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2023 Florida Sea Base Travel Log

(Please note this is not a traditional writeup as it is very detailed and likely more appealing to those who actually attended the trip. When I was a Scout, our Troop would always have a Scribe designated for each crew on any Summer Adventure trip who would write up a similar log of the adventure. I have come across these writeups recently and treasure the memories they have evoked, even though they weren’t anywhere as detailed as this. Hopefully our boys will do the same someday in the future when they read this writeup once again. Ironically, it was almost exactly 30 years ago that I attended Sea Base as a Scout, so this trip was extra special for me. Thank you for joining me on this adventure! -Mr. B)

Day 0 (Travel Day) – 6/3/23

We met up at Mr. Bielkiewicz’s house bright and early Saturday morning where we consolidated larger items into our 1 crew bag which was to be checked on our flight and ensured all appropriate paperwork and duffels were prepared for our adventure to Florida. Once everything was squared away, we packed as much as we could into the rooftop box and crammed the 6 Scouts and 2 Adults into our chariot bound for DIA.

We splurged for valet parking at Canopy Airport Parking thanks to a deal Mr. Bielkiewicz had and waited patiently for a large enough shuttle to accommodate our entire party. We made our way through the terminal after checking our one bag and on to security where we ran into another Troop 640 Scout (Dominic P.) and his family who happened to be in line just behind us! After clearing security, we made our way to the C Concourse where a few of us grabbed breakfast and snacks for our 4 hour flight to Miami. We boarded our flight on-time, but as we were in the C group for boarding, we ended up in the last 2 rows of the plane. At least we were all together. At this point, some of us shed our Class A’s for the flight and enjoyed the relatively uneventful flight across the country.

We arrived into Miami on time and made our way through the ancient terminal (where Caleb could barely stand up without hitting his head on the ceiling) and on to baggage claim. Once our crew bag arrived, we started the long walk to the train for the rental car center. Enterprise was anxiously awaiting our arrival and we picked out the nicest looking white 15-passenger van and loaded all the gear. It was a great, spacious ride and with the Boy Scout discount, surprisingly affordable. We made our way out of the airport and headed to Homestead for our AirBnb. About 30 minutes later, we pulled up to the white picket fence that surrounded our home for the next 2 nights and unpacked and settled in for the night. Mr. Bielkiewicz made a brief run to the grocery store to obtain breakfast fixings for tomorrow and the boys settled into playing cards and enjoying the hot tub in the backyard of our rental. Some strange thought entered Michael’s mind late in the night and he decided to make caramel. Many would agree that what he ended up making was definitely NOT caramel. 

Day 1 (Southern Florida Tourists) – 6/4/23

We awoke bright and early so that we could arrive at our scheduled activity for the day on-time – an Airboat Tour of the Everglades. We went through a local company called Tigertail Airboat Tours which was located just across the highway from the Everglades National Park on Tamiami Trail. This was a phenomenal experience as it’s run by a family who were natives to the land and used to live out in “hammocks” in the middle of the Everglades. We visited 2 different hammocks where we got to see grasshoppers the size of a small cat, dragonflies that landed on your hat (well, Caleb’s at least), and countless baby alligators in the wild. We also visited what can only be described as an old zoo/rehab center with turtles (grown and baby) and a couple of alligators that we actually got to hold. They rescue alligators that are abandoned, raise them by hand, then release them back to the wild when they’re ready. Everyone enjoyed the airboat tour and because of a small snafu with lunch, we had extra time afterwards, so we hopped on over to the national park entrance and checked out the visitor center. Some bought souvenirs and then we piled back into the van before heading to lunch at Steak n Shake. The boys then voted to make our way to another national park – Key Biscayne, which is located on the ocean side, South of Miami. 95% of this park is actually in the water, however there’s a nice boardwalk that  juts out into the ocean a bit where many people were fishing. We checked out the visitor center there as well before heading back towards the house in Homestead. We decided to check out the famed Robert Is Here Fruit Stand first and spent $10 each on milkshakes that probably aren’t worth $10. The “fruit stand” definitely sells some fruit, however it also contains a strange pen filled with (thanks to the recent rains) muddy turtles, goats (which like to stand on the turtles), chicken, and so on. There was a man playing live music and cages filled with squawking birds. It was an interesting experience to say the least. But honestly, a little overrated in my opinion. We did see Robert. So yes, he is in fact “here.”

