Oil Paintings of Florida

By

John Sterpe

 

Swept Away    page 5

 Harold said later he was amazed how fast you could start a fire with half a pint of white gas. Sitting by a fire sounded good but when it was ready, we opted to stay right where we were. My shirt was wet again and I had nothing else to put on. It seemed like it was getting colder outside. My next concern was that we were going to freeze the next morning when we had to get out of the tent. By 6AM the rain had pretty much stopped and we were ready to get out of that tent. When we emerged from the tent and looked out over the bayou, we just stood there and sort of blinked a few times. The place looked like a yard sale. All of the camping gear had been washed up into the mangroves. I could see my half-submerged tent about 75 yards down the creek that ran to the left of the bayou. The tide had gone out so far, there was very little water remaining. Dry bags and coolers were hanging from the trees everywhere.

Everyone was concerned primarily with finding their keys and wallets. A couple of us grabbed
kayaks and started ferrying stuff back over to the campsite. Each time we stepped on the sand, we'd sink up to our knees in the muck. The no-see-ums were so bad, I could hardly stand it. They were all in my eyes and ears and were biting the hell out of me. I dragged my tent onto a sandbar. It was too heavy to manage so I unzipped the door and started hauling the stuff out of it. Everything was there, even my earrings that I had laid on the floor of the tent. If I had known that my tent was only going that far, I wouldn't have risked drowning trying to save it. Next time, I'll remember that.
Katie had found her tent and was trying to locate the essentials. She even found the socks that
Aunt Pearl had made for her. Everything that had been in the tents was still there. It was just all wet and a big mess. Everyone would just call out when they found something of great importance.

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Although everyone was dead tired, we paddled back to Goodland as fast as we could. There was still a fair amount of residual adrenaline circulating. We arrived at the parking lot where we had launched around 2 PM. The lot was full of people who were attending the weekly migration to Stan's. This is a beach bar across the street that attracts a little bit of everything. We didn't even stand out despite our appearance. In fact, Stan's was almost a more surreal experience than our night in the storm. I really didn't know the national anthem had that many verses. And ....a fashion show?
When it was all said and done, I felt like maybe we could have avoided this near disaster. We
had a marine radio so why didn't we know what was going on? Why hadn't we listened to the radio more carefully?
The people I have told this story to are sort of evenly divided into two camps. One camp says
they would have gotten out of there and asked why we hadn't listened to the radio more carefully. People in the other camp just sort of shrug and pay little attention to the whole matter. They're more interested in the outcome, not the details. Some, I think, were sorry to have missed it. By the time we knew there was a problem, it was already dark. Packing up and setting out in the dark was not an option. And, as it turns out, Harold had been listening to the radio off and on all day. This storm just came out of nowhere and burgeoned, as is the nature of storms, I guess. If it had not been a full moon, and if the storm had not reached its full fury right at high tide, this would have just been a nuisance.
As it turns out, the persistent memory of that weekend is that awesome full moon rising from
behind the mangroves and the wonderful company. I sure I'm in that second camp and this was a great adventure! Happy New Year! 1999

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