Lord of the Reefs
Installment No. 14
One Particular Harbor
Installment No. 13
Lucayan Marina Village, Bahamas
It’s Better in the Bahamas
Installment No. 12
Installment No. 11
The Florida Keys
Installment No. 10
Wrightsville Beach, SC
Follow in our Wake
Installment No. 9
Into the Ditch
Installment No. 8
ICW, The Ditch, Virginia
Down by the Waterside
Installment No. 7
Norfolk Harbor, VA
Mileage, Majors and Norfolk
Installment No. 6
Norfolk Harbor, VA
Installment No. 5
Zahniser's Marina, Solomons Island, MD
Portlights and pianos, Boat Show Week
Installment No. 4
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but my darling when I think of thee.
Installment No. 3
Great Oak Marina, MD
There's a glitch
Installment No. 2
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Let the Adventure Begin
Installment No. 1
Fairlee Creek, Maryland
A long ago scene remembered. Now, years later its sequel remained for me to experience.
Installment No. 11 -- The Florida Keys
I would have liked to enjoy Florida. But I knew my "Floridays" would be transitory. An ocean lay waiting in smug superiority just beyond the palms and condos strung across the strand of coast in West Palm Bea12ch.
Suddenly, our friend John Bauer's year's ago pronouncement surfaced. "Gwen, you'll never manage a blue-water passage. You'd better take a plane."
He was right back then. When the wind kicked up on a memorable evening sail, I sought refuge below. John's wife, Evelyn found me curled into a fetal position wedged against the unyielding strength of the hull while water hissed inches from my ear and our guests' excited voices rose to fuse with the wind. Evelyn wondered where I had gone, came below, took one look and stormed topside.
"John, you flatten this boat right now!"
Embarrassed? Yes. The rails in the water caused no concern to our guests. I had no desire to dampen their enthusiasm. Be patient with yourself, I directed. With time and more experience the fear would subside. Of course, this evening sail was a first experience for several of our guests and fear was definitely not what they were experiencing. I envied their excitement and exhilaration. I took my seat in the cockpit without meeting one set of eyes.
I cursed my own timidity.
"You're not planning a Bermuda crossing are you, Jim?" John asked with a sliding glance at me and an arched eyebrow.
"I don't think so," Jim said with a reassuring smile at me.
A long ago scene remembered. Now, years later its sequel remained for me to experience. I would have been satisfied to continue on down the ICW all the way to the Florida Keys. Hang out sipping a fruit and rum concoction celebrating the sunset at Mallory Square. But Jim and the Damn Yankee had other plans. I knew that.
The Damn Yankee's bow would be headed not toward the island of Bermuda; she would carve her course into the waters of the same ocean but with the Bahamas as her landfall. Course changes. A slightly different passage than Jim and I, John and Evelyn had discussed those many years ago but a blue-water passage nonetheless. Years of patience paid off. I never thought to check the airlines.
Like that long ago sail, Jim and I would not be alone if the wind came up. My brother-in-law, the captain and his girlfriend would be aboard. Kevin was due today. Theresa would fly in Saturday. The Damn Yankee was ship-shape and ready. I realized I had no idea what day it was. Sunshine and seventy, for the moment was enough. I gulped in deep breaths of salt tinged air. Today, I preferred to focus on the pure physical pleasure of days spent in port. There would be time for the rest later.
Sleeping past seven thirty quickly became an indulgent delight. Coffee in the cockpit while the sun warmed; I could feel my core temperature rise a degree a day. My feet and fingers were no longer numb. For that alone, I was grateful beyond reason.
Energized despite a morning devoted to necessary boat chores I had slipped in a Jimmy Buffet CD, daydreaming of Key West further south while scrubbing and swabbing. By early afternoon, the glass bowls and the ship's decanter sparkled, set on shelves surrounded by the mellow gleam of polished teak. Pushing my hair out of my eyes and stretching out the ache in my back I intended to enjoy my home for the days we would remain at Old Port Cove.