We headed back to the house for some rest after much sightseeing and driving before deciding on dinner plans. We opted to head back towards Miami and try our luck at a Japanese Hibachi restaurant. Unfortunately, they didn’t take reservations and by the time we arrived, the wait was well over an hour, so we headed across the street to a mall and ate at BJs Brewhouse. While we were there, Isaac decided to attempt to start a bar fight because the Nuggets started playing the local Miami Heat and he, very vocally, expressed boos and cheers to antagonize any Heat fans in the house. The adults, making sure the kids stay safe, decided to pay the bill and leave before things escalated. We returned home and watched the end of the game there. We also prepared for our Sea Base adventure by watching some required videos on sailing and creating the anchor watch and cooking/cleaning schedules. We retired to bed, in preparation for another long day tomorrow.

Day 2 (Key West and Sea Base Check-in) – 6/5/23

We woke up early and departed our rental by 8am. Waking up early was not difficult thanks to a local rooster who started cock-a-doodle-dooing at 4am each morning. That was really the only downside to our rental. We packed up the van and headed out to Key West. The main attraction of course was the drive over many bridges (including the 7-mile bridge) that connect all the Florida Keys. It’s a long drive, but beautiful seeing the ocean and gulf on either side. It took even longer than we anticipated (even without much traffic) so we didn’t have a lot of time in Key West if we wanted to check in early as was recommended, so we didn’t even leave the van. We did drive around the streets of Key West, played Jimmy Buffet on the radio, and took photos of other families at the Southernmost Point in the Continental US (even though it isn’t the REAL Southernmost point). We turned around, and, much to Michael’s chagrin, did NOT find any decent pirate sword shops. We headed back up towards Islamorada, home of the Sea Base, stopping for Subway on Marathon Key. We arrived about 20 minutes later than planned to Sea Base and began the check-in process. Unfortunately, there was a bit of confusion by Sea Base and our first mate, Frank, as they all thought we were part of another Troop. This simply delayed our official check-in, so instead, we started collecting our gear (fins, snorkeling vests, mesh bags), toured the gift shop and bought our reef-safe sunscreen for the week, and did our snorkel test in the very murky waters at the Sea Base “beach.” We also took a formal photo, however we neglected to look at said photo after we returned – hopefully it gets uploaded to their website eventually.

Once check-in officially happened, we were escorted to our home for the next week, the Thirsty Lady. It was a 46-foot sailboat (the largest on base actually), captained by Captain Pat (Carney). Ironically, the prior day, at Robert Is Here, we ran into a sailing crew who had just returned from their adventure and they told us we MUST get Captain Pat. Of course we had no say in the matter, but it was a welcomed coincidence and a fortuitous one as we felt we had the best captain out there. Captain Pat has been sailing for over 40 years and has owned his boat for most of that time. He actually won 4 regattas with the boat up on Lake Michigan (he’s from Chicago originally but lives in Key West now). He rents out the boat via AirBnB during the non-summer months. After getting some initial info from the Captain on our adventure and loading our gear, we made our way back to base to attend the evening flag ceremony and then got dinner from the mess hall. It was nothing to write home about, and made us look forward to our own cooking on the boat even more.

