Cruising: Memories Made by People You Meet

Author:
Publish date:
Who wouldn’t want to put down roots somewhere as beautiful as the Berry Islands?

Who wouldn’t want to put down roots somewhere as beautiful as the Berry Islands?

Steve greeted my boyfriend, Phillip, and me as soon as we tied Plaintiff’s Rest, our 1985 Niagara 35, up to his dock on one of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. He was tall, cheerful and clad in a hodge-podge of clothes one might wear to paint a house: oversized, grungy and old. His shoes were duct-taped together. His hat was dirty and crooked. When his wife, Pat, came out of the house, she looked like the painter’s apprentice, draped in a stained men’s button-down, three sizes too big for her, and sporting blue pants, pink Crocs. I loved them both instantly, even before I heard their life story.

I’ll be honest. When SAIL’s editor suggested a “hindsight” article before we left on our first cruise to the Bahamas—“looking back, what was your biggest takeaway?”—I had every reason to think it was going to be some favorable route, some weather-watching lesson, some provisioning tip. Yet, as always—and this never ceases to amaze and surprise me—our biggest takeaway anytime Phillip and I voyage to a new shore is always, undeniably, the people.

From the third-generation lobsterman who took us through the Devil’s Backbone in Eleuthera, to the fourth-generation concher who shared his secret on how to make the best conch salad in the Abacos (I’m not telling), to Ebonita and her adorable granddaughter who flat-out refused, “as a matter of Haitian courtesy,” to charge me for my first-ever loaf of her heavenly, home-made Bahamian bread, these are generous, humble people who welcome you into their untouched pockets of the world, treat you like family and leave you spellbound with their stories.

Sailboat coming in the Chub cut, sailboat coming in the Chub cut,” a voice crackled over the radio. Phillip and I did a quick 360. There wasn’t any other sailboat anywhere, much less one coming into the “Chub cut” that day. Phillip smiled as he grabbed the handheld: “Sailboat in the Chub here.”

Grab one of those mooring balls up ahead. No charge and good holding in this current. Dropped ‘em myself!” the mystery man on the other end of the radio laughed. “Then dinghy over to our pier. We’re the yellow house on the end. I’m Steve. Wife’s Pat. See you soon.”

All this, offered to a couple of complete strangers, over the radio.

From left: Phillp, Annie and Steve go lobster hunting

From left: Phillp, Annie and Steve go lobster hunting

Generous: “The trusses were longer than the boat!” Steve said excitedly as we made our way up to his “yellow house on the end,” explaining how he and his family built a life on an island with no running water, no electricity, no trash service, no grocery store. An inveterate engineer, Steve told us how he and his son had mixed up concrete by hand, rigged up a 600-watt solar supply for the house, built a cistern for water, and “rebuilt twice after Matthew and Andrew.” If they can’t grow, create or catch it on the island, they have to fly it in from Nassau or sail it in.

“On a boat named Gusto!” Pat cackled while telling us about the years she, Steve and their two children, then ages 9 and 11, spent sailing around the Caribbean in the 1980s on a custom 50ft ketch. Eventually they sailed into the Berries and immediately decided to build a house there, a place they call their “cruising-season home,” the same home where Steve and Pat were now regaling us during one of our many “eclectic canned dinners” as Pat called them: conch spaghetti, snapper tacos, and bean surprise, which is quite surprising! Despite the sparse provisions they already had to be exceptionally sparing with, Steve and Pat invited us ashore every night to share whatever bounty Steve had speared or helped us spear that day, which at the age of 72 was nothing short of— “Gusto!” I repeated after Pat. “To live with vigor, that’s a great name for a boat.”

“No,” Pat corrected. “Steve saw it on a Schlitz commercial. ‘Go with gusto!’ it said.” Pat laughed as she tipped up an imaginary can. “So we did! Speaking of drinks,” Pat paused, “would you like a Rum-And?”

Improvising: Pat (at right) brings a porcelain BBQ into service

Improvising: Pat (at right) brings a porcelain BBQ into service

Unique: “And whatever we can find!” Pat added, finishing our every thought as Steve told us how, after many flights back and forth from Nassau to bring in supplies, he and his son decided to get their pilot’s licenses to “fly the puddle jumpers ourselves!” As if it was something every average Joe did. I had to wonder what other amazing vehicles Steve was capable of piloting.

