Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Summer Wind Was Blowin' In ...

Sunset at Broward Creek

Somewhere back in the day when karaoke had exploded onto the American scene, I found myself in a bar during a karaoke session. There were places then, especially in Japan where it all started, that existed as dedicated karaoke bars. In my experience, however, in the States, typically a DJ would show up at a regular bar with a karaoke machine; often on a regular night during the week. I vaguely remember being dressed up for some occasion, but it was a long time ago. I think my friends and I were there for some other reason, but karaoke was also happening in a large bar. 

“You should do it! Get up there and sing!” someone said. 

After the third or fourth “Come on, man!” I said “No way, the only way that I would get up there and sing a song is if they had “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra and I’m sure they don’t.” 

Au contraire, mon frere ...

Of course, one of my so-called friends snuck over to the DJ’s table to paw through the pile of 3-ring binders. There were racks and racks of karaoke music CDs. The friend found the binder full of songs beginning with the letter “S” and, sure enough, that bastard DJ had “Summer Wind.” My friend came bouncing back to our table, and with a wicked smile, informed me that “my song” was, in fact, available.  

In my memory, I just wasn’t drunk enough to get up on stage and try to sing like Sinatra. I am pretty sure that I continued to refuse. 

“Summer Wind” is still one of my favorite Sinatra songs. I had seven or eight Sinatra albums on vinyl in my collection, mixed in with jazz fusion, new wave, punk, straight up jazz, and a whole pile of other music; weird and wonderful. 

There was, in fact, one time that I did get up on stage and sing karaoke. I thought sure that I had told this story before but I can’t find it in any of my blogs. It may be in the unfinished book that I’ve not worked on in a while. 

The boarding house, courtesy of Google Maps

I was living in a boarding house in Bay City, Mi where I had found my first “escape” boat. There were a whole cast of characters in the house and one of them, as near an Irish Traveler as I’ve ever met, convinced me to go out one night. We ended up in a neighborhood bar on the north side of the river; the White Goose Inn, I think. My friend was desperately trying to impress a woman; I think he had arranged to meet her. But that very woman spent most of the night explaining to me why she had to cut herself to feel alive and showing off the little scars on her upper arm; like weird sergeant stripes or scratches from some B movie monster. The Traveler had been relegated to talking with the cutter’s reticent and humorless friend. He and I each had reluctant conversations over the din of karaoke. We both probably drank more than necessary to dilute the strangeness of the night. I barely remember getting up on stage to sing a Brooks and Dunn duet with my housemate. At some point, we each concluded that we should just head home and leave the cutter and her grumpy friend where they sat at the bar. 

In the morning when I stumbled down to the kitchen, somewhat hungover, there was an important looking summit going on. One of the guys in the house lived in a room just off the kitchen. He was a strange bird, but seemed to work very hard; cleaning and waxing the floors at the local Kroger five or six nights a week. When he had returned home that morning, one of his guitars and a pile of cash, meant to pay his next rent, were missing – and the Traveler was long gone. The other guys in the kitchen wanted to know everything that I knew about the missing housemate. I didn’t actually know much and wasn’t even sure why I had agreed to go out drinking with him. The floor guy related sadly that he had just shown off his guitars to the Traveler and might have absentmindedly revealed his rent stash by adding a twenty dollar bill to the pile as he spoke to our missing friend. He held no malice toward me, but I was the last guy to have been seen with the Traveler and thus had been slightly stained by association in some of my housemates’ opinion.


The salt marshes northeast of Jax

Summer Wind returned to my life last week in the form of a boat. As I entered the St. John’s River from the ICW, headed north, a boat called from behind to let me know he was going to overtake me and pass on my port side. The captain and his wife waved enthusiastically from deep under their bimini as they went by. That boat was the Summer Wind, from Clinton Township, outside Detroit, back ‘home’ in Michigan. The boat was a low-slung powerboat of a decent size with an inflatable stowed sideways up against the transom. It was getting toward the end of the day and I was aiming to reach a particular anchorage. When the Summer Wind and another sailboat turned to continue up the river toward Jacksonville, I was took some comfort. I was crossing the river to reenter the ICW at Sister’s Creek. As those other boats headed west, that meant that there were two less boats competing for whatever space was left in the anchorages ahead.

