The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 8

Gulf Breeze

Randi was a girl with beautiful pale green eyes you had to look for through her thick dark rimmed glasses. She was using the Seaswirl for dives. The Seaswirl was on a trailer behind the garage at Harry's house. Reginald towed the boat to the marina boat ramp and then returned to pick it up on days Randi went diving.

Ivan, seeing Reginald trying to get the boat into the water, went to help and he met Randi. With so much going on at the marina, Ivan gave no more thought to the meeting. He didn't mention it to me.

In the afternoon, when Randi returned from her dive, Taggart went out to put the Seaswirl back on the trailer. He suggested Reginald leave the Seaswirl on the trailer behind the new Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop and Ivan or he would put the boat in and take it out of the water on days when Randi was scheduled to dive.

Reginald love the idea.

On Wednesday I called a meeting for my employees. I wanted to describe what I did, what they'd do, and how Harry would depend on us to deliver him information he used to get new laws passed.

Our business was exploring, documenting, and seeking answers to the question that came from our activities. I complimented Randi on her notes and asked her to transcribe mine into English. Harry was right, the idea thrilled her.

Like most people, Randi and Jack weren't aware of how stressed waterways were. They understood bodies of water needed to be protected from people doing business on or near water. The details had them asking questions and I answered them. I suggested that on Wednesday, for a while, the three of us would meet at the conservancy and discuss questions that might have come up, ideas they had, and plan our schedule.

I usually went diving Tuesday and Thursday. I'd try not to assign any tasks that needed supervision from me on those days. I was sure reading would offer both of them new insights into marine biology. They could read the books in the conservancy library or look at files.

I explained Bill Payne's description of what we did.

"We are the canaries in the coal mine."

"We are here to make people aware of the damage being done by careless corporations and ignorant lazy people who saw any body of water as a good place to dump anything. It was true. Individuals did nearly as much damage as companies.

"If you and I were the only ones dumping garbage in the water, it wouldn't be much of a problem. When large numbers of people decide to dump their garbage in our waterways, not to mention old tires, spent washers and dryers, cars, boats, it's worse than ugly. They can turn a nice waterfront property into a dump site in less time than it takes to say, 'fresh water.' Then add chemicals, oil, fertilizers, insecticides, etc., etc., etc. You have a witches' brew of poison poisoning the environment. It isn't just ugly or untidy. It's dangerous to things that live there from tiny microbes to massive whales, and in the end if we don't stop it, it will threaten mans' ability to survive."

"What do you do about people using waterways for dumps?" Randi asked.

"Our best tool is shame, and believe me when I say, someone tossing a bag of garbage out of the car on a bridge, and into the water below, isn't easy to shame. We need to recruit help. Every time someone goes to the beach, they need to pick up after themselves and after the slob who left his garbage behind. If we aren't willing to do a little extra, the beaches we love will become dumps," I said.

"Always leave your campsite better than you found it," Jack said. "I was a boy scout. It's the first lesson you learn about camping."

"We need to turn everyone into a boy scout," I said. "If everyone helps, our job would be a lot easier," I said.

"People who witness other people dumping anything need to take note of pertinent facts. Anything that identifies the culprits and turn it over to local authorities. There are laws against the dumping of waste into waterways. The Clean Water Act covers all bodies of water."

"Our job is to sound the alarm. Advise people of the damage being done. Recruit them to be observant and in that way help to keep our environment clean. If it only gets more people cleaning up after themselves, it helps cut down on the garbage. Once people know other people are paying attention to their bad behavior, they'll clean up their act."

"Where do we start?" Jack asked.

"We've already started. Congressman Harry McCallister was instrumental in passing the Clean Water Act. It's against the law to use waterways as a dumping ground. No one is enforcing the law and the fines are less than the cost of disposing of waste responsibly. We can hope law enforcement joins the fight," I said. "With more people comes more garbage. If we don't get dumping under control soon, we'll pay an increasingly higher price later on," I said.

"Leaving a place better than we found it isn't just a good idea, it's the way to preserve the beauty people take for granted today. Because its getting out of control, we need to work twice as hard," I said. "What else?" Jack asked. "I want to have a feel for the problem."

