So we head down to Froggie's Island Adventures in Hope Town, where we remember that all times in the Bahamas are, well, Island Time. In other words, at the stated departure time of 10, there remains a line of parents and kids slathering suntan oil on themselves, checking to make sure they have everything, and negotiating with Froggie who's diving and who's snorkeling.
Ah, yes, Froggie. Real name: Tito. He's a late-30s former Coast Guard rescuer who decided to kick back in the Bahamas for a while, and now he runs this little diving/snorkeling/outing business with a couple of boats, a captain, and his beautiful German girlfriend with the tiny bikini. He seems happy.
The boat pulls out around, well, who cares about the time? Days are forever down here. We make our way through the harbor of Hope Town, admiring the sailboats from as far away as Portland and Seattle, then we grab some ice near the lighthouse and head for open water. Froggie puts on some Sting to take the edge off the engine noise, and we tourists scatter about the boat: older folks in the shade with books, young boys running around, young girls sunning themselves on the upper deck, the scuba guys comparing reef stories from Honduras and Australia.
We stop at Sandy Cay National Park, which looks like regular ocean to us. As we all gear up, Froggie points to a dark area of the water and tells us to swim that way, for that's the reef. He also warns us about dangerous eels by singing this little ditty, to the tune of "That's Amore":
"It lives on the reef and has big sharp teeth; that's a moray. Put your hand in the crack and you won't get it back from the moray."
We jump in the water and immediately enter another world. At first, in 30 feet of clear water, your heart jumps when you look down because you think you're flying and about to fall. The human mind doesn't deal well with empty space beneath it. Nor does it deal well with the five-foot barracuda that comes over to check everybody out. It hovers under the boat and, like 99.99 percent of barracudas, bothers no one.
Over at the reef, it's truly another world. Most people start out looking for the "big-money" fish like the barracuda, a grouper that comes looking for handouts, a sea turtle, or a thoroughly harmless reef shark that cruises by. But what they come back talking about are the tiny fish, purple on their front half and yellow on their back. Or the little black ones which, on closer inspection, have glowing neon specks on them.
Or, typical of humans, they come back talking about the more human experiences, like the snorkelers who wind up in a cloud of scuba bubbles on the surface -- it feels like swimming in champagne and is totally cool -- or how Froggie can free-dive to the bottom, lie on his back, blow an air ring, then swim to the surface through the expanding ring. All the guys want to be Froggie, all the girls just want Froggie.
Back in the boat, everyone assumes their previous positions and we head over to Little Harbour for lunch. Back in 1951, a couple of sculptors named Randolph and Margot Johnson pulled into this harbor in their schooner and commenced to live the ultimate "to hell with the world" life. They lived in a cave with their three kids and made art. Eventually, they built a thatched-roof hut. Then a foundry. Then a gallery. Then Pete's Pub was developed just off the beach. I say "developed" because "built" would be an overstatement; the heart of it is the pilot house and deck house from the original schooner.
Pete's Pub is one of those places that all the cheesy "island bars" in the world are modeled after. But it's the real deal, as is the menu of whatever happened to have been caught that day. We cruised the gallery, toured the foundry, admired a rusty Jaguar that seemed to have sat there for decades, and then heard Froggie say, "Okay, on the way back we can go wading in a few feet of water and look for sand dollars and conchs."
And we all think, Okay, Froggie, we're with you.