Put into Tropical time-out
That's exactly what I wanted to hear.
Holly helped us build an itinerary that covered a lot of ground without too many stops. First was Baker's Bay, at the northern tip of Great Guana Cay. That's as far north as we'd go. From there, the southerly route would give us a pit stop on Guana for a side trip to Nippers Bar and Grill. She duly cautioned us about its celebrated drink, the Frozen Nipper, and made this point: "Some days, the place is like Willy Wonka's gone wrong."
Next would be a sprint to Man O' War Cay, then down to Lubbers Quarters for a "legendary" full-moon party, farther south still to Abaco Island's Little Harbour, then back north on the return leg with day stops and two nights in the picturesque harbor at Elbow Cay's Hope Town. The wrap-up would be a lazy run to the base for an 11 a.m. return. In seven days, we'd hardly be scratching the surface, but chartering isn't about how much blue territory you cover. It's how you cover it.
What I didn't realize then was that the design of this, my first family sailing vacation, was flawed from the get-go: I hadn't accurately accounted for the routines of the wee ones. I'd envisioned a carefree island-hopping excursion, but as it turned out, our schedule came to revolve around breakfast, lunch, snacks, naptime, and bedtime.
Interspersed among these were stints of sailing, swimming, and the scattering of Legos. I'd eventually realize, as well, that my vision of a week devoted to hanging at anchor off that deserted island with its one palm tree was also flawed. The numerous resorts had essentials I hadn't thought of: pools, other kids, and outdoor showers, the latter to better preserve our onboard water supply.
With some hustle on our part-and the help of the excellent base staff-we got out of the marina on the first night of our charter, when you're technically supposed to remain at the base. We dropped the hook, literally around the corner, in eight feet of placid water off Matt Lowe's Cay. We stuffed the kids with Annie's Macaroni & Cheese, then sent them packing before the adults sprawled on the forward trampoline with our box of wine to watch a nearly full moon transit the star-filled sky.
The kids awoke with the excitement of Christmas morning, and nothing follows Cheerios better than a morning snorkel. Honestly, I was more excited to snorkel than anyone else. Years ago, I started teasing my daughter's imagination with the Reef Fish Identification Guide and promises to take her to see them in person. We'd pored over its pages at many a story time, always noting the juvenile damselfish-my personal favorite.
After a quick dinghy ride, the group plunged into knee-deep water where blue tang and needlefish hovered inches below the surface. I delighted in Amelia's wide eyes, muffled grunts through the snorkel, and finger pointing as we hovered hand in hand over a small reef.
We could've loitered off Lowe's for another day, but our pressing itinerary lay before us: a snorkel stop at the Fish Cays, snack time, then on to Baker's Bay. En route to Baker's, we sent the kids to their cabins for their first nap under way; the engines, like sweet, diesel-guzzling angels, droned them into deep sleep. As the wind filled, we killed the engines, and the bows rhythmically hissed as they cleaved the chop. The girls went forward with their books as Matthew, new to sailing, confidently took the wheel with a beer in hand, the chart plotter guiding him along.
At Baker's Bay, we anchored as near as we dared to the beach. Once we were settled, we dispatched the dinghy for our first beach outing. The brochures were right: The beach went for miles, and there wasn't a soul on it. Amelia promptly proclaimed it to be the best beach she'd ever visited.
After erecting and destroying sand sculptures, it was back to the boat for a Father's Day feast of burgers and corn on the cob from the grill. It was also here at Baker's where we learned how to make the kids earn their keep. With deck brushes and buckets, they happily swabbed the cockpit clean of the evening meal's crumbs. That's about all they were good for when it came to maintenance.