Cruisin’ Skipper’s Dream
Ó 2003 Scott D. Zachary
Once upon a time, there was a lonely man, a lonely woman, and a boat in disrepair. The lonely woman had given up hope. The lonely man hoped fruitlessly. The boat was hopeless. Then the lonely woman and the hopeless boat kindled a sparkle in the eye of the lonely man. What a trio—the threesome interlaced high seas adventure with the romance of the century.
On the 27th of February, 2002, I, Scott Zachary (the lonely man), didn’t have a clue that I was going to buy a boat, nor did I have an inkling that I would abruptly change my steadfast bachelorship. That morning, Bobbie Hess (the lonely woman), unknowingly launched our fairytale romance when she telephoned my computer consulting service, seeking assistance with a computer software bug. After solving Bobbie’s computer problem, we casually discussed several topics including the fact that she loved to read. An aspiring novelist, I shared with her the story line of my current manuscript titled Scorn THIS. Bobbie said she had always had a desire to write but didn’t know where to begin. I suggested she start by becoming my part-time writing assistant over the phone on evenings and weekends. She accepted and I emailed her a copy of my unfinished 120-page novel.
The weekend after Bobbie and I had begun writing together, my best friend, Bill Kesl, took me fishing in a 16-foot aluminum boat out in the Florida Keys. I couldn’t imagine anyone more perfect to play the part of the old man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea than Bill. Our trip, along with Bill’s love of the sea, stirred my life-long wanderlust—this time toward the ocean. Thirty-six hours and dozens of miles out into the endless shark channels of the Keys, we lost our bearings—definitely not a good place to get lost. In our quest to find a way back, I struggled to pull the boat across a shallow shark-infested reef. I never saw anyone laugh as hard as Bill did as I tugged on the anchor chain. I was not amused. Had you been there, fins slicing the surface all around me, you would have never guessed that we are best friends.
The following week as Bill and I were driving along Route 1, Bill asked me to stop and look at a boat for sale. I immediately said, "That’s not my style," but as we walked back to the truck, we spotted another boat for sale that was my style. We headed across the parking lot and walked behind the boat’s transom. I glanced at the name and saw Skipper’s Dream (the name of the boat in my book). I couldn’t believe it. I looked again and it really read Cruisin’.
I knew little about boats except that they should ideally float. Bill, a prior charter boat captain, asked the boat’s owner several questions. I liked the answers. Bill climbed aboard and while he was checking out the boat, I bought it. I asked Bill how long he thought it would take us to restore my boat to like brand-new condition. He was stunned. He informed me the 24-foot, 1973 Stamas Sports Cruiser appeared to be basically sound but needed a major overhaul.
While Bill and I were working nights reconditioning the boat, Bobbie and I were spending dozens of hours in the evenings working on my manuscript by phone. Bobbie and I shared hundreds of life experiences, she in Kentucky and I in Florida. We laughed together, we prayed together, and we cried together. I fell completely in love with Bobbie’s beautiful spirit and mesmerizing voice. Enthralled, I asked her to go to the Bahamas in two weeks with Bill and me in my newly acquired boat. A couple of days later, I asked Bobbie to marry me. I was nuts about her! The next evening she said, "Yes." I said, "Really?" She said, "Yes. Yes. Yes." Bobbie reminded me that we had never laid eyes on each other. I responded, "You could be the green monster and that would be perfectly fine with me." She assured me she wasn’t green.
I decided to rename the boat Skipper’s Dream, but I was told it was bad luck to change a boat’s name. A good friend, Ed Matlack, suggested I combine the names into Cruisin’ Skipper’s Dream. Done deal. After working furiously for a week, Bill and I needed help to have the Dream ready in another seven days. We dry-docked her at Nelson’s Marina in Titusville, Florida and had up to eight people working night and day to ready the Dream. Restoration complete, I christened her Cruisin’ Skipper’s Dream with a bottle of Corona.
On April 3rd, I picked up Bobbie and her 16-year-old son, Jonathon, at the Orlando Airport. My future bride knew only that I would be wearing a shirt with swordfish on it, but glancing around, she noticed that nearly everyone in Florida had some sort of fish on their shirts. I was looking for a lady carrying a bouquet of daisies. I didn’t see the daisies, nor did Bobbie see my swordfish. Bobbie’s blue eyes and my brown eyes locked. We saw each other for the first time, and we knew we were meant to be. Wow! Later that evening, boat in tow, we set out for West Palm Beach—Bill, the captain; Jackie, my favorite bartender from the Landings Bar; me, the navigator; and Bobbie and Jonathon, my new family.
