have encountered along the way. This evening’s fare was the Guana Grabber. I have learned not to inquire as to recipes; most island bartenders keep them tightly under their hats. When one of the girls asked, the response was, “Oh, a little of this and a little of that.” Well, the Grabber tasted pretty good, and its orange-pink color and the fact that it was served in a 20-ounce cup made it very appealing. 

So halfway through the first round the power went out, and that’s when the trouble started. Our pal Daniel, the bartender, assured us he had the situation under control. He closed the bar, brought out several tiki torches that somehow fired despite the wind, then placed a styrofoam cooler full of ice, a stack of plastic cups, and four gallon jugs of Grabbers on a table and announced, “The party’s on me!”
In the early 90s we cruised Abaco with our friends Bill and Joan in our 29-footer. The boat wasn’t really big enough to comfortably sleep four, so we were tying up at marinas that also had shoreside accommodations. Bunny and I were staying on the boat, Bill and Joan had a room at Guana Beach Resort. We had had a perfect day on the water, but as we were tying up late that afternoon, it started to blow out of the south. The docks at Guana Resort are exposed to this direction, and within two hours the 20-knots wind had really roiled up the marina. We ate a wonderful island dinner at their restaurant, then returned to the dock to check on the boat. She was rolling to the point that I had difficulty just getting onto her from the dock. Bunny and I decided there was no way we’d sleep on her that night, so we pulled off some overnight things and walked back to Bill and Joan’s room.

After squaring away our gear, we strolled over to the bar and ordered a round of drinks. Through the years as we have cruised the Islands and visited the various watering holes I have made an effort to order the “house drink;” I like rum, and I’ve usually been usually delighted with the unusual concoctions I
The beautiful grounds at Guana Beach Resort
Part Ten: Tuesday, July 17
It’s 8:17 and Barometer Bob is telling me that today will be even nicer than yesterday; he also reminds us to keep an eye to the weather for those pesky afternoon thunderstorms. My conscience is telling me that we’ll have to spend at least part of the day in Marsh Harbour. A few years ago we contemplated buying a lot up in Cocoa Bay. We had opened a bank account at the Barclays’ branch in Marsh, but our plans changed after the hurricane, and we want to close the account. Bunny wants to hit one of the grocery stores, and we have to get Junior a plant. Earlier we called Pinewood Nursery and they told us the ferry wouldn’t deliver unboxed plants, so it looks like we’ll have to go over and bring one back.

While Bunny’s waking up, I walk up to look at the ocean. It’s a little bumpier than yesterday, the wind is 10-15 out of the SE, and there’s a nice chop. Over breakfast we make our day’s plan. We’ll go ahead and run to Marsh Harbour, take care of business, then run Loggerhead Channel and work our way SE along the reef off Guana and MOW. Lines are off at 10:30, and we are soon skimming across the Sea of Abaco under a clear blue sky.

Visiting places like Marsh Harbour, Guana Settlement, and Hopetown present us with a bit of a problem. Attitude is a little too small to carry a dinghy, and she’s a little too large to tie up to one of the government docks for more than a few moments; she needs a real slip. Over the years we have come up with a few tricks that allow us to accomplish this. Attitude can always use 50 gallons of fuel. The only time I top her off is when we are making a long passage. 250 gallons of gas weighs over 1500 pounds, and it’s foolish to carry that much weight unless it’s absolutely necessary because it substantially compromises her fuel efficiency. So when we need a slip for a few hours, we cruise the prospective area until we find a marina that has a fuel dock as well as some empty slips. After taking on fuel we mention to the Dockmaster that we would like to spend a few hours “looking around;” I hand him ten bucks and ask him if there is any way he could keep an eye on the boat for us. Most of them are eager to help, and so it goes today.

Soon we are walking west along Bay Street. This route has more shoals and reefs then we have as yet encountered on this trip. There are Solomon’s Mines and John Bull and Mangoe’s gift shop; however, Bunny shows great restraint, and by the time we get to the traffic light we have accumulated only two T-shirts. It takes a half-hour to close the account at Barclays’, then we see B&D Marine store across the street where we buy some sinkers and small hooks, as well as a few other things for the boat. At the Texaco up the street we find a cab, so it’s off to Pinewood Nursery.

Here I must digress; Bunny is an avid gardener. Our back yard and pool deck are host to hundreds of odd plants: there are orchids and palms and roses and things I can’t pronounce or even spell. At 29 degrees north latitiude Ormond Beach is planted firmly in the Temperate Zone. Last year we had five nights of temperatures below 30. While Bunny lusts for tropical plants, she must carefully consider each species’ cold tolerance. Sadly, she can’t have the island garden she would die for, we’re just a little too far north.

Although Marsh Harbour is only two-and-a-half degrees farther south, its climate is far more benign in terms of cold weather. Bunny gasps at the site of every plant she has dreamed about, as well as exotics she has never seen. I gently remind her that we don’t have the space, nor is it legal to bring any of these back into the US. That doesn’t stop her from wandering through the aisles and marveling at everything. A young woman asks if we have a particular interest, and Bunny relates that we are looking for a flowering plant that would do well indoors. She directs us to a gorgeous bromeliad, three feet in height, topped by a characteristic pink bloom. It is just what we want. I bend over to take a closer look, and notice two pairs of glassy bright eyes staring back at me from within the crevices formed by the dense leaf structure. I relate this to the salesgirl, who then directs a very large man who seems to work on a delivery truck to perform the eviction. He winces, “I HATE tree frogs, STAND BACK!”   Stand back?

As we stifle our amusement, we watch a man who must be six-foot-four, at least 300 pounds, flinch and yelp as he attempts to coax two little frogs out of our plant with a three-foot section of dowel rod. It takes him 15 minutes, and after the monsters have finally been dispatched he is drenched in sweat and emotionally drained. We gently thank him, knowing he is mortified. It is only then that a half dozen of his co-workers as well as two customers and our cab driver explode into laughter; two of them are actually rolling on the floor, one with stomach cramps. Now our guy has a sheepish grin, “I TOLD you I hate frogs!”

Our cabby loads the bromeliad, minus the frogs, into the back of the van, and we’re off to Family Market. Bunny wants to take home some pigeon peas and conch chowder stock, and we need a few things for the boat. By now it’s 1 PM, time to get back to Attitude and head for the reef. But a look over my shoulder to the south reveals a large black cloud, and by the time we reach the marina the thunder has started. As we are transferring our goods into Attitude it starts to rain, and our radar paints a line several miles in length. We sit for over an hour in driving rain and gusty winds, waiting for the squall to pass. It finally drifts north of Marsh Harbour, settling over Guana. A second line is forming just SW of us, but it looks clear to the SE, down toward Lynyard and Tilloo. We punch our way through a mile or so of wind and rain to get out of Marsh Harbour, then the weather clears as we are round Point Set Rock. I look back at Guana Cay, now shrouded in the storm, and my mind drifts back to another stormy night there, years ago….

