What happened to Camp Driftwood?

It’s always a little unsettling when we pull into a popular anchorage to find it completely empty. All I can think is “Why is no one else here? Is there something we don’t know?”

We got our answer, though, as we bounced and jerked in the waves trying to get Hideaway tied onto her mooring ball in Shroud Cay. The winds were blowing 20 knots from the west and we had no protection in the mooring field on the west side of the island. We knew this would be the case before we left Norman’s Cay, but we were counting on the winds to die down to 5 knots that evening. And as long as the forecast was correct, we would be comfortable again by nightfall. Getting to shore during daylight hours on a bouncing dinghy in the meantime, however, was a challenge.

The plan was to stay one night in Shroud Cay and get to a protected harbor in Warderick Wells Cay early the next day before the gale-force winds in the forecast blew through Saturday night and kept us tied down again for a while.

And Shroud Cay seemed like as good a stopover as any, since it was highlighted in our Cruising Guide to the Exumas with a long paragraph devoted to the history of “a very special place” there called Camp Driftwood, which was described as impossible to describe. Apparently Camp Driftwood has been on Shroud Cay since the 1960’s, when a sailing hermit named Ernest Scholtes stayed on his boat in the anchorage and built the place, little by little, with pieces of driftwood, shells, seabeans, floats and colorful bits found on the beach.

But all we found were two totem poles, presumably marking the path up to Camp Driftwood, and a string of discarded beer bottles leading us up the hill like some kind of alcoholic bread crumb trail. Except when we got to the top, there was nothing there but a gorgeous view of the beach. No picnic table made of driftwood or works of art made from shells and seeds. Just a wooden frame that looked like it once held a plaque of some kind and some more trash.

We wondered if we’d somehow missed a secret path that led to the camp on the other side of the hill. But when we read the description again, it definitely said it was on the ridge at the top of the hill. After all, the U.S. DEA had a camera parked up there from which to spy on Carlos Lehder’s activity on Norman’s Cay. You can’t see Norman’s Cay from the bottom of the hill.

We were stumped. Did someone steal Camp Driftwood? Pack it up to bring back to Ernest Sholtes as a nostalgic gift wherever he resided now? Or did it all blow away in the storm that took down McDuff’s bar on Norman’s Cay?

It didn’t matter, I guess. In the same way that we went to Norman’s Cay to find a burger and instead found a sunken plane to snorkel around, I guess we went to Shroud Cay to find Camp Driftwood and instead found a beautiful, completely secluded beach.

But if anyone knows what happened to Camp Driftwood, please do tell…

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Arriving to the end of the creek in Shroud Cay

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Mighty Mouse, beached near Camp Driftwood, at the end of the creek

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Just us…and our footprints in the sand

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If only this totem pole could talk…

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Yep, this one’s not talkin’ either

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No Camp Driftwood up here…but the view is gorgeous!

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Nope, no Camp Driftwood over here, either. But the view is still gorgeous!

Looking for Drug Runners in Norman’s Cay, Bahamas

As soon as we dropped anchor, we were eager to get to shore and explore for bullet holes, severed fingers, buried bags of cocaine, loose hundred-dollar bills…you know, the kind of thing you’d expect to find on your average, abandoned drug-running island. After all, we were in a heavenly little spot just south of Norman’s Cay, the island made famous by drug-runner Carlos Lehder (aka Diego Delgado in the movie Blow with Johnny Depp).

But it turned out all there was to see was a partially overgrown runway, where Carlos Lehder’s planes used to come and go with their cargo as the U.S. DEA spied on them from the hilltops of neighboring Shroud Cay. And there was the run-down McDuff’s Beach Bar & Grill, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations.

There were rumors that McDuff’s had been damaged in a storm, but since it was still mentioned in our guidebook, Ryan was keen to find out if they’d recovered enough to serve their Manhattan-priced $18 hamburgers and $6 beers again. (You know you’ve had one too many Ramen noodles when you’ll visit an island just to indulge the improbable hope that you might get an overpriced burger.)

My carnivorous husband seemed not to be deterred by the “Under Construction” signs or the dusty workmen as we made our way past McDuff’s faded multi-colored picket fence and into the bar. The place was definitely closed, but we were invited in by a friendly construction manager from Yorkshire, England who was happy to chat with us.

