GONE WITH THE WIND

Cruising World - - Under Way - —Robert Beringer

James Tay­lor’s got a great song called “Cop­per­line” in which he rem­i­nisces about his boy­hood home in the woods and how it was so beau­ti­ful that it made the an­gels sigh. In the last verse, he goes back as an adult to find noth­ing but “spec house and ply­wood.” But he’s un­fazed be­cause it doesn’t touch the won­der­ful me­mories he has of this spe­cial place where he grew up.

I had my own Cop­per­line ex­pe­ri­ence re­cently when I vis­ited Key Largo and char­tered a boat for the week. I brought my old

At least the me­mories re­main. The au­thor and his wife stand in what’s left of a trea­sured Key Largo hotspot. Florida Chart Kit BBA as a backup and, notic­ing my pen­cil marks of an an­chor­age nearby and the date, Oc­to­ber 31, 1998, my eyes glazed over and I drifted back in time to my first cruise on our “big” Catalina 34.

We were newly mar­ried and just learn­ing the cruis­ing life­style: get up early and fix things, then sail all day till the sun gets low, find a calm place, set the an­chor and hope it holds. And as sun­set ap­proached on that long-ago day, we steered off Hawk Chan­nel and found our­selves near Rock Har­bor, at Key Largo. The cruis­ing guide said we could an­chor in close to the friendly and low-key Is­land Grill at Man­dalay, and en­joy its ex­cel­lent catch-of-the-day sand­wiches.

Hal­loween is one of the rare days that adults get to be kids again, and as we stepped off the dinghy, I could see that the place was chock­ablock with grown chil­dren. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one was in cos­tume, even the band, and the dance floor was full of rev­el­ers. We had an ex­cel­lent meal, danced like teenagers and gen­er­ally had way too much fun, stay­ing till last call be­fore find­ing our way back among the con­stel­la­tion of an­chor lights.

Back to present day. I pre­pared my kids for a serendip­i­tous trip down mem­ory lane: “We’re hav­ing lunch at a lit­tle sea­side grill that your mother and I went to long be­fore you lit­tle mon­sters were born,” I beamed. My daugh­ters, hear­ing only the key words, we’re hav­ing lunch, read­ily agreed. Soon we pulled into the place, and — gasp! Our won­der­ful lit­tle mem­ory was but an empty shell, not much more than the walls of a kitchen and the foun­da­tion it sat on, de­stroyed by a storm.

Bro­ken doors hung loosely from the en­trance, as if the place had been raided by a SWAT team; ceil­ing fans turned lazily in the breeze be­neath tat­tered can­vas; and wires hung limply from ev­ery cor­ner. Eel­grass lay in piles on the floor, clear ev­i­dence that the ocean had paid a visit, and the lush veg­e­ta­tion out­side had been stripped bare.

“When Irma came through, it pretty much de­stroyed that res­tau­rant,” lamented an em­ployee I spoke to at the Key Largo Cham­ber of Com­merce. “It was a pop­u­lar place. Maybe they’ll re­build,” she said, hope­fully. I stood at the outer drink rail where we re­laxed that long-ago night, talk­ing about the sail­ing life and our fu­ture to­gether. It was so full of joie de vivre here; how could it all be gone?

The kids, re­al­iz­ing quickly that they wouldn’t be fed here, let us know in stri­dent terms that they were bored and hun­gry. con­tin­u­ing on to search for lunch, I tried not to turn my head for a last look. I wanted this place to re­main for­ever in my mind as it was that night, a sub­lime mem­ory from our early sail­ing days, down on Cop­per­line.

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