Aquila 484By Capt. Bill Pike
Fast Passage To Paradise
A wily delivery skipper prevails over a variety of problems, with a possible nod from Lady Luck.
When Capt. Tracy Myers—his hair plastered flat by the coastal Atlantic’s prevailing 30-knot zephyrs—announced we would take our brand-new MarineMax 484 power catamaran back to the Bahia Mar fuel dock in Ft. Lauderdale, where we’d get a good night’s sleep before restarting our 1,200-nautical-mile delivery trip to the British Virgin Islands, I heartily agreed.
“It’s damn near midnight,” he yelled, dodging behind the screen on the flying bridge to be heard above the wind, “It’s rough as a cob out here and we’re all tired. And I wanna make sure that forward fuel tank’s full before we leave for good—it shoulda been topped off but I got a feelin’.”
Myers’ call was a good one, of course, but what had been bothering me more than anything else was an issue that he, a highly experienced delivery skipper from Maryland, had failed to mention—it was late Friday evening. And Friday, for superstitious guys like myself, is a bad, bad, bad day to crank up a voyage.
“Sounds good then,” yelled Tyron Moseley, Myers’s South African mate, with considerable enthusiasm.
“Yeah buddy,” I yelled in concurrence, just as our 484 charged past the sea buoy, inbound. I wasn’t sure what Myers thought of Friday departures, but it looked like Moseley and I were against them. And seemingly, Lady Luck was too. Indeed, she’d soon start pounding our little excursion with a variety of glitches and hitches, presumably to remind us of the horrors we’d dodged by turning back.
Trick of the Trade
“Jeeesh,” Moseley grimaced the next morning, while bearing down with a big Phillips-type screwdriver (and a young man’s determination) on a small machine screw in the top of the aforementioned forward fuel tank. He’d extracted all the other screws without any trouble but this one was playing Mission Impossible, thereby preventing us from lifting the tank’s sending unit free so we could check the fuel level inside with a stick. Physically sounding the tank was necessary because the gauge at the helm was on the fritz (a pesky, new-boat thing the support staff in the BVI would deal with) and there was no way to get a reading via the deck fittings.
“Lemme show you a trick,” Myers said, wiping sweat. He snugged the jaws of an adjustable wrench against the squarish shank of the screwdriver and, after directing Moseley to bear down on the butt of the tool with both hands and all the oomph he could muster, cranked the wrench sideways. Pop! The screw came loose!
“Guys,” I said, lifting the sounding stick into the glare. “She’s bone-dry—good thing we checked!”
The three of us exchanged looks. Since MarineMax Vacations, a burgeoning charter outfit as well as an offshoot of boat retailer MarineMax, had scheduled our 484 for a charter in just a few short days, we were planning a fast, fuel-gobbling passage to paradise. And in keeping with the plan, we’d figured our fuel stops down to the fumes and lashed four, 55-gallon plastic drums full of extra go-go juice into the cockpit. Would a shortfall of 105 gallons (the capacity of the forward tank) have proven critical at some point, had weather and luck gone against us? Maybe.
An Eminently Sensible Ritual
By the time we’d made it halfway across Port Everglades harbor that Saturday afternoon, I was lovin’ the boat. She tracked like a train, purred along like a kitten, and offered the conviviality of a long bench-type seat at the helm—all three of us could comfortably sit together and watch Lauderdale’s finest slide by. Sightlines were excellent, forward and to the sides. And the helm itself fit my personal style perfectly, meaning I could ease back, with the steering wheel in one hand, a bag of Cheetos in the other, my legs stretched out straight, and my deckshoe-shod feet crossed on the steering console.
“Still rough out there,” Moseley noted, after an especially blustery gust hit us. I didn’t much care. I’ve always loved traveling the far-flung waters, settling into the rhythm of a 4-hour-on-8-hour-off watch system, well beyond the sight of land, for days on end. And then too, having had a chance to briefly examine my sleeping arrangements below, in one of four roughly equivalent staterooms, each with its own double berth (convertible to two singles) and well-ventilated, shower-stall-equipped head, I was looking forward to a seagoing snooze or two—nothing beats putting yourself to sleep with a Louis L’Amour western, say, and the soft thrum of a couple of diesels beneath your pillow.
“Pull ’er outa gear, Bill,” Myers said, just as we were about to turn to exit the harbor. “I have a ritual I always perform—to start the trip before we actually start the trip, you might say. Let’s have a long moment of silence.”
Moseley and I complied. And as the 484 drifted quietly, with her mains idling and white horses rampaging across the horizon off to the east, I noted that the navigational aid on our starboard side was emblazoned with the giant number 9, my personal favorite! An approving nod from Lady Luck perhaps?
