Saturday, October 16, 2010
Hurricane Paula lost her punch in the canefields of western Cuba so here on Abaco the rains of Wednesday gave way to a thick overcast that by yesterday had dissolved into cloudy streamers that only sometimes stopped the sun. Dick and I were lucky: we arrived here in Marsh Harbour at end of day on Wednesday when a recently departed deluge had left the airport runway slick, the road to town bobbing through ankle-deep ponds, and Kobuk swollen with bilge water. But then--in spite of the negative forecasts--that night and the following one were free of rain and we were able to camp aboard without struggle. Kobuk went into the water late yesterday and as the sun was sweeping low we motored up to a dock at Harbour View Marina, directly in front of Snappa's Bar and Grill.
There are problems, of course. Kobuk looks perky but she leaks and her engine overheats. It's a long story--one for a different day--but the systemic glitches are there, telltale signs of advancing age. Her flaws are mostly invisible so she still projects an illusory image of youthful health--like a 40-year-old mistress contemplating her future.
Dick is Richard Gardner, my good friend from fifty years ago who came down to Key West last year for a week or so of cruising on Kobuk, only to find that mechanical problems were so severe as to keep us harbor-bound for the entirety of his stay. His ample reservoir of nervous energy would be remarkable in someone half his age, but it never seems to compromise his good humor and patience. We spend hours each day arguing about abstract notions of right and wrong, advancing conflicting theories regarding justice and equity. In spite of the colossal gulf that exists between our outlooks, we manage to redesign the world on a regular basis. What we share is a wholesome disregard for practicality, a constraint that has plenty of force for each of us in our day-to-day lives but that hardly is to be seen here, now, in the Abacos.
Marsh Harbour is not what you would imagine if you have not been here before. It is a well-protected bay with a main road paralleling its shore. It has a string of resort type businesses to either side, but spaced irregularly and interrupted on occasion by such things as vacant lots and small, superficially developed parks. Sidewalks tend to be on one side or the other, but only occasionally both, and the main drag has the look of a country road rather than a town street. The buildings are one- or two-story and constructed of wood. They do have a certain air of modest elegance but by no means are they opulent or gaudy. They look like homes that have been converted to commercial ends rather than purpose-built structures of the appropriate functionality. This is of course the district near the water; a different street heads inland, more or less perpendicular to the waterfront area, and it has much of the mundane development needed for the day-to-day living of actual residents: grocery store, hardware store, auto parts, hair dresser, etc.
Kobuk lies loosely tied on the western side of a dock. The prevailing easterlies keep her clear of the dock pilings and the harbor lying to windward is sufficiently confined that surface chop does not disturb her sleep. Although the dock is part of Harbour View Marina, it angles away from the rest of the marina like the splayed tine of a fork and tucked in behind it, only tens of feet away, is the waterfront establishment called Snappa's Bar and Grill. Snappa's is more bar than grill, but during our Marsh Harbour stay Dick and I have treated the establishment's dual function with with the sort of equal-handedness that parents try to use on their children.
Tonight--our last in town--is star studded and leavened by a gentle tropical breeze. We go to sleep with the sound of Snappa's in our ears. There is a live band playing Caribbean rythms a hale crowd of Saturday night socialites is laughing, chattering, and clinking glasses. The voices and music and partying sounds reach out to us across the water, but we are neither irritated nor tempted. We both find the revelry to be a sort of lullaby and slip into sleep like youngsters.
Harbour View Marina, Marsh Harbour: 26*32.751' N / 77*03.237' W
Total Distance: 9,212 miles
Sunday, October 17, 2010
In this minaturized cruising area where distance between points of origin and destination is often just a few miles, there is little incentive to make an early start to a day. Our plan is to take Kobuk over to Great Guana Cay, visit its one town named (in true Bahamian fashion) Settlement, catch a glimpse of Nippers, and then run up to the north end of the Cay and anchor in Baker's Bay. The itinerary measures out at only a dozen miles so we expect to be no more than two or three hours making passage. We spend the morning lazily prepping Kobuk and then motor over to the gas dock to fill all tanks. The youthful man who helps us is lean and moderately tall, with the manner and reticence of an employee, but he turns out to be the inheritor of Harbourview Marina. His name is Troy, and his mother often works the office. She has the worldly sensibilities of a matriarch, and it is hard not to think that Troy has grown up protected from the Bahamian sun by her looming shadow. Troy is free with his commentary about economic conditions in the islands and the recent performance of Harbourview Marina during the recession. He claims that the marina has survived well with only about a 30% decline in its revenues. This is a far cry from the circumstance at Rainbow Rentals where Kobuk was located when we arrived; Wade, the owner of Rainbow Rentals told us that his revenues dropped 60% two years ago and an additional 45% last year. I think his experience is more representative of what the Bahamian visitor industry is going through, and one is left to wonder how all the shops and lodges manage to hang on.
