sets out on the first leg of a "Visionary Cruise"
For years my wife and I, Dr. Tom Vanderpool of Jenks Vision Center in Tulsa, have been talking about going to the Bahamas to provide eye care for island kids who have no access to an eye doctor, eventually going around the world on a “Visionary Trip”, providing vision screening and eye exams to needy children……well this week we started this journey.
On November 6th 2008 we cruised to Bimini aboard our 40ft Endeavour Pilothouse, Cuchipanda, now named SeeDoc. I had already made arrangements for Modern Frames Design to donate fifty frames, as well as fifty pairs of lenses from Transition Optical and, Tom Yancy of I-mage Optical Lab of Tulsa to grind the lenses. Each of these three companies gladly donated all the material and their services for free to make this visionary trip a possibility.
Upon arriving in the crystal clear waters of Bimini we anchored the boat in a beautiful bay right in front of the school. The Bimini All Age School was so excited to provide the kids with vision problems an opportunity for eye care they quickly converted a small room in the back of the school into a make shift vision clinic. It was great to be able to take kids that couldn’t see clearly across a room and watch the smiles on their face grow bigger and bigger as the needed lenses cleared their eyesight. Over the next three days Susan and I screened all 216 kids in the Bimini All Grades School and identified 70 kids that would require complete eye exams. The eye exams were a challenge and slow going in the primitive conditions, but very rewarding for us. After four days of testing we ended up ordering 33 pair of glasses for kids on a small island that has no access to an eye doctor.
Below is a log of our trip. We hope you enjoy it.
The day had finally come. We had packed our bags for a months worth of boating,
mailed Tom’s equipment and a sampling of the frames to the residence where
our boat is docked, bought tickets to Fort Lauderdale and were on our way to Bimini, Bahamas to screen the public school kid’s
vision and to hopefully do something good in these times of so much bad.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale with no trouble, collected our luggage and our friend Tom Schroeder came and picked us at and took us to the boat. We unloaded our bags and set out to get some groceries and to find a Target store so we could buy Max some toys. The days get long for an almost 3 year old on the boat so it is wise to have a few new toys to spring on him as he gets restless, we have learned from experience. The day soon got too long for our little sailor and we had just gotten a few items at the grocery store before we decided to head back to the boat to get Max in bed.
Wednesday – 11/05/08
Thursday – 11/06/08
Sunday – 11/09/08
We arrived in Bimini 5 hours later and I was feeling better. We dropped an anchor and Tom went to get us cleared with Immigration. He returned and we all jumped in the dinghy and went to shore. We went for a walk down main street (there is only one other street, called the High Road, it runs along the ocean/beach side and is …well higher that the other road, which is called.. you got it… the Low road, aka Main street.
Max and Susan in front of the boat at the marina and on The King’s Road
We visited the Straw Market, where ladies sell items
made of … 3 guesses??? … yep, straw! Other than that there are several small
grocery stores and souvenir stores, one bank and several liquor stores and
bars. There is not much to do on the island other than fishing or diving and
the locals do not as a rule think of that as entertainment.
Monday – 11/10/08
We got tied up at our new “home” as Mr. James Pinder came aboard and after visiting for a while, we made arrangement to come to the school the next day at 10:00 am to prepare for the vision screenings and to meet the principle of the school. The hope was that since we were here, the principle might be able to expedite getting us permission to do the vision exams with the Minister of Health, which we had not been able to get concluded before we left Tulsa. They do work on a different schedule here in the Islands than what we are used to ;-)
We meet Mr. Rolle, the principle and he was as excited to get the screening going as we were, so he got on the phone right away and got to work finalizing permissions from the Minister of Health. We all decided that starting the Screening part of the project probably wouldn’t hurt anything, without the official word from the Minister, so we arranged to be back at 1:00 pm that afternoon to set up shop.
We went back to the boat and grabbed some lunch and promptly returned to the school at 1:00 pm. We set up “shop” in a room behind the computer lab, measured out 20 feet and taped the eye charts to the wall. We were ready for tomorrow, 9:00 am.
Max crashed for a long nap and Tom and I rested and read our books. When Max woke up we decided to head for the beach. The weather has been great except for the high winds. We walked a block to the beach and Max built rock castles. For dinner we had steak and lobster, it was great. Susan said it was the best feast she has had on the trip.