When the Buffett CD spun to its conclusion, as the last notes lingered in the cabin, I flicked open another CD. Think Bahamas, I urged while Harry Belafonte's silky voice painted a paradise to be discovered across the stream. Florida's Keys would have to wait.
One last survey of the cabin and a quick check first to see that the Coronas were chilling for Kevin's arrival, I stepped topside then walked forward to climb over the lifelines to the dock. The strains of calypso followed. I stood alone casting my glance far down the ICW beyond Old Port Cove imagining the staging area at Lake Worth inlet a mere five miles down the canal. The concrete pier felt solid beneath my feet. But my reverie set me aboard the Damn Yankee, feet and legs absorbing the pitch and roll Jim and I would encounter crossing the Gulf Stream.
Tension seeped drawing my muscles tight. What would it really be like, the wind blowing across blue-water out of sight of land? Beads of sweat slid down the center of my back. The singular dismissed memory of that fateful sail pricked, playing itself out with me as helpless to stop its progression as I had been on that evening spent cowering below. Could I handle it? Thankfully John and Evelyn were not present to answer me. Would the weather cooperate? If it did not, what would I do? I honestly didn't know.
Think of it as one more sound, I told myself. I couldn't. What we were contemplating possessed its' own term, blue-water passage. Licks of apprehension crept up my spine.
Another option formed, slowly taking on color and shape. We could pass on the passage. We could do the Florida coast our first year.
Other close friends, Dave and Dee Brand waited newly settled in Ft. Lauderdale. We needed to remain here, for them. Jim and I needed to cheer from the audience wherever Dave opened in the Keys. Had he finally added Jimmy Buffett's "Fins" to his extensive repertoire? If so, I wanted to hear it. I smiled at my sound reasoning. The Keys would be the plan. Now, where was Jim? We needed to talk.
Guiltily, I chewed my lip. Option no; lame excuse, yes. I knew Jim would agree without question if I told him how terrified I was. I couldn't.
"Gwen," Jim called, "look, there's Kevin. Hey there, Kev," Jim shouted sending his brother a broad wave before joining me on the dock.
I turned, looked up to see my brother-in-law striding down the dock his long legs eating up the distance between us. A delighted laugh escaped. Notwithstanding his hundred-ton captain's license, did he know how happy I was to see him? Thoughts of the crossing faded. In less than a minute Kevin wrapped me in a warm bear hug. I wished we saw him more often. My apprehension banked to a level I could almost ignore. But, I knew it would smolder beneath until we reached Grand Bahama Island. Kevin arrived. We were another step closer.
"Jeeze Jim, are all those boats headed across?" Kevin asked pointing toward the twenty or so sailboats currently anchored in the basin.
"Those boats you see are what's left," Jim replied. "When Gwen and I came in, there had to have been something like seventy-five boats in here; with a three day weather window, most headed out Tuesday."
"I've held you up then," Kevin said frowning.
"No," Jim shook his head. "We've got some provisions to pick up. We'll take your truck. I wouldn't leave without the life raft."
"Yeah," Kevin nodded, "I brought it and the harnesses."
"Good. Another window's predicted for this weekend, easterly at ten to fifteen with seas three to five. We'll shoot for Sunday."
"Sounds good," Kevin says swinging his duffel over the lifelines onto the Damn Yankee's deck. "Theresa's flying in on Saturday. I promised her a winter tan."
"Looks like you could use a tan yourself, Kev," Jim challenged with a pointed stare at Kevin's pale arms.
"Some of us have to work." Kevin counters with a laugh. "So, you think Sunday will be a go?"
"Hopefully," Jim responds.
"Then, I'll stow my stuff and we'll head out, get that provisioning done." Kevin grins then slaps Jim on the back. "You know, brother, the sun's hot in the Bahamas. Theresa and I will be tanned as natives before we leave."