After dinner, we made our way back to the boat where the Captain informed us that due to the full moon and “negative” tide, we could not make it out of the Sea Base harbor that night and would have to instead sleep on the boat while at the marina. The good news was that the A/C would be working since we could stay plugged in! We only missed a short ride out anyway where we would’ve anchored. So this also meant no anchor watch on day 1, which made everyone very happy. After ensuring we had everything we needed, we closed up the cabin (to keep it cool), played a little cards, then slept soundly in the cabin, with one exception. Michael decided to sleep topside and discovered the bugs were quite prevalent since we were near land. Once he equipped himself with proper bug protection, managed to sleep through the night. There were 3 bedrooms on the boat and 3 bathrooms. The captain had his own berth at the front, Jacob and Zack shared one bedroom, Kristina and her son, Isaac, shared the other while Aidan and Caleb slept on the benches around the table. Mr. Bielkiewicz slept on the floor where it was coolest.

Day 3 (Snorkeling) – 6/6/23

We awoke bright and early, had a little breakfast on the boat, and departed the marina around 7am. We made our way out to our first snorkeling site, Alligator Reef. Jacob towed the dive flag and we enjoyed our first Snorkel site where much of it was the crew figuring out exactly the best way to snorkel. The visibility was ok, but the sun wasn’t fully out which hampered it. We did see some fish, and also saw a crew scuba diving below us.

We then moved on and motored to Donut Reef, however there were no mooring balls available, so we skipped it and moved on to Hens and Chickens. The current was quite strong here and visibility not the greatest, however we saw more marine life, including 2 large Spotted Eagle Rays.

We then made our way to Tavernier Bight where we anchored for the night. The previous week, the motor for the anchor went out so it had to be let out and pulled back in manually. The Captain taught our boys how to do this successfully and it was quite the adventure to get the anchor down just right. Once we were sure the anchor was secure, Aidan decided to jump in for a short swim and decided to try to climb the side of the boat where he infamously injured his knee. A hobbled Aidan climbed back in the boat properly and we then cooked dinner – the suggested menu had pasta on it, however we couldn’t find any pasta sauce so we opted for Mac ‘N Cheese with hot dogs mixed in. What’s a Boy Scout trip without Mac ‘N Cheese at least one night? After dinner, some opted to fish and Kristina caught 4 fish and Caleb caught 3. None worth keeping, so we tossed them back and then bunkered down for the night, our first with anchor watch. Fortunately, anchor watch was uneventful tonight as we mostly started at the shore not too far away and the other boats anchored around us.

Day 4 (More Snorkeling and Crazy Night) – 6/7/23

We awoke bright and early and had a hot breakfast of Sea Base McMuffins (eggs and sausage on english muffins) before heading out to our first snorkel spot of the day, Pickles Reef where visibility was better than the previous day but the current was just as strong or stronger. We saw a pretty cool shipwreck before heading back on board and heading out to Davis Reef. Due to the strength of the current combined with the distance from our mooring ball to the sunken lighthouse, half of the crew decided to stay on board and prepare lunch while the other half (Caleb, Zack, Aidan, and Kristina) decided to jump back in. Fortunately for them, they saw more than just the lighthouse when they came across a Reef Shark and a Sea Turtle, however what they didn’t realize was exactly how far they had “wandered” from the boat. Unfortunately, Kristina didn’t make it back. However, Ursula, from the Little Mermaid, joined us in her place! At least that’s what we all thought when she showed up at the boat with more seaweed atop her head than hair. It seems that Ursula is not the best swimmer and had to be aided to our boat by our life buoy and a couple of additional rescue Scouts (Jacob and Isaac). When Aidan approached Kristina before we lost her to the deep and she stated “I don’t think I’m gonna make it, Aidan,” he replied “I don’t think I will either.” Fortunately for Aidan’s parents, he DID make it back, helping to ensure Ursula’s safety. Mr. Bielkiewicz manned the grill during the Davis Reef escapade and all were treated to cheeseburgers with flaky sandwich “buns” thanks to Sea Base forgetting some key food components when stocking our kitchen.

After resting a bit, we journeyed on to Rocky Top Reef for our 3rd snorkel spot of the day. Only Zack, Michael, Caleb, Aidan, Kristina, and Mr. Bielkiewicz jumped in and immediately saw a large Moray Eel – unfortunately, the GoPro froze and no footage of said eel was captured, so you’ll just have to believe us. The current was once again strong so we just hovered around the boat where we had some fun blowing bubble rings and then were lucky enough to see a Nurse Shark who swam circles under us for quite some time. We then got back on the ship and headed to our mooring spot for the evening at Indian Key.

