I was 20 years old and had never really been away from Illinois, had never seen the ocean! Was that to change. For some reason I can't explain, I suddenly decided to take a trip somewhere that I would consider exotic. This of course started a love affair with traveling and the ocean. I read an ad in a magazine about Mike's Windjammer Cruises in the Bahamas, his address - Miami, Florida. Spend the holidays in warm, sunny islands of the Caribbean the ad said!

Chuck in the Bahamas on a Wind Jammer Cruise ~ 1961I t is hard to believe that in 2006 my sister found this photo 45 years after I took this trip!  She called me up and said she had been unloading boxes of things she has been keeping for over 50 years or so and scanning photos and throwing out things no one would want or even know about any more.  I told her I remembered very clearly I was excited about my first trip in 1961and went to a camera stop in Rockford Illinois where she lived and I was working.  So I found a camera I liked and bought it and took it on my trip to the Caribbean!  I remember about half way through the trip, suddenly the camera wouldn't load the film and the shutter wasn't working correctly.  Well of course I was mad and I think I managed to rewind the film or I took it back to the camera shop.   So I figured there weren't any photos in existence from my first big trip in my life.  

Low and behold, my sister found in the bottom of a box, a negative of me on the Windjammer Cruise!  Not a photo but a negative all by it's self!  Strange!  She said she just put the negative on her scanner and low and behold, presto, a not too bad copy of me at 21, hanging onto the rope of the ship as we sailed from Bimini to the rest of the islands in the Bahamas and almost to Cuba!  Actually that is pretty funny, in 1961 I almost landed in Cuba and in 1963 I was drafted because of Castro and Cuba and ended up as the top sharp shooter (rifleman) of the battalion and a chance to go to Officer's Training to be a Second Lieutenant!  I didn't think so, not with computer training under my belt!

I was very lucky ended up in San Francisco in a plum job at the Presidio managing the swing shift in the computer center under the Golden Gate Bridge for only two years and then off to the corporate world!  

So I decided to go to the Caribbean on a cruise for a month in December. I had never flown on an airplane before and as things happen, it was about the first year that the 707 jets came into service.  Flew Delta to Miami and stayed on the beach front for two days before boarding a small prop sea plane. I flew into Bimini, please see the map and the geographical statistics for the Bahamas, and had a problem landing as the wind from a previous storm had kicked up the waves to about 15 feet high! The plane kept bouncing on the water as the pilot tried to pull up on the run way that came out of the water and onto the land. He said if he couldn't time it right, the plane would be smashed into the ground or else he would just go back to Miami. After a few tries he did make it, an exciting start to our trip!

Once we landed safely on Bimini we met the crew members and the other travelers.  We boarded a launch and went to the ship, a three masted ship (main stay sail vessel) that at one time was the private yacht of the Rockefellers named the Polynesia. The boat held about 45 people and a crew of about 12. It is the world's largest stay's schooner at 151 feet long!

I was in seventh heaven, the water was so clear and warm and I was ready to go for it. The waves were so high we didn't think we were going to get on the ship. Finally made it, then to the main room, dining or whatever. There was a table that swiveled back and forth so it kept level for food. Of course this was great, the ship went one way, the table another. Those of us who were on the ocean for the first time decided the top deck was much better than down here!

Off we sailed to Nassau and the weather became much nicer. I was standing on the bow when I saw wild porpoise for the first time.  Very exciting. Next we saw little objects come flying through the air like rockets and couldn't figure out what was happening. It was flying fish trying to get away from the dolphins. So many new things to see! We arrived in Nassau and rented bikes and traveled all around the island. Then we had a big party on Paradise Island which then had no buildings on it. Only a sandy beach like granulated sugar! Now there are gambling casinos and restaurants and tons of people rushing around. Yuck. Anyway, we all got very drunk and came back to the ship about midnight. Everyone passed out, including me. I wanted to sleep on the deck so I took my pillow and made a nest in the bow of the ship between the two anchor chains under a protected area. Little did we know as we left the harbor we were going to run into a hurricane!

I passed out and about 4:00 A.M. heard some shouting. I tried to lift my head up and then looked at the deck. It was tilted about 90 degrees! The port side was partially under water and everything that was loose on the ship was slipping into the water. The deck chairs, pads, it was scary! The sails were so tight the crew couldn't get them down and they started to rip apart. A crew member was hanging off of the main mast and happened to see me.

"You, get below now before you are swept off the ship!"

Yes sir!

