The Blue Bubble
In honour of National Story Telling Day 2020 (in the UK and Scotland), here's a story!
The sky at dawn is a cold steel blue when we pull up our anchor to leave Florida. We’ve been up for two hours already, making sure that every thing is ready. I’ve checked the list twice, made lunch and battened down everything possible. We raise anchor, hug each other for luck and point Forbidden Planet’s bow east.
“Yeah, the waves were 30 feet high.”
“Crew puked the whole trip. Took us 24 hours, and then we ran aground on Cat Cay.”
“Wind was 40 knots from the north, waves like trailer trucks.”
For the past two years, whenever we’ve met a sailor who’s done the crossing to the Bahamas we badger them with questions. Inevitably they regale us with tales of hideous seas, hurricane strength winds and near death experiences. We’ve planned, we’ve plotted, we’ve researched, we’ve calculated and we’re scared stiff. If I’ve miscalculated the effect of the Gulf Stream, and we miss Bimini (all nine square miles of it), there’s no land until Portugal. And we haven’t got enough canned beans to last that long.
Six miles off the coast of Florida, the depth sounder no longer registers as the bottom drops from forty feet to four thousand feet. The Gulf Stream is a warm water current that flows north at a speed of two or three knots. When your little boat only sails at six knots, this push is a big deal. It’s great when you’re going north, but the Bahamas are east. So you aim east and end up somewhere northeast, hopefully on the pile of coral rock you’re aiming for. Velvety royal blue is the colour of the gentle three foot swells carrying us forward directly on course. The Gods are smiling on our little boat and deliver us perfect conditions.
“Uh, that’s not Flipper.”
Floating in the blue ink, forty feet to our port side there’s a very large, black fin. It is definitely not a dolphin. The theme from Jaws starts running through my mind. The Pirate Guy reaches over and starts pounding on the hull. This is supposed to translate into whale-ese as “just passing through, don’t mean to bother you”. Whales are quite dangerous for small boats such as ours. It’s not that they intentionally hurt boats, they just want to play. After all, from below we look just like another whale, possibly a cute little female. The last thing I want out here is to be hit on by Bubba looking for a little action. All we see is the fin. He hovers beside us, then glides away leaving us with the schools of flying fish zipping threw the air.
A band of cerulean blue set against an indigo blue indicates the sand bar we almost run aground on as we approach the entrance to Bimini. The Bahamas have a unique approach to navigational aids, there aren’t any. Or none quite like we’re used to, such as markers and lights. When you approach Bimini, you stay a half mile offshore until the tree beside the white house lines up with the red post. Then you turn towards the tree and set your course for 100 degrees. If you’re on track you stay in the indigo blue water. If the water becomes cerulean, you’re about to run aground. Head back and try again. Medium turquoise is the blue of the channel parallel to the shore that guides you into Bimini Harbour, assuming the sand bar hasn’t shifted.
Rusty baby blue is the colour of the speedboat that zooms up to us just as we’ve dropped anchor. We’re so pleased with ourselves for being here that we didn’t see it until the smiling face appeared beside us.
“Hey mon, you best be movin’ de boat, de plane she have to land mon. You be in de runway.”
The ‘air traffic controller’ points up and we can see a speck flying towards us. This is our first indication. The chart says that Miami is just 55 miles west of here, but mon, we be in another world. We be in Alice Town, North Bimini Island, Bahamas. Until we’re cleared through customs, only the captain is allowed onshore. Since I have a higher tolerance for bureaucracy, I’ve been voted captain. I beach the dinghy on a pile of conch shells and tie him to a palm tree at the waters’ edge. It’s easy to find the customs building on the one-car-wide King’s Highway. It’s the only building on the strip without a sign announcing Happy Hour from 4 – 7.
Pushing open the huge wooden doors, a blast of Arctic air envelopes me. Navy blue is the colour of the pants or skirts worn by the customs officials. I count 12 of them. Each one is turned out in full official regalia, snappy hats, gold epaulets adorn every shoulder, shirts are snowy white and crisply starched. All the men have ties and all the women have nylons. I wonder how the women manage in high heels through the sand. I smooth my sundress and wish I’d put on something better than flipflops. Not that it matters, no one is paying any attention to me, they’re all riveted to a small screen in the corner.
“Hush up! In a minute!”
“Is this – “
“Wait your turn girl.”I am the only one here.
“Who loves ya’ baby?” the screen blurts. I know that voice. I strain to catch a glimpse of the screen, it’s Kojak complete with 70’s lapels and bald head. The sounds of a thrilling car chase compete with the industrial size air conditioner. As Kojak gives way to commercial break, the group leans away from the screen and breaks into animated discussion. “Welcome to Bimini, fill in de forms.” And they go back to discussing the plot.
Midnight blue is the colour of the carbon separating the layers of five forms I have to fill out. Never having filled one of these out, I very carefully read through. Question 1, were there deaths amongst the crew on the passage? If so, what did I do with the bodies? Question 2, did you notice any unusual activity in the mice and rats? Question 3, were there any outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever, or plague on the voyage? I can see through the back window of the office to Forbidden Planet bobbing gently on her anchor, the Pirate Guy stretched out on the foredeck. I can confirm that my crew has not died of plague. The guidebook did mention that the forms for the Bahamas were written in the 1800s. Being on island time, they haven’t got around to revising them yet. There’s a lesson to be learned here.
Turquoise is the colour of mid afternoon when we tie up at the rickety wooden dock of the Bimini Blue Water Marina. While Bimini gets crowded on weekends with speed boats from Miami, there are only two other boats keeping us company today. A six foot Manta ray swims under the keel, schools of yellow and black sergeant majors dart past and a leopard cowfish nibbles at the pier beside us. I can see every grain of sand on the bottom through five feet of crystal clear water. The gentle slapping of water on the hull is the only sound as we sit in the cockpit, sipping on our sundowners, rum in ice-blue plastic cups. We are lulled into inactivity, gazing out at nothing. The sky and the sea have become one, a uniform turquoise with no horizon. We are floating on a white dot in a giant blue canvas.
Life has become a collection of moments suspended in a blue bubble.