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.

 

Endless August in Georgetown

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From the Cockpit of Sophia at Georgetown

I am writing this on our last full day in Georgetown.  The winds are still quite strong but should settle down this evening. As soon as Ryan finishes the third and final coat of varnish on the toe-rail, we’ll go for a hike up Monument Hill, which overlooks Elizabeth Harbor to the West and Exuma Sound to the East.   The weather here is as Melville describes the Quito spring,

which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic.  The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose water snow.  Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Yesterday was very much like today.  Ryan varnished while I took a hike on the island with my friend Sandy, from Bel Canto, cutting palm fronds. I took my basket-making supplies and wove at the tables in the shade, where a number of other women were doing the same.  The woman who taught us all how to get started, Sharon, was there, and she looked at my work and said it was good.  I’m learning and my first basket looks a lot different from the ones Sharon makes.  It is strangely meditative to weave and very nice to do it with other women.  The tables are right next to the vollyball courts, where some of weaver’s partners were playing.  I enjoyed looking up now and then to see Ryan laughing and having fun, for a change.  He’s been working on the boat an awful lot. 

In the evening we sat in the cockpit and drank wine while watching the suns yolk slip behind the hills, basking in the delicious ocean breeze.  We talked about how glad we were to be freed from the endless chatter of the internet, the make-sensational non-news with which the media pickles the brain.  How liberating is feels to live closer to the rythyms of the sunrise and sunset, the movement of the water and the winds. 

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Volleyball Beach, looking towards the bar called ‘Chat and Chill’

When Sandy and I walked along a ridge overlooking the Sound yesterday, I observed that I have almost started to take the scenery for granted, it has been so constant.  Viredescent waves crashing on bone-white sand and glistening black rocks, surf eddying into ochre tide-pools, the sea like liquid jade rushing over the coral reefs offshore, molten emerald, crystalline turquoise, aquamarine farther out, above the sky the palest violet. 

The days roll by like a slow, glorious pageant, a stately procession of opulently bejeweled kings and queens trailing diaphanous silks.  It is an enormous pleasure, immense, a magnificent banquet of color and nature and warmth and sunlight, clear water and cooling breezes.

Reading Melville at Sea: On women and chapter six

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The women of New Bedford, Ishmael informs us, bloom only in summer and their bloom is unmatched everywhere except in Salem, where

The young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of the Puritanic sands.

Is this some elaborate, juvenile joke whereby Ishmael means to say that women smell like fish ?  Or that for all they look to be of an entirely different species—the pale, blue-eyed Puritan species, they smell just the same as the darker girls in the Spice islands?  He is speaking of ambergris, which was obtained from Sperm whales and used by perfumers after it had aged.  When it first comes out of the whale’s gastrointestinal tract, it smells like faeces. 

Like the women of New Bedford, the  women of Spanish Wells also seem to bloom only in summer, and when they are young, they appear to do very little other than strike fetching poses while seated next to young men driving boats.  For example, as we exited Channel Cut—which is nerve-wracking because the current rushing through it is so strong, and the channel between the coral on both sides so narrow, that it is only safe to go through it at slack tide— we saw a small fishing boat come roaring out behind us.  The young man standing on the bow, with one hand locked into the painter as though he were riding a bronco, the other ready with a spear, could have been one of the Pequod’s crew.  The other young man at the helm steered the tiny craft straight into the waves with what seemed an insane speed.  And the girl?  She just sat there, utterly passive, indifferent to the brave action around her, completely useless!  She might as well have been a statue.  And so common!  I found it very strange that I did not see a single woman driving a boat, not even a dinghy.

Ishmael takes a stroll around New Bedford and admires the strangers from distant shores he sees there: “actual cannibals chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom carry on their bones unholy flesh.” I wonder if vegans look at those of us who rejoice as we sink our teeth into bloody, red flesh, find it amazing that we, too, walk around in public, unhindered?  Do they regard us as savages? But that is the point Melville is making, isn’t it?  That the very people who think of themselves as refined and civilized are, in fact, quite brutal and bloodthirsty? 

Consider Ishmael’s observation that all the lovely, tidy mansions in the town have been “harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.”  He reminds us that the tidy, civilized life on shore comes not just from the unruly, savage life on the sea, but also from the labors of the dark “savages” who toil on the ships owned by the White men on land. 

