I gazed through the reverse-rake windshield at what looked like a large ship’s wake, but there was not a vessel in sight. I had stepped inside for a moment to confirm our location on the chartplotter, and to be certain that I was not seeing the wake of a 20-knot freighter.
It was indeed a steep, jagged, watery wall. We were about to enter the Gulf Stream.
Along with some other guests, I stood on the flybridge as the high bow of the American Tug rose and then dropped into the great ocean river. Immediately, the wave action picked up, with confused 4- to 6-footers pushing the stout vessel around for a bit. Then, she settled into a steady 9-knot groove, her Cummins purring along below our Sperrys. Most guests made their way to the salon and lower helm, but I lingered, mesmerized by the deep purple color of the water and the composure of the trawler.
I thought about how this trip back to the United States couldn’t have been more different from my voyage to Bimini just a few days earlier, blasting off past the 115-year-old Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse in a 39-foot center console with 900 horsepower. Our helmsman had us checking in with the Bahamian customs folks in less than 90 minutes, clothes drying on our backs and color returning to our knuckles from the adrenalin-fueled trip across.
The exhilaration of my first sortie to the “Fishing Capital of the Bahamas” is memorable for a few reasons, but I can’t recall what I saw during our 40-plus-knot ride besides the other go-fast boats participating in the power run, the expertise of the captain working the throttles when our props cleared the steep seas, and the little rock that is Bimini suddenly rising from the water. I do remember having a Kalik in my hands in less than two hours.
I can tell you with certainty that at those speeds, we would’ve never witnessed the magic moment that took place aboard the American Tug after we crested the Gulf Stream’s western wall and pointed the bow toward Fort Lauderdale. At once, the ocean became like a shimmering sheet, and everyone was just about hanging over the high bowrail, pointing to the water and nearly dropping their cameras (this was before the days of good smartphone cameras). We had come upon a bait ball that well exceeded our 13-foot beam, and we watched as sleek, darting gamefish worked the edges. Even the captain came up for a spell, looked on and snapped some photos.
The trip back to the States was much longer than the rocket ride across. At one point, the captain dropped the hammer, and the tug pushed through the seas at 17 or so knots so I could grab a taxi (this was also pre-Uber) to the airport. I bought an actual newspaper to read on the way home, and I came across a feature about a woman being celebtated for the fastest through-hike on the 2,190-mile-plus Appalachian Trail.
I thought of the American Tug, and decided an award should also go to the person who spent the most time on the trail. Surely, he or she had a great deal more memories to take away from the trip.
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue.