As you read this I will be sitting in the Bahamas aboard Anhinga sipping a bit of "soup" and noshing on fresh conch salad. I promise you that the last thing on my mind will be the months of planning and the endless hours of preparation that this cruise required. As it is now T-minus 30 days until our departure and such matters are fresh on my mind, I figured I would devote this month's column to the effort and the benefits of "soup."
For the sake of accuracy I should roll the clock back several months to the beginning of the New Year. While some folks insist on making resolutions they never keep, mine is to threaten to give up Anhinga for another ride. It's an annual ritual. Last year I lusted for a large center console with big four-stroke outboards. I could get to the Bahamas in half the time and rent an island getaway instead of managing one. No air-conditioning or watermaker to fuss with and best of all no marine sanitation device. Then it occurred to me that with nothing to fix or fiddle with, I'd probably be bored.
This year I had my mind set on a doughty cruising design with a bit more legroom. I could simply leave her on-station in some idyllic setting and visit her as I pleased. A friend of mine with a sailing yacht has done just that for years. The plan has been so successful that he hasn't bothered to replace his mast, which fell down several years ago-he simply put a chaise lounge over the hole. While it's tempting, I can't give up Anhinga or her engines. After 11 years, divorce would simply be too expensive-I have too much invested in spare parts.
So began this year's exercise in serious planning. First on the list, as always...take care of Anhinga's smoking problem. Last year I looked like a coal miner after a soot-soaked nine-hour run from Chub Cay to our dock in Stuart, Florida. I had been hopeful that replacing the injectors would have helped, but no such luck. This year I'm gambling that cleansing the after-coolers might help. As a boat designer I know exactly what the problem is, but as a boat owner I choose to ignore it. Anhinga has been accessorized shamelessly over the years and she is just plain overweight. Still, taking pitch out of her wheels and cutting the fat is like admitting defeat and signing on for a cruise with Richard Simmons.
This week we finished the last $25 steak that accompanied us on last year's cruise. Nelia is a master with the vacuum sealer and by the time we departed she had filled Anhinga's cockpit freezer with enough free-range fowl and organically raised rib eye to stock a Texas barbecue. Farm-raised food is considered something of a delicacy in the islands as there are not a lot of farms. Our goal is always to leave with meat and return with fish, but lack of motivation usually necessitates a change of plan. To make matters worse, last year I became so upset with the vacuum sealer that I threw it over the side. Our $29 electric grill walked the plank as well and we were forced to eat ashore-an expensive but satisfying option.
In fact, if reincarnation were possible, I would request a return ticket as a Bahamian so that I could enjoy the diet. I am reminded of last year's meal on Highbourne Cay. After trolling for five hours without a bite (to eat or otherwise), a touch of boredom and the potential of cleaning fish inspired me to call "Cool Runner" on channel 16. The cracked conch that was delivered dockside a few hours later was as tender as veal and the mac and cheese-well it's worth a trip to the Exumas to judge for yourself. Singling out Highbourne is a bit unfair, as I cannot remember ever having a bad meal in the Bahamas.
I find Bahamian fried fare so appealing that I have spent an entire month eating cracked conch with peas and rice and washing it down with Kalik-the local brew. Should you be so fortunate, be advised that AA (aspirin and antacid) will be dear. Medicine and doctors are spread thin in the islands. It is our luck that Nelia is a first-class homeopath (witch doctor) and a proven practitioner skilled in conventional cures. We always pack a large first-aid duffle and emergency phone numbers-just in case I run out of TUMS.
This year we will be visiting the Abacos and spending a good deal of time in one of my favorite spots-Man-O-War Cay. It is a surprisingly peaceful place in the summer months considering that given little more than an oar, the average Floridian instinctively migrates to the Abacos. It's not that Man-O-War's beaches aren't beautiful-they are. The island also boasts first-class marina facilities. The folks that live there are always pleasant and the food is well you know how I feel about that. There is nothing lacking-except alcoholic beverages. A vice my father-in-law, an airline pilot with 33,000 hours of experience (flying of course) used to refer to as "loudmouth soup"-i.e., Man-O-War is a quiet town.
Hence, this year's plan: to leave the beef and bagger behind and dedicate the free space to "soup storage." Anhinga may huff and puff on the ride over but after a month in paradise I am fairly certain we'll have a soot-free ride home.