Kevin is heading below when Jim turns to me. "Gwen, you don't need to come. We're going to stop at the marine store, pick up more oil and fuel filters and some spare lamps."
"Fine," I agree. "I can run laundry, take a shower and see you later this afternoon."
"Of course. I think of it as multitasking."
Jim raises an eyebrow in question.
"It's got to be a half-mile to the laundry and showers here." I continue, "This way I can wash my clothes and myself simultaneously."
"Just keep thinking that way, honey," Jim responds before his head disappears down the companionway.
"I do need to go with you to the grocery store," I call after him.
"Right," Jim answers, "tomorrow."
Before I can mentally run my grocery checklist, Jim is leaning into the cockpit.
"Groceries won't take long," he comments. "We can't possibly need much."
Jim turns to Kevin standing behind. "Two months out and we've barely made a dent in our provisions since Norfolk. Anyone suggests eating out; Gwen's there. She hasn't accepted that "eating out" can mean "in the cockpit."
"Hey," I stoop bracing my hands against the edge of the companionway. We are now eye to eye. "That sounds downright accusatory, dear."
"No accusation Gwen," Jim laughs leaning closer, "it's a fact."
"We're being sociable, Jim," I reply with a shrug. "It's only polite to sample the local fare."
"Great idea." Kevin interrupts. "I could go a thick steak or Italian. It's a long drive from Jersey. We'll eat out tonight."
I catch his wink. He pulls himself up through the companionway. My laugh explodes.
"I rest my case," I say.
Jim shoots me a look as follows his brother. "You win," he mumbles raising his hands. Defeated, he strides down the dock without a backward glance.
Awakening to the sound of conversation from the VHF, weather windows were the topic of the day.
Morning sunshine shimmers through the ports. Jim and Kevin are hunched over charts in the cockpit listening.
Minutes later dressed for the day I snag a cup of coffee and join them.
"There's a definite window for Sunday," Jim says. "Running eighty miles, we'll need around fourteen hours for the crossing." His finger slides over the blue portion of the chart. "We've had winds in the Gulf blowing over twenty yesterday. I just hope the seas lay down by Sunday. If they don't, we may want to consider Ft Lauderdale."
Kevin nods. "Let's monitor the weather through today Jim," he answers. "Theresa has a week's vacation. If we have to wait a few days..."
"I had over a week two years ago. The weather didn't cooperate. I finally got across with Captain George on the Reel Deal in three hours. Coincidentally, three was the number of hours I had in the Bahamas before I had to fly home."
Kevin drags a hand through his hair before he cups his chin and drops an elbow on the cockpit table to lean over the chart.
The VHF crackles. The static subsides.
"Jean Ann, this is Vigilant. Seven of us are heading to the inlet this afternoon. Tonight could be a go."
"Roger that, Vigilant. Thanks for the update. We'll be out after three. Jean Ann will stand by monitoring sixteen."
Jim and Kevin rose in unison.
"Come on Gwen. We'll get the groceries out of the way."
Groceries purchased and put away, we made the next weather update.
"I still don't like winds blowing to twenty. Sunday still seems to be the day," Jim says.
"Nothing to do now but wait and waiting is easier over a beer." Kevin smiles easily. "I'm buying."
Saturday - Sunday
Less boats lay at anchor. Responding to NOAA's latest predictions many had motored to the staging area at Lake Worth Inlet for more monitoring, more waiting. The Damn Yankee would join them this afternoon.
I wondered what Theresa thought? Barely arrived and we were slipping lines. Inanely, I worried she would be disappointed we would be eating on board tonight.
"Gwen, is everything stowed?"
"All set," I shout from the v-berth where I finish tucking a pillow around a stack of books and wrap a pottery pitcher in a double thickness of blanket.
Seconds later the Damn Yankee's engine rumbles to life. I am as ready as I will ever be.
"I can't believe we're going to sail this boat to the Bahamas," Theresa says.