"You both can read The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson. She wrote other books. Silent Spring is her best known work, but The Sea Around Us should be the marine biologist's handbook," I said. "Her books are in our library at the conservancy. On days when you find you have time on your hands, I'll make a blanket rule, read the books in our library. They're relevant to the work we do.

Randi had been to the reef Bill first took me to for my underwater baptism. He gave us our basic instructions about being a marine biologist there. Randi found my notes on the early dives and she'd gone to take a look. Randi was going to be a big help.

Jack wasn't a diver and he hadn't been taught by the new breed of marine biologists, heavy on the marine. He had his degree and he was caught between the old way of doing things and the new and more exciting version, where we dive to see the things we talk about.

I'd bring Jack along slowly. I would continue to do most of the diving and teach Randi and Jack what I learned from each dive. If they were going to be of value, they had to learn how I did things and why they were done that way.

Jack wasn't particularly excited by the idea of going on dives. I knew of no marine biologist who hadn't been awestruck once taking his first dive. After a few dives, Jack would be sorry he hadn't done it sooner.

I ordered diving equipment for Jack through Ivan's shop. When I went to place the order, Ivan was busy placing a spear gun beside the double air tanks on each side of his main display behind the counter. There were sinister looking fish on the green background of the display.

"Who drew the fish?" I asked.

"Moi," Ivan said. "You didn't know I had a little Picasso in me, did you?"

"Very little," I said.

"You do know how to hurt a guy. I spent all day yesterday drawing those fish," Ivan said.

"What kind of fish are they?" I asked, as he was writing the order for Jack's diving equipment. "I know a little about the fish in these waters and I must confess, I don't recognize your fish."

"Big fish! Very big fish! You'd want a spear gun if you encountered one of my fish."

I laughed.

It was the first time I'd seen a spear gun up close. I wouldn't want to get caught standing in front of one.

"You're working on the dock?" I said. "I hear noise."

"Yes, I've got a crew that comes in the morning. We'll have twenty-four slips when we're done. With my fishing boat at the end of the dock, pointing toward the cove entrance, makes twenty-five slip."

"You going to fill them up?"

"I am. Harry wants a slip for the Seaswirl. I suggested it after telling him how Reginald towing it around and it needing to be put in and taken out of the water, a slip would save all that that wasted time and effort. I offered him a good price too," he said. "It's my special family rate. You get that rate on Sea Lab."

"How much is a good price?" I asked.

"Free. I'm not charging Harry for a slip. If not for Harry I might not be here planning to turn the cove into a vacation mecca," he said. "I might not be doing anything anywhere."

"He was that important? He never gave me anything in the way of details about your situation. He had a few stories about his involvement in your situation. He sure didn't say anything that made me feel good about you being in Southeast Asia."

"There are things about the Company you don't talk about. Clandestine activities being among those. They don't take kindly to people who reveal their secrets. You don't want the Company mad at you if you're working with a full deck."

"This is still America, isn't it?" I asked too seriously.

"It is. They don't have authority to work in the U.S."

"And that stops them how?" I asked.

"If I knew, honey bun, I couldn't tell you," Ivan said. "The walls have ears, you know. I did my time and I don't want to do any more."

"The guys that held you in that cage, were they C.I.A., Ivan?"

"I'm not sure who they were. Guys like that don't give you their business card. I figure they were freelancing. They weren't American. Remnants of a group that worked inside of Vietnam and reported to the Company. Your typical assets. They were loyal to the U.S. After we pulled our troops out of Vietnam, they were some of the assets we left behind to keep an eye on the Vietnamese."

"Help them make a smooth transition to power I bet," I said facetiously.

"I wouldn't bet on anything that goes on in Southeast Asia," he said. "I lived there for five years and I still don't know what's going on there."

"It sounds like you are better off not knowing too much about people who think it's OK to run someone else's country," I said.

"I don't think they think it's OK. Someone told someone this is what you'll be doing, and the people being told go about doing what they've been told to do if they're smart. No thinking involved."

"How long before the new shop is done?" I asked, not wanting to know any more about the people who held him prisoner. I was having a good day and being depressed wasn't what I wanted to do before getting out in the Gulf.

