My Scariest Moment Underwater

Getting up close and personal with seven-foot sand sharks at the Florida Aquarium?  

No, that wasn’t it.  Let’s see … coming up on a sunken airplane and fearing I might find the dead pilot, all bloated and rotting still in the pilot seat?  

That was a close second. I always imagine the dead bodies of those who may have been lost in the crash when I come up on a sunken vessel or plane.  Viewing footage from the sunken Titanic really freaks me out.  

But, I’ll have to confess that my actual scariest moment underwater up to this point was when I got spooked by a starfish.  Yes.  A starfish. Those super cute little critters that barely move at all and can’t hurt anything.  I can blame that one on Phillip as he brought it up right next to my face when the water was murky from us scrubbing the bottom and we knew sharks could be around so I was on high-alert. Inches from my watery goggles, that thing looked like a carnivorous octopus. So, I felt highly justified in my momentary full-body starfish freak-out.  But, that moment was recently one-upped when we were cruising this last November in the Berry Islands by my to-date scariest moment underwater.

November, 2019:

Although our sail from Devil’s-Hoffmandown to Chub Cay in the southern Berry Islands, Bahamas was not a fun one, it was rough upwind romp in 18-22 knots of wind (yuck!), thankfully Plaintiff’s Rest handled it incredibly well.  

Especially considering this was her first time sailing in six months as she had just weathered hurricane season astonishingly well hunkered down in Great Harbour Cay.  She beat and bashed her way right down the Berry Island chain to the inlet near Chub Cay.

Phillip and I were both thrilled when we finally got some wind-block and felt the conditions ease up.  We had decided to sail down this way before making our way over to Eleuthera to visit some friends of our who have a house on Frazer’s Hog Cay.  The story of how we met Steve and Pat and our completely random but instantly un-severable friendship is always a fun one to share. Feel free to check it out in this fun blog post: Cruising Is About People: Steve & Pat, This One’s For You!  

Our first picnic together, we had a hot-dog potty! Get it? : D

Steve and Pat are the type of people cut from the same cloth as Pam Wall, extremely well-traveled, resourceful, kind, incredibly funny, and wildly entertaining.  They’re the kind of people you feel every moment spent with them was one not wasted.  Phillip and I were excited for the opportunity to spend another memorable few days with Steve and Pat while on their ball there off of Frazer’s Hog Cay before we headed off to Eleuthera with the very loose plans to potentially take the “I-65 route” down to the BVIs in 2020.  That was the plan … and those always work out to a “T” when cruising, right?  

Right?!

For the moment, we had no idea what future lay in store other than a few fun days likely spent snorkeling, spear-fishing, beach picnicking, kitesurfing, and often ending with a fun community dinner each night on the island followed by a rousing game of Mexican Dominoes which … can get pretty heated!  That was how we spent our time last time at Frazer’s Hog Cay and it was actually Steve who taught us both how to spearfish back in 2018.  

During that trip, I speared my first lobster!  It was a thrilling crunch through this guy’s shell that got me hooked on spearfishing! 

Especially for lobster as they rarely flee.  Yeah, that’s right, I like prey that can’t run away.  I’m that guy.  Although, they can slide down your spear, though, which is exactly what this guy did, crashing right on my face, causing me to have an absolute flip-out. (Those are real.)  I ended up dropping him down to the bottom in my thrashing and coughing, but thankfully he wasn’t able to get off the spear so I was able to retrieve him.  I was told it made for an exceedingly entertaining show from Steve and Pat’s front row seats in the dinghy.

In light of that experience last time, Steve was excited to get us out again for another spear session in the Berries. Our first day, we dove right around their house and Phillip speared several lobsters!

Man, that was a tasty dinner. Although I got absolutely creamed in Mexican Dominoes that night, it was worth it for the fresh shellfish! Day two, the crew packed up on a fellow islander’s toot-around boat, lovingly named the Chub Tub and headed over to picnic and snorkel on Bird Cay.

Again, Steve had us armed with spears in case we spotted anything swimming around that could be equally tasty for dinner. That day, spearfishing in the Berries, however, left me with a lasting, albeit frightening memory.  Who here is familiar with lionfish?  

Along the Gulf coast, there has been a big push in the last 5-10 years encouraging fishermen to hunt and kill as many lionfish as possible, as they are invasive, unnatural predators in our Gulf waters.  Sadly, lionfish are carnivorous with no known predators and the ability to reproduce all year long.  As such, they stand as a deadly threat to native stocks such as snapper and grouper as well as algae-eating parrotfish.  So, when the crew spotted a lionfish during one of our beach picnic outings, Steve was the first to hand me a spear.  Any enemy of the mesmerizing ecosystem in the Bahamas is an enemy of mine, so I did not hesitate.

