The sky of early morning was pale lemon yellow, and the Gulf Stream lay flat. Already the buildings of Miami Beach had dropped below the rim of the horizon. Our wake etched a long path astern, almost like the vapor trail of a jet, as flying fish skittered nervously from under the bow.
Perched on the bridge of the Envoy, I felt a slight sensation of unreality. We had cast off from the Palm Bay Club after a swim, had breakfasted on leaving Biscayne Bay, and now Bimini was a low smudge to starboard. A few minutes more and we had come onto the Great Bahama Bank. Once again I was awed by the wonder and beauty of it: a sand plateau of thousands of square miles covered by crystal water, color dictated by the depth and character of the bottom. Involuntarily I pulled back the throttles as North Rock came abeam. After the purple abyss of the Gulf Stream, there didn't seem enough water to float a dinghy, but then reason told me there was at least a fathom under the keel, so off we went again planing over a pastel carpet of greens and blues.
"Come for a long weekend and I'll show you a new dimension in cruising," Dick Bertram had said. "You can't believe what you can do in three or four days with a fast boat, without a sense of hurry. And I promise you'll be comfortable."
Already it seemed an understatement. We had loafed across the Gulf Stream in slightly over two hours, the twin V-12 turbocharged series-71 General Motors diesels muted into the background. Our cruising speed was better than 20 knots, yet the 63-foot fiber-glass hull was capable of 25.5 knots, just under 30 land miles. Withal, Envoy provided the amenities of a home afloat—nay, of a luxury penthouse: reverse air conditioning, piped stereo music, valance lights on dimmer switches, an oversized bed in the master stateroom, even a sauna bath. The all-electric galley included a dishwasher, a walk-in larder, a reserve deepfreeze, a washer-dryer for ship's laundry and a dinette seating four. There was a salon for formal entertaining, and a large afterdeck for casual loafing, served by its own bar and ice-cube maker. The lower steering station was snug behind a wraparound safety-glass windshield, while the flying bridge duplicated controls and formed a fair-weather solarium.
February 15, 1971
But without the ability to go to sea all this would have added up to nothing to impress a sailor. Two weeks before, I had been aboard on a test run when small-craft warnings had been flying for three days. A strong norther blowing against the current of the Gulf Stream was stirring up a witch's caldron. The morning radio forecast predicted seas of eight to 12 feet, bigger than the average yachtsman might encounter in a lifetime. Not another boat was in sight. Sullen graybeards awaited as we cleared the breakwater, but Dick Bertram did not slow below cruising speed. Envoy lifted to the first wave, porpoised into the next and kept going, taking aboard nothing more solid than spray.
My thoughts went back 10 years. Then, in almost identical conditions, the 31-foot Moppie had roared out of Government Cut to set a new record for the Miami-Nassau course, which I reported in SI (April 25, 1960). A whole new concept was that day introduced to the world of powerboating. Ray Hunt's deep-V hull design, incorporating longitudinal strakes to promote planing and act as spray deflectors, had proved that speed could be combined with offshore ability. Moppie could be driven hard into steep head seas, rolled very little in the trough and could track straight before following crests, a situation in which traditional underbodies would go dangerously out of control. Every successful ocean-racing powerboat since has been a modification of the same basic form.
Yet Moppie was more than a competitive breakthrough. As Dick Bertram puts it, "After that race, the phone calls, wires and letters started coming. A lot of people wanted boats like Moppie, so we turned her into a plug, cast a mold off her and started making copies in fiber glass." As the famed Bertram 31, the basic design has been further tested in waters from Tahiti to the Aegean, serving well as sports fisherman, commuter, tender, patrol boat and just plain family cruiser. The 1,000th identical twin of the prototype hull on which I rode as navigator a decade ago will be launched in April, a unique record in an industry where recently changes have come fast.
