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


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, 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 no bartender, at times. 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.

Black Bahamians Rock


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. 


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.  I’m really going to miss Janice.

White Bahamians dominate the Abacos, even though the majority of the populations throughout the islands is Black.  The Abacos are lovely, pretty, clean, neat, but the stench of slavery still hangs in the air here.  As at home in the US, the Whites have better jobs than the Blacks, and there are still islands where Black people were only permitted to work, not dwell, as recently as ten years ago.  I’m talking about all-White Man-of-War, a pretty little island, to be sure, very industrious with a fantastic boatyard.  You still see the Black people getting ferried off the island at 5pm.  They go home to their own neighborhoods, often much poorer than the White communities in which they work as gardeners, fishermen, garbage collectors, waiters, but hardly ever as shopkeepers, grocers, owners of property and property-producing businesses


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

This is not to say that the Bahamian Blacks are universally oppressed.  Far from it.  There are elite Bahamians who send their children to school in the States, who return to work as bankers, lawyers, dignitaries of state.  I had a long conversation with Lorraine’s husband, who complained that the upper-class Blacks prevent the lower-class Blacks from getting the good jobs, through nepotism, primarily.  I don’t know enough about the society to say whether or not I agree with him.  It was an interesting conversation, though.

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

Butting of heads

Marc 30

I feel like I am on board a boat with a tyrant, who must always have his way.  But then I know I am very strong and vociferous. I register my conlaints, my preferences, which he says are always changing. 

Joni.  It could have been more.

But why is it always the butting of heads? IMG_5993.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.


Ryan and Sandy at Shroud Cay

Rocky Dundas

March 19, 2015


Fowl Cay to the left and Rocky Dundas to the right, seen from Compass Cay

We are still in the beautiful anchorage at Fowl Cay.  The horseshoe opens up to the north, where  two enormous rocks called Rocky Dundas hide deep caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  Cathedrals to nature’s splendor.  Fabulous elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata)  at the mouth of one cave.  

The water is clear and aquamarine…you must get tired of hearing about it.  I wonder at it and think how to describe it to convey the extreme pleasure of looking at it, of being in Yesterday was sweaty hot, even while sailing, the kind of heat that robs you of all energy and leaves you languid and parched.  So just after we anchored here, I jumped into the water.  The shock of the salt surprised me, as it does every time.  Extreme salt that stings your eyeballs and clears out your sinuses and wrings through you like a healing tonic. 

One of the reasons the water is so clear is that the salt kills most of the bacteria.  There is very little algae, no bloom of brown gray green organisms, only sharks and sting rays.  Coral seems to start out as small clumps of anemones and branches out into red candelabras and mustard-colored clumps that you dare not touch.  The sand waves in little hillocks, blown by the currant.  The needle sharp rocks are gray on the top, ochre underneath, where the waves runs in waterfalls back down into the sea.  There is a narrow pale beach here and a small airplane that crashed in the sand a few feet from the waterline.  Beside it is a grave marked with conch shells and a stone that reads, “Dilo, the island dog.” 

I am in heaven because I am here and I am reading Little Women, which I have read many times but not for many years.  What a warm and joyous imagination Louisa May Alcott had.  I love living again among Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and Marmee.  And Hannah.  No one ever talks about Hannah, the servant who lives with them and who is not described except through her speech.  Is she African-American?  And their father is away serving as chaplain in a war which is never indicated but which must be the Civil War.  It is an interesting counterpoint to Moby Dick, which I am still dutifully recounting. 

It is interesting to think about race, especially here in this nation in populated and governed primarily by the descendants of slaves. 

I would love to have a conversation with two people: a Black Bahamian who has lived in the United States, and a Black American who has lived in the Bahamas.  I would actually not have any pre-considered questions other than, “what is is like to live there as opposed to where you grew up?”  “What are the pros and cons of each society?”  This interests me because the ancestors of both groups came unwillingly from Africa, and also because my own ancestors held slaves in North Carolina, from whence many of the Bahamian slaveowners and their slaves came.  In fact, it would be fun to study the traffic between the two places.  No doubt someone has already done this. I can’t really speculate about how Black Bahamians or Black Americans think about their history, but I can ask. 

What I can talk about is how I, a White descendant of slaveowners in North Carolina during the 18th century, respond to Bahamian society.  What I notice, briefly, is a great friendliness and confidence among the people here, but not a great deal of intermingling between Blacks and Whites.  There is commerce, yes, and great warmth.  But I can’t help but wonder how the Bahamians respond to the subtle racism of the all-White cruising crowd, who must seem incredibly affluent to the locals, who are poor in materials as well as education.

