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.

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Of the Barracuda and other animals

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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. 

Leaving Hopetown, Again

December 27, 2015

We stayed another night at Tahiti beach because Travis and Mary and the girls liked it there.  We were surrounded by noisy, light-polluting charter catarmarans.  I hated it.

December 28, 2015

We sailed, with Seahorse, south to Lynnyard Cay, where we found our first very nice, remote anchorage in clear, swimming-pool blue waters.  On the sail here the car that holds the mainsail to the boom flew off the end, not for the first time, and the part that keeps it on the boom broke off.  Ryan repaired it.   

On the way here, we caught a fish: a Horse-Eyed Jack.  I made tacos with it.  Very lovely.  We made water today.

Lynnyard Cay is a long, thin island with some pleasant anchorages and a only a few houses.  We anchored off a small beach that had a white picnic table and some plywood tables nailed into trees, also a broken-down platform with a ratty mattress on it, exposed to the rain.  We followed a trail from this beach to the ocean side and spent hours walking there.  I found a lot of small sea-sponges that had washed ashore, and made two leis to adorn our dodger.  I also found an interesting salmon-colored, round float with the words, “Rosendahl, Bergen, Norway,” imprinted on it.

I am feeling a little bit better, but still a bit sick to my stomach and weak.

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

 

 

 

 

Snorkling Amateurs

We swam through valleys and mountains of staghorn coral, elkhorn coral, yellow pencil coral, mustard hill coral, enormous white and pearl heads of brain coral, creeping mossy plates of disk and starlet coral, orange tube coral, rose coral, saucer cora, miniature cathedrals of pillar coral, ochre sea rods, corky sea fingers, purple sea fans, all of them living, breathing, growing beings. We swam with schools of all kinds of parrot fish, mostly the dark indigo fishes, but also stoplight parrotfish, and, most beautiful of all, queen parrotfish.

 

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Blue Parrotfish

Yesterday Mary and I went snorkeling off the beach on Elbow Cay, near Hopetown, Abaco.   We crossed up through the cholera cemetery to a hillside stairs that led down to one of those idyllic beaches you see in post cards, where the sand, finely ground coral, sparkles white and nearly pink and feels soft and pillowy under your feet.  Palm trees and flowering bushes on the hillsides and turquoise and cerulean water.

We didn’t linger to admire, but immediately donned our gear and headed in to the sea, which was calmly lapping the shore, and headed out.   Although the water seemed very clear from above, underwater it was hard to see farther than 15 feet in any direction.   We swam about 40 feet off shore, crossing deserts of sugar sands before glimpsing what at first looked like dark, greenish masses that turned out to be greenish brown, low hills, or  coral ridges.  One small group of undersea islands stretched out into another one, and we followed them up and down the beach, first allowing the current to carry us east, and them swimming strenuously west.  The farther out we swam, the more complicated and exotic the reefs became.

We swam through valleys and mountains of staghorn coral, elkhorn coral, yellow pencil coral, mustard hill coral, enormous white and pearl heads of brain coral, creeping mossy plates of disk and starlet coral, orange tube coral, rose coral, saucer cora,  miniature cathedrals of pillar coral, ochre sea rods, corky sea fingers, purple sea fans, all of them living, breathing, growing beings.  We swam with schools of all kinds of parrot fish, mostly the dark indigo fishes, but also stoplight parrotfish, and, most beautiful of all, queen parrotfish.

Mary and I explored for a good hour or two, losing track of time, following chains of coral up and down the beach.  We swam side by side and, often, when something particularly beautiful or complicated caught our attention, allowed our bodies to swing back and forth with the current, moving in time with the fishes below.

Neither one of us felt tired, and we  didn’t notice how much energy we expended as we kicked upstream, always onto the next reef, the next discovery.  Neither did we note how rough the seas were getting, even though we popped our heads up every now and then to blow seawater out of our snorkels or to rave about what we were seeing.  When we finally agreed to head back to shore we both found it strangely difficult to make any progress, especially as crossed back over the white ribbed sand near the beach.  Both of us stopped to dive for shells that disappeared under clouds of sand that the undertow kicked up.  We were having so much fun!

