Sunday, January 11, 2009


Video supplement to, "This is as good as it gets!"


“THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS!” We found ourselves repeating that line often during my two day birthday celebration and our first Christmas Season on board TESSA. Originally, due to a bruised cruising kitty, I was hesitant to plan anything special for my 51st birthday. “It’s your 52nd birthday Darling” Gary cautiously reminded me. Well in THAT case, let’s go to Islamorada! Time is going by way too fast! So off we went the morning of my birthday, Thursday December 18. First stop was Winn Dixie in Key Largo for some cold beers. You can’t be in The Keys without cold beers. Lunch had to be at our favorite local hangout, The Whistle Stop, for their famous dolphin sandwich. Gary suggested we split it to lighten the tab. Birthday Girl says NO WAY, get your own sandwich Captain. Now is not the time or place to cut corners. As we pulled into the Holiday Isle parking lot to scout out room rates, my mood darkened a bit and I was very close to suggesting we turn around and head back to Tessa to save the money. Gary nudged me out of the jeep and said “Go work your magic and get us a deal!” We lucked into a free upgrade in the Tower Building, third floor, with king bed and private balcony, for $79.00. A deal too good to pass up. Now it’s time to hurry up and hit the beach for some reading and sun. After the whirlwind non-stop previous week of visiting in Dayton, Port Clinton, and Detroit, it was wonderful to just kick back and relax for a few hours. Soon it was 4:00 and time to hustle over to Zane Grey’s for Ahi Poki. I’m not sure who found it first, but Zane Grey’s has become a must-do happy hour for us and Cuzzin Debbie and Mike. It’s a “men’s club” type bar located on the second floor of the popular “World Wide Sportsman” store. The bar staff is always friendly and entertaining, and they make this great sashimi tuna appetizer that we love. This visit was as good as it gets. It was a very light crowd so we had Rebecca and Alex’s undivided attention at the bar. Rebecca shook us up a couple of Martinis as we laughed at her funny stories, and the Ahi Poki was fabulous. Except……..last time it was a $5.00 special, this time it was $10.95. The price of the Martinis was never an issue when we had paychecks coming in. We were able to discreetly recover from the Martini sticker shock and tab out. After all, they made me a special birthday Key Lime Martini on the house! The plan was to share something at Ziggy Mad Dogs for dinner. We had passed by this place many times due to the lackluster outside appearance, and were pleasantly surprised by it’s classy Chicago style ambiance last year when we checked it out. Perfect spot for a birthday dinner…..until we blew most of the birthday budget at Zane Grey’s. We haven’t stopped at Bentley’s in years. Let’s see if they’re givin out any freebies. We made the right call on this one! They needed a six foot tall blackboard to display the happy hour appetizer menu, prices ranging from $3.00 to $7.00, and including .35 cent oysters on the half shell. Hooray!!!! Except…it was 7:00 and happy hour ended at 6:00. Not to worry says the Manager, you order whatever you want and we’ll honor the happy hour prices. Could have been because we made it loud and clear that it was my birthday, but whatever works. Order away! Food was great, company at the bar interesting and extremely generous. Ava our bar stool neighbor shared a giant king crab claw, which would only happen on my watch if I was knocked out cold or held up at gunpoint. We had a great, and key word here, inexpensive time. Since we saved so much at Bentley’s, it wouldn’t be wrong to stop at Ziggy’s for a nightcap would it? Our new buddy at the Ziggy’s bar just happened to be the husband of the Mayor of Islamorada. Cathi showed up after a late meeting just in time to say hello and chat a bit. It never hurts to have friends in high places. The next morning we went for our usual long walk to enjoy the surrounding turquoise waters, then hit the road for another must-stop at Alabama Jacks on the way home. We learned of Alabama Jacks a few years ago from some girls at Islamorada who told us of the legendary hockey-jersey clad bartender. It’s on Card Sound Road, a short-cut to miss the Highway 1 traffic through Key Largo. We were most impressed when Mike the Bartender showed us a USA TODAY article in which Jimmy Buffet listed Alabama Jacks as one of his top ten favorite bars in the world. After one stop there we understood Jimmy’s selection. It is a unique experience to stop by and enjoy the laid back atmosphere while observing Mike’s high energy, hilarious exchanges between customers and wait staff. Mike told us that they were closed on Christmas Eve and he and some friends would be fishing at Alabama Jacks. Did someone say FISHING??? Count me in! Except, as Gary reminded me out loud, we weren’t exactly invited. OK, so I invited myself, but it’s my birthday and I can get away with these things. Mike said “Come on down!” We ran across the street to purchase fresh blue claw crabs from Paul, who lets you grab them right out of his tanks. With some not-quite-long-enough tongs. It is quite challenging, and I always hand the tongs over to Gary after a few screaming close encounters with claws. That night, we steamed them up on Tessa, and Birthday Celebration Number 2 was complete! Sunday evening, the 21st, was Gary’s first Great White trip of this season. It was a Christmas party for their employees and prospective customers. I was invited along as a guest, not as an official hostess, and welcomed the opportunity to learn the ropes and get a feel for the job. Guests arrived, the sun went down, and mass quantities of Loaded Coronas were consumed as Captain Gary smoothly glided Great White along the Miami shoreline. As we approached the popular South Miami Bayside area, they cranked up the Latino Rap music