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *        

If you’ve ever been to the pool area at Guana Resort you will have seen the rough sign that is nailed to a coconut tree outlining the Pool Rules. The only ones I remember are the last two: one says something about no children allowed in the pool after dark, and the other notes that bathing suits are optional after 10 PM. There are several white plastic chairs and tables on the pool deck, and as the wind rose and the rain spritzed, somehow all the furniture got moved into the pool, and somehow all the bathing suits got moved out of the pool. It was a remarkable event! Including Daniel there were maybe a dozen of us, and I think we wiped out the four gallons of Grabber mix. I don’t remember going to bed.

It’s the middle of the night, very dark, and I awake with a full bladder. I can’t find my glasses, I am dizzy, very disoriented, I have no idea
where I am. So I stumble about in the darkness, feeling for what I pray will be a bathroom door. And wouldn’t you know it, here’s a nice handle! I gently pull on it, a door opens, and a light automatically turns on. Cool! And I can see a large round object below, must be the toilet. Aaahhhh! Even better, here’s something cold to drink, some nice iced tea. How convenient. I make my way back to bed, wondering how I’ll feel in the morning.

Now there is light, I hear women talking, maybe they are the ones who have put the vice around my head. Why are they shouting, nothing could be wrong with that refrigerator…uh-oh. I put my pillow over my head, but they take it from me. Bright lights, it’s an inquisition, I didn’t do it, I swear. After a few blinks I bring myself to a 45 degree lean, and there is my wife, holding a large stainless steel mixing bowl that is filled with what appears to be lime Jell-O and, well, some kind of liquid. There are times when we can nobly and credibly defend our lesser actions; this was not one of those times. The only saving grace, if you can call it that, was that both Bill and I were so ill that the girls soon relented. I was not able to get out of bed save for quick trips to the bathroom (I finally found it) until dinner. They gave me sips of water and tea, Excedrin, and Xanax. At one point a young missionary from Eleuthera visited me, saying that he heard I was ill. He asked if I would like him to pray for me, which I indeed urged him to do.

By 6 or so Bill and I were up and around. I have never seen a sorrier collection of tourists in my life, we all looked so pathetic. I got down a burger and some water, apologized for the umpteenth time to the girls, and went back to bed. This hangover, which I refer to as the “Grabover,” is now the standard against which I measure all other hangovers. So if I have a little too much rum and wake up a little foggy the next morning, Bunny will ask how I feel. “Oh, it’s about a 2 on the Grabber Scale,” 10 being what I have just related. I came away from the experience with two resolutions: I never want to lose another day of an island vacation from a hangover, and I never want to feel worse than about a 3 for any reason!

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         
Now we’re heading south from Lubber’s toward the Pelican Cays. We run North Bar out into the ocean and encounter a 20-knot wind and sloppy three-footers; it’s roiled up from the squalls to the west. We fish for a half-hour, but the motion is pretty unpleasant, so we retreat to our cove at North Pelican. We noodle for an hour, gather  up  ten  conchs,   then
head back to Seaspray. Junior is in the office when we tie up, and he loves his bromeliad! We get to spend a few minutes with him, then someone comes in with a problem and he is off to help. We score a couple of island drinks from the bar, cool off in the pool, then adjourn to clean the boat and our conch.

Seaspray is actually a marina as well as a shoreside resort. There are several cottages up on the hill to the south of the docks. Some of the quests who stay in them are boaters and Abaco veterans, but some are not. And somehow, Seaspray attracts people who are first-timers to the Islands, and it is upon these innocents that I prey as I do my foul task at the fish-cleaning table. I watch a group of ten or so leave the restaurant and walk out onto the dock. By their dress and demeanor I can tell that they are non-boaters from America’s heartland, sightseeing after a hearty Island meal. Bunny is busily cleaning Attitude’s cockpit, and she stops to take a tug at her water bottle and answer their questions. Oh, I hope they come visit me, come on, you can do it, come on over and talk to the man with the nasty slime caked in his chest hair. Uh-oh, here come two of them. It looks like a father and a teen-aged daughter. Hmm, he’s listing to port, bet he’s downed a few rum punches. Gotta stay quiet, let them mouth the bait.

“Daddy, what are those?” She points to several conch shells in my bucket.

“Well, honey, that’s, uh, some kind of starfish, they eat them down here.”

“We had a starfish in Biology, it didn’t look like that.”

“Well, there’s lots of different kinds, maybe yours came from Hawaii or something.” As he finishes speaking I crack the hammer into the shell, gook flies everywhere, and I pop the conch out of his house. The girl is standing next to my drink, I “excuse me” and bend over in front of her, take a long pull of rum, allowing a few drips to run down my beard onto my chest where it mixes with conch gook. I’m now peeling away the conch’s skin.

She draws back a step, then exclaims, “What IS that?”

“It’s a conch. Haven’t you had conch fritters or cracked conch since you’ve been here?”

She shakes her head warily, “No way. We don’t have conch in Nebraska. You can’t really eat that thing, can you?”

Time to set the hook, “Sure, I love it!” I take a nice bite out of the fist-sized steak; her color drains.

“Uh, honey, let’s go find your Mother.”

They are walking away, “Did you see what that man did!”

“Yeah, well, the heat gets to some people…”

A few moments later my wife brings me a water bottle. “What did you say to that little girl?”

“Who me? I’m just cleaning conch, they came over to watch.”

“You aren’t grossing people out over here again, are you?” She has her arms crossed and is tapping a foot. I’m busted. “You be nice to these people, they don’t understand, they’re just here on vacation.”

“Well, it’s just hot and boring and I need a little entertainment. Hey, wanna go for big grouper tomorrow?”

“Don’t change the subject, you’re a bad boy. And yes, I want to troll up some grouper tomorrow. And you’ll behave while you’re cleaning them!”

“Yes, Dear.” We’ll see. ; )
Part Eleven: Wednesday, July 18
What would constitute perfect weather in Abaco? In my mind, I see 85 degrees, a light breeze from the SE, a few fluffy cumulus clouds, water temp maybe 82, and a gentle swell on the ocean. I ponder this at 7:30 from my perch on Seaspray’s beach overlook as I gaze over a glassed-off Atlantic. In all the years we’ve been  raveling through the Caribbean, we’ve never had a “perfect day” like the one I am fantasizing about. Today will be close, but there will be one glaring difference: the heat will be brutal. It’s already 80, and without a breeze, we will cook. Still air prompts another concern: it sometimes signals a transition. The prevailing weather system may be dissipating; the next one may be evolving. I wonder if Barometer Bob has the scoop?

