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A windy week on Harbour Island aboard the 85-foot motoryacht Princess Marcie proves a charter that goes nowhere can be downright wonderful
By Kim Kavin
I’m sitting beneath a white canvas umbrella on the pink porch of The Harbour House. The noontime sun has beaten the breeze into submission. Through the haze, Eleuthera Island looks so close that I think I might actually be able to swim it. Or at least walk across the street and sink my toes into the sand for a closer look. Or perhaps pick up my cell phone and describe the Harbour Island scene to the folks back home (I hear it’s snowing there, poor saps). Then again, just thinking about it all requires a level of exertion that makes no sense in this place. I order a Sprite and settle even deeper into my chair.
Golf carts whir by, the favored mode of transportation here on a paved stretch that, in more bustling cities, might be known as “The Strip.” Some carts are red, some are blue, most are white—though here goes a dark-skinned woman with pancake makeup and gold hoop earrings, steering from atop custom safari-print upholstery. The local beauty shop owner? I suppose the time will come when Dunmore Town kids strap bass boosters to the back seats and rumble down the road blaring Bahamian rap, but for now, drivers utter a simple “Hey Mon” with a wide smile, dramatically less excitement than an actual wave hello. It seems so much unnecessary effort to have a whole car.
An American family with telltale tourist sunburn climbs the restaurant steps and chooses one of the dozen empty tables near me on the porch. The five of us become what I suppose is the lunch rush. Which is to say, no rush at all. Which is, by the way, the waitress’s attitude toward bringing my Sprite. She’s disappeared on what has become an odyssey in search of a few cubes of ice.
I really don’t mind; if I wanted to be coddled and pampered to perfection, I’d be back at The Harbour Island Club & Marina, sitting aboard my chartered motoryacht, the 85-foot Azimut Princess Marcie. We’re stuck here in our slip for the entire week. The winds are kicking up nasty swells that make it too dangerous to follow our itinerary through the Devil's Backbone reef and out to the glorious water-sports heaven known as the Exumas. We’d even thought about a stop at the Atlantis Resort & Casino on Nassau for a little blackjack and a suicide dive down the waterslide, but now, after a few days of lolling about the boat’s Jacuzzi and wandering amid the fuchsia bougainvillea ashore, the idea seems preposterous.
When, I wonder, have I ever felt so much like a happily melting pat of butter?
“If you’re going to get weathered in on a Bahamian island, this is the one you want,” Capt. Dave Laird had told me a few days ago. “This is one of the only places in the Bahamas where there’s stuff to do ashore. There are even good restaurants.”
He mentioned Ma Ruby, who’s been running the restaurant at Tingum Village for 40 years (Jimmy Buffett says she makes one of the best cheeseburgers in paradise). But my minimalist approach to today’s lunch—the Sprite has finally arrived—is in deference to this evening’s reservation at The Rock House, where rooms run from $275 to $655 per night (talk about civilization) and where I just may order both the grilled yellowfin tuna with sesame cucumber salad and the cider pork tenderloin with goat cheese mashed potatoes. Having scouted out the menu in advance, I’m taking a break and trying to make room. That’s the sort of thing you have to do after being weathered in for a few days aboard a yacht with a good chef.
Greg Parise isn’t one of those Paris-born fluffernutters who makes food you can’t pronounce and plops goop all around it on the plate; he’s a self-taught cook from Queens, New York, who makes simply presented, simply delicious meals. His mother is from Provence, and his father is a pastry chef of Italian heritage. His first real job was at a Hungarian butcher shop at 79th and Second in Manhattan.
“My grandmother had an extensive cookbook, a family cookbook from the South of France,” he explains. “And my father taught me the pastries and quiches, and then I dated a Spanish woman who was a vegetarian, so I learned that.”
All I can think about as I sit here in the warm afternoon air is what Parise calls Uncle Charlie’s Cheesecake. I know my current lack of activity means last night’s dessert is concentrating itself in my rump, but I also know there are a few slices left on the boat. I briefly consider skipping the last few sips of my Sprite and making my way back.
The walk would do me good.
Really, it would.
I twirl the ice in my glass and watch the ladies minding their crafts at the huts along the road, near where the ferry comes in from Nassau. Even they are like mush in their chairs, wearing their woven wares to shield their eyes from the sun. I think I will buy a few of their polished shells to bring back to the boat as gifts for stewardess Soni Ricci, who will no doubt amaze me with a theme they inspire.
Ricci is known in the charter industry as “The Theme Queen” because she spends every afternoon decorating the stunning high-gloss interior aboard Princess Marcie in a different style. She has amassed knickknacks for two-dozen themes, from “Tropical Day” to “Safari” to “Out on the Farm,” and when guests return to the boat after a day of playing on the Jet Skis and in the brand-new 28-foot Predator powerboat, they feel like they’ve entered an entirely different environment. I know I did every time I went back to the boat this week, no small feat when it hasn’t moved an inch from the dock.
Children, in particular, love the themes. “One night on charter in New England, we were all dressed up and doing Pirate Night for our guests, who had a few kids,” recalls mate/engineer Raul Valdivia. “We were stem to stern at the marina with another boat, and it had four or five kids on it, and they were all on the aft deck gripping the rail and looking over here. The next day, the owner of the other boat came over and told us that his son had run in screaming, ‘There are pirates on that boat! Real pirates!’ (Our guests) invited them over and we painted their faces, like the kids on our charter. It was just great.”
Sounds like a lot of fun to me. In fact, I think Ricci mentioned that tonight might be Pirate Night on the boat. I really should head back to the marina. The sun has passed the midpoint in its arc across the sky, and there are only a few hours till I’ll have to shower up for dinner.
I finish the last sip of my Sprite and stand for what feels like the first time in days. I stretch. And smile.
Maybe I can work in a half-hour for a nap.