Loading... Please wait...

Subscribe to Wiggy's Newsletter » Receive updates about new products, specials, and learn about insulation technology

Having trouble receiving our newsletter? Resubscribe Here (Opens in a new window).

Chapter 2

Sojourn to the Bahamas

I had been working in high-powered sales positions since I was 19, had never gone to college, and never seen the world. During my last year at Fiberfill I met a woman named Susanna. We hit it off immediately. In fact, I met her one night when I was out with friends at the Mad Hatter bar in Manhattan, and the next day she moved in to my apartment.

Susanna worked in the executive offices for Pan American Airlines, and had all kinds of travel benefits. For $38 she could get on an airplane and fly to London, and then stay for almost nothing in a Pan Am-owned hotel—it was almost cheaper for her to spend the weekend in Europe than stay in New York. It was about time for me to get out of New York, too, so we hatched a plan.

For five years or so I had owned a sailboat, and one of the things I did to unwind on weekends and many evenings was to make short excursions on Long Island Sound. Susanna and I had moved in together, and of course I took her out on the boat. I talked to her about what all sailors talk about to their girls—sailing into the sunset.

Susanna was an adventurous type, and she thought that sailing away was a really good idea. At this point my company had just fulfilled a contract supplying over $50,000 worth of material laminated insulation for mittens to be used by the workers on the construction of the famous Alyeska Pipeline, and I had made a fat profit on the deal. It was the first real use of the original Lamilite.

That was that. I sold my share of the business to my partners, and Susanna and I sold most of our belongings. I outfitted the boat for extended living, and in July of 1974 we set sail, with our two cats, bound for the Bahamas.

The boat was named Dulcinea—after a whore in the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. I didn’t name her, but it’s bad luck to change the name of a boat so I let it stand. She was one of 12 boats of her kind brought over from Holland, with a steel hull that is very distinctive. She was 28 feet long with a beam of eight feet, and only two sails, the main and a jib, so I could sail her without a crew. All the winches were mechanical, and she had a four-cylinder Palmer engine that purred like a kitten. She wasn’t fast, but she was a very reliable boat and could take heavy weather due to her weight, 12000 pounds bare hull and a full keel—I liked to call her “the Volkswagen of the seas.”

We planned to sail down to the Bahamas, but we had no itinerary and no fixed timeline. The trip could have lasted two weeks, or two years. In the end we were on the boat for 15 months.

Susanna didn’t know anything about sailing at first. We headed down the Jersey coast, and on our third day out, maybe four miles offshore, we hit some pretty big seas—five to six feet. We’d run two boat lengths up the swell, then another two down the other side. Susanna was in the cabin with the cats, and from her position there she had a funny view out onto the deck, that changed as she adjusted to the angle of the boat on the big swells. On the down runs she could see me up at the helm. As we were running up, all she could see was sky. She told me later that she wondered what she would do if we came over the crest one time and she didn’t see me, if I had been thrown overboard or something. That’s when she decided she wanted to learn to sail.

We sailed around the tip of New Jersey into Delaware Bay, then across the C&D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal into Chesapeake Bay. We spent almost eight weeks crisscrossing the Chesapeake, meeting lots of interesting people, including one guy who was sailing one of Dulcinea’s sister ships.

From Norfolk, at the southern end of the bay, we went through the Dismal Swamp Canal, which goes about 20 miles from the Chesapeake in Virginia to Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound, inside the Outer Banks exiting in Elizabeth City North Carolina. The canal is a very beautiful and interesting part of the Intracoastal Waterway, with locks on both ends, narrow and shallow, with cypress trees overhanging it. It’s the oldest continually operating canal in the country, constructed (by hand, mostly using slave labor) on the advice and encouragement of George Washington.

The trip got better every day—not so much because of the better scenery and climate, but more because we really settled into the lifestyle. There was no telephone ringing.We never got into a car or on the subway. We didn’t drink much booze, smoked no dope. We were totally focused on what we are doing, and we were free.

We played around for a while in Pamlico Sound, which is bordered by many beautiful and deserted barrier islands, then in late August headed for Hilton Head, South Carolina. Nowadays three quarters of the island is made up of gated communities, but at the time most of the island was still undeveloped. We sailed in to the Sea Pines Plantation, which is often called the original American beach resort. It was the model for all the resort communities you now see up and down the coast. This was in Sea Pines’ early boom days—it later went bankrupt.

