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Home is where the Anchor Is…Sailing the Exumas Day 3

The Day All Hell Broke Loose

Day Three Itinerary: Stocking Island to Rat Cay (23 miles)

It was our first morning on the boat. We were all excited about getting underway.

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Unfortunately, we hit our first snag of the day early. Apparently, the cruising permit for the boat had expired and we didn't have a new one yet. We couldn’t leave Elizabeth Harbor without it.

While we were waiting, Teresa twisted her ankle. I blame myself. I had talked her out of her comfortable, familiar, strappy, hiking sandals and convinced her to buy a pair of flip flops. Apparently, it is not a good idea to wear flip flops for the first time at the age of 58, particularly when your first experience with the flip flops is on a slick, wet, perpetually moving surface. We iced her ankle down and continued to wait.

Snag #3 came when we realized the air conditioning was not working on one side of the boat.

The guy finally showed up with the permit, but by then, we needed the a/c fixed, so he spent the next hour fixing the air conditioner. And while he was at it, we asked him to see if he could get the fan in John & Teresa's cabin working.

It was finally time to go. (He was probably really happy to see us leave).

We would sail on the rough outside passage for about 20 miles, then we would take a narrow, current and rock filled cut to the inside passage, where we would spend the remainder of our trip.

Keith and Sydney were used to sailing the Virgin Islands and this was their first experience in the shallow waters of the Bahamas, where eyeball navigation is more necessary than a fancy GPS. John & Teresa had never been on a sailboat for more than a day trip. Matt and I know about power boats, but not sailboats. We were all a little nervous.

“Anyone who has sailed the Exumas chain in the Bahamas knows about cuts….the cuts tend to be rather narrow, so the amount of water flowing through a cut can be quite impressive….add a little wind opposing the current flow and you can very quickly develop 6 to 7 foot seas in a very confused state combined with a vicious current making for a dangerous situation with land on both sides of you.”

We all took a deep breath, battened down the hatches (literally), secured anything loose, emptied the toilets, and strapped an ice bag to Teresa’s ankle.

This day was already a doozy and we hadn’t even made it out of the harbor yet.

The morning started off great. We cruised along the length of Great Exuma and the water was fairly calm. We lounged. We listened to music. We napped (because some of us hadn't slept well the night before...ahem).

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Snag #4 came in the form of this ominous tornado looking cloud that brought with it torrential rain that lasted just long enough to get everything good and wet and make the waves really big.

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We were starting to worry that this day was not going well, but then there was this beautiful rainbow. Maybe all our bad luck had been frontloaded and the rest of the day was going to be a breeze. (And maybe a dingy filled with singing gnomes was going to show up with a pot of gold. Yeah. Right.)

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We continued on until we were at what we believed to be the correct cut. We were already testy because of all the mishaps that had occurred that morning, and knowing how treacherous the cuts could be, we were extremely on edge.

As we made our way toward the cut, we began to get pummeled by 7-10 foot waves. That’s when the rope to the jib came loose.

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Did you know the term “three sheets to the wind” refers to a boat whose sheets have come loose? That should give you a visual of what was happening to us at that point, in 10 foot waves and strong currents with our sail flapping uncontrollably and the boat meandering at the mercy of the waves.

We couldn’t go into the cut. We couldn’t keep sailing past it. We couldn’t just sit still. So we started going in circles while the guys tried to catch and contain the jib.

Do you know what happens when a boat goes in circles in 10 foot waves? 10 foot waves wash over the boat sideways.

Unfortunately, when Teresa (and her purple foot) had “battened down the hatches” in her room, she didn’t latch the giant hatch over her bed properly.

As we sat up top, clutching anything that looked stable with white knuckles and trying not to cry or vomit, water was POURING into her cabin and flooding her bed.

It was about this time that I heard a loud “BANG!” in my cabin, so I ran (rocking and swaying like a mad woman) down to see what was going on. The hatch in my head had popped and water was pouring into my bathroom. The floor was completely flooded and was about to overflow onto the wood floors of my cabin. I did the only thing I could, I braced myself inside the shower as the boat rocked violently back and forth, and depressed the drain button.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to drain the water from a boat shower? It is agonizingly slow. Worse than the toilet. The best part is that you have to continue to hold the button down until it is completely drained. This took about 6 minutes.

By the time I got back up to the salon, Teresa had discovered her flooded cabin. She managed to re-latch her hatch, but the damage was already done. Her bedding and mattress were saturated and there was about 3 inches of water in the storage area under the bed.