and the kids danced on deck while Captain Gary expertly navigated us through the congested marina area. Great White was definitely the envy of other partiers, and the evening was a huge success. Each of the three partners of Great White congratulated Gary on his captaining. He modestly replied in Captain Ron like fashion “Well, at least I didn’t bump into anything.” On December 22nd, we decided to make the rounds and wish our Fort Lauderdale friends a Merry Christmas. First stop was Tijuana Taxi Company to see Tina. She didn’t disappoint, all dressed up in an adult elf costume. After that, a quick stop at the house in Tamarac we rented last year to check on B-BOY, Gary’s banana tree. B-BOY has tripled in size, and Gary posed proudly for a photo. Mrs. Z, the neighbor lady across the street, waved us over to her place and invited us in to see the Christmas Cactus we bought her last year, doubled in size and in full bloom. We were so moved by how such a small gesture of friendship can warm the heart a year later. The wonder of Christmas! Next stop was our hang out in Tamarac, J.B. Locals Raw Bar, to see Allison and the regulars at the bar. It felt like home. Not so sure if it’s a good thing to feel so at home in a bar, but Allison truly makes it special. We completed our old home visit at Doris’s Italian Market, where George was still running the fresh seafood department. The atmosphere at Doris’s is frantic and festive as Christmas quickly approaches and everyone scrambles for produce, meats, seafood, home baked breads, and pastries. George fixed us up with some Clams Oreganato and his famous fish cakes, and we headed back to Tessa and Key Biscayne. We were up early Christmas Eve Day to prepare for fishing at Alabama Jacks, and Mike did not let us down. He and his friends John, Pink, Squeaky, Hippie, Vince, and Russ were totally entertaining, just kickin back some cold ones and casting for snook, mangrove snappers, or anything else that would bite. I caught more fish than everyone else added together, but no keepers. We felt guilty, yet privileged, when car after car of eager tourists pulled up, excited to visit Alabama Jacks, only to be disappointed to hear from our group “WE’RE CLOSED, COME BACK FRIDAY!” We laughed at Mike’s great stories, listened to the friends harass each other, and totally enjoyed this unique day. Christmas Eve Day as good as it gets! Especially when you complete the day with Escargot and Old Bay Steamed Blue Claw Crabs for Christmas Eve dinner. During the Christmas season in South Miami, we stopped numerous times trying to find our most favorite Christmas CD, Jimmy Buffet’s Christmas Island. Except the Cubano clerks did not even recognize who Jimmy Buffet was!! “Jeeemy Who?” they would ask. Just step aside and let me type it into your computer, Amigo, I’m losing my patience with Miami really fast here! We continued to crave our favorite Buffet Christmas Carols….until Christmas Morning. I awoke early to hear familiar lyrics faintly dancing across the water from a neighboring boat: “A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour on the hookCali Calais no work today, let's shelve the old log bookThe waterfront is reveling, the season has begunA sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour having fun.” “Gary! Wake up! I hear Jimmy Buffet!” OK, I was a little more excited than my sleeping Captain, but he was soon caught up in the feeling of our delightfully unusual Christmas experience. Christmas Eve I had phoned Donnie Dunn and Lauren to wish them a Merry Christmas. Perhaps Don detected a bit of loneliness in my tone when I asked what they were doing for Christmas, and he invited us to come join them. Invitation accepted! So while our family and friends were sharing bountiful Christmas morning brunches, I was feeding Gary sliced turkey lunchmeat while we sped across Alligator Alley toward Fort Myers and Bonita Springs. Since we were heading to the west coast, we decided to share surprise drive-by Merry Christmas wishes with several friends in the area. Our first stop was to see Paul and Stevie Pendel in North Fort Myers, but they were away from home. Our old sailing buddy Pete Wagner had a trailer in the same park, but a neighbor said he had moved to a home in Cape Coral. Strike two. We hit a home run with Dick and Molly Widdis, as their daughter Paige, husband Jim, and their two kids had just arrived from Ohio. We enjoyed a festive visit with them and were tempted to stay much longer, but needed to keep the Christmas train moving on to Estero to see Dick and Ann Whitman. Last but certainly not least, Lauren greeted us at our final destination in Bonita Springs with an abundant spread of appetizers and a fully stocked bar. We spent the evening talking and laughing on their screened in patio, surrounded by warm air, lush tropical foliage, palm trees, and most importantly, good friends. Every so often, Gary would belt out a Santa-like “HO HO HO!!!! MERRRRRRY CHRISTMAS!” It certainly wasn’t a normal Christmas for us. Several times during the day we wondered out loud how things were going at home. Many, many more times, our thoughts drifted north. We missed the warmth of Christmas Eve at Mom’s with Cindy, Amy, Justin, Alivia, David, and Sandy. We regretted not being there when Chas and Jon came by to bear-hug Grandma Dot and wish the family a Merry Christmas. We wished we weren’t missing the traditional Milson Family Christmas with everyone in Detroit. We reflected on how fortunate we were to have all those wonderful Christmas memories to treasure. And we felt oh-so-lucky to be adding a whole new dimension of memories to file away for Christmases to come. Honey, remember the year I caught a blow fish on Christmas Eve…and we had turkey lunchmeat for Christmas Brunch……….. No matter where you are, if you have good health, and joy, and love in your life, isn’t that all it takes to make each and every Christmas as good as it gets?

