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Date of Issue: January 16, 2008

Sandscript

Bob's passing brings sad times for ‘waters’ folks

sandsc-ardren1975.jpg
Cortezian Espin Bullock took this picture of Bob Ardren in 1975 on a sailing trip. Bob died Jan. 1.

If the new year is supposed to bring bright hope and happiness, 2008 didn’t quite bear up to its promise. At least, not to me.

Got a phone call just after midnight from a buddy that another buddy, Bob Ardren, had died.

Bob was a champion of all things fishy, both journalistic and aquatic.

He was a journalist for the United Press International when there was still a UPI, wrote about the new housing market for the Tampa Tribune, wrote a column about all things environmental to do with our Gulf and bay waters for The Islander, then covered the city of Sarasota for the Pelican Press in Sarasota, where he’s lived downtown for more than 25 years.

God, how he upset people in Sarasota! God, how he loved it!

That statement could be an epitaph, except that by-and-large he was loved by all. Even the folks he beat up in print.

Bob stories are legion.

Road trips were always a fun time. Bob would sit there, Buddha-like, in the passenger seat, not saying much, just doing the do-de-do of being a passenger in the car.

“Look!” he’d say. “There’s a cow! Let’s stop and look at the cow!”

So we’d stop. Cow. Another cow. And another.

Road trips with Bob were never a very zippy event. But they were always fun.

A favorite trip was when we did a Tampa lap for his Trib column, which was basically a review of model homes and new construction. When Bob did the column solo, he’d only hit a couple-three houses in a day - those pesky cows! - but when I drove, he could hit four or five model houses in a Saturday, grab lunch, and he’d have four or five columns in the bag.

So we’re at this model home. It’s nothing special. Bob is taking notes, and I’m ahead of him in the house walk-through.

I start to laugh at the master bath. Bob comes in to find me standing perched on the commode in one of those new styles that calls for a special little room for the toilet. Only a toilet.

But it seems that the “master developer” of the model home has designed the house featuring a bathroom that had a door that happens to swing into the bathroom. Clearance to the toilet proper was about half an inch.

So to close the door there were two options: perch on the toilet, or straddle it. I chose to perch, and we couldn’t stop laughing.

It got better after the two women who were also touring the home saw a tall guy (me) standing on a toilet with a big guy (Bob) who looked like a walrus standing outside the bathroom, both laughing like fiends.

Somehow, I don’t think the real estate lady made a sale on the home that day.

Another good Bob story came as we were coming back to our part of the world on old U.S. 301. Bob said we should stop at Showfolks, a tavern frequented by circus and carnival folks in Gibsonton, for a beer.

No, I said, we’ll just get cornered by some carnie with no teeth who will tell me his fascinating - to him - life story about working the midways throughout the country.

No, Bob insisted, we’ll just get beer.

We go in, grab seats, order beer and, within seconds, a guy with no teeth comes over, sits down next to me and starts to tell me about how fascinating his life has been working the midways for circuses and county fairs across North America.

Bob blanched pale, as the saying goes. We left rapidly, and he was quiet all the way home. We didn’t even stop to look at cows.

 

Oops

One final story, a favorite of mine, his famous “man overboard.”

We’d go out in my little power boat, although he preferred sails, looking at birds and mangroves and drowning shrimp. The first time we came back to port, Bob looked at me, calmly said, “man overboard,” and fell over the side.

It was apparently a ritual, or at least it became one whenever we were out on the water and the weather would permit such an act.

 

Crusing (with) class coming up

Another buddy of Bob and I, Stan Zimmerman, is again offering his “Cruising (with) Class” course at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. As he puts it, “The west coast of Florida is one of the best places in the world to learn how to go a-voyaging in a small sailboat.”

The course consists of nine two-hour lectures. Topics covered include coastal navigation, weather, sail handling, anchoring, provisioning and cooking, self-steering, emergency response and other skills necessary to cruise in comfort and safety. Each class will feature useful anchorage along the coast, as well as instruction on tying sailing knots.

Showtime for the first class starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, at the squadron, which is just down the road from Mote Marine Laboratory on City Island in Sarasota, just south of the New Pass Bridge.

 

Whale of a tale

A female sperm whale, all 30-plus feet of her, was euthanized off Fort Desoto Park last week. The whale was ailing and kept close to shore in Terra Ceia Bay and off Mullet Key, all just to the north of Anna Maria Island.

The whale apparently had some sort of lesions in its intestines and was malnourished, hence the decision by biologists to put her out of her misery.

 

Sandscript factoid

Despite the lore of “Moby Dick” and the great white whale in the Pacific Ocean, sperm whales have been in the Gulf of Mexico for almost forever. In fact, sperm whales were overfished almost to extinction by New England whalers in the late 1800s, hence the need to go to the Pacific for the valuable oil and blubber.

There doesn’t seem to be much data about whales in the Gulf, maybe because there isn’t much shipping traffic in the deep waters of our big pond, the haunt of the sperm whale.

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