Unfortunately, the only spot left at Indian Key was too shallow for the Thirsty Lady and we ran her aground. The Captain had everyone move to one side of the boat so he could rock us free. We abandoned the moor ball and instead set up anchor in front of the other boats moored nearby. Jacob and Caleb nailed this one, which was good considering what we were in for overnight. We grilled up chicken for chicken fajitas and settled in for another night of anchor watch.

The captain expected some potential rain around the 2am hour. Kristina and Mr. Bielkiewicz had anchor watch from 2am-4am and it was calm with only a couple of sprinkles. Until 3:55 am. The skies almost instantly opened up with massive raindrops falling. Michael, who had been sleeping topside, quickly moved down below and the adults took shelter under the bimini in the cockpit. Just as fast as the rain started, the winds started to increase. First 5 knots, then 10 knots, then 15 knots. At 23 knots, we decided to wake the Captain. Mr. Bielkiewicz asked Kristina to do the honors and as she approached his door, he opened it, sensing the weather above his cabin. We opted not to wake the next anchor watch crew, however Michael and Caleb were up anyway and decided to weather the storm with Mr. Bielkiewicz and the Captain. The winds continued to pick up, blowing the heavy rain horizontally, and topped out at 28 knots before our anemometer stopped working due to being too wet. The captain continually checked the anchor line and let more out because the higher the winds, the more anchor you need out to keep the boat stable. In the end, we had out well over 100 feet by the end of the storm. The ship held like a champ and some of the crew didn’t even wake up for the storm. By 5:30am, it was all over. The captain and Mr. Bielkiewicz got some rest for a short while before daybreak.

Day 5 (Pirate Takeover, Sailing, and a Busted Motor) – 6/8/23

The only real ill effect from the overnight storm was the fact that we were apparently boarded by a pirate who looked shockingly a lot like Michael. Mr. Bielkiewicz was bleary-eyed from the short sleep shift, but still managed to get a photo of the pillager. Fortunately, the pirate was relatively friendly and did not steal all of our goods, so we had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast.

Having made our way mostly North and East from Sea Base, we had a goal to make it to Marathon Key, South and West of Sea Base, today. This was mostly against the wind so it meant for a long day under way. We were able to put up the sails fully for the first time and the Captain taught the boys how to hoist the Jib and Mainsail and we really picked up some good speed, angling so much that the Captain had to distribute the weight properly to help maintain our pace. This was quite exciting as one rail of the boat was within inches of touching the water at our top speed of about 8 knots. Mr. Bielkiewicz decided a nap was in order and while he was asleep down below, the motor (used in combination with sailing at times to keep the speed up, especially when the wind was “too” direct) started to blow smoke and gave out. We were able to maintain a slow speed with just the sails, but the captain had to make some repairs while we were under way. He handed the helm to Ursula/Kristina, who decided that doing a few donuts was in order. Unfortunately, sailing a boat in circles does NOT allow you to make much progress towards our goal for the night, so Mr. Bielkiewicz was awakened from his slumber to steer the boat instead. When asked if anyone had any mechanical experience on board, everyone pointed to Isaac and his love for working on cars – so he was volun-told to help the Captain as he basically dismantled the motor to try to find out what was wrong. In the end, the hypothesis was that when we ran aground the previous day, we might have sucked up something that was blocking the intake – Captain reversed the flow and was able to clear the line and we were back in business. Mr. Bielkiewicz’s turn at the helm wasn’t much better than his predecessor as the boat suddenly lurched in a manner that only occurs when one hits something. It seems the shallows of the Keys found us once again – but fortunately we had enough momentum to power through this one without much delay. Needless to say, only the Captain helmed the ship from this point forward since clearly Troop 640 adults (and Disney witches) could not be trusted.

