“If I run your boat aground, I’ll buy you a 30 pack,” I said quietly but confidently. I knew I was going to run us aground. I just didn’t know exactly when and where.
“Sounds good….(pause) Left. Left! Rocks on the right,” Nick said loud and clear, but with zero hostility. Slight left turn, and we were back in the uncharted channel. Moving forward at a slow 0.8 knots.
Location: Secret spot in the Bahamas. Not telling.
Characters: Katie, Reggie, Nick, Tara, and myself. Who is Nick, and who is Tara? Nick is a very good friend of ours whom we met and traveled with in the Bahamas last summer. Tara is Nick’s house. A stunning 31 foot Bristol born in 1982.
Setting: Pitch black. Too many stars to comprehend. Phosphorescence bouncing around Tara’s wake, like swimming lightning bugs. The FM radio is tuned to rock ‘n roll. Steady 12 knot breeze. Pleasantly warm. Sometime around 23:00.
Mood: Exhausted but equally as excited. Adrenaline comes with night time navigation over the shallow water. Loony. Slightly delirious, yet self assured. Carefree. Nothing matters. Tail end of a 20 hour crossing, and suddenly I don’t even care if we get there anymore… I could keep going.
Situation: Katie and I are on a mission to an anchorage we had visited a year ago. A narrow deep channel, leading to a big hole, perfectly sized for one boat to swing 360 degrees. This specific anchorage is not charted. Maybe a quarter mile, we navigate the uncharted channel in the darkness. Nick is on the bow, with nothing but a dim light to read the bottom of the sea. Katie is keeping an eye on the depth sounder, and translating Nick’s instructions from the bow, since the dodger gets in the way of communication. I am at the helm, eyes fixed on the GPS, doing what I can to keep us centered in the channel that none of us can see. We are now uncertain when the channel takes its’ 90 degree right turn.
My night vision is shot from focusing on the chart plotter’s backlight. The only reason I have any kind of confidence driving someone else’s boat in this sort of situation is the trust that Nick initially has in Katie and me. It’s his boat, and he seems to have no worries. If he is worrying, he is hiding it well. He has complete confidence in Katie and me to run the show. So we are. My forward movement is completely based on listening to Katie, Nick and Tara. We find the 90 degree turn in the channel that we remembered, and find ourselves in the deep hole we are searching for. But just before we find the right spot to drop the hook, inertia knocked us forward. I hit bottom. I owe Nick a thirty pack. Damnit.
Rewind: Why are we in the Bahamas with Nick, aboard Tara, and not Louise? Let’s just say… sometimes things just work out. Sometimes by not having a plan, the best decisions are made. Our decision to cross to the Bahamas was made on a Friday night around 20:00, as the three of us were on the way to the bar in Fort Lauderdale. We all had a rough day following a late outing the night prior, and spent hours joking about crossing to the Bahamas for the weekend. On the way to the bar, Katie humorlessly said it first , “Let’s go to the Bahamas”. I was right on board with the idea, and pulled up the weather forecast. Nick was thrilled. Decision made. We weren’t joking anymore. Why would we go spend more money at the bar when we all would rather be in the Bahamas? We turned the car around, ran back to Louise to pick up Reggie, packed a bag, and slept for 3 hours that night. Long before the sun rose we were out on the mother ocean. South-east bound. Nick had to be back in Lauderdale Tuesday morning to catch a flight to St. Martin. This decision the three of us made was the definition of Rash. Or maybe, it was the definition of freedom?
Fast forward: I don’t know what time it is. I don’t know how long I slept or if I slept at all. It’s morning. On the bow. French press. Light breeze. Crispy skin. Breakfast sandwich. Unfinished sentences. Unfinished thoughts. Love them. My sister hates them. Oh well. Here we sit, smack dab in the middle of this deep hole we somehow navigated ourselves into. I am in a tropical world surrounded by hues of blue my vocabulary cannot express. The water even more stunning than I remember. The gullies squawking, also as obnoxious as I remember, but it doesn’t matter because the scenery drowns out their conversation. I wonder what they are squawking about. I wonder if they realize how beautiful it is here. Twenty four more hours before we have to turn around. The twenty hours it took us to get here is all worth sitting right here, right now. But I don’t want to turn around. I don’t want to go home. Suddenly, I am confused as to why Katie and I are northbound after this. If we had taken Louise here instead of Tara, we would be sending Nick back to the states on a plane, and continue another Bahamian journey. But I am here now. With some of my best friends. It would take some kind of crazy vice grip contraption to take the smile off of my face.
