On our last day, we awoke early and pinched ourselves: Yes! We'd survived an entire week, and by the end of the day, we'd be home. We gathered up our belongings like the house was on fire, left skid marks returning the golf cart, and bolted over to the boat for one final voyage, as visions of hot showers and hoity-toity wine bars and kale on demand danced in our heads.
The plan was to return the boat to Water Ways on Man-O-War Cay, grab some lunch there, and then meet up with Jay back at Water Ways so he could take us over to Marsh Harbour to catch our flight. We'd heard rumblings that Saturday would be windier and choppier than the two previous days, but we'd already been through windy conditions earlier in the week, so we weren't too worried. That morning Angel listened to the Cruisers Net for the last time. "It's a beautiful day in the Abacos!" the announcer chirped. "Seas are doable."
Ah, yes, "doable." Allow me to explain, in hindsight, what doable actually means. Doable means, "Don your wet suit if you have one; fashion one out of a large trash bag if you don't." Doable means, "Do not go out there in anything smaller than a cruise ship if you want to live." Ever seen one of those skydiving videos where the guy's parachute malfunctions and he lands in a tree? That would be "doable," too . . . if the tree were a large cactus.
Still, we said we'd return the boat, and if we hadn't chickened out after docking the boat sideways, or grounding it, or wrapping the anchor line around the prop, or getting lost for the nth time in it, we certainly weren't going to do so now.
Plus, earlier in the week we'd come across this fantastic Bobber Tree, where you can leave a dream or wish on the tree in hopes that it will come true.
I am pretty sure that mine was the only one that read, "I wish that I could get off this island without capsizing my boat, contracting malaria, being bitten by a(nother) chihuahua, requiring a syringe full of anti-venom, or ending up on an Abaconian milk carton."
I threw on a bikini and coverup and urged Angel to wear his swim trunks, but he was loath to wear them on the plane and instead wore his usual cargo shorts, which he likes for travel because they have lots of pockets for travel documents. And now you're thinking, "Oh, I see where this is going. I bet their passports and planet tickets get all wet!" And while that might be the punch line on a normal vacation, need I remind you that this is Abaco? Worrying about your passport in the Abacos is like worrying about your nice white pants getting dirty during a bullfight.
The boat was already rocking back and forth like a carnival ride when we boarded it. We tied the bow line around ourselves to keep us in the boat, said a quick prayer to the patron saint of castaways, and set off for Man-O-War.
We were maybe five minutes outside of Guana's harbor when the first wave hit. A splash the size of the one Shamu makes when he hits the water sprayed up and doused us both right in the face. (Admittedly, it was better than any shower I'd had thusfar, but the timing was a little off.) Then another wave hit, and another, and another . . . one roughly every 30 seconds -- or until I'd just wiped my sunglasses off again -- all the way to Man-O-War.
We arrived looking like a couple of Cuban refugees whose life raft deflated halfway across the Florida Straits. My hair was soaking wet. My coverup was soaking wet. My bathing suit underneath was soaking wet . . . as were Angel's boxer shorts under his cargo shorts. Mascara ran down my face and smeared the inside of my sunglasses. My lips were swelled up like two overfed slugs from all the salt water.
And all of this might have been fine, relatively speaking . . . if we hadn't been headed to the airport.
Knowing that the flights home would be unbearable if we had to sit in a freezing plane wearing wet clothing, we asked Jay at Water Ways if we were taking Soleado back to Marsh Harbour, or if perhaps a bigger boat (read: container ship) would be available. No, the 18.5-footer was it, he explained, and taking the ferry to Marsh Harbour instead would mean that we might not make it to the airport in time for our flight. We headed off to lunch to weigh our options: Another drenching ride on the boat, or a ferry ride that might result in us being stranded in the Abacos one more night -- something that neither of us felt confident we would survive.
We oozed into the Dock & Dine, ordered up two cheeseburgers, and tried to decide what to do.
In the end, however, the decision was made for us. As we dug into those heavenly burgers, suddenly Angel looked to the sky. His face contorted into that look I knew from back home as, "Whaddya mean, you're out of bagels???" but that in Abaco I'd come to recognize as his "I can only stretch this much further between the dock and the boat before I fall overboard" face.
I turned and was confronted with a black cloud so large and so dark that for a minute I thought it was a plague of locusts. Which at this point would not even have surprised me.
Within minutes the cloud descended and all hell broke loose: Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, the power went out, and a deluge of Biblical proportions soaked everything in its path in mere seconds.
I had tried to "make the best of things." I had tried to roll with the punches. But this? This was the final straw. Sitting there in the sticky, airless incubator created when Dock & Dine battened down the clear vinyl curtains, I knew that I couldn't get back on that little boat.
I mean, getting drenched again was one thing, but being struck by lightning for good measure was just too much. I had to draw the line somewhere with these Abacos, and apparently that line was death.
We quickly paid the check, then Angel ran back to Water Ways through the torrential downpour to pick up our luggage and inform Jay that Abaco ain't for sissies, and that's why we would be taking the next ferry back to Marsh Harbour. We weren't even worried about the close timing, since surely the flight would be delayed thanks to the weather . . . wouldn't it?
