St. Augustine

May, 2016

It took a mere 36 hours to make the strange transition from the Bahamas to the United States, from quiet, starry nights and deprivation to noisy traffic and modern conveniences.  We sailed from Great Sale Cay to St. Augustine overnight, and have stayed put ever since.  Why? Because St. Augustine is wonderful.

St. Augustine reminds me of home, of Santa Barbara, another city mindful of its complicated history in racial politics. It has a Spanish feel.  It advertises itself as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.  Unlike most of the other cities we visited on our journey up the coast, St. Augustine remembers that the first foreign settlers of this country were not White and did not speak English. They were Spanish and African.

The city of St. Augustine allegedly recorded the first birth of a slave in North America. It has an ugly history as an early and long-standing hub of the slave trade.  But it also served as a sanctuary of sorts, for slaves both freed and escaped before the Emancipation Act of 1863.  Of course to be protected the slave had to convert to Catholicism, perhaps a different kind of servitude, but that’s a different matter.

Unlike any other city I have visited in the United States, St. Augustine prominently memorializes the ordinary people who fought for universal civil rights. 

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Monument to civil rights activists in St. Augustine.  It sits in the center of the tourist district, near a structure that allegedly once served as a slave market.

Did you know that America’s first Black town, headed by the first African-American military commander, Francisco Menendez,  was just north of St. Augustine? According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

Sometime between March and November of 1738, Spanish settlers in Florida formed a town named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, two miles to the north of St. Augustine. Initially, it consisted of 38 men, all fugitive slaves, “most of them married,” who had fled to Florida for sanctuary and freedom from enslavement in the Carolinas and Georgia. It came to be known as Fort Mose.

The enclave was the first line of defense between the Spanish settlers in Florida and their enemies, the English colonists to the north in Carolina (which did not officially split into North and South Carolina until 1729, and then the Southern part of South Carolina split in 1732 to form Georgia). Fort Mose was manned entirely by armed black men, under the leadership of Francisco Menendez, who became the leader of the black militia there in 1726. It deserves to be remembered as the site of the first all-black town in what is now the United States, and as the headquarters of the first black armed soldiers commanded by a black officer, who actively engaged in military combat with English colonists from the Carolinas and Georgia.

Menendez, the first African-American military commander, … was born a Mandinga in West Africa at the end of the 17th century. He was captured and served as a slave in South Carolina until the Yamasee Native Americans fought the British settlers in 1715, during which Menendez managed to escape to St. Augustine, Fla. In 1738, he became the leader of the free black town, and was formally commissioned as captain of the free black militia of St. Augustine

Most Americans are profoundly ignorant of the key role that African-American and Hispanic immigrants played in the early days of our nation.  They do not know that the first Africans came to these shores in 1526 as members of a large Spanish expidition from the West Indies.  They do not know–or pretend they do not know–that it was Africans who knew how to survive in the heat, how to plant rice, how to cure disease, how to work with animals, and how to build houses.

The European immigrants who settled the Southern states would have died of starvation and sickness had the African people forcibly brought to this country and their descendants had not been present. For an account of these truths, please read Peter H. Wood‘s Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (NY: Norton, 1974).  This book, along with Islanders in the Stream, A History of the Bahamian PeopleMichael Craton and Gail Saunders, were indispensable guides to my travels this year.

It appalls me that we are still living in a deeply racist culture, that we have so far to go in our struggle for civil rights for all human beings in our country.  Anyone with half a brain in her head and a rudimentary understanding of American history knows that Black Lives Matter.

   

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A Story about Rock Sound

IMG_6015Here’s a good story about Rock Sound, told to me by woman who has cruised there.  A single-hander went to the bank, withdrew 500 dollars, which she put  in her backpack.  Then she went for a hike with a friend, leaving her pack by the path.  When the returned, the money was gone.  They went to the police station to report.  The police chief directly drove out into the community and interviewed some kids who had been hanging around the scene of the crime.  They described the other kids they had seen there.  Within half an hour, the police chief knew the names of the culprits.  She demanded that they produce themselves, their parents, and the 500 dollars in her office, in ten minutes.  The woman who lost the money did not believe that they would show up.  But the kids showed up, heads down, with their parents, and 450 dollars.  One of the kids was a cousin from Nassau.  The police chief told him he was banned from the island, and got the parents to agree.  Then the kids started to file out the door, heads down.  “O, I’m not finished with you yet,” she called out.  Then she handed them pails and mops and put the kids to work, swabbing the halls, cells, and bathrooms at the jail.  Then she made them wash her car.  That’s the way Rock Sound rolls.