"The walls will be up after Thanksgiving. I'll order the roofing once the walls are done. It takes time to get it delivered. It'll come out of Atlanta. We don't have room to leave it sitting out in the parking lot," he said.

"Yeah, where would I park," I said.

"We'll put the roof on as per whatever schedule Taggart is happy with. My guess is it'll be January before the roof is on. Then, I'll order the glass for the windows and the door. Can't have them sitting around waiting to be broken. We'll have a crew here to install them once the glass arrives. The interior will take a month if Taggart has finished with the wiring for electricity. Then we'll be done. Maybe March or April before the doors are ready to open for business."

"It's the third week in October. Three to four months," I said.

"We'll need to consider the weather conditions. We might lose a day here and there to bad weather," he said.

"Wait until they see the new shop," I said.

"December we'll be waiting for the roofing. Like I said, it wasn't bad after the first month. Before that, right after I left Florida, I was roaming the country, talking to men who served with Boris, and I was getting involved with the anti war people. They were the key to me getting into Southeast Asia."

The next morning I went to the cove to see what progress they'd made on the new shop and to see if Ivan had time to help me with Sea Lab.

I parked the car near the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. No one was working. Tag wouldn't be home from school for several hours. They'd probably work until dark, which put Ivan home for dinner.

Before going into the Bait Shop, I walked around the shop that was under construction. The walls about halfway built. The structure looked solid and able to weather most storms.

When I turned to go into the Bait Shop, a new window had replaced the small yellowed plastic window you couldn't see out of. It made it easier to see the items on display inside. There were wet suits displayed behind the counter and tandem air tanks were mounted on the back wall on each side of the display. There were flippers, face masks, with surfboards on each side of the SCUBA tanks. It was an enticing display with a go-jump-in-the-gulf theme.

I backed up from the new window to look at the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop sign before going inside.

"Hey, sailor, can I interest you in the latest we have in the way of SCUBA diving equipment?" Ivan asked, turning when the bell mounted above the door rang.

"Yes, you can. Actually, I need help untying the Sea Lab. Harold, from the coast guard helped me tie it up so it wouldn't take down your dock in the storm. There's a forty pound anchor on the nose. I need to return it to Harold at coast guard headquarters."

"Quite thoughtful of him. Do I have competition for your affections? You didn't come to get me to help you secure Sea Lab?"

"Harold's a child. He took me to some reefs he wanted me to know about. He picked me up behind the house and we came to the Sea Lab where I had my diving equipment," I said.

"Was a time when I was the only one you let pick you up behind your house," Ivan said.

"Not so much for the last ten years you didn't, cowboy," I said. "You were going to tell me about your escapades in Southeast Asia as I recall. I'm still waiting for that story," I said. "You had to be somewhere doing something for all those years."

"You said you didn't want Dylan to hear about it until he was older. It's not a story I'm going to tell twice, Clay. There are parts of that period that still give me nightmares. I'll dredge it up once. It will stir up bad memories doing it even once, but I'll do it for you, because you need to know where I was and what I did."

"You think Dylan is old enough to hear the details?" I asked.

"Yes, but I thought that after I got to know him. You said you didn't want him hearing any bad things that happened to me."

"Can't you get Dylan to go for sodas when you come to a spot you don't think he's mature enough to hear?" I asked.

"That might work. It's not a one evening story you tell over a tub of popcorn," Ivan said. "It's long, complicated, and I'm not certain I'm ready to go there. While you're worried about Dylan being old enough to hear what I have to say, I don't know I'm old enough. At least I don't know if I'm ready."

We stood across the counter from each other. October had come to the cove but someone forgot to turn the heat down.

It always got warmer when I was face to face with Ivan.

Ivan walked down the dock with me and when we reached Sea Lab he began unfastening the nearest line. I helped by taking the tension off the line. When he moved to the next line, there was now plenty of slack. I went forward to bring in Harold's anchor. The nose of the boat was nearly centered in the slip. The weight on her nose kept the bow of Sea Lab in place.

"I better get back," Ivan said. "Anything else before I go?"

"No. Thanks. I won't be gone long. I won't stay long at Harold's headquarters.

Going to the bridge I turned the ignition and pressed the start button. The Detroit diesels hummed to life. There was no sound like it. They purred pure power. With the added weight in the labs on two decks, Harry wanted to be over powered rather than under powered. He made sure Sea Lab was powered with the biggest Detroit marine engines available for a forty foot boat.

