Bahamas Sloop Winds Page 2

Northeast trades: 25 knots, gusting 30. The quarter-wake hissing.My 29-year-old son, Noah, and I had just shaken out the reef in the mainsail on our little Bahamas sloop and fallen off onto a reach in the lee of Great Guana Cay when we saw the old salt.Screaming out of the settlement’s harbor, he held the tiller of a sky-blue sailing skiff with a casual at-homeness I have seen only
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I don’t remember Noah’s words. It was King’s Bahamian creole I heard. Dere she is, cap! Keep her good full.

Ya, mon.

Days later, after mooring the Jacqueline B. in Fishers Bay, we found the old salt, our tacking duelist, ashore on Guana Cay, reading Wooden Boat in the shade of the dive shop. His name was Ned “Mack” McIntosh. Age 91. Or, as he put it, “14 for 77 years.” And in short order Mack and his wife, Terry, invited us to their cottage for lunch.

We scored some fried-chicken takeout from Miss Love’s Kitchen (Bess on da island). Between mouthfuls of chicken, peas, and rice, we heard how Mack sailed with his brother Bud to see the fishing-schooner races between the Bluenose and the Gertrude L. Thebaud off Gloucester in 1938. How he had sailed in the last Havana Race in the 1950s. And how this boatbuilder and designer (of the Merrimac skiff) from coastal New Hampshire had cruised into the Abacos, after a couple of voyages to the Galpagos, and put his winter roots down in a humble cottage on Guana when he was but a young man like you.

Here he pointed at me. And let me tell you that when you’re on the cusp of 60 and someone calls you a young man, a fresh breeze blows through your soul. You think that maybe these islands harbor the fountain of youth. And you want to stay here forever, lay it down like paper.

So we did. At least for most of the afternoon, until the trade winds started one of the old blue shutters banging on the cottage.

Noah and I stirred. “I think the wind’s calling you, boys.” Mack’s voice had a new base note, a resonance. We said we could have a good run down to Green Turtle before dark. Maybe just set the mainsail. Keep her good full.

Mack nodded. His eyes seemed to reach past me, out the front door of the cottage, his mind drifting who-knows-where. Maybe just to that pile of conch shells, the delicate red of the hibiscus. Or maybe farther, to the wisp of a sloop rolling before the whitecaps…the smoky shores of Treasure Cay…the glow of Havana from the Gulf Stream.

“That was some fun!” he said finally. “Some fine wind. Racing the way we did. We had old-time, island sailing, didn’t we?”

Noah looked at me, a boyish grin blooming on his face. I felt something behind my own eyes soften as I caught his smile.

Get ready, mon...Gone!

Ya, mon.

Randall Peffer has sailed and worked on traditional boats for years. His at-home boat is the schooner Sarah Abbott.

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