Bahamas - Uptown, Downtown, and Central Chub Cay
The next morning we woke up to a calm sunny day. We arranged the boat for travelling, which involved putting away anything that could spill or be blown away, and put out into the flat shallow water, heading almost directly into the rising sun.
Bill put me behind the wheel and I carefully watched the compass heading and the depth gauge, occasionally checking behind to seehow sinuous a wake line I was leaving. Whenever I corrected course, which was often, the wake went from a straight line to a large graceful curve. Or double-curve. Or the occasional triple-curve. I was also still very aware of the threat of pirates, particularly since this leg of the trip would bring us closest to the west coast of Andros, which we had specifically been warned about. I scanned the horizon regularly.
Regardless of my concern about piracy, this was the most tranquil passage that we were to have through two entire weeks of almost constant movement. My memory of it will always be a moment when I was behind the wheel, sun glinting off my shades, as I laughed up at Bill standing next to me, so tall and golden, and him smiling back at me in complete harmony. Somewhere over our shoulders traffic was backing up on Interstate 95, another bank in South Carolina had been robbed, a famous political scion had been killed in an accident... but Bill and I were a complete society of our own, and the rest of the world was just ants in anthills, going about their tedious daily grind in places far removed. We had flat water and sun, and we were adventurers.
Bill had noted the location of a channel marker in his GPS. We spotted it after several hours, and Bill took the wheel to bring us close in order to see what forms of marine life had taken shelter there. As we approached, he pulled up the throttle and we puttered over the shallow transparent water. Peering over the sides we could see twenty-six feet to the bottom. Bill identified several sea cucumbers, but mostly we just saw grass. As we came up to the marker, schools of various fish became evident, moving out and darting back to safety, and on the concrete block beneath the marker a small nurse shark was at rest.
About ten miles off Chub Cay, we hit deep choppy water and our progress slowed. Suddenly the water erupted with dolphin. Dolphin surfaced all around us in ones, twos, and threes, leaping out of the water solo or in unison. We shut the engine off and climbed onto the seats so we could see further. There were thirty or forty dolphin, appearing and disappearing on all sides of the boat. Each of us scanned the water, pointing excitedly whenever we glimpsed the animals break the surface of the ocean. As they moved northeast, we turned on the boat and slowly pursued them at a distance, hoping to keep them in sight as long as possible without bothering them. Too soon, the dolphin descended out of sight and we turned the boat back on course, looking at each other with the knowledge that we had shared something truly special.
I had known before leaving on this trip that by the end of it, Bill and I would either be brought together or driven apart. We had been dating for three months and things were going well. But we weren't kids and both of us were moving carefully in this relationship. I had worried to friends before leaving, "How am I gonna not fall totally in love with this guy, between the tropical sunsets and the palm trees? There's a reason people honeymoon in the Islands!" I had felt my emotions for Bill growing the whole month previous, and was afraid that I would say words I wasn't ready to say, swept up in a moment of soft breezes and sea spray. And it was happening. He was becoming a part of me. The experiences we were sharing on this journey were giving us a common ground, and away from our normal lives we seemed able to express ourselves to each other more freely than we had at home.
Chub Cay was a stop-over on the way to Nassau. We had learned in the Yachtsman's Guide that the marina there had a fuel dock and a restaurant, two important considerations. We entered the channel leading into the marina, going the required five miles per hour through the shallow, rock-sided twist of water. A large sign at the mouth of the entrance announced 'Chub Cay Marina -- Call Dockmaster on Channel 68.' Bill picked up the radio and we announced our intention to stop in just for lunch and fuel -- no slip assignment required.
The marina was large and well-kept. We tied up next to a large white boat from Delaware and headed over to the restaurant. The pale dirt pathways at Chub Cay Marina were wide and well-kept, and a few staff members pedalled past us slowly on old bicycles. The restaurant was clean and cool, with double-clothed tables and a full bar. The staff were very dark men wearing Hawaiian shirts, black trousers, and formal manners. The few other patrons were dressed much, well, cleaner than we were. After only a few days of travel, everything I owned was already damp and rumpled. Bill had packed better and still had clean clothes. Today, though, we both came directly from the boat to the restaurant and were a little on the sloppy side. More than a little, actually.
For such a clean, well-kept operation, I was surprised to find the bathroom nonfunctional. The toilet was full to the brim and would not flush no matter how long I held the handle. I washed my hands, wiped them on my shirt, and went out to order lunch. Bill and I compared notes; the mens' room was just as bad, he said, but he'd taken the top off the tank and gotten it to flush. It hadn't even occurred to me to try to fix the womens' toilet.