“Leave it,” I said. “There’s nothing we can do about it right now.” She looked miserable.

The guys had gotten the sail secured and we were headed back into the cut. The narrow passage between the rocks literally seemed smaller than the boat. The currents were insane. The water was rough and we were all rattled.

Waves started pitching over the boat again. We heard a lot of commotion up at the helm. That’s when Keith jumped down, hit the deck that was now covered with slick salt water, and fell on his face. Literally landed right on his face. He jumped up, eye bleeding, grabbed a chart book and ran back up to the helm.

You know how, when someone falls, you don't know whether to laugh or pretend to be concerned? Well. It wasn't like that. We were HORRIFIED. Blood was pouring down the side of his face and we were pretty sure he had lacerated his brain and his eye was going to fall out. Sydney, Teresa, and I stared at each other wide-eyed.

We crept through the cut and came out the other side unscathed. The water was calm, the sky blue. It was as though the world on the other side of that cut didn’t even exist.

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Everyone was shaken and unhappy. Teresa’s foot was swollen. Keith’s eye was turning blue and he was bleeding. One of the cabins was completely soaked. That’s when I got the great idea to make lunch.

Yes. I am an idiot. I'm that person that thinks a ham sandwich can cure cancer. "You just lost both of your feet in a car accident? I'm sorry. Here. Have a cupcake."

Food makes everyone happy, right? We were through the cut, we were in calm water, the bad stuff was over. As we made our way to our anchorage, I would surprise everyone by having a lunch spread ready by the time we stopped the boat.

I started making a fruit platter. When that was done, I cut up cheese and salami and put it on another platter with an assortment of crackers. I was smiling and patting myself on the back when I felt the boat make a 180 turn.

“Wha…..?????”

“We’re at the wrong cut,” I heard Matt say. “We have to go back out.”

Teresa started to cry. Sydney put her head in her hands.

I braced myself in a corner, holding a platter of meat and cheese in one hand and a platter of fruit in the other so they wouldn’t pitch over when the waves hit us again. Stupid cheese. Stupid crackers. I hated them. I wanted to throw them overboard.

Apparently, I suffered from premature mastication.

I held those damn platters for 20 minutes until we found ourselves at the correct cut and were safely on the inside passage at Rat Cay. It was remarkable how beautiful the world was on this side of the cut.

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We found a safe anchorage at Pigeon Cay and stopped to assess the damage.

John and Teresa’s bed was soaked. Keith had a black eye. Teresa had a sprained ankle. The davit clip that held the dingy up out of the water had broken and the dingy dangled sadly from one hook. We looked like a Chinese laundry boat with John & Teresa’s mattress, pillows and bedding strapped to every available surface.

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It had been a day.

We ate our smoked salmon wraps in silence, happy to be alive.

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Everyone spent the afternoon doing what made them happy. That meant Matt and I took the dingy over to a nearby deserted beach with rum punches.

It’s amazing how easily an hour on a deserted beach with a rum punch can completely wipe away a bad morning.

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As we pulled up to Island Girl, she looked more like a Haitian refugee boat than a cruising yacht, loaded down with wet blankets and foam mattress pads, but she was ours and she had brought us safely through the cut. Twice. She was family.

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As the sun began to set on our first eventful day, we fired up the grill and made burgers and hot dogs. You think God could have thrown us a mercy pass at this point, but no. It just couldn't be that easy. As with everything on a boat, nothing is “quite right.” The grill had two speeds: raw or on fire. It was more like cooking on a campfire than a grill.

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We couldn’t find a metal spatula for the grill, so I had to use a pie server. The fact that the grill was on fire and the pie server was only about 5 inches long made this quite a challenge. It was also tilted at an angle and there was no lip or edge, so I lost a few hot dogs that just rolled off into the water. That meant I had to hold them onto the grill with my 5 inch pie server.

And we never had found those hot dog buns, so we had “hot dog baguettes.”

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But with a bottle of wine, good friends, and a beautiful sunset at sea….it was all good.

It was a rough start, but we knew there would be a learning curve. We just knew tomorrow would be better.

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Posted by vicki_h 05:58 Archived in Bahamas Tagged island tropical bahamas exumas george_town staniel_cay great_exuma Comments (2)

Home is where the Anchor Is…Sailing the Exumas Day 2

How to Provision a Boat and Get Diarrhea All in One Day

Day Two Itinerary: Sailing from Elizabeth Harbor, Great Exuma to Stocking Island (1/2 Mile)

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We had tricky logistics for the morning. The grocery store closed at 11:00 a.m. Our sailing charter didn’t start until noon. Our sailing friends from Canada arrived at 2:00 p.m.