To save time on our journey, we made sandwiches for lunch while under way and enjoyed the beautiful weather and scenery that surrounded us. Caleb trolled for fish while we were under way and managed to hook a Barracuda. Captain Pat was afraid of anyone losing a finger to the vicious sea creature, so after carefully weighing it, Caleb released it back into the deep.

Eventually, we found ourselves at Marathon Key – one of the largest Keys in the Florida Keys, where we parked for the night in a marina. We were able to take showers, eat a healthy (both food and cost-wise) dinner at the local restaurant, and sit around and tell stories while the cabin was fully conditioned with cool cool air for us to sleep in that night. Of course our meal wasn’t without some drama as Caleb noticed another patron who happened to be positioned at the head of another table facing our group who had a striking resemblance to a young Jeffrey Dahmer. Why Caleb even knows what a young Jeffrey Dahmer looks like is probably something to explore later, but we all agreed that he wasn’t wrong. And it seemed he was staring at our group (or perhaps Caleb directly) most of the meal. Perhaps it was because he was facing our group…perhaps not?

To top it off, later that evening, Michael realized he had forgotten his bag with his epipen in it at the table. He took a buddy back to the restaurant and found said bag exactly where he left it, however there was another family with 2 young girls seated at the table. Instead of doing the logical thing and simply letting the family know his bag was between the 2 girls, he felt it more appropriate to slowly sneak under the table to retrieve his bag. Somewhere in the world, a family is writing up their vacation stories like this one, and they, too, have their own Jeffrey Dahmer-like creep in their story as well.

The boat was so nice and cool when we returned that we all crammed into it tonight. No anchor watch necessary, so we took our normal spots, but this time, Mr. Bielkiewicz fashioned a bed out of the dining table and well placed cushions, and Michael took the floor. We all slept quite well!

Day 6 (Snorkeling Resumed, a Pillow for the Fishes, and Shark Fishing) – 6/9/23

We took our time rising as we had a relatively short day ahead. We cooked up eggs and sausage again, this time for breakfast burritos. We pushed off and made our way to the fuel station where we replenished the fuel, drained the holding tanks, bought more ice, and a few snacks for us and the fish we planned to catch. We also happened to be next to a commercial swordfishing boat who generously donated 9 filets of swordfish for us to make later that night for dinner! One last bathroom break on land and we were on our way. We headed out to our first snorkel spot, a place called “48?” where the visibility wasn’t great due to the large swells. We did see some sort of marker or mast under water and some limited marine life before we decided this wasn’t the best spot so we got back on the boat and moved on. Michael wasn’t feeling 100% at this point and decided to stay on the boat for this one.

We then proceeded to Coffins Reef but just prior to saddling up to the mooring ball, suddenly Zack said “Hey! Isn’t that Michael’s pillow?” pointing into the ocean. Michael looked underneath his arm where his pillow was located just seconds before and then out to the sea where the pillow floated quickly away from the boat, taken by the current faster than any of us could swim. We held a brief memorial and then attached to the mooring ball to be greeted by the best snorkeling visibility of the trip and definitely the most fish of any site we’d done previously. Michael actually hopped in the water and just hung out on the life buoy line which helped his nausea and because so many fish were literally just under the surface, even he got to experience this amazing spot. It was a beautiful array of colorful fish that clearly wanted us to join them in their swaying back and forth of the current. It was a great site to end our snorkeling adventures.

We hopped out of the water and decided to make hot dogs while moored at Coffins Reef. The only issue was the swells were quite dramatic by this point and we decided using the grill off the back of the boat would be a recipe for disaster (envision massive hot dogs rolling into the ocean, one by one) so we chose to grill them up in a skillet below deck on the stove. Caleb attempted to start this process, but even he tapped out as being below deck under major rocking can cause the heartiest of sailors to feel the effects. So Mr. Bielkiewicz and Kristina took over and finished grilling the hot dogs, not losing even one! The crew wolfed them down quickly and then we got under way to our final spot for the trip before returning to Sea Base the next morning.

