ABACO SAILING -- November, 2005


Whoever heard of a hurricane named Wilma?  Every time I heard about it, or read about it, I pictured Fred Flintstone bellowing for his wife:  “Wiiiiilmaaaa!”  Sad to say, the same-named hurricane showed all of the finesse and mercy of Fred Flintstone’s big clomping feet, and not his dainty wife’s.

The 2005 hurricane season left us all reeling.  Hurricanes Katrina and Rita justly consumed the media’s and the public’s attention.  By the time Mrs. Flintstone paid her visit to South Florida, they must have run out of interest, because we hardly heard a thing about how things were after the storm.  But first-hand information eventually trickled back to me from friends and clients living in the area – despite widespread loss of electricity and other essential services, many of them had landline phone service.  The power was out, gasoline was nowhere to be found, stores were empty, curfews were in place, and damage was widespread, with too-too-many blue tarps visible on rooftops from the air.  Though not nearly as bad as Katrina or Rita, South Florida was hurting.

It seemed selfish to be concerned about my upcoming vacation to the Abacos (November 5-12, 2005),  but I was.  Our flights went through Ft. Lauderdale, and we had an overnight stay there on the return.  More significantly, the boat we planned to sail, Sunshine, was in the New River, waiting to cross over to the Bahamas, where we’d meet in Marsh Harbour.

Luckily, air travel returned to what-passes-for-normal within days.  But the boat was another matter.  While the boat was in relatively good shape but for being dirty, the crew could not get water, provisions, or diesel.  A drive across the state yielded 9 gallons of water.  A truckload of diesel was promised but delayed.  In the meantime, being the consummate planner, I’d devised Plans B, C and D, just in case.  Finally, at almost the last possible moment, the crew was able to get enough fuel and water to start their journey across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.  At West End (Grand Bahama), they found devastation – the customs and immigration station closed and the marina battered.  They weren’t able to clear in until reaching Green Turtle Cay.  But they made it.

Take Another Road

Meanwhile, back in Maryland, Rick (“Thomas O’Foolery”) and I (“Tonya”), and our friends Skip (“Skeeter”) and Harriet (“Lulu”) (we find it important to have boat/bar aliases…), were enjoying unseasonable 70+ degree weather in Maryland as we packed our bags (50 pound per person limit) and prepared to head down island.  Aside from fretting about whether Wilma has trashed our plans, I was buried under work, trying to keep up as well as getting ready to hand things off to colleagues for the week.

Rather than our conventional American Airlines routing through Miami to Marsh Harbour, we were flying to Fort Lauderdale via Air Tran, and then switching over to commuter carrier Calypso/Twin Air.  This, my first experience with Air Tran, was remarkably smooth.  I especially liked the $50 upgrades to Business Class, which we took advantage of both ways.  Though not exactly the first or business class of the olden days, the $50 buys you a larger seat up front, and first dibs on drinks and cookies; considering that I’ve paid $35 a pop to get upgraded to Economy Plus on United (a little bit more legroom in a coach seat), this was a good value.

Though we’ve flown a lot of small commuter airlines in our travels, this was our first time to catch a flight outside of the main airport.  After killing some time in the main terminal, we took a taxi to Twin’s building on the north side of the airport and boarded the twin engine Cessna right on time, being seated in the tiny plane (I had to straddle Rick’s seat in front of me) by weight.  As always, the views of the islands from above were spectacular, and our pilot set us down gently at MHH, where we moved quickly through immigration, collected our bags, passed through customs, and headed outside into the soft Bahamian air.

If the trip eastbound was easy, the return back to Florida was even easier, and convinced me that flying small commuters to the Out Islands is the only way to go. Check in at Marsh Harbour was extremely painless, and when it was time to leave (a bit early), the gate agent found us outside and walked us to the plane.  We left early, and with a mighty tailwind, arrived at Ft. Lauderdale 40 minutes ahead of schedule.  Arrival at the Jet Center was smooth, especially with a dedicated customs and immigration station for a mere 7 of us.  After this experience, I don’t think I ever want to go through the insanity that is re-entry in the United States at MIA, with the crush of hundreds of arriving passengers.

Rick and I are dedicated bareboaters.  That is, when we sail boats in the islands, we serve as our own crew.  Our friends Skip and Harriet haven’t sailed down island as often as us, but like us, sail their own boat (both of us own Sabre 38s) in the Chesapeake for many weekends, and weeks, during our sailing season.  This time, however, we were going the “captained” route.  Basically, the new, luxurious boat we were to sail was only available to us with the owner on board.  Not that we minded, because our “skipper” was our acquaintance of many years, Mike, who would be joined for a few days by his partner, Margaret, so it was nothing more than sailing with friends for a week.

Our ship was a 1-year-old Manta 42 catamaran.  It had two large aft cabins in each of the hulls, with comfortable queen-sized (if not bigger) berths, and a third cabin forward in the starboard hull (equipped with a washer-dryer!).  The main head (in the port hull) was positively luxurious, with an electric freshwater head and a full-sized stand-up curtained shower (though we, being sailors used to conserving fresh water, didn’t use the shower as much as we used the hose on the swim steps).  The galley was comfortable (though still a One-Butt) and well-equipped, with a cavernous (in boat terms) top-loading freezer and refrigerator.  Since this was not a charter boat per se, the kitchen equipment was much better quality than your standard Moorings boat, and my co-chef and I absolutely reveled in the sharp knives and high-grade cookware.  The cockpit was huge, ideal for lounging and dining and drinking; and if a change of scenery was required, there were always the trampolines.
Above, Sunshine skims across the blue-green Sea of Abaco.  To the right, she sits at anchor off Tilloo Cay while her crew explores the beach.
Sunshine was set up for virtually push-button operation.  There is only one winch, an electric Harken, and all the lines were led to the helm
station.  You raise the oversized main or the self-tacking jib with the push of a button; you raise the anchor with a push (by toe) of the electric windlass control.  Though Mike could operate the boat himself with this set-up, we all helped.