Back to the Bahamas – the Sequel – by Merrilee
July 17, 2013
11 July 2013 – Treasure Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
I start this narrative sitting at a “desk” in the bunk next to the galley on Two Step, docked at Treasure Cay Marina. Two Step is familiar to me now, the galley in particular. Up early, coffee for the Captain, tea for me. Switch on the propane, light the stove. Grits, eggs scrambled with onion and tomato, sliced oranges. And now, dishes done, time to check email. “Write more,” Susan says. I take that as an assignment.
A breeze is blowing through the hatch, not yet enough for sailing. No stretch of my most vivid imagination could have conjured this simple moment. So many new people have entered my life in the past ten days (ten? really?) Philosophers all. The sea does that to you, I decide. I listen and learn and I feed them. “Do you wonder if we were meant to meet who we meet, and if so, why?” Zenmaster Susan asks. It is July 4th and we are aboard Mer Soleil at Green Turtle Cay. We tap our sangria-filled red solo cups (customized by Angel) and ponder Susan’s question. How far back do you go? Where will it lead?
Capt. Bob hugs me hard when I arrive, the third visit in as many months. The timing and purpose of this trip have to do with the Abaco Regatta, an annual race between various islands in the Abacos. I offer to serve as “galley wench” to the guests Bob will have on charter. He refers to them as “the girls.” A few days before my departure, Bob sends a text: “Call Kristen.” I’m not sure why, but I call the number he provided, and tell Kristen he asked me to call. A bit of confusion. She doesn’t know why he asked me to call her. We are about to hang up when she says “are you the one from Seattle?” “Yes, are you one of ‘the girls?’” Yes! Sudden animated conversation. Her 50th birthday is on July 3rd, to be celebrated on Two Step with two of her best friends since childhood. I sense serious good times ahead.
I have arrived several hours before the girls, so we make our way to Two Step, which is anchored off Treasure Cay Beach alongside Mer Soleil, a 44 foot PDQ catamaran. I am soon swimming circles around Two Step in the Sea of Abaco. (Demonstrating an impeccable sense of timing, Capt. Bob arrives as I write that last sentence to coerce me back to the sea. Time for a swim.) After our swim (the first one, not the one that at the moment still has me dripping and salty), we hook up with Jeff, the captain of Mer Soleil. We pass the time sitting poolside at the Bahama Beach Club, I with my laptop to test the local wifi connection. We move next to the Coco Bar, where it is bonfire night. There is music and dancing. Bob has arranged a ride for the girls from the airport, and is concerned that they have not arrived. He wanders off to track them down, while Jeff and I head to the beach to wait in lounge chairs in front of the bonfire, walking barefoot through sand as soft as talcum. Jeff is in his early-50s, and has semi-retired to this life. “I just got rid of everything and simplified my life,” he says. I nod, gears churning. We watch the fire and listen to the lively music coming from the bar. Suddenly I realize the song playing, “happy birthday dear Kristen…” “I think Bob found the girls,” I say. When I meet Kristen, Angel and Pam, we hug like we are old friends. Let the birthday celebration begin.
“It’s my birthday!” Kristen shouts gleefully to the Abacos the morning of July 3rd. We are off to a leisurely start, stopping at Florence’s for a foundational breakfast (corned beef and grits), followed by a grocery and liquor store run. It takes more than one run at the liquor store, each of us finding a need to go back in (“do you think we have enough?” Maybe some more beer. And wine. And ice. And rum…) A second shopping cart is put into service as we roll our bounty across the street to load Jeff’s dinghy with the provisions. Susan has secured a mooring for Two Step and Mer Soleil at Black Sound, Green Turtle Cay, so we set sail and head her direction. The Captain makes assignments: Angel in charge of the foredeck, Pam on starboard watch, Kristen, well, she’s the birthday girl. On the agenda is the Stranded Naked party on Fiddle Cay, an annual kick-off event for the regatta. Jeff and Susan join us on Two Step, and we sail to Fiddle Cay, anchoring offshore. The Captain elects to stay with Two Step; George is already at Fiddle Cay, flipping thousands of burgers for the crowd. Jeff graciously agrees to escort “the girls” (now five of us) to the party in his dinghy. We carefully weave our way around and under anchor lines, watching for obstacles, human and otherwise. Hundreds of boats and dinghies are already here, but we manage to find a parking space. We set anchor and join the party. “It’s my birthday!” Kristen announces to everyone we meet with infectious joy. Hours later she is surprised when she encounters people who beat her to it, “it’s your birthday!” they cheer. “How did they know that?” she wonders. There is a long line for the free cheeseburgers, and a surprisingly short line for the free margaritas. Sustenance for standing in the burger line. We take turns standing in line. We get matching tattoos. Kristen wins the limbo contest, 45 and older category (okay, it was a three-way tie, but she got a trophy).