About 30 minutes into our motoring along (and at least 2 hours after we had arrived at Coffins Reef), Jacob blurted out “HEY! Isn’t that Michael’s pillow?!?!” Sure enough, just as fast as it had floated away from us, Michael’s pillow floated right by the boat! Again, too fast for anyone to react to retrieve it, we had to watch helplessly as it continued its journey across the ocean. We fully expected another boat to present it to us the next day, but alas, that was the last we’d see of the most resilient pillow at sea. Seriously, what are the odds?

We returned to the spot we had crossed from the gulf into the ocean 3 days prior and anchored once again, this time with the finesse of a seasoned crew, impressing even our own grizzled captain in the process. He trusted our boys’ work after proving themselves during the Perfect Storm of 2023 so we could quickly relax, make dinner, and set up shop for a night of “guaranteed successful fishing.” Sea Base provides steak for your final night so we went to fire up the grill and realized that we were completely missing the attachment that allows you to secure the mini propane tank to the grill – we assume it was knocked off in the refueling process back at Marathon Key, so we had to get creative since we also had to grill up our swordfish. The adults decided to let the boys take a break and cooked up some wonderful Surf ‘N Turf along with some instant mashed potatoes. The meal hit the spot and prepared us to sit back for an evening of relaxing and fishing. True to his word, the Captain’s guarantee was quickly fulfilled as many fish were caught that evening. Kristina caught a couple more (6 total for the trip), Aidan joined the fun and caught a “wiggly mon” plus a few others (4 total), Michael threw in a line and caught 2 pretty quickly, and Zack got in on the action and caught 1 as well. But Caleb was busy and managed to reel in 8 more today alone bringing his trip total to 13. The best was saved for last though when he managed to hook a Nurse Shark. Bucket List item checked! She was 15 pounds and approximately 4 feet long. The double hook (acquired in Marathon that morning) snagged the mouth and the left eye. Caleb was able to free both hooks before setting it free – so if you’re even in the Florida Keys and come across a one-eyed Nurse Shark, you’ll know who is responsible!

We had one more night of anchor watch, which was thankfully much more uneventful than a couple of nights prior, allowing everyone to get as much sleep as possible.

Day 7 (Return to Base and Return to Home) – 6/10/23

A short day on the water as our trek back to Sea Base was a very short one – we basically ate whatever food was remaining for breakfast (pop-tarts, cereal, bagels, etc). We made our way into the Sea Base harbor, parked the boat in our original spot, and started unloading and cleaning up. The boys literally swabbed the deck (once the water supply was fixed at the base) while we made sure all of our gear was accounted for. We all took showers, filled out appropriate paperwork, visited the gift shop one last time, and loaded up the van with our gear. We had originally planned to eat a free meal at Sea Base, however the Captain suggested a Cuban Restaurant across the street and the crew voted to do that instead. We were glad we did as it was inexpensive, yummy, and as an added benefit, there was a mother and baby manatee floating at the marina adjacent to the restaurant. Many had never seen a manatee before so it was a great way to close out the trip.

With full bellies, we piled into the van and made the drive back to the Miami Airport while almost everyone took a deserving nap. We returned the van, made our way through security after checking our crew bag, and grabbed a few snacks for the flight home. We boarded on-time and had an uneventful flight home. After waiting for all the luggage to come off the belt at DIA, Caleb finally realized that our crew bag was apparently classified as “oversized” and noticed it had come up in a different location. We then got in the absurdly long line for the parking shuttle where it took a few shuttles to finally accommodate us. We got back the car, had to fill up the tire (a known leak that Mr. Bielkiewicz was prepared for and had a pump handy), and headed back home.

It ended up being a very long day, involving Planes, Trains (at both airports), Automobiles, and Boats, but we all arrived safe and sound back home, poorer in the wallets, but richer in experiences. I know I will never forget this trip and I hope no one else who attended will either. All photos located here; slideshow coming to a Court of Honor near you!

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