No, not that Naples, unfortunately. Although thinking back, I made a trip to Naples, Italy nearly 10 years ago (September 1998) and haven't managed to make it back since, though I'd love to do so. I am still in love with Italy's Amalfi Coast, even after all these years. And I still haven't managed to do anything with those lovely handpainted tiles I bought in Vietri and had shipped home. I guess it's one of those things--I'm just waiting for what I know will be my "last stop" before I set them permanently somewhere.
Anyway, this trip was to Naples, Florida, that I had to make last weekend for work. The meeting was our annual Executive Exchange, where the C-level executives of some of our best clients get together to network, exchange ideas, do some benchmarking, and, of course, go golfing. Yes, one afternoon is set aside for golf, and for those of us who don't golf, there's always some other activity or activities scheduled for that time. Last year, when we met in Salt Lake City, Utah, there were a couple of choices, including cooking at the culinary institute or fly fishing (I chose fly fishing). This year, the "alternative event" was a sailing regatta in the Gulf.
I was assigned to the "Tea for Two," a 32-foot (I think) boat, and we had a total crew of six. One of our crew happens to also race sailboats as an avocation, so we had a little bit of a leg up in that department when it came to figuring out a race strategy. I've been on catamarans, and I've toured tall ships, but I've never raced a sailboat, so this was an entirely new experience. And boy was it fun, in a slow motion sort of way (our top speed was a little over 6 knots, which if I understand correctly, was somewhere between 12 and 15 mph, so a far cry from the bass boats and other motorized watercraft I've had experience with). But oh, the silence--just the waves and the wind in the sails! We didn't see much in the way of wildlife, just dolphins who crossed our bow on several occasions. But on a couple of the other sailboats, the crew saw a sea turtle swimming along, and on another boat, the people caught sight of a manatee. I would have especially loved to see a manatee.
The race was a three-mile triangular course. There's a boat that keeps official times, tells you when to start, and keeps the course clear of other craft. The first thing we learned was how to release and set the jib depending on which way we needed to tack. We also learned about jibing (changing direction with the wind coming over the stern of the boat--this is when you must be careful because when the main sail catches the wind, the boom can go flying from one side of the boat to the other, and you don't want to be caught by it!), and what it means to go "wing-on-wing" (when the main sail is set to one side and the jib to the other, so that from the front of back the sails appear as two wings).
We gave it our all--and came across the finish line second behind the largest (and therfore fastest) boat in the fleet. Unfortunately, the way the boats are handicapped, we still didn't win. I didn't quite understand the handicapping, and our resident sailor thought it was done a bit oddly, but we still had a grand time!
On the way back to the harbor, we had hoped to catch a glimpse of the space shuttle launch 250 miles away in Cape Canaveral, but thunderclouds that built up to the north and east cut off any chance we had of seeing the liftoff.
The Naples Grande Resort, where we were staying, had a boardwalk on which you could take the half-mile walk to the beach through a mangrove swamp. The beach is closed at 6 p.m. because of nesting sea turtles, so I got up early Sunday morning and met my boss Angela at 6 a.m. (it wasn't even light yet) so we could take a walk to the beach and on the beach, because it would have been a shame to have traveled to Florida and not have gone to the beach at least once! We saw the usual shorebirds--namely snowy egrets and white ibis, and one osprey--as well as several fishermen. The water was a clear turquoise green, and I kicked myself for not having thought to bring a bathing suit as I could have jumped right in for a quick morning swim. Oh well, it was still a nice relaxing way to greet the last day of the conference.
The trip home was less than wonderful--late flights, late flight crews, overbooked planes and one seat assigned to multiple people--all the things that make flying less than pleasurable nowadays. But I manged to make it home not much later than planned, and Laura had done a great job farm sitting, so I gratefully came home to a bunch of happy, healthy, (glad to see me) critters!
The bad news about the Executive Exchange is that its dates change from year to year, and next year it will be held the first weekend in May, which means I will have to miss attending (and showing sheep) at next year's Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. The good news part to that is that it's being held at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and everyone I've talked to has said it's not only an absolutely fabulous resort, but also an amazingly beautiful location. Since I've been only to Denver, I can look forward to seeing another beautiful area of this country that I haven't seen before.