It was after the Saturday night dinner festivities and our SAIL magazine sales rep and his wife had invited Bob Johnson, his wife Jeri, Ellen -- my six-months-pregnant wife – and yours truly up to the “club” for a nightcap. We were all feeling quite good about the weekend’s festivities and were looking forward to a farewell breakfast with everyone in the morning before heading home. It was our very first Island Packet Rendezvous at the exclusive Useppa Island Club and it turned out, it would be our last.
The private island, just off . . .
. . .the west coast of Florida, near Pine Island and the infamous Cabbage Key, was filled with million dollar plus, all-white homes and condos, none more than two stories tall. A small marina catered to homeowners and guests, but only by invitation did you get to step foot on the island. We had almost 50 IP owners and guests in attendance, aboard 20 some yachts safely tied up at the marina, and a small contingent of factory personnel and some owners without their boats staying in various rental homes around the island.
The “club”, however, turned out to have a dress code that none of us boat people could meet. Fortunately, a back patio with a serve-thru window was available and it wasn’t long before we all had an adult beverage in front of us (save Ellen who sipped on a club soda and lime). The warm breeze off the water, the smell of blooming jasmine, the tinkling of ice in the glasses along with the growing laughter from ever more raucous story-telling led us deeper into the night. SAIL magazine was buying us refills as fast as we could empty our glasses and with all the fun being had that one nightcap had quickly turned into two, or three (four?!).
The only means of transportation on the island were golf carts and many of them were parked near the back patio. Bob suggested that these were “communal” carts and were there for the taking by anyone who needed a ride somewhere. He further suggested that I should climb aboard with him for a quick trip around the island. Despite the protests of all at the table, and my repeated refrain that this was not a good idea, I was lured to go with the boss and we were soon bouncing down a trail through the palmetto bushes and flowering vines, away from the club.
Moments later an indignant shout arose from the patio and Bob circled the golf cart back in a homeward direction. Through the vines and shrubbery, I spotted a tall, distinguished looking gentleman standing with a cane and gesticulating wildly at our table of friends. Before Bob and I could clear the tree line I opted for an “exit stage right” and leaped from the cart into the shrubs. Cowering behind a large palm tree, I watched the drama unfold.
Bob pulled up to the gentleman and listened politely to the man’s complaints. We had clearly “borrowed” this man’s mobility and he was ready to go home. Nodding agreement, Bob sheepishly ducked out of the cart, only to have it roll back a foot or two as the brake had not been set. A howl let out and the gentleman tugged at his foot to free it from underneath the tire. The cart had come to rest against his insole! Waving wildly as before he clambered onto his cart and hurried away, brandishing his cane above his head like a sword, and promising recourse in the morning.
The last event of the weekend rendezvous was the farewell breakfast in the club’s meeting room. Standing at the entrance was the golf cart owner, leaning against his cane and carefully inspecting everyone who entered. He had clearly identified last night’s culprit as a visitor to the island and he was out for his pound of flesh. Fortunately for Bob, his massive headache prevented him from attending the breakfast and, fortunately for me, the golf cart owner had never seen my leap into the bushes! I nonchalantly said good morning to him as I entered the breakfast, spoke some inspirational farewell remarks to the gathered owners, and bid them all adieu.
While not exactly proud of my taking leave from the boss’s side the prior evening, in retrospect we were both happy the golf cart owner had never seen me. We left the island quietly and knew we would need a new location for the following year’s event. And thanks to Tom Casey, our SAIL magazine rep, author and cartoonist, for buying all those drinks and capturing the night’s events for all to remember. Hopefully, the statue of limitations has run out!