Envoy is the culmination of Dick Bertram's goal of incorporating the same characteristics in a larger package. If a new ingredient has been added, it is comfort. Size at sea does not necessarily make for more safety, but it does provide easier riding in normal conditions. Now we sped smoothly over whitecaps kicked up by a freshening breeze, while ahead a cluster of humps appeared on the horizon. Before 3 o'clock Great Stirrup Cay was abeam, a long low islet of gray limestone and sparse vegetation, saved from being drab by palms waving above crescents of dazzling sand that were lapped by multihued waves. As always, the beauty of the Bahamas stems from the surrounding sea.
Within another few minutes we were over the side and in that water—as clear as the clearest pool, or a mountain stream, or gin in a tumbler—looking through masks at tropic fish iridescent against a backdrop of bizarre coral forms. Envoy lay snugly anchored. We had covered the 120 miles from Miami in six hours. Before me a small grouper appeared from behind a rock. I tried to spear him but missed, and Dick missed, too. We swam on, not really caring, rounding a point where the bottom dropped away and depths became shadowy, but saw no big fish until we were almost back to Envoy. Then a grand-daddy grouper poked his nose out of a cave. We missed again. This time we cared, but the grouper thumbed his fins at us and vanished into a labyrinth of narrow passages.
Back aboard Envoy there awaited compensations. As the sun went down a full moon lifted. For a time we were wordless as both sky and sea ran the gamut of color. Ashore the lighthouse winked on, the revolving beam filtered by palm fronds, and tropic night sounds began. It was Great Stirrup Cay as I have known it since first stealing in aboard the venerable Temptress as an escapee from higher education—a dropout, in modern parlance—answering an advertisement for hands to man a ketch West Indies bound. Great Stirrup is part of the Bahamas that remains almost as it was before Columbus made his first landfall farther down the archipelago.
Not so Great Harbour Cay, the next major outcropping to the south. (There are roughly 30 largish cays in the Berry Islands, plus lesser ones almost beyond count.) Our day began with a plunge, then a shift of anchorage to a spot Dick had been told teemed with crawfish. We swam over a bottom scoured clean by seas in bad weather, until we came to a trench—actually a fissure in the limestone a foot or so wide and several feet deep—that was a living can of sardines. Margates, grunts, snappers, porgies and other small reef denizens were packed so tightly we could not see if crawfish lurked beneath.
About 9:30 we took off for Great Harbour Cay. The way lay over the Bank. Great Harbour's Tamboo Marina was still so new we did not know what we would find. We discovered buoys, and they led us to an impressive alteration of nature. A canal had been hewn through solid rock into an interior lake. As Envoy approached, a bridge swung open and we glided into a harbor that could double as a hurricane hole. Eighty-five concrete slips capable of accommodating yachts of up to 130 feet awaited, complete to electrical connections and fresh water. At the end of the dock stood a commissary stocked with necessities and amenities from Chicago steaks to Chanel perfume, from fishing gear to vintage wines. Across the way a complex of town houses was nearing completion, each with mooring space for a fishing boat, while on the hill behind the marina appeared the beginnings of a Mediterranean village.
We were still trying to catch our breath when we learned that the island already boasts a fine 7,010-yard par-72 golf course, one Jack Nicklaus claims to favor. The guest villas of Great Harbour Club are scattered along the fairways. From the hilltop terrace of the clubhouse we could look across vistas of green grass to the open Atlantic on one side, the pale water of the Bank on the other.
"There is probably $20 million invested on this cay as of now," commented our guide, Barry van Gerbig, president of Tamboo Marina. Barry was formerly the owner of the Oakland Seals, but felt the urge to get away from winter ice. "In addition to what you have seen," he said, "there are 45 miles of roads, a power plant capable of supplying a small town, an airstrip being lengthened to take jets and a deep-well water system—this is one island where there is no shortage of water, which explains the quality of the golf course."
Tamboo Marina and the Great Harbour Club represent another facet of leisure living open to the peripatetic yachtsman. In the Bahamas—like many other parts of the world—facilities undreamed of before World War II are mushrooming everywhere. Thus it is possible to combine the simple with the sophisticated: to picnic on a deserted beach or dine by candlelight, to alternate golf clubs and tennis rackets with the spinning reel and the spear gun, to savor solitude or seek the company of kindred spirits.