Apparently, the bar had been closed for nearly a year with the new owner planning a bigger, better, more beautiful version of the former burger shack. Personally, we’d have been tickled with burgers and beer on a bare patch of sand, but construction wasn’t stopping for us. We’d heard about McDuff’s from a number of long-time cruisers and they always said the same thing: “It’s an interesting place.” With a lot of emphasis on interesting. We like interesting, so it was a shame the place was closed.

It wasn’t much of a day for sight-seeing, but we got to hear to the island stories of the Englishman in the bar who seemed just as enthralled with Normans’ sordid history as we were. Apparently, during the height of his reign, Carlos Lehder tried to take over as much property on the island as he could. But when one of Lehder’s neighbors refused to sell, he came home to find his roof caved in by his own yacht, which had been dragged out of the water and dropped on his house with a heavy crane. And according to our storyteller, the house is still there with a boat lodged in the roof.

“Carlos is back in a few weeks, by the way,” said the Englishman.

“What?! He’s alive?” I asked.

“Very much so. And he wants his house back. He’s done his time. Thirty years or whatever. No joke.”

“Holy crap.” I said.

So, there may not be much to see on Norman’s Cay at the moment, but in a few months, cruisers passing through may find themselves having a burger and a beer in a newly-renovated McDuff’s, having polite conversation with a mysterious German-Colombian perched at the bar next to them.

You never know.

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Well, at least it’s not far.

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McDuff’s garden.

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The caves in Normans Pond, Normans Cay.

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I wonder if there’s any cocaine in here?

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No cocain, but look how pretty!

Video Valentine: Norman’s Cay, Bahamas

With no heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to exchange on Valentine’s Day this year, we decided to make our own valentine in Norman’s Cay by exploring our surroundings and taking our GoPro camera out for a little joyride.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Turf to Surf.

Normans Cay Bahamas Turf to Surf from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

Working weekend: Highborne Cay Marina, Exumas

Saying the W-word to a cruiser is like holding a cross up to a vampire.

Which is why I try not to mention it too often. I’ve learned othing scatters cruisers from a friendly happy hour conversation quicker than talk of w-w-work.

But, for us, it’s a necessity. Sometimes we’ll be at an anchorage, lolling happily on the hook in view of a white sand beach, swimming to shore, snorkeling and driving our dinghy up to other boats to invite fellow cruisers to Hideaway for sundowners…

…and then sometimes we’ll disappear to a marina where there’s internet and a phone connection (usually timed when the weather is also acting up), leaving our cruising friends to wonder where we’ve gone and if they’ve said something to offend us.

The answer is we’ve gone to work. And it’s always a little stressful, trying to face down hundreds of unattended emails in an Inbox and trying to make contact with the “outside world” when the very tall BaTelCo tower you’re staring at doesn’t actually provide a phone connection.

But, this is our reality. We’ve gone from a life of 100% work and 10% play to a life of 100% play and 10% work. I know, though math is not my strong point, that’s 110% either way. But that’s a pretty accurate depiction of the force at which we live our lives. It’s just that now we swap a few days of stress, now and then, so we can snorkel and run on the beach and meet new people and work on boat projects (more than I would like). Whereas, before, it was swapping a few days of sailing, skiing or what-have-you for endless weeks of 14-hour days in the office. So maybe we haven’t achieved a life lived “off the grid” just yet, but it’s certainly better than what we had before, so what’s there to complain about, really?

And, as it happened on Friday, the winds started picking up and spinning around to the south, giving us poor protection in our anchorage, so we decided to duck into Highborne Cay Marina and get some work done through the weekend. As we’ve learned, though, the winds in the Bahamas work on almost a weekly cycle, rotating clockwise… so if they’re blowing from the south, they’ll soon move to the west, then the north, the east, and so on. Which gives us a window each week to move quickly onward before we get stuck again, waiting out a front.

But Highborne Cay is hardly the worst place to get stuck doing work, considering we practically live on a harbor-sized fish tank, at the moment. However, with gale-force winds arriving this Saturday, we need to get a move on.

And as the Bahamians like to boast, there’s an island in the Exumas for every day of the year. Except with only a 130-day cruising permit, we don’t have time to see all 365-or-so islands. So, today, we push on to Norman’s Cay with a plan to get to a safe mooring in Staniel Cay before the gale blows through on Saturday.