"Me either." I mutter under my breath as I slide off the edge of the v-berth. Busy stowing a case of beer and Theresa's two bags was distraction enough to keep my apprehension at bay. Theresa, herself radiated a welcome calm. I admired the trust she could place in two strangers.
"This is a beautiful boat," she said with a quick satisfied glance.
I smile in response liking her already.
"Kevin and I really looked forward to this vacation." She paused. "I've never sailed before."
Stunned, I opened my mouth and could think of nothing to say. I shot a glance into the cockpit just as Captain Kevin moved forward to handle the bow lines. I followed his progress through the ports. He never slowed. Surely, he could feel my censure.
I realized Theresa was still waiting for my response.
"Did I say something wrong?" She asked.
"Of course not," I answered and rearranged my face into a semblance of a smile.
"Kevin promised me a sailing vacation I'd always remember." She slipped on her sunglasses. "He said we'd have fun."
Fun, I thought. Let's hope that's all it will be. Only my favorite brother-in-law would offer a sailing vacation and neglect to mention the words, "close quarters," "heel" and "crew."
Following the ICW markers, we reached the staging area and dropped anchor, one more sailboat taking its place among its own kind. The Damn Yankee swung in a gentle arch taking stock of her surroundings.
After dinner in the cockpit, we retired shortly after dark with the VHF turned on low as our neighbors discussed departure times for tomorrow.
NOAA was maintaining the winds would remain blowing southeast at five to ten with the sea three to five feet for forty-eight hours. Reassured, we hoped
The weather would hold.
Wakeful through the night, tuned to the voices on the VHF gave me too many hours to think. I tossed and turned through the night. Dozing then jerking awake the thought full-blown, this time tomorrow we would be on the ocean in the dark. To calm nervous jitters I promised myself, it's only one night. This time tomorrow the Damn Yankee would be miles closer to the Bahamas. I shifted my pillow and willed sleep to come.
Sunday - Monday
"It's a go then." Jim steps behind the helm. "Kev, you can haul the anchor. Looks like you two will get your Bahamas vacation."
Pleased, Jim turns the wheel and the Damn Yankee rotates a slow ninety degrees as Kevin pulls hand over hand until the anchor releases its grip.
So strange to me to be heading out just after two o'clock in the afternoon when Jim is a proponent of early morning departures and afternoon naps. Weather checks at four-hour intervals throughout the previous night only fueled our restlessness. Restless to finalize our decision, restless to be gone, we listened and dozed. Varied conversations throughout the night between numerous boats in the anchorage floated below our conscious. Who of them would analyze the data correctly? Clocking winds, running seas, what order of criteria held the most weight?
Jim had made our decision. For the rest, the debate would continue over the VHF.
Ready at a moment's notice would ever be exemplified by the flotilla of boats lying within the shelter of Lake Worth straining at their anchors to go to sea. The ultimate decision rested with each boat individually. The responsibility for leaving was our own. There would be no time for naps today.
I scanned the saloon and triple checked that a linen closet's worth of towels was tucked around and into any crack or crevice in the galley to protect pottery and glass.
"Damn Yankee, this is Tack-Sea. We're heading out with you. The window looks good. We're pulling anchor now."
"Roger, Tack-Sea," Jim answers.
"Looks like we've got six more boats joining us, Damn Yankee. This window should hold."
"That's good, Tack-sea. The more the merrier."
I could read relief flood Jim's face and his hands relaxed around the wheel.
If only Jim's feelings would transfer to me. My stomach clenched as I searched the anchorage for which boats would be leaving with us.
I told myself that this time tomorrow we four would be basking on a beach or lounging at a pool ordering our second round of those rum and fruit drinks I continued to daydream about.
Anchor up, the Damn Yankee turned in a slow circle. My heart mimicked the motion.
I focused on the shore. Nearer we came weaving around anchor lines until we had gained the narrow outward channel. Men and woman became distinguishable seated under umbrellas or leaning over the railings fencing the outside deck of a restaurant. Some waved, engrossed in the activity on the water before them. Theresa grinned, waving back, for that moment joining them in the enjoyment of their day. I waved too, stifling the urge to yell that the Damn Yankee was sailing to the Bahamas, as though my screaming it to strangers would make it more real than it was.
