“No Bad Juju Allowed” by Sheree Nielsen
This story appears in the anthology “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Travel.”
It was late August 1995 and our 65-foot sailboat—the Morning Star of Blackbeard’s Cruises—was departing the balmy island of Bimini after a much-needed night of socializing at the Compleat Angler in Alice Town. It had been a rough trip, only two good days of diving out of six, because of the weather. Studying the flooded main street, a group of us decided to wade calf-deep to check local stores for rain gear in preparation for our journey home, which would be cut short by the rising storm front. Once secured with our protective garb, we garnered one final look at Bimini, sighed and waved our last goodbye.
Despite all the unpredictable weather, I don’t believe either Gilligan or Skipper experienced as much fun as we did. We were a motley crew, 23 scuba divers and six crewmembers in all. Eleven of us hailed from St. Louis, with the remainder coming from Los Angeles, Philly, Chicago and Arkansas.
The Morning Star set sail early Thursday afternoon for Miami. The crew hoped an early jump on things would enable us to bypass the tropical storm that was headed in our direction. They were dead wrong. Gale winds and 25-foot wind swells pummeled the sailboat, as we huddled body-to-body on deck in our rain jackets and shorts. The wind was biting cold and our jackets were rendered useless from the forces of the unforgiving sea. Our legs suffered the worst exposure, becoming red and goose-bumped. We had two choices, neither of which was particularly fantastic—stay on deck and wait out the storm, or retreat to the comfort of the galley below and suffer the consequences of seasickness.
Yessiree, we were smack dab in the middle of Tropical Storm Jerry.
After four hours on deck in the torrential rain and constant boat rocking, I heard the first mate, say to the captain, “We just went an hour and a half in the wrong direction!”
If that wasn’t bad enough, the fuel pump went out. After we digested this information, frustration set in. I was weary and chilled to the bone. My throat was aching from the group sing-along of show tunes and TV jingles in an effort to stay positive and to divert attention away from the gale winds and bitterly cold, salty sea air. Shortly after we began singing the Gilligan’s Island theme song, though, the crew became extremely agitated. They said it was bad juju to sing that song.
When we asked what that phrase meant, they assured us that if we had to ask we didn’t need to be singing that song. Just shy of sunset, I was the first to retreat to the galley in an attempt to warm my bones. It was pointless to return to my bunk as I’d been informed the port side of the bow had major leaks. Once inside the galley, our cook greeted me. She opened my right hand and dropped wrapped treats in my palm.
“Suck peppermints . . . it will keep you from getting sick.”
I quickly devoured six or seven. My tummy filled with the cool mint menthol that satisfied my soul.
Then the ship hit an incredibly large wind swell, which caused the stove to break loose from the wall in the galley. Out the window went our chance for a Bahamian dinner of lobster caught during a previous day of diving. Sipping my Constant Comment tea from a quaint ceramic mug, and munching saltines and scones while seated on the wooden bench at the galley table, my eyes widened as I watched the 30-cup coffee maker take flight across the room, wreaking havoc to anything in its path. I thanked the Lord that it had been empty.
Next, a tray of heavy silverware that included sharp steak knives plummeted airborne above my head, as gracefully as the Flying Wallendas. Hmmm, this is interesting, I thought, casually sipping my tea and nibbling my scones, unfazed by the silverware circus.
One by one, my fellow shipmates retreated to the galley, unable to endure the whipping icy air. Soon all of us had gathered at the community table. We chatted, visited, shared stories and maintained positive spirits, while our crew dealt with the concerns at hand. We dined on saltines, cookies, instant mashed potatoes, cream cheese and microwaved SpaghettiOs.
If we craved peanut butter, we need not ask for it if the ship was rocking. The 5-pound plastic tub was “back at ya” as it slid from one end of the table to the other as if it were possessed. We laughed and cajoled, except for the mates who were reduced to drinking Sanka. Cranky, they desired fresh coffee. We laughed even more.
My fellow shipmates and I began to feel lightheaded and nauseated once the fumes of the fuel pump filtered into the galley. The crew hurried to fix this problem. Probably not our brightest decision, but certainly the easiest—we all chose to take a nap. Many of us with wet sleeping quarters were offered a bunk-share with others who were willing to give up a portion of their personal space.
Hearing voices on deck, I arose from my short slumber and climbed the galley steps to survey the weather. Reaching the Port of Miami around 3 a.m., the vivid blue violet skyline blended with the tangerine hues of the early morning. The city lights of the high-rises glistened ever bright and crisp. What a glorious time to reach land! In the face of adversity, hope had remained true.
I cherish the friends I made, marvel at how many lives were saved, and well remember our laughter—and especially the teamwork of my fellow sailors in this piece of nautical history termed Tropical Storm Jerry.
Sheree K. Nielsen is an award-winning author, poet and photographer. Publications include AAA Southern Traveler, AAA Midwest Traveler, Carolina Go, Missouri Life, countless anthologies, newspapers and websites across the nation and Caribbean. Her most recent book—Folly Beach Dances, a “healing” coffee table book inspired by the rhythm of the sea and the changing tides—won the 2015 da Vinci Eye Award and is also an art category finalist for the Eric Hoffer Foundation. The book’s website is www.beachdances.com.
Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012, Sheree donates 10-percent of all book sales to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. When not writing, Sheree can be found discovering new beaches, riding around town with her goofy dogs or sipping non-fat cappuccinos. She blogs at www.shereenielsen.wordpress.com and Tweets @ShereeKNielsen and @follybeachdance.
Again, this story appears in “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Travel.” The book features 58 travel stories from around the world. Purchase this book today from your favorite retailer, Amazon (http://amzn.to/108SSFD) or Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/1tAGDZF).
To submit your stories for consideration in future NYMB titles, go to http://www.PublishingSyndicate.com and click on the “Not Your Mother’s Book” tab.