We return to Two Step, and while sailing back to Black Sound, make plans for a birthday party. Bob prepares mahi mahi he caught earlier, served along with dirty rice, salad and corn on the cob. There is no birthday cake, but we have a birthday candle. Bob finds yogurt in the fridge, the candle is poked through the foil lid, and voilà, birthday yogurt.
July 4th is day one of the regatta, a triangle course off of Green Turtle. Monitoring the radio, Bob hears that Ladybug has broken down, so he invites them to join us as we unofficially run the course. To the five on Two Step are added four more from Ladybug (Rachael, Roddy, Kathy, Iain), Susan and George from Stormy Monday, Jeff from Mer Soleil, and Kat and Jörn from Ritmo di Vita. Pam is officially crowned senior assistant galley wench as we keep the crowd happy with snacks and cold beverages. She also is on duty on the starboard winch, keeping the sail trim. Winch, wench, winch, wench. She is a busy girl. Rachael sings the Star-Spangled Banner. We are mesmerized. Kat watches and listens and comes in with sublime harmony at the end. Turns out Rachael is opera-trained, and Kat is theater-trained. Wow. A spontaneous glee club is formed, perhaps diminishing the quality of song (Rachael and Kat are a hard act to follow), but not the sincerity. Live versions of America the Beautiful and other holiday-themed songs replace Bob’s island playlist. Meanwhile, the wind is strong, and we slice through the water, tacking, jibbing. The Captain is happy. We finish first, unofficially. A mere spectator boat. But we know we are awesome.
Race over, we return to our respective boats in Black Sound with plans to reconvene in a few hours for a potluck aboard Mer Soleil. Turns out we need to reprovision (seriously? We’re out of alcohol?), so Rachael and Roddy loan us 9-year-old Iain to show us how to get to the Plymouth Rock liquor store. Jeff lets Iain drive. “I’m not having any fun!” Kristen laughs. “Show me how to have fun.” Iain picks up speed and jumps a wake. Yee haw! “That’s how to have fun,” Iain smirks. At the liquor store, Iain bellies up to the bar and orders a soda, like a pint-sized “stranger” that rolls into town in a western movie. We (uh, me and the girls, not Iain) buy up all the pinot grigio and Kalik light left in the place. At the grocery store, all that’s left is block ice. We weigh Jeff’s dinghy down again, and return to Mer Soleil to unload. Back on Two Step, the girls and I prepare for a night out by bathing in the sea, rinsing using (sparingly) the fresh water supply on the boat. We have come to adopt a relaxed definition of “clean.” “Tattoos last longer when you don’t shower,” I observe, and indeed, our Stranded Naked tats remain intact.
The stores of each boat are raided, and a feast results. Spicy chicken, burgers and hot dogs on the grill. Dirty rice and black beans, mac ‘n’ cheese, potato salad, green salad. Sangria is added to the usual beer, wine, rum options. There is the occasional waft of sweet-smelling smoke. After dinner, as energy levels recede, a group gathers on the bow for an encore vocal performance. The evening comes to a gradual, graceful end to the sound of their soft serenade.
