Introduction to “READY ABOUT”
Voyages of Life in the Abaco Cays
by Dave Gale
This is a collection of true stories about our life in Abaco, vignettes of Abaco history, and a few tales from before our Bahamian life. I try to be myself, so some poke fun: the truth on a bungee cord. Some have been published in such various national magazines as Sail, Southern Boating, Skin Diver, Abaco Life, Sea History (the quarterly of The National Maritime Historical Society), and The Keeper’s Log (the quarterly of The United States Lighthouse Society).
Probably a thumbnail sketch would be helpful here to better understand how Phoebe and I came to settle in Hope Town back in 1954.
Phoebe and I met in junior high school, in Pelham, a fairly well-to-do New York suburb in Westchester County, on the shores of Long Island Sound. We dated through high school and then through her college years while I served in the U.S. Navy. That’s not to say we didn’t date others, but, for both of us there really wasn’t anyone else in the running. We were married right after she graduated from Mount Holyoke College, and about four months later I was honorably discharged.
I’d asked Phoebe, “Where shall we go, what shall we do?” Phoebe had replied, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn -- so long as we don’t stay here.” Just the answer I was seeking.
Since boats and more boats were, aside from Phoebe, my only interest, I wanted to move south where I could play with them all year long. Piling everything we owned -- precious little -- into the back of our old Willys Jeepster Station Wagon, we moved to Miami, and I started college again. Before joining the Navy, I’d dropped out of college to join a world sailing expedition.
I met Eric Lundgren in Miami in the winter of ‘54 while I was working at Hopkins-Carter Marine Hardware store during the day and attending the University of Miami at night, studying for a degree in architectural engineering. Eric said he needed to buy hardware and equipment for his 50-foot ketch, Choctaw, on which he and his wife Ruth, “were going to sail off into the Caribbean Sea to find a new way of life.” He and Ruth were in the Alcoholics Anonymous program and trying to follow Norman Vincent Peale’s advice in his timeless book, The Power of Positive Thinking. As Dr. Peale had written, “You have the power within you to seize fate by the throat and dictate your own terms to it.” We liked that.
After a few dinners and some sailing on Biscayne Bay, Eric and Ruth invited us to sail away with them in their search for a new way of life, and though sorely tempted, Phoebe and I wanted me to complete my college education first.
With a stiff upper lip, we told them we hoped they’d keep in touch. They did, and after they discovered Hope Town, in the British Crown Colony of the Bahamas, invited us to come have a look at their place called Newhope.
As we I peered through the small Plexiglas windows of the five-seater seaplane, it banked steeply, allowing us to see into the depths of the aqua-jewel and almost empty harbour of Hope Town. “Phoeb, we’re never going back,” I said over my shoulder, as she looked intently out of her little window from the seat behind me. We never did. W. Somerset Maugham observed, “Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs.” That’s it exactly, Mr. Maugham. Of course, we had to go back to unregister from college and collect our few possessions in order to move to Hope Town and join Eric and Ruth’s Newhope dream. There was something unique going on at Newhope. It was a new hope for us and our world, in which Eric was a charismatic visionary. We would create a mini-world of love for our fellow man, with peace and goodness and positive thinking. People would stay, eat, have a good time on the lovely uninhabited beaches, swim in the crystal clear water over pristine, healthy reefs.
Frank Kenyon, Ruth’s brother, soon joined us, then married Mary Balzac from Scarsdale, NY, and the Newhope team became three couples.
Needless to say, there was more than a tad of parental concern on both sides of our families, but we, of course, extolled all the things the plan had going for it.
We didn’t mention what it didn’t have. Little things like electricity, running water, wells (just rainwater if it rained), washing machines, police, telephones, refrigeration, automobiles, public transportation, ferries, medical services, supermarkets. We didn’t bother to mention “no banks” because they knew we wouldn’t need one -- at least not for making deposits. We’d never worked so hard in our lives, but we loved it -- and so did our guests. Four and a half years later, it was a financial shambles, and everyone left except Phoebe and me. We didn’t consider, even for a moment, going back, and unknowingly we had done something right that year. Phoebe and I had taken a Crown lease on the largest of the Parrot Cays, to have a place to sleep on our off-duty nights at Newhope. It was now the only place we could afford -- ten pounds sterling a year (28 dollars), to Her Majesty, the Queen of England.. We scraped it up.
We decided to give ourselves a year to think about the next tack. Maybe we should just luff for a while. We had almost no money -- just what little we’d been able to save from working for a few months at the Great Abaco Club. We listened on our battery-powered Pye radio to an evening program from Nassau called “Candlelight and Silver” – we called it, “Kerosene and Stainless.” We had the freedom, but “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,” went an aphorism from Kris Kristofferson’s song, “Me and Bobby MaGee.” Yet, when I came to write about that year, I was compelled to title it “The Wonderful Year.” We loved each other deeply, loved being together and working together. Our resolve to stay in the Bahamas was mutual. We had a cistern to catch rainwater and a hand pump, a hibachi to cook on; we soon set about to build a bathroom, followed by a kitchen, and eventually a little generator for lights and a water pump. We built a 20-foot dock made of spindly forest poles wiggled into the sand. We fished, we conched, we worked on fixing up Parrot Cay, outlining our paths with rocks and hauling sand for them using crocus sacks in a dinghy. When the government built the Marsh Harbour airport in 1958 and the seaplanes were replaced by aircraft with wheels, I started a ferry service. Phoebe started a one-room, one- teacher school in White Sound for its first developer. She taught eight children in eight grades. I became a home-owners’ agent after a few American second-homes were built nearby. In 1961 we created Island Marine and I sold five Evinrude motors that first year. We worked long and hard on Parrot Cay and Island Marine and fortunately for us, Abaco developed into a popular tourist destination, enabling us to build Island Marine into a fine little business.
I have divided the book into “voyages” as in each numbered voyage of a Bahamian mailboat. The captain of the mail has to keep a log of all the freight, the “freight book,” and the happenings of each of his voyages, the “log book.” My new job -- which I love and for which I had to become computer literate -- is to put the story on paper in ways you might enjoy.
So, as the skipper says, “Ready about.”