Fast forward again, to later in the day when as adults we feel like children. The tide is low. The sand banks are above the water creating miles of land to walk. So we walk. We talk. We explore. We laugh. “What ifs” and “Would you rathers” keep us entertained. More questions are raised than answers. We walk in a line and pretend we are elephants. We take turns balancing a large water jug on our heads. Reggie digs up conch and moves them to new places. There is one thing confirmed… Katie is obsessed with birds, Nick with trees, and me with clouds. The difference being that they are actually knowledgeable in their categories, and I am just curious about mine.
By sunset a current of rum gravitates towards our bellies. Conversation gets even better. We pick apart Katie, because she is funny and we know she can handle it. Chuckle about all of our discombobulated relationships, why we can’t maintain them, and why they have never worked. We wonder why more people can’t seem to find happiness in the simplicity of being broke, unattached, unpredictable, and nomadic. We ponder the appeal of stability, income, and safety. Amongst our obvious differences, the three of us are exactly the same.
Suddenly, buzzed Nick realizes that his flight to St. Martin is on the 30th. The 30th is not Tuesday, it is Wednesday. We have another day to run free here in the Bahamas. We don’t have to leave before the sun rises. We thought he was playing a joke on us. He wasn’t. Soon, there was no rum left in the bottle. It was this night, we all finally slept.
The next 24 hours are spent moseying, and leisurely re-anchoring in a new location. Although right around the corner, it felt like a whole new kind of paradise. While snorkeling to shore, Katie and I confirm in our masks and snorkels that there is no where else in the world we would rather be. Nick and Reggie are rowing around in the distance. Maybe we could swim back and steal Tara, leave Nick and Reggie on this here rock. They would survive. They are smart men.
“Hey girls?” Nicks voice resonates across the surface
“There’s some sharks over here.”…. pause…
Katie and I look at each other, too scared to put our faces back in the water. If there are sharks swimming beneath us, I don’t think I want to look.
“I’m going to come get you.” Nick casually heads our way.
Katie and I start doggy paddling the opposite direction. Our faces are nervously laughing, but our eyes are terrified. Every shadow I see I’m convinced is going to eat me. We both hop in the dinghy. Sure enough, the predators are visible in every direction.
Just before the sun says its goodbye for the day, we decide that a night time operation back to America is suitable. Nick raises the sail, hauls up the anchor, and off we go, into the darkness. Westbound. By the time the light from the sun setting disappears, the glow from city lights take it’s place, giving the helmsman/woman an easy indication for steering the right direction through this blackness. Lightning relentlessly strikes in the distance to the south. The wind is behind us. The gulf stream working in our favor. Wide awake the entire night, I try to close my eyes, but unsuccessfully. I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to go home. None of us do. The lightning never catches up to us. The boom whips across the cockpit a handful of times, bringing those laying down instantly upright. The FM radio switches from rock ‘n roll to country. The amount of wishes I have aren’t enough to keep up with the shooting stars. I realize that there isn’t that much I have to wish for. Nick makes coffee around 2am. The first boiling batch flies into the air simultaneously with a wave. French press down. Coffee grounds fill every corner and crack of Tara. Try, try again.
Twelve hours later, twilight welcomes us into the city of Fort Lauderdale. I finally close my eyes. I don’t want to see the city. Two full days disappear to rest after returning to Louise. Okay, now… it is time to go. There is no more schedule. There are no more plans. Only the last minute ones. We must keep it this way. A peculiar lifestyle to accept, but necessary. Katie and I have been so anxious to get to Michigan… to get home… to complete The Great Loop. Something changed. No longer do we care. We will get there when we get there. Hell, let’s go back to the Bahamas… we will finish this loop next year. The End.