Two land-loving, city-living friends took to the high seas (OK, the Florida Keys) for a glorious child-free adventure. How'd it turn out? Well, that depends on whether you ask Gayle Forman or Marjorie Ingall.
Marjorie: As we pass around the Mint Milanos and sip chardonnay, someone finds an '80s station on the ship's radio. Late into the night, we lounge on the white leatherette banquettes around the table in the cabin and sing along with Cyndi Lauper. We segue into impassioned discussions about Angelina vs. Jennifer, whether Madonna's a baby stealer, and how we all (Republican, Democrat, and libertarian) feel about our president. It's a safe space for Vanessa to confess her love of vintage red-haired musical mallrat Tiffany.
"What was Debbie Gibson's big hit again?" asks Ann.
Thus begins an obsession that will last the next two days . . . until Ann finally decides to call her husband for the answer when we dock. (Should you ever appear on Jeopardy, it was "Electric Youth.")
Gayle: It's fair to say that the fore cabin Marjorie and I are sharing is about the size of a Japanese capsule hotel room, albeit without the mini TV. We squeeze in and unpack. Marjorie pulls out her practical fleece, and I lay out my cashmere sweater. Marjorie shoots me a look that I can only describe as withering.
"You brought cashmere?" she asks.
"Don't give me shit--it's lightweight and warm, and I have this to go over it," I say, waving my anorak in the air.
Marjorie hurriedly stuffs a blue slicker and waterproof pants into the hold. But I catch her. Rain gear? Oh, the betrayal.
Marjorie: I'm so sorry! My husband forced me!
Gayle: Whatever. We climb into the narrow bed, smaller than a double and angled like a slice of pie (hence its name, the V-berth). It's so cozy, I'm fairly sure our feet wind up spooning. I stare out the hatch into the starry sky and fall asleep to the gentle bobbing of the waves.
Marjorie: I keep waking up to discover that Gayle has stolen the covers. By morning, I'm exhausted. But we quickly down our Special K and yogurt (and oh, bliss, there's a French press). Then we jump into the warm, teal bay for a revitalizing swim. After splashing around for a while, we head up on deck. Captain Jen begins discussing sail trim. If the sail is overtrimmed--too tight--we learn to ease it out until it starts to luff, or flap. The new vocabulary comes fast and furious: balancing point, heave-to position, lateral aids. Now she's explaining navigation. Oh God, sailing involves too much math. She starts to sound like an adult in a Peanuts cartoon: "Mwah mwah mwah." I fight to keep my eyes open behind my sunglasses. Captain Jen says something about one nautical mile equaling one minute of latitude and 60 miles in one degree when the pen drops from my hand with a clatter. "Why don't you go take a nap?" Gayle suggests. I slink off to the cabin.
Gayle: While Marjorie snoozes, Captain Jen instructs Ann and me to navigate our way to Key Largo, where we'll dock for the night. First we have to figure out where we are, which I do by using a hand-bearing compass to plot our point on the nautical charts. Then I use the parallel ruler to determine the degree we should be sailing, a divider to measure distance, and finally--yikes!--an algebraic formula to figure out how long the trip will take. There's no wind, so we fire up our motor. I take the helm from Barnes Sound to Blackwater Sound.
"It looks like I'm taking us directly into the mangroves," I say.
Captain Jen smiles in that oh-little-grasshopper way, and sure enough, after a while I see square, red channel markers and, a little farther down, a gap in the land. We've made it to Jewfish Creek (no, really). I pilot us through what looks like a swamp surrounded by shallow mangroves. The water has turned from aqua to a murky green-brown. Vrooming cigarette boats--or small-penis boats, as we call them--leave us swaying in their wake. At the other end of the creek is a drawbridge, and it opens just for us.
Marjorie: We cruise into Blackwater Sound's marina, which is packed with sailboats, yachts, and speedboats. We're immediately walloped by the noise from a thatched-hut waterside bar in a thicket of palm trees; it's part of Gilbert's Resort. The band is playing "White Rabbit" at deafening volume; soon they're skidding into something by Pink Floyd. If that old Patrick Swayze movie Road House were set in a tiki bar, it would be just like this. You can practically hear the mullets.
We cruise up and down the channel looking for a place to anchor. I spot a guy striding purposefully toward the dock and can just tell he's about to pull out. "Parking space!" I scream. Hooray! Who cares if a space at the dock is not actually called a parking space? (Officially, it's a slip.) As we put out the rubber fenders, a zillion guys come out of the woodwork. They suck in their bellies, puff out their chests, and pontificate about how to do what we're already doing.