This is an excerpt from chapter 12 of my book, “What Time Is the Midnight Buffet?” Here we visit Coco Cay, the private island in the Bahamas owned by Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruises. Kris makes a last minute decision to accompany me on a waverunner (jet ski) excursion, and the rest is history…
Near the lunch area, I spotted the waverunner hut. In anticipation of my 3:00 reservation for a ride, I dragged Kris along for a look. A large sign out front displayed a long list of prohibitions for participants:
- NO Excessive Speed
- NO Wake Jumping
- NO Wave Jumping
- NO Racing
- Follow the guide
- Maintain 300’ Separation
- Etc., etc…
If the sign had been just a little bigger, they would have had room to sum it all up with a simple “NO FUN”. Maybe this wasn’t a good choice, after all. In bold letters, the sensible zero tolerance policy for riding under the influence caught my eye. I had just been thinking about a pina colada, but now I had reason to dismiss the idea.
Carrying lemonade, we went back to our encampment. It was already 2:00, and there really wasn’t much time before the waverunner session at 3:00. We sat in the sun for a while, and I took one of the rented floating beach mats into the water for ten minutes of pure relaxation. I’m going to buy one of those things some day. Even though I would carry two of them around for the rest of the day, we never got another chance to float around. All the while we sat on the beach, waverunners buzzed annoyingly offshore.
I took a couple of pictures for the record, and it was time to go. “Well, have you decided if you’re coming with me?” I asked Kris.
“Oh…I guess so,” she answered. “It does look like fun.”
We packed everything up and headed to Waverunner headquarters. There were convenient shelves available to hold our stuff, beach mats included. The little straps that give your glasses a chance to survive vigorous activity were available at the check-in desk. For a couple of bucks each (on the room card), we made the investment. After an introductory video in an air-conditioned room, we put on life vests and headed for the Waverunners. Over my vest we added a set of straps that provided cushioned handles for Kris to hang on to.
On the dock, we were introduced to our guides — a young man and a younger woman. The male guide said, “Who wants to go fast?” I raised my hand, as did a couple of others. Kris nudged me, but the cushioned lifejacket reduced the impact.
“We don’t want to go fast,” said Kris. I kept my hand raised. “Put your hand down!” She nudged me again.
Our guide counted off the go-fast wannabes. “One, two,” he said before pointing to us. “Three.” He kept going until he reached the eighth and final participant.
“Listen up!” said the guide. “I will go first, and our other guide will go last. You will launch in your assigned order at her signal. We will maintain 300-foot intervals until I stop. You must follow my exact path because there are coral reefs all around. That’s why you must ride with a guide while you’re here.”
Again I wondered if we were wise to take this excursion. We could be relaxing on the beach with a cold drink, having fun.
The guide continued with his speech. “When I stop, you should gather with me until everybody catches up. After our first stop, we’ll be heading into open ocean. It’s pretty rough out there, so there’s no way to avoid some jumping. We will forgive you.”
Hmmm…this was sounding better.
“We will then go around to the other side of the island and stop for a rest. Ready?”
The group murmured an affirmative, and the guide gave the instruction to start our engines. When all the waverunners were running, he took off and curved toward Galaxy, which was anchored offshore. The follow-up guide pointed to waverunner #1, and blew a whistle. The driver launched smoothly and followed the guide’s wake. The whistle sounded again, and waverunner #2 took off.
Our turn. I gripped the handlebars tightly, and at the signal hit the gas. We were instantly flying, and I tried to get a feel for what the machine could do. Kris immediately transformed into a back seat driver of the worst sort, shouting warnings and pleading for mercy. “Ahhhhh! Take it easy!!”
Ahead, waverunner #2 came to an abrupt halt. I think the girl driving got scared and wanted to let her father take over. I had to make a split-second decision, and scanned the water for obstructions. Seeing none, I swung far to the right and gave the sled some more gas, passing the stopped waverunner in an arc at least 400 feet away.