Into the galley I went but that was a mistake, everyone was sick, throwing up and what ever. I was fine until I went below, then I got sick. Both heads had lines of people trying to get in. Of course when I got in I had the dry heaves and nothing happened! The next day it was sunny and clear. The captain, Norwegian, said it was the worst storm he'd been in after 30 years of sailing. The thing that saved us was the fact the engines kept running so he could steer the ship between the coral reefs. He said we were in the Bermuda Triangle, this was before it was fashionable to know about it, and told us that with all of the reefs around, it wasn't mysterious when ships sank. Heave a ship 30 or more feet in the air and dump it on a coral reef and that's all they wrote. We all, including the captain, spent the next day in the lee of an island lying on the deck in the sun eating dry crackers and drinking water.

There were two men from Canada that did under water demolition's and had brought their gear along. I of course wanted to try and off we went diving. After the first dive the guys asked me how long I had been diving. I said, "Never!" They couldn't believe it. I fell in love with scuba diving and the ocean. One day we were near the bottom, about a 100 feet and a shark came by us. We went to the bottom and stood with our backs to each other. The shark, about eight feet long kept an eye on us. Then two barracuda started to swim in a circle around us. One guy had a knife, the other a spear gun. I had nothing. I though maybe I could swim real fast, talk about dumb. The barracuda kept getting closer and closer and the shark kept eyeing us. Suddenly the barracuda went after the shark. The water was so clear you could see at least a 100 yards and when the shark switched his tail once, he and the barracuda were gone! So much for thinking about swimming fast. The guys pointed up to the surface and the launch and up we went. They also told me not to flounder around on the surface but to get in the launch instead of having your feet splashing on the surface. Shark can feel the vibration in the water!

Years later I took a class in using scuba equipment and diving just to be on the safe side. I would advise everyone to do it for safety if nothing else. I found out how little I knew about diving safety.

I fell in love with the tropics, at night we would sit on the stern and one man would play his guitar, another was a man would read poetry he had written while we drank grog. The moon would shine on the water and would sparkle as the it brushed past the ship. We could even see the fish below the surface and it was around 75 degrees.

On New Years Eve we stopped at a small village on an island that only had the mail boat stop once a month. It had a main street, paved, about 20 feet wide and a block long and about 15 houses made of concrete blocks. The villagers decided to have a party in the school house which was made out of wood. They had wash tubs full of an alcohol drink and we danced our toes off! The wood floor was not up to all of that pounding and someone's foot went right through the floor. The natives were up in arms, threatened us and then the captain said if there was any more booze around he was buying. Well the natives were ecstatic. They rushed down to the main building, a British Company Store, and ripped off the front door. Inside were crates of beer and what ever. All was brought out and we danced, (cha cha, maurenqué, mambo) you name it, drank, and had a wonderful time. Every one got so drunk we could hardly walk. The ship had a small room (store) about 5 feet by six feet on the top deck where a woman who said she was French, around 60 years old, accent and all, sold liquor and trinkets. She had bleached blond hair and had a crush on our Norwegian Captain. As we left the village we heard her screaming and found her on the end of the paved road going to the dock. She was so drunk she though she was in Paris and kept shouting that she couldn't get off the street and a car was going to run her over. The captain tried to pick her up but she tried to kiss him so he dumped her right there! We all screamed and carried on and finally got onto the launch. As we left the island, the natives started singing Christmas carols and we sang along. We pulled away and as we went to the ship I thought this sure beats 20 below zero in Chicago! We got back to the ship and the half that decided to stay on board asked if we had a good time. When we told them, they were irritated at themselves for not going with us. I learned one thing right off the bat, if someone asks you to do something that might seem out of the ordinary, Just do it!

I flew back to Chicago and guess what, it was 50 degrees below zero wind chill factor. It got 5 degrees above zero during the day time. As we landed at O'Hare airport the stewardess (as they were called then) said that we should be prepared. We said for what? We all were tan and healthy looking. She said they hadn't gotten the ramps finished to connect to the plane so we would have to deplane by using the out door steps and walking about a hundred steps to the airport. Big deal, a hundred steps, she opened the door and we about had a heart attack. You can write off that Midwest weather as far as I am concerned. I can now go to Squaw Valley for the day skiing and back to the City for a night on the town! This was my first big trip and I had such a good time meeting new people and having new experiences that I was hooked as far as traveling was concerned. Now on to bigger and better trips.


Return to the World Travels of Charles Walter Buntjer

  Charles Walter Buntjer

San Francisco California
Created on: 1961.12.30   

Updated on: 2015.03.25