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Video supplement to, "Put it in the Kitchen!"

"Put it in the Kitchen!"

Captain Don Dunn and Lauren accompanied us for the final leg of our adventure, from St. Marys Georgia to destination Key Biscayne. It didn’t take long to become acclimated to the twisted spin Captain Don applies to common boating terms.

Gary’s Lowrance GPS became known as “Larry”

The well known anchorage guru Skipper Bob became “Creepy Bob”

Sailboat Masts were referred to as “Sticks”

After Don observed that one anchorage was undesirable because it had “Sticks” leaning in different directions, I commented to Gary “You know, the way he says “Sticks” almost sounds deroga - “IT IS DEROGATORY!” Gary interrupted while Don snickered.

Applying full throttle at the helm translated to “PUT IT IN THE KITCHEN!”

And PUT IT IN THE KITCHEN we did all the way to Key Biscayne! The plan was to cover as much water as possible each day, which averaged about fifty nautical miles. Captain Don had a boat to deliver and he was on a mission.

Not to say that we were in too much of a hurry to enjoy the trip. The first day we ran through a variety of scenic marshes, land-cuts, and wide rivers. Our first night out turned into an unexpected rafting party. Jage and Jim Story (another Annapolis boat show buddy) were following on Simplicity, heading to her home port of Stuart Florida. We scoped out the best anchorage and phoned them of our location. They arrived after dark, which is never a choice but sometimes a necessity. Captain Gary wanted to make things as simple as possible for them, and suggested they just raft off to Tessa instead of trying to set an anchor. We didn’t have to ask Jage twice, and in minutes we had us a floating dinner party. While we enjoyed a well deserved cocktail to begin thawing out, Lauren prepared a delicious, bubbling pan of enchiladas, which hit the spot and warmed the cabin. Such a memorable night with great food and great friends.

We made it to Daytona Beach the following day with plenty of time to enjoy Caribbean Jacks Marina’s hot showers and nice restaurant, but the next day took the prize! Gary promised us that “Larry” would get us to a store, then the beach. Don, Lauren and I were doubled over laughing as Gary led the way down the sidewalk, looking so intently at Larry’s directions on the GPS screen that he nearly collided with a telephone pole. “Wait a minute! It was supposed to be right here!” he claimed disappointedly as we all stared at a vacant lot. This got the three of us hysterical again, and Gary and Larry stalked off ahead of us to find the beach. Finally, we were successful and enjoyed our long anticipated walk on the beach, followed by $5.00 a dozen oysters. We were in heaven!