Finally, in early afternoon, Kobuk departs from Marsh Harbor and begins to tap her way across the small incoming waves towards Great Guana Cay. We test out the power system only to find that the main engine winds up to the full rpm level but that top speed only pegs out at around 16 mph. Something is wrong, but the engine seems to run smoothly and the voyage is under way. We will carry on in spite of the problem. This may not be the prudent course, but this sort of venture can easily grind to a permanent halt if prudence always trumps every other concern.
By Bahamian standards, the island of Abaco is the "mainland" and the string of cays to the north and the east is the "islands." The islands usually are only a few miles offshore and the intervening sea, known in this area as the Sea of Abaco, is a shallow bank with water depths that rarely exceed the average draft of an ocean going cruise ship. With such thinness to its water, the translucent colors vary fabulously from royal blue to beach white with all conceivable gradients of aquamarine between these extremes. The color of the water can be a good indication of water depth--with darker hues corresponding to greater depths, but the situation is greatly complicated for the novice by the fact that coral (dangerous stuff) will give the water a dark color whereas sand (relatively benign) does the opposite. Without experience, one is never completely sure whether the changing color indicates greater or lesser depth. Shipwreck or no, the Sea of Abaco is lovely to look at.
When we motor into the small harbour of Settlement and tie off at the public dock there, a weatherbeaten van bounces into view on the dirt road along the waterfront. The driver is a ragged old man whose appearance does justice to his vehicle. He pokes his head out the open passenger window and asks us if we're headed for Nippers. He elaborates by pointing out that there is neither fare nor tip to be paid, and no required purchase at Nippers, and so without further ado we clamber aboard and rattle through the little town that appears to consist of about two dozen houses and one or two shops. Within a minute of embarkation, be begin to hear the telltale sounds of partying. Up a little rise we go and there in front of us is a multicolored spread of shacks, decks, and gazebos all tied together at unpredictable angles. The bar and tables and dance floors all are busy. The crowd is nearly big enough to populate the town (although its credentials as locals are somewhat suspect). Retro music, steady drinking, and elevated happy talk all confront us as we walk onto the premises. One does not exactly walk INTO the bar, as it all is pretty much open air with lots of overhead shading drinking--and when you get to the eastern railing you find youself looking down on a great long stretch of Atlantic coastal beach with coral rock outcroppings interrupting the sand here and there. The ocean surf is big enough to drum a competing sound and the revellers at the bar are bombarded with a sensory experience that queerly combines nature and artifice. Dick and I drink a couple Sands each before walking back to Kobuk, under the bower of monkeypod trees. By late afternoon we are back on the water, leaving behind a party scene that pays little attention to the clock.
It is only a few miles up to Baker's Bay and when we get there we take a spin past the breakwater leading to the new megaresort/marina that is under construction there. The first class facilities are fitted out with docking facilities for 250' yachts and many, many dozens of (only slightly) lesser craft. There are hundreds of planted palm trees, multiple hectares of rolling sodscape, tasteful positioning of various bushes and shrubs, as well as freshly painted main buildings of three or four storeys and prodigious girth. But off to the starboard is a system of short canals with vacant lots fronting on them and even the portside facility shows multiple signs of incompleteness. Tied off in the warren of modern docks is but one boat--a sportfisher with the sleek greyhound lines of its breed.
Having seen enough, we retrace our route back out into Baker's Bay and anchor close to shore in five feet of water. The bay is a broad arc of sand with casuarinas and palms behind the beach line. Below the hull is water so lucid that every item on its bottom is totally exposed to our view. There are no homes along the shore and no other boats in the bay. A swim is in order but both Dick and I are somewhat intimidated by the demanding task of clamboring back aboard. We have discussed the idea of consructing a rope ladder with three small planks as steps but because we departed from Marsh Harbour without the needed timber Dick takes it upon himself to fabricate a simpler system. Using an old mooring line, he ties into it a sequence of loops that we can use like stirrups and then lashes the bitter end to a gap in one of the hull frames, inside the starboard carling. It is an instantaneous success that surpasses in utility anything more elaborate that we might have built. It is his tour de force as far as I am concerned.
Now with the sun dropping low we take turns swimming in the clarified waters of big, broad Baker's Bay.
Baker's Bay anchorage, Great Guana Cay: 26*41.473' N / 77*09.301' W
Distance Traveled: 13 miles
Total Distance: 9,225 miles
Monday, October 18, 2010
From here at the north end of Great Guana Cay our route will take us southeast to Hopetown with a string of cays screening us from the full effect of the mild northeast breeze. We plan on only going a part of the distance today--a hop, skip, and jump down to Man O' War Cay where the Albury family dominates the Bahamian workboat tradition by turning out tough little open boats that are very popular with local fishermen. The Alburys built their name by crafting hulls from wood, but now they secure it in fibreglass.