So, we decided to just make a trip to the beach because thinking about all of those logistics made our head hurt.

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We headed to the grocery store at 10:00 a.m. The plan was to get all the provisioning done by 11:00 and beg the young couple cleaning the boat to let us go ahead and put our food away even though it was an hour before our charter started.

If begging didn't work, Plan B was to bribe them with our $300 box of liquor. If we had to go to Plan C, we were going to need some duct tape and a plunger, so we hoped we didn't have to go to Plan C.

I have shopped in a small Bahamian grocery store before, so I am not unaccustomed to the rather odd, sometimes random, and always limited selections that you encounter there. However, I had never provisioned a boat for 7 days for 6 adults, knowing there would be very limited opportunities to pick up any additional provisions during the trip (because the only thing you could find on the smaller cays is the equivalent of a small town gas station mini-market where you might be able to score a pack of crackers and a can of soda if you are lucky).

Lessons for provisioning a boat in the Bahamas:

• If you don’t eat it at home, you won’t eat it on a boat. Just because you’re on a boat doesn’t mean you have to resort to lots of dried beans, tomato paste, and sardines. Unless you are sailing to Africa, you can probably stick to your normal diet.

• You can never have too much alcohol. 12 bottles of liquor, 1 bottle of champagne, 2 cases of beer, and 4 bottles of wine may sound like a ridiculous amount of alcohol for 6 people to get through in just seven days, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little focus and determination.

• Be patient because nothing in the store will be where it should be. For example, at the Exuma Market, I found the toothpaste with the rat poison. The pizza crusts were with the salsa and chips, not with the Italian foods. And hot dog buns? Well. I never did find the hot dog buns. Probably because the hot dog buns were not with the bread, but were actually with the lighter fluid, and I didn’t think to look there.

• Be flexible. So you wanted Doritos. Bob’s Cheesy Nacho Strips are probably just as good. Want Sprite? You may have to settle for Club Soda and a box of Splenda. The important thing to remember is that there is no food you can’t live without for a week. Especially if you have 17 bottles of liquor and 2 cases of beer.

• Expect things to cost more. That $2.99 box of cereal you buy at home is going to cost you at least 3 times that in the Bahamas. I find that one tends to question one's actual NEED for Oreos when those Oreos cost $11.25.

• Be aware of your space limitations. A week’s worth of food for 6 adults has to fit in a space the size of your high school gym locker. And, after about 3 days it will smell the same. However, despite space limitations, you can never have too much water, ice, zip-loc bags, or toilet paper. Tie them with rope and wear them as a hat if you have to.

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We pushed 3 grocery carts across the rutted, pocked, potholed pavement to the boat. Not only did the kind couple cleaning the boat let us go ahead and load up an hour early, they helped us put things away!

We didn't need that duct tape after all.

We were finally introduced to Island Girl, our home for the next week. While the outdoor and common spaces were AWESOMELY HUGE for a boat, the cabins left me with heart palpitations. It wasn’t my first time on a sailboat, however, and I knew to expect my bedroom to be exactly the size of my (very small) bed with a shoe box sized locker to put all of my things in and a bathroom (head) that could cause the hardiest individual to become claustrophobic in an instant.

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We had the boat provisioned and our things put away by 11:00 a.m. and we weren’t expecting Sydney and Keith until 2:00, so we grabbed a taxi to the Fish Fry, a tangle of colorful one-room shacks located on the shore a couple of miles from George Town. It’s beyond casual and most of the places don’t seem to have regular hours but open when it’s convenient or they simply have nothing else to do.

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Roland, our taxi driver, had recommended Shirley’s. Soon enough, we found her bright yellow building with the doors open, welcoming us inside with the smell of fresh fried seafood. Her menu was simple, featuring local seafoods, curries, and BBQ.

Matt and I ordered the conch fritters, cracked lobster and the coconut grouper to share. I’m not sure what we enjoyed most – the friendly service, the fresh food, the rum punch, or the delicious breeze blowing in off the ocean.

Shirley’s was a HIT.

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It was about 1:30, so it was time to make our way back to the Exuma Yacht Club to wait for Keith & Sydney to arrive.

The term “Yacht Club” is loosely applied on Great Exuma.

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We were surprised to find our friends already on board when we arrived back at Island Girl. After a short briefing, we were ready to set sail.