Fowl Cay

March 18 2016

IMG_5889We are floating softly in a horseshoe-shaped anchorage, fringed with coral reefs, on a sea of silver like a mirror.  The rising, waxing moon is a brilliant white shield, a beacon of strength and comfort, and we can see the sand below, whiter still.  It is night.  Innana, the morning and evening star, shines above.  There are four other boats here at Fowl Cay, two on which we have good friends: Valinor and Solmate.  Tim and Dorothea and Steve and Karen came over for cocktails.  It was our turn and we had a great time.

After they left we turned on the country music that we know not everyone loves as we do: Lucinda, Dixie Chicks, Ray Le Montagne, Iris Dement, Johnny Cash, and so forth, and we are rocking out, grilling lobster we caught.  And now I am writing.  

The water is smooth like a mirror, a sea of milk contained within the dark, and the low rocks of the horseshoe surround us with loving arms, darker than the midnight blue sky.

What a fabulous life and yet.  Relationships take work, even in Paradise.  I am not the only one who thinks this way.  Perhaps not the only one on this vessel.  But here we are, two people afloat, working together to make dinner, to bring up and set the anchor, to sail, to keep each other alive.  It is good.

Chapter 28: Ahab

Once again Ishmael draws a contrast between the dark-skinned harpooners,

a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies whichTHe  my previous experiences had made me acquainted with,

and the three White sea-officers,

every one of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vinyarder, a Cape man.

Race is on Melville’s mind.  No doubt about it.  But where he stood on the issue, how he felt about slavery, that’s the question that critics can’t decide on.  Because the novel is not simplistic.  It’s not a pro- or con-anything kind of book.  It’s not a politician, or a manifesto, or a vehicle for any particular ideology, but rather a complex portrait of a complex, violent society of violent injustices.

At last, also, we meet Ahab, who emerges on deck for longer and longer periods the further south the ship sails.  Ishmael compares the Captain’s “whole high, broad form” to a Cellini bronze statue of Perseus.

The myth of Perseus,son of Danaë, whom Zeus impregnated as a shower of gold, is worth considering here, for it is deeply bound up with the sea, with brutality, murder, and money.  Again and again, beginning in his infancy, Perseus is exposed to terrible dangers that should but don’t kill him.   

Here is the story that Robert Graves assembled from various ancient sources, which suspiciously blame women for starting all the trouble:  

Danaë’s father, Acrisius, having heard that his grandson would kill him, locked Danaë and the infant Perseus into a wooden ark, which he cast into the sea.  It washed to Seriphos, where a fisherman, Dictys, nets it and takes it ashore.  The King of that place, Polydectes, adopts Perseus and tries to marry his mother, who resists him.  Polydectes tries to trick Perseus by sending him after the Gorgon Medusa’s head, which he ostensibly wishes to present to another princess as a marriage gift.  

Athene helps Perseus because she hates Medusa, originally a beautiful woman who led the Libyans of Lake Tritonis in battle.  Somehow she offended Athene, who transformed her into a hideous creature with venom-dripping snakes for hair and a face so ugly that she turns all who look upon her to stone.  Hermes also helps Perseus to kill Medusa by teaching him how to obtain winged sandals and a helmut that renders its wearer invisible.


Pompeiian fresco depicting Andromeda and Persesus.

On his way back to save his mother from Polydectes, Perseus falls in love with Andromeda, the Ethiopian princess chained to a cliff to be devoured by a female sea-monster.  Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids, and Poseidon responded by insisting that she be sacrificed to the beast. Perseus slays the beast and wants to marry Andromeda, but her parents attack him with a force of 200.  Perseus turns them all to stone with the Medusa’s head and returns home with the marriage-gift and discovers his adoptive father threatening his mother, Danaë, and the fisherman Dictys.  He rescues them, turns Polydectes and his aggressors to stone, and then gives the kingdom to Dictys.  Then he sails with his mother and Andromeda to Argos, where he accidentally kills his grandfather with a discus.

Perseus is a tragic hero who, like Ahab, kills female monsters and sails oceans.  He murders the King who wishes to marry his mother, his wife’s parents, and his only grandfather, along with hundreds of others who oppose him.  The gods help him to commit these deeds for arbitrary reasons of their own.

persee-florence1The author of an on-line guide to reading Moby Dick observes that Melville alludes again to Perseus, whom he calls the first whaleman.  He leaves out Medusa’s head altogether and suggests that the monster the demigod slays to save Andromeda is a Leviathan. Ahab’s skin is bronzed from his time at sea and his singular, mad pursuit has made him hard.

What strikes me when I look at Cellini’s statue is the prone, sensuous body of the Medusa under Perseus’s feet and the beautiful visage on the head he holds up.  I’m wondering if Melville, whether consciously or not, imagined Ahab as a dominating man, whose patriarchal power derives from his ability to conquer the dangerously sensuous feminine elements in the world?