Of the Barracuda and other animals

barracuda

December 30, 2015.

We sailed with Seahorse to another island nearby.  On its windward side, the Atlantic roars over an underwater reef and surges in great round swells, rolling boats side to side as they head through the strong current.  Here we are protected from that rollicking bay.  We found lovely calm, clear water on its leeward side. 

We sang Happy Birthday to Lily, who turned 10 today.   Ten is an excellent age for a girl.  She is not yet self-conscious of the pressure on her to be a sexual being and thus inhabits her body and mind without pretense or anxiety.  

On the island the Fowler girls met a dog, a black and white lab mix, female, very friendly.   We heard her barking during the night and saw a light or two.  They assumed someone was taking care of her.  I didn’t think anyone was there, as I hadn’t seen any boats and there were no footprints on the beach.

We spent the rest of the day on the water. It seems we are becoming more and more like those floating villages in the South Seas, where people spend their entire lives without touching solid ground.  “Land” is the cockpit, the foredeck, the galley, the salon, the tiny patch of teak floor in the v-berth, in the head.  These are the areas where we do our eating, our walking, our yoga, our lunching, our lounging, our reading, our writing, our preening, our teeth-brushing.  We create parties on rafted paddleboats and dinghies.

The water at this anchorage is swimming-pool blue and green, clear, and full of colorful fish.  Some of them, like the silvery, Bluerunner Jacks, swim freely in the open, but most of them stick close to the little boulders of coral, which spread out into flatter, lacy mounds with hidey-holes.  We saw small, pale, spotted Groupers lurking under the larger coral hills, magenta Squirrel fish and pink Blackbar Soldier fish sheltering in nest-like sandy hollows, tiny blue Wrasses, blue-yellow Damselfish, and larger black-and-yellow striped Sergeant Majors nibbling around the brain coral.  Two or three green and blue Queen Triggerfish with clownlike blue frown lines swam sideways and peered up me with star-burst eyes.  A three-feet wide, brown, Southern Sting ray hovered over the sands and then winged away.  Clouds of thin Yellowtail Snappers raced around and through the coral, while tiny, blue-white Fairy Basslets and baby-pink, -yellow, and -blue Cardinalfish hid in the grasses and poked their heads under the conch shells.

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Live conch coming out of its beautiful shell

We were diving for conch and other edible treasures, so I tied the painter of my paddleboard to my wrist and followed the Fowler sisters out towards the northern tip of the island, where the current flows strongly and the conch like to grow.  Lauren, who was swimming without flippers, met a four-foot Barracuda, who swam right up into her face to take a better look.  They are very curious fish, and not really dangerous when unprovoked, but sight of them sets off some ancient alarm in the reptilian brain that rings, “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!”  She panicked and kicked at it.  Fortunately, she did not meet its teeth and it swam away peaceably. 

Back on our boats, Ryan and Travis tackled the shells in the cockpits, gloating and shouting to one another enthusiastically as they got better and better and the art of conch cleaning. Men.  I chopped up pearl onion, garlic, celery and red cabbage for the salad.  We didn’t have any fresh tomatoes, but I did find a box of tomato soup that had a few lumps that did the trick.  To this mess I added the conch, of course, which Ryan helpfully diced, hot pepper sauce and lime juice.  We had lovely curried beans and rice leftovers.  Ryan insisted we add pork to the mix, and  I made him do the frying since I was already sweating and wanted to get out of the galley. We still have one more bag of frozen pork, which was organically raised and humanely slaughtered near Oriental, North Carolina.  The pork is very tasty, but it did nothing for the beans and rice, which ended up very bland.  Mary made a rum cake for Lily’s birthday.  I drank too much red wine, which always gives me a headache.  The girls turned in at around 9, signalling that it was time for us to go home, too.  We dinghied back under a brilliant, starry sky.  Ryan stayed up for a rum nightcap.  I collapsed gratefully into bed, delightfully exhausted. 

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.

Good anchors are good

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Our travels over the last couple of weeks

 

Sorry for the long delay in posting, my friends.  We’ve been sailing and anchoring off shore, far away from the internet.  Only in the last 30 minutes have I had access to it again, here at Buddha’s Bar and Restaurant in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera.  I will post photos as soon as I can.   Until then,  I will publish what I’ve written in order.

