I WAS BORN AND grew up in the Florida Keys.
Outsiders always think of the Keys as Key West. Key West is tourists, artists, bar after bar and restaurants. However, there is another side to the Florida Keys. The other side is a hard working beach area. There is a lot of fishing done from the Florida Keys. There are commercial fishermen who harvest the ocean off the keys. There are also sport fishing operations that cater to the tourists from the North.
If you fish out of the Florida Keys, you have to be able to handle a boat. There are a lot of reefs and narrow passages between Keys and a boat Captain has to not only be good at handling a boat, the boat Captain has to know the local waters and the local weather. The Florida Keys frequently get tropical storms and the wise boat Captain is in port when they hit.
When a boy grows up in the keys he might briefly consider being a cowboy or an astronaut or a fireman. However, the real lure is to be a boat Captain.
I never had the dream of being anything but a boat Captain. My earliest memories are watching the tanned boat Captains leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. I could not wait until I had my own boat!
The reports of when Sandy got his first boat are inaccurate. I was born on land and actually not permitted to have a sail boat until I could walk the whole length of the pier unaided. After that wasted time, I spent more time on the water than on land.
At first I was only permitted to sail around the local bay. It might shock you how many times gusts of wind would suddenly propel me further out than I was permitted. It sure as hell shocked my poor mother.
Once I was legally permitted out of the harbour, I spent my time exploring the waters of the Keys. I got to know every inch of the local waters. I knew where the shallows and the deeps were, I knew where the currents ran and I knew where the fish were and where the fish weren't.
Many an evening I would come home late, as usual. My mother would start to give me hell and then I would produce the string of fish I had caught.
My family ate a lot of fresh local fish and the neighbours also ate a lot of fresh local fish.
When my mother would get into one of her, "I got to take the boat away from that boy" moods, the neighbours would come by and talk to her about the need for a boy to explore the waters and to learn where the fish were so that he could become a fisherman when he was grown.
My mother wanted me to become more than just a fisherman. The concept was very strange to the locals. There were, of course, locals who didn't become fishermen. Some of them became janitors, doctors, grease monkeys, pimps in Key West or, yes even lawyers. It was sometimes sad, but a man who couldn't become a boat Captain still had to eke out a living somehow.
There were sail boat races when I was a young lad. I didn't win every race, but it was a topic of conversation for days afterward when I didn't win.
I didn't always do my chores. However, there was never a time when my boat needed work that it didn't get done. After a time, I even learned to sew my own sails. There were some smart remarks about 'girl's work.' However, I had developed a good straight left and a working right cross and the remarks were mostly behind my back. After a time, the other top sailors wanted me to sew their sails, as the local experts said that I sewed the best sails in the area.
I went to school when I had to and without a great deal of enthusiasm. I figured that I would just put in my time until I could get my commercial license and then my own charter boat.
One day a couple of FBI agents came to my little town. They were investigating something. They needed to go to a specific area and try to find something. The area was a very dangerous one and they had to have a local boat Captain who knew the waters.
The only boat Captains who knew the specific waters were busy or sick or whatever. The FBI people asked around and found me. They came in with their own power boat, but did not have the skill or local knowledge to take it where they needed to go.
They were interested in hiring Sandy until they found out how old I was or actually how old I wasn't.
I managed to take them around to talk to some of the local boat Captains.
The FBI guy asked one of the boat Captains, "Would you trust an expensive power boat to a young kid?"
The boat Captain said, "What's that got to do with anything. Sandy has more on the water experience than most of the guys twice his age. He might not be able to buy booze, but he can handle a boat, any boat."
Since there is really no other option, they hire me and I get my first boat Captain job! I take them where they think they need to go and they try to find what they are looking for by scuba diving. The underwater currents would move them from the spot where they had gone into the water. When they came back to the surface, they would find me waiting for them close by.
One of the FBI guys asks me, "How do you know where we will come up?"
I ask him, "How long have you been an FBI agent?"
The guy tells me.
I say, "Well I have been sailing these waters for a hell of a lot longer than that. What you know about being an FBI agent, I know more about the waters around the Keys."
When they come up empty in their search, as I knew they would, I question them as to what they are looking for. It takes a while, but they finally tell me and I am able to tell them where the currents would likely have taken something of that size and weight.