Abandoning the dog

January 1, 2016

I was worried about the dog, and seemed to be the only one worried.  The girls all said, “O, someone is taking care of her.  We saw lights.”  No one seemed to believe me when I said, “there is no one there.  There is no food or water.” 

I paddled ashore again and walked up to all the houses, calling loudly and knocking on doors and peering into windows.  There was not a soul, other than the dog, on island.   

I felt dreadful, dehydrated, and depressed because I could not find the dog.  Wearily I wandered back to my paddleboard, and sat on it, stupidly, wondering what to do.  I had brought food and water but hadn’t seen or heard her after an hour’s search.  She found me there, and joyfully bounced and frolicked around me on the beach. She never once jumped up on me, though.  Someone had trained her well.  She wolfed down the chicken breast I brought and sniffed around for more.  She was really, really hungry.  But not thirsty.  She didn’t want the the water, which didn’t make sense to me, as I couldn’t see where she was getting water.  I spent a long time petting her, and my hands came away blue.  Paint?

I had spoken to Muffin about the dog yesterday, and she said she had called someone who knew the owner, who said that there was a caretaker on the island.  I told her emphatically that no one was taking care of the dog or the island, and that we had been here for three days and seen no one.  So she told me to call Harold, who said he he had talked to someone who knew the caretaker and said, “the caretaker is there.”  “No, there is no one here. There has been no one here for three days, “ I insisted.  So Harold said he would come down to see for himself.  And this afternoon he did drive down in his motor boat.  He didn’t go ashore, I think, but he could tell from the lack of boats that the island was empty of humans.  But he didn’t take the dog back with him.  I wrote an email about his visit to Muffin and Will, asking them to let me know if they heard anything about the dog. 

Christmas in a strange world

December 26, 2015. 

If you are really into small-town Christmas, and are White, heterosexual, and maybe also an alcoholic, consider spending the holiday in Hopetown.  Here the locals and the cruisers build a “Christmas village” at the center of town, complete with an “ice” skating rink made of slippery plastic and plastic skates and lots of evergreen Casurina (sp?) trees stuck into the sand, tents, a manger with a white plastic Mary, Joseph, and baby, which also served as the backdrop for the stage where kids read religiously themed storeis to the crowd, gift shops that supported local charities (the school, the community center, the animal rescue leagues) and an outdoor bar where you got rosemary margeritas and a gin or vodka based Bahamian “switcha” made with sweetened sour orange juice.   Everyone is very nice and very clean and very friendly.  Ryan and I joined the carolers and enjoyed the lights and small-town cheer at the Christmas village, but frankly its a depressing holiday for me, always the seaon when I regret how far away I am from my family, not only physically but also emotionally.  It’s a very lonely time of year for many people.

We celebrated with our friends aboard “Seahorse,” Travis and Mary Fowler and four of Travis’s five daughters, Lauren, 23, Mary Kate, 16, Mary Helen, 15, and Lily, 9.  They flew down for a few weeks with their kids. 

We also met a number of other truly great and fascinating people from Canada and the UK and the US

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Interesting art on Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas.

.  The cool thing about cruising is you go around meeting people with whom you already have a lot in common, even though you may have grown up on different continents.  Most people are gregarious, open-minded, and helpful to others. Every now and then you meet folks with whom you feel a very strong connection.

While I’ve really enjoyed Hopetown and, as I’ve said in previous blog posts, can see why people sail into the harbor and stay for a lifetime, I’m happy to be moving south.  The mooring field was starting to feel very crowded, and dinghies and fishing boats and ferries and freight carriers constantly weave through the boats until well after sundown.  For the past two nights loud music from somewhere on shore or a boat somewhere in the harbor blared late into the early morning.  Many people who come and go from Hopetown are one-week vacationers chartering a boat, and they can be inconsiderate, loud, and even dangerous, when inexperienced. I’m looking forward to getting away from crowds.