We left Daytona and PUT IT IN THE KITCHEN again to an anchorage in order to make Melbourne the following day. The recommended anchorage was in Mosquito Lagoon, described as “buggy” by Skipper Bob. I was dreading the evening, but sometimes you get lucky, and this was the night. It was beautiful and calm, Lauren prepared Cornish Hens while I sautéed green beans and garlic rosemary potatoes AND there were no bugs. When it was time to clean up, Gary and I were reminded of our British Virgin Island Captain Jeff. He once threw a turkey carcass overboard, quickly followed by his fishing lure, and immediately landed a huge fish. Don and I got the pole ready and overboard went the Cornish hen chum. We didn’t catch a fish, but we set the stage for a dolphin feeding frenzy. As we were drifting off to sleep, I began hearing the beautiful “blow” sound dolphins make when they break the surface. I stuck my head out of the aft hatch and there they were, surrounding Tessa. I ran forward to alert Don and Lauren so that they could enjoy the sight. What wonderful background music for falling asleep!

On the way to Melbourne the next day, I phoned our friend Ken Moran, originally from Mansfield Ohio, who lives in Titusville. “We’re on our way to Melbourne, how close are you?” As was Kenny’s fashion, he replied “What time should I be there?” In keeping with our traditions, he arrived in short notice with fifty buffalo chicken wings to share as we caught up and reminisced.

We met Kenny the first time we took Tessa to Put-In-Bay in 1993, and have told the crazy story of our meeting countless times. We became fast friends and very soon Kenny became part of our family. He and Gary regularly got into long winded analytical conversations that quickly outlasted my attention span. He loved harassing Chas and Jon, and they loved giving it right back at him. He had our approval to throw either one of them overboard as he saw fit. We spent most summer weekends together at PIB with Kenny and his buddy Nick Grillo during the next ten or so years, then he began spending a lot more time in Florida with his sister Julie. Even so, as with all true friendships, we were always able to pick right back up where we left off.

 We had a great visit, then Kenny and his Monster Truck dropped us off at the local Melbourne Irish Pub where Lauren insisted we do an “Irish Car Bomb” shot, Gary got it all on film. I’m thankful my fears weren’t realized, there was no embarrassing evidence.

The next morning we were anxious to get to Vero Beach for the big reunion with John and Bobby Jo from “Don’t Look Back”. Captain Gary suggested that we request to raft off to them to make the transfer of our Mizzen Furler easier. As luck would have it, the Dock master gave us the go-ahead, and we became rafting neighbors. This, also, made the dinner party we hosted in honor of “Don’t Look Back” that night much more convenient. Just step next door and join the festive celebration, toasting to the success of the recovery of the Mizzen Furler, and the beginning of new friendships. We enjoyed a Pasta Fest and White Chocolate Raspberry Chambord Cupcakes for desert.

Dinghying in to use the facilities the next morning, we saw John and Bobby Jo rowing along behind us. Gary turned back to tow them in. Instead of throwing a line, Bobby Jo and I reached out and grabbed hands and I laughingly exclaimed “BFF!!” as we held hands like little girls all the way to the dinghy dock. Later we waved goodbye to John and departed Vero Beach. The excitement was building on board Tessa as we approached the home stretch. Our plotted course was to “go outside”(the Atlantic Ocean vs. the IntraCoastal Waterway) at Fort Pierce and continue down the Atlantic through the night for a late morning arrival at Governments Cut into Key Biscayne. Captain Don had no problem staying awake for his watch, as he was about to complete his mission to “deliver a boat”. The voyage was comfortably uneventful, with very light wind and clear skies.

The four of us were all awake and excited early in the morning as we entered the channel that led us to the mooring harbour at Rickenbacker Marina. Gary announced proudly “This is HOME, Darling!” as I gaped, speechless, toward the primo spot that some how, some way, was destined to be our home for the next five months. “Lauren, start shakin your signature drink, this calls for a celebratory Margarita Toast!” Captain Donnie Dunn completed his mission, delivered the boat, and they were off to Myrtle Beach for their next adventure.

Thanks Captain Don!

Just as our new adventure began, we received terrible news from Kenny’s sister Julie. Kenny died unexpectedly at his home just days after our reunion in Melbourne. So many unanswered questions….How could this happen, we were just with him?….Did he know he was so sick and the end was near?….Could we have done something to help?… Would we have done anything different? We are both comforted knowing for certain that Kenny already had it all figured out on December 2nd. No big deal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just get together like always, admire the latest vehicle, mess with each other, eat some wings, reminisce about all the great times, talk about off-the-wall ideas, and look toward the future. He’ll still be with us, just like he always was in Mansfield, Dayton, Orlando, Put-In-Bay, Port Clinton, Melbourne……. In Loving Memory of Ken Moran Great Friend, Loving Brother, Dedicated Father February 7 1959 - December 7 2008

Friday, January 2, 2009