He does indeed: the high that has stabilized our weather for the past few days is projected to drift NE; a low is beginning to form in the Gulf of Mexico. This will slowly drift west over the next few days, but will probably not significantly affect Abaco. It does, however, have an important implication for us: by Saturday afternoon the weather in South Florida and the Gulf Stream is expected to deteriorate. Bob recommends that anyone contemplating a Gulf Stream crossing in the near future have it completed by mid-day Saturday.

I present this to Bunny at breakfast. Our current plan is to spend today and Thursday in Abaco, run to West End on Friday, and cross to Florida on Saturday. That’s cutting it close. After battling our career-worst squall on the eastward crossing, neither of us wants to temp the whim of the weather gods again. I offer Bunny the option of departing one day earlier than we had planned. She frowns; after the initial week of wind and rain we are really enjoying the sunshine and relatively calm seas, heat not withstanding, and she isn’t anxious to leave. We decide to postpone the decision until tomorrow morning. If Bob’s report suggests a worsening weather scenario for our crossing, then we’ll go ahead and leave. Otherwise, we’ll stick to our original itinerary, giving us today and tomorrow to play.

That settled, we discuss the day’s plan. Bunny wants to go after big grouper, and it seems like a good day to do it. Years ago I read two articles in successive Florida Sportsman magazines that dealt with trolling large diving plugs for grouper. Each author, one fishing off Islamorada and one at Walker’s Cay, described great success dragging plugs such as Rapala Magnums and Mann’s Stretch 25s just off the barrier reef in 30-50 feet of water. We have modified their techniques to suit our situation and tackle, and have had good success catching grouper and mutton snapper trolling along the reef north of Guana and Man-O-War. I like the newer Mann’s Stretch 35. This monstrous plug is almost a foot long, and has an oversized clear plastic lip and two 4X treble hooks. Because cudas love these as much as grouper, I crimp 2 feet of 100-lb multi-strand stainless steel cable to the ring on the plug’s lip. I tie this to 10 feet of 100-lb mono leader with an Albright knot. We use bright yellow 30-pound Suffex mono on Shimano TLD 25 reels that are mounted on 6-foot Penn standup rods. I set the drags for about 20 pounds, sometimes even more, so we can horse the bigger fish out of the rocks. When it’s just Bunny and I we troll two plugs, one short at 75 feet and one long at 150; we leave the clickers on and stay under five knots. The key is to find the right depth: ideally we troll in 40 feet of water with numerous heads coming up to 25 feet. The plugs can get as deep as 20 feet, so we try to stay away from the shallower heads. The terrain off MOW and farther NW is ideal.

From White Sound Mark we run NNW toward the southern tip of MOW, detouring to avoid the shoals that extend west from Johnny’s Cay. As we pass South Rock I slow to 6 knots and climb into the tower. South MOW Channel is a little tricky: it isn’t broad or straight like Loggerhead or North Bar; Steve Dodge doesn’t provide a cookbook GPS route. I steer 40 degrees for about a half-mile until the reefs to port give way to deeper water. I then veer due north for 400 yards or so until I am close to the breaking reefs on the NW side of the channel, and finally resume 40 degrees through the gap in the barrier reef. I see boats run through here at 25 knots: they are either stupid or experienced. I have run SMOW Channel maybe 6-8 times, and I still do it at 6 knots; there is potential here for disaster, why push it?

Once we clear the reefline we turn WNW and set up our gear. This takes all of ten minutes, and then we settle in; Bunny lounges in the shade with a book, facing aft on the port settee, and I pace the cockpit. The light SE breeze is deflected by the landmass of MOW, the air is moist and still. The sun is relentless, it bakes me as a broiler would the grouper filets we hope to take. Within 20 minutes I consume two 20-ounce bottles of water, but it’s not helping. Next I turn on the fresh water washdown, yet the water is too warm to provide any relief; it doesn’t dawn on me until later that I had turned on the red faucet (hot water). Such things happen when you’re getting goofy from the heat. Now I’m pointlessly meandering around the cockpit, restless, irritable, complaining about odd little nothings. Bunny picks up on it, “You’re getting I from the heat, do you need to get in the water?” I hate to stop fishing, but she is right, I’ve got to do something. I pull a third water bottle from the fridge and pour small amounts over my head and shoulders. Against my hot skin the cold is a shock, but it works, and in a few moments I’m feeling better. I fill the bottle with cool water from the sink and continue drip it over my back.
Time to shoot a little video; we are now off the north end of MOW, and I frame a nice shot of Bunny against the reef and the shoreline. We shoot as much video as possible while we are fishing, especially when we are bringing fish onboard. This can be problematic when there are only two of us, as there is no one to hold the camera. Our solution: I keep a wide angle lens on the camcorder,   and   when   we
then gently slip the hook of the gaff under his operculum (gill cover), avoiding the fragile maroon gill rakers, until the point is well up into his mouth and the curve of the gaff can support his weight. I then use a heavy curved pliers to work the hook out, finally lowering him into the water, where he vigorously swims away. There is obviously some blood, and I may be fooling myself by thinking that he’ll survive, but we have made the effort.

Bunny’s next hit comes off Scotland Cay: this one is a gorgeous yellowfin grouper, about six pounds. We get no more hits, and by the time we reach the north point of Guana we’re ready to cool off. Also, we need ice for the fish. When we catch our first fish of the day I fill the box with seawater, and often the fish will stay alive for 2-3 hours. But these are relatively large fish, and in this heat they have just about stopped moving. We decide to pull into Guana settlement. As I climb into the tower I ponder two possible routes: the easy one is the longest, NW around the reef and through Loggerhead Channel. Or I can pick my way through the heads, slide between Gumelemi and Guana, and then SE through Baker’s Bay. Visibility is excellent, sea conditions are perfect, so I opt for Plan B. It’s slow going: there are numerous heads, many which come right up to the surface; in addition, there are lots of boats and many snorkelers. But the greens and blues are dazzling in the afternoon sun, and soon we are passing Gumelemi. After traversing the shallows to the SE, we throttle up to 25 knots and make the scenic run along Guana’s southwest shore.

