April 20, 2006
There's an old Spanish proverb that goes something like, "He is always right who suspects that he makes mistakes." Well, we certainly make our share of mistakes, so it's comforting to know that we're not the only ones who are blundering about. In fact, David is fond of saying that he's constantly making mistakes, but they're always new ones. Of course, David's supposition is that he learns from his mistakes. If only this were true.
The scene for David's latest bonehead escapade is Water Cay, the northernmost anchorage in the Jumentos archipelago in southwestern Bahamas. We had headed for Water Cay after having spent more than a month in cruiser crazy George Town. We needed some solitude and that's what the Jumentos have plenty of. The only settlement, Duncan Town, is down at the southern extremity of this 100 mile-long string of rocky little cays. We encountered maybe a dozen other transient boats along the entire chain when we last cruised here two years ago. This time, however, it looks like we might have to get used to having a bit more company. A few days ago when we rounded Little Water Cay, just to the north of Water Cay, we discovered, to our dismay, that four boats were parked in our favourite little bay. A mile or so further down the shore, at a spot where the island is split by a narrow channel, another half-dozen sailboats bobbed at anchor. "Hey," Eileen said, "What's everyone else doing here?"
We anchored in a small bay at the south end of the island. The headland to our north blocks the view of the other boats. We can at least pretend we're on our own.
Actually, ten boats spread along three miles of shoreline isn't exactly crowded. When we first went exploring ashore, we saw a few footprints in the sand, but didn't meet anyone. Eileen was happy to discover there were still some unclaimed treasures to collect on the beach.
The day after our arrival, David got up shortly after sunrise to go ashore in the dinghy. "I want to get some photos of our boat at anchor in the morning light," he explained cheerfully. Eileen put her pillow over her head and mumbled something about the dangers of sleep deprivation, suggesting spousal homicide might be one of them.
David beached the dinghy and noted that the tide was rising. He knew that he should tie the painter to the stunted tree that was conveniently located a few feet away. He almost always takes great pains in securing the dinghy; sometimes, to Eileen's exasperation, he insists on carrying the wretched thing well above the 100 year storm mark. But David makes mistakes.
He thought, "It's only going to take me a minute to take a quick photo. It's calm; there are no waves breaking on the shore. The dinghy will be fine."
David scrambled up the rough limestone rise behind the beach. He couldn't get a clear shot of Little Gidding through the scrubby bushes. He picked his way through the tangle of cactus and scrub to higher ground. Still no good. Cursing the dense brush, he struggled up to the crest of the island. Finally, a decent view: the crescent beach below, the turquoise water shimmering in the morning light, Little Gidding in peaceful repose .... and our little grey inflatable floating out to sea.
"Oh, no!" David plunged back down to the beach, aided by gravity and an acute sense of urgency. He dropped his camera by a bush and ran along the edge of the rocky headland toward open water. He reached the end of the point just as the dinghy floated past. It was about 20 yards away. With no hesitation, David kicked off his sandals, tore off all his clothes, and dove in.
At that critical moment, the dinghy emerged from the wind shadow of our little cove and caught the offshore breeze. It began to accelerate. David swam faster and slowly closed the distance. The dinghy scudded along even faster, the wind steadily strengthening as the distance from shore increased. David poured it on: legs thrashing, arms flailing -- not exactly Olympic form, but as much as he could do to gain a few more inches on the escapee. After an eternity, the wayward inflatable was within his reach. His arms felt like lead, his lungs ached. Summoning every last bit of energy, he lunged at the rope bridle .... and missed.
The dinghy continued merrily on its way to Cuba. David turned on his back and gasped for air. After treading water for a couple of minutes, he came to the disturbing realization that he was still moving; the point of land from which he had departed continued to recede in the distance. The longshore current was taking him north to Nassau. No time to rest; he slowly, very slowly, swam back to shore. By the time he reached land, he was halfway up the island from our anchorage.
David shredded his hands and knees crawling up onto the ragged limestone. He cut up the soles of his feet as he limped as quickly as he could back to the point where he had dumped his clothes. He bellowed incoherently at Little Gidding, fifty yards away. Eileen came up into the cockpit to see a stark naked man waving wildly at her and pointing out to sea.
Even half-awake, Eileen figured out what the problem was. But before she could go below and try to raise one of the other boats on the radio, our dinghy miraculously came skimming back around the point -- a young man at the helm. Saved! David collapsed in a heap on the shore, too exhausted to put his clothes back on.
Our rescuer turned out to be an American named Mark, who had been visiting a young Quebec couple -- Bernard and Helene -- on their 31 foot sloop, Contre-Courant. They had spotted our dinghy heading off over the horizon and had set out to capture it in Bernard's dinghy. Mark had brought the truant tender back to us while Bernard had returned in his dinghy to Contre-Courant. Figuring David was not looking too presentable, Eileen took Mark back to his boat, left him with a bottle of wine, and then went to collect David off the beach. "You're a sorry looking piece of humanity," she said.
After Eileen had patched him up with antibiotic ointment and several gauze bandages, David took the dinghy around to Contre-Courant to thank Bernard for his part in the rescue mission. Bernard's dinghy has a small outboard engine, which is why he hadn't tried towing our dinghy back. "By the time we reached your dinghy," Bernard told David, "It was moving fast enough with the wind that we could hardly keep up with it." He added, "It's a good thing we only saw the dinghy and not you swimming towards it, because otherwise we probably would have assumed you were out snorkelling and not have thought there was anything wrong."
David said, "I'm glad you folks are here. If we had been anchored by ourselves, we'd be minus one dinghy now. Solitude has its downside."
Eileen had stern words for David when he returned. "You could have drowned," she said. "You do that again and it won't matter whether or not you make it back to shore. I'll kill you anyway!"
David sighed. "What's really pathetic is the fact that I did the same dumb ass thing the last time we were here." On that previous occasion he had taken the dinghy ashore to clean some conch and hadn't bothered tying it. It was sitting right next to him. His attention was focussed on the conch, however, and he didn't see the dinghy make it's escape until it was already leaving the cove.
"But at least that time you caught up to it," Eileen pointed out.
"Yeah, but that was two years ago," David said. "I'm not getting any younger .... or smarter."