On Friday, we “lay in” for the day, licking our wounds with coffee (for some) or hair of the dog (for others). Susan and I spend the day doing laundry at the Leeward Yacht Club on Green Turtle, where I also manage a warm sponge bath and semi-successful attempt to wash my hair in the rest room basin. Later, we rally the troops and manage to pull together another mini-feast, deciding it is comedy night. We crack each other up with bad jokes, and when we have run out, the girls gather ‘round my laptop where we run a slide show of Angel’s and my photos of the trip, huddled close, laughing with delight like schoolgirls at the memories we have shared thus far. Show over, the girls twist Jeff’s arm into an evening of singing and dancing at Pineapples, where, I later learn, they snack on conch penis. I am skeptical, but Capt. Bob authoritatively corroborates the existence of this phallic delicacy. Tom Sawyer (aboard Becky Thatcher) joins Bob and I for a quiet night of conversation on Two Step. I am asleep before the Pineapple gang returns, but when they do return, it is not on tiptoe. The sweet song of the night before is replaced with the raucous songs of the happy inebriated. “Red Solo cup, let’s fill her up, let’s have a party!” I am so tired, but is it possible to laugh oneself to sleep?
We are gifted another fantastic sailing day on Saturday, the last day before Angel, Kristen and Pam leave. Captain Bob and Two Step take us expertly through the fabled “Whale,” crashing through swells on our way to Great Guana for lunch and drinks at Nipper’s, followed by more drinks at Grabber’s. “The Grabber is the most efficient drink in the Abacos,” Susan advised before we left Green Turtle. I stick to the relative safety of my iced pinot grigio. From there we sail to Marsh Harbour, where dinner at Snappa’s is a subdued affair. It will soon be time to say good bye. A cab is arranged to pick up the girls at 6:30 the next morning. I watch my three new friends pack. We promise to keep in touch and talk of future rendezvous.
I finish this narrative sitting at a desk at home, surrounded by a different reality. It is like a pleasant dream that starts to slip away as you wake up. I write to try to hold on to details. A close long-term friend holding a turquoise umbrella. Celebrating a birthday with new friends. Hundreds of strangers standing waist deep in the water at Fiddler Cay. We cross anchor lines. We cross paths. We get tangled, we get set free. We all have something in common. We are here, at this place, at this time, sweating, laughing, and digging our toes into the wet sand.
The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea. -Isak Dinesen
© 2013 Merrilee Harrell
From Merrilee’s Perspective “A Week in the Abaco’s”
May 8, 2013
Merrilee’s Blog Post:
A Week in the Abacos
It was only a few weeks ago that I was sitting in a rented room in Anchorage, Alaska, making arrangements to visit my friends Susan and George in the Bahamas on a whim. There was still snow on the ground here in this place I simply did not want to be, physically or mentally. I had cut out my horoscope from the local paper that week:
The trouble with our age is that it is all signpost and no destination… I am concerned that you may have fallen under the sway of this kind of myopia, Aquarius. A steady stream of useful tips and clues has been appearing, but you’re missing some of them. Your long-range goals aren’t sufficiently clear, so you don’t always recognize the significance of new revelations. Here’s the cure: In your imagination, create a vivid picture of your next big destination.[i]
Then Susan posted on Facebook, “We are in Green Turtle Cay.” I could practically hear the water and feel the breeze blowing from the photo she posted. “I want to be there,” I posted. “Well come on down then,” she replied. There was a window in my calendar. I made my plans and called the cat sitter. I flew home long enough to pet the cat, go through two weeks worth of mail, mow the lawn, and swap cool-weather business clothes for shorts, sandals and sleeveless shirts.
The vacation gods were with me, starting with my villa at Pelican Beach. Too beautiful. Quiet. Surrounded by aqua/turquoise/blue water. I re-read the horoscope that now served as a bookmark in my Bahamas travel guide. Is there a lesson to be learned on this trip? Is this the destination? “Change of plans,” I write in my journal. “Be here, wherever that is, rather than there, with cases and strategies causing interference.”
After a day of snorkeling, Susan and I stop by the Jib Room, a local watering hole with a dinghy dock and a cast of characters. A conversation starts with Dickie, the window glass king of Mississippi. We meet his wife, Nan. Bob joins the conversation when he finds out where Susan is from — he is from Merritt Island. George arrives by dinghy to collect Susan. Bob tells me there is a Kentucky Derby party going on at Snappa’s, so we hop in his dinghy to check it out. No mint juleps, so we drink Jim Beam. We meet Steve. Casual business is conducted (Bob runs a charter business.) Steve leaves, but later we find he has picked up our tab. Orb wins the Derby.