As we enter Guana Harbour we are hailed on the radio. It’s Skipzee, a.k.a. Ed Zorn; he and his family are in a center console just behind us. They tie up at the government dock while we receive permission to tie up in a slip at the Resort Dock. The people at Guana Resort never really restored their docks after the hurricane; there are no utilities that we can see, and there is only one other boat tied up there. Orchid Bay, with its sheltered marina, seems to have taken that business. Ed walks out on the dock and greets us, it’s great to bump into another Board member. Of course we show off our groupers, and we pass a few minutes talking about fishing and the other adventures we have had. Ed is staying in a house on the waterfront, his family is having a great time, they love Guana.

We change clothes and walk up to the liquor store at the base of Nipper’s dock where we buy two bags of ice to put on the fish. We then walk up to Nipper’s for lunch and a cold drink. We enjoy Nipper’s, but we prefer a relatively quiet afternoon or early evening to the chaos of the Sunday pig roast. Today there are perhaps fifty people on the deck, and a nice little breeze cools us off. Bunny has fried mahi and I have Johnny’s famous coconut conch and a Nipper on the rocks. Just one, thanks, I have a history on this island! We drop $100 in the gift shop, then work our way back to the boat. We want to eat at the Harbour’s Edge in Hopetown tonight, and we’ve arranged for a van at 7:15, so we have to get back to Seaspray.

I’m up next, and the hit comes after about a half-hour. As I work my fish it jumps, 50 feet behind the boat. That is bad news: the only jumper that lives in this neighborhood is a fish I really don’t like to deal with, and a moment later at boatside I can clearly see your basic 3-foot reef cuda. Now, I don’t want to eat this fish, I don’t want to bring him in the boat, and I don’t want to kill him. Over time I have devised a strategy to safely release cudas with at least some prospect of their survival. I lift his  head  out  of  the   water,
Bunny's first grouper
and put on “real clothes” for the first time since the party at Gary’s condo, then wait at the base of the dock for our ride. At 7:15 Junior comes out of the marina office and fires up the Seaspray van; his driver is a no-show, so he has to do the honors. Bunny asks Junior if he ever gets to go home, and he cheerfully responds that things will slow down for him in the next few weeks. He thanks us again for the bromeliad, relates how much his wife likes it, and then proudly drives us by his new house. We are so pleased for him, he has worked a long time for this.

We love eating at the Harbour’s Edge. Our hostess shows us to the last available table out on the dock, and we spend a delightful two hours sipping rum, eating Grouper Almondine, and swatting noseeums (they really aren’t that bad). The evening glow from the sun silhouettes the lighthouse, and later the few clouds disperse as darkness gently reveals a jillion stars that dance brightly in the clear tropical sky. Small groups dinghy in from their moored boats, and laughter dances across the water from the lighthouse side. Junior meets us at the government dock at 9:30 and takes us back to Seaspray. The bar has closed, the air is still, it is so quiet! We dreamily walk down the dock to where Attitude lies limply against her lines. Maybe we have found perfection in Abaco, after all.

Yet far to the west the weather gods are simmering their turbulent brew; but they must be subtle, lest they betray themselves to the satellites and sensors that relentlessly probe their secrets…
We tie up at our slip at 4:30 and adjourn to the pool for a few moments to cool off. During previous trips I have made a practice of cruising the bar with a bucket full of big grouper on ice. In addition to the obvious glory (and Bunny’s dismay), this also frequently generates a couple of free drinks. But today the bar is deserted; maybe it’s just a little early. As I carve our grouper I throw the remains and finally the head and skeleton into a frenzy of dock snapper. While I start on the second I feel a gentle tapping on my shoulder; it’s Seaspray’s cook, a middle-aged Haitian lady. She speaks minimal English, but through pointing and sign language she indicates that she would like the carcass; she has even brought a box for it. We’re happy to oblige; Bunny thinks she’s going to make some kind of stock for soup. Later, Bunny bags our filets and stores them in our little freezer compartment.   We    shower
Part Twelve: Thursday, July 19 and Friday, July 20
“Today’s your last day in Abaco, we can do anything you want, I’ll take you anywhere from Little Harbour to Manjack.” Bunny ponders this question over her morning coffee. The low in the Gulf is no better organized, and Bob doesn’t sound as concerned as he did yesterday, so we have elected to stick to our original plan and cross the Stream Saturday morning. “If you like, we can go on a shopping trip: Marsh Harbour, Hopetown, New Plymouth, you name it.”

Bunny’s tempted for a moment, but there are shops aplenty in Florida. “I really enjoyed grouper fishing yesterday, I think I want to do that. What about you?”

“That sounds good to me, but I’d like to finish the day down in Pelican Cove, I missed it yesterday.” Bunny smiles, she knows it’s my favorite spot in all of Abaco, and she likes finishing the day there as well. “OK, it’s a plan.”

Things don’t move quickly this morning. It’s even hotter than yesterday, and tomorrow and Saturday will be travel days, so we take our time. Lines are off by 10:30; before we head out we stop at the fuel dock and take on 150 gallons. Added to the 60 or so we already have, this should give us plenty for today and our 125 nm run tomorrow. We take the same route we did yesterday, through South MOW Channel, then WNW along the reef. Since Bunny caught the “good fish” on our last expedition, she gives me the first “up.”

My bad luck continues: our first hit is a small cuda, maybe two feet, and we release him after a brief fight. Bunny does no better, hauling in a three-footer a few minutes later. At noon I get the hit of the day, just off the cut between Scotland and Guana. This fish makes several determined surface runs against 20 pounds of drag, and I start to suspect that it’s not a bottom fish. I finally work him to boatside; it’s a big jack, 18 pounds. We don’t eat these fish, but I’ll bet our friend the cook back at Seaspray will be thrilled with it, so it goes in the box.

After two hours Bunny wonders if we might do better by stopping and bouncing jigs and cut bait on the bottom. Might as well; she picks up the rod on the starboard side and brings in the plug, and I do the same for the port. As I am cranking I am aware of a very subtle vibration, and as I reach for the leader I see what appears to be a second plug. But it’s a little yellowtail, mad as hell; he has whacked a plug that’s actually bigger than he is, and he can’t get off. We laugh, take his picture, then gently release him.

At 1:30 there is no air movement and no cloud cover, just heat, humidity, and stillness. We both take a cool shower, then load up our 12-pound spinning rigs and drop them into 40 feet of water. The boat drifts slowly NW over mottled bottom; in 20 minutes Bunny gets a few taps on her piece of conch, but I pull in two fat red hinds. Then she gets a nice hit; this fish is pulling hard, and she has to finesse him against relatively light drag. At boatside we get a glimpse of the biggest yellowtail we have ever seen, probably 4-5 pounds. There is a sudden erratic pull, the flash of a large cuda, and then the rod goes limp. Bunny sadly pulls up a very impressive fish head.

