The threat of north wind never fails to drive boats towards protected waters in the Bahamas. I was departing Hawksbill Cay at the northern end of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, and after a quick scan of the charts I decided that Ave del Mar and I would skip Warderick Wells, our intended next stop, and opt instead for the security of anchoring in well-protected Cambridge Cay just to its south.
Peace at Anchor
Always the outlier, I anchored all alone south of the mooring field, settling in over soft sand in 12 feet of clear Bahamian water and feeling good about my defenses against the coming low pressure system and its clocking winds. As the afternoon lazily unfolded I watched mooring after mooring get gobbled up by boats of every sort—big, shiny monohulls with teak decks, blazing-white catamarans with surf boards tied off to their rails under sky-high masts, and motor yachts of every description. Shouts and waves from boat to boat let you know who knew whom as buddy boaters settled in together and old friends reunited, exchanging excited radio calls.
Ave and I were in an easy rhythm sailing the stunning Exuma islands with simple, drama-free days of short sailing hops down the island chain. With little to do after anchoring, I settled down on the settee with a book, staying clear of the afternoon sun. Before long I heard an outboard approach. Popping my head out of the companionway I saw an inflatable pulling alongside the cockpit.
“We’re having a happy hour on the beach at 5:00,” said the man at the helm of the dinghy. “You are invited to come. Bring your own drink.” I thanked him, and he buzzed off to spread the news, a floating town crier of the mooring field.
Cruisers often fall into easy to identify groups despite our cries of ferocious independence. I do not fall into the happy-hour-on-the-beach-with-strangers group—I’m more your argue-philosophy-in-the-cockpit-with-whiskey guy. But I was singlehanding and hadn’t had company for several weeks, so I dropped Margot the dinghy into the water, tossed in the red oak bench, the oars, the anchor, and a tumbler filled with warm rum and ginger beer. When quarter to five came I hopped in, untied the painter, and drifted slowly off towards the beach.
I rowed my little green and white dinghy towards the gaggle of inflatables that bobbed gently at anchor, dropping her small Danforth to the bottom safely outside the cluster. Laughter and smiles blanketed the beach, but I knew not a single person. It felt a bit like I was crashing someone else’s class reunion.
Appetizers that people had brought were spread casually across several coolers and small tables. No one had said anything to me about food and I had arrived empty-handed save for my dark & stormy, which I was feeling rather protective of and had no plans to share. I sipped my drink and wandered the beach, smiling and trying to make eye contact with the people around me. I stayed away from the food.
“Hi. John from Ave del Mar,” I said over and over, pointing to my boat as I introduced myself to strangers. “She’s that old gal out there with the tanbark sails.” I knew I was in trouble as soon as I started. I couldn’t tell Bob and Kathy on the Hans Christian from Fred and Sheila on the dark blue trawler. Name after name, home port after home port came my way and jumbled around in my head. I confused the Canadians with the upstate New Yorkers, the motor yachters with the sailors. I was lost.
I was 14 when my maternal grandfather died back in the 1970s. It was at his funeral that I met the man who had just become engaged to one of my aunts. Uncle Ed, as I eventually knew him, was getting to know his soon-to-be family through an unfairly-intense immersion program. We were side by side at the sinks in the men’s room when he grumbled, quite sincerely, “I feel like Gerald Ford. I’ve never shaken so many hands of people I don’t know.” I feel your pain, Uncle Ed.
Back at the happy hour I mistakenly introduced myself to a woman for the second time with no inkling at all that I had met her already. Soon after that, I left—defeated and admittedly somewhat self conscious of my performance. I slowly rowed myself back to the familiar embrace of Ave with the sounds of laughter and conversation slowly fading away. I was glad I had tried, even if the whole affair wasn’t really a hit.
Finding Your Right Way
New cruisers spend an inordinate amount time time worrying about learning the right way to do things. Right ways to anchor, right ways to pass, right ways to dock or make radio calls. And for some of these there are right ways. But often, the more-important need is the need to find your right way and, of course, that comes with time.
You’ll usually find me and my beloved Ave del Mar peacefully anchored just outside of the cluster. Meeting new people and experiencing different cultures is still the wind that fills my sails, and conversation, laughter, and music will waft out of Ave’s cockpit many a starlit night. I may row a little farther to get to town, but that’s just how I do it. It’s my right way.
John Herlig is a SpinSheet columnist and a member of The Boat Galley team. He created our VHF Radio Course and also our Handy VHF Reference. John also teaches several courses at Cruiser’s University at the Annapolis Boat Show.
He mostly lives aboard and cruises his 1967 Rawson 30 cutter. He has traveled the East Coast of the US several times, extensively cruised the Bahamas, and sailed much of the Caribbean both on his boat and as delivery crew. Check his tracker to see where he is now. This post originally appeared in SpinSheet magazine.