Adrift in Open Sea (This is not a Metaphor)



Great stories happen to those who tell them… Ira Glass

I’m looking back to the time I was drunk and living in Staniel Cay in The Bahamas. Something possessed me to take our perpetually malfunctioning jet ski for a daytrip to Sandy Cay, alone. Sandy Cay is a picturesque sliver of coral and scrub, smack in the middle of open water; it shape-shifts at low tide, when sand dollars and angel wings are exposed along an endless crescent of sand bar. Hence the name.


In an uncharacteristic nod to safety, I wore a life vest and called my boat captain to let him know I was going to putt along the lee side of Staniel and across the bay to Sandy Cay. It is impossible to keep the water out of every crevice on a jet ski and we’d ruined so many cell phones, I decided to leave mine at home, packing only bottled water and wine in the storage compartment under the seat.


This was an unsophisticated plan. It was nine o’clock in the morning, I was already drinking, dressed in two fragments of spandex, with no food, sunblock or means of communication, and headed to a deserted island on a temperamental, rusted relic that belied the name “jet” ski.


My arrival at Sandy Cay was without incident. I battened my machine and went for a walk, drinking most of the red wine out of a liter, water bottle I had filled at my house. The morning was clear and warm and the kind of all encompassing, topaz-blue you only find in the Exumas. There’s a disorienting, blurry meld of sky to water, and such vast nothingness you can actually see the arc of the earth. It makes you sleepy. I circled the perimeter of the island, and suddenly I was drunk-in-the-sun, drowsy; I lay on the seat of my ride, with the life vest as a pillow, and took a nap.


To ride a jet ski in rough water is like asking to be water boarded. I always put on #30 sun block, but I forgot to factor the salt spray wash-off. And as I lay under a cloudless sky, the white sand and water reflection were like mirrors to kindling. I fell asleep to a cool, luxurious breeze, but woke with the sneaking suspicion I was getting sunburned. I dragged the jet ski into the shallows, stepped on the running board, pushed the start button and revved the engine with the hand crank. As I cleared the shelter of the island and headed across a choppy bay to Staniel, the engine sputtered, spit, backfired and quit.


This was not something I had considered.


I drifted away from the island and towards open sea. I think the next landfall is Cuba. Or England. It occurred to me that even though I had let my captain know where I was going, no one would miss me until much later in the day when my pilot Joel  arrived, and by then I’d look like a firefight victim or be lunch for some rogue bull shark. I was just beginning to panic, thinking that in order to get to the drinking water I’d have to stand up and move to one side of the jet ski and would surely teeter and  fall into the ocean. I didn’t have the upper body strength to hoist myself back up from deep water. I envisioned a dehydrated (and oh so sorry me), clinging to the fragile gunnels of the smallest vessel in the Caribbean, whimpering, “WHY?”


I kept pushing the start button like I was calling a slow elevator. Grind, grind, grind. Drift, drift, drift. Shit, shit, shit… and the motor coughed, backfired and started. By the time I pulled up to the Staniel Cay Creek, I was on fire and vowing (in my head) to never venture anywhere, ever again without an escort. I went up to the house, took a cold shower and slathered that cream that is touted as better than Botox (but isn’t) on my entire body.


I picked up Joel from the airstrip looking like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard or a vampire; someone who with a ray of sunlight would turn to cracked, clattering pottery and blow away. Every inch of my skin was covered and I was shaded with a huge straw sun hat, black sunglasses and flowing gauze.


When he saw me all Joel said was, “What’s with the get up?”


I said, “Don’t ask.”




Today I’m not drinking because I’m not pressing my luck ANY MORE.

How come you’re not drinking?