Bahamas - Stormed in at Chub Cay
Although the sky was dark and ominous, the seas were with us for once. We sped over the water smoothly enough to listen to the CD player along the way. The Pixies were the music of choice for a fast trip under a blackening sky. We were dripping wet from the sprays of water sloshing over the windshield and when we were about fifteen miles from our goal, Chub Cay, the temperature dropped and it began to rain hard. The sea became choppy and our progress diminished. Eventually land became visible through the sideways rainstorm known as a blue darter.
The pleasant ride was quickly a memory as we struggled cold and wet toward our destination. Pulling into the marina, we went to our slip assignment (it was slip 69, which I was amused enough by to take a picture of) and changed into dry clothes. The wind had a bite to it. Heading around the wide path toward the restaurant, we wished we'd worn our coats.
The restaurant wasn't quite open yet, although it was noon. We stood shivering outside the door with a small band of other hungry people. Soon a staff member came and let himself into the building. "The chef is not here yet," he explained.
We followed him inside and Bill and I sat at the bar. We were both chilled to the bone. An older couple was at the bar as well, along with their teenage daughters and one of the daughter's friends. A captain from one of the yachts. A man who seemed to be local fisherman.
Conversation was desultory at best. When the chef came, we moved to our separate tables in the dining area for lunch. As soon as we'd eaten I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. We rushed through the sharp cold wind to the boat, and once inside snuggled under the blankets shivering. During lunch the wind had picked up and the rain worsened. We were glad we'd gotten in when we did.
We spent the afternoon reading and napping, the boat rocking more and more intensely as the wind began to howl. We kept the VHF turned on, and listened to a series of communications describing rough passages and an evergrowing lists of queries that bounced back and forth: "Has anyone seen the Ulysses? They said they were planning on being here yesterday but we can't find them. Out." "Harbormaster, this is LoveCat. We're looking for the LoveCat 2, it was due this morning Have you seen them? Out."
I was entranced by the care and attention shown by the boaters for each other. It seemed like a wonderful thing, to be part of such a small and rarified community. As the marina became more crowded, the sound of human voices carried over the howling of the wind. Fifteen high school kids who'd come in on a large sailing sloop were having a Thank-God-We-Lived party on the dock. Three piers away and we could hear them loud and clear, howling wind or no.
After some heavy napping we had dinner on the boat and returned to the bar, the only meeting place in the marina. We started talking to a pair of couples who'd flown into Chub to dive, two women from Dallas and two men from England. I couldn't figure out what their relationship was, although we talked with them for some time. One of the women was having trouble dialing out to the States; I told her there was an AT&T 800 number were she could reach an operator who would put her through. The number was back in the boat, but I was ready to go to sleep. Bill and I walked back to the boat; he was going to bring the number back to the bar for the woman.
Bill went to step down onto the boat first. Low tide had left the boat about five feet below the dock so he was going to get on first and help me on. It didn't quite work out that way; he stepped off the dock and completely missed the boat. I heard a great splash and saw nothing. A moment later his head popped out of the water.
"Are you all right?" I gasped.
Bill was laughing. When I realized he wasn't hurt I laughed too as he hoisted himself into the boat, then lifted me off the edge of the dock and placed me safely onto the swim platform. I went to sleep in the cutty while he returned, dripping wet, to the bar with the phone number.
The storm hadn't budged by the next morning. We spent the time reading in the cutty, cozily bundled under the blankets while the rain splattered on the hatch and the wind whined through the forest of masts that surrounded us. Over the night more sailboats had come in and now the marina was fairly full. Next to us on a thirty-foot sailboat, a furry black dog sat under the mast and barked. After a while I became restless and I cracked the hatch, barked at the dog, and ducked. The dog issued a volley of barks in the wrong direction. I waited for him to stop, then peeked through the hatch and barked again. The dog responded. It took about thirty minutes for me to get bored of this; by then, Bill was shaking his head at me sadly.
In the afternoon the wind died down a little and the rain stopped, leaving a cold gray sky. We went for a dive, timed to get us back to the marina in time to rinse our gear and catch a hot dinner in the dining room.
It was four-fifteen when we descended into forty feet of water. Our dive site was dotted with live coralheads, each one buzzing with activity from an assortment of fishes. I was having bouyancy problems, and found myself flailing. I had too much weight on, too, even though it was the same amount that I'd used on the previous two dives. Also, I was using much more air than usual. I wasn't having enough difficulty to consider aborting the dive, but I was aware that the situation wasn't optimal. Bill, on the other hand, was moving easily through the water, his bubbles rising in slow even streams.
We were exploring coralheads when Bill pointed up. I followed his gesture and saw two barracuda cruising above us. I had seen barracuda before but never so close and never on the move.
