Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Again, not my photos.

That day dawned with fairly calm seas and only a few clouds in the sky. However Paul was worried. He spent the morning with the dock master while we ate breakfast and he broke the news to us over coffee. A strong tropical depression was heading right for the Bahamas, our little island included. It had been heading east of us as a purely fish storm, but it changed course as storms often do. Paul apologized but said the vacation was over. He would be taking the boat back that day to Riviera Beach. Anyone who wanted to could come with him, the rest could fly back. There was a flight due to leave in an hour. The island would eventually shut down.

It was hard to imagine a problem for the weather just wasn't that threatening looking. I had been fishing in far worse. Three of us and son Danny decided to take the boat back with Paul. I have never been wild about flying and the Islands sported a pretty rickety airline. Besides, it was a nice day and we could out run the storm. That was the plan anyway.

With four of the women heading for the airport, we boarded the boat, turned west and headed home. Paul kept the radio on to keep track of the storm. The skies darkened and the seas picked up but still nothing to be alarmed about. Then the engines just quit. Paul pulled back the hatches and started to work on the twin Chryslers. His frown disappeared when he discovered the problem. The air filters were forming a salt layer on them and all he had to do was periodically, scrape the salt off. Again, we were under way.

The seas kicked up to about 4 feet but I had been in worse. When Paul had to clean the filters, he had me take the helm. His son was on a bunk below deck with a migraine. One girl was stoically sick. She would sit quietly, then say, " I think I will throw up" She would get a bucket, hurl, then rinse out the bucket and return to her seat. It was right out of an English comedy. I was so impressed with her.

Since everyone else was a boat novice, it became my job to guide the boat while Paul played mechanic. I was only ski boat savvy. big difference. Paul had little to work with when it came to crew. The waves got much bigger and the wind stronger. The radio kept asking if anyone had seen the Mary Belle,a boat that had not been heard from. She had been heading towards Bimini when contact was lost. That eliminated any thoughts of our turning back. We could listen to the radio but for some reason could not broadcast. We were alone in a violent sea that had escalated even more.

The next time when it was my turn at the helm, I was scared and shaking. Paul had told me how to keep a heading on the compass but the needle swung wildly from side to side as we pitched and rolled. All I could do was to try to keep us from swamping. I was always grateful that Paul didn't spend too long in the hold and took the helm back from me. The others were also grateful when he took over for he had a much steadier hand. The waves had increased in size so that there were times when the 36 foot boat actually surfed on the top of the wave. They soaked us on the flying bridge. We were in a real storm.

I had been very religious when I was a youngster but grew away from it as I hit my 20's and 30's. The saying that there are no atheists in a fox hole rang true for me then. I made some really radical promises to God that day. By the time the power plant smoke stacks at Riviera Beach came in to view, I was pretty devout.

Unfortunately, like most people who make promises to God under stress, I really didn't keep mine. I didn't give away all my worldly goods to the poor, I didn't travel to India to join Mother Theresa and I didn't go to Africa to work with the sick. I keep waiting for the lightning bolt.

That trip however scared Paul badly. Not for himself, but for his son and for us. There never was a second annual trip to Bimini. Scary though the ending was, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.


  1. Wow, Patti! That's quite a scary story. I'm a very strict terra firma girl. I don't fly in airplanes, and I don't go out on boats. This tale reminds me why. Glad it turned out well, but I could get seasick just reading about it. Great story.

    PS-- I tried to post this comment yesterday several times, but the word verification wasn't working.

  2. Blue and Robin
    Sorry about the comment problem. Don't know what to say or do. Hope it was temporary.