Big cudas plus intense heat signal the end of the fishing day, so we pack up our gear. We still have a couple of hours, and Bunny decides she wants to run into Man-O-War settlement to do a little shopping. We throttle up and head SE along the reef, through North MOW Channel, and along the SW shore until we get to the narrow entrance of MOW Harbour. The dock at the grocery is empty, so we tie up side-to and I mind the boat while she gets some ice and a few other things. When she returns, there is still no activity, so we take 15 minutes and pop into Joe’s Studio, one of our favorite Abaco gift shops. The first time we visited Joe’s in the early 90s I think I spent $400; today the damage is a relatively paltry $62. Some day I’m going to have to pick up one of his half-models.
At 4 we drop anchor in Pelican Cove, and it’s not a moment too soon; we are baked. The water is 82, and we welcome its cool relief. There is no surge, no waves, just still, clear water and those gorgeous electric greens. Bunny suggests we have a “shaving party.” Although I wear a full beard, I trim my upper cheeks and neck each morning, at least when I’m at home and trying to look responsible. These little grooming  activities don’t
always get done on a daily basis when we’re cruising, and I have a healthy stubble. Bunny goes below and retrieves two disposable razors and a can of shave cream; she goes to work on her legs while I do my face. That saltwater burns so good! We dawdle on our noodles while we sip our drinks; this is the last time we’ll do this for perhaps a year, and we’re reluctant to let go. We talk about dinner: we have plenty of grouper and conch, but Bunny wants to eat out. We haven’t done Seaspray’s Boathouse Restaurant yet, so that becomes the plan for the evening. The run across the Bank and through Lubber’s Channel is gorgeous; we pull up shy of White Sound Mark and start the generator and air conditioner. By 6 PM we are in our slip, washing down Attitude.

We really enjoy tying up at Seaspray. Several of our dockmates are cruising couples not unlike ourselves, and late afternoon is a great time to socialize. The heat is relenting, everyone is back from the day’s adventure, people are cooking out, cleaning fish, making drinks, walking up and down the dock, laughing about this or that. By 6:30 we have finished our cleanup, and we should head for the showers, but everyone seems to have a story, and it’s hard to walk away, especially on our last night. After a while Bunny drifts down to the restaurant; they don’t serve after 9, and somehow it’s 8:15, so I guess we have to get moving. We order grouper and conch, what else would we eat on our last night? Back on Attitude we go over tomorrow’s plan: it’s 125 nm to West End, and barring catastrophe we should make it in about five hours. We’d like to be there by 3, so we need to be away by 10. We square away a few things so that all we have to do in the morning is collect our power cords, hose, and lines. By 11 we’re ready to collapse. It’s 70 degrees inside Attitude, but I have that baked, glowing sensation that comes from having been in the sun all week. Although we still have another two days of cruising, we have unknowingly seen just about the last of it…

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

We’re up early today, we have a long run to make. Bob’s weather forecast calls for variable cloudiness with a ten-knot south wind. The low in the Gulf is evolving, and he predicts increasing clouds and rain for western Abaco and Grand Bahama. We leave Seaspray and pop into Hopetown for a few last minute groceries. At 9:50 I throttle up and we fly westward toward Florida.

There is little wind, the Sea of Abaco is glass, and we relax as Attitude skims along at 27 knots. We pass MOW, Marsh Harbour, and Guana, then ease through a subdued Whale Cay Passage. There’s Treasure Cay Beach to port, Green Turtle and Manjack to starboard, and gray clouds ahead. As we round Crab Cay we pick up a little rain; I can see several small showers on the radar, and one massive one off to the west, up toward Carter’s Cay. We run west along Little Abaco, and as I pass Veteran Rock the wind begins to pick up; soon we are bumping over a two-foot chop. Our course takes us well south of Great Sayle, and as we make the gentle turn to the NW another cell lights up on the radar. This one is dead ahead, halfway between our present position and the waypoint just north of Mangrove Cay. The sky up there is dark gray, the cell is about four miles in diameter, and I can’t detour south because of the shoals that extend north from Grand Bahama. There is, however, fifty miles of open water to the north, so we swing that way in an effort to get around the squall. The strategy works; we pick up 25-30 knot downdrafts for a few moments, but they don’t last long enough to stir up the ocean, and the cell actually dissipates as we round its back side.

We pass Mangrove Cay a little after 2, and as we approach Indian Cay the wind lays back down. At 3 we are bobbing on a very flat ocean off Old Bahama Bay at West End. The sky to the west is hazy, but there are no dark clouds, and there’s not a breath of wind. I get on the VHF and ask if anyone has just come eastward across the Stream. The response is immediate: someone has just run the 74 nm from Lauderdale to West End in under 3 hours, and says he’s never seen the ocean so flat. I thank him, then dial up WX03 in Palm Beach. The digitized voice explains that the low will continue to intensify and slowly drift west. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for winds of 10 knots from the SW, increasing to 15-20 by late afternoon, with scattered thunderstorms, becoming numerous by afternoon. It’s decision time.

We have two options: we can duck into the marina, fuel up, and rocket across the Stream to Palm Beach, where we can be tied up and sipping cocktails by 6. Or we can stay the night here as planned, and try to beat the bad weather in the morning. This is a tough one: the Bank to our east looks so clear and appealing, and we really want to spend the evening at Old Bahama Bay. We have enjoyed watching the progress of this remarkable development, and we can tell from our vantage point a few hundred yards away that there is a lot to see. We are silent for a moment, then Bunny says, “Let’s stay the night, get up and going in the morning.”
I remind her of the terrible squall of two weeks ago. “It’ll be OK, we’ll get in ahead of the weather.” We toss it around for a few more minutes, then decide to stay. We drift back onto the Bank on the incoming tide, watching starfish, sea urchins, anemones, small tropical fish, and all our other friends slowly pass under us. The reality of leaving the Islands is heavy, intense, we really don’t want to go. At 4 I call OBB on the radio to confirm our reservation; they crisply respond: better come in NOW, the marina is filling up fast. I tell them we’ll be at the fuel dock in ten minutes.

Inside, there is chaos. South Florida Yachts is hosting an owner’s group rally, and there is a beach party planned for this evening. Boats are converging from every direction, there are banners and booths and flags. Workers are setting up grills and  a  l arge   sound   system
Drifting over the shallows NE of Old Bahama Bay
Attitude at Old Bahama Bay
across the canal on the beach. The ladies at the fuel dock are overwhelmed; the Dockmaster, Tony, is bouncing around the marina like a pinball, moving boats from slip to slip, trying to make room for more. After 15 minutes he calls the fuel dock on the VHF, asking us to come to the SW corner of the marina, quickly. A 50-foot sailboat creeps out of a slip, and he waves us in, side-to along a 70 foot finger pier. “Gonna have to put another boat in front of you, hope that’s OK.” I get a quick 30 seconds with Tony; “Is it like this every day?”

