Life on the Sea

While researching Billy Campbell before our interview, I discovered that he’d just spent over a year on a round-the-world voyage on the barque Picton Castle. That’s a man who knows how to live. In an alternate life, I’d take on that kind of a trip too.

Back when I was working with ICE, I used to go to a lot of conventions for the company. Once I went to American Booksellers Association show in Miami with Pete Fenlon, ICE’s president (now of Mayfair Games and Castle Hill Studios). After the show, we drove down to Key West for a few days to hang out with one of Pete’s high school pals, Glenn McCormick.

A former Top Gun instructor, Glenn then flew jets for American Airlines. He lived on The Mistress, a 71-foot wooden racing yacht built in 1930, and he and his brother spent most of their spare time and money on refurbishing this beauty of a boat from stem to stern. Pete and I stayed with him for a couple fantastic days before we had to head back home.

Years later, my wife Ann and I headed down to Key West once more after the GAMA Trade Show in Miami, which was the worst such show ever in terms of attendance. The exhibitors outnumbered the attendees by at least two to one. After something like that, I needed a break, so we rented a convertible Mustang and drove down A1A until we hit the end of the road.

We met Pete and Will Niebling and Lou Rexing of Mayfair Games down there, and we all stayed on The Mistress again. The others had to leave soon, but Ann and I stayed on a few days more—including a day by ourselves after Glenn had to leave for a flight. We went snorkeling on the reef, ate breakfast in an outdoor restaurant that had chickens scratching between the tables, and toured Hemingway’s home.

One morning, in the same tone I might say, “Check out that squirrel,” Glenn said, “Did you see that manatee over there?” Ann and I peered over the edge and spied a perfect specimen of a sea cow meandering its way toward the boat. “Go on and jump in,” Glenn urged us with a grin.

That kind of invitation doesn’t come around often, so we leaped over the ship’s railing and fell the twelve feet into the water. When I came back up to the surface, I spotted the manatee swimming straight at me.

As it came closer, I realized I was in the water with a wild animal that weighed at least four times as much as me. Just before it would have slammed into me, it dove under the water and slipped right between my legs. Then it came back around and rolled over on its side so I could scratch its belly.

As tempting as that life is, Ann was pregnant with our eldest son at the time. I loved having a taste of the sea life, however brief, but building our new family called us home to dry land.