Race over, we head back to the Jib Room where Bob’s friend Tom joins us. I meet Desmond, the limbo king. Dickie is in high form. The Sunday pig roast at Nipper’s is mentioned. Susan and I are going, I say. (The plan is to go by ferry.) Bob offers to take us, and Desmond too. We watch the limbo man perform. It will take days to get that song out of my head. (D’oh! it’s back again!) When it is time to call it a night, plans are made for a rendezvous the next morning at 10:00 for a sail to Guana Cay. I email Susan that night. We have a ride to Nipper’s, I tell her, but as alcohol was involved in the evening’s travel plans, Plan B (the ferry) remains in effect.
When I arrive at the Jib Room the next morning, Capt. Bob and Desmond are there, as are a few other stragglers disappointed that the Jib Room is not yet open. But Plan A looks to be a go! George arrives with Susan, but has decided to opt for a day of alone time. Capt. Bob promises to have us back by sunset.
Plan A starts to waiver. Bob’s crewman, Sparky, has gone AWOL with Bob’s dinghy, which we need to get to “Two Step,” Bob’s catamaran. By 10:30, still no Sparky as we watch “Plan B,” the ferry, leave the harbour. At 11:00, still no Sparky, but the Jib Room opens, so I get a beer. Then Sparky is spotted in the distance, trying to pull-start the dinghy’s outboard. Oars come out. Susan and I exchange glances. She has memorized the ferry schedule, so Plan B2 quietly goes into effect. We have time and the bar is open, so we settle back to island attitude as spectators to the unfolding saga of Plan A. The dinghy has arrived dockside, and dingy wrangling commences. We are introduced to the happy but hapless Sparky, a friendly Canadian from Kelowna, BC. He and I bond over our common northwestness, having been surrounded by southeasterners. Dickie stops by; he is also planning on going to Guana, just waiting on Nan. He has rented a 17-foot power boat and will take us over. The dinghy engine roars to life at the hands of Capt. Bob. Plan A2 goes into effect. Bob and Sparky load the dinghy with refreshments and head to Two Step. Dickie ferries Susan, Desmond and me to the catamaran.
We are soon on our way to Guana Cay, under sail at 4-5 knots for the 7-8 mile crossing. A cooler full of Kalik, reggae music playing, tall tales being told by all.
Thank you, vacation gods.
My day on Guana Cay was a surreal combination of sublime relaxation amidst frenetic energy. We side-step our way through the happy crowd at Nipper’s, and immediately find Dicky and Nan, who arrived well ahead of us. Once the first round of drinks is in hand, and we have found a place to settle (a challenge considering the crowd, but Susan is up to such challenges), I make my way to the pig roast buffet where I load a heaping plate of pork, mac ‘n’ cheese, rice & peas and potato salad — a most impressive pile of fat and carbs to absorb the alcohol. I grab four forks and return to my gang, a hero bearing plunder. We are seated with others at a long, bright yellow picnic table. Introductions are made all around. The couple at the end of the table is from Seattle. Small world… small world…
But our captain is restless. Weather on the horizon furrows his brow. Images of Two Step dancing sideways. He decides to move the boat to safer waters. The rest of us will move on to Grabber’s, where he will soon join us. We drink Nippers at Nipper’s and Grabbers at Grabber’s. I duck in to buy a bright orange tank top at Nipper’s, which is donned immediately. As I make my way through the crowd to catch up with my friends, I am told I am beautiful by a beautiful Bahamian man in a similarly bright orange shirt. Yes we are.
I need to pace myself. At Grabber’s I order Pinot Grigio on ice – a refreshing combination on this hot day. Sparky the Canadian boasts of his drinking prowess. Dickie dances on a table. Capt. Bob rejoins us and goes for a swim. Susan tries to understand what Desmond is saying. I find a hammock and swing slowly, absorbing all sensory input. The warmth of the sun, the smell of the sea, the music, the susurrus of scattered chatter punctuated by frequent laughter. I am content in a way that defies description. Like the calm aftermath of orgasm. The first sip of a cold beer on a hot day. Biting into a perfectly ripe peach, juice running down your arm and chin. Some confluence of all of this and more.