It would not.
But first, we had to get to the airport. I had waited under the overhang near the Dock & Dine while Angel made a run for the luggage, and through the sheets of rain I spotted the Albury ferry, docked right outside. I couldn't believe my luck! The captain disembarked and I called to him through the downpour. Worried that he might lose patience if I didn't explain myself quickly enough, the words came tumbling out in a psychotic jumble: We go on ferry! Husband running, many luggages! Piso mojado! Thunder! Big waves! Wet undies! Help!
"Sure, you can get on this ferry," the captain said. "But this isn't where we board. The boarding dock is over there." He pointed, but it was raining so hard that I couldn't see the end of his arm. "I'm just here for lunch." He must have seen my salt-swollen lower lip start to tremble then, because he quickly added, "But you can board here if you'd like."
God bless you, kind sir. If you had made me slog through the downpour with all of my bags to the other dock, I might have had to stab you.
Just then, Angel returned, but without our many luggages. He was panting and probably sweating, too, but I couldn't tell because he looked like he'd just jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed. (I did not even bother to point out that he'd ignored my earlier suggestion about wearing his swim trunks, and maybe that was why he'd already been soaked to the bone three times today -- and it was barely noon.) He quickly explained that Jay had radioed ahead to the ferry and would be bringing our luggage over by boat.
Meanwhile, Jay's wife Samantha pre-paid for our ferry tickets, then called ahead to her father over in Marsh Harbour to await us at the ferry dock and shuttle us over to the airport. Jay and Samantha Sands of Water Ways, you are not sissies. You are not afraid of waves or lightning or Old Testament-style floods or tough New Yorkers being reduced to blubbering piles of wet mush. You went so far above and beyond good service that I don't even know how to thank you. You two are my heroes.
Finally, our clothes clinging to us like wet rags, we hauled ourselves onto the ferry.
Have you ever seen those black & white photos of the poor families who lived through the misery of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s? Completely beaten down by the awesome and destructive power of nature, they stare blankly into the camera, their eyes deadened, their mouths drawn in a tight line across their weary faces.
We could relate.
Once on the ferry, I immediately collapsed onto the vinyl bench with an audible squish, but Angel remained standing, contemplatively eyeing the life jackets lining the ceiling.
Finally he spoke. "Well, at the rate this day is going, maybe we should just put these on now and avoid the rush?"
Little did we know that he wasn't far off.
We arrived at the airport, checked in, and decided that just this once it would be okay to go out in public un-ironed, since wrinkly is better than soaked, at least on an airplane.
And so, after changing clothes and fixing myself up in the vestibule of the men's room (don't ask), there was nothing to do but wait for them to announce over the loudspeaker that our flight would be delayed thanks to the electrical storm raging outside.
Of course, that announcement never came. I'd like to think it was because the Marsh Harbour airport doesn't even have a loudspeaker, but we both know that isn't why. The reason was Abaco. You think we're afraid of a little lightning storm? it mocked. Girl, please.
We'd just begun our ascent into the clouds in a plane that seated maybe 25 people when I looked out my window and saw a jagged bolt of lightning stretching from a roiling black cloud all the way to the ground. Terrified, I looked away, only to be treated to an identical sight out the window on the other side of the aisle. The turbulent air jostled the plane like a toy.
And then it began to lose altitude.
I flew up out of my seat like it was that first steep dip on a roller coaster. The overhead compartments sprang open and luggage spilled into the aisle. People began to scream; others cried or prayed. The woman across from us somehow managed to retrieve a pill bottle from her purse, but her hands -- and the plane -- were shaking so badly that she couldn't aim the pill at her mouth. (I was hoping it might go airborne and land in my mouth, but no such luck.) The flight attendant, her eyes round as saucers, crouched in the aisle trying to reassure the most petrified among us as the plane continued to plummet, while I kissed Angel good-bye, assumed the crash position, cursed Vicki H one last time, and thanked god that at least my last meal had been a cheeseburger.
Obviously, and thankfully, we didn't crash. But when your plane repeatedly loses altitude in a lightning storm, the number of years shaved off your life due to sheer terror means that you will be dead sooner than you thought anyway.
Which is why the first thing I did when we got to the airport was scarf down two more cheeseburgers, just in case.
Of course, we were relieved to have landed at all, even though we didn't actually find out where we'd landed -- Palm Beach? Fort Lauderdale? corn field? -- until we entered the airport. But there was no denying that that flight -- indeed, our entire trip to the Abacos -- had really shown us what we were made of.
Fine. We are sissies. We surrender. You win this round, Abaco. You win.
But someday, when our hearts stop pounding and our legs stop shaking, we'll be back for more.
The Abacos were great doable, but man cannot live on adrenaline alone. Subscribe here to come along with us to the Hamptons this summer, where the food will be fancy, the drinks will be fruity, and the water pressure darn well better be fire-hosey.