Thursday dawned a beautiful morning in West Palm Beach as we powered up the Dream’s 350 cubic inch engine. The sky was gas-flame blue. Our spirits high, we set out for the Bahamas. Three- to five-foot seas provided a rolling, pleasureful, scenic trip to the West End of Grand Bahama Island. Along the way, we saw porpoises playing, flying fish skimming over the water, huge sea turtles basking in the sun, and occasional shark fins slicing the surface. We delighted in seeing these amazing creatures out in the deep blue.
As Skipper’s Dream eased to a stop in front of the Port Authority in Old Bahama Bay, I performed a three-quarter back-smacker into the water. Everyone else jumped off onto the dock, except Bill, who exclaimed, "If you’re going fishing with me, you better get back on the boat!"
I was torn—my bride was going one way, my boat was going another. What to do? My better senses prevailed. Watching Bill leave, we decided we should first check in with Customs. The customs officials gave us forms to fill out and asked us where our boat was. We told them that Bill, the captain of our boat, went fishing. They commanded, "Sit down! You’re detained!" We had suddenly become illegal aliens. Hours of interrogation and me moaning about bread and water, convinced the customs guys to let us go eat at the marina restaurant. After all, where were we going to go?
Bill returned after five hours of fishing, and thank goodness he had filled the fish well with kingfish. That helped to convince the officials that he was not a drug runner. I wanted Bill to experience our inconvenience, so I tried my best to bribe the officials into locking him up for one night. Bill frantically said, "This isn’t funny, Scott." I said, "Sure it is! It’ll be hilarious if they put you in jail for one night." The senior customs official warned, "It really isn’t funny. We can confiscate your boat." I told him that we had a great time restoring it, and they could keep it as long as they put Bill away for a night—we could just call it even. Bill was not amused, but I was! Despite my efforts, Bill went free, and they released all of us to continue our adventure.
Bill secured the boat alongside the dock while Jackie and Jonathon went exploring. Bobbie and I strolled around the marina, admiring the polished chrome and posh interiors of the million-dollar sailing yachts and cruisers. Our admiration turned toward the beautiful hotel condominiums overlooking the marina. We decided to rent a room for two nights rather than spending our wedding night aboard the Dream with three other people. The view from our balcony was magnificent—we’ll never forget the surrealism of the quilted tourmaline blue and green water of Old Bahama Bay.
Friday morning, Bobbie and I set out to make our wedding arrangements. Although Jonathon and Jackie were well aware of the fact that we were planning to get married while in the Bahamas, Bill—still my best friend—didn’t have a clue. I wanted to tell him in my own way at my own time.
The ladies at the Port Authority, Sharon and Naomi, informed us that we should go to the Registrar General’s Office in Freeport to obtain a marriage license. We hopped the next bus into Freeport. The bus driver, J.D., escorted us to the Registrar’s Office where we found out that we needed divorce documents with raised seals rather than just copies. They would accept a facsimile directly from our respective counties in Arkansas and Idaho; however, in that case, the Registrar General would have to marry us.
Arkansas readily agreed to fax my divorce decree; Idaho refused. The clerk said it would take several days to obtain approval. Bobbie was in tears. I explained that we had just spent our life savings for this trip and appealed to the clerk, "Look straight up and ask the Big Boss and see what He says." She put me on hold for about two minutes and then came back with, "Okay." I was incredulous. I asked, "Did you say Okay?" She said, "Okay."
J.D. guided us to Columbian Emeralds International to purchase our wedding rings. The sales girl, Thelma Douglas, was as excited as we were about our imminent marriage. Bobbie chose a solitaire marquis diamond set in a two-tone gold ring. My ring is set with three baguette sapphires highlighted by six channel-set diamonds.
Heading back to the Registrar’s Office, Bobbie grabbed a floor-length beach dress adorned with palm trees and lighthouses as her wedding dress. I grabbed a case of champagne for the evening’s celebration. Alonzo Lopez married us in a delightful garden, decorated with colorful crotons, outside the Registrar’s Office. I had pictured a government wedding as cut and dried, but the ceremony was truly emotional. Tears of joy streamed from our eyes as Bobbie and I repeated the vows. We became one. Alonzo, Dorcus, Anne, and Ruth were thrilled for us, which enhanced the moment’s magic.
