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Tom Germond
Here’s to the crew of the Distant Fire
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I have several questions for my longtime friend, ample-bodied seaman Keith R.

Along with Captain Dave, Captain Bob, myself and Keith, better known as “Bear,” I sailed from Cape Canaveral to Green Turtle Cay in 1993.

Sorry, I’ve already spun a half-true yarn. We used diesel power during most of the ocean voyage to the island; there was rarely enough wind to blow a seagull feather off the boat’s bow.

Bear has returned to Green Turtle Cay for a month stay with some friends, renting a house on the island, which is in the Abacos.

In the words of a great song writer, he’s “Incommunicado.” Couldn’t reach him by cell phone.

But his voicemail said he might be able to communicate via email, if he gets around to checking his messages.

I emailed Bear several questions:

“So what’s the news from Green Turtle?

Is Miss Emily Blue Bee’s Bar still around?

Do they remember you there?

Do you spend your day listening to Buffett music?

Might have to return there, some day.

I’ll be sure to bring some steaks.

Stay afloat.”

Bear sent an email blast to friends and fellow ancient mariners, such as myself, saying Green Turtle Cay has seen some changes since his last visit about 20 years ago.

The good news is Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar, probably as much revered in the Abacos as the Biltmore is in Belleair, is still going strong.

In the 1960s, Miss Emily invented a coconut concoction called the Goombay Smash, which also includes dark rum, apricot brandy, pineapple juice and orange juice.

Even the most seasoned pirate wannabes know that if you drink more than two Goombay Smashes on a single visit to Miss Emily’s, you will quickly fall from grace with the sea.

You could even become a victim of “Captain’s Dilemma,” a series of missteps that can lead to an unintentional fall into the ocean.

On my last visit to Green Turtle aboard the 36-foot sailboat Distant Fire, Captain Dave regaled the crew with an anecdote about his most embarrassing moment at sea.

After dining and imbibing, I assume, at the Bluff House, Dave, sporting his dress whites, prepared to board his dinghy to return to the Distant Fire. His mistake, as best as I understood, was that he gingerly put one foot on the side of the dinghy while keeping the other foot on the dock, as the inflatable craft slowly inched away from the dock.

During a moment of suspended animation, Dave was faced with the dilemma: Do I push my foot away from the dinghy or the other foot away from the dock? But by then, momentum took charge and Dave fell into the water.

Prime entertainment for the natives, I’m sure.

Sad to say, I set the record for facing the most Captain’s Dilemmas on a single trip – at least three, though Bear would say that’s an underestimate.

He’s also continuously reminding me that I forgot to bring the steaks on our 1993 trip and that I never found my sea legs.

Fortunately for me, as Bear said, there were plenty of lines and other nautical devices on Distant Fire I could grab onto, minimizing the amount of times the crew called out my nickname: “Somebody throw him a rope.”

Wasn’t much of a sailor, either. When I took the steering wheel in an attempt to learn, in Captain Dave’s words, I kept doing “penalty turns.”

But I learned quickly how to relax on the sailboat while at anchor at Green Turtle Cay and how to sleep on a sailbag, not an easy feat while hearing island roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing and dogs barking all night. Hooks in the bags that leave indentations on your buttocks hindered the process, too.

Green Turtle Cay is about three miles long and a half-mile wide, population 450 or so. Among other changes, Bear wrote, is that Miss Emily’s now serves food.

“Some new restaurants and some old that have closed. Laura’s Kitchen is gone as is the Red Rooster,” Bear wrote.

Front page news, I thought, or at least worth a mention in the Coconut Telegraph.

“Gas is $6 a gallon.”

Oh-oh. How much is beer?

“Manjack now has two houses on the island. We tried to go to Guana but the passage was too rough for my passengers,” he wrote. “We went outside GTC on the ocean side and we’re going to snorkel the reef up from Pelican Cay. However, the numerous black fin sharks changed our minds.”

Good move. They probably swim faster than ample-bodied seamen.

Miles of desolate beaches, turquoise seas and rustic waterfront haunts – Green Turtle Cay is perfect for those enchanted by 5-o-clock-somewhere ambiance.

“Wish we could all be here together,” Bear wrote.

Right you are, Bear.

Not sure it would be the same, though, without the crew of the Distant Fire to retell those sea stories, revisit Miss Emily’s and to share some great conch fritters.

And, most importantly, to throw me a rope.

Tom Germond is the executive editor of Tampa Bay Newspapers. Email tgermond@TBNweekly.com.
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