Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Summer Vacation Where the Souvenir is a Scallop Dinner

Well my email inbox was NOT filled to the brim with expressions of concern from my loyal readers and blog followers wondering where I've been for the last week.  Thanks for that!

Doodles I had on my sketch pad before I left for vacation.
Where have I been?  Well I've had my head under the water, breathing through a tube, looking for dinner.  I've been participating in the annual ritual of scallop season.  That time of the year when the "in-the-know" adventure vacationers converge on a small section of Florida's west coast to hunt and gather scallops.  Specifically, I was in the small town, sometimes called a fishing town, of Steinhatchee (not Stein-A-Hatchee), Florida.  The easiest way to describe the location is about 50 miles south of the Florida elbow bend, inland up the Steinhatchee River.

Sea Hag Marina as the sun sets on the Steinhatchee River,  Steinhatchee, Florida
There is not much in this town and most of my group did wonder what happens here other than fishing.  Most of us were convinced nothing, which is one of the charms of this vacation.  Our port of departure and home for the week was the Sea Hag Marina and the Sea Hag Shacks.  They call them "shacks" and maybe you would also, but I think the are pretty damn perfect for this type of excursion.  They are small, mostly cinder block buildings, easily circa 1970's if not earlier, recently renovated and painted fun, bright colors.  Our shack was called the Sea Bass, which was a two bedroom, two bath with a kitchen in the middle.  The whole shack experience is more akin to car camping, where the shacks stand in for your camper or tent.  Most everything else occurs outside the shack accept sleeping and bathroom needs.

Sea Bass at the Sea Hag Shacks
 What's involved with scalloping?  Well you need access to a boat.  Fortunately my fellow hunters came with three boats, but you can rent them at the marina.  You are going to need a scuba mask and snorkel, small mess bag and a 5 gallon bucket.  That's it.  Optional gear could include sun block, fins, swim booties, and cooler of food and beverages. The balance of the time you are in shorts, tshirt and flip flops.  The general mind set here is "If you are wearing flip flops you are over dressed".  Very low key, low stress.

With our boats loaded with us and the gear, each day we would head out to the Gulf of Mexico (yea that's the big body of water off the west coast of Florida), head north or south, find a place where there were several other boats anchored, drop anchor and snorkel.  We were never out of sight of land, so I figure no more than a mile or two out.  The water depth is typically not more than 4 feet, normally shallower.  

Are there sharks in the water?  I'm sure there are, it is nature,
but we never have seen one.  I did see a sea turtle
The bottom is sandy and grassy, either a flat blade grass or grass that looks like green wire.  The scallops sit on top of the grass and you merely reach down and grab them while slowly drifting about.  It is like an Easter egg hunt underwater.

Of all the gear I mentioned, the 5 gallon bucket may seem the least obvious of its utility.  It is used as the standard measurement.  Each person is allowed to gather 2 gallons of in the shell scallops.  Typically, though you will have more than one person on the boat, we divided ourselves up in to groups of 5 per boat, which I found out is not uncommon, because the maximum, or limit, you can collect in a day is 10 gallons.  So if you want to create some stress then you work until you get your limit, which actually is not really that difficult.

The scallops pile up to nearly our 10 gallon daily limit.

So each day we would rise, drink coffee, eat breakfast outside our shack, load up the boats, cruise for maybe a half hour, anchor and float around.  After we either limited out or just decided to head in, it was back to the Sea Hag.  Where we would typically sit at the marina and watch all the other boats come and go and shuck the days catch.  Clean up, eat dinner, sit at the marina for a few more cocktails, maybe a cigar and repeat the next day. 

Shucking is a whole other story but its a requirement to get the reward.that will yield the ultimate in fresh sea food for a multitude of dinning experiences.  Ten gallons of scallops generally yields 5 pounds of meat.  These are bay scallops and each scallop's meat is about the size of the average man's tip of his pinkie finger.

This isn't your run of the mill Florida vacation.  No beach, putt-putt and every chain restaurant within a mile.  From what I've experienced over the years it is not over run with tourist, which lends itself to the laid back, easy going adventure I need to dial down from my regular stress filled, crazy life.

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