With so little distance to cover, we don't bother pulling the anchor and getting under way until midday, and after coasting down along the leeward sides of Great Guana and Scotland Cays we enter the strait that separates their landmass from the body of Man O' War. Out towards the Atlantic, the straight is somewhat protected by a discontinuous reef that has one break of sufficient breadth to make passage into and out of the ocean a straightforward matter. All along here, the unobstructed breeze has more heft to it, but the offshore reef domesticates the swells and ocean waves that would otherwise accost us. Here in the strait is a string of tiny rock outcroppings and miniature cays known as Fowl Cay Preserve. The preserve encompasses the waters immediately seaward of them and a small number of fixed moorings out there secure visiting boats so that snorkeling or scuba diving can be done without the worry of dragging anchor. We test the water between a couple of these rocky islets and sneak through in a few feet of water, but with serious banks of coral scattered around and rising to near surface level.
After picking up a mooring we take turns doing a bit of snorkeling, secure in the knowledge that we will be able to leverage ourselves back on board using Dick's most excellent rope ladder. A variety of tropical fish occupy the discontinuous banks of coral lying scattered about and the clear water makes them seem to be almost within touching distance. But at the same time the coral is mostly dead and only the occasional coral head has the color and intricacy of a living thing. Schools of small, fat minnows attired in electric blue swirl around here and there, giving a sort of color theme to what would otherwise be a kaleidoscope--rather like a symphony often has a certain base melody that appears and then fades away on multiple occasions.
Dead or not, the coral was for me an object lesson in what we must watch out for. When you are in the water face down looking at a rising mass of coral through your face mask, when you see it rise vertically from a sandy floor for six to eight feet and then top out a foot or so beneath the surface of the water--well, you quickly realize that no depth finder is ever going to give you any forewarning before the bow of the boat piles up onto the rocks. The only way to spot them is to spot them, and if you fail to notice one your electronics is not going to help you out. When Dick and I released from the mooring we picked our way to open water with considerably more care than when we came to the mooring.
Man O' War Cay has a waterfront that proclaims the boat building tradition of the island. Boat building, dinghy building, sail making converted to canvas bag making, marinas, moored boats, abandoned boats, boats ashore, engine repair shops, isolated outboard engines with their covers off--virtually everything you see is associated somehow with boating. Of course all Abaco towns have some of this, but it really does seem to be a more hearty portion of the economy here than it is elsewhere. Dick and I walk the main street in search of a place to eat, but our arrival late in the afternoon means that the marina no longer is staffed and the few commercial establishments are closed to business. We do notice, however that the ice cream shop has a sign saying it will be opening at 7:30 pm. That it should be closed at five but open at seven thirty seems a little odd, but also in keeping with the Bahamian propensity to operate businesses at unpredictable hours. We return to Kobuk to cook dinner and to prepare for our dessert. We thought our pasta dinner last night in Baker's Bay was a culinary triumph, but this night we outdo ourselves. It doesn't sound like much--baked beans and canned corn and turkey franks--but when you add corn as a secret third ingredient and allow it to simmer with the beans the result is a magical transformation from the mundane to the magical.
When dinner is over and the dishes done, we hustle down the dock in silent worry that the 7:30 opening is going to be followed by a 7:45 closing. But no: the lights are on and the shop is open and Dick overindulges on rum and raisin while I do even worse by combining that with chocolate and fudge.
Man O' War Marina, Man O' War Cay: 26*35.667' N / 77*00.369' W
Distance Travelled: 14 miles
Total Distance: 9,239 miles
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Even though Man O' War Cay is defined by its boatbuilding tradition, the main drag along the waterfront makes it clear that no industrial processes are used. All the work sheds are small affairs in which no more than three or four men can work efficiently. Construction and repair projects are executed in a crafted way and do not rely on advanced mechanization or worker specialization. Certainly there is nothing in the way of "front offices:" nobody is engaged in anything other than the actual work to be done. All this means that the small boats produced are few in number and rather less standardized in design or layout than we might be used to in the United States. It means, furthermore, that the structures within which the boats are fabricated are no more intrusive than the average house--even the average Bahamian house, which is noticeably smaller than what one would find in a stateside suburb.
The run over to Hope Town on Elbow Cay is hardly more than a one-hour transit, and when we motor into the harbor we can immediately see why it is considered the most scenic village in the Bahamas. The candy striped light house stands on a small hill immediately to starboard of the harbor channel while straight ahead and off to the left the town itself is a spic 'n span collection of traditional Bahamian buildings sporting a level of facia ornateness that harkens back to Victorian days. Whitewash is common, but so are the Bahamian pastels of pink and yellow and aquatic green. Virtually every house and shop is well maintained and when you walk the handful of streets that make up the town you do so on concrete "roads" that are wide enough for a single car but are by ordinance pronounced off limits to all but pedestrians and golf carts. Not that there aren't a few cheaters around--but I wouldn't be surprised if they were related to the authorities.
