The graduation of my grand-nephew from Nova Southeastern University’s medical college was also special for a reason other than his impressive achievement. I got to drive a 55-foot yacht! That alone was worth the flight – a very pleasant one, by the way, which I’ll tell you about in a future post – to Fort Lauderdale .
The Inn Sanity
Me steering the Inn Sanity, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
This was made possible by my niece Janet Sue Gray, graduate Gibson’s mom, who is famous in our family for coming up with unique experiences. Instead of settling for a hotel, she went online and found a beautiful Florida home with five bedrooms and 4 baths, which she rented for a week. Turns out, though not cheap, it was cheaper per person than a first-rate hotel would have been.
Music room in Ft. Lauderdale vacation house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mitch Tunkel
Janet Sue, Gordon, Gibson Gray, Tunkel vacation home pool
A highlight of the home was its tropical backyard with a hot tub and swimming pool that features underwater lights that segue from blue to purple to green to red, a waterfall, and enough tables and chairs to seat 15 people for dinner. (One night I fixed my incomparable spaghetti and meat balls. Smash hit with the family – at least, that’s what they said – especially since Taylor, Gibson’s brother, a gourmand cook, prepared a super salad.)
Taylor Gray's salad
And, the theatrically tropical backyard is backdropped with the 55-foot yacht. Mitch and his wife own both the yacht and the house. Part of the deal is that you get an afternoon and evening tour on the intracoastal waterway which winds its way through downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has a magic charm to it at night. In our case, since we were celebrating Gibson’s graduation, Mitch took the boat to the famous 15th Street Seafood Restaurant where we docked and had a great dinner.
Janet Sue Gray, Dick McMichael, Gordon Gray, Catherine Gray, Gibson Gray, Ft Lauderdale, FL
The highlight for me, though, was on the way to the restaurant, since Mitch offered to let his passengers drive the boat. Now that was a kick, especially going under a draw bridge. I did it for a while and then offered someone else time at the wheel, and Taylor took over until we reached the restaurant’s dock. For some reason, maybe to protect his hundreds-of- thousands-of- dollars investment – the boat, new, runs about $1.6 million – Mitch took over. As any boats-man knows, docking, like landing an airplane, is the hardest part. Just imagine ramming a 55-foot yatch into a docking pier.
That worried me a bit after we left the restaurant for the sensational night tour. When I went to the top bridge – there are two, one enclosed for inclement weather, and one on top, the flybridge, in the open – after we pulled away from the dock, Mitch said, “Take over. I need to take care of some things. Just aim it for that drawbridge.” Then he quickly showed me how the gears and throttle controls worked and climbed down the ladder to the lower bridge.
Drawbridge opens for Inn Sanity, Mitch Tunkel's 55-foot Yacht, Fort Lauderdale
Yipes! I was all alone on the flybridge, driving this big, expensive boat at night and really didn’t quite understand what he was talking about when he explained the controls. At one time I had a small run-about which I used for taking my family and friends water-skiing, but it only had one combined gear and throttle control. Anyway, my delight quickly morphed into anxiety as I tried to steer toward the drawbridge.
I turned the wheel to the left – I guess I should say to the port for boating purists – and it started heading that way, but not for long. It started drifting to the right – okay, starboard – back toward the dock. What? I turned the wheel the right way but the big boat is turning the other way.
I started monkeying with the controls, getting the gears mixed up with the throttles. Finally I pushed the right gear control forward and the Inn Sanity – really, that’ what Mitch named his yatch because when he bought it he owned and operated a hotel – started turning the way I wanted it to, to the left, uh, port, but by thst time I started yelling for Mitch to get back to the top bridge. I could just see me destroying a side of his yacht and a portion of the docking pier. He finally came sauntering back up the ladder, totally unconcerned, and took over again. “It was no problem. I was watching what was going on all the time.”
“When I turned the wheel, it wouldn’t respond.”
“That’s because you were in neutral.”