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Because it was late in the day, our plans were not ambitious. We’d make the ½ mile trip across Elizabeth Harbor to Stocking Island, home of Volleyball Beach and the Chat n’Chill. The short ride across the harbor was beautiful and we all started to get really excited about the week ahead.

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We managed to get there for the tail end of the Chat n’Chill’s Sunday BBQ. Dinner was complete with a Goombay Smash with a Splash and a dog named Butter that would let you throw his coconut.

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We went to be that night full of BBQ, rum, and the hope and promise of our first day at sea.

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Unfortunately for me, I was also full of something else.

Do you know where tap water comes from on a sailboat? Unfortunately, it is not sweet flower dew brought down by fairies. Ask 100 sailors if they drink the water from their holding tanks and I guarantee that at least 99 of them will say “no.” The water looks bad, smells bad, and tastes bad. That’s because it’s likely contaminated with dirt, rust flakes, paint chips, bacteria, cysts, or chemicals. You don’t know where the water in the tank comes from.

It could come from anywhere. You also don’t know how long it’s been since that tank was cleaned. Water tanks that haven’t been cleaned in a while have a thick layer of crud in the bottom and deposits of icky in the PVC lines.

I knew it the instant I did it. I was innocently brushing my teeth when I realized I hadn’t gotten a glass of water from the “clean water jugs” up in the salon. I was already undressed and really didn’t want to put on clothes and schlep back upstairs, so I used the water from the tap.

It was just like the scene in Sex and the City when Charlotte drinks the water in Mexico. I knew my mistake the second I swallowed some of the tank water. I could already imagine the bacteria coursing through my digestive tract, planning to take up residence in some cozy corner of my abdomen, waiting to burst out of me like that thing from ALIEN.

It was about 3:00 am when it hit me. I tried to creep into the head, but there is simply no way to be discreet or quiet on a boat. Your toilet is about 10 feet from the next cabin's bed, separated by a thin wall of fiberglass.

Sound carries.

And smell travels.

Odors are made of gas molecules. Gas molecules are in continual motion. They travel as fast as a bullet. Humid air (like the air in a boat, for example) traps smells and causes them to linger even longer than normal. Small, enclosed areas (like a boat, for example) limit the amount of dilution possible, which further intensifies the smell.

I mean, it’s like a sailboat cabin is the “Perfect Storm” of the olfactory universe. When an odor is released, the small enclosed area and thick, humid air allow the odor to remain in a smellable concentration for an eternity. And privacy? On a boat? Forget about it.

You have no choice but to flush.

Even if it is 3:00 a.m. and the flush is loud enough to wake up the people on the next boat.

Because a boat head doesn't flush like a household toilet. The flush is excruciatingly slow and it is deafeningly loud. You have to hold the button down for about 10 seconds to get a good, clean bowl. It sounds like an 18 wheeler running through a cement wall.

I know there was nothing to be ashamed of. Diarrhea happens to everyone….nuns, princesses, grandmothers…even the Queen gets diarrhea. But I still tried to be discreet.

By my 7th visit to the head, I didn't give a damn about being quiet anymore. In fact, some passive aggressive part of me wanted to take an eye dropper and pour tank water into each of their sleeping mouths so that they too could experience the midnight joy of having their guts turned into molten lava.

Ka-whooooooosh-whooooosh-whooooooooooossssshhhhh (one one thousand.....two one thousand...) kaaaaa-wwwhhooooosssh (three one thousand)….

Oh what a night.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:08 Archived in Bahamas Tagged island tropical bahamas exumas george_town staniel_cay great_exuma Comments (0)

Home is where the Anchor Is…Sailing the Exumas Day 1

Relaxing, self-indulgent, easy….those are typically the last 3 words I think of when planning a vacation. Those words are for vacationers. Not me.

Vacationers come home with big smiles, clean clothes, and shiny trinkets purchased at junk stores that still have the “Made in China” stickers affixed. Vacationers come home with good hair and pedicures that are still as fresh as the day they left the spa a week before. Vacationers bounce back into work with a photo album full of glossy pictures, ready for their 8:00 a.m. meeting without missing a beat.

But vacationers come home with nothing they didn’t have before they left, except maybe a tan and a good night’s sleep.

Travelers come home completely exhausted, with their last pair of underwear inside out because they ran out of clean ones the day their flight home was cancelled due to hurricane force winds. Travelers come home with no money, dirty shoes, and the closest thing to a souvenir is the paper wrist band still attached to their arm from the all night beach party they left to run to the airport. Travelers come home with sunbleached hair, chipped toenails, blisters, and a slight case of food poisoning from eating that fish the local guy grilled on the sidewalk.