Speaking of relatedness, our impression is that it permeates the Abaconian population. From cay to cay, the same last names keep cropping up, and people talk as much about their relatives as they do about fellow townsfolk (who by inference are not so directly related). The Abacos are an unusual part of the Bahamas, incidentally, since more than half the population considers itself to be White whereas throughout the rest of the Bahamas almost everyone is Black. The Blacks are descendents of slaves, of course, but the Whites here in the Abacos trace their roots back to America's revolutionary days when large numbers of loyalists fled the new country in search of a more congenial environment for their English traditionalism. Loyalists it was who first settled the Abacos--first, that is, after the Spanish had depleted the indigenous Indian population. Whenever we ask someone if the are Bahamians, more often than not they point with pride to the fact that their ancestors have been here for seven generations.
Our walk through town takes us from the protected harbor over to the eastern, Atlantic side of the cay. One of the most pleasing aspects of these Abaconian cays is that they are so elongated and skinny that it rarely requires more than a few minutes to make such a crossing. And of course the two sides are quite different. The side facing the Sea of Abaco usually has peaceful waters and a somewhat irregular coastline that contains an occasional harbor or bay while the straighter running Atlantic side receives the full brunt of the trade winds and their deep water waves. Longer, less-interrupted beaches front the Atlantic and usually there is some amount of distant thunder associated with the oceanic surf--although the discontinuous line of reefs offshore modulates the effect to some extent.
Since Kobuk is parked at a private dock belonging to a hotel located near the south end of the harbor, we search around for a location where it will be possible to tie up for the night without having to stay at one of the marinas located on the far side of the bay, distant from town. In the end, we get confirmation that the big dock where the ferries come and go is indeed the public dock and its south side turns out to be suitable for dinghy type docking (bow to dock with an anchor off the stern). Once Kobuk is properly tucked in there, Dick and I head on over to Cap'n ____ for their happy hour offerings of food and drink. Our next door neighbors at the bar turn out to be a couple aging gentlemen who have been long-standing crew on the Abaco Rage, a traditional Bahamian sailboat with a mast that is much, much taller than the length of the hull and a boom that stretches impossibly beyond the aft end of the rudder. While sitting at the bar we can all look out through the open air windows into the bay and see this improbable vessel lying at a mooring. The hull has sweet sheer and low freeboard, and the hull is shapely. But the rig: it looks near impossible to sail. According to Stafford Patterson, it does indeed require a dozen crew to keep the vessel upright when being sailed. This traditional Bahamian craft has a hull that evolved during the days of sail as a working platform for interisland transport, but the sail rig looks about as functional as a male peacock's tailfeathers. Every year there are national championship sailboat races for boats like these that are held down near Georgetown in the Exumas. Sailing being the national sport of the Bahamas, these traditional boats arrive from all the far-flung districts of the country to compete. According to Stafford, there usually are about a dozen entries for the races. Since the Bahamian islands are so broadly scattered, the boats have to come from hundreds of miles away. If any of these boats actually reach Geogetown under sail I should imagine that the commute to and from the races is as exciting and eventful as the races themselves.
Upper Public Dock, Hopetown: 26*32.243' N / 76*57.454' W
Distance: 6 miles
Total Distance: 9,245 miles
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Last night at Cap'n _____ I waged a Viet Nam type of war against the mosquitoes. If body count were a fair measure of success then I might have been able to proclaim victory, but in fact I was the one who suffered defeat. By the time we left for Kobuk I was near the point of psychological breakdown and our retreat to Kobuk was too precipitous to be labeled tactical. Once on board, the still night air convinced me that if we were going to leave the curtains down it would behoove me to lather up in bug repellant, and so that is what I did before retiring. Dick had been relatively immune to the problem so he went to sleep with no such protection. In the morning I learned that he too finally had been gotten to. He was roused in the middle of the night and spent some time walking up and down the dock to shake off the pesky adversaries. After that, his bemused attitude about my seven different cans of insect repellant became less academic. He too now has a favorite.