Mr. Moseley’s Underwear Goes Aloft
The trip south started out conventionally. From Lauderdale we beelined it straight to Gun Cay, running approximately 127° T for a distance of about 52 nautical miles, doing 10 knots mostly, but sometimes a tad more. In spite of the sea conditions on this rather sporty leg (southerly winds slammed us on the nose at 18 to 20 knots with higher gusts and 6- to 8-foot seas), Myers and I managed to compose a trio of grilled-cheese sandwiches (with smoked ham and tomato) in the galley while Moseley held the wheel topside. Are there enough handholds, fiddles, and positive latches in and around the 484’s spacious galley to maintain law and order in a rollicking seaway? Yup!
At Gun, we made the jump onto the Great Bahamas Bank by moonlight and cut our speed to 8 knots to stay safe in waters that were still rough but now also shallow. Then, after continuing on in an easterly direction past North West Channel Light, we angled off to the south a bit and raised Nassau’s Paradise Island at dawn, a colorful happening that coincided with a dispiriting announcement.
“We got a problem,” said Myers, as our 484 bobbed at idle in steadily diminishing seas about 10 nautical miles northeast of Nassau. The three of us were sharing a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and home fries in the dinette area, while keeping a proper lookout via the 484’s all-encompassing doors and windows. “The yellow quarantine flag we need to pass through Nassau Harbor—we don’t have it.”
Moseley grinned sheepishly, in spite of the fact that what he was about to propose would thenceforth confer official status upon us throughout the whole of the Bahamas. “I’ve some yellow underwear,” he admitted.
Water, Water, Every Where
Not long after we’d put Nassau in the rearview mirror and made our turn for a 15-knot, flat-water skim down to George Town, in the Exumas, a revolting development developed—it seemed we were out of water! The news was truly stunning and no doubt ensued from our taking long, residential-type showers, an admittedly decadent practice but understandable in light of the fact that we had a 41-gph Spectra Newport watermaker onboard.
“We’ll drop the hook off Norman’s,” said Myers, who obviously felt cruising without drinking water was unhealthy, “and figure what’s wrong. Might as well transfer fuel. And we’ll cross into Exuma Sound down there as well.”
Back in the Cocaine Cowboys days, Norman’s Cay was an evil place and, even today, a sort of darkness continues to haunt the little fishhook-shaped island, despite its sunny palms, white sands, and turquoise waters. Our 70-pound Delta hit bottom in a couple of fathoms not far from what used to be the lavish residence of international drug kingpin Carlos Lehder, with its architecturally impressive house, three-car garage, full-fledged air strip, machine-gun-toting guards, and infamous array of guest cottages with names like “The Nest,” “Happy Landings,” and “Harvest Moon.”
As soon as we’d determined our anchor was holding, Myers and I dropped down into a giant locker on the bow of the 484’s port sponson and spotted the reason for the drought—salty moisture had shorted out the Newport. “Too damp down here for electrical stuff—they’ll have to reinstall this thing in a drier spot down in the islands,” Myers groused, while warming heat-shrink tubing with a cigarette lighter. “Lucky we caught it sooner than later.”
Peace & Plenty
Years ago, during another delivery trip, I spent an evening in George Town and briefly visited the Peace & Plenty hotel, an old, storied establishment that, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom today, seemed incredibly exotic and dangerously beautiful. Since then, I’ve dreamed of revisiting the place and maybe staying the night.
Dreams have a way of coming true sometimes. And shortly after we’d dropped the hook in George Town harbor to await official clearance and take on some fuel, I’d booked a room at the Peace & Plenty. After all, I had to fly back to the states (and my day job at Power & Motoryacht) in the morning. And the two guys coming in from Maryland as replacement crew needed the extra room onboard.
Lady Luck had one last glitch up her sleeve, though. Not long after we’d gone ashore to deal with Customs and Immigration, a wicked fracas broke out. “Your paperwork—it is not in order,” concluded the customs lady. “So you are not goin’ anywhere, not today.”
Myers stood quietly in the sun outside, seeming momentarily stymied. First it had been the empty (supposedly full) forward fuel tank, then the necessity of officially flying a crew member’s underwear from the rigging, then the shorted-out watermaker. And now—a schedule-slashing paperwork snarl.
A jovial, dreadlocked fellow strode past and chided, “How you doin’, cap?”
“Hangin’ in there,” replied Myers, with a wry grin. “Like a hair in a biscuit.”
But things worked out nicely enough, believe it or not. Lady Luck relented the next morning, as did the customs official. Myers and his guys, by all reports, made it to the BVI on time, or thereabouts. And I made it back to the Sunshine State without a hitch, although I’ve gotta say—I’ve seriously deepened my commitment never to crank up a voyage on Friday … or even come close.
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.