Tony takes a deep breath, “The owners have a policy that they don’t like to turn anyone away. But as we get bigger and more popular, it’s really hard to find room for every boat that comes in on Friday and Saturday.” We chat for a moment, then he’s off to the Customs office, where a little disturbance has popped up. In a moment a 24-foot center console ties up on the opposite side of our finger pier. There are two young men, maybe twenty, shouting and cursing at each other, obviously trashed. We listen discretely and soon are able to surmise that Individual A is furious because Individual B seems to have lost his wallet and passport. This is exacerbating the fact the Individual A has a felony conviction that Bahamas Immigration has somehow discovered.

Next to our boys is a large Italian yacht; in its cockpit, a quiet, clean cut man of 35 stands beside a stocky cigar-chomping 60-year-old who is watching the boys with obvious amusement. “Wassa matta, boys, trouble with the locals?”

Individual A relates the tale to Stogy: they have run over from Lauderdale with three dancers who have since disappeared. They were going to clear Customs and conveniently forget to mention the girls, but Individual B seems to have lost his @#*% wallet and passport, so the Customs officer has parked them in this slip and told them to have all the required paperwork ready in 15 minutes “or else.” Individual B halts the conversation to suggest to A that maybe the official would look more kindly upon their plight if they were to give him some nice dolphin filets. Stogy goads them on, “Hey, Rocket Scientist, that’s a great plan. Say, what was that story you were telling about a felony rap?”

A has his head in the fishbox; “I got busted for a fisheries violation, I brought back too many fish.”

“Yeah, yeah, brought in some square groupers, huh, that’s why they call it dope, kid, har, har.” Stogy is winking at Bunny and I, we have to turn away to prevent the boys from seeing us laugh. “Bribing a Custom’s official with fish, that’s a good move, like they don’t ever get any fish around here, har, har.” A is pulling out five dolphin; four are 8-10 pounds, one is a schoolie. Naturally, he starts carving the little one.

“Atta boy, Einstein, give ‘em the littlest one, don’t waste good fish on a bribe, har, har.” Stogy is enjoying the hell out of this. “Say, where’s them little hookers that came in with you boys? Already put ‘em to work, har, har.”

“Nobody came in with us,” screams A. I’m a licensed captain, I know what I’m doing.”

Stogy raises his eyebrows, “Oohhh, a licensed captain, well, I shoulda known, you’ve really got it together. Say, wear’s your Q flag?” (Boats arriving for the first time in foreign ports must raise a yellow “Quarantine flag” until they have been cleared)

A stumbles, “Uh, we don’t use one, don’t need to.”

Stogy pounces, “Oh, that’s clever, kinda like sending the hookers to the bar. You’re a sharp kid.”

A looks up brightly, “Thanks. Say, you don’t need a captain do you, I don’t have a job right now, I could run that boat for you.”

Stogy shakes his head and puts his arm around his younger companion. “This is my son, he’s also my captain, but if anything happens to him, you’re the first guy I’ll call. Gotta card?”

A is beaming, “Thanks, don’t have a card, I mean on me, but…”

“Joey, we need more money, we can’t pay for any more drinks!” The girl in the lead is waving B’s wallet, credit cards and photos are flying everywhere; some go into the water behind Stogy’s yacht.

“Hey girls, Joey just sold you guys to Bahamian Customs. You’re gonna be dancing at the beach party tonight!” Stogy is really into this.

“Joey, you #$@ *^%, take us home RIGHT NOW, I mean after another drink.” She stands with her hands on her hips, and when the boys don’t respond, she defiantly tosses B’s passport into the drink. “There, now you can’t get into the #$%^ Bahamas. We’re going home!”

Stogy asks the ladies if they’ve been into the office for their mandatory VD testing, but pauses to watch B execute a passable swan dive off the dock into the water behind his yacht where he retrieves has passport. Individual A is apoplectic at this point, all five of them are screaming at each other, Stogy offers his services as their attorney, and the Customs Officer quietly watches the melee from the foot of the finger pier. A sees him, the noise settles, and they leave to discuss the situation. He returns in a few moments, minus the two small filets. “We have to go to Freeport to see a supervisor,” he tells his crew. They pile into the boat, and the last thing we hear is A telling B that they’re going back to Lauderdale. Not a bad decision.

We share a few laughs with Stogy and Son, then finish cleaning Attitude and head for the showers. On the way back to the boat we meet the couple on the big Tiara Express across from us. They are having a problem with their autopilot, and they ask if we know of a mechanic. Last year we had some minor trouble here and called a young man named Garvin who took very good care of Attitude on a Sunday afternoon. The man thanked us and went to the marina office to see if they could find Garvin; they do, and they make arrangements for him to come tomorrow.
We spend a half-hour or so walking around the marina and the surrounding development. I have wonderful memories of visiting the old Jack Tarr Resort here in the 60s, and it was a great disappointment on ’92 when we pulled into West End to escape a storm to find the resort boarded up and decaying. But in three years Old Bahama Bay has evolved into a fledgling luxury resort. There are several two-story “cottages” that we hear are going for $300/night, and more are planned. Several homes are taking shape along the western beach and canals. The northern beach has been raked and manicured; it’s lovely. Three large buildings on the marina’s east side are under construction and appear to be meeting rooms, a restaurant, bar, stores, whatever. Dirt and concrete forms erratically give way  to finished     landscape.      The
outline of the pool is taking shape, and it is going to be stunning. Dockage is expensive: $82 for one night ($2.65/foot/night gets you all the water and electric you can eat). There is room for a few more slips in the marina, but I suspect that, considering OBB’s strategic location and the scope of this development, dockage availability will become even tighter.

Despite hordes of mosquitoes and noseeums, we grill out on Attitude’s transom. West End is well known for its bugs, and they are out in force in the still, heavy air. Bunny puts out a coil, sprays several times with Yard Guard, and we slather on the SSS. All this more or less keeps the bugs at bay, and we are able to cook. After dinner we clean up and slide into our bunks; tomorrow will potentially be a 200-nm passage, and there is uncertainty about the weather.

