After picking up Duke at Antigua, we backtracked up the Lesser Antilles to the US Virgin Islands. Duke managed a particularly bad landing at Charlotte Amelie, and – forgetting Brandon’s warning – smashed his fist against the instrument panel.
That was it for Brandon. He tore a strip of Duke that had our ears ringing long after we’d climbed out of the plane. Wortsie and I decided to give the pair some room to sort out their differences, and went off to look after the inevitable mountain of paperwork required by US Customs & Immigration. When we returned, we were surprised to find a grinning Brandon standing alone.
“Where’s Duke?” we asked.
Brandon’s grin turned into a wide smile as he said, “Duke told me his bad behaviour was caused by a severe head cold – so he decided to take a commercial flight back to Florida and meet us there.”
As we reacted in disbelief, Brandon pointed to a jet taking off behind us and said, “Oh look! There he goes now.”
The three of us waved goodbye, then climbed into the Apache that would be ours for the rest of the day.
Brandon said he’d give Wortsie and me some twin time on the way to Florida. And with all three of us flying, he figured we could make it to Florida by the end of the day.
We packed up the plane, and took off under much roomier circumstances.
Five hours later the Apache had the Caicos Islands on the nose. Brandon had re-fuelled for the long over-water leg in Puerto Rico and had planned to press on to the Bahamas … but when he saw the inviting, turquoise waters below, Mike suddenly got a worried look on his face.
“What’s the matter,” I asked.
Brandon squinted out the windshield and said, “I don’t like the look of that weather.”
Wortsie and I peered off into the distance, but all we could see was clear blue sky.
“What weather?” I asked.
“Good God, child” said Brandon. “Are you blind? Right there …”
Brandon pointed to a single tiny cloud way off in the distance and said, “Looks like that could build into something really nasty.”
I began to question Brandon’s sanity. We could have gone right through the middle of that little fuzzball with little more effect than a bit of dew on the windows. But before I could say anything, Wortsie (who is much smarter than me) suddenly said, “Oh, that weather! You’re right. It does look nasty.”
As we were fairly high, I began to suspect both of them were suffering from oxygen deprivation.
“Maybe we’d better land and let that weather pass,” said Wortsie.
“Good idea. Mind you, we might have to stay for the night,” Brandon replied.
“Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air …” Wortsie began.
“…Than in the air wishing you were on the ground,” Brandon completed. Then he turned to me and said, “Any suggestions as to where we might land, Pre-Pubic?”
It was then and (sadly) only then that I finally got it.
“South Caicos?” I answered.
“Give the kid a Kewpie Doll,” said Brandon as he and Wortsie began to laugh.
Brandon got on the radio, canceled our flight plan with a friendly Air Traffic Controller on nearby Grand Turk Island, then stuffed the nose down and headed for South Caicos.
(South Caicos International Airport Terminal)
An hour later we were sipping cocktails on the patio of a gorgeous little Guest House overlooking a strait between two islands. The place was a page right out of a Hemmingway novel. There were an amazingly eclectic assortment of guests, including a Countess who wanted to “get away from it all,” and a Gentleman Adventurer recovering from a recent trip across Africa.
As we sat, listening to their fascinating life stories, I became aware of Brandon’s increasing interest in a couple of little sailboats tied up at the dock.
“You rent those?” Brandon asked.
“We certainly do,” said the Proprietor. “You know how to sail?”
“Oh, hell yeah,” Brandon answered – which surprised me as he’d never mentioned an interest in sailing before.
The three of us were lead down to the little Sunfish, given life jackets, then pretty much left to ourselves. So, as I struggled into the vest, I was shocked to hear Brandon ask if either one of us knew how to work the thing.
When we shook our heads, Brandon just shrugged and said, “How hard can it be?”
As it turned out, just getting into the Sunfish was a major achievement. We almost capsized the craft at the dock … but after learning to distribute our weight a bit more evenly, we untied the boat and headed off across the strait.
Things went okay to begin with, but once we were away from the shelter of the shore, the wind picked up and we were shocked to discover how fast the little sailboat could travel. Brandon was hauling on the sail for all he was worth, but the Sunfish was still leaning at a disturbing angle.
“I don’t suppose you know how to turn?” asked Wortsie.
“No. Why?” replied Brandon.
Wortsie pointed to the far island, which we were now approaching at a fairly rapid speed.
As we were obviously on a collision course, Brandon looked around for something to move and discovered the tiller.
“Ah, this should do it,” he said as he pushed hard and waited for the boat to come around.
A moment of two later, the boat did indeed come around – all the way around – throwing all three of us into the water, and capsizing in the process.
As soon as we surfaced, we all started laughing like maniacs. Brandon was already clinging to the side of the overturned hull and Wortsie was swimming up behind me. Once we finally managed to stop laughing, Brandon said we’d better try to get the thing upright. But no matter how hard we pulled, the sailboat wouldn’t move.
“The mast must be stuck in the bottom,” said Mike. “Swim down and pull it free Pre-Pubic.”
“Me? Why do I have to do it?”