And with a good chunk of work wrung out of us in Highborne, we’ll be able to enjoy the next few days of snorkeling, running along beaches and cave exploring with a little more gusto.

This is one of many possible ways to support a cruising lifestyle. Just, whatever you do, don’t mention the W-word at happy hour.

hideaway highborne cay marina

If only sailboats had glass bottoms.

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Being here during low season means having the marina almost to ourselves

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My weekend office with a view…

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…The view from my “office”

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Free bike use, in case I need a distraction from work

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Just don’t wait too long for the bus to come.

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And, if you need someone to talk to, there’s also these little guys

Litter Kwitter: Toilet Training our Cats

With two humans on board Hideaway so busy learning new skills like engine repair, wiring, fishing, cooking, and finding new and daily uses for silicone, it didn’t seem fair to let the cats off the hook just because they lack opposable thumbs.

I mean, sailing with cats isn’t all purring and cuddles. We spend a great deal of time cleaning up after Charlie and Celia, who’ve taken to tipping over their food dishes so they can pick and choose which morsels to eat off the cabin floor, leaving the other bits behind to either make their way into the bilge or glue themselves to the bottoms of our feet.

And for all the work we do to keep the cats well-fed, dry and comfortable, you’d think they could at least learn to make a good cocktail to say thank-you now and then. But, no. Instead, they demand food and attention every morning by jumping on our heads and, occasionally, reminding me that their litter needs changing by peeing in my shoes.

So, since our cats have yet to transform themselves into cocktail waitresses or deck hands, I figured we could at least knock one cat chore off the list by getting rid of the litter box and potty-training the little fur balls.

That’s right. The eight-week Litter Kwitter training regime has begun aboard Hideaway. And as their strap line says, “The line for the bathroom just got longer.”

I, for one, am confident this will save us money, keep the boat a little cleaner and free up some much-needed space in our back berth (where we’ve stored 4 boxes of litter). Ryan, on the other hand, is more than skeptical, considering we failed miserably in getting Charlie and Celia to use the cat flap we installed in our washboards; so much so that we now have to prop the cat door open for them so they can get in and out. Who’s trained whom, eh?

So far, the toilet-training results have been dubious (our litter-covered head is not quite what I imagined when I first saw the creepy cat on the front of the Litter Kwitter box), but I’m still holding out hope.

And hiding all my shoes.

litter kwitter sailing with cats

“Seriously? I mean, have you seen how creepy that cat is?”

hideaway sailing with cats

“Ok, I’m on. Now what?”

hideaway sailing cats toilet training

“I’m only doing this ’cause I can’t find the shoes.”


Visit The Monkey’s Fist to find other posts on this topic.

Photo Essay: Allen Cay, Bahamas

After anchoring for a night off Highborne Cay in The Exumas, we decided to head 5 miles north to Allen Cay where an unusual species of iguanas are the islands’ main inhabitants.

We’ve been known to get stuck in places to do boat repairs, but in the case of Allen Cay, we decided to stick around for one more night so we could do some more of the snorkeling, swimming to shore, feeding iguanas and barbecuing under the stars that we did on our first day here.

There’s a nasty cold front moving our way, though, which will make this calm-looking anchorage rather uncomfortable by Saturday night, so we’ll need to duck into Highborne Cay Marina for protection before then.

But before we go, we’ll swim to shore to feed the iguanas just one more time…

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Hideaway, happily anchored by the beach.

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The welcoming committee of Leaf Cay.

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Feeding lettuce to the eager iguanas.

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The natives were very curious about us.

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“Oy! Did you get me in the picture?!”

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This guy trailed behind me all morning like a puppy dog.

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The iguanas’ beach-front property.

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The water’s a little chilly, but too pretty not to go in.

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Spying on Hideaway from an island hilltop

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Live, pink conch were scattered all along the beach.

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Pulling right up alongside happiness…

Captain’s Log: Nassau to Highborne Cay, Bahamas

When we left Nassau to head from Porgee Rock to Highborne Cay, about 35 nautical miles away, the only worry we had was the minefield of coral heads our charts showed on the Yellow Bank about halfway across.

