The Pursuit of Happiness
An out-island adventure in the Abacos aboard a Pursuit DC 325 took some turns for the wild.
As the cab rolled steadily through the inky Bahamian night, I couldn’t help but notice the ramshackle cottages that dot Grand Bahamas’ main road en route to West End. So close to the water, no real structure to them, some leaning and others crumbling. I wondered about the carnage that must be unleashed when a hurricane roars through. So I asked the cabbie, John, a 50-something-year-old Bahamian with a wide, easy smile, what happens here when the storms come.
“Oh, funny you should ask,” he said. “This my church right up here,” he pointed to the left at a thickly built house of worship adorned with crosses and seashells. “That’s where we go.”
Keeping an Open Mind
Think bowriders are only meant for lakes? Think again. The Pursuit DC 325 is a seaworthy boat with sturdy construction, a soft-riding hull, a berth, and a head. She also closes up completely to protect the captain from the elements—trust me, I know. What’s more the open bow adds an entirely new dimension to the boat, a whole other cockpit, essentially. Ask yourself this: If this was a 32-foot express cruiser, how often would you really use the cabin for anything other than stowage? And there’s no comparing the DC to a center console, she’s simply much more boat than that.
“To pray … ?” I asked.
“Well, that,” he said, “but mainly ’cause it’s the only thing that don’t blow away!” Laughter honked out of his head at near-gale force.
A moment passed, and John, with the ice broken to his liking, had a question for me. “You lookin’ like you could use a Kalik?” At 10 o’clock at night, in the Bahamas, after a long day of travel, the man was spot on, and I agreed that I could do a beer. (Probably a pretty easy guess on his part.) He shrugged happily as he pulled off the road into a dark gravel parking lot.
A single light swarmed with insects as it pierced the darkness over the liquor store’s door, a lone gecko clung deathly still at the edge of the shadows. The pulsing thump, thump, thump from the dance hall next door flooded the thick night. I hopped out to go into the store, but John intercepted me. “I’ll go pay, you stay here,” he said gesturing with both hands for me to stay put. I did as I was told, and leaned back against the van.
People moved from the club to the liquor store, intermittently calling out to the locals nightfishing across the road. I caught some looks. We were about a half hour from the nearest tourist district, and suffice to say, I stuck out. An old man lurched up to me, close. He leaned in face to face and cocked his head, studying me for a long moment the way a cat studies a mouse hole. Then he broke into a grin that was toothy and toothless all at once. “Alright …,” he croaked as he raised his fist for a pound, and then hobbled away into the shadows.
In time, John came strolling out of the store and handed me a sweating, ice-cold Kalik, all golds and blues in the black air. He dropped the rest on the floorboard by his feet, and we slowly pulled away.
The next morning I woke early to the sound of thunder. I made a cup of instant coffee in the hotel room and brought it out to the beach to watch the storm tire itself out at sea.
Turning around to head back to my room I saw David Glenn—head of marketing for Pursuit Boats and my companion for this trip—standing in the grass outside the room next to mine, shirtless and wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Hey there he is!” I shouted.
“Hi there!” a deep, open-voweled voice boomed down from above. I looked up surprised to see a big, old boy in a Michigan hat waving at me from a balcony. I waved back, and made my way over to Glenn. After some pleasantries, we decided to meet at the boat, Pursuit’s new DC 325, in an hour. We were bound for the Abacos.
Ninety minutes later we were carving giant S-turns through Listerine-colored water at 32 knots as we wove through the plumes of rainclouds that dotted the passage between the islands. I sat on the settee to port of the helm watching the rain intermittently rattle off the windshield and was thankful we weren’t in a center console.
We eventually came to a halt when Glenn noticed some telltale fuzz on his Raymarine E125 depthfinder. Marc Montocchio, a former South African Navy special operations diver turned marine photographer, sprang between the boat’s namesake dual consoles and hopped up on the wide foredeck to have a better look. “Could be a DC-10, might be a DC-3, only one way to find out!” he shouted back to us. We were over a plane wreck in about 25 feet of ocean. The Bahamas are littered with them. Many are drug-smuggling planes that met violent, watery ends—but on the plus side they make for excellent diving.