I eased the throttle forward, maintaining the 5mph speed restriction inside the cove. Sea Lab hadn't been out since I took the final slides on my reef. Keeping the speed down on her first trip out in some time would be the plan. Let her engine be lubricated and eased into working mode.

At the entrance to the Gulf, I pushed the throttle to quarter speed. We'd maintain eight to ten miles an hour for the fifteen minute trip to Harold's headquarters.

The gauges said everything was normal. The sound told me the same thing. Easy does it on this trip. My next trip would be to the sunken freighter. That's when I'd open up Sea Lab's power plants to three quarter speed.

First I needed to acquaint my employees with our operation. It would be a couple of weeks before I'd be going back to diving twice a week. I might get one dive in with careful planning. I really wanted to see the sunken freighter up close and alone.

Something caught my eye to the right. It was right beside the bridge but down in the water. I checked behind me, nothing. I looked from side to side, nothing. As I looked back toward Sea Lab's bow, a porpoise leaped out of the water crossing Sea Lab's bow.

"Wow! How cool was that."

I saw more movement to port. There was another porpoise ...and another, and two more on the starboard side. Two more porpoises crossed my bow. They were matching Sea Lab's speed. They passed me to leap in front of the boat.

After double checking to be sure nothing was in my path, I stepped onto the catwalk that ran in front of the bridge. It was just me and my escort. There were eleven. Five were on the port side and six were to starboard. I had a creature escort to welcome me back to the sea. I had chills.

I held the catwalk railing and leaned forward to breathe the fresh sea air. Harry was right. Under the usual fragrance of the Gulf hung a newer and fresher smell. Like the Gulf had been scrubbed clean.

They stayed with me for the rest of the trip. Once I began to slow to turn into the dock, they swam on.

What a magnificent return. Was that a good sign or what?

I told Harold about it while he was walking me through the headquarters and showing me the pictures of Sea Lab mounted on the walls of the longest hallway. Two were from the air and a half dozen more were taken on the water from a distance.

How cool was that.

"You see, we're not the only ones happy to see you back where you belong. Don't underestimate the intelligence of the dolphin family. I bet they recognized the boat just like we do."

"I'm a marine biologist, Harold," I said.

He laughed.

"Imagine me explaining sea creatures to you," he said, still chuckling.

It was a fruitful trip. I got copies of the pictures of Sea Lab for our walls at the conservancy. They'd be added to the ones already there. Harold gave me a small copy of the larger map that hung in the office of the commander. Harold marked where the most promising shipwrecks were with compass settings for each location.

I couldn't wait to see how many of them hosted a reef.

I was there for forty minutes and a bit disappointed my escort had gone on without me.

It made me smile when I replayed it in my brain.

I grew up doing what needed to be done. It wasn't unusual for me to work six days a week and some weeks seven days. It wasn't like doing physical labor. The work fascinated me and some days I didn't want to leave work. It wasn't hard work but there comes a time when routine becomes drudgery.

Harry understood the concept. He knew recharging your batteries from time to time is a wise move. In the end it would make for a better and a more dedicated marine biologist.

After ten years, I deserved time away from my work.

I was giddy over being back where I belonged.

Having Jack and Randi meant delegating responsibility to allow me to do more of the things I loved doing.

The Sea Lab was mine.

I didn't intend to allow my help to go out on her if I wasn't on the bridge. It was too big and too important to the business of the conservancy to put in anyone's hands but mine and Harry's. It was Harry's conservancy.

The Sea Lab belonged to the conservancy as I belonged to the conservancy. It was instrumental in making my word the be all and end all on the Gulf of Mexico. It helped to make me better informed on the condition of the Gulf than other marine biologists.

Trusting Randi or Jack with the keys wasn't in the cards.

I'd give them all the attention they needed to make them secure in their employment. If I took them out on Sea Lab, they'd be passengers.

When I wasn't on the Sea Lab making dives, I was at work in one of her labs with the more sophisticated magnifying capabilities and better viewing devices for slide shows. I would introduce the help to the equipping the conservancy laboratory didn't have.

