Sunday, July 27, 2008

What is Adventure?

When I was 16, my dad took me on a boating adventure. It was to become one of my most memorable experiences this lifetime. During that trip, I almost died twice and was almost stranded on an uninhabited island. It defined adventure to me--facing the unknown, learning from it, and surviving. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. These are the things that make life exciting, challenging, and test one's resourcefulness. They define you.

The trip consisted of 4 boats each with a 2-person crew. My dad and I had the smallest boat, a 24-foot Thunderbird. We started from Ft. Lauderdale, FL and the plan was to tour the Abaco islands. Boat problems prevented the full tour, but we definitely got our money's worth. For the most part the weather was great, the fishing was bountiful and the group's energy was positive.

It was a strange mix of people, but a good group nonetheless. A 50-ish year old man with his 20-ish year old girlfriend (I don't think she had been on many boating trips), a seasoned boater with his wife, and my best friend's parents who drink a lot, but know how to make the best conch fritters around.

The first few days were amazing. The water is crystal clear and it was so tempting to stop everywhere just to go in the water. We caught so much fish that we ran out of room in our coolers. Every night we cooked the food we caught and slept in the boats. It was like camping on the water. When we stopped for gas we would resupply with fresh water and take showers. The only clothing we wore was our bathing suit, pretty much the whole time.

On about the 5th day, we stopped for some snorkeling and diving along this incredible reef. There was so much to see, I felt like I could stay down forever. Ben, my friend's father had gone spearfishing and caught a flounder. He went back up to his boat and started cleaning it. He forgot that I was still in the water below him. Suddenly I become surrounded by barracuda. I had no fear of barracuda, but had never experienced being in the water with so many of them--20 or so. I decided to get out.

As I was climbing the ladder I looked back down in the water and what did I see? Sharks. Baby sharks. A whole school of them. They were hungry, vicious and in a complete frenzy. Had I delayed my exit by a mere 5 seconds, I would have been eaten alive. The thought was quite nerve-racking. Apparently when blood is sensed in the water, barracuda arrive first on the scene, with sharks arriving shortly thereafter. Lesson learned, thankfully without any injury.

A couple of days later we had anchored for the night with our boats all tied together as we normally did. It was in a seemingly protected natural harbor next to an uninhabited island. A storm approached, the boats started violently rocking and banging together. We jump out of bed. We hear yelling, it is completely black. My dad sees the 50-year old man (don't remember his name) swing an axe and cut off our rope. None of the boats' anchors held. We all drift apart, separated from each other, left alone to weather the storm. We know there are rocks along the harbor edge and that we can't let the boats get near it. We can't see anything. And by now our little 24-foot boat is rocking violently back and forth to the point where it appears we might flip over.

My dad asks me to go up to the bow of the boat and get the anchor line though the bow eye. I thought he was crazy. For sure I would have fallen off the boat never to be seen again. By this time I started to panic because our situation was pretty desperate. Change of plans. I was to steer the boat and he was going to go do it. Now I really started to panic. It seemed worse that HE might fall in leaving me all alone. My entire thought process was "we are going to die." Thank goodness my dad had more survival instinct than I did at the time. He carefully crawled onto the bow of the boat looking like spider man with his legs stretched out along the rails. The boat was still violently swinging from left to right. I was crying by now for fear of losing my father. He was amazingly calm...concentrating on what he had to do. I can't even imagine the strength it required to do what he did (thankfully he used to be a gymnast). He succeeded. The anchor was down and we weren't going to crash into the rocks. Sleeping was futile. As we lied down in bed, the motion of the waves just lifted our bodies entirely off the bed. All we could do was hold on and wait it out.

The next morning we learned that Ben's boat was struck by lightening. They were lucky to be alive. All electrical controls were lost, but they had the foresight to bring an extra boat battery. The other two boats seemed to have gotten through the night ok with no harm done. But it was a night none of us would ever forget. We were all very lucky to be alive. After a few hours we were on our way again, as if nothing had ever happened. We stopped at Green Turtle and took a much needed "land" break.

Over the next week we continued to explore the islands...catching more fish, diving for conch, and just enjoying the water. At one of the uninhabited islands we visited, we weren't paying attention. We had anchored all the boats and swam to shore. While at shore the current changed and all of our boats started drifting away. We would have been stuck there for God only knows how long without any food or water had it not been for the strong swimming skills of the seasoned boater. He managed to get to his boat and bring them all back. Luck was on our side once again.

After that though he ran his boat aground and messed up his motor. We were able to make it to Jones town where we stayed until he could get it fixed. The locals were very nice. But anyone who has ever been to the Bahamas would know there is a different meaning of time over there. It's called Bahama time. And it's like molasses. Everything takes 2-3 times as long. And no one is ever in a hurry. It's a whole different pace of life.

Eventually we were able to get going again. After that we continued on to Treasure Cay where my brother and my friend Renee flew in to catch up with our trip. At this point my brother took over the boat tour with my dad and I flew back to Florida. They continued on to Hope Town but due to boat troubles with Ben and the seasoned boater, turned around and headed back home.

Dad and I still reminisce about this experience. We saw the beauty of the islands, the diversity of underwater life, explored unknown lands, experienced mother nature, witnessed human courage and resourcefulness, and made new friends. We lived. And survived. To me, that's real adventure.

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