The Damn Yankee nosed forward to bounce over a roller. I scanned the water ahead. I had seen videos of Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey, Kevin's home waters. As treacherous an inlet as there was. Lake Worth looked lazy in comparison. My glance slid to my brother-in-law. He stood behind Jim staring straight ahead, nonplused. I relaxed a bit.
"One inlet down. One ocean to go," I whispered to myself.
Heading out of the Lake Worth Inlet gliding between the rock jetty under motor and full main, I stopped asking myself what I expected. Not much really, fair winds, calm seas, a twenty-four hour weather window did not seem unreasonable. Would that the Gods that determine such things agreed.
In the midst of it now, the Damn Yankee surged forward. Suddenly the surroundings of water and sky crowded. I fought tensing up with several deep breaths. The day glowed. Sunlight glinted off the water turning the sea into a glitter of diamonds and aquamarines. I could see for miles.
Theresa sat across the cockpit, legs stretched out to catch the sun's rays, eyes closed with a serene smile on her face. I would follow her cue. Tucking my legs under me, I lifted my face to the sun and closed my eyes. What did she expect? Theresa had never been aboard a sailboat. I blinked open my eyes.
The Damn Yankee tossed her bow from port to starboard like a Kentucky yearling before gaining her bearings to slice through the troughs left by the many small pleasure craft zig-zaging into the inlet. They were headed in. We were headed out.
I concentrated on the Tack-Sea directly behind and forced several more deep breaths around the lump in my throat.
We were through the inlet. The red ocean buoy lay directly ahead along with an expanse of ocean extending beyond three points of the compass. My chest rose and fell with my next intake of breath.
Theresa opened her eyes and smiled at me. I smiled back folding my hands in my lap instead of curling my fingers around the edge of my seat. Beyond the inlet, the water looked calm. Maybe the Gods were listening. The sky spread overhead, a perfect blue. A few clouds drifted. The Damn Yankee settled into an easy roll. We were headed out to sea.
"This is not bad," Jim voices my thoughts.
"Is it always like this?" Theresa asks with a wave of her arm. "So relaxing, peaceful…" she continues.
"Often, it is," Jim answers.
I decide to dwell on the word "often" and relax into the cockpit pillows, let the late afternoon sun warm my face.
Initial excitement at being underway dulls appetites. We forego dinner and elect to munch on peanut butter crackers as the mood strikes. Kevin and Jim talk quietly at the helm while Theresa and I are lulled into drowsy inertia under the drone of the engine and the gentle roll of ocean swells under the Damn Yankee's keel. Two hours slip by like water
against the hull.
My stomach flutters have ceased completely. The softness of air, the blue canopy of sky, the vast expanse of sea is suddenly a great gift. We have become part of it.
I glance at Jim. This was his dream first. Kevin has taken the wheel as Jim sits engrossed in a chart. It is right that Kevin is sharing Jim's dream. I smile into a freshened breeze glad to be here. Theresa is dozing. I am glad she is here too. Jim and I, Kevin and Theresa along with the Damn Yankee are particular portions of these elements. We are living a gift worth dreaming.
"The wind is piping up," Jim says staring at the wind gauge.
A sharp, quick stab of apprehension slices. I jerk upright. Within minutes before any memory can form, before apprehension can plunge into fear, I'm clutching the wheel fighting to hold the Damn Yankee into the wind as Jim and Kevin struggle to lower the mainsail to the first reef point. Theresa is maintaining a steady tension on the sheet wound around the wench, her expression determined, her fingers curled around the line, bone-white.
Around us the wind whistles past our ears. The seas have turned into a churning morass. The Damn Yankee bucks and rolls.
Ash gray dusk is deepening into blotches of night black. We are nearly twenty miles out.
