Originally created 08/16/98

Bermuda Triangle didn't scare Lincoln adventurers



Weary of hum-drum vacations? Want to do something different, exciting, adventurous?

Why not a trip to the Bahama Islands? What -- you've been there, done that via a cruise ship?

How about via an outboard boat?

It wasn't a spur-of-the-moment deal for a pair of Lincoln Countians who made the seven-hour trip from Jupiter, Fla., to Man of War Cay in the Bahamas this summer.

"We talked for more than a year about doing it," said Toye Hill who, with George Leverett and two teen-agers, found adventure by following a course through the notorious Bermuda Triangle and lived to tell their tale.

"My wife, Sue, did make sure my life insurance was paid up," joked Hill, 52. The Hills own Soap Creek Lodge and Marina and Lincoln County Marine on Strom Thurmond Lake. Leverett, 46, is president of Farmer's State Bank in Lincolnton.

"I had no misgivings at all," said Leverett. "Toye and I have been boaters for most of our lives. In fact, the toughest part of the trip was getting through the (forest fire) smoke in Florida on I-95."

The pair started seriously planning the trip about eight months before their mid-June start. First project was to find a boat suitable for the trip, one not too large, or not too small.

"We looked at boats in Charleston, S.C., and Savannah and went to Tampa for the Georgia (football) game (in the Outback Bowl) last January," Hill said. "That's where we saw `our' boat -- a 24-foot Angler manufactured in Miami, Fla. I added the line to our marine business just to get the boat. We installed a pair of 115-horsepower Johnson outboards -- if one failed, we'd have a backup -- but both worked perfectly going and coming."

The boat has a built-in 125-gallon fuel tank, but just in case, the pair carried 50 extra gallons. The boat's top speed is 42 mph, but Hill said they averaged 28 to 30 mph.

"We burned 105 gallons, so we really didn't need that 50, but we carried 30 extra gallons on the return trip, mainly because gasoline costs $2.90 per gallon in the Bahamas," Hill said. "We carried 10 gallons of fresh water and enough provisions for 11 people over eight days.

"We planned the trip for June because school is out and everyone could go, plus it's considered to be a safe time weatherwise. George's son, Cuylor, 17, and his friend, Jonathan Crook, 17, came aboard with us. Sue, our daughters Tonya and Dana and Dana's boyfriend, Brian, and Tonya's friend, Tara Robinette, George's wife, Kathy, and their 14-year-old daughter, Katy, all boarded a jet and flew over."

A key piece of equipment on the boat was the LMS 350 Lowrance Global Positioning Systems and graph. Hill added a hand-held Sportspack Lowrance GPS and, "as the third backup, a standard compass, but we never used it."

Safety equipment mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard was aboard as well as a VHF radio.

Hill programmed the entire boat trip on the GPS plugged into their tow vehicle's cigarette lighter socket while en route to Jupiter.

"We had 12 different way points -- when we'd reach one, all we had to do is punch a button and go to the next one. You just have to keep the arrow on the line. Our boat also was equipped with an automatic pilot so that we didn't constantly have to stay at the wheel."

The quartet left Lincolnton on June 18 and arrived in Jupiter on June 19. It took a three-hour ride from Florida to reach Mangrove Cay (pronounced key) where they anchored to spend the night. It was a four-hour trip from there to Man of War Cay.

"We didn't wet a hook the entire trip over, but we saw some flying fish. We did some snorkeling and fishing at Man of War Cay and caught some small groupers, a bunch of yellowtails and one big amberjack during our seven days' stay," Hill said.

"The water clarity was unreal. We anchored in 80 feet and by chumming with cigar minnows and some squid, we caught 40 yellowtails in 2 1/2 hours. We had a wahoo weighing at least 50 pounds grab the bait and then spit it out. The fishing was so good that we're talking about returning just to fish."

Hill said the Bahamians at Man of War Cay are "extremely nice and friendly and so were the immigrations and customs officers at Marsh Harbor."

Hill said the trip cost $120 in gas going and $320 coming back. Fishing and customs permits cost $96. The group stayed in a condominium at Schooners Landing with a dock on the bayside to moor their boat. The condo cost $900 for the week.

Coming back, the party ran into some rain, 15-mph winds and a 5-foot chop their boat's modified vee-hull handled easily. The water smoothed once they reached the Gulf Stream.

Because of the Florida forest fire smoke, they couldn't see the hotels along the beach at Jupiter until they got within four or five miles of shore.

"We passed a 45-foot boat, its skipper sound asleep. But his boat was equipped with the auto-pilot system and we just hope he woke up before it hit the beach," Hill said.

The Hills are no strangers to the Bahamas, having visited Scotland Cay as guests of Doug Smoker, owner of the SmokerCraft pontoon boat line.

"He used to own Scotland Cay, but now owns only 15 lots," Hill said. "He'd invite the top three dealers and their wives. We've been his No. 1 dealers in the Southeast for the past four years. Sue went with me last year on a private jet to the key."