Kris pulled so hard on the handles attached to my vest that I had to secure myself with the handlebars. From a few inched behind my ear she screamed, “You can’t do this! You aren’t supposed to pass! Slow down! Don’t get so close! Stop! Wait! Oh…myyyy…Gawwwwd!!” I rolled my eyes and steered back on course behind waverunner #1.
The leader stopped at the entrance to the bay, and we slowed to join him. It took some time for the others to catch up. The guide asked if anyone wanted to change positions in the lineup, and I volunteered for the number two spot. Kris groaned, and increased her handhold. The guide warned us that we were about to leave sheltered waters and go out where the waves were dancing around.
“All right, dude,” I thought. On the signal, we went.
I watched the guide when he took off, and his technique seemed to be to hold the throttle wide open and hang on. I decided to give it a try. We hit the first wave and launched into the air. The sled slammed back down with the engine screaming before we got the water equivalent of traction, launching us up the next wave and back into the air. A woman behind me was screaming. Sounded like someone I knew.
We established a regular rhythm: Bang, whoosh, scream (engine) — bang, whoosh, scream (woman), bang… I knew anyone within earshot would be well and truly annoyed, but this was seriously fun. Huge sprays of water hit me in the face, and my mouth was full of salt. My sunglasses remained fixed in their proper spot, but I desperately needed windshield wipers.
I found that I could establish a less jarring rhythm by timing things a little differently. It was possible to get the waverunner skimming over the wave crests for good distances. We kept encroaching on rider #1’s space, and I’d have to back off. When you let off the throttle there is absolutely no steering control, leaving you are at the mercy of other forces. Faster please. It is easier that way.
We rode around the far side of Galaxy. I wanted to look, but thought it better to concentrate on keeping the sled upright. The waves became larger and more closely spaced, changing the whole dynamic of the ride. I don’t think I ever really discovered the secret to handling the beast, but it was fun to try different approaches to the current situation. Kris eventually became silent. Her face seemed to be burrowing into my neck, and her death grip on the handles continued to pull me slightly off balance. We were making progress. Around the far tip of the island, we entered a calm bay and again paused. Just in time for me. I had been holding on so tightly my hands ached and I had lost my finesse on the throttle. White knuckles contrasted sharply with tanned hands.
“How are you doin’ back there?” I asked Kris.
“I’m all right,” she answered. “I think I’m getting used to it.”
“Do you want to drive?”
As the others slowly filed in, the lead guide dove into the water and came up with a huge starfish. We passed it around while we waited. Kris was carrying a waterproof camera, and another driver offered to snap our picture.
“Did you take any pictures while we were moving?” I asked.
It was a rhetorical question, but she answered anyway. “Are you insane?”
When everyone had gathered, we were again offered the chance to swap places in the running order. I was sorely tempted to put us in the lead position behind the guide, but I deferred out of respect for my passenger. We reversed our route, traveling back over the largest waves where we spent more time in the air than in the water. The kids would be proud. I didn’t hear any more human screaming behind me — it was quiet back there. We repeatedly had to slow down to maintain the proper spacing, which became quite an annoyance after a while. The guide did not make an intermediate stop on the return trip, and we soon approached our departure point.
As we motored in to the dock Kris said, “I can’t believe how slow the first waverunner was going. You should have asked to go first.”
I rolled my eyes again.
Back on shore I noted that it was five and a half hours after noon in the next time zone eastward. We had avoided having anything to drink because of the waverunner policy, and shared a strong mutual desire for a pina colada. Floating mats and snorkeling gear safely returned, we set out for the beachfront bar.
Timing is everything, and ours was terrible. The bar had just closed, and the staff was cleaning up. Even though the last ferry didn’t leave for an hour yet, there were very few people left on the island. A man sweeping the floor told us that we might be able to get a beer at the hut near the dock. When we got there the crew was packing up, but they were glad to serve us a round of Beck’s beer, and then another. Kris ran over to the market area where the vendors were also packing up. She got some end-of-the-day bargains on t-shirts. As 5:30 approached, the last ferry pulled up to the dock, and we went to the end of the short waiting line. Our bags were hand searched in case we had met up with smugglers, and we boarded.