Leaving Hopetown, Land of the Lotus

After only two and a half weeks in town, we had met many people we could imagine as life-long friends and could envision ourselves in the community. Without even noting the alluring, picturesque scenery, the pastel-painted houses, gorgeous beaches, and its candy striped lighthouse, Hopetown—especially before the season begins—is a charming, welcoming, comfortable place to spend a winter, maybe even a lifetime.

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Scratch the Cat on the Beach in Hopetown

A week and one day ago, we tore ourselves away from the comforts and conviviality of Hopetown.   Listening to the Abaco cruiser’s net, as we do every morning, did not make this any easier.  

What is the Cruiser’s Net, you ask? The Cruiser’s Net (CN) begins at 8:15 and broadcasts weather forecasts, announcements about local events, and “invitations,” which are really ads for restaurants around town. A couple of noble volunteers take turns anchoring the program, which lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how many people are in town.  That morning’s anchor, Will, whose voice and wit seem to have destined him for radio, told that the weather would be rainy for the next four to five days. He also informed us when, where, and how we could dispose of our trash, always a nuisance when you live aboard. A truck comes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 8 and 10 to a specific dock. They pick up trash and recycle Bahamian beer bottles. (Don’t leave your bags there unless you see the truck, please.) Another volunteer anchor, called in to tell us about all the cool things we’d be missing if we left town: a number of country and folk bands would be performing for free at various restaurants for an entire week; the bi-weekly farmer’s market would convene the next day; and yoga classes would continue every Tuesdays and Thursdays at a beautiful art gallery on the beach.   

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Kids in Hopetown

We were tempted to stay; we love live music and relished the idea of spending more time with the people we had met in town.  Our mouths watered when we thought about the delicious greens and pasta salad we bought at the last Farmer’s market, not to mention the best blueberry muffins I have ever eaten in my life.  There also were other lures, not mentioned on the radio, such as the weekly writing group I had just started to attend, and a mahjongg group had recently invited me to learn the game and play with them.  In addition, it was Friday night, so we’d be missing the gathering of locals at Wine Down, Sip-Sip, for happy hour. After only two and a half weeks in town, we had met many people we could imagine as life-long friends and could envision ourselves in the community.  Without even noting the alluring, picturesque scenery, the pastel-painted houses, gorgeous beaches, and its candy striped lighthouse, Hopetown—especially before the season begins—is a charming, welcoming, comfortable place to spend a winter, maybe even a lifetime.  But to cruisers like us, who had come south to explore places unreachable by car or commercial airplane, it also seemed a bit like the land of the Lotus-eaters, where Odysseus and his crew risked forgetting where they have come from and where they were going. 

For the past week, we had discussed many good reasons to leave, but kept delaying our departure.  We had to take our SSB radio, the third brand-new one to blow up on our boat, to the FedEx office in Marsh Harbor, to mail it back to the guy who installed it.  We were going to be coming back to Hopetown on the 20th or so, to meet our friends on Seahorse.  We needed new snorkels and the dive shop on Elbow Cay did not have the “dry” kind we wanted, but the one on Guana did.  We had been exactly nowhere else in the Abacos since we arrived at Marsh Harbor on November 15, and it was high time we got out and about.

Exerting considerable willpower, we packed up the boat.  We gathered up all the shells and coral pieces we had collected and put them inside our five-gallon bucket, which we had left out for washing clothes.  That bucket went into the stern lazarette.  I took in all the laundry, folded and stowed the dry clothes, then hung up still wet items from the finger rail down below.  Then I picked the last clothespins off the lifelines and shoved them in a plastic bag in the compartment under the winches.  I hauled the heavy string bag carrying potatoes, squash, and coconuts down below and tied it up where it wouldn’t swing into anything fragile.  Ryan put the gin, rum, and vodka, that we leave out under the stairs heading into the hatch, into a storage locker behind the seat cushions ,and stored the smaller bottles of Braggs’ aminos, vinegar, vanilla, coconut- and tea-tree oil behind the sliding panels where we keep our dishes.  I took the coffee pot and rinsed the grounds out in sea-water while Ryan washed, dried, and stowed the cups and plates from breakfast. I gathered up all the books scattered throughout the cabin and shoved them into the too-tight shelves, smoothed and stored sea-charts, the computer, our two ipads, two kindles, and iphone, under the desk at the navigation station, after coiling up all the cords and packing them into a plastic lock-n-lock bin.  I stowed the bug screens in a mesh bag that gets crammed under the table next to the laundry and ditch-bag and stacked all the pillows.  Finally, I put all our loose toiletries back into plastic boxes or bags and shoved them into the cabinet in the head.  Then we allowed ourselves a last luxury—we dinghied over to the Hopetown Inn & Marina, whom we have paid a weekly rate for mooring, took a brief swim and then showered.  Or I did.

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Storm clouds over Hopetown

Just as we were getting into the pool, the sky darkened threateningly.  Ryan remembered that we hadn’t closed up the boat, so he jumped into the dinghy and raced the rain. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the shower.  Ah!  to stand in warm water instead of crouching in the cockpit with a bucket!  I washed my hair twice, conditioned it, and put my wet bathing suit back on without drying off.  At my insistence, we had brought only one towel, so that we wouldn’t have two wet masses getting in our way during the journey.  I hung it on a rocking chair on the covered walkway near the bathrooms and stretched while watching the downpour and waiting for Ryan.  He came back drenched.  He had reached the boat just in time to batten both hatches and screw down all six port lights before the torrent—and it was a torrent—soaked everything inside. 