We were inclined to take the long route around, just to be safe, but then we met a cruising couple in Nassau who’ve sailed down to the Bahamas each year for 17 years, and they told us not to worry and to just go straight through the Yellow Bank. According to them, the coral heads were highly visible and easy to avoid if you arrived at mid-day with the sun overhead.

I was a little on edge, though, as we approached the Yellow Bank because I could see a number of sailboats had decided to go around it, rather than through it, and because I had no idea what I was looking for.

But, before long, we realized our friends were right; you couldn’t miss them. The coral heads appeared as big, black splotches on the clear, blue water, each of them about 15 feet long. The only way you could actually hit one of them, was if you weren’t looking for them.

In the end, there was nothing to worry about. We sailed smoothly the whole way with 12 knots of wind and arrived to our little anchorage off Highborne Cay in the Exumas well before sunset. The only disappointment for me was not catching fish on the way. But, hey, at least this time we didn’t lose a fish.

And once our anchor was set, we settled into the cockpit with some wine, a home-made pizza on the BBQ and nothing around us but a few other boats and the stars overhead. It felt like we’d cashed in our chips from all those cold, torturous months sailing south.

There’s that saying, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” On this particular occasion, though, I’d have to disagree.

I couldn’t be happier to have finally arrived.

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Ryan, on the look-out for coral heads to avoid.

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The tell-tale black splotch of a coral head.

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Tasha, setting up the fishing rod.

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Hideaway, anchored at Highborne Cay, Bahamas.

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I’m thrilled to have finally arrived to the Exumas.

Marine mechanics: Women’s work

It’s a shame that more girls aren’t trained as marine mechanics because, frankly, with the tiny spaces one has to maneuver in to work on a boat, most men, with their big, cumbersome frames, just aren’t built for it.

The job we tackled on Monday, after putting off boat work to celebrate my birthday all weekend, was to figure out why our fuel gauge wasn’t working.

I’d gotten on the Catalina 34 site and Cruiser’s Forum to ask how I could figure out whether the problem was with the fuel gauge on the instrument panel or the sender float in the fuel tank. I got a lot of advice on how to figure this out, along with the guess that we had a bad sender float, and if that was the case, it was more trouble than it was worth to replace it.

I relayed this to Ryan and he looked at me like I’d just suggested we live without a fridge because that would be easier than fixing it. “That’s ridiculous!” he said. “It can’t be that hard to fix. Besides, we’ll learn something.”

Which is Ryan’s motto for everything we tackle on the boat: “We’ll learn something.” And, granted, this has been true for everything so far. It’s just that it often conflicts with my motto, which is: “Don’t work too hard.”

Since Ryan wasn’t happy to settle for living with a broken fuel gauge, we set to work pulling off the instrument panel in the cockpit to access the wires behind it. The plan was to test the wire connections and work out which item was broken.

And once we worked out it was, indeed, the sender float, the next job was to empty out the back berth (our junk room/food pantry) and take off the panels exposing the tank so we could get to the sender float and the wires running back to our instrument panel.

Now, this is where I come in. Because, like the time we had to remove the heat exchanger from the engine, and the time we ran wires from our solar panel to our battery monitor through the back of a small hanging locker, we’ve found that Ryan — with his broad, rugby player’s shoulders — just isn’t able to squeeze his upper body into tight spaces and use both hands to tackle an intricate job. I, on the other hand, can shimmy my small frame into just about any space on the boat.

For example, removing the heat exchanger required me to hang half upside down in a hole under the back berth so that my shoulders and neck sat on the the hull while my legs and hips were above my head on the berth. In this position, with a flashlight in my mouth, I could use both hands and a screw driver to remove the heat exchanger.

And when we wired the solar panel, though Ryan was able to reach the wires in the back of our hanging locker with one hand, he was unable to also get his other hand in to crimp the wire connector. I, on the other hand, could shimmy my shoulders almost completely into the locker and use both hands to do the job.

Accessing the fuel tank, by comparison, was a piece of cake. I simply squeezed myself into the 3-foot-high space at the foot of the back berth, under the cockpit, where our fuel tank sits behind a removable panel. With a flashlight in my mouth, and my arms squeezed into the space above the tank, I removed the screws on the sender float. The only problem was that, being inexperienced at mechanical work, I hadn’t yet worked out that the five screws around the edge of the fitting held the gasket in place, while the center screw held the float to the fitting… and also kept it from falling into the tank.