I dove down to where two lionfish had been spotted, just a few feet under water, hiding among some rocks and coral.  I was nervous but excited as I drew back my spear, aiming directly for the body.  Then the worst thing happened.  I speared the first lionfish clean through on the first shot without issue.  

Why is that the worst thing to have happened?  Because it made me undeservedly confident.  Then another terrible thing happened.  I shot the second lionfish clean through.  The crowd was going wild!  

Then a terrible thing happened.  A third was spotted and I went after him with reckless abandon, feeling like the true lion tamer I thought I was.  If my head could have fit inside of his open mouth I would have stuck it in there just to hear the roar from the crowd.  I was undefeatable!  I was a champion!  I was … delusional.  

With my spear cocked and aimed at the third lionfish, I let it go and watched it pierce into the rocks around the lionfish.  He wriggled and retreated but he was not speared.  I followed down further, got closer, cocked and aimed but missed again and when I did, on the verge of my ability to hold my breath, that’s when my scariest moment underwater occurred.  

He charged.  

As soon as the spear left my hand and struck the rock, that lionfish burst out of his hole, with all quills fully fanned out and he started steaming toward me.  

It was just for a second before he turned back around, but I think my heart stopped.  I know I pissed my bikini.  I sucked in a mouthful of water and breached the surface hacking and coughing and flailing as fast as I could away from those rocks, envisioning an army of lionfish chasing me.  Although I was, again, a wildly-entertaining flailing Annie mess, this time was far more frightening than the lobster-face encounter.  I’m pretty sure all lobsters can do is pinch and snip you.  But, the thought of being poisoned underwater? No thank you.  The thought of instant paralysis and sinking earned that frightening fish the win for the day. Although I was brave enough to go back to get my spear, I couldn’t see that bastard lionfish anymore when I did and I’m not sure I would have aimed at him again … that day anyway. For the time being, he will be, for me, the one that got away. But, I was thankful for those I was able to spear. And, that I had at least killed two of those terrible predators.  

Take that Lionfish 1 and Lionfish 2.  As for you, Lionfish 3.  I hope we meet again someday beneath the deep sea.   

 

BV22: Cruising Is About People: Steve & Pat, This One’s for You!

It’s always the people. When you come to a new place and have an experience you know you will remember for a lifetime, it’s often because of the people you met there.  People you connect with instantly.  People who feel like long-time friends in a matter of minutes.  Phillip and I are always humbled and astounded at the quality of people we meet cruising.  It doesn’t matter if they are dirt poor or filthy rich, big corporate CEOs or car mechanics.  For the most part, cruisers are just quality people, with astonishing stories and experiences to share.  And sharing is what they do best.  Before I dive back into another vivid video from the Bahamas, I had to share this one in words first.  I believe in words.  And, they are the only thing that could do this pair justice.  I give you, Pat and Steve:

“Sailboat coming in from the south.  Sailboat coming in from the south,” we heard his voice crackling over the radio. Phillip and I were just preparing to drop the hook at our first island in the Berries when he reached out to us over Channel 16.  Phillip and I looked around a few times.  There wasn’t any other sailboat that was coming in at the time.  We literally had the place absolutely to ourselves.

“He must mean us,” Phillip said as he picked up the receiver.

“This is the sailboat coming in from the south,” Phillip said cautiously.

“There are mooring balls just a bit further north of you,” the voice said.  “They’re free and good holding.  Hell, I helped drop them.  The sands and strong shifting currents don’t make for good holding here.  You’d be best on a ball,” he said over the radio.

Phillip thanked him for the advice and asked about the Berry Island Club (a place we thought we would go to ashore to grab a sandwich).  We thought wrong.

“Hasn’t been kept up in years.  It just changed owners, but it’s a dust bucket right now.  But, get settled in on the ball, then come ashore to my house. It’s the yellow one on the north end. Feel free to use my dock.  The name’s Steve.  My wife is Pat.  See you soon.”

Phillip and I shared a bit of a what-else-are-we-doing? look and said “Alright, thanks!  See you soon, Steve.”

Just like that, a relationship was formed.  And, I’ll tell you, I am 100% confident I will not meet two people quite like Pat and Steve as long as I live.  They broke the mold and built a new one in its place.  My mind is struggling with where to begin.  I’ll start where we did.