So from Great Harbour Cay Envoy took us to Little Harbour Cay, not far in distance but a long way in ambience. Piloting by the hue of the water, Dick anchored near a native settlement. We went ashore to find conch shells in mounds, in hillocks, in pyramids. Bahamians not only prize the mollusk as a staple of their diet but credit it with unsurpassed amatory qualities. "Eat plenty conch, cap'n, have plenty chiluns," an Andros islander had told me many years before. But instead of the metropolis such piles of shells might indicate, only a few cottages drowsed under the palms. We walked paths bordered by sisal and sea grape, but the sole evidence of activity was a fisherman working over a battered outboard.
Even this was urban in comparison to Alder Cay anchorage, another mile to the south. There Envoy stole into a teacup rimmed by sand, water wholly sheltered except to the east, where surf dashed against a barrier of exposed rock and sunken coral. Dick's son Colin and Artist Ted Lodigensky, ardent anglers both, lost no time in getting lines over the stern and before dinner had caught breakfast. By moonlight, the contrast in water colors was more apparent than at noon. A sandspit gleamed like a silver bar. Small lapping wavelets vanished into thin air as they washed across it. Thanks to Envoy, I was renewing my old love affair with the Bahamas. It would be difficult to find a vessel more different from those in which I first explored the archipelago in the '30s, but Dick had been right in saying that a fast boat like Envoy opened a new dimension in cruising.
When we got under way the following morning a fresh southeasterly breeze was blowing. Long seas met us as Envoy plowed into the ocean. At first they were ahead, but then progressively came abeam as the chain of Berry Islands swung westward. Finally the crests were almost directly astern. Envoy surfed down their faces with no desire to deviate from a straight course. The tendency to broach—where the bow buries and the stern is slewed by the following wave—is a common failure of power craft. In a mild form it can mean grinding the wheel hard over to steer, in extreme cases a boat can be capsized and overwhelmed. But Envoy ran almost hands-off.
The qualities of Envoy result from combining the talents of three men whose lives have been bound up in boats and the sea. The hull form originated and was refined in the office of C. Raymond Hunt and Associates of Boston. Ray Hunt has not only fathered a wide range of unconventional, yet successful, vessels but is a renowned racing helmsman. Richard H. Bertram is equally versatile in sail and power. From being in charge of the foredeck of Vim in her 1958 bid to defend the America's Cup, he moved into the cockpit of ocean racers like Finisterre and Ondine and, between stints under canvas, won the World's Offshore Power Boat Racing Championship. The third member of the team contributes a varied background in engineering and construction. William E. Peterson was commissioned as a Navy lieutenant, junior grade, the day after Pearl Harbor, and rose to be 7th Amphibious Force maintenance and supply officer. For having 1,166 ships of a total of 1,166 ready and on line for the invasion of Leyte Gulf, he was awarded the Legion of Merit by both the Navy and Army. Afterward, he became manager and then president of the Camden Shipbuilding Company. Retiring at the age of 57, Pete Peterson began a new career stemming from an admiration of Japanese art and culture. He found himself technical adviser of a yacht yard in Yokosuka. His proudest accolade has been the gift of a hard hat from his employees inscribed, YANKEE, GO HOME—BUT STAY 1000 YEARS FIRST.
Envoy's hull is of fiber glass molded in one piece, bottle smooth, yet her interior is warm through lavish use of a special grade of Burma teak called Hamawood. The sauna bath is lined with Hinoki, a pale Oriental cedar, having the texture of silk. Concealed lighting, gold bathroom fixtures, comfortable chairs, quilted bunk covers, heavy Lu-cite doors on shower stalls, all contribute an air of opulence—as well may be, because Envoy's price through Bertram International as equipped and decorated is $286,000. Yet the visible luxury is the velvet glove concealing an iron fist. A fine yacht is like a fine gun; it is the hidden quality that counts—and costs. Stainless-steel tie rods bond deck structures to the hull, while extensive longitudinal and transverse framing behind the paneling combines strength with light weight. Engine bearers run the full length of the bottom. Either of two 12-kilo-watt generators provides ample electric power, insurance against failure, and all wiring is color-coded with numbered circuits and metered for load, voltage and cycles. The lower control station includes a safety center, with colored lights indicating the condition of various systems. If anything goes amiss, bells will ring, although an incipient fire would be taken care of by an automatic CO[Sub 2] system. The generator room is separate from the engine compartment, and both areas embody the latest in sound and temperature insulation engineering. Throughout are such minor but contributing refinements as tinted tempered glass in windows, courtesy lights around the deck for easy boarding at night, aromatic cedar used in drawers and closets and a central vacuum-cleaner system, while rudders and stocks are one-piece bronze castings for maximum strength.