We tied up at the marina and had a great time for over a week. The weather was perfect, we didn’t have to go anywhere for anything, and the people were festive and friendly. The sailing life was definitely agreeing with us, but I made a decision there that could have changed the whole course of my life.

As it happened, we had tied up next to a 45-foot Cheoy Lee that belonged to Charles Fraser, owner of the resort. The boat’s captain would take people out every day, and since we were living right next door, he invited us along. The captain was a young guy—only 24—and one day after we’d been out a few times, he asked me to take the helm because he had something he wanted to show the guests. Then he grabbed an end of the spinnaker halyard and went up to the bow. We had a nice wind and the boat was heeling slightly. He leaped off the bow and swung out over the water, landing perfectly on the stern. The guests were very impressed. As was I, and it was a big surprise as he did not tell me in advance what he was going to do.

After he had done this trick on a few different trips he told me that I was the only person he allowed to take the helm—I guess he was expressing his confidence in my skills as a skipper. Then he offered me the captain job. I wasn’t sure what he was going to do instead, but he was obviously connected to a lot of money. Whatever his plan, my part of it was I would get a free slip at the marina, a free apartment, plus salary.Then in the fall of the year we would take the boat down to Puerto Rico where he had some land, and he wanted to develop a similar setup down there, taking guests out.

So this was the life-changing decision I made. I wonder where I’d be now if I had started a career as a skipper. But I didn’t. I told the kid that it was a very tempting offer, and as much as I appreciated it, I was already 31 and had places to see. I hadn’t put nearly enough water under my own boat to settle down and start working on his. A few days later we set sail again, heading south.

Beyond Hilton Head we passed through Savannah, Georgia, and we picked up the pace a bit. With no set itinerary it was easy to linger in the fun places we visited, but I had promised my parents that I’d make it to Miami by late October to meet some cousins who were coming over from England.

We stayed around Miami until Christmas. By now we were pretty comfortable in the boat. We’d had pretty good weather the whole time, with no storms at sea, and our excursion to the Bahamas involved more of the same good luck. Still, the 50-mile open-ocean crossing from Florida to the Bahamas, across the Gulf Stream, was a little intimidating.

Our target was Bimini, the westernmost island group in the Bahamas. Bimini is due east of Miami, so in sailing terms the direct line is a 90-degree heading. In a speedboat you might be able to use something close to that heading, but not in a Dulcinea, which has a top cruising speed of about six knots. The Gulf Stream current averages about two-and-a-half knots due north.

Our boat was steady but slow, so even with the 150-degree (due-southeast) heading I calculated, I found we were still getting pushed north of our intended course. This was before the days of GPS, so we navigated by compass and our radio direction finder, which picked up signals from various buoys. Each buoy sends out radio transmissions that include the buoy’s identification information (in Morse Code). You adjust the finder’s antenna and use the signal strength to locate each buoy’s direction. Find two buoys and you can plot your position on the chart. I had to adjust our heading even further south. In the end, we navigated successfully and sighted Bimini, but the crossing took us 17 hours.

We sailed around the Bahamas for seven months. We saw enough sun, wind, and surf to last a lifetime, living outside and afloat in the Atlantic Ocean. Dulcinea had a small berth, eight feet wide, that narrowed down toward the bow, and was just tall enough to sit up in. We had electric lights that ran off batteries and the generator, a propane stove, some shelves. There was a very small head, but we had no running water on the boat and would jump in the water to get clean.

We had no ice. We’d buy butter, eggs, canned goods, and Susanna grew alfalfa sprouts, but mostly we ate fish. You can’t starve in the Bahamas unless you want to. I had a spear gun, but it broke near the beginning of the trip, and I had plenty of luck with line and tackle so I never got it repaired. We ate many different kinds of fish, including barracuda, which many people wouldn’t eat because they were afraid of ciguatera poisoning. Any reef fish can have ciguatera, especially bigger, older fish, but it’s rare. It is actually more common in grouper and amberjack, and everyone eats those. We ate lots of barracuda and never had any problems.

I had taken our dingy to the shore of a small island one day and was cleaning a king mackerel I had caught. We were the only boat around when I went ashore. Suddenly Susanna started waving at me, and yelled that other boats were coming in. I took my time and finished cleaning the fish. I think she was concerned because I was completely nude. We spent a lot of time that way in the Bahamas. Susanna told me later that she was sure everyone could see me. That evening I put some clothes on and went around to some of the boats and shared our extra mackerel.

