Three months in one place felt like forever. Especially when that one place was Ft Lauderdale. As a yachtie, being in Ft Lauderdale is like being home. You catch up with friends, enjoy beers after work with neighbors, and then you get the itch to leave and explore. The vast majority of those who join the yachting industry do so because they possess a deep desire to travel. My own motivation was no different.
Finally the time came to stow breakables, cast off lines and begin our voyage south. Roughly 700 nautical miles and about three days at sea later, we arrived in Belize. Having never been to Central America, I was chomping at the bit to begin exploring! There was a small problem though, we were anchored out in the middle of nowhere and had work to do before our guests came on board.
Catching glimpses of a new place through a laundry room porthole is no way to sightsee, so when the captain offered to take us crew exploring on the tender after work, I was thrilled. There was a small chain of uninhabited islands just next to where we were anchored, I figured that was a good start. He dropped Tara, Austin and I off at one of the islands and promised to be back in two hours to fetch us.
Holding my shoes, towel and book above my head, I waded onto shore. Grinning with the romantic idea of sunning, exploring and enjoying a good book in beautiful seclusion, I sought out a palm tree on the beach. As I began to look for a place to set up I quickly realized that this isolated, tropical island was nothing more than a dump. There was trash everywhere and some sort of old, broken down shelter. There was no white sandy beach to lay my towel on, only bits of coral and rock covered in rubbish and fallen branches. I was not about to waste any time complaining, I had only two hours to relax, after all! There was a tree hanging over the water, facing west. I climbed up, got comfy, opened my book, and as the sun started to sink I pretended it was a tropical paradise.
Then they came. Annoying for the first minute; completely unbearable by the second. To this day I am still not 100% certain what they were, but I think they were no-see-ems, which are tiny, little, biting bugs. I come from Minnesota, where the state bird is the mosquito; I know what it is like to be harassed by little buzzards to no end. This was so much worse than anything I had ever experienced in my life. I tried concealing my body in the jacket and towel I had brought. They were not fazed. Finally, I crawled down from my tree and over the garbage to find Tara and Austin. They had set up camp under the broken down shelter and were enjoying the snacks and beers they brought. All I brought to the party was the swarm of bugs that had found me.
Eventually, we were all being eaten alive and quite literally going crazy. We tried to start a fire to smoke the little guys out, but wet wood does not easily ignite. No matter how many Lays potato chips you use for kindling. Then Tara remembered hearing something about banana peels repelling bugs and wouldn’t you know our chef had made fresh chocolate chip banana muffins that day! We ate the muffins and rubbed the paper and crumbs on our exposed skin. It worked, for about two minutes, which is how long I think it took for those little bastards to go tell their friends to come feast on the sugar, smeared chocolate and our flesh. We tried wading into the water, but the seaweed was so thick and coarse you could barely stand. I also saw a couple very large fish jump nearby; I wasn’t taking my chances with whatever was lurking beneath the surface.
Our suffering was accentuated by the fact that the whole time we were stranded we could see our boat floating in the distance. Salvation was so close, but just beyond our reach. We slapped, laughed, rocked back and forth, cursed and made the kind of promises people make when they have lost all hope. This was torture. Were we ever going to make it out alive?
Finally our sentence was up, the tender was coming toward us, and it never looked more glorious. We waved, danced, shouted and clamored on board like crazed, shipwreck survivors. We recounted the hell that we had just been through, but no one seemed to grasp the enormity of it. Only my fellow survivors really understand what happened out there, on that God forsaken island.
* Yachtie: a crew member on a luxury yacht.
* Tender: a small boat, about 18-35’ long, accompanying a yacht.