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A Trip to Andros Island in the Bahamas
Knowledgeable parents understand the value that a fleeting experience can have on the future of a child. My first travel by airplane inspired a life-long ambition to travel and fly which began with a belated sixteenth birthday trip to Andros Island during the mid sixties.
After serving in the military for over twenty years, the transition to civilian life was a tough one for my father. At forty years old, he was too young to retire and too set in his ways to take an entry level job. He took a few courses at the local junior college and disagreed with the know-it-all professors whose liberal views agitated him. Selling life insurance and collecting premiums on a debit route was not his thing; nor was working as a district manager for the Miami Herald newspaper. No ordinary job could fulfill his love of the ocean or quell his wandering spirit.
When he found the job with AUTEC, Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center for RCA in research, it finally fit the bill with elements of seagoing journeys, far away from the mundane and lots of alone time to read his ever-present paperback novels. Rather than extended duty out to sea, this job took him to a small island in the midst of the Bermuda Triangle where he commanded expeditions on a former torpedo carrier decommissioned from the Navy.
Andros Island, an archipelago or group of islands, is considered the largest island in the Bahamas approximately one hundred eighty five (185 miles, 248 km) east of Miami. To me, it was little more than a dot on a map, covered with thick foliage and nestled in the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
RCA was conducting deep water sonar experiments using old military ships acquired from Navy Surplus. Dad would get a trip home every third weekend, arriving around midnight on Thursday’s Red Eye flight. Our family would pile into the Rambler station wagon heading to Miami International Airport from South Miami where we lived following his retirement. Unlike travel these days, air travel was an event where people drove their family members to the airport, parked the car, walked to the departure lounge and kissed their relatives goodbye at the gate.
Old Torpedo Transport Ship
We would wait for his arrival curbside scanning the crowd for his familiar face as we staked out the baggage claim doors. Once he slid into the driver’s seat he’d take us to his favorite burger joint, Royal Castle, where we’d drink coffee and eat honey buns while he enjoyed a late night meal. Our school night bedtimes were extended for these special arrivals.
Sunday night, we’d return to the airport somber in the gloom as we replayed our airport run, returning Dad to a flight back to the island. Catching sight of his travel bags by the door would send our family dogs into a state of depression lasting for days after his departure.
Dedicated to the One I Love
My First Trip to the Island
The flight attendant went about her flight check preparations before making the passenger announcements from the front of the plane. I hung on her every word, as only a novice flyer would. Unfamiliar with the repetitiveness of the process, I was immediately hooked.
The flight from Miami took us through clear blue sky with clouds so close you could reach out and touch them. Being in the air solidified my plan to become a flight attendant one day. What a job that would be flying among the clouds serving food and beverages to passengers, closing the overhead bins with a graceful dignity and style, smiling for hours on end.
The small, noisy plane made the forty-five minute flight far too fast before descending to the tiny airstrip on Andros Island. We waited inside the stifling plane to gather our personal belongings, then, queued up to exit to the tropical paradise outside. From the port window, I watched the ground crew roll stairs under the cabin door.
Below on the tarmac, wavy lines rose from the asphalt while the sun baked the black surface. Passengers were gathering under the wing of the plane in the only visible patch of shade. Two native men unloaded the luggage onto a rolling trolley from the storage compartments on the plane’s fuselage. While we stood impatiently waiting for our bags we could hear the melodic voices of the men laughing and joking. We had entered native time where everything moved with the sway of palm trees and soft breezes.
I spotted my canvas duffel teetering at the top of the pile packed with everything a teenager would need crammed into the small bag. Glancing around the tiny airport, I grabbed the bag from the trolley and studied the landscape. The place was little more than a landing strip, with a couple of Quonset huts and small structures lined up in a row to one side. The unimpressive hangar housed a couple of old prop planes in deep stages of repair, their derelict fuselages depicting an era of simpler things and times, a step back in history.
I glanced into the distance where a dust cloud rose above the trail leading toward the collection of tin structures and watched a lone car make its way down the road. Dad had written that he found an old rust bucket of a jalopy on the island, and after much bartering and late night automotive work, he had replaced most of the non-operating parts. The air conditioning had not been one of the critical tasks before getting the car on the road. As we drove away from the small airport, beads of sweat formed in the sweltering heat, and trickled down our necks.
My mother, fatigued from the early departure and traveling, retired to the coolness of the small apartment Dad occupied as part of the job package. While she napped, he and I took off in the old jeep and toured the island beginning with a small commercial area where a smattering of businesses operated. Dad arranged for us to go fishing early the next morning so we stopped in at the island’s version of 7-Eleven and got cold drinks and supplies for the expedition.
This would be my first venture aboard a vessel other than our seventeen-foot fiberglass boat used for fishing trips when we lived in Key West. We would be aboard a former Navy torpedo transport ship fishing over one of the deepest parts of the ocean, a mile deep hole in the ocean known to the locals as Deep Moor.
Blue Holes of Andros
We cruised by the dock where I spotted the only young person I’d seen on the island so far. Mesmerized by electric blue eyes that locked onto mine, I begged my Dad to introduce us. The silent exchange and attraction was apparent to Dad who succeeded in keeping me away from Danny who’d suddenly become public enemy number one. Looking back, I realize that Father did know best and he undoubtedly kept me from losing more than just my patience with a disciplinarian parent guarding my virtue. If there was one thing Dad understood implicitly, it would be the base intentions of a young sailor in a remote port. It would take years before I forgave him.
Time Won't Let Me
This visit to the islands was a birthday present which turned lucrative for me as well as an adventure to remember. For reasons my mother never knew, the house would be cleaner upon her return than when she left for a visit to the island. Mom would lavish praise on my older brother for managing the household effectively while I snickered in my purchased silence.
That was the year my brother, a junior in high school, earned a reputation as King of the Keg. His social life blossomed with the parties thrown in the family’s house during our absence. He smartly arranged for his girlfriends to clean with a fury following any parties he hosted at our home. While the cat’s away, the mice will certainly play. It would be one many secrets we would share as children.
Notes and Sources
© 2016 Peg Cole