As Montocchio made his way back to the cockpit, I reached inside the port-side cabin and grabbed a magazine I had been reading the night before. At breakfast we had talked about an article in it, about shark repellents being tested in the Bahamas. I showed the article to Montocchio. He pointed excitedly at the opening picture, a large tiger shark breaching the water, its rows of teeth bone-white and glistening in the sun. “This shot, I know the photographer. I can just about guarantee you it was taken right over there, off the point,” he said, gesturing back at a spit of land on Grand Bahama, still plainly visible.
“Oh,” I said, eyeing out the distance, “because it says the picture was taken in a place called ‘Shark Alley.’”
Montocchio furrowed his brow and looked back out over the water toward Grand Bahama, then back at me. His lower lip jutted out as he slowly shook his head. “Never heard of it.” Then he strapped on a mask and fins and dropped over the side. I spit in my mask and followed.
We were immediately surrounded by teeth.
An army of barracuda stretched in every direction as far as visibility would allow us to see. Their mouths stretched back in De Niro-esque disapproval, their black eyes looking past us, through us. They swam everywhere, silent and unperturbed. In the gloom below my fins I could make out a hulking, boxy shape. I took a breath and dove, equalizing my pressure as I went deeper and deeper. It was a plane engine. Ghostly, shaggy with growth, but still instantly recognizable as a thing that belonged above the clouds but now lay under the sea.
Back at the surface Montocchio nodded toward the boat, bobbing 30 yards off. “We better head back,” he suggested, “looks like David might be ready to fish.” I swam back underwater and popped my head up right at the Pursuit’s stern. Glenn shouted mischievously, “Hey man, you’re right in my slick!” Slick? I thought to myself. He doesn’t mean … is he chumming? I looked up and sure enough, Glenn was tossing fish guts over the side. I popped up and onto the boat with a quickness.
After a freshwater hose-down, we rigged the rods, first with weights for gray snapper, then drifts for yellowtail. The fish came fast and furious. It was one of those happy days fishing where if you didn’t get a bite within a minute or so, it meant something had already stolen your bait. With the in-sole fishbox nearly full, we decided to head off to another wreck. Glenn fired up the twin 300-horsepower Yamahas, and we were off.
The next dive spot was spectacular. It was another plane wreck, this time a DC-4 in about 15 feet of crystal-clear water. It was swarming with snapper, as well as lionfish, a spiky, invasive species that clung to the wreckage like burrs on a dog.
There was only one thing to do. We swam back to the boat, grabbed the Bahamian slings, and set to massacring the invaders. The kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk, of the metal spear tips piercing through the fish and crunching into the heavily oxidized metal of the engine was consistent enough to approximate rhythm. The tantalizing song called out through the depths and inevitably the sharks came to dance. Nurse sharks, attracted by the bleeding, struggling fish we were moving from wreck to fishbox as efficiently as a conveyor belt. They’re usually docile, but today showed interest in the fish on the spears, which led to some one-sided tugs of war. While this was going on, I kept an eye on the perimeter, where the gin-clear water faded into abyssal darkness. This, as I would find out, was not unwise.
After pulling anchor we headed into the home stretch towards Marsh Harbour and Elbow Cay in the Abacos. But first Glenn wanted to top off the tanks, so we pulled into a little marina on Spanish Cay a few miles from the dive site. As we idled up to the docks I noticed a broad, wraith-like shadow trailing the boat. The thing moved in flicks and glides, changing direction in efficient vectors—the unmistakable arithmetic of a killer. I watched as it shot through silent figure eights around the pilings.
“Bull shark,” Montocchio intoned from behind, as if reading my mind. “Maybe 7 or 8 feet.” A fish to be reckoned with. I looked up and down the dock. Children ran carefree over its cedar planks while men sipped Jack and Cokes under the hot sun, oblivious, or maybe just indifferent, to the predator that lurked just a few feet below.
