The Gulf Stream
The public dock was at the end of a residential street. It had a large lot with a number of trailers and trucks parked there, and no cars. The dock area was populated with no more than fifteen people, but the water was bustling with activity.
Fishing boats and the square yellow water taxi moved up and down the channel; across the water large warehouses contained marine repair businesses and boat dealers with busy fuel docks. Tenders, small boats trailed behind yachts to access shallow waters, puttered back and forth to the dockside restaurant.
A dozen or so pelicans, big silvery birds with sulfur-yellow crests on their heads, fidgeted along the rim of a boatslip, hunting for fish. They peered into the water, repeatedly leaning forward till they would almost topple, then at the last minute pulled themselves upright with a jerking motion of their wings. Frequently there would be a splash as one of the large birds plunged into the water in pursuit of a fish.
I thought they were charming and picturesque until I stepped in a big glob of pelican shit.
We knew we should file a float plan but there didn't seem to be anyone around to take it. We didn't really have much of a float plan, anyway. We just figured we'd make the run to Bimini and decide on our next destination from there. Looking back, this was really unwise, but it's what we did. Next time, we'll be more circumspect about float plans, and about some other safety practices too.
The skies were overcast and the wind was steady and strong on the day we put in. There were two foot swells with a two foot chop on top of them and we were heading straight into it.
The boat started slamming violently before we even got out of the harbor. The bow would fly into the air, there would be a moment of suspense, and then the boat would slam down into the water on one side or the other of its keel. When the boat landed evenly on the keel it wasn't as bad, but we were getting tossed so badly that we frequently landed off-center.
Off-center landings were characterized by a huge cracking sound and a spine-hammering, teeth-jarring thud as my body was thrown up into the air and back into the seat. The thud was uncomfortable but it was the cracking sound that really bothered me. It was so loud, and the slamming was so violent, that I was afraid the boat was going to break.
I didn't have the hang of taking the shock as the boat repeatedly plowed up a swell and then slammed down with a horrible crash. I tried to brace myself with my back against the seat, my feet against the bulkhead in front of me, and my arms stretched over my head far enough that I could grasp the top of the windshield in a white-knuckled death grip. This wasn't really working for me.
Every time the boat hit the water, my ass hit the seat. Hard. Over and over. The crossing was about fifty miles, and the bruises started appearing on my arms and legs after about five miles.
I was falling all over the place. Bill was casting concerned glances in my direction. "It's easier if you stand, honey," he said. Easy for him -- he's been on boats since he was a little boy. Even as we were tossed from swell to trough to swell, he was standing as steadily as if he were on solid ground.
Bill was clearly worried about me and moved me into the captain's chair, which had better padding and was much easier to sit in. He stood behind the chair, reaching around my left side to steer and my right side to work the throttle. I was physically more comfortable and the close proximity to Bill provided emotional comfort as well.
By the way, part of this adventure story is a love story. I think.
We made painful progress. Bill frequently pointed out flying fish, but sitting down as I was, I didn't see a single one. Then he suddenly stopped the boat and pointed to the sea on our port side. "Look!"
In front of us two black shiny finned backs arched out of the water in unison and disappeared back into the steely sea. I clung to the side of the boat and stared at the sea with hungry eyes.
I'm a suburban child; I have never seen a bear or a cougar or a wild turkey and until I moved to Maryland I had only seen deer in zoos. I'd been to the Coney Island Aquarium, the Baltimore Aquarium, and the Boston Aquarium, but I had never seen anything like what was before my eyes at that moment.
The surprise of seeing the porpoises, or whatever they were, was followed by the sense of their complete belonging in their environment, and a corresponding sense that I did not belong. The porpoises moved with ease through water that battered us and battered our boat and battered all our technology. As we churned along the surface, it struck me that beneath us other travellers crossed our paths on their own journeys.
"Oh my god!" was all I could repeat. "Oh my god!"
I have seen countless dolphin and porpoises on television, watching with blase half-attention as the filmed subjects arched higher out of bluer water and spun more gracefully, altogether more spectactular than the reality in front of me, yet the reality, duller in color, lesser in activity, was more exhilarating than I could have imagined.
This was why I was out here in the middle of the Gulf Stream in a little boat -- to see what I had never seen, to see what many people will never have the chance to see. I had that feeling that children have but adults rarely remember-- the feeling of happiness and optimism that is so large it fills your heart till you think your chest will burst.
To view the porpoises even from the very fringe of their environment, the surface of the sea, made the hours of bouncing and bruising that I'd been through worth it. It already made the whole trip worth it, and we hadn't even gotten to the Bahamas yet.
Bill notified me each time he had to change the scale on the GPS. which I found useful. Knowing that we were within 30 miles of Bimini, 20 miles of Bimini, and then within 10 miles of Bimini was reassuring.
GPS stands for global positioning satellite; it's a small hand-held unit that uses satellites to determine where it is, where it's been, and where it's going. It can be given pre-determined coordinates that it will then provide a route to, or it can be set into tracking mode, which causes it to remember where it's been.
So far, GPS was just an abstract idea to me. And this abstract idea was saying we were within ten miles of Bimini. So where was it? Shouldn't land be visible at ten miles? Maybe the GPS was malfunctioning. I wasn't convinced that a small little piece of electronic equipment that only cost about $150 was reliable enough to stake our lives on. This is the way I think. Just because everything seems to be all right at the moment doesn't mean that calamity isn't just around the corner. Obviously, this state of mind isn't compatible with the person I want to be. I'm fighting it, but it's a back and forth battle.
Ahead, the clouds were dark streaks except for some large fluffy white poufs stacked over the flat horizon. "There's land," Bill said. "Those are heat clouds." I had been working up a good sweat over the possibility of being lost at sea while Bill was steering for the clouds that had been visible for at least an hour.
Now the big question in my mind was would the land be Bimini, or could we have gone too far south to Andros, or too far north to Grand Bahama? A couple of minutes later, I spotted something on the horizon. "Land!" I was very excited. "Look, land! Land!" We were almost there. I kept my fingers crossed that it was Bimini.
As we moved toward the harbor the water beneath us became shallow, transparent, and green, like something out of a travel brochure. I'd always assumed those pictures were doctored yet here was the green water, wet and real.
We pulled into the harbor at Alicetown, North Bimini, just as the sun was setting. The harbor was long and narrow, open to to the South Bimini channel on the south, crowded with docks and boats on the north.
Silhouetted against the darkening sky were tall palm trees and taller masts with lights twinkling at their tops. The lights on the masts blended with the stars that quickly appeared in a quantity that I had never seen before. It seemed unreal.
I was in another country, in a part of the world where I never before been, and that I had gotten there with no commercial airline, no travel agent, no passport check or luggage carousel. I had gotten there in a little boat with a tall handsome man. It was then I knew -- I was living right.