Those low, low tides offer a high ol' time for exploring
This is a good time of year to take a walk on the bay.
Astronomically low tides, coupled with the cold fronts that blow the water out of the bays, tend to produce extremely low water. Seagrass beds that once were covered with saltwater are now baking in the sun. Oyster beds are uncovered, wide channels are now tiny creeks.
It's a good time to throw on a pair of rubber boots, or a pair of waders, and go exploring.
Boaters can turn the low water into a learning experience. If you pay attention to where you can cruise at an extreme low tide, the chances of running aground at a normal tide are slimmer.
And for some unknown reason, the water in the bays always seems to be clear after a cold front, so you can see more neat stuff on the bottom.
Cruising (with) class classes starting next month
My buddy Stan Zimmerman is starting his Cruising (with) Class seminars in January and, although targeted toward sailors, the lectures are pretty interesting to anyone who has any type of boat.
The classes are at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, on City Island in Sarasota, just over the bridge at the south end of Longboat Key, and are free and open to the public
"The West Coast of Florida is one of the best places in the world to learn how to go a-voyaging in a small sailboat," Zimmerman said. "If you are interested in learning the necessary skills, or are an experienced cruiser new to our area, I cordially invite you to what I call Cruising (with) Class."
The course consists of nine two-hour lectures. Topics covered include coastal navigation, weather, sail handling, anchoring, provisioning and cooking, self-steering, emergency response, and other skills necessary to cruise in comfort and safety.
A new lecture this year will consider what to look for when buying a small boat to cruise the Gulf Coast. Each class will feature a useful anchorage along the coast, as well as instruction on tying sailing knots.
Classes begin at 7 p.m. Jan. 8. Student are expected to take notes and ask questions. They should also bring a small hank of line to practice knots. There is no on-the water instruction, although students are expected to practice what they learn to gain proficiency.
For more information, call squadron club manager Pat Murphy at 388-2355.
If you can't make all the classes, you may want to pick up Stan's book "Cruising (with) Class," which is derived from his lectures. He'll have copies available at the seminars.
I've missed the live performances, but I did get a copy of the book and found it to be full of lots of good information.
"The emphasis is on comfort, the kind of comfort bred in skill and culminating in safety," Stan writes. "Safety is a comfort issue. Familiarity with the boat is a comfort issue. Confidence in the skills of yourself and your crew is a comfort issue. If you are not comfortable, there is no reason to endure the hardships of sailing a small vessel across an implacable sea. Better to stay in your La-Z-Boy watching cable television than be cold, wet, hungry and exhausted in the middle of a passage."
Stan also offers little tips through his lectures and in his book that are sometimes so bonehead simple that you have to think, "Jeez, this guy must think we're all idiots!" After all, everybody realizes that the most important thing about an engine is to not let it run out of fuel, right?
I sometimes wonder why SeaTow does such a good business, too.
Last-minute holiday gift thoughts
To quote columnist and author Dave Barry, "I'm not making this up."
According to a press release we got the other day, "A recent study at the University of Arizona found grocery shopping carts covered in bacteria. Dr. Kelly Reynolds, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, found everything from body fluids (blood, mucus, saliva) to drippings from chicken and meat.
"Experts recommend parents wipe off the surface before putting their children in grocery carts. There's also an easy new way to keep babies safe. The Clean Shopper is a one-piece cloth covering that protects babies from shopping cart germs. It's mom-invented, made of 100 percent cotton-quilted fabric, and has been designed to fit nearly all shopping carts. The Clean Shopper is machine washable and can be kept handy in the car for grocery trips."
You can get Clean Shopper at www.cleanshopper.com.
Geez, just when you thought it was safe to go to the grocery store ...
And another gift thought, one that does sound kinda neat, from another press release:
"Not only are we about to ring in a new year, but last week marked the dawn of the second century of powered flight. For readers looking ahead to goals for 2004, one that is particularly timely, and always life-altering, is learning how to fly. In fact, a student pilot who takes a first lesson in January and sticks with it can earn a pilot's license in time to take friends or family on a flying summer vacation.
"There are several flight schools in the area that can put you in the air for a 'try it, you'll like it' introductory flight lesson for just $49, through the nonprofit BE A PILOT Program.
"For less than the cost of a round of golf, you can take the controls of a single-engine airplane and actually fly for 30 minutes or more, under the guidance of an FAA-licensed flight instructor. You can register for the low-cost lesson, as well as locate a participating flight school in the area, at www.beapilot.com, or by calling 1-888-BE A PILOT."
As the press release put it, "As resolutions go, learning to fly is a lot more fun than losing weight or quitting smoking!"
Bad Shirish! Bad Jeb!
My buddy Shirish Date made the news last week in a way that reporters don't really like -- he was the news.
Shirish is the Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post. He is also a mystery writer under the name S.V. Date, and has written a slew of books about the antics of Florida politics. His novel "Smokeout," about Florida governor "Strollin' Bolling Waites" and his fight against the tobacco industry, is a true gem.
Shirish has the dubious distinction of being the only reporter to have been banned from the floor of the Florida House of Representatives by the speaker after some article he wrote.
Gov. Jeb Bush has also written in an e-mail that Shirish is "a reporter by day and a mystery novelist at night," which I guess Jeb thought makes Shirish sound like he does something nasty in the dark of night.
Anyway, Shirish and Jeb went at it last week when the Guv refused to invite the Palm Beach Post reporters for his traditional end-of-the-year interviews.
Why? The Guv's press office said Shirish said a bad word to them a few months ago, something that was deemed to be "unprofessional."
"If certain members of the press corps treat these members unprofessionally, I have to take the responsibility to make sure that behavior is not condoned," said Jill Bratina, the Guv's communications director.
Although this is probably just a wild supposition on my part, I would think that a series of articles that have appeared in the Palm Beach Post critical to the school voucher program -- a pet program of Jeb's -- may have played a role in the interview embargo.
Shirish wrote in mid-November that Bratina and staff had discussed pretty much flat-out fibs on some of the voucher money allocations, and reluctantly decided to tell the truth.
I gave Shirish a call last week to commiserate with him over not being invited to the party. He didn't seem all that upset when we talked, and I got a good laugh out of him when I pointed out that The Islander hadn't been invited to the Guv's interviews either.
His new book is due out in March, by the way, and will be a non-fiction story about Sen. Bob Graham. He also agreed to join us for one of our author luncheons when he goes on tour to tout the book, probably in May.
I am confused on many things. In writing, the distinction between "affect" and "effect" continues to elude me, as is the difference between "poring" over a document versus "pouring" a beer on the pages.
Latitude and longitude were also a problem until I noticed that Stan Zimmerman had a quick way to distinguish which is north and south and which is east and west:
"Just remember Jimmy Buffett's song, 'Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.' Eskimos have a different attitude because they live in a different latitude. Or, for changes in latitude, you go up and down the ladder."