When Phillip and I tied up the dinghy at the little dock next to the “yellow house on the end” and started making our way up the hill Steve greeted us.  He was cheerful, tall, and clad in a hodge-podge of clothes it looked like you would wear to paint a house, oversized and old.  His shoes were duct-taped together.  His hat was dirty and crooked.  And I loved him instantly.  You could just tell from the way he shook your hand, to the way he welcomed you into his home, and told you about its trusses he built back in 1982 that Steve was a man who could care less what you wore, what you owned, or how much money you made.  He judges character by experience.  What have you done with your life and what have you gathered that you can share?  Because boy did they!    Their food, their home, their time, their stories, their laughter, their help, their advice.  Even their toilet paper!  And they don’t have much of that there.  I’m getting ahead of myself, I know.  It’s just so inspiring to meet people like this.  My fingers are tingling.

When Pat came out from the back of the house, she, too, looked like a painter’s apprentice, draped in a stained men’s button-down that was three sizes too big for her, sporting blue pants, and pink Crocs, and I loved her even more.  She was, just, hilarious, is the best word.

“Would you like a Rum And?” She asked me.

“A rum and … ?” I repeated, a little confused.

“Yeah, rum and whatever we got.”

“Absolutely, Pat.”

When we got the truck stuck in the sand on the way to our hot dog party (we’ll get there), Pat plopped down, happily started digging sand out from under the tires, and said: “Well, it wouldn’t have been any fun if we just got there.”  I mean … kudos, Pat.  Well said.

These people just don’t see any point in getting upset or stressed over things they cannot change.  It’s humbling and refreshing.  While Phillip and I have met many hearty, resilient, interesting people in our cruising—Pam Wall is a perfect example—Steve and Pat have a story, a past, a presence, and a perspective that reminds me every day that if I wake up and I’m coherent and breathing and walking, it’s a good damn day!  Listen to this:

Steve was an engineer. He’s freaky smart and can fix, build, and repair anything.  And I do mean anything.  He spent a good bit of his adulthood building and growing a program where high school kids built submarines then raced them in a competition.  Submarines!?  Are you with me?  Steve and his son built their yellow house on the island in the Berries themselves.  From the ground up.  On an island that does not have any running water.  No electricity.  They sailed all of the building materials, including the trusses he showed me, in on their boat.  Mixed concrete by hand in buckets.  Built scaffolding out of trees on the island. Can you imagine taking on a project like that?  Then, when Hurricane Andrew took the roof off in 1992, Steve built it back. When Hurricane Matthew struck in 2006 and tried to pull it off again, he repaired it.

“It would have ripped the whole thing off like a Band-Aid if the porch roof would have gave.  But it didn’t,” Steve said with a wink.  “Cause I used 5200 on it.  Have you heard of that stuff?”

Have I …

Steve, what a guy. And, Pat, her story is even more inspiring.  She was a teacher and helped Steve with the submarine project for many, many years. Before she and Steve began teaching stateside, they (much like Pam Wall) took their two children to live aboard a sailboat, and they sailed around the Caribbean for several years.  Pat home-schooled the children and Steve worked odd jobs to allow their kids a childhood rich with experiences and travel. You can see in this photo a framed picture of their boat behind me and Pat.

Gusto they named it.

“Oh, that’s a great name. Live with vigor,” I said.  “How did you choose it?” I asked Pat.

“A beer commercial,” said Pat as she imitated guzzling from a can.  “When we were thinking about a name for the boat, a Schlitz ad came on that said ‘Go for the gusto,’ so Steve did,” she said laughing.

Pat.  She’s just awesome.  No matter the situation we found ourselves in, she found humor and an entertaining perspective.  I mentioned the stuck truck.  That didn’t phase her.

We couldn’t find a good place to make a fire pit to roast our hot dogs: “Use that old toilet,” Pat said.  “It’ll be a hot dog potty.”  I’m not kidding.

Jostling around in Steve’s Volkswagen creation in the hot, hot sun, Pat was just smiling and cheery.  “We call him Mr. Toad,” she said with a snort.  She’s not kidding.  Steve starts it by touching a wire to the 12V battery that sits behind the passenger “seat” (plastic chairs bolted in) and flicking an “on” button.  I’m not kidding.

 

When talking about the painful root canal Pat had to have a few years back: “We went to Hungary to have them done on the cheap.  Steve and I got the ‘tooth’ for one special,” Pat said with a cackle.