By the way, Buddha’s is a colorful bar with an interesting gray parrot.  But the food is not that great and I wouldn’t want to be here when all the big screen tv’s are on and the music is turned up loud.  Spanish Wells is so named because the Spaniards, the ones who killed all the original Lucayan inhabitants of these islands, dug a number of wells here back in the late 16th century.  There isn’t anything Spanish about this place.  It’s a fisher-town, with lots of biting flies, hot streets, and murky water.  As on many of the other out islands settled by Loyalists during the late 18th century, the White locals look inbred as they are all rather tall and large bodied.  Most of them  sound as though they never went to school at all.  They say “ain’t got no” and seem gruff but are fairly friendly and nice enough.

We are here only to get propane and gas and provisions and to do a couple of loads of laundry.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be on land again, after the past four, no five, days without setting foot on solid ground.  We’ve been sitting out a “big blow,” as they call a system of 50 knot winds, torrential rains, and screaming, howling, screaming, howling.

We found out about the need for good anchors over the past few days at Royal Harbor.  The water is a lovely chalky green, due to the gloopy sands that make for poor holding in rough weather.  We were fine up to 30 knots, but we started to sweat at 40 and decided to set a second anchor when the winds started to gust up to 50.  The water was only 10 feet deep, but we had to let out 100 feet of chain, 50 feet of chain on the main anchor, a 33 pound Rocna, and 30 feet of chain and a 150 feet of rode on a 23 pound Fortress.    Still, we didn’t sleep, as the winds clocked around the entire compass during the three days we stayed here.

I’d love to show you a few pictures, but didn’t take any.  We were kind of busy keeping our boat safe.  Plus it was raining sheets and windows.  But I have posted a lovely photo of Ryan on Abaco, below.

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Ryan walking on the beach on Man-O-War Cay

 

 

 

 

Adventures on Guana Cay

Sure, it’s nice when the sun shines, but the best thing about cruising are the amazing folks one meets along the way. Guana Cay locals have great stories to tell.

IMG_5014We sailed into Settlement Bay at Gauna Cay,  intending to anchor, but the windlass wouldn’t work , so we ended up mooring next to a trawler named  “Brokedown Palace.”  Isn’t that just the perfect name for a cruising vessel?  Oh, don’t worry.  The windlass wasn’t broken.  We had nudged a fuse while fixing something else and nudged it back into place the next day.   No matter.  Because we were moored,  we got to meet Troy Albury, a true Bahamian hero.

Troy Albury and the Bakers Bay Controversy

Mooring fields are designed to squeeze as many vessels in as small a space as possible.  They afford little privacy and less security, since you never know how strong the line or the anchor at the end of it is.  But they are easy.  You pick up the float and pull up theline attached to it at one end and some heavy object on the other, and loop it around your cleat.  Done.  Anchored.  You pay for this, usually about $20 a night.

Our “landlord” knocked on the hull for payment at 7 the next morning.  Ryan popped his head out of the forward hatch, right above the v-berth where we were sleeping, and, after recognizing the man’s  voice, said, “Hey! Aren’t you the guy we hear every morning on the Cruisers’ Net?”  “That would be my evil twin,” Troy Albury answered.  Troy has a great reputation as an all-around good fellow, island councilman, environmental activist, chief of Guana Cay Fire and Rescue, and the very knowledgeable and capable owner of Dive Guana.  We listen to him nearly every morning. 

It was nice to meet him, and he kindly agreed to meet us over at the dive shop, as we needed to buy new snorkels.  First we took our boat over to Fisher’s Bay and anchored off shore from Dive Guana.  We were the only boat there, and that was heavenly.  After paying Troy for the mooring and the snorkels, we set off on foot for the grocery store, which was incredibly well-stocked.  They even had Lactaid!  (But no corn tortillas, unfortunately.) If you’re looking to replenish your galley, go here, but first stop at Milo’s farm stand for vegetables and fruit.

As we lugged our groceries back to the dinghy, a friendly old-timer urged us to hop into his golf cart.  He set off at a frighteningly fast pace and talked as rapidly and as haphazardly as he drove.  His sister, he said, used to own lots of property on the Cay, but “wouldn’t hear no more about the Bahamas.”  She still owned a “big mansion,” he said, gesturing towards a driveway that disappeared behind a thicket, but never visited it. She preferred her estate with horses and dogs in North Carolina.  He, himself, was the first Abaconian we met who had not been born in Nassau. He was born on Guana, and he loved it, but he had nothing nice to say about Bakers Bay,  the exclusive resort for wealthy and famous foreigners that went in about five years ago.