After a great lunch of conch salad and fish, we asked the waiter what there was to do in Chub. He gestured over the restaurant and said, "You are now in Uptown, Downtown, and Central Chub Cay."
We each took advantage of the showers, then stopped by the dive shop. The divemasters were friendly and helpful, and recommended some good places to dive. We fueled up and headed out toward Mama Rhoda Rock. Dropping anchor, we geared up and got in the water.
Bill and I descended to the bottom and checked the anchor, then moved along a ditch that was home to numerous fish. We found a variety of fish and one cranky lobster that came out of his hole and waved his claws at us. Bill came up behind me and hugged me, which made me laugh, which made my mask leak. Then he kept taking the regulator out of his mouth and making kissy faces at me. We held hands as we explored the ocean floor.
Back on the boat, I was excited by the dive. It was the first ocean dive I'd ever done with no crowds of strange divers packed onto a commercial diveboat like a tin of sardines and no divemasters giving safety speeches and determining the course or length of our dive. I felt independent and competent, and thrilled.
We moved the boat toward a shallow anchorage, where a few sailboats and catamarans were already anchored. We had sandwiches on the boat and watched the sun set. Soon it was dark and the sky was filled with more stars than I had ever seen. In my experience stars are something overhead only; that night, the stars were overhead, directly in front and back, and to the left and right as well. They came right down to the horizon and disappeared behind it, giving me the sense for the first time of what infinity really means. Bill got his binoculars and showed me his favorite star cluster, and we looked for Mars and Venus. The peaceful swaying of the boat completed our picture of lazy relaxation.
Bill said, "Look at that!" I followed his gaze to the water, which was sparkling like the stars themselves. All around us, unseen creatures were releasing glowing neon green swirls that hung on the surface a moment before being dissipated by the movement of the ocean surface. We got flashlights and sat on the swim platform, shining the light onto the green swirls to try to see what they were. We could see larger fish rise toward the surface, snapping up the creatures that were releasing the bioluminescence; one eel-like needle-nosed fish, a ballyhoo, moved along the side of the boat slowly, wiggling through the current with little progress as we followed him with our lights.
That night I awoke to the sound of thudding overhead. Bill wasn't in the cutty cabin. I went outside and found him pulling up the anchor. It hadn't found good mooring in the sandy bottom, and a rising wind had moved us toward the choppy sea. In the dark night we checked the position of the surrounding boats, visible only from their mast lights or stern lights, moved the boat back in toward the beach, and dropped two anchors. Bill showed me on the GPS how we had moved. It showed a squiggly tangled line where we had moved around the anchor previously, and then a short straight line showing where we'd drifted when the mooring gave.
The next morning the wind was blowing from the southeast. We watched a small sailboat nearby pitch wildly back and forth while we listened to the VHF and ate breakfast. The talk on the VHF was mostly from the surrounding sailboats, who were all concerned about the wind. Most people, including us, were heading for Nassau, which was southeast of us. Another voyage directly into the wind I was nervously remembering the unpleasant Gulf Stream crossing and made tentative suggestions that we stay in Chub another day. Bill said we should try it, and if it was too bad we'd turn back. As we were turning the boat to head out, a small catamaran flying the British flag hailed us. We pulled up at their stern and had a hollered conversation with the retired couple onboard. "You came from the States in that?"
They told us that a certain sailboat had put out a half-hour earlier and had not returned, and they thought we could make it if we had a big engine. They were planning on waiting till the next day to leave. Bill was polite, but as we pulled away he laughed at their circumspection. "This engine will get us there fine," he snorted. "Blowboaters!"
"See," he explained to me, "They need the wind to go their direction. They could get to Nassau in this weather, but they'd have to tack back and forth a lot, and it'd be a bumpy ride."
"Don't they have engines?" I asked.
"Weak ones, mostly," he said. We headed out into the chop. It was bouncy but not nearly as bad as the Gulf Stream crossing. By now Bill had taught me how to stand on the boat and keep my knees loose to absorb the shock. Standing, I was able to see the flying fish that were so common. They were round oval fish, shaped like very short fat cigar, dark blue on top and white on the bottom. They leaped out of the water, using their large pectoral fins as wings. Sometimes one would touch down on the crest of wave with its tail, wiggle, and use the force of the water to launch it off again in a new direction.
The sky was overcast and the deep sea was black. We saw land after about two hours and noticed the ocean becoming calmer. Pulling into Nassau Harbor, we headed east seeking fuel and our hotel.