New Year's Eve on Bimini
We awoke on the last day of 1997 hoping the weather was in our favor. We had to get to Bimini that day if we were to make our return date, which was inflexible because of obligations on January 4. We planned to spend New Year's Eve in Bimini, cross the Gulf on the first of the year, and make the twenty-hour drive home to arrive there on night of the second.
The seas were against us. We headed into the chop for the longest passage of our journey, seventy-five miles across the shallows. The water that had been so flat and beautiful when we were heading east was now dark and confused. I hung onto my seat, having learned to resign myself to a good battering when the wind was against us, as it so often was.
We stopped every hour for a rest. It was impossible to smoke underway, due to the stinging sprays of water thrown in our faces by the wind, and it was impossible to keep a can of soda upright in the bouncing boat. We were only making ten miles an hour; an unpleasant day loomed ahead of us unless conditions calmed.
I was keeping an eye on my watch throughout the journey, marking our progress in increments of time passed. We took our second break at 11:35 in the morning and shared a soda as we each smoked a cigarette. About ten minutes had passed. We relaxed some more, had another cigarette, and got underway. The entire break couldn't have been more than twenty-five or thirty minutes. I checked my watch; it read one o'clock, ninety minutes from the time we'd stopped. I looked at Bill's watch. It also said one o'clock. "Bill," I said, "what time do you think it is?"
"About noon," he said.
"Check your watch, Bill. We lost an hour. We've been abducted!" I laughed. "Now that's a vacation! The Bahamas and beyond."
Bill laughed at me and we continued underway, fighting the unending chop on our way to Bimini and what we expected would be a wonderful New Year's Eve.
Pulling into Bimini harbor, Bill said to me, "You know, that was weird."
"That we lost an hour. It was weird."
I agreed enthusiastically. "It was so weird!" I was glad to have corroboration; I was certain that we had indeed lost an hour, although running through my extensive repetoire of abduction symptoms gleaned from hours of X-File viewing I determined we exhibited none.
Returning to Bimini, we felt like we were coming home. I hadn't had that sensation in the Nassau the second time, or in Chub, but in Bimini we had forged relationships with local people. We had asked them to watch out for us on the last day of the year, hoping that they would notify the Coast Guard and BASRA, the Bahamian Sea Air Rescue Agency, if we didn't show.
We tied up at the Fisherman's Paradise and passed a large group of well-fed Americans filling two of the outdoor tables. Inside, several tables were occupied by local people. The bar was empty except for Aaron, who greeted us with hugs. "You made it back!" He slapped Bill on the shoulder. "You gonna party all night! We gonna see in the New Year together!"
We sat at the bar eating conch chowder and looking at the harbor. A forty-foot cruiser was trying to come astern of the restaurant's dock, and doing a clumsy job of it. "Rental boat," Bill said, and went out to move the Crownline further up the dock, away from the big cruiser.
We covered the cutty hatch with a towel to darken the cabin and crawled inside to catch a few hours of sleep. It was dark when we emerged.
We took a walk down the street, encountering more people and particularly more white people than we'd seen anywhere before. We went to the Sand Bar, which was crowded with rowdy tourists, mostly young, mostly white, and all drunk. The barmaids seemed to be enjoying the scene. One shirtless young man lay on his back on the bar and the barmaid grabbed his face and french-kissed him. Bill and I stood at the end of the bar with our arms around each other, watching in amusement. Soon the shirtless guy jumped off the bar and joined his friends, who stood in a circle and watched as he removed his pants and poured beer over his nearly naked body, then dropped to the ground and rolled in the deep sand that was the bar's floor. Soon his buddies were taking turns doing the same.
We slid out and went to the Paradise. It was almost deserted. Aaron was behind the bar, and said he was closing soon. Then he locked the doors, poured us drinks, and came to sit on our side of the bar. We talked about life in Bimini, exchanged phone numbers and addresses, and toward midnight we excused ourselves to go back to the Sand Bar.
The place wasn't as busy as previously, but it was still hopping. The two barmaids were going strong. One of them was telling dirty jokes and waving around a black plastic dildo. We sat on one of the wobbly benches and watched the ball drop in Times Square on the television, while we listened to the German tourists standing behind us complain about the slow service. I laughed to myself -- I too had groused about slow service when I'd arrived in the islands twelve days before. It took a surprisingly short amount of time for me to become used to the pace of life there.
Bill raised his glass to me. "We did it. We really did it." I clinked my glass against his, but in my mind it wasn't really done until the next day's Gulf Stream was successfully completed. It seemed like a toast now was tempting fate.
We wandered down the street to the Compleat Angler, a large Victorian structure that contained a bar and restaurant, a Hemingway museum, a gift shop, and rooms to rent. It seemed to be the center of New Year's activities on the island. The huge rooms were packed with people. We caught the last two seats at the bar and sat back to watch the action.
I turned to my right and recognized the man there as someone we'd met in Chub. He had left Chub at nine a.m., an hour behind us, in a large sailboat and had been piloted into Bimini at nine that night. We asked him about the next day's weather forecast and he said, "You're not going anywhere tomorrow! We're all gonna be here for days. We'll get to be good friends!"
On the way out we passed Aaron doing a wild spasmodic dance. We headed back to the boat tired and happy, and sorry to be leaving the next day.