Although by law all beaches in the Bahamas belong the people and are public, Bakers Bay restricts access to the north end of the Cay.  You can moor in the bay, and technically can land on the beach, but Bakers Bay guards will harass you until you leave.  A patrolled fence with gates prevents all locals and tourists from entry by land.  Locals used to be allowed to walk there, but someone took a photograph of some football player, who made a fuss, and that was that.  

Before the resort at Bakers Bay was developed, the majority of residents protested, alongside Save Guana Cay Reef, other Bahamian conservation groups, Greenpeace, Global Coral Reef AllianceMangrove Action Network,  Ocean Futures Society, and the Sierra Club. As Jean-Michel Cousteau wrote to the Prime Minister,

…the Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club development on Great Guana Cay may undermine the environmental health of the region; specifically affecting the nesting sea turtles of Gumelemi Cay and to the north, and impacting the neighboring reefs.

The Bahamian government, reputed to be deeply corrupt and indifferent to environmental concerns, ignored all complaints and let the resort go in. 

By no means an expert on coral reefs, even I can tell that these reefs are hurting.  Out at Fowl Cay, you can see large swathes of once vibrant brain coral, browned and dulled.  But don’t take my word for it.  Listen to Troy Albury, via Guana Cay Blog, which “reports on the science of coral reef conservation, and in particular the effects of golf courses, marinas and large developments adjacent to pristine marine habitats”:

What we have seen, and as evidenced by these photos, is an increase in black band disease, white plague and brown spot disease at the north end of Guana Cay, at the Cathedral dive site, which was studied and catalogued well before construction on the golf course had begun. Dr. Risk, Dr. Cervino and Dr. Goreau all dove the reef in 2005 and 2006 and found not a single case of disease. Now, the disease is rampant and the corals are being killed. Also, there is an alarming amount of algae present which is slowly smothering the reef.

Mr. Albury refers here to Dr. Michael J. Risk, an ecologist at McMaster University, Hamilton, Dr. James Cervino, a coral pathologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Dr. Thomas Goreau, of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, who all protested the Bakers Bay mega-development and have been monitoring the devastating effect its fertilizer run-off has had on the reefs.  

Our voluble host, however, did not appear to be too concerned about the environment.  He seemed to object more to the fact that locals could no longer roam the island he grew up on than to the impact it already had and would have on the environment.  We thanked him for the ride and scooted back to the boat, where we spent the rest of the day sheltering from rain.

An Evening at Nippers

We headed back to shore for dinner at Nippers, a brightly painted, slightly shabby party spot with cheap drinks and expensive food draped across a 40 foot sand dune.  We drank too much and ate too little.  I remember twirling on the deck to music I can’t remember.  At one point I headed down the beach, found to a dark spot, and lay back in the sand, looking up at the stars.  I do not know how long I stayed there.  I do know that Ryan was frantic when I finally stumbled back, and justly scolded me for wandering off into the night without telling him where I was going.

Sunrise at Guana Cay

The next morning I made coffee while it was still dark and sat out on “the porch,” our cockpit, to watch the dawn come to Guana.  The temperature felt much colder than the actual 68 degrees.  I pulled on some capris and a stretch jacket and took shelter under the dodger.  Far off to port, a green navigation light blinked steadily, but otherwise the darkness obscured the horizon.  As the sky paled, the silhouette of Delia’s Island, a small, scrubby green rock at the mouth of Fisher’s Bay, showed itself 50 yards from our stern.  To the north white, triangular rooftops perched like seabirds on the shore.  As the sun rose, the undersides of the clouds turned violet and cobalt.  Darker masses, still fringed with silver, glowered over the island, portending rain.  The Northeast wind ruffled up the lagoon into rippling, milky green waves.  Our dinghy, Freya, bobbed at our stern, and the water slapping rhythmically against its aluminum floor and rubber sides sounded almost like someone walking.  As the sun rose higher, heavy, puffy clouds swam like manatees across a pale lavender sky.  A wan yellow light reflected off the crinkly surface of the clear, green and gray water.  It was low tide, and Delia’s bony, dead coral underskirts were showing. 

