In Our Travels

Peanut Island Bunker, Saint Pierre Botanica Shop and Spiritual Store, Mai-Kai Restaurant and Lounge

Mattei admits that the authentic-looking Thai and nautical trappings are replicas, but they've been so expertly aged I would never have guessed. Otherwise the Polynesian paraphernalia that send me into sensory overload at every turn are real. He also tells me that the market value of this dream collection of artifacts has skyrocketed so high that probably no one this side of Bill Gates could ever afford to re-create Mai-Kai.

I believe him.

Mai-Kai Restaurant and Lounge, 3599 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale, 954-563-3272.

I thought it would be a cinch to get a good look at the Delray Wreck, though I had no idea what the hell it really was. Just heard it might be cool to float over and see. So I got to the southern tip of Delray Beach and rented the requisite gear -- a mask, a snorkel, flippers, and a dive flag -- for $10 at a little shop from some guy wearing sunglasses and red trunks. He told me the wreck was about 70 yards out. No problem.

I put on the flippers and the mask and put the snorkel in my mouth with a sense of queasiness. (It had a salty taste to it, and I figured untold numbers of people had clenched it in their teeth without it being washed). Then I started swimming. I swam out 70 yards in the clear, wonderful green water, which was alternately cool one second and warm the next. And I looked. I looked and I heard myself breathe, SHHEEEW… SHOOOO. And I looked. And I swam. Nothing seemed to change. The bottom was just sand, that's all. After an hour, nothing. I was exhausted, and even the sparkling water had lost its charm. Dozens of people on sea kayaks and other little water vessels were frolicking nearby, but none of them seemed to be looking for the wreck. So I finally swam back to shore, dejected.

Back on sand I was about to call it quits when I remembered that there was a historical plaque dedicated to the wreck on A1A. Standing before it I read that the Delray Wreck was actually a British steamship called the Inchulva, and it sank in 1903 during a hurricane. Nine men died, while the other 29 made it to shore, where they were taken care of by the townsfolk. Now I was intrigued -- hell, for all I knew, the Delray Wreck might have been a sunken fishing boat from 1978, not a genuine piece of history. And I also read, etched in steel, that the wreck was 150 yards off the coast, not 70. Suppressing my desire to bitch-slap the bastard in the red trunks, I walked back to the beach, put on the goofy flippers, grabbed the dive flag, and started a grueling trip back out to the wreck.

By this time a couple of scuba divers were out in the water, and I figured they must be diving the wreck. So I set my sights on their dive flag. Roughly 30 yards from it, I saw beneath me a dark mass. It was damn spooky, and for a moment I had to fight the fear that this thing might be a man-eating sea creature. But I knew it was no sea creature; it had to be the Inchulva. And it was. There, roughly 15 feet below the surface, were a few coral and seaweed-covered pieces of the fateful old ship. And darting about the wreckage were the most beautiful fish I'd ever seen. (Though I'm an avid adventurer, this was only the second time in my life I'd ever gone snorkeling.) There were striking yellow and blue fish, ranging in size from a couple feet long to the size of a quarter. I won't pretend to know the names, nor will I go to the trouble of looking them up. Who cares? It's enough to say they were mysterious, beautiful, and worth that hour of futility and then some to see. But that wreckage was also daunting in a way and strangely humbling.

I didn't stay there long, because there were bigger pieces of the Inchulva to be seen, including a 110-by-60-foot chunk of hull and a couple of the ship's boilers. So I swam (by then with a great deal of effort as my energy waned from all the swimming) to the divers' flag, figuring they were immersed in an underwater wonderland. But when I got there, I could see no wreckage. When they surfaced, they told me they couldn't find the ship. Of all the damn things, I had a couple of lost scuba divers on my hands. But they decided we should all head west, toward shore, which we did. And that's when I came upon one of the boilers, a round wheel-looking encasement of iron maybe 20 feet in diameter. Again there was a dizzying array of gorgeous fish, and I also saw a huge spotted eel swimming about in there. One glimpse of that monster had me quaking with fright-laced exhilaration.

Soon I was envious of the scuba divers, who could stay down there and explore to their hearts' content. I, on the other hand, had to hold my breath and dive down 15 feet to get a close look. Problem was, by the time I got down there, my lungs were already screaming at me to get the hell back up to the surface. And I did a couple dozen times before I realized that I'd spent myself. With both outings I'd been swimming out there for a solid two hours; my legs were starting to cramp up, and the damn flippers were cutting into the sides of my feet. It was quite a relief to get back on sand.

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