“Submarines!” Pat said with a smile, telling us about the submarine-building program for high school students Steve had championed while working as a construction technology teacher in the 1990s. “We had no idea back then if we were teaching them enough while homeschooling on the boat, but we must have done something right,” Pat mused, “because our boy, Steve, was the best 16-year-old submarine engineer anyone has ever seen.”

Phillip and I were simultaneously side-split and awe-inspired by their rich history: from Steve’s bolted-in porch chair seats and the wire-to-battery startup in “Mr. Toad,” the island vehicle he’d Frankensteined for them, to Pat’s brilliant idea to fly them to Hungary to have their root canals done on the cheap as a “tooth-for-one special” medical vacation. It became clear these are people who get creative rather than complain and always see the upside in everything. Nothing was better proof of this than when, on our way to the “turtle side” of Chub Cay, we got stuck in the sand.

Satisfied: “Well, it wouldn’t be any fun if we just got there,” Pat chuckled, digging sand out from under the tire for an hour in sweltering heat—at 71 years old, I might add.

“It’ll be a hot dog potty,” Steve announced when we couldn’t find a good spot in the sand to roast our hot dogs for lunch, and Pat suggested an old, discarded toilet bowl, which worked beautifully until it half-shattered from the heat. Man, that was a great lunch.

Tested: “He lived more in his 21 years than most do in a lifetime,” Pat said when telling us about the horrific plane crash while departing Florida for Nassau that took her young son’s life and almost crippled her.

Optimistic: “But my pity party ended when the nurse told me: ‘Out of the four halo patients on my ward here, you’re the only one who will ever walk again,’” Pat said, driving the message home like a stake in the heart.

The people Phillip and I meet out there—the Steve and Pats, with gusto!—will always be our biggest takeaway anytime we travel. It was certainly true of our first trip to the Bahamas, and they’re out there, waiting for you, too. Waiting to welcome you into their world, to share their knowledge and their tables, and season your soul with their stories. Find them! And, go with gusto. 

Annie Dike and Phillip are heading south again this spring from their base in Pensacola, Florida

May 2019

Related

210115-AC36

Prada Cup: Brits Take First Two Races

Who saw that coming? After getting skunked in December, INEOS Team UK has swept the first two races in the Prada Cup elimination series of the 36th America’s Cup  Racing took place on racecourse “C,” sheltered between Auckland’s North Head and Bastion Point to take advantage of ...read more

ac-2048x

Hutchinson: 36th America’s Cup will be a Close On

On the eve of the Prada Cup challenger series, the official start of the 36th America’s Cup, New York Yacht Club American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson says it’s anyone’s game. "As we've seen in the last week, everyone's gotten faster," said Hutchinson said at the event’s ...read more

Episode1_Thumbnail4_00000_00000_00000_00000

Sailing Docuseries Released Online

Endless Media's Reaching Reality is the story of three friends, a 24-foot sailboat and 1,200 miles. With candor and humor, this series proves that you don't need to be an expert or a millionaire to cast off on the journey of a lifetime. Produced by Emmy-award winner Barry ...read more

01-LEAD-nder-sail-3

Prepping for a Transatlantic

Growing up on the coast of northern England, I dreamed about crossing oceans on my own boat. Like most of us, though, education, a family and a career took precedence, and before I knew it, we had mortgages, young children and endless work obligations. We also became landlocked, ...read more

210111-Vendee

Vendée Update: Josche Forced to Abandon

A week ago, the canting keel on Isabelle Jocshe's IMOCA 60, MACSF, failed. She managed a jury rig with a replacement ram, which held the keel centerline and allowed her to keep sailing, but with a major hit to her speed potential. Jocshe had been in 8th at the time and remained ...read more

rudder

Vendee Update: Emergency Rudder Replacement

A devastated Hare talks about the breakage Pip Hare (Medallia) is back in the game after an emergency rudder repair deep in the Southern Ocean. “Every part of my body aches. I have bloody knuckles on every finger, bruises all down my legs and muscles I didn't know I had that ...read more

Oracle-RBYACFEVD3_2870

PRADA Cup Pairings Announced

The schedule for the PRADA Cup has been revealed as a multitiered extravaganza featuring over a month of racing, stretching from January 15 through February 22. First, the three teams—American Magic, INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli—will face off in a 12-race, six-day ...read more

01-LEAD-Opener-ETNZ1_-106_silo

The 36th America's Cup

A Superbowl is a Superbowl, and a World Series is a World Series. Sure, the names of the players and the teams change from year-to-year, but otherwise, the game pretty much remains the same. Not so the America’s Cup. Still, in many ways a hot mess left over from the days of Queen ...read more