I take them where I think they might find what they are looking for and they are able to find it and bring it up from where I thought it would be. The currents are tricky and the search is not easy. However, they do find what they are looking for. At that point I stop being 'boy' and became 'Captain.'
It is not easy to get where I took them and not easy to get back out. However, I get them in and out without problems.
Later, the FBI people talk to some of the locals. They mention that they had retrieved some evidence from the sea. When they tell the locals where they have found the evidence, the locals ask if they took their boat into the area.
The FBI people tell them, "We hired a local kid to run the boat."
The locals show a great deal of concern over the escapade until the FBI people tell them that it is Sandy who took them in and out.
The locals then tell them, "Well, Sandy can do it, but trying it with anyone else would be a damn fool thing."
Perhaps due to what they are told, the FBI people actually mention me in their report.
The mention of me in an FBI report apparently gets me noticed by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA is having some problems with people smuggling in drugs via some very dangerous local waters. They can't hire me as a boat Captain, because I am only 16-years-old and it seems there is some damn fool regulation that a 16-year-old can not run a boat in dangerous circumstances.
Now, obviously the regulation was written by some desk bound idiot who has no idea what it takes to run a boat in the waters of the keys. However, the DEA field agents ask around for the boat Captain who best knows the dangerous area where they need to operate. My name keeps coming up.
I am hired as something like a Seasonal Temporary Trainee. I am supposed to do maintenance work and some local movement of equipment.
One night while I am moving some equipment locally, we get involved with a boat trying to run some very dangerous local waters. The boat Captain running the other boat is damn good, a local who is considered to be the top guy around. Well, he is considered to be the top guy around until I chase him through everything he tries until he runs his boat aground. After that, Sandy is considered to be the top boat guy around.
Around the Keys, the locals don't so much count age; they just want to see what you can do with a boat.
When they find out what has happened and who is involved, the DEA people have a fit! However, the DEA people's fit is nothing compared to the fit my mother throws.
I tell my mother, "I might get myself run down and killed by some drunken, idiot tourist who is driving a car, but out on the water I am always safe."
For some, unknown reason my mother is not satisfied. She kicks up such a fuss about the DEA putting a young child in danger while paying him 'nothing but peanuts' that the DEA guys who I have helped manage to get me a bonus and a college scholarship.
I am delighted with the bonus, but as far as the college scholarship went, they can kiss my ass! I am gonna' be a boat Captain and I didn't need no steenkin' college scholarship.
My mother sits me down and has a long talk with me. I am not going to be just some dumb boat Captain. She and my father don't have enough money to send me to college, but with the scholarship I am going to get an education.
All in all, I would rather have become a pimp in Key West than go to college, but arguing with my Mom is useless.
I have to move all the way up North to Miami and go to school. The Northern weather us lousy and the school work is boring. However, I am able to get some boat work from the DEA under an assumed name! I mean, hot damn! I am a for real secret agent.
I get through college. Well, my major isn't exactly the hardest one they have, but basket weaving is probably tougher than you think.
It actually isn't too bad what with the good money I make working on the sly for the DEA. I actually have a little extra money and I use it to learn about the sophisticated big city girls who come to the university. I show them the town and they show me how to fuck. I don't know how much the girls learn, but I learn a lot in the process!
Hell, I finish college with just average grades, but I do finish. Then my parents come up to Miami and watch me graduate and everything.
After I graduate, I officially go to work for the DEA as a Special Agent.
When I go to work for the DEA, I meet several of the other Special Agents including a lady named Fiona. At least I think she is a lady at the time. I fall for Fiona like a ton of bricks.
We spend some time together, Fiona and me. She teaches me a little about how a sophisticated lady likes to live. I teach her quite a bit about how a country boy makes love to a sophisticated lady.
After we spend some more time together, I think that Fiona falls for me as well.
If I had a bit more background at that time, I would have realized that Fiona always makes a big deal about having and Masters degree and all but her dissertation for a PhD. The education is nice, but it is only what you do with it that really counts.
Despite the fact that she thinks that she was much superior to me, I propose to Fiona. She accepts and we get married. Chalk it up to my country boy inexperience.
Now, the DEA does not normally use women as Special Agents. The work is considered too dangerous and they have policies and what not.
However, the DEA administration has about as much luck handling Fiona as I used to have arguing with my Mom. Fiona becomes a Special Agent. Since Fiona needs a boat Captain type guy for her grand plan, I fit right in since I am a Special Agent also.