In 1991, the boy scout troop selected me and a few others to go on “high adventure.” In this case, we chose a water journey through the Florida Keys. As the youngest person on the trip, I expected some grief. However, none of the other guys really wanted to associate with me.
We spent the first night on dry land (Summerland Key, I think), with the exception of meeting our “captain” on the actual boat. Captain Pete, who liked the Cuban honeys and saw no problem sharing with teenagers stories of his past affairs, thought I became sea sick sitting in the anchored boat. He predicted my calamity correctly.
The next day, we shipped out in somewhat rough seas. The sailing adventure would take us down to Key West and back over the course of a week. On the first day, we learned navigation. I had a chance to steer, with Pete criticizing me every time we drifted off course. Someone took my picture, and after the fact I noticed how positively ill I looked. Not long after my time at the helm, I threw up over the starboard side. Someone else vomited over the port side simultaneously. A third person dubbed it “the buddy system,” and it received a huge laugh. Fortunately, I did not become sick any day after that.
Despite my hesitancy to lunge into the water at first, I developed an affinity for snorkeling. Three problems demanded my attention. First, salt water invaded my snorkel and mask on a constant basis. Second, the barracudas detested my presence. Third, I kept swimming in dangerous, tight waters, where the fire coral nearly touched the surface. Fire coral contains a toxin that paralyzes one’s nervous system, inducing drowning. And coral can cut a person’s skin easily. I saw some gigantic stingrays, but only two sharks, and one of them came on the end of my fishing line. Oh, yes, I had my turn at fishing too. Deep sea fishing involves a lot more strength, and the fact that I didn’t fall into the water surprised me. I fished twice in that week. The first time, I caught a small black tip shark, which literally took me half an hour (with help), to reel in. The second time, I caught a barracuda, which fought all the way to the deck. Again, I could hardly handle the muscle of a twelve-inch fish.
Pete also required his newest sailors to stay awake for night watch duty on the anchored boat. I, along with Neal Schulenberger, stayed awake the first night from ten o’clock until midnight. I don’t know what Pete wanted us to spot. When I asked, he said pirates, which seemed absurd to us. We later learned drug runners, and other generally bad people, would actually cruise the waters, boarding boats, looking for items to steal.
Key West presented an interesting experience. We had some time to ourselves to walk around town. Men had no qualms about flaunting their homosexuality, which for a kid from Kansas, was a startling experience. As I walked down the street, a woman wrapped her arm around me. She laughed, thinking I was her boyfriend (at age 14-and-a-half, was she kidding?). However, I suspected she really wanted to reach into my pocket for my wallet, which I kept in a hidden fanny pack under my clothes. Later, all six of us (without adult supervision), ate at a local restaurant. However, we skipped out on the tip. As we left, the manager ran outside to spew curses at us. The group sailed back without any problems, or interesting experiences. But I felt relieved to return to dry, solid land.