"Oh my God!" I mumble, pulling a hard right on the wheel as the Damn Yankee veers rail deep into a trough.
I spoke too loud. Jim heard me. In a second he is beside me with his hand over mine swinging the wheel in the opposite direction. The sail catches the wind. The Damn Yankee shoulders into the chop and settles into a fifteen-degree heel. My heart slowly floats up from my feet. I let out my breath.
"Sorry." I manage to choke out.
"You were watching me and Kevin instead of the compass," Jim said.
"I know. I was worried about you two up there," I
mumble still breathless.
The sail set, Kevin crawled into the cockpit safe and released the line from Theresa's fingers.
"We were okay," Jim continued.
"Wow!" Theresa pronounces falling back into a cockpit pillow.
"The seas are building," Kevin declares scanning the swirling water.
I know what that means. I try to avoid staring off either port or starboard. As if I could ignore the Damn Yankee's disjointed plunges and heart-stopping rolls or the sharp crack of the sail and the incessant howl of the wind either of which jump-started my heart to its current trip hammering. Where had such a violent wind come from? I focus on Jim.
He's outwardly calm, his tone even and his movements sure but I can read the tension in the straight line of his body.
"She's clocking to twenty-five and gusting twenty-eight to thirty." Jim shouts as he holds the wheel steady against a vicious confused chop mounting behind the Damn Yankee's stern.
Clouds had gathered overhead un-noticed in the dark. I had the ominous feeling my worst case scenario was about to unfold.
"Damn Yankee, this is Tack-Sea, come in."
"You've got the Damn Yankee, Tack-Sea, over."
"Are you all right? The Jean-Ann and Imagine are headed back. The Island Packet and Water Music decided to sail with the wind to the Keys. We're intending to go ahead."
"The Damn Yankee's fine. I'm seeing winds gusting to thirty and over. What's your take, over?"
"We've got hard easterly winds. So much for weather windows. But, we'll handle it. If you're going to continue, let's do a radio check on the hour."
"That's a roger, Tack-Sea. We're going to let this play out. If it doesn't get too much worse, the Damn Yankee will hang in with you."
"Hopefully the weather won't worsen, Damn Yankee. Tack-Sea will check with the Intrepid and talk to you in an hour."
There would be four of us now.
The lights of Palm Beach still flickered in a maniacal tilting motion as the Damn Yankee lurched her way forward. Full dark now, the moon rose. Distilled light through the clouds cast an endless illuminated stream toward the rolling horizon. I thanked whatever Gods were listening for the full moon. And it remained warm.
Hour after hour the winds wailed in protest at each foot the Damn Yankee gained; she shouldered through the relentless dips and rolls. Her engine never coughed or hesitated.
"We'll get through this as long as the wind stays sustained at twenty-five," Jim shouts to Kevin over the shrill of wind. "We can handle the sporadic gusts…"
"…As long as we don't have to reef again," Kevin finishes.
Theresa and I sit arms around our respective winches to maintain our seats as we slide back and forth with each pitch of the Damn Yankee's bow or rock side to side with every wave rolling under her stern.
"Go ahead below, Jim. I'll take her. Get some rest," Kevin urges.
Jim frowns, hesitates. "Maybe I will. It's almost the hour. I'll take care of the radio check."
"Theresa and I will be fine, won't we, Theresa?"
She nods in silence; her gaze fixed toward the Florida she can no longer see.
"Do you want to come below," I ask.
"Oh no. I'll stay with Kevin," she says with a weak smile tightening her grip on the winch.
Following the boat's motion, I jerk across the cockpit to slide beside her.
"Theresa, this is the 'not often' part of sailing." A second later the Damn Yankee jerks to port lifting over a cresting wave before her stern sinks deep into the trough. We are nearly perpendicular. The waves skim the sky. "I hate this!" I shout grabbing her hand as much to reassure myself as her.