Tuesday – 11/11/08
Tom doing an eye exam while another student gives her name before her exam
Max had been a good boy. He had played with his trains and said hello to all of the kids as they came in to the room and soon Max was a famous little guy. As we left the school, all of the kids wanted to see Max and touch him, but he did not like that too much. I guess if 50 kids surround you and all try to touch you and you are the littlest guy there, it would be intimidating to you too. So I whisked Max out of there and he was soon his happy self again. We returned to the boat feeling whipped. 90 screenings in one and one half hours is a lot of screenings, but we felt good about our day’s work.
Wednesday – 11/12/08
The public school of Bimini is a very old school, the
coach went to school there as did his mother and grandmother. We
learned that the 4-6th grades were at another campus due to a fire in the
building where they were housed. Next door to the school used to be housing
for the police department, but December last year, when a police officer
shot a citizen in the back of the head, a riot arose and the citizens burned
down the complex. Unfortunately this was also where 4-6th grades had classes
(they were not on campus during the riot as it was Christmas break we
learned later) so they no longer had a place for those grades. Up the street
about a mile is a private school and the local basketball hall. Within that
facility, called Gateway, they have 4 class rooms that the government is
renting to house grades 4-6th as well as one room for administration.
The dock master, who Tom calls Mr. Grumpy, aka Pat,
is....well… kind of grumpy, but in the scheme of things we are very grateful
to him, for letting us stay at the marina at no charge, in return for our
work at the school. The counselor (which is kind of like their major) is
supposed to be compensating the marina for our stay. We are charged for
water at $0.30 a gallon and electricity.
Well, the best laid plans…. Max decided that he was not napping until he was good and ready and since he had gotten up so early, he was a cranky pants all morning. At 12:30 pm he finally decided to tire out, so Tom jumped on his bike and took off for the school on his own. Max slept until 3:15 pm and right as Tom returned and reported that he could not do the 1st graders without me, he did get a few of the 8th graders’ eyes examined. So we decided to go to the beach.
This time we were ready, we had Tupper ware to make sand castles with and bathing suites so we could take Max swimming in the ocean. Max and I had a blast making sand castles and playing on the beach, but he did not want to go in the water to swim. He likes running out until the waves come and then have Tom and I pick him up by his hands and swing him over the water. Tom and Max played on the beach and we had one of the nicest days in a long time… pure joy being the ones you love.
Saturday - 11/15/08
About an hour after leaving the doc Undou saw two baby dolphins and their mom off of the buoy, and soon they were playing at the front of the boat. We got suited up in our wet suits, fins and snorkel and jumped in. The dolphin played around us for a good 15-20 minutes, coming so close we could practically touch them. It was amazing!! We got out and started moving again and soon they were back, this time with more friends, there were 5 dolphins this time, so we jumped back in and it was the most beautiful experience that I have ever had that did not involve land! Anna, Tom and I swam with the dolphins for another good 15 minutes and one time one came all the way from the bottom of the ocean straight towards me and came so close that we were looking each other in the eye. Truly amazing.
On the Way back we stopped at the Bimini Atlantis
beltway and Tom jumped back in to take a look at the ancient rock formation.
Max had just woken up from his nap, so I didn’t get to join him on this
little adventure, but he said it was quite amazing.
Anna and Coach Dean after swimming with the dolphins
6:00 pm came and went, as did 6:30 pm and 7:00 pm and
there was no sign of our new friends. Max, Tom & I were starving so we went
ahead and had dinner. At 7:30pm there came a knock on the boat; they were
here. There had been a baseball game at the field where the flag football
game was to take place and the baseball game had run log, so they were
delayed getting their flag football game underway, which made them quite
late arriving for dinner. No worries… it’s the islands… we threw some more
fish on the grill and served up some more pasta and poured them each a glass
of wine and we had a nice evening. Audley took us for a quick tour of the
island in his friend’s golf cart, which is only 7.5 miles long and 750 feet
wide, the island that is, so it took a short 5 or 7 minutes. We parted ways
at the entrance to the marina, with “see ya’ Monday” from everybody…Max is
in love with Anna (and the feeling is mutual) and Anna has agreed to come to
the boat on Monday and Tuesday mornings to stay with Max while we go to the
school and do eye exams. What a great deal.