Inside Sister’s Creek there were a couple boat ramps and a free dock. It was Saturday evening and lots of boats were racing back to the ramps to haul out and go home. In contrast to the urban ICW south of the river, I was back in the wilderness. There were scattered clumps of trees on little hammocks and seagrass in every direction. Once I was far enough away from the traffic near the ramps, I began to enjoy the peace of wilderness again. 

And then my radio crackled to life. It was Summer Wind. 

“We got lost, so I’m passing you again.”  

“No worries,” I replied. 

Very soon after passing me, the Summer Wind turned up the Fort George River. I just had the inkling that he would have wanted to continue on toward Fernandina Beach where I was headed. However, I checked my chart and there was a marina, and a couple anchorages down that way. I wondered what his wife was thinking as I again continued past another turn they had just made. He wasn’t my responsibility anyway, so I carried on. In the fading daylight, I was pushing to the farthest anchorage I thought I could reach. 

A half mile later, I passed the two ends of an oxbow created when the channel was cut through. The next wide spot was where Broward Creek flowed into the channel and that was my anchorage. The radio crackled again. Summer Wind was calling a Pan Pan (one step down from Mayday), they were aground somewhere down the Fort George River. The Coast Guard quickly answered and asked if they were alright. With no one in danger, the Coastie asked if Summer Wind had commercial tow coverage.  

“Yeah, but I’d rather not use it,” came the bizarrely naive reply. 

I was beginning to understand that Summer Wind’s captain was not an experienced boater. As I approached my anchorage and circled around before dropping my hook, the Coast Guard and Summer Wind were having a strange, and even strained, conversation. I was trying to ignore them until I got anchored.

As I started prepping my supper, the Coast Guard was calling after Summer Wind who was not answering. I was a bit shocked that they would just ignore the Coasties, but I think it confirms their lack of experience; lack of seamanship for sure. A while later – honestly, I don’t remember if it was that evening as it grew dark or the next morning – a boat slowly made its way past Ruth Ann and me with an engine that sounded half defeated. There was a dinghy hanging strangely off the transom and I think it was Summer Wind, but I couldn’t see the boat name and they didn’t call again. Regret and frustration hung in the air like a fog. I have a feeling that the captain had roared back and forth until he got his boat free, and may have done some damage to his drivetrain; let alone to the poor flora and fauna underneath wherever he had grounded his boat. I never saw nor heard from the Summer Wind again. 

Fernandina Mooring

The next morning, with a bald eagle supervising me majestically, I hauled the anchor and finished the last few hours of motoring to Fernandina Beach. There I spent a couple nights on a mooring ball for the convenience of getting back and forth to shore. It was from the Fernandina Harbour mooring field that I picked up my new dinghy and gave away the deflatable. My new life rowing a hard dinghy rather than messing with an inflatable and an outboard has been liberating. I love my new little boat. 

My Eagle Friend

Besides picking up my dinghy, I did some laundry, had a hot shower, and got some provisions there. On the third day, I headed back down toward Jacksonville and Green Cove Springs. I have some bureaucratic chores and a few boat projects to do. GCS is the home of my mail service, my permanent mailing address for many years, and soon to be my official domicile. I’m getting a Florida Drivers License and registering the boat here. 

Retracing my route back toward Jacksonville, I couldn’t help but think about the Summer Wind and her poor captain. I’ve made up a whole story about him, his wife, and his boat. My story is a generalization of course, but I’ve met plenty of men like my vision of him. A man like that might never recover from embarrassing himself in front of his wife. There’s a better than even chance that they will sell the boat in a few months and head back to Michigan never to speak of boats or rivers again. 

Or they might have gotten good and drunk in Fernandina, and blown off enough steam to have called a mechanic in order to carry on; perhaps a bit wiser or more humble. 

As I passed the stretch of water where I had last seen the poor captain’s boat, I couldn’t help myself. I searched up “Summer Wind” by ol’ Frank on Google Music, connected my good Bluetooth speaker, cranked it up, and bellowed along as Ruth Ann and I covered the last few miles of Sister’s Creek. 

“The summer wind

was blowin’ in, 

from across the sea.”  

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