In the darkness Bunny nestles into her berth. In her last waking moments she hears a high-pitched giggle; the boat lists gently for a moment, but she’s drifting off and doesn’t notice. The gremlins have finished with the Tiara’s autopilot; they have now crept into Attitude’s engine room. One of them has a tiny little torque wrench, and to the delight of his comrades slips it over the nut that holds the cable to the shift lever on the big 454 on Attitude’s starboard side. The cable slips a few millimeters, the gremlins howl with delight, then they quietly creep out the engine room vent onto the dock, making their way to Stogy’s boat…
Part Thirteen: Saturday, July 21 & Finale
At 7 AM I am sitting at Attitude’s rain-soaked helm listening over thunder to WX03 in Palm Beach. During the night the low has intensified; it has spawned a large thunderstorm out over the Northwest Providence Channel to our south. There are flood warnings for much of South and Central Florida. The marine forecast calls for SW winds, 10-15 knots, with scattered thunderstorms, becoming 20 knots with numerous thunderstorms by this afternoon. There is a ragged chop on the ocean, and very dark clouds to the south.

At breakfast I lay the situation out for Bunny: we have maybe four hours of marginal weather before it gets ugly. We can get up and go now; the alternative would be to leave Attitude with Tony, fly to Daytona, and return possibly next week to bring her home. Or, I could put Bunny on a plane and send an SOS to Gary M in Lauderdale; he could be here in 4-6 hours and we could punch our way through bad weather to South Florida. But she’ll have none of that; she’s ready to go. “How long will it take us to get to Florida if we go straight across?”

Lake Worth Inlet (Palm Beach) is 56 nm to our west; even if it’s sloppy the run shouldn’t take us more than two-and-a-half hours. Once we get in the Intracoastal Waterway we should be able to make adequate progress northward toward Daytona, even if the weather deteriorates. The ICW is mostly “No Wake” from Palm Beach to Stuart, and it will take 3-4 hours just to traverse that 20 nm stretch. From Stuart north the only significant No Wake zones are at Oak Hill, just south of New Smyrna. We could save substantial time by bypassing the No Wake area between Palm Beach and Stuart if we run from West End to either St. Lucie Inlet or Fort Pierce. We decide to start for Palm Beach, but will keep the option of changing course for the more northern ports should the weather allow it.

We leave Old Bahama at 8:30; the wind is out of the SW at about 10-15, there is a 2-foot chop, it’s sloppy, but we’re able to make 22-23 knots without too much discomfort. The storm to our south is drifting NE, so we won’t have to deal with it. The sky is mottled gray ahead of us, but we don’t see any black, and there’s no rain on the radar. As we run west away from the storm, the chop settles, and 10 nm from OBB we’re making 25 knots. After 30 nm we are more than halfway to Lake Worth Inlet, and the weather remains settled. We stop to stretch and discuss a course change; St. Lucie is 44 nm to the NW, and there is actually a little blue sky up that way. If we can bypass the extensive No Wake areas south of St. Lucie, we have a good chance of getting home tonight, so we elect to head in that direction. For a while the ride is a little smoother as we are taking the seas more on the beam. As the day progresses and the weather evolves, the wind picks up; within an hour it’s 15-20, and we’re crashing over 3-4 footers. There’s something else: Attitude doesn’t sound quite right. I’m becoming gradually aware of it; the pitch of the motors is not what I’m used to. And her fuel efficiency has dropped off, not much, but it is there. 25 nm out of St. Lucie I pull back for a moment and listen to her; now she sounds fine. But as I throttle back up, the starboard motor overrevs, and I have to pull back again. We wonder if something is fouling one of the props; I put her in reverse for a few seconds, throttle up, then gently bring her forward. This time there is no overrev, but she still doesn’t sound right.

As we approach St. Lucie, the landmass of Florida begins to deflect the wind, and as the SW fetch decreases, so does the sea. At 15 nm to go it’s down to about two feet and we are able to make 25-27 knots; also, the mystery sound has disappeared. Ahead, for the first time, we see dark clouds. The radar looks clear; all I can see is the line that corresponds to the coast. But after I tweak it I am able to discern the outlines of two cells that are overlying the echo from the shoreline. In a few moments a second squall line appears about 6 nm inland; it’s 10 nm in length and is thick and dense. I am able to get three different WX channels, and they are all squawking about torrential downpours, flooding, damaging winds, hail, tornadoes, and the like. With 5 nm to go the cell is 2 miles inland; it’s going to be close. I can see at least 20 boats around us heading for the shelter of St. Lucie Inlet. We have never been through it, but I have charts and Steve Dodge’s Guide to Florida’s East Coast Inlets, so I have a good idea of how to navigate, plus I can follow the rest of the fleet.

At 1 nm we get the downdraft, maybe 40 knots, out of the west, right in our face. There is a very dark wall of water just inside the inlet; I slow down a little to allow Bunny to close up our curtains and get towels and foul weather gear. As we pass between the rock weirs the rain starts; the narrow channel funnels the fleet just as visibility drops. We all pull back and fall into a rough line; it’s not rough seas that are the concern now, it’s traffic. We turn north at the ICW junction, and once we are able to distance ourselves from the other boats we throttle back and take a deep breath. It is raining heavily and it’s difficult to see channel markers. The wind is blowing about 25 knots from the west, but we couldn’t be happier: we have crossed successfully with at least a minute to spare!

After 15 minutes or so the rain relents a bit, visibility improves, and we’re able to pick back up and run. Our next concern is fuel: we have enough to make about 60 nm, but Daytona is 130 nm to the north, so we need to take on at least 100 gallons. I’d like to do this at Ft. Pierce, but it will depend on the weather. As luck would have it, the rain stops a few miles south of Harbortown Marina. I call them on the radio, they are open for business and invite us in. This works very well because this marina is right on the ICW, and we can quickly get in and out. There are two boats ahead of us; while we wait I power up my cell phone for the first time in two weeks and call the South Florida Customs 800 number. I am greeted with a recorded message stating, “you are unable to access this number from your location.” I had heard stories of people with cell phones based out of South Florida not being able to use this number. I also had copied many of the Abaco Board posts from Customs Advice Guy, one of which suggested using 800-973-2867. This works very well, and soon I am speaking to a US Customs agent who, strangely enough, can barely speak English. I have to spell about every third word, but once I give her Attitude’s US Customs decal number the process flows quickly, and soon we have our clearance number.