Last night I met only the second solo woman cruiser since I got onto this road.  She, like eveyrone else I have encountered so far on this journey, is White, heterosexual, and Christian. Where is everybody else? There are Black people in boats but I have yet to see who cruise.  Black and White Bahamians are civil to one another but seem to live separate lives.  Nearly everyone here appears to be Christian, and most of them are Protestant.  Like the American South, from which many of the original settlers, Black and White, came in the late 18th century, this is a very stratified, homogeneous society.   

My tone may sound particularly cranky because I have been sick for the past couple of weeks, and am actually getting worse.  I think I’m anemic and have started to take iron pills.  I’m not sleeping well, am really fatigued, and get stomach cramps every time I eat.  I’ve been drinking a lot of water, and did get a nap today while Ryan went snorkeling with our friends.  I took a nap on the boat.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to connect to the internet again.  It was hard enough to do in Hopetown.  We still haven’t been able to fix our M2 Bullet and therefore have to go ashore to get a signal in a coffee shop or bar, where the connection is always extremely slow.  Even with a good connection, it takes 1 hour to upload a 15 second video, and photos are only a little bit faster. 

I’ll keep up with the blog, for the sake of discipline, I suppose.  But I’ll have to post everything all at once, and will probalby not even bother with pictures.  When you’re anchored off a gorgeous beach in turquoise water and a soft wind is blowing your hair, you do not want to be tethered to a damn machine drumming your fingers while you wait and curse and wait and curse and wait for photos to upload.  And most of the time you can’t connect at all, and you’d much rather be swimming or snorkeling or walking or paddle-boarding or reading.

Boat Repair at Man-O-War

Having the bottom of our boat painted at a famous yard on Man-O-War Cay.

 

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Rough Waters,” a classic Abaco sailboat designed by William H. Albury and built in this yard in 1975.  Sophia, with a newly painted bottom, is proud to stand next to her.

We have been at Man-O-War Cay for the past four days, having Sophia’s bottom painted.  The hull looked pretty good last August, just before we bought the boat and had it hauled for the survey.  Just three and half months later, it had grown a slimy, shaggy coat. 

Man-O-War was the best place to bring it, for a number of reasons:

  1. The people of this island are famous for their expertise in boat building and repair; and Keith Albury, who has built boats here since 1960, directed our project and engaged personally in much of the labor.  
  2. When we called around, we learned that Edwin’s yard could do the job right away, while Marsh Harbor and Green Turtle could not start until January;
  3. Edwin’s yard is cleaner and quieter than any yard we have ever seen before (and we’ve seen a lot—Sophia is not our first boat);
  4. All the workers at Edwin’s are assiduous, courteous, and knowledgable; and, finally,
  5. Man-O-War is gorgeous.

The apparatus for hauling a boat fascinated us.  A large wooden frame affixed to metal runners, like railroad ties, slides down under your boat at high tide.  The side braces adjust to the width and shape of your hull.  Then a machine operating a belt and pulley system hauls the boat up on the hard.  

We arrived Thursday morning, and the guys started scrubbing away by 7:30.  They water-sanded the bottom as they cleaned it, and had hand-brushed the first coat of primer on by the end of the day.   They worked all through Friday and finished at the end of Saturday.  On Sunday morning, we splashed back into the water. 

For a place with such a bellicose name,  Man-O-War is sure peaceful.  Situated near Elbow Cay and Marsh Harbor on the “mainland,” Abaco, the islet is a mere 2.5 miles long and, at its narrowest point, only 30 feet wide.

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The Low Point on Man-O-War Cay

 The sheer rock path passing though “the low point” lies barely above water at high tide.  The locals say that the islet began as a place to farm, but was later settled by a few pious, Protestant families who still live here today. 

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Windswept tree on Man-O-War

Nearly all the roughly 300 permanent residents  are related to one another through the Albury or Sweeting family.  You can tell they are one big clan, as most of them look alike: tall, light-haired, and heavy-set, with broad faces and small, closely set eyes.  Friendly and helpful, the residents of Man-O-War welcome visitors and cruisers, but not drunkards. 

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Ryan and our friend, Lloyd, at Dock & Dine

The majority are still boycotting the restaurant at the marina, Dock & Dine, for selling beer and wine, even though they managed to ensure a provision requiring a person who buys a drink to purchase something to eat with it.  We don’t mind having to buy food, since it’s  fabulous.  Be sure to try the pizza, which is made from scratch each day!

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!