So we sailed at 8:55 a.m., full of gas and breakfast, and pointed Rufus on a heading of 110�. We were off for Cat Cay.
Roy stood at the helm, jutted out his chin, and purposefully flicked down the Polaroid snap-ons that clipped over his regular glasses. The rest of us got on to those dreary, workaday chores known to all blue-water sailors: Art and I opened cold cans of beer from the refrigerator, Joyce got out the banjo-uke and we all sang a few choruses of Won't You Come Home, Bill Houseboat. And the adventure was under way.
We had all agreed on a Grand Circle Tour of the Southern Bahama Out Islands, avoiding—until we were heading homeward, anyway—that gaudy Steel Pier of the Atlantic: Nassau. We were aiming first for Cat Cay, to check in with British customs and add gas, then out across the Great Bahama Banks for Chub Cay, our first overnight stop. Then we planned to push the Rufus several times back and forth across that capricious region known as Tongue of the Ocean, where the Atlantic runs deep in among the islands. We would hit the Joulter Cays and old Andros Town at Fresh Creek, then aim off on a long, lonely run across the Tongue and Great Bahama Bank to the northernmost tip of the Exumas. The best-traveled route lay around to the north of New Providence Island and Nassau, but we had agreed that the best way to test the houseboat and our own navigation would be on a dash directly across, with nobody in sight for miles.
After cruising down the Exumas in what we hoped would be leisurely fashion, we would cross Exuma Sound to explore Eleuthera and from there curl back toward home. It was a two-week trip that would cover some 800 miles before we saw Dick Genth and Al Wagner again.
The Gulf Stream was mild, and Rufus surfed along, roaring happily in bright sunshine and water that turned from pale green to blue-black. Roy had it throttled at normal cruise—3,200 to 3,600 rpm—which kicked the big thing along at about 20 knots. We passed a couple of glossy cruisers that were chugging along at a...well, an old-fashioned houseboat pace.
We learned our first lesson fast. The side of a houseboat is a lot like the side of your Aunt Clarissa's barn, and any sort of wind pushing against the flat surfaces will cause the boat to go step-step-sliiide. We pulled into Cat Cay in a hot, gentle crosswind. The harbor was all tawny sand and lush green waters. There were old docks, all blown rickety by a storm, leaning there in the sun. We whooshed up to them, but the wind caught the side of the boat and Rufus went WHOMP! We clipped one stanchion, then another, rattling that old dock until we had succeeded in moving the entire island about 4� off its base. Roy was backing and pulling on the engines and yelling at all of us: "Put a line around there! No, hold it! Damn it, back off on that line. Here. Hold her bow in, for Pete's sake, hold her bow in!" We finally lashed it down with about 36 lines so it couldn't possibly get away, and all got off, somewhat shaken. I regained my dignity at Customs and Immigration.
"Houseboat, hmmm?" said J. L. Saunders, Her Majesty's agent. "We don't get many of them in here. What is she, a pleasure boat?"
I squared my shoulders. "She is a pleasure-boat-slash-sport-fisherman-slash-houseboat," I said.
He looked out the window at it, doubtfully. "Who is the captain?"
"I am, naturally." Saunders looked up over his glasses at me. Then he shrugged and continued filling out the form. I listed Roy as the mate, Art as the cook and the girls as the crew. Then, my entry papers stamped, I strolled with a studied rolling gait back down to the dock, where they were all standing around the gas pump.