While we fuel we pass a little time talking with two couples in the Phoenix 34 to our stern who have just crossed from Walker’s Cay. They got knocked around on the Bank by a bad squall, then had to eat a three-foot chop all the way across the Straights, about 60 nm. Like us, they are just thrilled to be “inside.” At 2 PM we leave Ft. Pierce and start north for Daytona. As Bunny throttles up, the starboard engine overrevs briefly, but it settles as we come up on plane. I say a brief prayer to the weather gods and gremlins: please just let us get home! For the next four hours we slog our way up the ICW through the rain. At times visibility deteriorates and we have to pull back; most of the time we are able to make 24-25 knots, but this requires that we both keep a sharp eye ahead for channel markers and boat traffic.
The rain stops at Titusville, the wind relents, and as we exit Haulover Canal and turn north the sun breaks through the clouds. The rest of our run home is uneventful; we tie up in our slip at Halifax Harbor in Daytona at 8:15, 11 hours 45 minutes and 209 nm from West End. We take a few moments to straighten up Attitude’s cockpit; she’ll get a complete cleanup tomorrow. We shower and order a pizza, and call the house sitter and family to let them know we are alive and well. By 10 we are exhausted; the long day, indeed, the long trip, have taken their toll on us. We collapse in our bunks, no alarm set. Tomorrow we’ll clean Attitude, pack out, and return to our home, back into the “civilized world.”

   *          *          *          *          
It’s now been four weeks since our return. I have written over 26,000 words in this serialized account of our trip; Bunny as transcribed her personal diary as well, and incorporated it into a photo album. I have edited 2 hours and 40 minutes of video down to an hour and 20 minutes. Attitude is on blocks, awaiting a new shift cable. The MasterCard statement has arrived: all told we spent about $4900 over the course of this cruise. Almost half went for fuel; prices per gallon ranged from $2.82 at Old Bahama Bay to $3.60 at Walker’s and Spanish Cays. Included in that  total  is  about  $400 we
Bunny at the helm during the wet run up the ICW
Entering our home port, Halifax Harbor Marina,
in Daytona Beach
spent on nonessentials such as souvenirs and Junior’s plant. For our 14-day cruise this yields a daily cost of just over $300. We noted that dockage, fuel, and restaurant prices have all noticeably increased since Hurricane Floyd (September 1999); the increases seem justified in consideration of the physical improvements we found throughout Abaco.

Five weeks after the fact, my leg has still not completely healed. It swells during the day, and there are two persistent “knots” on my shin. It took about a week for us to catch up on our sleep and to get over feeling exhausted. Inevitably, in conversation between us and with our friends, we wonder: how many more years will we be able to do this? At what point will the physical demands of running a relatively small boat through squalls and seas and coping with the sun and heat for two weeks exceed our capabilities? Is it time to consider flying over and renting a 22-footer, relaxing in a real bed each night, slowing the pace?

And yet, we read our diaries and look at our photos and videos and realize that what we were able to see and do as we cruised still transcends our fatigue and soreness. We explored almost two-thirds of the inshore reef areas from Walker’s Cay to Elbow; the blustery SW wind that we cursed for seven days created a lee on the offshore side of the cays and settled the adjacent water, enabling us to extensively cruise in areas where the conditions are often prohibitive. A few places we had high hopes for, such as Moraine, were disappointments. Conversely, there were wonderful surprises, such as the ocean beaches of Powell and Spanish Cays. Two days at Walker’s wasn’t enough, especially in bad weather, I’m ready to go back. I wish we had taken more time to explore Spanish Cay, its flora was astonishing. We were chased away from the Hog Cays by a squall; I’d like to have another chance to cruise that area. We bypassed Carter’s Cay and its Bank; we want to have a look there. And we never have enough time in The Hub; I think I could retire at Seaspray, at least for a while.

I love cruising with Bunny. Friends ask us if we get on each other’s nerves; it never happens. We are a lot alike: we’re both “morning people,” we’re both a little “hyper,” and we both like to crash at 10. We’ve learned to live off the land; we catch, prepare, and eat what we find. We love the sun, love to swim, love the adventure, and we love doing all of it together. The hardest part of coming home and resuming “normal life” is not being together all day.

It’s difficult for us to relate the cruising experience to our non-boating friends. First, there is the problem of “geographical vagueness.” When we speak of the Islands, they seem to conjure up a nebulous area somewhere to the south, accessible only by cruise ship, consisting of The Bahamas, Nassau, Jamaica, Cozumel, Key West, the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. “Abaco” is a new one for them; they ask, “Where is that?”

We reply, “Northern Bahamas, about 200-250 nm SE of Daytona.”

Blank look, “What’s it near?”

“Well, it’s sorta out there by itself.” More puzzlement. Finally we throw them a lifeline, “Actually, it’s about 100 miles north of Nassau.”

Instant smiles, “Oh, I know where THAT is.” No, they don’t.

There are other difficult questions, “Where do you park the trailer, do they speak English down there, can you drink the water, is Castro still in charge?” My wife, the hairdresser, struggles like this with her clients. An elderly woman named Emmie asks if we are afraid sharks will puncture the hull and sink us.

Our boating friends have a thousand questions. After the dust has settled we invite them over for grouper and conch; they pour over our photos, and we all watch the video together. There are numerous “I remembers” and stories of previous trips and adventures; we all laugh.

At night, when it’s quiet and we’re alone, we ask each other, “How do you feel about the trip?” Bunny hasn’t gotten over the terrible squall we dealt with on Day 2. Six days later, on Day 8, I came out of the shower room at Seaspray to find her sobbing on the telephone, relating the tale to a girlfriend in Florida. She’s strong and determined when she has to be; sometimes I forget that beneath the bravado there’s a sensitive lady. She thinks about next year, and she tells me with a chuckle that she’ll probably forget about storm “in another few months.”

When I dream I see island colors, like the ones at Pelican Cove or the shoreline at Powell or Manjack. The beaches are clear, sandy beige with a touch of pink; this gives way to light green, then darkens as sand yields to grass. The sky is that gorgeous electric blue; the cays are hard browns and soft greens. Beneath the water’s surface I see neon tropical fish, conch, starfish, whelks, corals; it’s so quiet down there. Above I see docks and clapboard homes, mottled concrete walkways, tourists and locals. There’s the laughter of our dockmates and the whisper of the evening breeze. I can taste conch and grouper, as well as rum with just a splash of errant seawater. And Attitude waits at her slip, ready to take us away…
connect I turn it on, then set it on a towel on the icemaker facing the center of the cockpit. This works well as long as we remember not to stand in front of it; through the years we’ve come home from some great fishing trips with wonderful shots of someone’s butt! Now, as I take a breath after some narration, the clicker on the long line explodes; we’ve got a fish! Bunny is first up, so she puts on the heavy fighting belt while I work the rod out of the holder. I hand off to her, she seats the rod butt into the pivoting gimbal, and starts to work the fish with strong, confident strokes of the rod. I clear the other line, then put on heavy gloves and wait while she horses in the fish. At about 25 feet I see a nice dark shadow, and in a moment I have the leader secured. It’s a big black grouper, both treble hooks well buried, so I simply heave him over the gunnel into the cockpit. He’s a brute, 12 pounds on our scale. We’re elated.