At 8:15 we tuned in the Cruiser’s Net and hear Troy say,

Good morning cruisers and the only thing I can say is, don’t shoot the messenger! There is nothing good to say about the weather! It won’t be good for diving or sun-bathing.  So basically in English there is one front on top of us, another trying to come down, they’re both going to merge and make for rainy, breezy weather for the next couple of days.

We sighed.  Would this rain ever end?  At least it wasn’t raining at the moment, so Ryan drove the dinghy around Delia Island while I hung over the bow, peering through a look-bucket, following a lead in our often misleading “guide”book that said this would be a good place to snorkel.  We saw a few small brown fish and plenty of grass, nothing special, so we took our gear back to the boat and decided to go for a walk on the beach instead. 

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Delia’s Cay, seen from Fisher’s Bay on a rainy day. That’s S/V Sophia in the distance.  Our dinghy is tied up at Dive Guana’s dock.  

Walking Around

As we headed down the main road that skirts the beach at Settlement Bay on the Sea of Abaco,  we saw a bow-legged man in word plaid shorts, a grey tee-shirt and a baseball hat walking his tiny black pincher.  Barking like a banshee, the doglet lunged at a cat and the man yelled at the dog in Guana dialect, which sounds like a cross between London Cockney and North Carolina drawl.  “Stop that! You bad dog!  You cahn’t be barking!  The caht has a right to live!”  He was still crouched down cursing the creature as we turned down the lane to Nippers.

We walked down through a spooky, shady grove of palm trees clustered around three large, sandy puddles, then headed up past the cemetery, and the well sign-posted Poisonwood tree (do not touch!  you WILL get a rash) and climbed the hill to Nippers.  We braced ourselves for the crowd that allegedly deluges the place on Sundays for the well-advertised “pig roast,” and I instinctively flinched as we neared the deafening din of pop tunes blaring from under the huge, circular, thatch-palm roof that shelters the outdoor bar.

In spite of the noise, the place was relatively empty.  A drowsy couple dangled their feet in the freshwater pool at the top of the hill, but the lower lagoon was empty, as were all the beach chairs around it and on the decks above. A few 20-something men leaned against the worn, horseshoe-shaped bar, nursing bottles of Kalik and plastic cups of Nipper’s signature drink, frozen pink punch spiked with four kinds of rum. 

Six middle-aged, white women seemed to be celebrating something at a table overlooking the beach.  They all sported red kerchiefs studded with yellow, blue and green plastic globules, which I assumed were meant to resemble fruit.  Was this odd headgear the Bahamian version of the short veils Yorkshire girls wear when they bar-hop to toast the bride the night before her wedding?  These women seemed too old for that.  A few of them had tied tattered hula skirts around their thickening waists.  Perhaps this was standard island pig-roast attire?  A waitress chatted with a bartender, smiled benignly as we slipped past her and hurried over to the stairs that lead down the dune to the broad beach that faces the third-largest barrier reef in the world.   

The rain had stopped but the sky remained overcast.  Breaking over the reef, what looked like fifteen to twenty waves of six- and seven-feet rollers raced towards the shore, churning up the bay.  Swimming, and snorkeling much more, was out of the question, but we were grateful for a relatively dry walk.  Sinking deeply into the velvety sand, I tore off my blue-green sarong and marched ahead in the one-piece suit that supposedly takes ten pounds off my figure.  Ryan stuck closer to the water, where the sand is harder.   We walked about a mile, down as far as the tide would let us go, then turned around and headed back.

  I found two good-luck charms on the beach: a sea bean, an extremely hard nut that grows on African trees and washes up on Bahamian beaches, and a small, white plastic globe on a tattered blue rope.  Sea beans polish up beautifully and are often used in jewelry.  The float probably came from a fishing boat.  Locals hang them from trees like charms or talismans to ward off bad spirits.  I planned to decorate our stern with this one.  It would also come in handy for the rare occasions when we paid to tie up to a mooring and wanted to mark it as reserved. 

As we passed back through Nippers, and a coat-rack that read, “leave bikini tops here,” I noticed that the fruit-headed women and bar-supporting men had been joined by another small group of retirement-age tourists.  Otherwise, the place was still empty.  Since Ryan and I had spent too much time and money there the night before, we felt little urgency to linger, and  frankly grateful leave its ear-splitting speakers. 

