A half-dozen Japanese tourists lay face-down in about 6 feet of water off the Berry Islands, just west of Nassau, Bahamas. Each guest of the 105-foot Broward Knot Tide was a bit fidgety, getting used to the feel of their jaw around a snorkel's mouthpiece and their fin-wrapped feet extending more than a foot. Earlier, Capt. Keith Caulfield II had articulated clearly-in his best Yankee accent-how they would go about finding the conch dinner they'd requested. But now, as the St. Croix native led his eager guests to their first view of undersea life in this hemisphere, he got caught up in their excitement.
He told them, slipping into a Cruzan accent, how folks catch a meal in this neck of the world.
"I said, 'Ohhh Caaay. You wont uh conch? You hov to go ged it.'"
With that, he dove toward the shells, snatched one up and brought his prize to the surface to tempt the charter guests into working for that night's supper.
"They got so excited and smiling, we had to remind them to breathe through the snorkel," he said with a grin about a month later, sounding perfectly American.
If one of your charter goals is to get so caught up in enthusiasm, activity and excitement that you forget to breathe, Knot Tide is a fine choice of boat. The 31-year-old captain-who sets a laid-back tone by insisting guests call him "K.C."-leads a mostly young but highly professional crew that looks forward to the simple, daily joys of life on the water. They slip in and out of their duty-laden titles into the role of "fun provider" as easily as their captain slips in and out of his native tongue.
"Where I grew up, if you weren't into water sports, you were a preddy boring keed," he said. "Dees is like ma back yad."
Born in Boston, Caulfield moved to St. Croix when he was 4 months old. During high school, he led day charters to Buck Island. Part of the operation was run by Peter Hughes Diving, but K.C. never got into scuba.
"I preferred the snorkeling, bringing people out who've never seen under the water and seeing their faces when they come up," he said.
Across the way, a striking blue-eyed brunette named Nicole was working as a mate for a competing company. K.C. had met her when he was 8 or 9, riding horses at a local farm; they'd dated in high school and she'd recently returned to the island after earning a degree in journalism from the University of Central Florida. By the time he went to work on megayachts at a local yard, the two were in a budding romance. After he earned a captain's license in New Orleans, they moved to Ft. Lauderdale, where he became mate on a private 105-foot Westship that turned charter during his five years aboard.
"By the third captain, I was showing them how to put the boat in gear," he said. "I thought, 'I could be doing that.'"
Meanwhile, Nicole was growing tired of sitting behind a desk.
"I just decided, 'Hey, I want to go to the Bahamas, too,'" she said. She joined him as a stewardess aboard the Westship, and after they wed, they worked aboard a 112-foot Broward. Nicole met a few free-lance chefs and thought cooking sounded like more fun than cleaning heads. After a few months, the two moved to Seattle to work aboard a 124-foot Delta.
"When we were hired, the boat was still in construction, so K.C. worked at the yard and I spent six weeks in Toronto," she said.
She landed a job in the kitchen at "North 44," voted the city's restaurant of the year in 1999, and learned about presentation from a head chef who drew schematics of each dish. She practiced her skills while working as a deckhand/stewardess aboard the Delta while K.C., serving as main engineer, honed his.
"The owner didn't use it much, so we tore it apart," he said. "Every nut and bolt was perfect."
They enjoyed the Pacific Northwest, but the cold was too much for their warm island blood. They found Knot Tide, a 1991 Broward that was launched in ,93 and refit in '98, and traded their down jackets for short sleeves about a year and a half ago. They couldn't be happier spending summers in New England and winters in Florida and the Bahamas, creating a fun-loving atmosphere and knowing when to simply leave guests alone.
"Our philosophy is to make people comfortable," 29-year-old Nicole said. "You don't want to provide so much service that it makes people uncomfortable."
Most guests will find Knot Tide quite comfortable. The décor is neutral and the decorations are nice, but not ornate. Stewardesses Amy Benedetti and Kelly Colbert keep the place spotless, from the country-kitchen style galley to the upper deck sky lounge, both great places to hide away with a book or send the kids to play. Abaft the sky lounge is the upper deck, where Colbert occasionally sets up a table and shows off her skills as a massage therapist.
If you'd prefer to stretch out in private, each of the four staterooms is designed in the same neutral décor as the rest of the boat. All have en suite heads, and all have separate entertainment systems. One amidships stairway in the main saloon accesses all the staterooms, including the master.
Guests who like to lounge with a beer and a ballgame will find it tough to leave the plush suede recliners near the main saloon's TV, but great fun awaits everyone who ventures off the afterdeck with this lively crew.
Fishing, in particular, is big. Knot Tide tows a 33-foot center console Intrepid (along with a 17-foot Novurania RBI) and Penn International tournament gear. K.C. and first mate John Kelly are always eager to help guests do a little deep-drop fishing, which involves dropping a multihook line tagged to a 5-pound weight about 900 feet and using an electric reel and motor to pull it back up.
"At first they say, 'Wow, this is real lazy,'" K.C. said. "But then you start pulling it up, and it's bending and bending, and the anticipation is building and building."
The crew also enjoys charters with children, whether they love fishing, water skiing or board games on rainy days. One couple brought their 6- and 8-year-olds aboard and asked K.C. to "tire them out." The captain dug an anchor into a sandy beach, tied a rope to it and bet the kids they couldn't pull it up.
"They slept good," Nicole said.
K.C. and John particularly love live bait fishing for big yellowfin tuna with as many as four reels at a time.
"It's incredible to see something that big and fast coming out of the water," K.C. said.
It's also incredible to see something that big and delicious on your plate as you sit down for dinner, either in the elegant saloon or on the more casual afterdeck. Nicole's seared tuna recipes include side dishes of pineapple salsa, pecan lime butter and cabernet sauvignon sauce. She serves the red wine dish with capponata, an Italian-style blend of eggplant, squash, zucchini, capers and olives that complements the fish with a zesty punch. It's a fine meal after a first-course salad of lettuce, goat cheese and mango slices topped with mango vinaigrette, chutney and poppy seeds.
If fish isn't your taste, Nicole will prepare anything from chicken wraps with black bean salsa to pecan-crusted lamb chops to vegetarian spring rolls. In fact, she makes a great effort to feed guests what they like. At each breakfast, for example, she prepares individual meals to order in addition to a buffet of fruit, cereal and homemade muffins.
"It's more difficult sometimes," she said, "but I figure, I don't want to eat the same thing for breakfast every day."
Desserts are just as sure to please. Some favorites include a fresh fruit tart so colorful it looks like a quilt, brandy bread pudding and guava cheesecake with raspberry glaze and passion fruit coolie sauce. The cheesecake is the opposite of a dense New York style slice, so island sweet, light and moist that you might eat the whole thing before you realize you're chewing.
"The only complaint I've heard," K.C. said with a proud smile, "is that sometimes she serves too much."
Contact: Northrop and Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters, (800) 868-5913; (401) 848-5540; fax (401) 848-0120; email@example.com; www.nandj.com, or any charter broker. Knot Tide charters at $34,000 per week for eight, plus expenses.