“Well, you keep insisting you’re such a great skin diver. Now’s your chance to prove it.”
Damn. Caught out again. And while it was true that I owned several years’ worth of Skin Diver magazines, along with my very own mask, snorkel and flippers, I had neglected to mention that all of my “skin diving” had been done in a swimming pool.
Nevertheless … the water was clear, and the bottom couldn’t be more than 10 to 12 feet down, so I got ready to dive.
While I was filling my lungs with air, a strange thing happened … the sound of a man screaming was carried to us on the wind. And when we turned back to look at the dock, we saw the Proprietor frantically waving his arms and yelling at us.
Brandon just laughed and said, “He looks pissed” before telling me I’d gulped more than enough air and it was time to get on my way.
I nodded, took a final deep breath, then pulled myself down the mast to the sandy bottom. Even without a mask, I could see that the mast had indeed buried itself in the sand. So I put my feet on the sand, braced, then pulled hard on the steel pole.
The mast came out easily, but when I let go, it jumped right back into the sand.
“Huh?” thought I, as I swam back to the surface for air.
I expected Brandon to ride me for not freeing the vessel, but he and Wortsie had their attention firmly focused on the activity back at the dock.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Looks like they’re sending out a rescue boat,” Brandon answered before adding, “So you’d better work faster.”
I nodded, filled my lungs and dove again … but when I hauled on the mast, it did the same thing again.
“Won’t come out,” I said as I re-surfaced. “The damn thing keeps jumping back in the hole.”
I had to yell this over the bellow of the rescue boat racing towards us – and it was just about then that Wortsie said, “Perhaps if we held on to the other side of the boat.”
When we realized Brandon and Wortsie’s combined weight was responsible for the constant re-burying of the mast, all three of us dissolved into another round of uncontrolled laughter … though it was hard to hear with all the screaming from the approaching boat.
As the craft drew nearer, a powerful-looking Islander dove off the prow and swam quickly to our side.
“Get in the boat. Now,” he yelled with surprisingly wide eyes.
We were surprised at what a big deal they were making over this incident. Surely this sort of thing must happen all the time. And for the life of us, we couldn’t understand why another man in the rescue boat was smacking the water with an oar.
Still – we did as we were asked and swam to the rescue launch while the Caribbean sailor flipped the Sunfish right side up in a matter of seconds.
The Proprietor helped – or more accurately, hauled – us into the boat and it was only once we were safe on board that he said, “Are you crazy? Don’t you know it’s feeding time?”
“Um … feeding time for what?” I asked.
The proprietor simply pointed to the water, and I must admit it’s strange we hadn’t noticed the fins before.
Turns out the Sharks come into the strait for feeding just about this time every day.
That’s why the men were screaming at us to get out of the water.
As for all that oar-smacking – turns out they were beating off the sharks as we swam for the boat.
Imagine that …
The following morning, we saddled up the Apache, chased the cow off the runway one last time, then said farewell to South Caicos. Six and a half hours later we were back in the Bahamas
(Brandon & Wortsie in the Bahamas)
Then it was time for the final flight back to Florida.
“You might as well fly, Pre-Pubic,” said Brandon.
“Really?” I answered – trying not to show my excitement.
“Hell, yeah,” said Brandon. “If we go missing in ‘The Devil’s Triangle’ I don’t want to be blamed for it.”
I could have done without that last thought.
It was while flying the Apache through the aforementioned “Triangle of Doom” that I asked Mike why he had told me to climb so high.
“So we can stay in the air a bit longer if we have engine problems,” replied Brandon.
“A bit longer?” I said. “What are you talking about? We have two engines.”
“Hell, Pre-Pubic,” said Brandon, “a 150 hp Apache can’t stay in the air with one engine. I thought you knew that.”
Actually I didn’t. And I have to say that I still believe Brandon could have found a better place to give me that somewhat important piece of information than smack-bang in the middle of “The Devil’s Triangle.”
I remember clutching the control column with a white-knuckled, death grip until we were well over dry land.
Our landing at Fort Lauderdale proved to be interesting.
As Brandon showed me how to shut down the Apache, we spotted Duke running out from the terminal.
“Thank God you’re safe,” said Duke as we opened the door.
“Um … why wouldn’t we be?” asked Brandon.
“You don’t know?” said Duke …
Interesting story …
Turns out the nice Air Traffic Controller at Grand Turk had neglected to pass on our canceled flight plan. So right about the time our fuel would – theoretically – have given out, our flight was officially listed as “Overdue.” Poor Duke was waiting for us at the airport, so he was right in the thick of things when our “overdue” status was upgraded to “Missing.” He told us we even made the late news. “Three Canadians missing in The Devil’s Triangle,” went the lead story.
So I can honestly say, “I went missing in The Devil’s Triangle – and Lived!”
Watch for Episode 11 of Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear “Iced Up & Lost Over Tennessee”
on Sunday, June 6th, 2010.
Abridged excerpt from Glenn Norman’s book, “Living On Stolen Time”.
Due for release in the fall of 2010.