"Our deep-V hull is different because the sections have constant dead rise, meaning they have the same angle to the keel throughout; conventional planing hulls are V'ed only forward, becoming flat aft," explained Bertram as we neared Chub Cay. "Offshore racing has proven that this form is more easily driven once up on the plane, resulting in more speed for the same weight and power. It is drier, too. The smaller V strakes molded into the bottom throw spray out flat to the sides. Yet if forced to slow down, these hulls do well. A 75-footer of the same design on her way from England to the Mediterranean was caught by a whole gale in the Bay of Biscay, a notoriously dangerous place. She rode it out at displacement speeds of five to nine knots, and her crew claimed her motion was easier than a heavy trawler type."
As we turned in at Chub Cay a chance encounter testified to the validity of a Bertram dictum: "When other boats run for cover, these still run with comfort." While we took on fuel, the dockmaster pointed to a cabin cruiser of Envoy's size moored in a slip across the harbor. He told us that she had gone out in the morning, planning to make the run across the Bank to Cat Cay, but had soon come back to shelter "because she was dipping so much water." By contrast, we had been sunbathing.
The Crown Colony Club on Chub Cay was formed to take advantage of the big-game fishing in the Tongue of the Ocean, the aptly named chasm that thrusts far into the Great Bahama Bank. From surrounding depths of only a few feet, precipitous rock walls plunge down more than a mile, forming an enormous basin undisturbed by marine traffic. At the time of our visit the marina was un-crowded, but each year a fishing tournament draws a huge fleet.
Despite the pleas of Colin, who was sure a monster awaited his rod, Envoy sped on across the Tongue of the Ocean. The sun set as Northwest Light came abeam, and the water smoothed. While potatoes baked in the oven, Dick set up a portable grill on the afterdeck, and soon steaks were sizzling. Almost before we realized it the harbor at Cat Cay opened over the bow. Cat Cay was the first of the luxury Bahamian island clubs, frequented by the Duke of Windsor and other luminaries of the international prewar propeller set, jets not having been invented, and it was in the Gulf Stream between Cat Cay and neighboring Bimini that modern techniques and equipment for big-game fishing were developed.
For several years Cat Cay had been virtually abandoned, but we came alongside new docks and found everything ashore refurbished. Nowhere in the Bahamas is the vegetation more lush and tropical, or the color of the fringing water more variegated. After breakfast I walked paths peopled by memories, then we dropped the lines and let Envoy drift outside the breakwater while we had a final swim. Ci rus was sliding in to veil the sun, and we found the squalls of a developing norther beginning to churn the Gulf Stream. Yet Envoy was back in her slip in the Palm Bay Club on schedule, in ample time for my plane to New York. Astern lay some 315 nautical miles covered between Thursday morning and Sunday noon. We had thrown a loop around the Berry Islands. Many unrecorded stops were made to try our luck with hook or spear, or just admire the scenery above or below the surface. Despite our speed under way, there had been no sense of hurry—if anything, the contrary, because we never felt pressed to get on. For those who have the price but not much time, a boat like Envoy opens a new dimension not only in cruising but in leisure living.
GREAT STIRRUP LIGHT
GREAT STIRRUP CAY
GREAT HARBOUR CAY-TAMBOO MARINA
LITTLE HARBOUR CAY
ALDER HARBOUR CAY
ALDER CAY ANCHORAGE
CROWN COLONY CLUB
GREAT HARBOUR CLUB