The rain seemed to be in league with the lotus, luring us to stay longer in Hopetown.  It roared down well after Ryan showered and emerged in clean, dry clothes.  Since it made no sense to drown ourselves in the dinghy, and there was a perfectly lovely restaurant in the marina,  we plopped ourselves down at the bar, ordered up a couple of chardonnays and some conch chowder for lunch.  Ah! the life of the lotus-eaters!  Still we remained firm, determined despite reason to go.  When the rain petered out, we motored back to the boat, shook off the mooring, and headed out into the Sea of Abaco.  As though trying to force us back, the rain started up again and beat hard against the dodger’s plastic window, making it hard to see ahead.  Our jackets, and the bimini, the canvas roof over the wheel in the stern, kept the worst of the rain off us, but we both got thoroughly soaked within minutes.  What determination! 

Was it worth it?  Read our next blog, Adventures on Guana Cay, to find out!

The heat and the beach

When I stepped off the plane two weeks ago in Raleigh-Durham, the temperature read 97 degrees in the shade.  It was so hot my eyes sweated and I felt like I had a rash.  It’s settled down to a mere 85 degrees today, but it feels much hotter.  The sun is a terrible, searing power that saps all your energy and scorches your skin. You cannot survive in it without a hat.

I’ve been in hotter climates.  Nothing prepared me for Qatar, where the sky and the land are white hot and to walk into that light feels like heading into an oven, a fire, a blinding nothingness of burning and desolation, salt and stone and dessication.

Here, at least, you sweat in the sun.  Your own body water pours out of your forehead and eyelids and hairline, behind your ears and down your neck, between your breasts and under your armpits and in your crotch.  When you are becalmed in dead wind, as we were, yesterday, sailing back from Ocracoke, you bake like a fish in the oven; your skin gets all crispy and brown and your backbone gets wobbly and bendy.  I did the only sensible thing: I took off all my clothes and poured bucketfuls of ocean water on my body, up on the front deck.  But one can’t do that in Oriental, at the dock, without getting arrested, so the wise thing to do is to head down below into air conditioning with a book.

But on Ocracoke you can go to the Atlantic, where the wind cools you down and everything is beautiful and slow and clean. Here’s a video of my Ryan on the beach there: 

Ocracoke

Well, my dears,

Now that I have taken the time to set up the blog (www.sophiasailing.com), which took a surprisingly long time, I have a moment to write about where we have been for the last few days and what it’s like here.  I know some of you, at least are curious.  “She just quit her job and went down to North Carolina with her boyfriend to go sailing!”  Yes I did.  And very happy to have done so, in spite of the hundred bug bites and lack of laundry facilities and numerous bruises and scrapes all over my body.

Traveling aboard a sailboat is like a dance. The first, essential steps that come only with pain, allow you to move about without banging into lines, cleats, hardware, booms, and other dangerous metal objects.  With time, these steps become routine, but for now, well, just look at my legs.  Or don’t, as they’re not pretty.

North Carolina is lovely.  The dialect is lovely and lilting and slow.  But on Okracoke Island, its unique.  You’ve heard of the place where the locals have been so isolated that the locals speak an English closer to Shakespeare’s than anywhere in England?  We are there.  It’s not quite right to say that the dialect is closer to the original late 16th century speech, since all dialects change over time and this one has, too.  Still, it is true that many of the words used here, such as “mommuck,” which means to harrass or bother, and “quamish,” queasy, are found in the bard’s plays. Commonly referred to as the “high-tide” dialect, locals pronounce “high” as “hoi” and “tide” and “toi.”

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The first English explorers of the New World arrived on Okracoke in the late 15th century. They couldn’t have navigated the treacherously shallow waters of what is now called the Pamlico sound without guidance from the natives, who, it seems, never settled on the island they called Wokokon and used as a hunting and fishing ground. While searching for Roanoke Island in 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh’s navigators ran aground on a sand bar and stopped to make repairs. The first mention of the island in Sir Richard Greenville’s report to Sir Walter indicated that white settlers had shipwrecked there and were saved by locals:

And after ten dayes remaining in an out Island vnhabited, called Wocokon, they with the help of some of the dwellers of Sequotan, fastened two boates of the countrey together & made mastes vnto them, and sailes of their shirtes, and hauing taken into them such victuals as the countrey yeelded, they departed after they had remained in this out Island 3 weekes: but shortly after it see∣med they were cast away, for the boates were found vpon the coast, cast a land in another Island ad∣ioyning: other then these, there was neuer any people apparelled, or white of colour, either seene,…

From The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation. made by sea or ouer-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth, at any time within the compasse of these 1600. yeres:  By Richard Hakluyt preacher, and sometime student of Christ-Church in Oxford.

Wococcon was once an island that served as hunting, fishing, and herbal grounds for the Native Americans.  White people never stepped on its sandy shores until the late 16th century.  White people have taken it over now.   White people flood the island.   Indeed, one of the strangest things about being on Okracoke is the absence of people of color.  I’ve seen one Black family vacationing and one Black man taking care of the trash, one Latin man serving in a restaurant and another working as a dockhand.  Everyone else is white-white and most everyone here speaks with a Southern drawl.  It’s not unpleasant but eerie.  What is unpleasant are the confederate flags that seem to be so common, still, around here.  They’re ugly.