparklers from her sailboat "Quest"; "Miss Lorie" was in full patriotic glory sporting a profusion of red, white and blue; and Bob's "Mydas" soaked us with his water pistol toting crew.

Everyone came prepared for the party, with tubes, trampolines, and all sorts of water toys in tow. Our buddy Brett offered up a kayak, much to Erin's delight. She climbed in and paddled away like a pro at a pace nearly exceeding our motorized puttering. There was swimming and snorkeling, halyard swinging and hammock swaying, trampoline jumping and boat hopping, and lots and lots of snacking and drinking. The evening ended with a spectacular concert in the sky; explosions of booming rockets, fire flowers, and sparkling stars synchronized to a vibrant musical radio broadcast.

Erin Snorkeling
~ Erin Snorkeling ~
The Twilight's Last Screaming
The day had been joyfully eventful, the evening was splendidly breathtaking, and shortly following the fireworks' grand finale, the throng of spectators departed leaving just a scattering of boats anchored for the night. As soon as the weary quiet descended, we were all ready to drag ourselves to bed, unaware that much more would be dragging that night.

In the wee hours cumulonimbus clouds bloomed, and blew us off our cloud nine. The air horn brought Don and I scrambling out on deck into a torrent of whipping wind and stinging rain. Our minds still sleep muddled, we both perceived our nearest neighbor Sandy slipping by. I switched on the VHF in the hopes that I might raise her to warn her of her predicament. But in the radio's lightening spawned static, a crackling voice broke through.

"Re ...CKRTRKC... tau! Cal ...WEEEZR... ng sa ...CSRTEEKC... ling ves ...KREZLKC... el Re Me ...QRTRLC... au!"

Just as I perceived that we were the ones being hailed, Don realized the channel marker off our stern was getting closer and closer.

"WE'RE DRAGGING ANCHOR!" he shouted, startling both of us into high gear.

I started the engine and got behind the wheel while Don went to the bow to pull up the bouncing plow. Already anxious about spending the night on the water, Linda awoke the moment the storm blew through. The rumble of the Yanmar roused Erin enough to sit up and rub the sleep out of her eyes. But the youngest one, Camryn was still completely comatose, totally oblivious to all the pandemonium.

Thankfully, the storm quickly exhausted its energy, but it'd left Re Metau good and grounded on a sandbar. We tried creeping forward and we tried backing in reverse; we tried going to starboard and we tried turning to port. Bleary eyed, soaked through, and still a little incoherent, I convinced Don that we wouldn't be going anywhere that night. He plunked the anchor down to ease his concerns and I comforted myself with the knowledge that our towing insurance was paid.

Camryn's Winning Smile
~ Camryn's Winning Smile ~

We went below to await for dawn, soothed the conscious crew (Camryn was still deep in dreamland), and headed back to our berths.

"That beeping is making it hard to go back to sleep. Can you turn it off?" Linda requested.

I laughed at the irony. The nearly imperceptible sound hadn't even penetrated Don or my thoughts. Linda's pillow was very near the GPS, and having no idea that incessant staccato note was to alert us of the anchor dragging, she'd been as reticent as the tiny little tone in disturbing our slumber. Don punched the alarm off, cursing the manufacturer for not splurging any serious decibels on such an important feature.

By The Dawn's Early Light
The next morning we arose to leaden skies and vacant seas – the complete antithesis of the day before. After breakfast, Don and I went up on deck to check out our situation. We were hard aground; nary a bob nor a bounce was happening under our hull. I peeked over the side and was struck by the fact that, though our deck was perfectly parallel, our waterlineThe level normally reached by the water on the side of a ship. was a good four feet above the water level. Re Metau was precisely balanced on the bottom edge of her 12" wide keel.

I called TowBoat US to get on their schedule for high tide, but the two foot rise was nowhere near what we'd need to float, and it wouldn't occur until late afternoon. It was going to be a very long day.

There was a bit of agitation aboard; quarters were tight; nerves were taut; and sleep was deprived. Thankfully Erin and Camryn were easily entertained – just add water! They were pining to paddle around in our little pond, and happy children meant our peevishness wouldn't peak, so we were easily persuaded to let them jump in for a swim. Much to our chagrin, when we hung the ladder off the side, where as normally two rungs dipped in the sea, the bottom step remained high and dry. Fortunately, the agile and energetic girls had no problems pulling themselves up and jumping in again.

And then the winds kicked up and the cloudy sky turned ominous. Forced by a rapidly building storm, Don unenthusiastically urged the even more reluctant girls out of the water. Erin immediately obeyed, but Camryn chose to drag her fins. I arrived at the top of the ladder, beach towel in hand to help coax the soaking wet lass out.

'O'ed Glory
Stretching to reach the bottom rung, Cam looked up into our wide eyed, awe struck aspect and instantly noticed something was amiss.

"What? Why are you guys looking at me like that?" she inquired.

Kite Surfer
~ Kite Surfer ~

"Just climb on up here. Hurry up. The storm's coming." Don prodded in a somewhat soothing tone.

He and I had just witnessed an enormous spotted eagle ray gliding inches below her toes, its wing span more than twice the size of our seven year old! Camryn plodded up the ladder and the graceful giant soared away leaving her completely oblivious to its presence. Had she known there was an aquatic polka dotted monster below her, I'm sure she'd have been provoked to pick up her pace.

The storm hit with gusto, and the gusty blows succeeded in knocking us off our tippy-toe. Great! Now we were grounded AND our entire world was askew! So there we sat in the cockpit, under a charcoal smudged sky, in catawampus discomfort, waiting for the tide to rise and our tow to show. A kite surfer, brought out by the blustery wind, was the only colorful spot on our otherwise rather gray mood.

Liberty and Adjustments for All
Alas, the moon pulled through, the tow boat arrived, and it was not a moment too soon. In order to determine the best direction to draw us into deeper water, the operator took depth readings all around Re Metau. We had 2 feet off our stern, 2 feet to port, 3 feet off our bow and 4 feet to starboard. Our keel was 6 1/2 feet deep. This was not going to be easy. But having seen a Towboat US rescue involving a large vessel left on top of a bridge by a hurricane, I was confident they'd dealt with far worse.

With our halyard hooked to the tow line, our liberator revved his twin 250s and delicately tipped us onto our side to reduce our draft. In due time we were celebrating our independence again – only this time from the shoal. I could not boast enough about these amazing Towboat US guys and the invaluable service they provided. They'd always proven to be highly skilled, timely, and professional.

This incident was most definitely our folly. At the end of the evening when the cove cleared out we should have done a better set of the anchor. Though we'd gone to bed under clear skies and on calm seas, one never knows when nature will change her mood (it always seemed to occur in the dead of night). Fortunately, Re Metau dragged across a sandy, grassy bottom and her thick hull was no worse for the wear – only her crew was affected.

Pledge to Alterations
Don promised to wire a much louder buzzer to the anchor alarm. I pledged to invest in an electric windlass so multiple moorings would be less objectionable. Linda vowed to forevermore spend her nights firmly reposed on dry land. And as far as Erin and Camryn were concerned…there was much to be said about the innocent ignorance of youth when one has perfect trust in one's parents.

With Re Metau's deep draft, this wasn't our first time, but it was definitely our worst time 'Locating the Bottom.' The experience was filed away as another memorable adventure on the water – errr – on the sand as it were. But we refused to be embarrassed because as the saying goes amongst sailors:

"If you've never run aground, either you've never left the dock, or you're lying."