Little Harbor

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Rachel’s wells–Exuma Land and Sea Park

How cool is this?  We’re sitting on a mooring at LIttle Harbor (it’s not possible to anchor here) and the boat next to us is playing beautiful, romantic French vocal music.  Ryan is doing the dishes and complaining because, actually, it was my idea that we clean up after our lovely dinner of fresh-caught mahi, baked potatoes, and grilled peppers.  He got down below before I did, and there really isn’t room for more than one person in the galley, so….here I sit, writing.  There isn’t anything I can do, really, and he is vociferously complaining.  “It wasn’t my idea and here I am doing the actual clean up.  It isn’t quite fair.”  No, it’s not.  I’m happy not to be down below for once, sweating over the oven or stove.  He’ll get over it. 

And he is over it.  And all the dishes are clean, hooray!  After all, I got up at 6:30 this morning and washed all the dishes from last night’s dinner, which I also cooked, partly.  Well, it doesn’t matter.  These are the little spats that you forget about.  We are happily listening to the distant tunes from Pete’s pub, which are largely drowned out by the roaring surf.  What an amazing place Pete’s parents came to back in the day.  His father was an artist at a university who sailed his family away from civilization to work on his art, found this place, settled here, in caves for probably 10 years, built a foundry, and drove on .  What a tyrant he must have been.  What an adventuress his wife must have been!

Ryan tells the story of the last time he was here.  He was with his friend Robert and his brother Brady.  There were two other boats, all anchored out.  There was no mooring field then.  They joined the other boats at sundown for cocktails and brought a bag of wine.  They were drinking and goofing around and talking about their adventures.  At one point, very early on, the elderly mother on the boat grabbed the mylar bag of wine and said, “this thing, it’s disgusting, it feels like a ball sack!”  

Maybe you had to be there.  There was nothing here then, only a few shacks and Pete’s pub, made out of an old sailboat, with a sand floor and, often, no bartender.  It operated on the honor system.  You poured and paid for your own drinks.  Now it’s all developed, with fancy moorings and piers and shops and condos.  We haven’t gone ashore, yet.  More to come.

Bahamians Rock in Rock Sound

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Janice Culmer, proprietor at Sammy’s

April 2, 2016

We sailed from Eleuthera to Abaco today with no real turmoil.  The jib rolling furler failed, so we had to take the sail down and proceed with just the main.  The winds started out in the 20s and settled down to about 11 knots, with clear skies and four foot waves.  It was a bit rolly, but not too bad, sunny and pleasant.  We had to scram north while the winds were blowing that way because, as usual during this very strange winter, we were running from the wild winds.  I really wanted to stay in Rock Sound, where I spent a little bit of time with a woman who feels like a spirit sister, Janice, who runs her dad’s restaurant, Sammy’s, with a great deal of wit and skill.  It was sad to say goodbye so quickly, but the cold front coming down from Florida was going to keep us from getting north for quite a while, and we are decidedly heading north. I have mixed feelings about it. 

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Lorraine, who owns the nicest restaurant in Rock Sound, is the woman in the dark green shirt.  Her mother, who sells her amazingly good bread to cruisers and locals right from her house, pictured above.  The small girl is Lorraine’s granddauther.

I love Bahamians. And I am sad to be leaving the islands where most of the businesses are owned and run by Black women, like Lorraine’s Restaurant in Rock Sound.  The food is fabulous and the service unparalleled.  There’s also a very homey, ordinary feeling about the place.  You can go round the corner to visit with Lorraine’s mother, who bakes sweet coconut and whole-wheat bread that she sells right at her dining table.  Get there early because it sells out quickly.  While you’re waiting, you can chat with Lorraine’s granddaughter.  Four generations of strong women live next door to one another, keeping the restaurant going and working other jobs, as well.  Lorraine’s daughter has a white-collar job on the island, so her daughter stays with her great-grandmother and grandmother after school.