As we arrived back at the marina, Bill came bouncing down the dock and announced, "I’m going fishing! Want to go?" Oh, no! I knew when Bill goes fishing, you never know when to expect him back. I had to finally let him in on our romantic adventure. I put my arm around Bobbie’s shoulder and said to Bill, "You’re my best friend, so I think it’s only right that you should be my best man when Bobbie and I get married again as soon as the minister arrives." Bill never, ever drinks, but my statement made his head swim as though he was stoned out of his mind. He wasn’t even aware that he mumbled, "Well . . . sure . . . I guess."
Reverend Woodside blessed our rings in a touching ceremony on our balcony overlooking Old Bahama Bay. Bill served as best man, Jackie was the maid of honor, and Jonathon gave his mother’s hand in marriage. Bobbie and I celebrated our wedding night at a political rally at Eight Mile Rock, which seemed more like a reggae concert to me. She and I strolled three miles in the moonlight back to the hotel. We had successfully fought the urge to prematurely consummate our marriage. And so we reveled in our love all night long.
We had planned to return to West Palm Beach Sunday morning; however, the winds had picked up considerably on Saturday, generating horrendous seas in the Gulf Stream. Bill debated with the seasoned mariners throughout the marina about when we should return. It wasn’t going to be Sunday. The Tropical Prediction Center had forecasted 22-foot seas. Monday wasn’t any better. Monday night, Bill learned that we had a four-hour window the next morning that was predicted to be six- to eight-foot seas. I was leery. We booked a flight for Jonathon and Bobbie out of Freeport to West Palm Beach. Bill, Jackie, and I decided to go for it. We lightened our load to streamline the Skipper’s Dream and left port at 8:30 Tuesday morning.
Bobbie and Jonathon’s eyes met in doubt several times as they gazed down upon the frothing ocean through the portal of their 20-passenger plane. Meanwhile, Jackie, Bill, and I were having the adventure of our lives. Six-foot seas increased to fifteen as we crossed the midpoint of the Gulf Stream. We debated turning back, but weather fronts on three sides forced us to continue west toward clear skies.
When I wasn’t calculating a new heading for Bill, I was capturing on film the waves that had escalated to as high as 28 feet (according to Coast Guard records for that morning). We had to wait until we topped each perilous wave to look for land. Ascending one of the mountainous waves, Bill looked over at me with a puzzled expression and off-handedly asked, "I wonder why it’s so much rougher on this side of the Gulf Stream than on the other side?" I thoughtfully looked up from my navigational calculations and matter-of-factly replied, "Seems pretty simple to me, Bill. The waves are bigger over here." He rolled his eyes in disgust as he returned his attention to the tumultuous sea.
We began to crest one of the largest waves and all I could see through the windshield was sky. I wondered how Jackie was faring where she sat on the cooler in front of the engine. I looked back—which was really down—because we were about 20 degrees off of vertical, and pointed off the back of the boat, hollering, "Look down! Hah!" She saw the twenty feet of water between the Dream’s transom and the wave’s trough. Her eyes seemed to grow as big as softballs. If you’ve ever seen the movie Perfect Storm, this was it. Had our fish well been full of catch as it was in the movie, I wouldn’t be writing this—my new wife would be a widow. Each time the Dream thunderously slammed the water, Bill and I high-fived, cheering, "Hoe-Dee-Doe!" knowing that we had cheated death one more time.
Our heading nailed the Golden Isles Inlet, West Palm Beach; however, as we approached, the wind and waves threw us off course by approximately a hundred yards. We were forced to briefly turn broadside against the towering waves. I don’t understand what kept the Dream from rolling all the way over. Cruisin’ Skipper’s Dream came through like a champ.
Bobbie and Jonathon arrived safely at West Palm Beach Airport and waited. An hour and a half elapsed—still no sign of us.
Bill steered us through the choppy seas alongside a concrete pier where I swan-dived onto it, skinning both knees as I scrambled to the top. We expeditiously loaded the Skipper’s Dream, and in our haste to get to the airport, forgot to lower the 18-foot fishing outriggers, which knocked out power and telephone service along with several stoplights.
Bobbie, more and more anxious as each moment passed, stood with Jonathon in front of the airport, hoping and praying. The six weeks since I had asked her to work on my novel with me had unlocked a treasure trove of feelings. She winced as she said to Jonathon, "I wonder how much longer we need to wait before we should notify someone." She no more than said that when my red and white pickup truck towing the Skipper’s Dream cruised to a stop in the middle of six lanes of traffic. We ran into each other’s outstretched arms, full of hope for the future.
Bobbie and I are currently enjoying our lives in Kentucky, writing and boating aboard Cruisin’ Skipper’s Dream on Kentucky Lake.