Rocky Dundas

March 19, 2015

IMG_5906
Fowl Cay to the left and Rocky Dundas to the right, seen from Compass Cay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fowl Cay

March 18 2016

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

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

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

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

Lee Stocking Island

IMG_5785The wonderful thing about sailing with a buddy boat or fleet is the opportunity to get to know people really well.  We left Georgetown with Bel Canto (Sandy and David), Solmate (Karen and Steve) and Valinor (Tim and Dorothea).   We didn’t know Tim and Dorothea until we got to to Lee Stocking Island, a gorgeous anchorage that used to be home to a Caribbean Marine Research Center, now deserted.   As you might guess from his boat’s name, Tim is a Tolkien fan, so we had a great conversation about science fiction (he’s an old school fan) and books in general.

IMG_5726
Tim and Dorothea

At least once each day we spotted enormous sharks, about 8 feet long, that we hoped were nurse sharks.  We also swam a lot.  The water was so clear–you could easily see the bottom in 30 feet–that we felt comfortable splashing around.

IMG_5725
Water to snorkel in at Lee Stocking

We snorkeled in huge yellow forests of Elkorn coral and caught lobster off pristine white sand beaches.  We gathered sea-fans that had washed ashore.  We gathered for drinks and dinner in each other’s cockpits—Valinor, a Manta catamaran, had by far the nicest one, although Solmate, a 40-something Hunter, is pretty swanky, too.

IMG_5728
Tim and Dorothea visiting Solmate

Solmate and Valinor left after one night, but we stayed with Bel Canto and had a deliciously lazy day doing as little as possible.  Finally we had the hot weather and slow breezes we have been waiting for!  I paddled around the anchorage and saw seven Southern Stingrays measuring at least five feet across.  Then we headed off too a beach from a postcard and “wallowed” in the water, drinking cold cans of La Croix and munching tuna wraps.  We made a bunch of silly videos that I can’t show you here, unfortunately.  It takes hours and hours to upload even the shortest clips to Youtube, so I’ll have to add them all back in after I get back to a “normal” internet connection.

 

On our last night at Lee Stocking, the moon rose a like an enormous upside down fan.

IMG_5775
The Beach where we wallowed
IMG_5789
Ryan wallowing
IMG_5790
The beautiful Sandy

 

 

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.

conch
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. 

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. 

IMG_5006
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.  

IMG_5013
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.

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.

 

blue parrot fish
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.