Milo and Edmond

On the main road in town, which skirts Settlement Bay on the Sea of Abaco side, we stopped to have a look at Milo’s produce.  We quickly realized that the bow-legged man with the fierce cat-menacing dog was Milo himself, and a very friendly person to boot. He offers his wares right in front of the old wooden cottage where he was born.  We bought a mango, a papaya, four oranges, and a fat sweet onion for 12 dollars.  He also had potatoes, red onions, good-looking tomatoes and apples for sale, all grown on the island. When I asked Milo if I could take the picture of him and his dog, below, he said, “For a good-looking woman like you?”  One is never to old to appreciate a good flirt.  

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Behind Milo is the little gray cottage that his parents leased and where he and his brother, Edmond, were born.

 

Having had such a pleasant time chatting with Milo, we settled ourselves down at the quirky little bar that his brother, Edmond, owns nextdoor.  Although Milo is well-known among tourists and locals alike for his knowledge about Abaco history, it was Edmond who regaled us with stories about his life on Guana Cay before the tourists began to come.  He, too, was born in the little house behind the farm stand, which his parents rented while they farmed the land almost a century ago.   They grew tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, oranges, mangoes, and bananas.  Edmond bought real estate as quickly and as often as he could, he said.  He recently had to sell a number of his lots, sadly, to pay his wife’s medical bills. After expressing my sympathy, I asked him how he met her.

In the late 1940s, Edmond related, “six girls and one boy” arrived in Marsh Harbor looking for a ride to the southern tip of Guana Cay, where they had rented a house.  Edmond happened to be there on business and offered them a ride.  After he dropped them off, he said with a grin, he rushed back to his friends and announced that the island had “fresh blood.”   He spent the next few weeks sailing back between town and the newcomers, taking them out for excursions while pursuing a girl who ignored him.  One day he found himself with “the other one,” and asked her if she’d like to go look at one of his boats.   She said she would, and did, and so began their 70-year  together.  “What was it that made you fall in love with her after chasing after a different girl,” I asked.  He looked at me as though I had asked a ridiculously obvious question, and said, “because she was gorgeous!”

 

 Liam and other folks at the bar

While Ryan asked Edmond more questions about farming in the Abacos, I struck up a conversation with the  bartender, a strikingly handsome young man with flaming red hair in a bright orange tank top. I will call him Liam.  Like most Bahamians I’ve met in the Abacos, he was born in Nassau, where there is a hospital, but grew up in here.  He is my son’s age (24), and he told me that his mother, who lived in Florida, had recently suffered a loss.  Her long-term boyfriend had died four days ago.  Liam hadn’t liked him very much, but he was concerned about his mother, and didn’t know whether or not she would stay in Florida or return to the islands.  I put on my therapist’s non-judging, listening ears and tried not to interrupt or direct the conversation, so that he could say whatever he needed someone.  He wasn’t telling me, of course, but rather someone who seemed, at least, to hear him without judgment.  This couldn’t last much longer than the first drink he poured for me, but I meant well..

While we were talking a group of tourists I saw earlier at Nippers sauntered down the street, heading towards Grabbers, no doubt, a much flashier (and noisier) joint on the spit of sand between the Sea of Abaco and the ocean.  Not long after, a fancy golf-cart dropped off two middle-aged men and two women, one of whom was much younger.   We perked up, since up until that point we had been the only drinkers at the bar, and looked forward to meeting new people.  I looked expectantly in their direction, hoping to catch an eye and start a conversation, but they avoided our gaze. 

The new girl, who resembled a young Carly Simon in a baseball cap and large, square, black-rimmed glasses, seemed particularly determined to resist any contact with us.  She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her.  I must have stared rudely, since I was trying to figure out where we had seen her before, or how I knew her, plus it was easy and pleasant to contemplate the guy next to her, who was about forty years older and very good looking in a rugged, overly sun-tanned sort of way, ignored us completely.  Their stand-offishness was not especially peculiar, but it did seem a tad atypical for such a tiny locale.  The horseshoe-shaped bar seated barely six people, and it would have been easy to chat across it.  No matter, I thought, Edmond and Ryan here are undoubtedly more fascinating.  Then it occurred to me that the young girl might be some kind of pop star who assumes that everyone knows her, but whom I was too hopelessly out of touch generally to recognize.  I didn’t notice when they left.  Bakers Bay people.  

