That summer the 20-somethings from the choir, Pastor Bill included, came up with a great idea: we would charter a sailboat and take a cruise to the islands. I was up for that! The company from which we chartered had a proprietary ketch design and named their sailboats Shark I, Shark II, etc. We were sailing on Shark 7 and Shark 8, because we had enough people for two boats – 8 per. Each vessel had a licensed captain, but we did everything else. The two crews competed, and I remember passing the Shark 8 while it was mooring for the evening. We decided to pass it, and Marilyn of the perfect boatswain’s whistle let loose just as we sailed past, all of us lined up on the gunnel, saluting smartly. We would moor in beautiful bays of uninhabited islands, and sometimes we would berth at marinas in Bahamian Islands. We cracked open coconuts and swam magnificent reefs, the coral so high that we couldn’t kick vertically – we needed to skim the water to not get cut. I was over one of the reefs and decided for some reason to go back to the ship. We were never supposed to swim alone, but we were in a protected cove and no one had seen any sharks. The reef must have been a good 30 feet tall, and as I came over the edge, directly underneath me, looking up, was a lone barracuda. He saw me, I saw him. I very calmly kept smoothly swimming – no frantic splashing, no vigorous kicks. Barracudas are mean, and lone barracudas are meaner than most. I got back to the sailboat safely, but I don’t think I was ever so happy to board a boat as at that moment.
At the mouth of one of the coves were huge rocks, maybe 20 or 30 feet down. Hard to tell. It was deep enough, though, because I free dove down far enough that the water was getting a bit dark. Down there, behind one of the boulders, was the biggest grouper I had ever seen. That thing was massive! My dad told me later that I could have gotten in trouble down there, but ignorance being bliss, I was fearless. That fish was taller than I was. We ended up chartering again the following year. That second trip was one for the record books: note to self – never leave port soon after a hurricane.
I nearly lost my life on that trip. I had pulled galley duty on our first day out: our departure was delayed because of the hurricane. The seas were very rough, and I was heading up the gangway with two plates of pancakes. I had no sooner handed them both out when the boat rolled deeply. I wasn’t hanging on to anything, but as I headed overboard I managed to grab onto a guy wire. Thank God – they would have never been able to see me in those heavy seas.
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