I’m not so happy to be returning to the Abacos, because the racial politics are so different there.  White Bahamians dominate these northern islands, even though the majority of Bahamians are Black.   Many Southern loyalists settled there after the English lost the Revolutionary War, bringing their slaves, if they had them.   Slavery was abolished here earlier than in the U.S., but the institutions–prejudice and segregation–are still felt in the Bahamas as at home.  Generally speaking, in the Abacos Whites have better jobs and there are still islands where Blacks are not welcome as neighbors, only as workers.

Consider Man-of-War, a pretty little island, to be sure, very industrious with a fantastic boatyard.  There you’ll still see the Black people stepping wearily onto the ferry at the end of the day.  They go home to their own neighborhoods on Abaco, the big island, which is segregated in many ways that tourists don’t usually see.   Throughout the mostly White, northern islands, Blacks work as gardeners, fishermen, garbage collectors, waiters.  On Eleuthera they are shopkeepers, grocers, owners of property and property-producing businesses.  Below is a photo of Rosie, who owns a gorgeous house on a cliff overlooking the sea, where she cooks up the best food on the island.

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Rosie, in the foreground, the owner of Rosie’s Northside Restaurant in Rock Sound.

 

Spontaneous Jazz

March 31

Governer’s Harbor

Wow!  We are listening to an outstanding live jazz from a gazebo about a hundred yards from where we’ve anchored our boat in Governor’s harbor.  This is by far the best live music we’ve heard in the Bahamas.  We got here this afternoon, dropped the hook, invited our friends from Valinor and our new friends from Pearl for cocktails, had a wonderful little party, and now the sun has set and this amazing band started playing.  The acoustics are fabulous, clear, acute.  The vocalist is Gabrielle Saveli, or something like that.  She’s great, so much better than Diana Krall.  Governer’s harbor turns out to be pretty sophisticated.  We’ll have to spend more time here next time we come down.   Eleuthera is amazing.  We cam here from our favorite place in the Bahamas, Rock Sound, where one of my spirit sisters lives and runs a restaurant called Sammy’s.  Have you ever had that experience?  When you meet someone who you know will be your friend for life?  You just know. IMG_6008.JPG

Monstrous Mega Yachts

March 27, 2016

We have spent now two nights at Shroud Cay with six other sailboats and an equal number of mega- or monster-yachts. The latter seem to be everywhere these days.  We keep the VHF on 72 so we can talk to our friends on Bel Canto and Valinor.  The monster-yachts also use the same channel, so we hear the “chauffers” and other servants conferring with one another about the small families to whom they cater, and are continually surprised at the extravagance and wealth that some people display.  The servants set up tents, tables, tablecloths, silver trays filled with canapes, sandwiches, fruit, cheese, smoked fish, caviar, numerous bottles of wine chilling in shiny, elegant buckets, linen napkins, comfortable chairs set well in the shade, neat lines of swim fins, masks, towels, motorized devices for snorkeling, for jumping out of the water, huge, floating trampolines with slides, jetskis, paddleboards, so that everything that can be imagined to delight the family is ready when they are ferried to the scene in smooth-riding 500 horsepower tenders.  At Hawksbill Cay, where there is a lovely long beach, there were at least three such families sitting in splendor.   

On the way from Staniel Cay, where monster-yachts abound, to Hawksbill, a 200-foot, white hulled monster-yacht roared through a fleet of sailing vessels so fast that the 60-foot rooster-tail they created nearly swamped our friends on a 40-foot catarmaran.   Our friends, along with a number of other sailing captains, hailed them on the radio to complain and begged him to slow down, as the monster-yacht was still plowing through a dozen much smaller, sailing vessels.  The monster-yacht’s response was, “F*ck Sailboats.” 

I don’t know if that captain expressed the prevailing attitude towards sailing vessels or not, since most of the servants on the monster-yachts we have encountered during our travels through the Exuma Land and Sea Park have been perfectly polite.  I have heard that in parts of Florida the monster-yacht owners have managed to pass a law preventing sailboats from anchoring in waters near them, as they allegedly spoil the view.

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Ryan and Sandy at Shroud Cay