Shortly afterwards, friendly faces appeared: Dakota and Will, a Polynesian-looking young woman and a young man with closely cropped, blond hair.  We had met them the night before, at Nippers.  They were Americans who crew on board a 160-foot yacht owned by a super-rich family that travels by plane to wherever they directed the boat to sail.  It was currently anchored at Bakers Bay.  When I asked Edmond his opinion about the luxury development, he asserted, “love it and hate it.”  He liked the money it brought to the island and his bar, “I have 200 to 300 people on a Saturday night here,” during high season, he boasted.  “I’d much rather be here than at Nippers,” Will chimed in.  “So would I,” urged Dakota.  “They all say that,” Edmond said, nodding. 

It was nice talking to Dakota and Will until they commandeered the boombox.  Somehow they persuaded Liam to play tunes from Dakota’s iphone.  I wasn’t interested to learn what this worldly 23 year-old might enjoy, but horrified to hear that she liked only the worst bands from the  1970s and early 1980s: Boston, AC/DC, Lynnard Skynard, Kiss.  Worst of all, she and Will both started shaking their heads left to right and banging their hands on the bar. I did my best not to notice, but was blessed or cursed by the gods with an acute ear for music. 

Shortly before Dakota began tormenting us with bad late 1970s “music,” a new guy showed up who looked to be about our age.   He was a tall, bespectacled fellow in a camp shirt, and shorts whose light hair curled out beneath his cap.  His name was Bruce and he, Ryan and I hit it off immediately.   He said he was a carpenter, a great come-on line if I ever heard one.  But wasn’t his aim. He really was a carpenter, and very proud of his work.   He told us he had built his house on the island, using rare hardwoods throughout.  Ryan had also built a very special house by hand, so they lots to talk about. 

Bruce and Ryan agreed that the music was intolerable, and when it became clear that Edmond, too, was losing his patience for it, I had the bad manners to tell Dakota, “You know, I couldn’t stand this stuff when it first tormented us on the airwaves, and find it hasn’t improved with age.”  Well!  That was enough for her!.  She and Will downed their drinks and packed off to Grabbers.  Bruce then very graciously invited us back to his house for dinner.

Bruce and Roger

We loaded ourselves into Bruce’s golf cart and took off on a bumpy ride to the southern end of the island, into a gated community that had so far not yet invested in concrete roads.  Paths snaked off the main dirtway through thick, dense shrubs of poisonwood, sea grape, and gumbo limbo, and occasionally a sign announced the entrance to an unseen house.  I completely lost my sense of direction as Bruce roared towards his home, which turned out to be exquisite, as promised.  He had sent most of the lumber from his home in the US and done all the joinery himself on Guana.

Bruce had invited a few friends, two men in their late fifties or early sixties, who lived in houses nearby  over and we all sat around his gorgeous, hand-crafted dining tables having a good ol’ time.  It turned out we had met one of the friends before, when he was visiting the people who owned the Sabre moored next to us in Hopetown.

The other guy, Roger,  said he was retired but it “didn’t take.”  He was loving his new job as captain for a rich family, who owned a bad-ass fishing boat with three 300-horsepower engines.  He promised to take us for a tour of the island on this fabulous vessel the next morning.  Bruce drove us back to our dinghy, perilously, and we thanked him for his incredible hospitality.   We felt very glad to have met him.

Roger really did show up alongside Sophia at around 9 am.  And what an incredible journey he took us on!  He got the boat up to 42 knots in no time at all, and the boat just hummed along without any of the bashing or crashing that one usually gets on a motorboat.  Roger said the fastest he had gone was 57 knots, but that the boat really cruised best when doing over 30.  He drove us all the way down to Scotland Cay and suggested a few places where we could anchor and snorkel.   Later that day, he showed us his lovely house overlooking the Sea of Abaco and the garden that he has landscaped with native plants.  He taught us about many of them, and showed us a tree that grows right next to the poisonwood tree, whose sap is said to help heal the rash one gets from poisonwood.  I can’t remember what he called it, but am quite sure it was not gumbo-limbo.   Roger also took us on another tour of the Cay in his golf cart.  We thanked him profusely as well for his kindness to us, as well.

As we have found in our travels so far, it is the people you meet who make the cruising life wonderful and rich.  We met some fascinating and genuinely generous, welcoming people on Guana Cay.   We felt incredibly lucky to have encountered all of them.

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!

Postscript on “The Passage”

Ryan read my description of our passage–my first, his sixth or seventh–and said I way over exaggerated the drama.  “But I told a good story!” I protested.   Here is what he has to say about it:

There is nothing about this boat that is poorly maintained or ill-equipped. Things do happen when out sailing — even to well found vessels. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not realistic. This was one of the best passages I have ever done. The weather was mostly good and we sailed practically the whole thing on one tack. It got a little windy at times but the boat handled it beautifully. It was a great passage.