They were about three feet long; small by barracuda standards but big enough to intimidate me. We followed procedure and calmly descended to the bottom while we waited for them to leave. In the murky blue water they flashed silver as they approached, the liquid metal spears of their long bodies dominated by a huge slash of mouth fenced with oversized triangular teeth. 'Razor sharp teeth, lightening speed,' was the phrase running through my mind. I could see their ugly black eyes flick toward us in assessment.
Bill and I were facing different directions; with my bouyancy problems I was keeping my head down to prevent accidental ascension while Bill was upright and could see. One of the barracudas came close and stayed within six feet of us for several minutes. I knew this wasn't normal behavior; my personal experience was limited but the reading had all said that barracudas will usually keep a distance of twenty to thirty feet.
I couldn't see the visitor but knew Bill could; as I hung there in the water, I ran a mental checklist to see if I was wearing anything shiny that the predator might mistake for a fish. Dull silver ring, stick hand in sand. Regulators, colored vinyl, no problem. Earrings, not wearing any. One fingernail painted silver, stick it in the sand. Bill's hand on my hip helped me stay low, and made me feel less nervous. I was aware that I was breathing too quickly; my bubble stream flowed from my regulator in an almost unbroken column.
We waited for the fish to move away and then followed suit, heading along the bottom in the other direction. As we continued our dive, I kept a sharp eye out for the curious barracuda. Several minutes later I spotted him above us. He seemed to be heading in our direction again. I tugged at Bill and pointed to the barracuda, then descended to the bottom. I was very uncomfortable with the fish's tenacity.
I rested on the bottom and waited for Bill. He didn't appear next to me. I craned my head to see if he was above me but didn't glimpse him. Losing my buddy would be bad, but losing my boyfriend would be a tragedy. A conversation we'd had the previous night with Al, the captain we'd met, came to mind. We had discussed the Domino Effect; that every major disaster we could think of was caused not by a single factor but by a series of factors coinciding to create a progressively degenerating situation that could end in tragedy.
Great, I thought. Predator in the area, lost buddy, bouyancy issues, and running low on air. And which way was the boat, anyway?
The barracuda wasn't going away. I decided it was time to move out of the area. As I slowly kicked my way along the bottom, I twisted my head in search of Bill, and to see if the barracuda was still following. A moment later there was a hand on my shoulder. Bill had been above and slightly behind me the whole time.
We were at the end of the hour we'd planned for our dive. We were both running low on air, and we were cold. I signaled to Bill that we should head back to the boat and took off to the north. After a few minutes of swimming we still hadn't come to the boat. I signaled to Bill, 'Boat?' He pointed south, which seemed illogical to me but I followed Bill in that direction. In our previous dives he had always been able to find the boat, and I hadn't. He was the expert, as far as I was concerned. We swam some more.
I was aware that it was getting later, colder, and I didn't know where the barracuda was. I signaled to Bill again, 'Boat?' Even underwater, I am capable of nagging. He gave me the Up signal, and we met at the surface. The boat was ten yards away to the south, where Bill had been leading us. We decided to travel the distance underwater, and descended.
My bouyancy problems were still in effect. Even with my tank low, which creates bouyancy, I sank like a stone as soon as I began to deflate my BC. Bill swam several feet under the water while I trailed along a few yards beneath him. It was with relief that I gripped the ladder and waited for Bill to reach down for my weight belt. I felt vulnerable at the surface of the water and waited impatiently to get onto the boat. We stripped off our wet suits and dried ourselves as quickly as possible, ducking behind the windshield for shelter from the cutting wind.
The sun was setting as we headed back to the marina. A dramatic rippling red sky was dotted with puffy steel blue clouds limned with gold and coral. We pulled in to our slip as darkness fell, an hour before the dining room was to open. Diving leaves you hungry, and between that and the cold, I was looking forward to a hot meal.
A skinny older man with a scraggly ponytail passed along the dock. "How ya doin'?" he greeted us. We waved back.
As he walked away I whispered to Bill, "That guy has the good ganja."
A few minutes later he came back down the dock and started talking to us. "You get here in this?" We chatted for a few minutes and then invited him aboard. He asked us how we liked the Bahamas, and we said that we liked it so much that we were trying to figure out a way to make a living there. "Oh, it's easy," he said, "It's easy to make money here, you just gotta know how to deal with the locals." He had a fast decisive manner of speaking. "Take me, for example. I smuggle pot."
He said he lived on a boat with his family, smuggled pot, and when necessary he fished for a living. Leaning in close to Bill's face, he told us that the way to deal with Bahamians was to draw boundaries. "You gotta tell 'em, maaan, THIS is the deal, the deal is NOW, there is nothing BUT the deal, and that is the DEAL." While he was saying this, he was winking at Bill.
We couldn't understand whether he was trying to sell us or to recruit us, so we just smiled politely and didn't react. After he left, we went into the cutty and collapsed in giggles. "What did he want?" I asked. Neither one of us understood what deal he was talking about.