The Intrepid Aeronauts were a bit more comprehensible to the layman. They ranged in age from a licensed 14-year-old to a spry and leathery gaffer from St. Louis named Denver Wright, in the 82nd year of his age, who had not missed a single Treasure Hunt. Younger pilots stepped back from him in reverential awe, wondering if he might not be the third Wright Brother. (Nope, but it's nice to think so.) The man who had flown the longest distance to join the Hunt was one Earl Beedle, an insurance tycoon from Carmichael, Calif. who had crossed the continent in his Cessna 210 with only three stops and a total of 15 flying hours. To be sure, Beedle's arms and legs were still locked in the flying position and his eyes flashed red as a Grimes beacon when they lifted him out of the cockpit, but he was still smiling, a fixed grin that never came unstuck throughout the week. The earliest arrival was Dr. E.Y. Detjen of Guthrie, Okla., a ruddy-cheeked, hard-drinking veterinarian who had winged his single-engined Mooney over the 1,000-mile distance in 5� hours. "Had to do it fast," the Doc allowed over rum and limbo music at a luau in the Grand Bahama Hotel that evening. "I'd been out clippin' over the weekend and I was bringin' a load of Rocky Mountain oysters to some friends in Florida. Couldn't let 'em spoil—not after the sacrifice those bulls made in the cause of haute cuisine—haw, haw, haw!"
There was little such levity at the final weather briefing the following morning. A tropical storm, code-named Laura, was swirling off the coast of Cuba to the southwest, and although her final course could not yet be predicted accurately, it looked as if Laura might head up into the Bahamas, increasing to hurricane velocity en route.
"Laura's influence right now extends nearly to the southern end of the Exumas," warned Groenhoff. "Therefore, those of you who plan to hunt down toward Stella Maris on Long Island—which is just southeast of the Exumas—will probably run into high overcast and strong winds." Muttering imprecations at Laura, the Fearless Fliers headed for their aircraft, studying the clue sheet as they went. In addition to the 18 aerial photographs, Groenhoff had added a tricky 19th clue as a tie breaker—"A brilliant red design which represents something that is frequently seen in the Bahamas." A painted coconut? A Sally Lightfoot crab? The sunburned potbelly of a stockbroker who wisely sold short? We would soon see.
As the aerial armada scattered from West End, it quickly became evident that only about a third of the contestants were serious competitors. The majority of the planes simply hopped over to Treasure Cay on the northern tip of Great Abaco Island—a half hour's flight from Grand Bahama—for a leisurely buffet lunch punctuated with more rum. The minority headed for Laura and the clues.
One of the planes heading south was a red-and-white Cherokee Six whose pilot carried a business card that read:
AVIATOR EXTRAORDINAIRE (VIP)
SOFT SHOE DANCER MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER
LOVER OF BEAUTIFUL WOMEN
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
WILL ACCEPT CHECKS TOO
HAVE PLANE—WILL TRAVEL
REVOLUTIONS GUN RUNNING
BOOTLEGGING CIVIL WARS