"Whew," she breathes. "I'm glad you said that," she whispers, wide-eyed as a wave crashes over the stern spraying both Jim and Kevin.
My hand tightens around Theresa's.
The Damn Yankee rises on a wave only to drop and roll to starboard. Water sweeps down the deck in a swish of torrent.
Theresa releases my hand as she grabs the cushion. She stretches her fingers to curl around her seat and pulls her legs against her chest.
"Hey Kev," she calls.
He nods in response from the helm.
"I didn't expect this much fun."
"Didn't I tell you…" he teases.
I chance going below, grabbing the handholds and inching my way between bounces and rolls. I snatch a throw and inch myself topside.
"Here, it's late. The air's feeling chilly." I hand Theresa the blanket. "I'm going below for a bit."
"Thanks." She says shifting to tuck the edges around her.
Little enough for me to do, I thought. A flimsy protection against the ocean's violent motion and the blasts of noise vibrating the air.
Below myself, I wedged myself between the corner of the settee and the saloon table with several pillows. My body jerked with each jounce. My heart did a slow turn in my chest with each movement. I segued into prayer mode. And my breath hitched with each shudder of the mast, each slap of wave against the hull.
Jim stretched out across from me. Was he actually asleep? How could that be?
Captain Kev had the helm. I watched from the companionway. Kevin rode the rage of wind and waves with an arrogant grace. The Damn Yankee still lurched, slid, careened and shifted in erratic precision. At some unrecognized point, I realized that, indeed there was a precision at work here. Kevin held the Damn Yankee on course. The term "steady as she goes" flits into my mind? I was watching the illustration. I sat up straighter to watch Kevin. Legs apart, his legs absorbed the movement. A slight movement right, a light touch to the left, the wheel moved in micrometers and the Damn Yankee struggled her way forward. She was fine. And so would we be. I knew without equivocation that I trusted the boat. I trusted Kevin. I had always trusted Jim.
I actually closed my eyes. Long enough, I thought after a few minutes. I needed to go topside. Jim rose. I think he sent me a smile. It was hard to see in the darkness. I preferred to believe he had. I think, at that moment, I experienced exhilaration.
"It had to be midnight by now," I shout. "I can't see the clock below."
Jim glances at his watch in the moonlight. "It's quarter to three."
"Quarter to three!" Theresa and I shout jumping into a cockpit high five despite the wave action. We both land abruptly on our butts. So what? Soon we would watch dawn creep over the horizon. We would make landfall in the Bahamas.
Hours more to get through though watching eight to ten footers rise just beyond the Damn Yankee's stern mounting to loom ten to twelve feet before folding over each other in a froth of white foam. Theresa and I sat in the cockpit transfixed. Stomach jitters had receded. We had become one with the motion. We could ride it out.
The first gray sifted to purple then pink as the moon slid into the west and the sun prepared to rise in the east. Indigo water seeped from green hued to aqua. We could see Grand Bahama Island on the horizon. A sprawling smear tinted in green and tan.
"We'll be in by noon," Jim declared excitement coloring his voice.
"I could use a beer," Kevin said. "And you're buying," he added with a pointed look at Jim.
Jim grinned. "I'll not only buy you a beer, brother. I'll buy you all dinner, after I take a nap."
Conversation continued. Jim extended our arrival time one hour as the sun rose higher and the morning heated.
The sea still churned in ruthless confusion. The Damn Yankee's long rolls and sharp dips no longer sent my stomach plummeting. Panicked no longer by the vicious shift of cabinet contents rapping against closed cabinetry doors, I swayed in place perched cross-legged on the cockpit cushions urging the Damn Yankee to move faster. Theresa and I could both use a beer ourselves but we decided to opt for a rum punch complete with slices of fruit. A shower would be an added bonus.
Laughing together, a little lightheaded from lack of a proper dinner and a sleepless night, we stared as hotels and sweeps of sand became recognizable. From where we stood paradise never looked so welcoming.
