The year was 2004, and it’s one I’ll never forget. Like many high schoolers, I was lodged in that awkward stage between boy and man. Like most teenagers, I thought I was invincible. That bubble burst in February of that year when a close friend and teammate, all of 15 years old, was killed in a car crash. It shook my world.
It was the kind of sucker punch that hits you in the gut and forces you to question the bigger things in life.
Prior to 2004, my parents had been dreaming about taking the family Egg Harbor from New York to the Bahamas. We’d cruised extensively aboard a 33-footer, but had never attempted anything close to that magnitude. My parents knew that if ever there was a time to get away with their young family and hit the reset button, it was then.
It’s only now, after planning cruises of my own, that I’m beginning to really appreciate how much prep and planning went into pulling off a trip like that. From securing the time off from work (this was just at the advent of cell phones) to provisioning and packing spares of everything, this trip took months to put into motion.
I remember the first few days of the journey south being long. We were up before first light each day wrapping up lines, hoses, shore power cords and so forth. We would run into the late afternoon, tie up at another marina and begin our setup and wash down chores all over again. To a teenager it felt like Groundhog Day.
Departing the marina on the seventh day I was, as usual, oblivious to what our next destination was. I was sleeping in the cockpit when I felt the engines slide back to neutral. I sat up in a haze wondering why we had stopped. What was wrong?
It’s hard to describe—and impossible to replicate—the feeling you get when you stare into clear Bahamian water for the first time. My mom, brother and I leaned over the gunwale and gazed into the depths; it looked like we were in 5 feet of water and not 55 feet.
The next thing I knew my dad, who had a fairly serious demeanor throughout the first half of our trip, emerged from the cabin and ran across the cockpit. He leapt off the transom and dove into the water. This was a shocking turn of events.
“Can we swim, too?” my brother asked my dad as I ran scrambling for my bathing suit. “Sure, come on in.”
We swam off the back of the boat all the time growing up, but never in the ocean. Jumping into the water and peering through our goggles at the sea floor below was a feeling that even now I have a hard time putting into words. Surreal probably comes the closest.
The next couple weeks were like a dream. We swam, collected conch shells, played ring toss beside t-shirt-lined beach bars. We hiked, explored and reveled in the beauty of the Bahamas.
Like all good things, our trip would eventually come to an end. Five weeks after leaving a small marina in Long Island we were back home. I would quickly fall back into my teenage routine, not truly appreciating how many things had to go right for that trip to be possible.
Thankfully, time has helped me process just how special that cruise was and how spoiled I was to experience the islands the way I did.
Some colleagues and I tested an Everglades 435 in the Bahamas -recently and we had a blast. Flying across the water at 35 knots, bound for a beach to experience the infamous swimming pigs, it all started coming back to me.
“Unbelievable,” a colleague yelled to me over the sound of the wind.
“It really is,” I replied, as my mind travelled back to my first time in these waters. I recall the wonder those brothers had when swimming in the ocean, the father who celebrated the accomplishment of a longtime goal with a swan dive and the mother recording it all on a bulky video camera, smiling from ear to ear.
This is a story I seldom share with anyone; I’ve preferred to save it for myself. But there are lessons here that we—myself included—would do well to remember. 2004 taught me that life is short, to never put your dreams on hold and that sometimes you just need to dive in.