Bermuda Sailing

We set sail from the drizzly grayness of New York harbor. At the sailaway party, we raise a glass to Lady Liberty as she waves goodbye to us.

An hour later I am thinking the drink was much stronger than anticipated… and then I realize that the unsteadiness is due to the fact that we have passed out of the harbor and into the open Atlantic. It’s not that I can’t walk straight; it’s that the sea is tossing us about.

It’s even rougher in the morning. I readjust my SeaBands and struggle out of my cabin to the breakfast buffet — giving the hot food and nauseating smell of eggs a wide berth as I seek out a green apple to settle my stomach and a cup of coffee to revive me. I seek out a view of the horizon but I don’t feel any better until I get outside into the fresh air. It’s sunny and breezy, and I settle into a deckchair with a book to pass the time. At some point I realize I should go back to my cabin to reapply sunscreen, but I can’t bear the thought of going into the closed and churning stuffiness indoors until I absolutely must.

In the photos taken on the formal night, I will be markedly pink.

In the evening I have dinner with a young couple who are lovely and friendly… but I find that I feel older than I am, as if I’m their chaperone. In the evening I head back to my cabin where I notice for the first time how dingy the stained carpet is. (Well, the ship is due in for refurbishment after this cruise cycle.) And the pattern… a mucky green with a hot pink design that looks like… like broken hearts.

Really? This was by design? Somebody chose this?

In the pitch dark of my inside cabin, I lose all sense of time. I awaken the next morning as the ship shudders and the captain announces that we have pulled in to port. I am up in an instant, preparing for the day.  Within 30 minutes I am stepping out on the gangplank and getting my first view of Bermuda. The dock area is not so strikingly beautiful, but even so I catch my breath with the sheer excitement of a new place.

I buy a daypass for public transportation – which will prove to be much smarter than any shore excursion to see the island – but walk the vicinity of the dock before catching a bus toward Hamilton. Glass and potteryworks are featured. Historical properties. A shopping plaza (naturally). Couples zip by on motor scooters, and for a moment I am envious. And then I remember that I have lost the skill of riding a bicycle, so a scooter would be a guaranteed injury-in-the-making.

In any case, public transport is cheap and reliable; a decent way to see the island. I take the north route to Hamilton, saving the south route and its myriad beach stops for the return trip. It’s slow but steady going. I get to Hamilton and walk around… exploring the town, grabbing lunch. It’s pretty and scenic but “shopping” seems to be the primary draw, and I’m ready to move on after a while.

On the way back, I jump off the bus at each major stop for the lesser-known publicly accessible beaches. I’m glad I’ve done my homework. Elbow Beach is stunning, and almost deserted. I snap a few shots before heading to the next beach, and the next, saving Horseshoe Bay for the following day. At Warwick Long Beach I run into my dining companions again.  I snap their picture for them, they let me know that they won’t be at dinner, having signed up for a glass-bottom boat tour during dinner hour; I’ve signed up for the late-evening version of the same excursion. On my way back up to the bus stop, I run into an older couple also from our ship. They’re having a good time but are visibly scraped and bandaged – a scooter mishap in the morning. That could have been me. That would have been me.

After dinner I change and head out to meet the shore excursion: it’s a Bermuda Triangle-themed shipwreck tour.  The tour provider is late returning the previous tour, so the entire group is left to wait for them. I realize that I should have brought a jacket – the temperature is dropping – but I’m afraid that if I run back up to my cabin I’ll miss the pickup. To pass the time, I strike up conversation with my fellow passengers. I’m chatting with a very pretty woman, probably between 5 and 10 years older than I am, and her husband. It’s a pleasant enough conversation but then I notice that she starts to give me the cold shoulder, literally turning her body to dismiss me. I’m not sure what I’ve done to offend, and then I glance over and register two things: her husband is still very engaged in talking with me, and she has just realized that no companion is coming to join me.

I have, somehow, just become the threatening-single-woman in her mind.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, but perception is reality. When the tour operator finally arrives, we end up on the same boat… and when she realizes that I’m seated just 2 rows behind them, she suddenly moves them to the other side of the boat to put more distance between us.

The tour starts well. The captain is also our tour guide, and he’s very entertaining. He plays up the Bermuda Triangle angle, wondering aloud why we would opt to go on an evening boat tour… in the shipwreck capital of the world… with the youngest captain on the island.