No visit to Hopetown is complete without a trip to the lighthouse so when Kobuk is ready we run on over to Lighthouse Marina to fill up with gas and take a short hike to the lighthouse. Evidently, this historic landmark still requires a lighthouse keeper. Every ninety minutes the mechanical device that causes the light to swing through 360 degrees has to be rewound so all night long the lighthouse keeper has to maintain a demanding schedule. If he were to fall asleep and miss a rewind, it could have serious consequences for the shipping world. His rest comes during the day and in fact we see him sleeping on a cot on the porch of his cabin when we make our way to the lighthouse stairs. From the balcony that runs around the lighthouse just below its light, the view embraces much of the south end of the Sea of Abaco. Marsh Harbour, Treasure Cay, Man O' War Cay and the offshore reefs are visible to the north and west; eastward lies the somber blue of the Atlantic with white ruffles wherever the offshore reef is awash. The southern view contains Elbow and Tilloo Cays with a protected bay between them and the Abaconian mainland. Farther to the south, at the end of the bay and out of sight, is the isolated settlement of Little Harbour, our destination for today.
After getting through the channel T that divides Elbow, Tilloo, and Lubbers Quarters, we angle across the shallow bay to the mainland side in search of a blue hole that is supposed to exist in a little slough next to Snake Cay (which is really just a peninsula jutting from Abaco). We find the slough and do a search but always the bottom is in sight and only seems to contain a single modest depression where the depth sounder records 25 feet. We lose interest in the search because the nearby land is not scenic. A poorly maintained landfill is pushing right up to the edge of the slough and its foul ugliness drove us back across the bay.
Only a couple miles from Little Harbour there is a snorkling site with fixed moorings that we decide would be a good place to eat lunch and take a swim. When we arrive, however, a rain squall passes through and the combination of wind, rain, and chop keep us pretty much cooped up aboard eating peanut butter sandwiches. The squall passes and leaves behind a shallow rainbow on the bay. It scribes a surprisingly small portion of a rainbow arc--probably no more than 90 degrees--and its two ends rest directly on the water.
There is not much elevation to the Bahamian islands, but when we enter Little Harbour we find ourselves passing between a a slightly uplifted promontory and a substantial, rocky bluff. Inside, the harbor is more idyllic than usual. The narrow passage in opens onto a roughly circular bay that has a palm-lined beach along the port side and a steep, green bluff to starboard. This particular setting is the most lovely I have seen here in the Bahamas. Isolated homes are scattered all around the bay, but projecting out from the beach are two long docks so we motor over to one of them and tie off to go ashore. Little Harbour's principle claim to fame is Pete's Pub, a ramshackle structure that looks like the wrecked bow of a ship with white sand as a floor. It is closed "for renovations" but I am sure that when the work is done it will look little different than it already does. The floor will still be nothing but sand and the motley collection of mutant palapas will continue the unpainted, weatherbeaten tradition. In the main part of the miniature complex the overhead space is decorated with countless t-shirts, each tacked so as to drape in a gracious downward loop. Surely they all have been donated by drunken ladies; drunken men would hardly think to their contributions worthy.
Pete's Pub Dock, Little Harbour: 26*19.643' N / 76*59.869' W
Distance: 21 miles
Total Distance: 9,266 miles
Thursday, October 21, 2010
From Little Harbor, the distance to our next good protection along the Abaco coast is about 60 miles. There is a 40- mile run down to the south end of the island and then after rounding _____ Point there will be 20 more miles to cover before reaching the settlement at Sandy Point. A short projection of rocks at _____ Point has some shallow ground next to it that would offer protected anchorage from north and northeast winds, but otherwise the coast is a continuous run of uninviting shoreline. When we checked the weather forecast yesterday morning it promised a continuation of light northeasterly winds through today so we have been planning an early morning push off. Before it got dark last night we motored out to the middle of the harbor to take up a mooring. All night the air was nearly still, but we were far enough away from shore to discourage the mosquitoes. This time we got some sleep and when the sky began to lighten we both awake to start the trip.
Once out of harbour, we turn right and run through a break in the offshore reef to reach the open ocean. For hour after hour we dip and bob our way south with the wind and waves pushing us along from aft the port beam. The deep water of the Atlantic is a naval blue, more serious and more primary than anything to be seen in the Sea of Abaco. Off to the west, a deep indentation called Cherokee Bay carries the coastline away from us until it is little more than a smudge on the horizon, but then as the hours pass we slowly close with land in order to wear around the south end of the island with land close by. This is a lonely stretch of Abaco Island. There are few beaches and signs of settlement are not ever visible to us. In fact, there appear to be no coastal villages at all along this run.
By the time we reach _____ Point, the sky has a midday haze and the solar glare is giving both the water and the nearby land a washed out appearance. The land rises up behind the point--barren of trees or tall shrubs--until reaching a hill crest a few tens of feet above sea level. A lighthouse is situated on the crest of the hill and nestled nearby is a cluster of small buildings, one of which appears to be a yurt. It is hard to tell, of course, since its configuration can only be discerned through the binoculars and the binoculars are very hard to stabilize on a heaving sea.
