Getting Your Phil

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Fondly remembering the days of the dinghy

By Phil Colpas

The current situation involving the county removing sailboats from Beach Access 8 evoked a memory remnant of mine growing up on south Siesta Key in the 1980s. Back then, I recall that just north of Point of Rocks and Crescent Beach, tucked up near the sea oats close to a public beach access, there was a wonderfully colorful depository of sailboats of various makeups — mostly catamarans, but also old, hand-painted, single-hull kits and barely seaworthy dinghies, including our own entry into this beach sailboat menagerie, the deathtrap called Enterprise.

Aye, I still get chills when I think about her. A beat-up, fiberglass dinghy in pale blue, the Enterprise was someone else’s trash, but my father’s treasure. He had always fancied himself a bit of a sea captain, or perhaps an admiral in the Royal Navy, but his teacher’s salary had relegated his command to a lesser fleet. Stuffed with broken catamaran hull pieces to bolster her form, and Styrofoam to boost her buoyancy, the Enterprise and we braved the angry sea. And very nearly perished on several occasions.

The mast set precariously in a jagged fiberglass hole, and when the faded blue sail took the wind it shook the hull, violently. When she came about, you had to time your deck dive to the millisecond, or risk being knocked out cold by the boom.

Water rushed in — and over — the hull until the very real danger of being swallowed up by the sea necessitated our beachward return.

And then we’d pull her up on the beach again, leaving her safely and securely tucked up close to the sea oats. Until the next time.

I had to eventually part ways with the Enterprise; I figured it was either her or me.

I’m sure this improvised dry dock on the beach is long gone, but it was wonderful while it lasted. Pull your boat up, secure it, make sure it’s out of people’s way. Owners of some of the fancier boats made attempts, of varying degrees of success, to secure their vessels by chaining them to something, trees being a favorite, but also signs, newspaper boxes and even other boats. Others convinced themselves that simply pulling their boats up into the sea oats a few more feet was enough to render them completely invisible to passersby. One sailor purposefully left his clean, sporty catamaran unsecured, and invited anyone to take her out.

“If I’m not using her, feel free,” he would say. “Just put her back where you found her.”

As I’ve mentioned before, this was life on Siesta Key before the world at large discovered it. Back when it was still just a small beach town.

Phil Colpas
Author: Phil Colpas

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