August for the Marco Beach Boys has always been a time of transition. By mid-August, the sun is already headed south, and the sunsets are arriving earlier every day. Sunsets in late summer always take me back to the most awkward evening ever and a sundown special charter that really went overboard.
On many occasions, special charter requests arrive weeks in advance and arrive by different circumstances. The current request was from a passenger who had been on our sailing charters more times than anyone could remember. Along with the special request came an email with an exceptional number of details.
It seemed our valued customer had a nephew who was traveling to Marco Beach to propose to the love of his life. The nephew had never been to our islands before and he had no idea what to expect. What he did know, however, was that his uncle had booked a two-and-a-half-hour sailing tour on one of our catamarans. The tour was to be private with just a captain and the happy couple. There was also to be a picnic basket placed onboard beforehand containing everything from sweets to snacks along with a vintage bottle of champagne for after the nephew popped the question. There was also the provision that the sailing excursion should—weather permitting—be in time for the perfect romantic sunset.
When the big day came, everyone was watching the weather and hoping for the best. A big and noisy thunderstorm had already exploded over the islands earlier in the day, but by departure time, there was no threatening weather apart from high overcast clouds that were blocking out the sun.
When the two special guests arrived, the champagne was already aboard and chilling along with the picnic basket that could feed a multitude. The kids were older than expected and I immediately placed them in their early 40’s. Jack and Jill were from Chicago; they were excited to be nestled in our islands, but there was something odd about the couple that seemed in some way estranged.
When we cast off and set out from the docks, Jack abandoned his future mate on the front of the boat and came back to me at the tiller.
“This has to go perfectly,” Jack explained urgently, “I want no mistakes. I want you to make sure there are dolphins alongside the boat coming and going. I also want no tour guide conversation from you. Think of yourself as a limo driver. I want you to keep your mouth shut. The only time I want you to speak is when we are exactly halfway out and halfway back. One and one quarter-hour. Tell me when we’re halfway and then be quiet.”
“Okay,” I nodded my understanding. “I only speak to tell you when we are halfway into the trip.”
He nodded with executive authority and went back to sit near the woman at the front of the boat. Thankfully, dolphins began to appear near the Snook Inn and came over to investigate. Flipper and the gang lingered for a few minutes swimming alongside and then vanished without a trace. After the dolphin departure, I was rewarded by Jack’s hand rising to give me halfhearted thumbs up. After a few more minutes, we were under sail and making way into the gulf. The sky was still overcast with the lowering sun behind the clouds, but the breeze was perfect for sailing and the wind on the water was surprisingly cool for August.
When the delight of sailing takes over, most passengers understand that cruising without a motor really is a special occasion. This is a rite of passage that makes many want to buy a boat, but in this case, the couple up front seemed impervious to anything adventurous or romantic. There were no holding hands, no nestling close to each other, and no conversation that I could see from the back of the boat.
After another half hour, I looked at my watch and decided it was time for a turnaround regardless of what Jack said earlier. We had been underway for one hour and three minutes and there was a worrisome new cloud rising over the Marco River. Without a doubt, I had that gnawing feeling mariners get when it is time to head for safe harbor.
“Okay folks,” I announced as I broke the silence. “We’re about halfway into our trip and were going to make a turn and start back.”
At this point, Jack looked at his watch, turned to give me a look, and then sprang back to the center deck near the cooler and produced a small black box. He then dropped back down beside Jill on the front and opened the little container.
“Will you marry me, Jill?” he asked over the sound of water sluicing by the boat.
Jill’s response was instant. “Absolutely not!” She said as she recoiled from the ring in the box. “You know I would never marry you!” She shook her head. “You have way too much money. And with all that money you try and control everything. Well, I’ve got to tell you…” she finalized as she stood. “You’re not going to control me!”
After Jill’s declaration of independence, a creepy silence surrounded the boat. Jack remained seated and gazing forward—still holding the ring in the box—but Jill was on the move. Apparently, she wanted nothing more to do with the controlling man that had just insulted her with an unwanted proposition, but she did want some new company. This is when she came to the back of the boat and sat down beside me at the tiller.
“I am so sorry,” Jill began softly as if we were coconspirators. “That guy is a mess.” She shook her head, moved closer, and began whispering. “He and his family are a bunch of control freaks and I knew I should have never came on this trip. The only reason I came is because he booked separate rooms and he promised a no strings attached world-class vacation. I knew I should have never agreed to come.”
Before I could offer any response, Jack jumped up in obvious anger and started for where we were at the back of the boat. Jill clutched at my arm as if I were her new boyfriend before Jack stopped at the cooler for the bottle of vintage champagne. After tearing off the wire cage and releasing the cork with a pop, Jack stomped as far away as he could to sit in the very front of the catamaran.
Jill and I could see the bottle going up and down amid Jack talking to himself. Jill remained very close and continued to whisper. “I just don’t understand him,” she related. “He doesn’t understand me. I’m really very sorry you had to see all this. What a mess!”
Somewhere between Jill’s declaration of independence and Jack stomping back to grab the only alcohol onboard, I briefly considered jumping overboard and swimming back to Marco. Instead of the easiest option, I started the auxiliary engine and began motoring the no-longer-sailing catamaran back toward the docks at full speed.
When we arrived dockside, Jack jumped off the boat without a word and headed straight to the waiting transport van. Jill shook her head again, pulled out her phone, and Googled a taxi.
As we were both watching the departing van that now contained only one passenger, Jill looked up after speaking with the local taxi company and said, “I’ll bet you never forget this proposal!”
Jill was right.
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder –the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.