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Mary keeps threatening to send me photos of our boat, Sophia (a Sabre 36) via email.  I think she’s having too much fun back in Brevard to get round to it.  No worries. I’ll keep posting pictures of her Bruce Roberts 43, Seahorse, in the Sargasso Sea!

 

 

P.S.  I also think it was a great passage.

The Passage

How do you sail a five-day passage 300 miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean?  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Here’s how the instrument panel recorded our journey: IMG_4882

 It really wasn’t that bad.  We had good weather, and Sophia sails herself, practically, she is so well-balanced.  When going to windward, even in 25 knot winds, you can simply set the wheel where you want it, and it will not move.  The boat rounds up miraculously and keeps herself on course.  Naturally, the winds clock around and you have to be vigilant.   And going downwind, it’s best to put the boat on autopilot, our lovely friend, which steers much more efficiently than a human.

That lovely friend failed after two days at sea, along with all of our other electronics, including the VHF and SSB radios.  For a few agonizing hours, we couldn’t hail our beautiful buddy boat, Seahorse (A Bruce Roberts 43) , or anyone else for that matter.

We were sailing in the Sargasso Sea, and Seahorse had galloped  about five miles ahead during the second night.  Larger and heavier than Sophia, she easily made 9 knots, while we had to reef in our sails and keep to a safer, slower speed, about 6, under those conditions.  

Seahorse sailing off into the sunset the night we lost power

After our friends lost sight of our mast light, they took down some sails and waited for us, but we didn’t know it, since all of our communications systems were down.  

I was on watch while Ryan dozed below, and waves kept breaking across the bow.  It was exhilarating, yes.   There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about being the only person awake on a vessel so far out to sea, where you are not just under, but quite obviously within, the bright tapestry of the Milky Way above, and there is no way to discern the line where the stars begin at the edge of the sea.  I basked in the hugeness and beauty of the universe, and felt intensely alive.

But I have to admit that I also registered a steady and palpable current of sheer terror.  That night when the radios failed and the sea roared up and over the dodger and poured straight down into the galley, I decided it was time to wake Ryan.  “I think we might need to reef some sails,” I said.   “And you might want to put your foul weather gear on, since it’s pretty wet out here.”  Not exactly to my relief, he agreed immediately that it was time to reef, and helped me to do it.   In my sleep-deprived frenzy I steered up straight into irons, and we ended up having to tack out of it and sail in the opposite direction until we got going fast enough to tack back on course. We lost about an hour, I guess.  Ryan stayed up with me until we both settled down and Sophia regained a safe speed on autopilot.  Then he returned to bed.   

Did I mention we rigged up a lee-cloth on the starboard settee for sleeping while passaging?  It got quite stuffy down there after four days at sea, but it was still incredibly comfortable to be in it.  The boat rocks back and forth like a cradle, and you feel wonderfully warm and secure and happy, even if the winds are screaming above.   That is where Ryan went.

I hunkered down again under the dodger (so named because you crouch there, dodging waves? I wondered) and attempted to quiet my mind by reading.  I set a timer on my watch to alert me at 13 minute intervals, when I got up, stretched, checked the instrument panels, peered out into the night in all four directions, and curled up again.  We still hadn’t made contact with Seahorse, and there was nothing to do but sail on.  The instruments were still working, and we had an Automatic Identification System that also functioned, and an operating bilge pump.  It had failed, frighteningly, along with the manual backup, earlier in the journey, but Ryan fixed it.   I watched the dawn unfold across the sea and sky, and welcomed the sun.  When Ryan awoke again we made coffee and soon spotted Seahorse, a tiny stick against the horizon.  We motor-sailed until we caught up to them, and then put our heads together about the problem, which turned out to be electric.

We had run our batteries down too far, and they were not charging, even with the motor on.  The Honda 2000 came to our rescue. Ryan hauled it up to the foredeck, plugged it in, and slowly but surely the house batteries began to fill up again.   After they got high enough to hold a charge, the VHF and SSB radio came back on again.   Of course the latter blew up again, after we made land, but that’s another story, and not as interesting.

Faithful Seahorse stayed closer to us for the rest of the journey.