Jack, a basketball player of Coach Dean’s, came to the boat ready to help Tom clean the outside of the bottom of the boat. They go the dinghy down and set to work. Another boat on the dock had caught some fish and conch and was cleaning them on the fish cleaning table and the waste they throw in the water, which brought an 8 foot, 800 pound bull shark looking for an easy dinner, he hung around for quite a while but soon decided that he had had all he was going to get. After they were done Tom took Jack out for a ride in the dinghy and Jack came back beaming. We wished our little friend a good evening and I set out to make some Spaghetti and Meatballs for dinner. Max, the poor kid never woke up again until morning, Anna must have tired him out.
Tuesday – 11/18/08
We arrived at our make shift exam room, seen above and got started. The ninth grade was next. The seventh grade was the hardest… they had all scored very poorly on their screening so we were expecting them all to need glasses… they all WANTED glasses, but did not need them! SO no matter how hard Tom tried to get them to say that they could read the eye chart, they said no, but yet the prescription on the instrument read no power. Then when you were sent back to class with out trying on frames, they got upset. They REALLY wanted glasses. Funny ;-)
Coach Dean and Tom outside our makeshift Exam room
It was 3:00 pm and school was over for the day, so we headed back to the boat and as usual we ran in to the town cigarette bum, Sam, and as usual he bummed a cig off of Tom, this is a daily ritual and pretty much what Sam does all day, when he is sober anyway. When we returned to the boat, Max was napping but he and Anna had had a good day, going to the beach and to C.J.’s a local lobster/hamburger joint for lunch. Anna went home and Tom and I rested until Max got up and we made dinner and played with Max, until we all headed off to bed.
Wednesday – 11/19/08
Lunch break at 12 noon, we had two kids left to do, the two who got dilated so we thought we’d be done early…not the case… we were still there until the end of school at 3:00 pm and Tom stayed and examined Mr. Rolle, the principel and Mrs. & Mr. Pinder, both teachers at the school. I went back to the boat so Anna could go to the flag football practice with Coach Dean, but she chose instead to stay and have a drink. At 5:30 pm we all headed back to the school for the PTA meeting that the School Superintendent had flown in for, and which Mr. Rolle had asked us to attend to explain to the parents what we were doing and why we were there to do it.
Tom speaking at the PTA meeting
The glasses will be fabricated in Tulsa and shipped back to the school in about two weeks, which the coach and art teachers will dispense. We will miss the joy of dispensing the kids their new glasses but have been greatly rewarded from the whole experience. The island of Bimini, the teachers of The All Age School, and especially the kids have made this one of life’s good memories.
After Tom’s speech we walked to the other end of the
Island and had dinner at “The End of The World” restaurant, it’s floor was
sand and the seating was all outside except for one table and bench. Max
made a new friend, Albert, it was his 5th birthday. His mom was the
bartender, so Max and Albert played while we waited for our dinner. We
finished and went back to the boat, gave Max a bath and we were all off to
After running around for an hour we returned the golf cart. It was close to lunch time and the school had arranged for us to have lunch “on them” and “Bob’s Café” across the street from the marina, so we unloaded all of our stuff and went and had lunch. I had a lobster sandwich and Tom had a sausage patty sandwich, Max wanted french fries, which he has not had for a couple of weeks now, so he was happy.
When we returned Tom invited a couple, Laura and Jason, who were on a 36 foot sailboat to run with us down to Cat Key and back. They were thrilled to go for an outing, so we loaded up and off we went. On the way we passed an old sunken cement ship, and decided to snorkel it. Max and I stayed behind and took pictures.
They snokeled the ship for about 15 minutes and we were
off again, to Cat Key. Cat Key is a private Island where you can stay at the
marina, but you are not allowed to go anywhere on the Island. It is owned by
the very rich of Miami and it has a huge marina with a very small airstrip
by the marina. We had a nice afternoon with Laura and Jason, who is a Marine
Biologist and he and Laura, a retired Insurance agent, work together on
projects while sailing the waters of Florida and the Bahamas. We returned
right as the sun was going down and Michael flagged Tom to come over to the
office. Tom returned with a very official looking envelope; it was an
invitation to meet the Administrator (aka the Governor, the Big Chief) his
official title is: His Worships, Sherrick Ellis, One of Her Majesty’s
Justices of The Peace, Administrator of Bimini, tomorrow at 11:00 am in his
office. After tying the boat up, we visited for an other hour or so, and our
guest returned to their boat for dinner.