"We've still got ten footers out here, Kevin," Jim said. "We'll have to run parallel to shore until we're closer to Bell Channel."
"No. Those are maybe six, eight feet," Kevin corrects.
"When both cheeks of my ass lift off the seat, Kev, that's ten feet," I pipe up.
Reinforcing my comment, the Damn Yankee falls off the crest of a roller sliding under her stern. My ass lifts for seconds to hang in the air. "See!" I challenge before I land in an unceremonious heap on the seat laughing.
I realize I would rather be here in the Damn Yankee's cockpit with gritty eyes and hair and an empty stomach than anywhere else. The nautical Gods offered us something other than the fair winds I had prayed for.
Jim stood easily at the helm as we turned between the markers of Bell Channel. The red and white striped lighthouse sitting on the starboard crop of land beckoned us closer. The rock jetty offered refuge.
The Damn Yankee and her crew would make safe harbor today. We had survived a hellish crossing. We held real fear at bay, depending on each other and our boat. Theresa managed a first sail along with a first passage with an awesome aplomb. Even her hair remained perfect. I had to admire that.
Amazingly none of us became seasick. Our traveling buddies were not so fortunate. The hourly checks found three of the women prone below suffering bouts of sea-sickness. The Gods had been listening to us after all.
Through the channel, our necks craned left then right to take in everything. Lucayan Marina lay off to the left. Jim's radio call sent us past the fuel dock. The turquoise and black of the Bahamian flag flew on cross-trees along with the white marina flag.
They snapped an audible greeting.
Whether it was Jim's expression of pure joy as we swung around the first dock into the canal holding our slip assignment or the welcoming enthusiasm of the man and woman standing along the pier calling that they would take our lines, my eyes welled for a brief moment. I blinked hard. New friends should not be greeted with tears. Since Kevin had the bow line ready to toss, I surreptitiously swiped at the corners of my eyes with the new yellow quarantine flag before hoisting it up the halyard.
"Welcome. Your crossing must have been viscous. The wind's been kicking up out there," ventured the lean, bearded man neatly cleating our lines.
"Twenty-two hours," Jim replies.
"Gosh, that's a hell of a passage. I'm Horst. This is my wife Inga."
Jim reaches for his extended hand. "Thanks for the help, Horst, Inga."
"My pleasure. Get some rest. We'll see you later."
Horst and Inga walk up the short finger pier passing a tall dockhand.
"Afternoon, Capt," He says holding a spring line so Jim can lasso the stern piling. "We've called customs and immigration for you. They're on their way."
"Great, thanks. We're sure glad to be here"
"And we're glad to have you. Once you've cleared, you can check in."
Within an hour, we've cleared customs with efficient ease. A friendly immigration officer has stamped our passports. Both agencies wish us an enjoyable stay and they meant it.
Free to get off the boat, Jim hurried to check in while Kevin, Theresa and I rummaged for bathing suits.
Sleep could wait.
Together, we strolled to the pool. Steps from the dock, we crossed a lush manicured lawn with tall arched branches of sweeping shade. Flowering shrubs vied with towering palms heavy with coconuts.
The pool lay arched in white washed stone. Green vines dropping with red hibiscus twisted and twined around the arches. A charming fountain spewed sparkling droplets like laughter. And the pool bar served up delicious hearty club sandwiches that we ate in the pool while we swept our feet through the heated water.
Noreen, the bartender, whipped up a rum punch worthy of a proclamation. Proclaiming their praises, we all ordered three in quick succession. Now, we were ready for naps.
Kevin and Theresa headed for the marina's hotel, Pelican Bay for their own celebration and a bit of privacy.
Jim and I stood for a long moment admiring the Damn Yankee at rest in her slip at Lucayan Marina in the Bahamas. She was home for now. We were home for now. I'd need to e-mail John and Evelyn. Hell, I think I'll give them a call.
I felt Jim's arms slip around my waist pulling me close. "See Gwen," he whispered "dreams, it seems really can come true."