I worked this out quickly, though, when I unscrewed the center nut and then shouted, “Noooooo!” as the sender float slipped away from the gasket and kerplunked into the tank. I looked at Ryan sheepishly, and could tell he was trying really hard not to say, “That was really stupid.”

Luckily, I saved the day with some electrical wire and a fish hook. Though our fish hook has yet to snag us a fish, it’s now revered for having retrieved our sender float from the fuel tank.

And once we had the sender float in our hands, we could wire it up directly to the instrument panel and indeed confirm that when we moved the float up and down, the needle on the instrument panel didn’t move. Which meant the sender float was definitely the problem.

Within an hour, though, Ryan had returned from a nearby marine store in Nassau with a new sender float. So we wired it up to our instrument panel and voila! The needle moved!

Now all I had to do was crawl back down to the fuel tank and install the new float without dropping it in the tank this time. Note to self: Don’t remove the center screw.

If I do say so myself, my installation job was much quicker and more professional than my removal job. Which I think means I’m improving my skills. And thanks to having small shoulders, I only got a small crick in my neck and no major bruises.

I’m trying to take more of an interest in the mechanical workings of our boat, even though I feel that some things are beyond my comprehension. Like AC and DC electrics. But then again, Ryan has no more training in this area than I do, so it would be unfair to assume he should do all the mechanical work just because he’s a man.

I’d be wiling to venture, though, if more women were trained as marine mechanics, the male mechanics of the world would find themselves up against some tough competition. We ladies are just better built for it!

installing new fuel tank sender float

Squeezing into tight spaces is easier for me than it is for Ryan.

Bahamas birthday bash at Atlantis Marina

Don’t quote me on this, but I think you know you had a good birthday when you hugged a NYC celebrity and fell asleep under a craps table while your husband raked in a wad of money to buy Burlesque show tickets with.

Granted, Skipper Bob didn’t recommend Atlantis Marina at $4.50/foot. But, then, the exorbitant-for-the-Bahamas price didn’t seem that crazy considering $4.00/foot back in New York would have bought us some pretty unimpressive amenities like barely tolerable bathrooms, a luke-warm trickle of a shower and definitely no swimming pool. In fact, I’m guessing we’d have moved aboard a long time ago if marinas in the Northeast boasted water slides, lazy rivers, swimming pools, jacuzzis, free towels, aquariums, casinos, boutiques, trendy restaurants, a swanky fitness center, hot showers, and a Starbucks. Did I mention the fitness center and Starbucks?!

Sure, it sounds like a cruise-ship-turned-marina but, hell, what’s wrong with that for a few days?!

I’m guessing we got our money’s worth out of Atlantis. They’ve probably never seen two “yachties” use so much hot water. The only problem was that the other yachties on their 60-foot catamarans and 120-foot power yachts never returned our enthusiastic waves, which I thought was rude.

“They don’t know you own a yacht,” Ryan said, pointing out that I’d been wearing the same faded shorts and t-shirt for the last two weeks while everyone else looked like they just stepped off the plane from L.A. ready to hit the club.

Which was an indicator that it was time to pull our fancy digs out of the hanging locker and dust off the mildew. After all, it was my birthday.

So, we kicked off the weekend with a workout session at the fitness center, dinner at a restaurant on the beach and then we headed back to Hideaway to do a You Tube study of “How to Win at Craps” (videos 1, 2, 3 and 4).

Neither Ryan nor I could care less about gambling, but when we found ourselves in Vegas a few years back, we thought we’d at least give it a try, and limit ourselves to $200. The problem, though, was we quickly got bored with the mindless button-pressing of slot machines and the unsociable Black Jack and Roulette tables and therefore couldn’t see the point or the appeal of gambling. So we gave up when we were about $20 down and went home.

On the way out, though, we passed the craps tables, which had crowds of people shouting, cheering and generally having fun, and we thought if there was anything we should try, it should be craps. But we didn’t want to go at it without an education. So the next night we gave ourselves the same $200 budget, watched some You Tube tutorials, and hit the tables. And by the end of the night, we’d had an absolute blast, got drunk for free, met some interesting people, and made $80.