Mr. Pinder met us outside the school and we invited him and his wife for dinner as we walked together next door to His Worship’s office. Coach Dean had also received an invitation and Anna came along to say hi to Max. He RUSHED into her arms when he saw her, he was so happy to see her. Tom and I were presented with a very nice framed “Certificate of Appreciation”, “in recognition of valuable contributions to the health and welfare of the children of Bimini through your Eye-Care Clinic at Bimini, Bahamas, November 21st. 2008”. With the official government seal. We also received a beautiful stained glass cross and a beautiful ceramic fish from the local Art Gallery. They also gave us a very nice book on the Bahamas and a CD of The Bahamian Royal Police Band. They served us Kiwi Strawberry juice and we visited for about 30 minutes. It was a nice ceremony and we appreciated it very much. Unfortunately, Tom handed Anna the camera and she took video, so I have no pictures of the ceremony.
Coach Dean gave us a ride back to the boat in the Administrator’s car and Anna came along to hang out for a while. Max was SO thrilled to have Anna there to play with him. I was having trouble getting our pictures off of the memory card (my card reader is malfunctioning), so Anna offered to go to her house and get her laptop to see if it would work on hers. She took Tom’s bicycle and returned with her laptop and it worked great. We moved our pics to our laptop with a flash drive and I made us breakfast for lunch; bacon is something that Anna never gets as Audley (coach Dean) is a Raggitarien, which means he does not eat pork, so she was thrilled to get bacon. It was time for Max’s nap so Anna went home, and we agreed to go out in the big boat tomorrow if the weather allowed.
Mrs. And Mr. Pinder came at 6:00 pm for dinner. The boat down the dock had caught some fresh Wahoo that day and shared some with us. The Pinders are both teachers, Mr. Pinder teaches Art and Mrs. Pinder teaches 2nd grade. We had a nice evening together and learned that the school needs a few items donated desperately, like two televisions with VCR and DVD players for the 1st and 2nd grades and paint, canvas’ and Elmer’s glue sticks for the art department. Max was so tired he went to bed without even turning on his DVD player, he laid down and was out like a light, as did Tom and I.
Saturday – 11/22/08
Sunday – 11/23/08
Monday – 11/24/08
Jason and Laura’s Sail boat
Tuesday – 11/25/08
A crossing home
10:30 am we are in the Gulfstream, 20 miles from Bimini and 36 miles from Ft. Lauderdale. Crossings are always a big adventure, full of apprehension of the seas and the unknown dept of 3000 feet of water under your hull. Today the seas are about two feet, but with big rollers which have plagued Susan with a little seasickness. We seem to be the only boat out here and then my radar paints a target 6 miles behind us and moving up fast. A 50 foot sleek cruiser passes us and quickly disappears in front of us. In 5 minutes it will be out of sight. When I switch the radar to the 12 mile range I can detect 4 more boats but I can’ see them. The sky is blue with big puffy clouds at about 2000 feet. The water is a brilliant dark blue, ever moving. If you have never made a voyage like this where you are the captain in charge, it would be hard to appreciate the thrill of the journey. There is only you to determine the course, direction and the speed at which to travel to make the ride the most comfortable. Granted it would be hard to miss Florida, but the game is to cruise through the cut of FT. Lauderdale on a direct coarse you set 6 hours earlier while still anchored in Bimini. I have been going at 9 mph, kicking it up to 14 for a smoother ride for Susan and Max. At 9 mph we use 4 gallons ph, at 14 mph we burn through 16 gallons ph.
Now there is another big 50 foot sport fishing boat passing about a mile to my port (left). I think I am just starting to see the tallest building on the coast of Florida, but can’t yet be sure that it’s not a mirage. Yes it is a building… that means we are now about 20 miles from the coast. Both crew members are now asleep on the couch and I just came down from the fly bridge. It’s great here, traveling at, 14 mph, the buildings are now getting bigger by the minute, and I have Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride cranked on the stereo. For a person who likes boating, it doesn’t get any better than this. I am here and doing it, now, it’s great! Wish you were here to enjoy the thrill with me.
Dr. Tom Vanderpool practices in Jenks, Oklahoma at Jenks Vision Center