Part 1 -- The Journey Begins
We are a crew of 5: me (Eva: cruise director, first mate, and head chef), my husband (Cap'n Rick) and our 3 friends (Jeff, Theresa and Kevin). We have been planning an April, 2000 catamaran charter in the Abacos since August of 1999. We have traveled together before, even a bareboat charter in the BVIs which included an uninvited visitor named Georges (the hurricane of 1998), and know we make a great team and have a wonderful time together. Friends who can live on a sailboat together, and still remain friends afterwards, are rare indeed. And I wanted to share this particular paradise called the Abacos, which Cap'n Rick and I had visited twice before, with these rare friends.
Before we got our plans off the ground, however, disaster struck in the form of a very nasty character named Floyd. We followed the islands' valiant efforts to recover closely, less concerned about our own plans than we were about the shattered lives of the islanders. We did what little we could to help the Abacos materially, and focused our positive energies toward their recovery. The disaster strengthened our resolve to continue with our planned trip, and to that end, we went to the Annapolis Boat Show in October to check out the various charter companies offering boats in the Abacos. We already knew well the Moorings from previous sails, and also visited with Florida Yacht Charters. But the folks who left us with the best feeling -- people we really liked and felt the most comfortable with (no knock on the others) -- were Mike Houghton and Margaret Wood of Sail Abaco. We booked our trip with them before they left Annapolis, which was a good thing, because phone and fax service in the Abacos remained quite erratic at the time.
At last, after counting down and waiting seemingly forever, we were on our way the morning of Saturday, April 1. We had an early flight out of BWI to MIA, negotiated the mess which is Miami's airport, and caught our American Eagle flight to Marsh Harbour, landing just moments after noon. Immigration was a breeze, and customs no more difficult. We had toted a collapsible cooler of meats and cheeses, as well as other snack foods, and raised nary an eyebrow (other than being asked to open the zip-top cooler). Caught a cab over to Sail Abaco's new base in Marsh Harbour, at Long's Landing Marina, and were there by around 1pm.
Sail Abaco's base is marked by a wooden sign, but there was no sign of life at the dock when we arrived. (This was not a concern, since charters don't start til 4 pm anyway, and we were way early; we just wanted to drop our bags somewhere!) There was a man at the LaySue boat rentals office, and we asked him if he knew Mike Houghton's whereabouts, but by the time we finished asking, Mike was driving up in his battered paneled station wagon. Mike had a bit of bad news for us: our boat was ready, but there was a problem with the throttle cable on one of the two engines. He was working on a fix, and would have more definitive information for us later.
We left Mike to figure out what was going on and walked to Sappodilly's for lunch. A few conch fritters (fantastic!), a conch burger and a few Kaliks, and I had successfully shifted to Island Time. Over lunch, we resolved that we -- a crew that had weathered a hurricane together in a single hotel room and still came out having a great trip -- would not let any technical problems spoil our fun; a good attitude is paramount to overcome the glitches of Out Island business. After lunch, we checked with Mike. He said we could go out tomorrow with the one engine (we weren't planning to go anywhere today anyway, given a 4 pm start) and deal with the quick engine fix on Monday.
Next stop was provisioning. Mike and Margaret took us over to Golden Harvest in their wagon. Armed with my menu and list, we sent two of the guys to the bakery while we picked up everything else we needed (we had provisioned beverages through Sail Abaco). Other than produce, which was less than perfect, we found everything we wanted. An enterprising young boy volunteered to push our cart to the boat for us -- try that in the US, where they will lynch you if you take a shopping cart into the parking lot! He pushed it 3 blocks, and we quickly off-loaded and stowed groceries in the REAL (not cold plate) refrigerator and various other hidey-holes on our PDQ 36. Dinner that night was pre-empted by cheese, crackers, sausage and apples, since we had such a big lunch. Bedtime was early.
About the boat: I'd guesstimate that it's about 5 years old and in beautiful and clean condition (aside from the engine problem which turned out to be only a minor inconvenience). Two staterooms with queen-sized berths and a single stateroom with a twin-sized berth. We are used to monohulls, so the large berths were positively luxurious and bright. Large cockpit, on the same level as a large and airy saloon (which does not convert to a berth). A few steps down to the galley to port (narrow but functional), and the nav station to starboard. A huge (by boat standards) head. 100 gallons of fresh water.