From the hammock, I move to the water, knee deep, toes wiggling. Alone but not alone. I return to my friends for more “not alone” and another glass of wine, the voices and laughter of my group now familiar. The warm and welcoming Mississippi accents, the energetic Canadian. Have I really only known these people for one day?
Time to go. Capt. Bob and Sparky take the dinghy back to Two Step. The rest of us pile on the party boat with Dick and Nan. I am ferried to Two Step. Susan and Desmond opt for the faster return with Dick. By the time I board Two Step, Sparky is passed out. Capt. Bob is stuck with me as his lone crew. “I take direction well,” I say. He smiles, but I see he doesn’t need my help.
After a brief delay to retrieve a left-behind beach towel, Dick overtakes and passes us. We shout out and raise our glasses to each other, mine empty at the time. When I run into Dick the next day, he says “Don’t you ever waive an empty wine glass at me – I was fixin’ to turn around and come fill it for you!” What amazes me most about this is the acuity of his vision – he could see that my acrylic wine glass was empty as he sped past.
Quiet sets in again on Two-Step. I go below to verify that Sparky is still alive, then settle in to swap stories with Capt. Bob. There is baseball. A no-hitter in high school. Time spent in the minors. And there is water. Time in the Coast Guard, and sailing, sailing, sailing. He teases me with a promise to take me to Pete’s Pub in Treasure Cay tomorrow, but he knows I am leaving. I feel as though I am being tested. That the right answer is to stay and sail one more day. Then perhaps another. The cloud of a case load looms on my horizon. I close my eyes and let the sound of water and the cadence of Capt. Bob’s voice chase it away.
I wake early the next day to make this, my last day, as long as possible. After packing, I sit on the porch swing outside my cabin and start this journal. I have a few hours before I join Susan and George for lunch with a cruising couple they know from Toronto. Some time before noon, I check Skype and learn from Susan that Bob is headed to the Jib Room after stopping by Stormy Monday. I arrive at the Jib Room to now-familiar faces: Steve, behind the bar, serves me a Kalik Light. Dick, Nan and Bob are there; George and Susan soon arrive. The stories and laughter this time are shared stories of our adventures the day before, including the story of Susan ripping her skirt on a cleat during the caper to retrieve Nan and a beach towel. I can only imagine George’s reaction as his wife is returned to him in this state. Sometimes I wonder why he even lets her out with me. I expect he wonders the same.
We meet John and Anna at Mangoe’s, and I instantly see why they have become good friends with Susan and George. Bob joins us. Laughter and stories come easily once again. I order conch chowder and pinot grigio on ice. Bob mischeviously renews his offer to take me to Pete’s Pub. “What’s the airline change fee,” Anna asks conspiratorily. They all know the right answer. I know I will choose the wrong one. It is 3:00, and I have a 4:30 flight. A cab is hastily arranged, but waits patiently as I hug the couple I met two hours ago, the man I met two days ago, and the friend I have known for over thirty years. Even George allows a hug. As the cab pulls away, Bob yells, “take care of her, she’s coming back.”
And here I sit on a flight two hours out of Seattle, racing to get my thoughts on virtual paper before my laptop battery dies. I am reminded of the end scene of a favorite movie, Local Hero, where the main character, an oil man who has been transformed by his visit to a village on the coast of Scotland, returns home to his empty apartment in Houston and starts emptying his pockets of sea shells, and posting photographs of the people he met on his trip. The movie ends with a shot of the lone red phone booth in the Scottish village – the phone used by all of the villagers. There is no one around. The phone is ringing.
When I land in Ft. Lauderdale, I have a message from Bob. He was checking to see if I had decided to stay after all, and was ready to pick me up at the dinghy dock.
– – –
Thank you Susan, for a decades-long friendship that is precious to me.
Thank you George for putting up with me and letting Susan come out to play. And for cooking.
Thank you Desmond for being a quintessential Bahamian.
Thank you Sparky for just being called Sparky. I couldn’t have made up a better name for you.
Thank you Dick and Nan. Dick the catalyst who started the conversation that brought us together.
And thank you Bob for your generosity and kindness. And for helping me come closer to understanding my horoscope. See you at Pete’s Pub.
© 2013 Merrilee Harrell