So we were quite exhausted, but still to exhilarated to notice, when we finally tried to get out of the waves.  We must have spent twenty minutes at least floundering on the beach, which was quite steep.  Neither one of us could figure out how to get our flippers off, and I stupidly lost my mask struggling against the waves that kept crashing over my head.  Not stupidly, perhaps, but ignorantly.  It was a rookie mistake.  I  shouldn’t have raised it above our eyes but kept it securely around my neck.  I spotted my snorkel  and lunged clumsily after it in vane, then took another watery pounding.    Finally I resorted to rolling up the beach and clawing at the sand, but that, too, didn’t work.  I felt like an idiotic mermaid, unable to leave or survive in the sea.  I can’t remember how I finally managed to clamber up on my feet.

Mary’s eyes had swelled  and reddened and my throat burned when we finally crawled out of the surf.  Mary had also lost her mask, but kept her snorkel, so I didn’t feel quite as foolish.  I felt bad for her, though, and we spent a lot of time peering into the shallows, hoping the masks would churn out of them.  Nothing came up, of course.  The sea took its payment from us.

Crazy water

IMG_4482There’s a certain irony to installing a water maker during a monsoon.  The rain pours down relentlessly, sometimes angrily, as though it had a score to settle with the earth, while the north wind blows white-capped waves over the breakwater and high into the streets, drowning the sidewalks and slipping over the docks. The canvas stretching over our cockpit leaks like cheesecloth, letting the rain pool into great lakes that spill down the steps every time we open the hatch.   So yesterday I bought three, blue plastic tarps that Ryan and I pulled over the boom, dodger, and bimini, securing them with bungies and string.  We blocked enough of the rain to create a kind of wet locker where we hang our rain jackets and soaked towels, as you can see, above.  Everything remains damp out there.

At least it’s now dry enough to a few hatches open.  Still, the wind screams and rips into the tarps, which shudder, snap and whip, and we have to crawl like rats through this tunnel to leave or board the boat:

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That’s our friend Larry’s yellow kayak on the dock.  It has been raining so darkly and long I can’t imagine taking it out, except maybe to navigate the brackish waters flooding the street to the only coffee shop in town, The Bean (the blue building in the photo, below): IMG_4478I rode my bike through those waters, unwisely, perhaps; but I wanted caffeine, like all the other crazy folks you see below.  The Bean looks out over the town dock and the fishing boats.

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Here’s another view from the porch of the coffee shop, looking left and south:

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This morning six large boxes from Cruise RO Water & Power, stuffed with colored hoses, long pipes, heavy, compact engine parts, and countless, airy filters, arrived at the dockmaster’s office.  We wheeled them down during a lull in the storm and unpacked them on deck, stashing the empty cartons under the tarp on the boom in case we need to send anything back.

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The water maker uses reverse osmosis to convert the sea to potable water, generating 30 gallons per hour under power from a generator small enough to store in the lazarette.  The man who manufactures these ingenious devices, Rich Boren invented them for cruisers like himself, and responds almost instantly to emails and phone calls seven days a week.  I settled on this brand after a great deal of on-line research.   It seemed to be the most economical and efficient system out there. Ryan liked it also because it runs on a generator small enough to fit into our lazarette and yet powerful enough to supply multiple ship needs.

We’re excited because all the stuff we’re doing now, such as installing solar panels and an SSB radio and water maker, will allow us to live off the grid for as long as we like (or at least until something breaks that we can’t fix).  We’re also frustrated because the rain won’t let up and the sail maker hasn’t finished repairing and cleaning our sails or sun shades and rain covers.  As soon as the sun comes out again for a reliable stretch, we’ll be dousing our cockpit canvas with 303 waterproofing and praying it will prevent us from having to deploy the noisy plastic tarps again.  But what we’re really looking forward to is getting out on the water and sailing towards bluer skies and lagoons.  It would also be nice to harness the wind to move in a deliberate direction, instead of being blown by it from one side of the slip to the other.