When we reach Sandy Point late in the day, the sun is dropping low and a golden glow is beginning to tinge the palms and houses along the shore. We are approaching from the southwest with the sun more behind us than in front, and this makes navigation much easier. The water is a translucent green and the long arc of beach glistens white. The village fronts the open water and has no harbour but its shore looks southwestward out to sea and offers good protection from any wind from the north or east.
A dark giant named David Highbourne comes out on the dock to meet us when we approach to tie off, and he it is who rents us space at this little marina built by his father. We make short work of arranging Kobuk and then head off along a dirt path to a small beachside restaurant just a short distance away. With fried chicken for dinner and Kalik to drink, Dick and I sit on an open air patio next to the beach watching the end of the day. A young boy is building castles in the sand and when he sees us he shifts over to entertainment mode, doing cartwheels for our benefit and eventually coming over to encourage us to take his photo. I do so, of course, and when I loan him the camera so he can take his own picture of his sand work he lights up with pleasure. In the end, he introduces us to his father: would such a thing ever happen in the States?
Highbourne Marina, Sandy Point, Abaco: 26*01.509' N / 77*24.108' W
Distance: 62 miles
Total Distance: 9,328 miles
Friday, October 22, 2010
In early morning, before the sun is knee-high, a shuttle boat pulls up at the end of our dock and waits there to load passengers. It is a ferry service for Disney's operation out on Castaway Cay. Actually, it is Gorda Cay, but Disney Corporation has used its economic clout to have their private island renamed to something a bit more romantic. The Disney shuttle boat is captained by a young Romanian man with a South African life guard along as crew. We talk with them for a while, waiting for the commuters to arrive from their scattered homes in this village of Sandy Point. Castaway Cay is developed as a day-trip stopover for Disney cruise ships--a place where the paying customers can spend their time lounging on the beach, trying their hand at parasailing, scuba diving with the appropriately studly divemaster, or perhaps engaging in some form of indoor entertainment. The two expatriate employees say that there are about 50 young people who work and live out on there permanently and then whenever a cruise ship comes in a large contingent of Sandy Point residents makes its way out to help handle the needs of the crowd. A steady stream of local employees arrive in various forms of uniform attire and take their seats on the benches in the open aft part of the boat. The South African stands by the "gangplank" and checks off names on a clipboard. When everyone is aboard, they quickly motor off towards the dark, jagged corrugations on the northwestern horizon that presumably is Castaway Cay. About a half hour later the shuttle returns, empty of passengers, to reclaim a mooring line that was accidentally left on the dock. And now by this time the cruise ship itself can be seen approaching the cay. The cruise ship towers above the signs of vegetation on the distant island. The Cay is about eight miles away, I think.
The Bahamian sun smiles down unremittingly--as it has done most steadily ever since we left Marsh Harbour--and the breeze continues out of the northeast. But today the wind has picked up. We're headed for the Berries, a group of islands about 30 miles from here, southwest across the deep water of Northwest Providence Channel. One of the Abaconian Alburys who made many solo crossings over to Florida and back said that whenever he wanted to go he would drive over to the west side of Abaco to look at the ocean and make a judgment about the conditions. According to him, it would not be a good day to go if he could see "elephants" out there. Well, when we look out we can see no elephants but neither do things look calm. Our destination is fairly close, however, and we will be running downwind so we decide to make the crossing. Dick does the duties at the helm for the entire trip and the five hours pass quickly with chunky water burping us with pats on the back and puffy white clouds racing on ahead.
The Berries are a collection of cays arranged like an apostrophe and running about thirty miles from top to bottom. To the east and south of them the Northwest Providence Channel and the Tongue of the Ocean bring deep water close to shore, but embraced by the apostrophe and extending some miles farther west a very shallow bank makes navigation an advanced exercise in chart reading and tidal monitoring.
We close with the Berries near their north end at a channel running between Big Stirrup and Great Harbour Cays. There is a marina in a protected harbour located part way down the west coast of Great Harbour Cay, and that is our destination for the night. As we clear the passage and head south towards the marina, a handful of local runabouts come up from behind us and zoom past along a course that we can see takes them a good distance westward of the Great Harbour Cay coastline before turning to port and angling back towards towards land. That is obviously the deeper water route to the harbor, but we are eager to try out Kobuk in the shallows and hug the shore in expectation that our shallow draft will carry us over the relatively short stretch of extreme shallows separating us from a natural channel that the chart says runs along much of this coast of the cay. The water gets shallower and shallower until at last we find ourselves grounded (at low tide) on a bar of sand and grass. We shut down the engine and use mooring lines to try to haul Kobuk through the last fifty yards of shallow water to the channel so obviously in front of us, but the task only becomes more arduous so we finally give up and head back towards the clear, sandy bottom that we left a few hundred yards behind. We are wading around in water that is 75 degrees on a beautiful, sunny day, and the nearby cays are a visual comfort that makes our plight seem insignificant--as indeed it is. When finally back over bare sand, I clear out the clogged jet drive and we set off once again, but this time following the approximate course indicated by the runabouts that passed us earlier. As we make our way, we can see the chutes of a couple parasailers flying across the water a few miles away to the southwest.
