Sugar and Salt

I am behind. One adventure a week, I said. One blog post about each adventure. And here we are, with me returned from Aruba on May 1st, and only Aruba adventures to read about for the whole month so far.

But, it’s not for the lack of adventure! Far from it… In a nutshell, I’ve had an ambulance ride, a concert-by-boat, an art festival, Mother’s Day festivities, a sick puppy dog, a Bachelorette-viewing night at my house, a busy weekend of being on call for work, one all-nighter for work, a day of shopping in Destin with my mom, an evening of cosmetology and wine, mani/pedis and the discovery of a really good Jamaican restaurant close by, a day of waverunning, losing my phone to the waters of Crab Island, and a Memorial Day cookout complete with a float in the pool. Whew! So, I’ve been a bit busy to write.

But, it’s time to share some of my stories so while it’s heating up outside, I’m nice and cool here with my laptop and a glass of cold limeade. Back out on the water is where I’d rather be, though (always), so I think I’ll rehash my Saturday out loud… ahhh! Mostly.

My sister and her hubby have two waverunners: a big one and a less-than-big one. She and I have taken out the smaller of the two once before, last year. She’s still learning the ropes of how to handle and take care of it, but we’d been talking about getting back out and Saturday’s predicted heat index of 105 degrees beat out the fact that it was the start of Memorial Day weekend and everybody and their boat, and their dog and their dog’s boat, would be out as well. We figured we’d stay away from the craziness of Crab Island, and find ourselves an open spot to anchor and swim around – just enjoy the water. At least that was the plan…

Crab Island on your average summer day

We stuck four spiked seltzers, sunscreen, our hats, and some snack mix in the compartments, and fastened life jackets over our swimsuits. I sealed my phone into the waterproof pouch that lets me take underwater photos and put the strap around my neck, tucking the dangling pouch into my life jacket, and off we went.

Once we got out of the open “lake” they live on, and into the bay, I held on tight and we zipped away across the waves, catching a little bit of air on some of them and enjoying the cool spray on our skin. We aimed towards Destin and Crab Island, which we planned to scope out from the fringes before finding a quieter spot.

Crab Island is the shallow area on the north side of the bridge

Crab Island sits where the Choctawhatchee Bay meets the East Pass, which opens immediately into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a sandbar rather than an actual island, and boats of all sizes pack into the shallow, clear water there whenever the weather is warm enough… or sometimes even when it’s not. During the summer, it’s busy as an anthill. People anchor, crank up the music, pop a cold one and bob around in the water. You can touch the bottom in the shallowest spots, and walk through the maze of boats to see kids playing on the inflatable water slides and people grabbing lunch at the floating burger joints. Kayaks and waverunners and even standup paddleboards are thick as my dog’s hair.

View of Crab Island from the Marler Bridge

As we neared the holiday crowd of boaters, we saw that the northern edge of Crab Island was fairly boat-free and decided it was worth a shot to see if we could find a shallow spot to anchor and swim. After all, the water here was a beautiful, crystal-clear, soft blue-green. Against the sugar-white sand, it looked to be no more than maybe five feet deep. It would sure beat the yellow-greenish hazy water of the bay if we could find a safe spot.

Before I knew it, my sister had hopped off and found herself coming up for air. “Well, it’s deep. I can’t touch.” Hmmm… so, not a good spot to anchor the waverunner and have to deal with tying and untying the anchor rope. If we dropped the rope, we’d be in trouble. And the current was pushing pretty hard so it would be difficult to stay in one place.

She got back on and we nudged the waverunner in a little further to where we could see a person standing chest-deep not too far away. This time I hopped off. And got a nose-full of water. I hadn’t expected to find myself submerged so hadn’t bothered to hold my nose. At least the water felt great. We decided to go a little further in, and if that didn’t work we’d give up and get away from the blue-green. I stayed in the water and swam towards where she was headed. After a fair amount of paddling, I realized I wasn’t getting much of anywhere and was out in the open with a pontoon boat coming directly at me. I turned onto my back and paddled harder, looking directly at the guy driving the boat now, who looked directly back at me and kept coming. Finally I saw my sister come up from behind and I was able to climb on.

We turned back into the bay and headed to the shore of Okaloosa Island a little ways up from the bridge. There, we had plenty of room and once the anchor was tied and set, we finally opened up our drinks and relaxed in the golden-colored water, digging our toes into the soft sand. The sun felt great on my shoulders, the water cooling the rest of me. Ahhh! We watched various boats come over to find a spot away from the crowds. Then, we saw a pontoon boat come up fairly close, and the boater stopped and threw out several handfuls of something in our direction. We watched as chunks went flying out to land in the water.

At low tide, the water is a completely different shade due to the darker color of the bay

He moved his boat out of the way, and a large snorkel-tour boat loaded with people came up and stopped where he had scattered the chunks. We looked at each other and laughed. Good luck seeing any fish here! Then as they began to dip their faces into the water, it dawned on us that the first boat had been tossing out some sort of food to draw the fish in so the snorkelers would have something to see. Well, hey, I guess it was better than Anthony Bourdain’s snorkeling trip in Sicily where the guy in the next boat was tossing dead, frozen octupi and cuttlefish into the waves so the snorkeling Bourdain would have some snorkel action. Google it – it’s funny.

Once our drink supply was down to zero, we picked up the anchor and decided we’d try one more spot in “the pretty water”, just under the bridge. Getting there meant we had to scurry along the edge of Crab Island in the channel. We crept along, going less than no-wake speed. Just as we got past the congestion, two kayaks popped out from between two boats and paddled themselves to cross right in front of us. My sister took one look and made a sharp right turn to avoid hitting them, and next thing we knew, I saw her plunge into the water right before I did the same, with one more nose-full of Gulf water. We’d tipped over. We rushed to get back on so we could get ourselves out of the way of the passing boats.

As I got back into the seat, I felt for my phone pouch. It was gone. I looked down, into the clear water. I saw something that looked like it… then something else, and something else, and I realized we were drifting at a good clip and weren’t even in the same spot as when we’d capsized. And even if I could decide which object to dive down and see, this was not a safe spot to be going underwater. Boats would be moving over the top of me and the current was obviously tearing along. So, we made our way under the bridge, only to find it was too crowded to navigate, and quickly turned back around. At this point the only thing to do was head back across the bay and get away from the crowds. I looked longingly into the green depths as we passed the watery grave of my phone. I’d taken some good photos and video throughout the day and they would of course be lost.

As we splashed our way back through the waves, the wind whipping my hair and the sun baking the salt into my skin, I found that despite the lost phone, the near-misses, the swallowed saltwater, and having to settle for the bay, I was happy we’d gotten out on the water today. My phone was practically new and it would be an expensive loss. But I’d gotten to be in my element again, for the first time since Aruba, and the first time here at home this year. Summer is here now, and whatever else is going on around me, my happy place is playing in the clear waters, the sun lending a flush to my skin and the salt wavying my hair, the sparkle and dip of the waves bringing a happy calm to life’s chaos.