Catching a Wave
Saturday, August 07, 2004 7:08:00 PM
by Niki Collins-Queen
|Nature lover quit job, joined sailboat crews to see seas.
Article in the Macon Telegraph, Georgia Living
Sailing to Bahamas included sea kayaking
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face and a gray dawn breaking.
John Masefield, Sea Fever
By Lance Wallace
Monday, Feb. 15, 1993—The Macon Telegraph, Georgia Living
Niki Collins responded to the call of the sea last year by quitting her job and setting out on a five-month Caribbean voyage worthy of being chronicled by Ernest Hemingway or at least Jimmy Buffett.
A self-proclaimed "sailboat gypsy," Collins became crew and enjoyed an adventurous, extended vacation.
The 41-year-old licensed professional counselor began her love affair with sailing in 1977 when she went on her first excursion. Since then she has tried to take a sailing trip every year. Last year she wanted to spend an extended time in the wilderness. She wanted to sail but didn't know anyone in Macon who had a boat. "I put a rinky-dink ad in Cruising World magazine and titled my ad 'Enthusiastic,' " said Collins. "I received more than 70 calls from people all over the world offering to take me aboard their boat as crew. "
She narrowed it down to Eddie Housman, who was going from Key Biscayne, Fla., to Nassau, Bahamas, on his 42-foot sailboat called "Lana-Sea." In January of 1991 she quit her job of 13 years with Central Georgia Comprehensive Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, rented out her Lake.Wildwood home, and left for the Bahamas.
Collins and Housman had to wait in Key Biscayne until the weather was just right. In January, sail boats headed to the Bahamas have to wait on winds from the south/southwest. Departure also had to be planned around cold fronts because of the strong winds from the north and storms. But the waiting was not a problem for CoIlins because of the interesting people and the laid back lifestyle.
"You meet all kinds of people with incredible stories to tell," said Collins, who has more than her share of tales to tell. "I love to meet people, so I would go around and meet people on other boats. There were people who were independently wealthy and those who were independently poor. "
After a cold front passed, they got the winds they were waiting for and sailed to Bimini. They had a short stay in Bimini before crossing to the Berry Islands. Then they went south to Nassau.
"Eddie was a real introvert, "said Collins. "He liked to sail and spend the rest of the time in the engine room, so he wasn't much company.
I looked for either another boat or more crew. " "Lana-Sea" had engine problems, and Collins decided she wanted to see the Exumas, a double chain of 365 islands south of Nassau that stretch for about 120 miles. It took her about a month in Nassau to find a boat and skipper going to the Exumas.
Her new partner was Joe Waters, a sea kayaker with 24-foot sailboat called "Y- Knot." Waters was writing an article for Sea Kayaking magazine and had planned to do some sea kayaking. Similar to river kayaking, sea kayaking involves negotiating surf instead of rapids, and the boats are longer and thinner than river kayaks.
Having sea kayaked in Costa Rica in 1991, Collins was eager for the
opportunity to do it again, so she signed on with Waters as his crew.
"His boat was really funny," she said. "He had two sea kayaks mounted on the sides of his small boat, and he was towing a little dinghy with a motor. One skipper said, 'What, you can't make up your mind?' "
It took Collins and Waters six weeks to go through the Exumas. They would sail from island to island, anchor and sea kayak around the island exploring inlets and coves. From Wax Cay in the north to Little Bell Island in the south is the Exuma Land and Sea Park, an area protected from fishing.
She and Waters snorkeled in those waters, which she described as the clearest she had ever seen. "There was beautiful coral," she said. "The water was so clear you could actually see the coral reefs from above. I'm not a fisher person, so I enjoy' the scenery. It can be breathtaking."
There was a group of people making the migration south for the winter, Collins said. They were like a floating village. All of the children on the boats knew each other and played together.
There were nightly potluck dinners on shore where the skippers and their families socialized. Collins said the food wasn't bad either. But even when it was just her and Waters they ate very well. "Joe was a marvelous fisher-man," said Collins. "He was also a marvelous cook. We had fresh grouper, lobster and conch. He was the skipper and cook. I was the dishwasher."
When they got to Georgetown on Great Exuma, the southern-most is-land of the Exuma chain, Collins had to find another, sturdier boat to make the trip back to Florida. She got the word out that she was looking for passage back by having an announcement read on the daily VHF radio broadcasts. She received several offers to go south, including one to Venezuela. "It was a difficult decision, but I had to get back," she said. A skipper named Ike Milner offered Collins the ride she needed.
He had a 42-footsailboat, definitely bigger and stronger than Water’s small boat. Collins was lucky again because Milner was also an excellent cook. He had the added bonus of being a musician who could play guitar and keyboard while belting out the blues. "Most people think sailing is going to be grueling," said Collins. "I didn't have to stay up all night or have to fight with bad weather. Very rarely did I feel queasy. I mostly stayed up on top and had sandwiches to keep my stomach settled. "
On the trip back to Florida, Milner and Collins did encounter some rough water and a storm that produced waterspouts. It was touch and go when one shot up to the left of the boat, and moments later another one appeared to the right. But she made it back safely with a tan, more sailing experience and a new attitude.
"My trip has changed my life," she said. "I'm just not ready to get
back into a 40-hour-a-week job. I'm working at the clinic part-time as a consultant, and I'm trying to start a private practice." She plans to continue sailing and living out her dreams. "Sailing's in my blood," she said, "I'm a canoer and, to me, a sailboat is just a bigger canoe that you don't have to work as hard paddling. Being on a boat surrounded by beauty is such a simple life."
Niki Collins did a good bit of sea kayaking during her five-month trip to the Bahamas via various sailboats; Photos show Collins hopping from island to island in the Exumas, sea kayaking by day and camping at night; playing with sailboat owner Ike Milner's cat, Smudge, on her return trip. Collins will show scenes from her journey in a slide show on sea kayaking at the Central Georgia River Runners meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Museum of Arts &Sciences.