This year, we figured we’d try the same. But we had an even steeper challenge since I’d spotted a poster in Atlantis advertising Dita Von Teese’s Burlesque show on Saturday night with none other than Murray Hill as the MC. I’d seen Murray Hill host a Burlesque show in SoHo, New York a few years back and he/she (a cross-dressing female) hilariously stole the show. It was guaranteed to be a good time, but the tickets were kind of pricey at $100 a pop. So we vowed that if we made at least $100, we’d buy tickets for Saturday night’s show.

Turning $200 into $300 was no easy challenge, though. And the thing about those free casino drinks is that they make them tame and tasty at the beginning of the night. But the longer you linger at the table, the stronger the drinks get, until you’re practically drinking rubbing alcohol in a cup. But you don’t care anymore because you’re two sheets to the wind, so you keep drinking and – as the casino hopes – betting money foolishly. Unless you’re Ryan, that is.

Though I have the tolerance of a Korean man (tell tale signs: face turns red, starts giggling and Gangnam Style dancing, then falls asleep where currently seated or standing), Ryan has the tolerance of a Russian General (gets more energetic and decisive as the night goes on). So while I apparently sat on the floor giggling, then curled up into a ball to sleep under the craps table, Ryan started raking in $15 chips by the handful and raising a ruckus cheering on the preppy college kids who were rolling all the right numbers.

Ryan also wisely moved me over to the slot machines, where he propped me up on a seat like the dead guy in Weekend at Bernie’s so the casino wouldn’t make us leave, and ran over now and then to wake me up and stash chips in my pocket so he wouldn’t spend them.

And while Ryan was busy winning money off the dice rolls of a lucky college kid the croupier had nicknamed “GQ,” I got up to use the toilet. Which is when I saw Murray Hill and Dirty Martini (a New York burlesque performer) sat on the Atlantis casino throne having their pictures taken.

Hopefully they were just as drunk as I was because I immediately ran up to Murray Hill and babbled about how I loved his show at Corio in NYC and that my husband was playing craps RIGHT NOW so we could win enough money to go see them and they just HAD to come meet him RIGHT NOW. And then I gave him a hug, which is the kind of thing you only do at 2 in the morning.

And though Mr. Hill and Ms. Martini wouldn’t come with me back to the craps table, as fate would have it, we’d meet them again the next night anyway.

After all, by the end of the night, Ryan had won himself $260 and a rather drunk date to a Burlesque show. And that was just the beginning of the weekend…

atlantis marina nassau bahamas

Atlantis Marina attracts some incredible boats

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Cleaned up for a fancy dinner at the Ocean Club, Nassau

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A painting I would love to own: “The Mall” by Jane Waterous, hanging in the Ocean Club

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Walking off our birthday hangover in Atlantis Water Park

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Atlantis Resort

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The aquariums all over Atlantis are fascinating

“You got spooled!”

With our engine finally working as it should, we made our (hopefully) last and final plans to get to Nassau, Bahamas to celebrate my birthday on Friday, February 1st.

We were planning to leave a day earlier to go down to Cat Cay and anchor overnight before heading across the Great Bahama Bank, but as we’d now lost a day to a leaking coolant hose, we needed a new route, and preferably a short cut. Which we found through Barnett Harbour just south of Turtle Rocks, allowing us to cut east across the bank in mild, southerly winds, hopefully carrying us over to Nassau before the winds came round to the north.

Once we got onto the bank, any worries we had about messy waters dissipated, as we motor-sailed smoothly at 6.5 knots in 12-knot winds. And once the winds got up to 22 knots, we cut the engine and sailed on a beam reach at a nice 6.5 to 7.0 knots.

Cutting through 10-15 feet of clear blue water, I could see every rock and piece of algae on the ocean floor, which didn’t worry me as much as fascinate me. I was used to it now from our week in Bimini, where the water was so clear I could see old rum running bottles lying on the harbor floor. But now, instead of scanning the floor for rum bottles, I was looking for fish.

Yet there wasn’t much of anything out on the bank. No boats, no birds, no fish, no land. Just an endless expanse of topaz blue. So we sat back in the cockpit, put our feet up, lathered on some sun screen and reminisced about the good old days on the ICW, when we were wrapped from head to toe like mummies, taking turns to sit by the camping heater, wishing the scenery would change to distract us from the fact that we were freezing. Thankfully, we knew back then that there were warmer, prettier waters somewhere in our future.

The only worry for today was a narrow section on the NW Channel passage flanked by shoaling, which we were told was marked by the NW Channel Light. Except, as far as we could tell, the channel light no longer existed, or at least it was submerged. And since we’d be arriving in the dark we decided it was best to anchor just off the channel and make our way through the passage at first light.

So, at 7:00 am Thursday morning, we were up and raring to get to our destination. And with calm waters and 58 nautical miles of deep blue ahead to Nassau, we thought we’d experiment on the way with our new dolphin fish (mahi mahi) lure and troll our line behind the boat.

With no action whatsoever on the line all day, though, I’d pretty much forgotten we were even trying to catch a fish. Which would explain our complete lack of a game plan for what happened next.

About 5 miles from Nassau, Ryan heard a buzz-click sound he didn’t recognize and looked behind him to see our fishing rod bowing towards the water. “Fish on!” he screamed.

I ran up into the cockpit and towards our rod, which was spinning line out the back of the boat much faster than I could think. I stood there, watching, trying to remember what Von, our fishing guru, had told us to do once we’d hooked a fish. I seemed to remember him saying to let the line run for a bit and then reel it in, the idea being that I should tire the fish out before trying to pull him on board.

I looked at Ryan, hoping he’d have some advice, but he was a mirror image of me, standing frozen in place, staring at the spinning reel, trying to decide what to do. And while we both stood there, mouths agape, watching the spool of fishing line grow smaller and smaller, it suddenly disappeared. No line, no hook, no lure and, most importantly, no fish.

We looked at each other in disbelief and I smacked myself in the forehead. “I can’t believe I didn’t stop the line!” I shouted, horrified with myself.

“We got a fish!” Ryan exclaimed, looking delighted.

“We didn’t get a fish; we lost a fish!” I said, smacking myself some more.

“No, but I mean, this is great! This means we can get a fish!” Ryan said, still smiling.

“But we don’t have a fish,” I shouted, frowning. “I just stood there, like an idiot!”

I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. “I thought the line would be tied off and it would just stop! But it disappeared!” I whined.

Ryan patted me on the back, smiling. He seemed pleased enough with just the prospect of catching a fish, while I was lamenting my loss and ineptitude.

But, together, we scrolled through our mistakes and our should-haves in this ridiculous situation… like we should have stopped the boat, we should have grabbed the rod, we should have tugged on the line, we should have locked the reel off and we definitely should not have just stood there staring at our fishing rod like it was going to reel in, pull up, gaff, clean and fillet the damned fish for us. We should have done something! Anything!

But so it was. Somewhere out there, there’s a really really big fish (as are all the fish that get away) with a brand new lure and a spool of 50-pound test strung from its mouth, swimming around Nassau laughing at us.

Luckily, we had time to get over our fishing disaster before we pulled into Atlantis Marina, our destination for my Bahamas birthday weekend, though. We were busy eyeing up our kitschy, glitzy weekend hideaway as we made our way through the canal that led to what looked like a waterfront Las Vegas. The weekend game plan was to enjoy a gluttonous amount of casino cocktails, water park rides, Starbucks, craps tables and shimmying our tiny, grungy-looking sailboat between the sparkling multi-million-dollar mega yachts.

And just as we were docking our humble “yacht,” we looked over and saw what was probably the second smallest boat in the marina — a sport fisher called Knot Yet, whom we’d met on Facebook, but had never met in person. So when Kerri and Ean came over to give us a hand with our lines, we quickly introduced ourselves and told them our sad fish story.

“Oh no! You got spooled!” Kerri said, laughing.

I just nodded my head sadly and said my birthday shopping trip would have to be to a tackle shop for some more line and a new lure.

Happy birthday to me and one damned lucky fish.

hideaway sailing atlantis marina nassau bahamas

Ryan, on Hideaway, just trying to blend in with the yachties.

atlantis marina nassau bahamas

A different kind of marina than we’re used to.

hideaway catalina sailboat atlantis marina

Mighty Mouse, hanging loud and proud amongst much fancier dinghys.