Travelers come home with a renewed sense of who they are, a feeling of accomplishment, and an awareness of the world they didn’t have a week before.

I rarely vacation.

I travel.

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Day One: Flying into Great Exuma – The Necklace of the Bahamas

I have heard the Exuma island chain, made up of some 365 cays stretching for 100 miles, referred to as a necklace of sparking jewels. It appears like glittering emeralds and pearls scattered across a turquoise sea filled with forgotten hideaways, protected harbors, and deserted beaches.

Viewed from the air, it was dazzling.

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We made an uneventful landing and were in a taxi within minutes, headed to Augusta Bay to spend a night while waiting for our Canadian friends, Keith and Sydney, to arrive.

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Augusta Bay is a small boutique hotel that sits on a private beach just steps from shallow turquoise water. It was clean and quiet, and, with the exception of the shiny black comforter in my room which had a slightly 1970s-porn quality about it, we loved it.

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We had loads of sunshine and nothing to do but kill time, so Matt and I walked down the beach, which was dotted with small hotels. When we reached the end of the hotels, we found a pretty little beach on the other side of a small rise.

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If we had stopped there, we would have been happy. It had beautiful water, swaying palm trees, and what gets my vote for "most interesting snack bar."

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But we kept walking to see what was farther down the beach.

That’s when we found Jolly Hall Beach. We were greeted with a fine curve of soft, white sand shaded by casuarina trees and bordered by clear, shallow water of the most brilliant turquoise.

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It was, without a doubt, one of the finest beaches I have ever been to.

And we were alone.

THIS is why I love the Bahamas.

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That afternoon, we decided to head into George Town. I’m not sure what I expected, but considering it was the capital on one of the larger islands in the Bahamas, the largest city in a 100-mile island chain, and home to an international airport…… I expected more.

The guys decided to stop for a beer while Teresa and I strolled through the shops.

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Teresa and I were finished in approximately 8 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, it was sweet. It was quaint. It was friendly……But it was so SMALL.

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More a village than a city, George Town is a smattering of shops and eateries on one street that circles a small lake. It takes longer to walk through the average Super Target than it does to walk around George Town. I’m pretty sure my first apartment was bigger than George Town. And the widely touted "straw market" reminded me more of the Bean Station Flea Market than a craft market, well.....minus the boiled peanuts, discount cigarettes, and bootleg copies of Hank Williams, Sr.

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Unfortunately, we had expected ……more….so we had asked our taxi not to pick us up for 2 hours. Sure, we could have just called another taxi. Except that we had just purchased all the liquor for the trip and put it in that taxi’s trunk.

Oh dear.

We did the only thing we could do with 2 hours to kill.

We headed for the bar.

We found a waterfront view and cold goombay smashes at the Club Peace & Plenty. There are harder ways to spend a couple of hours.

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We were pretty sure that with $300 worth of free liquor in his trunk, we’d never really see Vencil again, but he showed up, exactly 2 hours later.

We had him drop us off at Catch a Fire, a restaurant that has the best sunset view on Great Exuma.

And yes, we left all that liquor in his trunk again. We are a very trusting bunch.

Catch a Fire was fantastic. All Balinese teak furniture, tiki torches, and bougainvillea….right at the edge of the water, with a sunset view.

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Although, they seemed to run out of signs when it came to the men's room. This either means "Men's Room," or it means "Women who do not wear skirts are men." I'm still not 100% sure.

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They also had Bahama Obama. At least that’s what he told us his name was. I think he was a little more Bahama Flavor Flav. He was the self-proclaimed Fun Meister of Catch a Fire and he tried to make dancers out of me and Teresa.

He failed.

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30 minutes past the time we told Vencil to pick us up he still hadn’t shown. We were sure he had decided the $300 worth of liquor in his trunk was worth more than the $30 cab fare we owed him and was probably hosting a party somewhere on the other side of the island waiting for Bahama Obama to show up. Just as we were about to give up, he came rushing into the parking lot, apologizing because he’d started watching the basketball game and forgot about us.

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What he lacked in punctuality he made up for in honesty.

We bid good-night to Catch a Fire, Bahama Obama, and the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree and called it a night.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:26 Archived in Bahamas Tagged island tropical bahamas exumas george_town staniel_cay great_exuma Comments (0)

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