The space next to mine at the far end of the original slips was open while the dock was under construction. I told Ivan how easy it was backing Sea Lab into her spot without a boat on each side.

"Ivan, can you move Sea Lab to the end of the new slips? By putting the Seaswirl in the last slip on the outside? That way it won't be such a tight squeeze for me to back Sea Lab into her space."

"The slips are all the same size. If I put Seaswirl in the last slip, I can knock off a couple of feet of her slip's width and give them to Sea Lab. That will give you a couple of extra feet to work with," Ivan said.

"That works for me," I said, happy I'd no long break out in a sweat when I backed in between two full sized boats. "Will that increase the rate for the slip?"

"I should double it. What's two times free?" Ivan asked.

"I think you're going to pay me to park my boat," I said.

"If that's the case, would I get better perks?"

Standing behind Sea Lab, the new Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop sat on the rise overlooking the marina. It was in front of the parking lot and beside the boat ramp. You couldn't miss it from the dock. It was easy to see from the highway. The sign was big and easy to read.

Ivan's charter boat was usually at the end of the dock. They moved it once they construction on extending the dock started. Ivan anchored it next to where Popov's fishing fleet anchored until the work was done. The rest of the boats parked parallel to the shore. The Sea Lab's slip wasn't in the way of the construction.

I still doubted the cove could become a vacation haven Ivan spoke about. Since I arrived the cove was a fishing village with a picturesque gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.

I knew well its fishing roots and seeing past what had always been there was a reach for me. Ivan's plan wasn't complicated. He'd work his ass off to give visitors access to a beach on the cove side and access to the Gulf where the cove ended. Once you did that, the possibilities were endless.

Hearing him talk, he seemed to expect the habits of vacationers to change. Instead of a fast paced lively getaway, he thought people were soon going to look for less stressful ways to vacation.

I knew you couldn't get much more relaxing than SCUBA diving. It was what my job required me to do. It's what I did when I wanted to leave my cares behind me. I certainly didn't have a grueling schedule, but I did my best thinking on dives.

I did my best not to say anything negative about Ivan's plan. He was home and in my bed most nights. He seemed happy. I wanted him to succeed and I would do whatever he needed me to do to help him. I'd even lay bricks if he needed me to do that.

If he needed me to lay bricks, he was in big trouble.

Ivan would be able to keep his eye on the marina from the new shop. It sat next to the boat ramp on one side and next to the stairs leading from the parking lot to the dock on the other side. Just beyond the boat ramp was where Ivan would build his beach.

It was ambitious. It was very ambitious. If Ivan asked me if he should put a shop in front of the parking lot on the rise next to the boat ramp, I'd have said no. The hill would make it hard to get to.

Where he was building it was perfect. I'd look forward to going to the shop for the view it offered. Finding Ivan where the view was wouldn't hurt my feelings any.

With Popov giving his blessing to Ivan's plan, nothing stood in his way. Ivan was dedicated to his vision. With Popov reaching sixty, he'd be passing the responsibility for the cove on soon. Ivan was like a son to Popov and his plan was perfect. Turning over the cove to Ivan's vision would make Popov's life easier.

With me in the Gulf and Ivan on the hill overlooking the cove, I was seeing a bright future for us. We were involved in making our futures mean something special. The years ahead of us looked good.

No one makes up for lost time, but you can make the best of the time you have. I hoped we'd make it the time of our lives.

I did my best to be helpful while Ivan built his dream. My best thing was making sure he stayed well fed. I went home most days for lunch and after I was well fed, I took Ivan whatever Mama fixed. I left enough time to be at the conservancy for an hour or more each afternoon, but I had my priorities straight, getting Ivan fed first.

We'd been talking about offering dives on one of the better known reefs in the area, but Ivan was still getting his feet wet running the marina and building the new shop.

I told him I'd find a way to take out divers once a week. I could thank Harry for that. With help at the conservancy, my time was my own. If taking divers out helped Ivan accomplish what he'd set out to do, I'd take out the divers. No one knew the places to dive in the Gulf better than I did.

Sometimes you can have doubts and still feel something is right. I suppose anything Ivan did was OK by me, as long as he did it close to me.

Life definitely took a turn for the better by late 1979.

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