As we left the marina some brave idiot would tie a tuna carcass to a line and hand feed the shark from his docked boat. Its cinder-block head rose a full foot and a half out of the murk and thrashed with impossible power as it ripped the fish from the line. On the docks above, a crescent of small blond children clapped and squealed. It was a surreal scene to close out the day, but sometimes things that happen in The Bahamas are a bit south of where we normally calibrate reality. That, after all, is part of why we go.
After a night at the Abaco Beach Resort in Marsh Harbour, Glenn scooped me up in the boat and we made the hop to Elbow Cay, where he and Montocchio were staying. As Montocchio fiddled with his cameras and Glenn prepped the boat, I took a short walk to the other side of the island to check out Garbanzos, a well-known surf break that serves as an oasis for surf-starved East Coasters during the frigid winter months. The waves were small and mushy, which was fine, because just as they came into view, some of the loudest thunder booms I’ve ever heard cracked over the Atlantic, quickly followed by a monsoon-level rainstorm that nipped at my heels as I high-tailed it across the sand to the cover of the boat.
After an hour or so the thunder dissipated from crashes to distant rumblings, and the skies began to clear. We shipped off for lunch at Cracker P’s on Lubbers Quarters Cay. But first I took the helm as we passed through the channel on the way. The boat handles exactly as you’d hope she would. Sweetly powered with those easy-to-maintain outboards, she gets up and on plane effortlessly, maintains excellent trim angles throughout her rpm scale, and turns surely and tightly. Flat out we hit a two-way
average of 41.6 knots, and she loped from cay to cay at a fast cruise of 32 knots, burning a reasonable 32.8 gallons of fuel per hour. Which is to say, we made the short journey to lunch in no time flat.
Situated on a lush beachfront overgrown with sapodilla and bougainvillea, Cracker P’s is one of those places that feels like it fell out of a Jimmy Buffet song. The bar is named for Cracker Pinder, a Georgia native who—as legend has it—got in a dispute in 1915 with Sheriff Hickory Cartwright of Oglethorpe County regarding the ornery nature of Pinder’s pet duck. Things escalated quickly, apparently, and Pinder, perhaps prescient of his future in the islands, literally shot the sheriff before fleeing to the Abacos to live out his days as a reclusive nudist. (No word on the well-being of the deputy.)
Pinder’s namesake bar, as you might imagine, is a wild and woolly place. A roving pack of sandy Shih Tzus patrolled the floors and locals too drunk to form a sentence sailed darts across the main room in shockingly fruitful attempts at hitting a bullseye on the far wall. But the fish is fresh, the views are killer, the rum is endless, and the Cohibas are legal. To a man of a certain bent, Cracker P’s could rightfully be considered a little slice of heaven.
It’s a real place, Cracker P’s, with grit and history. It’s real the same way the shark in the marina, the drug-plane wrecks, the violent thunderstorms, and everything else were real. Sometimes the islands play it close to the bone. A trip to the Bahamas doesn’t necessarily have to turn out like a commercial for Sandals. It doesn’t need to involve cheesy tourist traps and disco-lit casinos that might as well be in Atlantic City. The Abacos are wild. Life is everywhere, gnashing its teeth or fanning its tail, but always butting up against civilization and desolation alike. Unforgettable experiences are there for the taking. But you’ve got to be willing to get outside your comfort zone. Step out of the cab. Jump off the boat.
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Noteworthy Options: Yamaha Helm Master joystick ($20,530); Cruising package, including diesel generator, air conditioning, and cockpit grill ($30,210); Raymarine electronics package ($29,260).
Generator: 4.2-kW Panda
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 84°F; humidity: 60%; seas: 1'.
Load During Boat Test
250 gal. fuel, 20 gal. water, 3 persons, 1,500-lb gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/300-hp Yamaha V6 4.2L outboards
- Transmission/Ratio: Yamaha
- Props: 15.25 x 18 Yamaha SWS II
- Price as Tested: Upon request
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.