He’s funny, but as we pass historical points of interest and head out into the dark empty sea, the creep factor is actually pretty high.  We pass through a dark, narrow channel – for a few moments, items on shore are more sensed than seen – and then there is the extreme darkness of wide open water ahead of us. We turn to port, and head along the shore. The twinkle of lights on the shore side to port make the darkness to starboard even more pronounced. The captain lets us know that the sea is so dark and empty – emptier than one might otherwise expect so close to an island – because of the coral reefs. He reminds us again that this is the shipwreck capital of the world; there are no boats or ships in that area, because it’s virtually impassable.

We go below decks to get a glimpse of fish and coral through the glass bottom. It’s not vivid and bright, but it is fascinating. While all the other passengers are staring below, I peer briefly behind us, and see how the light we’re shining below us makes the sea around us glow eerily. It’s an interesting effect, but I am the only one who sees it.

Next we sail ahead to an actual wreck. Below us, the coral has made good use of bits of the ship, but the mast is still jutting above the surface. We circle it, trying in vain to get a decent picture in the extreme darkness. The first sprinkles of rain begin to fall on us, as the boat turns us back for the return trip.

This stretch of the journey is supposed to have an element of party atmosphere to it… now that the official “tour” aspect is over, music and rum drinks are on the agenda. But as we chug away from the shipwreck, the engine sputters. Once, then twice. And then it stops altogether.

Cute; engine trouble on the Bermuda Triangle Tour, I think. The captain fiddles with the controls, attempts to restart the engine… then hops over the railing. Though I know that’s where he’s gone, I don’t hear him land on the deck below.  In the darkness it’s as if he has simply disappeared into nothing. The rain becomes steadier. Minutes pass, and it begins to register that this is not simply a charade for effect. Thunder claps in the distance. With the engine stopped, the boat begins to drift and turn. As I realize the direction of our drift, away from land and toward that endless impassable sea, I try to think rationally. If this is a trick, it’s a really convincing one. If it isn’t they will have dropped their anchor, we aren’t actually going to drift somewhere we can’t be rescued.

The captain comes back up. From where I sit, I can hear him angrily cursing under his breath. The engine is shot. He’s radioed for the other tour boat to come get us. They will be here in a few minutes.

The sky opens up and dumps a torrent on us.

The other tour boat arrives, laden with passengers of its own. We jump between the slick decks of the rocking boats. Once we’re all on the second boat – now over capacity and riding low and slow in the water – we start back toward the dock again. There’s too many of us, no room to move. Those close enough to reach a rum drink – before they run out – say they have a cloying fruity taste, like cheap rum poured into old Tang. So I suppose it’s just as well that there isn’t room to maneuver over and get one.

We’re OK. Nothing all that serious has happened in the grand scale, but those of us from our boat are feeling slightly shell-shocked while those from the rescue boat feel put-out and put-upon. The situation needs laughter and humor… I want very much to turn and joke with someone… but I am wedged off to one side, and the nearest people to me are the couple I met before we boarded… to whom I am a pariah.

The trip back is longer than I could have imagined. Eventually we make the turn that brings our cruise ship into view. Its bright lights are a beacon of hope. The ship towers over us when we finally dock, and we run from the boat to the ship, rain pouring down and mud splashing up.

After all that, I am ridiculously happy to change into dry clothes and go find a quiet corner to get a decent drink.

The sun rises bright for our final day in Bermuda. A sight-seeing excursion with scenic tours and a stop at Horseshoe Bay is on the agenda. In fact, the sight-seeing is lackluster but the hours at the beach are lovely and relaxing. It’s not something one notices at a distance, but up close, laying on the shore… the sand really is flecked with pink.

As we reboard the bus to head back to the ship, someone mentions in passing that they heard from someone else on the beach that one of the glass-bottom boat tours the previous night had gone rather wrong. When I say that it’s true… and that I was on it… I get to tell the tale of our misadventure at sea, and how we unexpectedly got the full “Bermuda Triangle experience.”

It’s been an adventure. Sometimes more than I expected. But it’s beautiful on this island. I hope to come back someday.

We sail back to New York through rain. It’s too wet to go on deck, but the sea is calmer than it was, and I’m fine. The same gray drizzle I left greets me on my return. Work awaits. The drive is easier than I would have imagined at that time of day. It’s good to be home.


~ by lorakceel on February 21, 2011.

One Response to “Bermuda Sailing”

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