When we arrive at Great Harbour Marina, a little squall happens to be passing through and our dockage in front of the marina office is executed in a downpour. Once inside the marina office, we meet with Joe and Berry who manage the marina affairs and they set us up with everything we need for the night. The squall passes quickly and without further ado Dick and I repair to the restaurant and bar behind the marina office where, according to Joe, Ivan will be behind the bar. Dick orders us scotch--since such sophistication is a relative rarity in these parts--and we both order elaborate meals for the first time since arriving in the Bahamas. We are seated at a round bar with a collection of others who appear to be condo owners in the buildings that front on the marina. They all seem to be well-heeled and at least approaching retirement age. They all seem to know each other and they all appear to have a regular routine with Ivan. Before the hour is very late, the folks at the bar wander off leaving Dick and me to finish our dinners. A ruddy-faced, bleary-eyed man arrives at the bar looking stupendously drunk, but still is sufficiently coherent to order a drink. When Dick and I finish up and go to pay, Ivan tells us that the bar doesn't accept credit cards. We use cash to settle our bill while the drunken patron on the other side of the bar is inquiring about what he can do to pay his bill when he has no cash.
Great Harbour Marina, Berry Islands: 25*44.843' N / 77*51.565' W
Distance: 44 miles
Total Distance: 9,372 miles
Saturday, October 23, 2010
It turns out that while we were watching the parasailers yesterday, there was a support boat for parasailing located off the north shore of Great Stirrup Cay that lost one of its crew overboard. The rest of the crew were unable to retrieve him and since he couldn't swim he disappeared. He lived here in _____ on Great Harbour Cay and when we prepare in the morning to head south, our stop at the gas dock puts us in touch with a woman attendant whose niece was the young man's girlfriend. In a small place like this, a tragedy afflicting one person is likely to affect most everyone.
This same gas attendant, incidentally, overcharged for gas--claiming to have recorded 35 gallons from the register when I know from the size of my gas tanks that it could not have been more than thirty. It was an accident, I think, and not an intentional overcharging--but when gas costs more than $5 per gallon, as it does here, then the bill rises quickly.
Our grounding yesterday has made us suitably wary about the voyage to be made today. We are headed for the west end of Chub Cay, the final spot of ink that makes up the Berry Islands apostrophe, and we're going to get there by the more protected--but impossibly shallow western banks. It would be possible to backtrack through the channel we used yesterday to get to Chub Cay, and to then run around the deep-water, eastern side of this string of islands, but the distance that way would be awfully long and--even more to the point--the windy conditions would make for an even bouncier ride than we had yesterday. Apparently, there are small craft advisories and Joe at the marina thought we should stay put for today. We think the "inside" will be manageable, however, and are now under way along a waypoint route that Joe had posted in his office. The distance will be about thirty miles and although the chart depths for our route often read less than three feet we know that that refers to low tide and that only in the last hour or two will we be approaching this low water condition. We run the entire way with the depth sounder recording less than ten feet of water and for most of the trip it is under five. Once again, Kobuk is in that curious circumstance of being far out to sea with hardly any water beneath her. In this instance we never lose sight of land but for a good part of the trip the Berry Cays are only visible as a thin gray smudge on the eastern horizon.
The last few miles of the waypoint route take us to a location just off the north shore of Chub Cay before obliging us to bear sharp to starboard and head a couple miles past the west end of the cay so as to follow a little wadi in the shallows leading to deep water. With low tide coming on and Dick conning from the bow, I feel a hesitation in Kobuk's forward progress and guess that the Yamaha is beginning to churn a little sand. Since this Yamaha has an electric lift--unlike the old ten horse--it is an easy matter to raise the engine slightly and "scrape through," so to speak.
The west end of Chub Cay has a luxury marina surrounded by condos, arranged around a large, engineered deep-water basin. We motor in to see about taking a slip, but the place is dead. We tie off at a fish-cleaning station in there to ask directions of a couple local guys who are cleaning their catch. They tell us that the place is closed down and that the dockmaster is away. When we look around, we see a large complex of docks and buildings, but no indication of any activity whatsoever. There is something creepy about tieing off in a place that looks abandoned--no matter how upscale it may be--and so we decide to run out to the little bay we were in before entering the marina channel. The bay faces west and has good protection from easterly winds so we drop anchor in four feet of low tide water and survey the string of expensive houses lining the beach. We might feel a little intrusive anchoring so close to someone's front yard, but nobody is home. In fact, none of the houses along the shore shows any signs of life. Out some distance to seaward in deeper water a decrepit yacht is anchored with a couple Bahamian guys on board. They don't really look like yachtsmen and Dick and I idly banter about the need to protect Kobuk from pirates. I suppose these men must have picked up the disreputable hull for little money and now use it as a fishing platform.