When telling us about the horrific plane crash that almost crippled her and took her son’s life: “He lived more in his 21 years than most do in a lifetime,” Pat said.

I hope your heart is beating as hard as mine right now.  I look forward to every day, every experience, every stuck truck, and every hot dog potty because of the very fact that it is beating.  And because I’ve met people like Pat and Steve who inspire me to keep the right perspective, never sweat the small stuff, and fill every moment of my life with … well … GUSTO!

And, speaking of hearts beating, thankfully, island life requires they be hands-on, hard-working, active people.  At 73 and 74, Pat and Steve are able to walk steep hills all over the island.  They are more mobile and capable than many, many older people I see in the states, and far healthier.  The lifestyle speaks to its own health benefits.  Maintenance of the house, rigging up the solar and sistern, and foraging in the sea for food keeps them fit.  And, Steve is always fixing something, for either he and Pat, or Dan, Donna, or any of their other five neighbors on the island.  Here, Steve is fixing a leak on Dan’s water cistern.

The island has an intermittent population of approximately ten, and eight buildings total, two of which Steve built.  He built Dan and Donna’s house up on the hill which has a stunning view of the entire island.  The four of them come from such diverse backgrounds, with different educations, careers, and socioeconomic status but, as Pat says: “We all have the same view.”

And boy do they!  That’s Steve and Pat’s view!  And that’s Plaintiff’s Rest in it!

Love those people. Dan, Donna, Pat, and Steve are all very good friends who spend a portion of each year together in the Berries where they relax, fish, garden, read, and play dominos together every night.  It was so fun to be invited to their game and learn about all four of them over many-a Rum Ands!

Oh, but the dominos came after dinner, which we shared with Steve and Pat every night when we were in the Berries.  About an hour after we met Pat and Steve in their home, Steve asked us if we wanted to know where the good reefs were on the island.  “Of course,” was our response.  But before we could get that out Steve was grabbing his wet gear.  This is not the kind of guy who just points things out on a map.  “Well, let’s go!” he said to our stunned faces.  “Get your spear!” Pat shouted to him.  “And bring us some dinner.”

Us.  They had already considered Phillip and I as part of their crew.  Having only known us for an hour, we were already an “us.”  It was such a cool feeling.  Steve and his spear then took us out and did, in fact, catch us dinner.  I got to see myself (for the first time in my life) a fish speared!  A lobster stabbed!  Fresh dinner caught right before my eyes!

And, remember Steve is doing all of this at 74!  What an inspiration.  He taught us so much, that very first day, about fish and spearfishing. Phillip was wide-eyed and happily challenged.  I was excited and happily hungry!  Here, Steve is showing Phillip how to look for the lobster’s antennae and hold gently onto the reef to steady his launch.

We were all so chummy by the time we got done spearfishing and snorkeling, it didn’t phase us at all when we dropped Steve and the fish off at his house and he said: “Y’all go spiff up at the boat and come on back for dinner. Bring anything you’d like.”

“We like eclectic dinners!” Pat shouted from inside (because you have to remember there is no grocery store there, they live off the pantry and land).  “We won’t starve!” she promised.  And she was right.  Every night with Steve and Pat was shared over a fantastic, fresh fish dinner, mixed with a fun side of “canned whatever” and rice.  They’ve got lots of rice!  And conch!  Steve showed us how to look for conch that are fully developed and harvest them, and Pat taught me how to clean a conch with my own two hands.

Once that wiggly alien-looking thing was out, she gave me a tenderizing hammer, told me to “beat the shit out of it, then make conch spaghetti.”  You see?  I can’t make this stuff up!  Island people are so resourceful and creative.

And, every night after dinner, the four of us, Steve, Pat, Phillip, and I, would walk up the hill, a pretty hearty but much-welcomed digestif, to Dan and Donna’s to play dominos till dark.

Our experience in the Berries was just … unforgettable. Sure, the island was beautiful. The spearfishing was thrilling. But, as is often the case: what made the Berries our favorite stop in the Bahamas was hands-down the people.  Before we left the island we stopped by Steve and Pat’s place one more time to bring them a little gift, a signed Salt of a Sailor (Pat’s going to love it I’m sure!) and some toilet paper.  They were thrilled!  You have to really scrimp on that stuff there.  It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I’m confident we’ll see Pat and Steve again.  Hopefully in the Berries, and hopefully with a spear in hand.

Steve, Pat—now, two of our absolute favorite people—this one’s for you:

Whatever Phillip and I may do, wherever we may go, I know now, thanks to you, we will GO WITH GUSTO!