The seas, Greg Weatherby and I agreed, were more like those you'd find in, say, the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Panama than in the North Atlantic. Here in that moody patch called the Straits of Florida, a.k.a. the Gulf Stream, they were long, slow rollers, remnants of disturbed patterns that had bedeviled the East Coast for several months, but sliding under our hull with oily deception.
This was my third attempt to cross to the Bahamas in six weeks on a variety of craft; all tries thwarted by stiff and constant nor'easters of 30 to 35 knots. For the past two days, the winds had clocked around to the west and were purring at 10 knots or less. So, I hastily flew to West Palm Beach and joined Greg at the Rybovich-Spencer yard. Greg is a sales rep for Pearson Yachts in Rhode Island, and we intended to put the company's newest baby, the True North 33 (TN33), through her paces.
My first impression of this plumb-stem, beamy, shippy little yacht was that she was very comfortable. This suited us just fine, as we were both sated from the previous night's dinner. Greg knew of a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in a shopping center, where the food, especially the seafood, proved to be excellent-and was served in quantities that would feed a navy.
Before leaving, we borrowed a dink from an agreeable liveaboard sailor, whose cutter-rigged yacht was high and dry for some routine maintenance, and stowed it in the 33's cockpit. We had bonefish in mind when we got where we were going. With the chart plotter married to the GPS and the autopilot, we spent the next six hours keeping a lookout for flotsam and jetsam-and maybe even whales-and chatting.
Our destination was Walker's Cay, at the northernmost tip of the Abacos, a venue I knew well from attending many a fishing tournament, notably the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout. But it had been almost a decade since my last visit. I remembered only that it was a cozy little island that entrepreneur Robert Ablanalp was trying to make into a full-service resort. And that the food was nothing to write home about.
At 1 p.m. on that bright, glorious day, we came up over the edge of the Little Bahama Bank, the cerulean deeps of the Stream now supplanted by the dazzling emeralds and aquamarines of the shallower shelf. My lethargy sloughed off immediately. Oh, to be in the Bahamas anywhere and at any time of year! Supposedly, one of my ancestors came down here from the Carolinas as a missionary. Perhaps he had been part of that great post-War of Independence Tory Diaspora-so beautifully limned in the novel Wind From the Carolinas.
At 2:45, we raised Walker's, and by 3:30, we were in the protected manmade harbor, the west wind now making the palm fronds sway and the bougainvillea brush the pastel walls of the harbor village. The marina was in a state of turmoil, as all the old docks were being replaced by newer, better ones. We lashed the Pearson to the bulkhead while we checked in with immigration, then into the hotel. Later, we moved to the fuel dock. To my amazement, Dino, the plump handyman, remembered me.
Dinner that evening was a revelation. Under the new management of Joe Zaiden, the kitchen at Walker's has been resuscitated. The conch chowder was excellent. My broiled lobster tails were a bit dry, but they're very difficult to cook. (My grouper the following night was excellent, and the kitchen heeded my plea and made me grouper fingers and scrambled eggs for breakfast.)
The following morning, the wind had swung back to the north-northwest and was honking like a New York City commuter stuck in traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Our guess: back to its old 30 to 35 knots of steady trouble.
Nevertheless, we were determined to enjoy the multifunctional Pearson 33 as fully as possible.
The boat is set up as a day boat. Not that you couldn't cruise on her-you certainly could. She is ideal for a couple for overnighting and receiving guests. The pilothouse is a marvel of design and execution, its after end open to the cockpit and covered by large isinglass curtains. There is a V-berth forward, a fully found head and a deep hanging locker. The portside dinette seats four in comfort and, thanks to hydraulic rams, morphs at the touch of a button into a two-person companion seat or an extra berth. The single helm seat also makes up into a bolster.
Abaft the helm seat is the compact and very functional galley, consisting of a good work counter with a stainless-steel sink at the after end, a microwave, a two-burner propane range top and a truly useful fridge. Five drawers and two cabinets hold a world of stores.
The side windows are generous and slide open easily but stay open, or closed, just as easily. The forward center window opens also, and two small hatches in the overhead allow airflow when the boat is under way in bouncy seas.
The cockpit, as mentioned, is very commodious, and its glories include wide "barn doors that swing back to reveal a swim platform convenient for divers, swimmers, boarding parties (in the friendly sense), or for launching and retrieving the dink.
The side decks are wide, and there are grab rails on the pilothouse and cabin. I would choose the optional bow rail. And the companion seat needs a footrest.
There are a lot of sailboat sensibilities at play here, notably in the use of fiddles and the clean expanses of wood in the cabin-something I would like to see more of in many powerboats, though, by my own admission, I am more of an old stinkpotter. It brings to mind Cabo yachts, those tough-minded sportfishing boats from another company founded by former sailors.
We set out to assess the TN33's fishing attributes, and instead of heading northwest to the fabled angling grounds of Matanilla Reef, we swung eastward, ever mindful of the stinging winds. No open ocean today, thank you.
We stuck our bow in close to Seal Cay, an exquisite little scimitar of sand backed by a jagged cliff of coral and overhung by three palms and a frangipani. My wife and I once spent a sinfully sensuous day here, just the two of us and a queen conch that kept peering around its nacreous shell with stalky eyes.
We continued south-southwest past Grand Cay and the house that Bob Ablanalp built for Richard Nixon on the hilltop, and picked our way by the reefs and into the relative sanctuary of the Double Breasters Cays.
We found a good anchorage on the edge of a broad flat now flooding on the incoming tide. A school of rays flapped indolently by in the channel, but despite some serious effort on Greg's part with the fly rod, and some lesser efforts of mine with a spinning rig, there were no fish to be found on this day.
Far from being dispirited, we rejoiced in our singular good fortune at just being there, at that place at that time in such brilliant sunshine, the wind playing a subtle obbligato in the casuarina and palm.
The next morning, the day we were to recross to West Palm, the weather was even unfriendlier than before, so I needed to catch a flight home. Joe Zaiden packed me and my gear into his personal golf cart and stuffed me onto a Freeport-bound flight, where I hoped to make a connection-forgetting that it was the end of spring break for thousands of sunburned, exhausted college students.
Greg, poor thing, was forced to stay with the boat another four days, staving off boredom by catching bonefish and tarpon on his eight-weight. Somehow, I find it difficult to be sympathetic.
The Pearson TN33, however, is a jewel. I could happily spend a lot of time cruising on her.
Contact: Pearson Yachts, (401) 247-3000; www.pearsonyachts.com. For more information, contact: (866) 922-4877