We did the Berry Islands down to Nassau and continued along the Exuma chain into George Town on Great Exuma, where Susanne and I got married. Living on a small boat, you get to know someone. We had the ceremony under a gazebo at the Peace & Plenty resort, right on the water. Susanna’s parents couldn’t make it down on such short notice, but mine caught a cheap flight from Miami and attended. We had conch fritters and other tropical fare. A funny thing happened at the reception. The very famous retired baseball player Ted Williams happened to be at the restaurant. Williams had a line of sporting goods with Sears, and I had sold insulation to Sears, so our paths had crossed a few times at trade shows. During the after-party I introduced myself and reminded him that I had met him a few times. He didn’t remember, of course, but congratulated me on my marriage, and my parents got to meet him. Later, my mother told me that my dad wouldn’t remember a thing about the wedding except that they had met Ted Williams.

Anyway, it was a fun party. We actually went back to the Peace & Plenty for our 10th anniversary. The gazebo was gone, but same guy was still behind the bar.

Although the weather was very mild for our entire trip, I brought along two fiberfill sleeping bags, a rectangular bag that we could open up into a quilt, and a mummy bag. I’d had these since 1969, when I first got the boat. You might say that these were the very first Wiggy’s sleeping bags, although it would be another 17 years before I started the company by that name.

I bought my first sewing machine in 1967 and taught myself how to sew. I became reasonably skilled, and the pattern of the rectangular bag was so simple I could easily make it myself, as away to use the new laminated Polarguard. I would sometimes show that bag to clients instead of just bringing a sample of batting. It was essentially the Nautilus bag Wiggy’s still sells to this day—same fill weight, same nylon, same zipper—although we sew a lot better now. The mummy bag was made by a New York kid who worked at a retail shop called Krieger, which was on 45th St and 5th Avenue. He had had a little cottage industry where he was making his own sleeping bags, so I had him sew up a laminated-Polarguard mummy that is almost identical to today’s Wiggy’s Ultralight. I still have that bag on display at my showroom in Grand Junction.

During our sailing trip, these bags were a big hit. All the live-aboard sailors we met had cheap cotton flannel bags from someplace like Sears. They were bulky and didn’t compress, so there was nowhere to put them, and they would absorb moisture from the ocean air and become clammy and uncomfortable. We, on the other hand, grew to appreciate the benefits of modern fiberfill. The bags didn’t absorb moisture, and if they got wet, the water would run right out of them. Best of all, they would compress down to a very small size for stowing. The envious comments we got when we showed our kit to other sailors on our trip were responsible for my first thoughts of getting into the business of making sleeping bags.

We continued on to Long Island (Bahamas L.I), then Cat Island, Little San Salvador, Eleuthera, and Spanish Wells, before heading back, slowly, through Nassau and the Berry Islands to Bimini.

I love the tropics, but I’m not really a tropical person. I miss the seasons, and skiing, and I like living in the USA. We had sailed almost 5000 miles, had a wonderful, freewheeling time, but now that I was married I felt a responsibility to be a provider. I needed to go back to work.

In Bimini we had to sit out a storm that blew in off the Gulf before we could make the crossing back to Florida. The crossing is a lot less stressful going back, since your target is the mainland of the United States instead of a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. I didn’t mind the delay, but once the storm broke we pulled up anchor, raised the sails, and with a good steady wind it took 12 hours to cross.

When we arrived in Miami my folks were away, in Canada, but on their doorstep was a copy of the Miami Herald. That evening I was perusing the want ads and came across one that definitely got my attention. “Wanted,” it read, “Young couple who know island life, to run hotel on Great Exuma Island.”

I was tempted, and asked Susanna if she wanted to go. She said no. I think she was ready to move on to something different. A month later, when I found myself still looking for a job, I said, “Maybe we should have gone.”

Our Locations  +  Contact

Corporate Office & Factory

To place an order, please contact our corporate office & factory at:

Wiggy’s Inc.
PO Box 2124
Grand Junction, CO 81502

Store Location

2482 Industrial Blvd  •  Grand Junction, CO
(970) 241-6465

+1 (866) 411-6465 f:  (970) 241•5921 e:  

When it comes to extreme cold weather gear, Wiggy's has you covered.

Check out all our products from sleeping bags & shelters to footwear & clothing. Our uniquely developed continuous filament fiber called Lamilite insulation is what sets Wiggy brand insulated products apart. What is Lamilite and why does it perform better than all other forms of insulation? Click here to keep reading & find out more »

© Wiggy’s Inc. All Rights Reserved.