Island time - When a bigger boat isn't always better

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Rio’s crew connects with nature, fellow cruisers

and the people of the Bahamas’ BerryIslands

When a bigger boat isn’t always better

Rio’s crew connects with nature, fellow cruisers

and the people of the Bahamas’ BerryIslands

“Look at me. See how wicked rich I am,” I thought as I listened to the bulldozers and looked at the cranes reaching skyward over Chub Cay. Is that how megayacht owners think?

Chub Cay in the BerryIslands archipelago is being transformed into a megayacht place, with those 100-foot-plus floating palaces all set to sortie from its purse-string entrance once the exclusive villa complex and 250-slip marina is completed.

It’s not the developers I blame — not at all — but their customers. Maybe it’s my puritanical hometown New England upbringing coming through, but I can’t help but view ownership of a megayacht as a character flaw. When did America’s wealthy become so gutless and lazy that they could only go to sea in opulence and be waited on like a pharaoh?

Chub Cay, in my lifetime, was never anything but a playground for wealthy Americans — but they tended to be hard-charging sportfish guys who liked Chub’s workman-like marina for its proximity to “The Pocket,” a nearby corner of deep water teeming with big pelagics. Whether it’s paddles, sails, or rods and reels, the ethos of recreational boating has always been centered on the connection to nature and human fellowship it provides.

Those guys hooking big fish were tapping into their genetic code, making an essential connection, and surely the new Chub will continue to serve sportfishermen at the high end. These men and women, however, won’t be returning to their slips in the evening to the sight of, say, a ragged Bahamian fishing vessel alongside the fuel dock with fresh conch for sale. Nor will they have ichythicidally challenged ragbaggers like us with whom to share conversation, and perhaps a dolphin steak or two.

We had come in at night, dropping the hook between a couple of other sailboats sheltering in the lee of Chub’s crescent-shaped beach. It was late morning, as I recall, when “The Boys” approached in two sportfish boats to ask a favor. The entrance to the marina had a cable across it hanging a “Do Not Enter” sign. There was fuel at the fuel dock, but the attendants were forbidden to drop the cable. The smaller of the two sport boats was low on gas. The only way was to dinghy in with jerry jugs. Could they use ours?

“Sure, Charlie would be glad to ferry you in,” I said, referring to Rio’s gourmand-cum-deck-ape Chef Charles. Did I mention that The Boys had promised us fresh fish?

We would see quite a bit of The Boys — six friends from Florida in their 20s and 30s — over the next few days. The forecast called for a terrible “norther” to roll through, and it came early. At 3:20 a.m. we upped anchor and motored in building seas to the more sheltered back side of the island to which Chub is connected, Fraziers Hog Cay, feeling our way up the narrow channel by the light of the moon and our radar/chartplotter.

We were anchored and worried when The Boys showed up shortly after dawn. A driving west wind had Rio backed up to a sandbar, and we were setting a second anchor. We decided to move closer to the shelter of a bluff, near a big house. It was easier to buoy the second anchor than haul it, so we did, and we re-anchored nearer the shore.

While all this was happening, Ron Heimann, owner of the house on the hillside (Hog Heaven), was on the jetty that marked the entrance to his private basin, where he docked his sturdy trawler. He had seen The Boys trying to anchor, and had directed them into his harbor where they were able to tie up safely. Heimann called us on the radio and said the holding ground thereabouts was untenable, basically flat rock with just a dusting of sand atop. He suggested we latch onto the face dock at the Berry Island Club just a couple hundred yards to the north. The pier was sturdy, the water deep and dockage a bargain, he said. Thank you, Ron.

Chef Charles cranked in the chain for the fifth or sixth time since midnight and we muscled Rio alongside the Club’s pilings against winds that were now blowing 35 knots, later gusting to gale-force. Kelly asked whether changing anchorages in the middle of the night, anchoring, re-anchoring, deploying a second anchor then leaving it behind, anchoring again, hauling up the anchor, then deciding to dock — whether all that was “normal.”

“Of course,” I said, hedging, “when conditions warrant.”

The norther passed through over the next 36 hours, during which we socialized with The Boys and the young Bahamian workers who frequented the Berry Islands Club, as well as a couple Chub project managers. We winced at the Bahamians’ taste in music and their decibel tolerance, but that didn’t keep Kelly from the dance floor. Charles and The Boys, beers in hand, explored a pirate’s cave at midnight.

In the fair weather that followed we sailed Rio into Morgan’s Bluff on the big Bahamian island of Andros. There we ran into Greg and Randy on Southern Cross, a couple of sailors I know from Florida. The same norther had caught them in the exposed outer anchorage; now they had a blown engine, a shattered bow pulpit, and had to be towed into the port’s tiny inner harbor after having ditched their anchors.

With a second front approaching, we helped the Southern Crossers recover their anchors and rodes, and joined them in the inner harbor. No one asked for a cent as we docked alongside a concrete wharf. Over the next six days, as seas outside built, other boats joined us, some with mechanical problems. We met Jack Wilson, a representative of the Florida growers who operate grapefruit groves near Morgans, and a wealth of island lore. In fact, we met a small host of interesting folks, Bahamian and non.

Because of the tumultuous seas, the grapefruit ship delayed its turnaround for three days. The mailboat and other cargo vessels came and went. In the late afternoons we gathered at Willey’s Water Lounge and brainstormed each other’s mechanical problems with the help of cold Kaliks, a Bahamian beer.

We met Roland and Leta on s/v Kokomo, a retired couple that has been cruising for 10 years. By now Kelly was experiencing a degree of culture shock, having adopted a lifestyle that was at once nomadic and waterborne, and Leta had some comforting words. She gave Kelly a field guide to sea beans, and the next day Kelly returned from a beautiful nearby beach with a perfect 1-inch- diameter “hamburger bean,” which bore a remarkable resemblance to its namesake in a bun.

Leta, you see, had picked Bahamian beaches for years, amassing a fine collection of sea beans, little seed pods that had floated over all the way from Africa and South America. Look at Leta on Kokomo, and see how wicked rich she is indeed.

Till next time.

Peter Swanson, 51, grew up on Cape Cod never wearing shoes in summer until he shipped off to college. Besides his journalism credentials, he holds a 50-tonCoast Guard master’s license. His ambition to cruise the coast of Cuba is so premature that he founded a Web site dedicated to this virtually non-existent pastime: www.cubacruising.net .