When we were tied off inside the marina, I noticed a length of KeelGard hanging down from Kobuk's bottom so once we are at anchorage I take a swim to remove the whole thing. Back in Utah before the trip began I attached a KeelGard running from the waterline at the bow back to where the keel runs straight. Then in North Dakota I attached a second one to cover the straight stretch as far back as the jet intake. The forward KeelGard finally has worked loose, and given the circumstances there is really no way to now reattach it.
Chub Cay Beach Anchorage, Berry Islands: 25*24.663' N / 77*54.516' W
Distance: 31 miles
Total Distance: 9,403 miles
Sunday, October 24, 2010
This little bay at the west end of Chub Cay is giving us good protection from the wind, but all signs are that it is blowing handsomely at sea. I would estimate that we have 15 knot winds out there and that that is likely to increase to 20 as the day progresses. These are marginal conditions for Kobuk but we know that it is only about 20 miles to Andros and that our southerly bearing will put the wind on our beam. We set out early enough in the morning to hope that we can be in the protection of Morgans Bluff Commercial Harbour by noon.
For the first mile or two, we enjoy the protected lee of Chub Cay, but the farther offshore we go the bigger the waves get. An hour or so out of harbor, we are in one of those kinds of days that make life a thrill. It is warm and sunny, but not hot. The China blue sky is studded with puffy clouds and the wind is exhilarating. The waves coming at us are big enough to keep the helmsman constantly watching and every few minutes a band of two or three do us dirty by slewing Kobuk or smacking her with big dollops of water that climb aboard. Kobuk handles it all well, but these are, in my view, the most extreme conditions into which she should venture by choice. Some might say that they already are a bit too much. When we look out, standing in Kobuk, we can see waves that break the horizon line by a foot or two, suggesting that the waves must be maxing out at 6-7 feet.
Every once in a while, a fleet of flying fish erupt from the sea and skim inches above the water, adjusting their flight to the rough irregularity of the waves and nicking the water two or three times before finally disappearing back into the sea. Usually, only one or two of them appear above water at a time, but whenever they do appear they are likely to be part of a larger contingent that takes to the air in staged sequence. Then they all go away for some unpredictable period until the next band of flying fish makes an appearance. We see a handful of such airborne outbursts during our few hours on the water. Perhaps the sampling is too small for generalizations, but I cannot help wondering about the fact that every time we see these creatures they parallel our course. They veer to left or right, but I never saw one that was heading towards where we came from. This raises the question of whether they are somehow responding to the presence of Kobuk. We are little surprised by the tendency of dolphins to "accompany" cruising boats because we view them as "intelligent" and "social," but should such simplistic thinking be applied to flying fish as well.
I have a nagging concern that when we reach the break in the reef leading to Morgans Bluff the waves will pile up there and create difficult conditions. But when we arrive nothing suggests that the passage will be scary and indeed our entry is remarkably easy. Once past the reef, a deep bay opens up off to port, and there inside the bay is an entry channel into the small commercial harbour. We motor across the calm bay and enter the harbor where a motley collection of boats are tied off in clever ways to rocky banks, concrete walls, and a single length of deteriorating dock. There are a couple nice motor yachts, a serviceable cruising catamaran, an old live-aboard hull with two tenders attached, and a couple small sport fishing hulls from an earlier era. We find a place to park snugged up to a deteriorating concrete wall with with things like rusty metal rings and angled bars projecting out from it. It is not the sort of place you want to tie your boat if there is going to be much wave action, but there is no other choice in the harbor and it looks as if the wind will keep us off the wall. Also, there is a stillness to the place that provides some assurance that other boats are not going to arrive suddenly and rile the waters. We go to look for the harbormaster, but his hut is locked and there is nobody about. Nobody.
The sun glares down and around here a small distance inland from the sea the wind is but a ghost of its oceanic self. Dick uses Bike Friday to pedal off and look around while I survey the immediate surroundings. On the other side of the basin from us is Willie Waters Lounge and then beyond that a collection of brightly painted shelters and platforms that evidently serve as the grounds for occasional fesivals. They line the beach of the bay and in spite of--or perhaps because of--their dishevelled state, look appealing in the shade of pines and casuarinas, looking out at the bright sunlight of the beach and the shallow bay. Willie's opened as I walked past there, and one of the men on its porch invited me in, but I had other things on my mind and only talked to him for a few minutes before moving on.
Dick returns from a short road trip to Nicholls Town where he has located a wifi connection for me at Eugene's Pineville Motel. I hop on Bike Friday and follow Dick's directions to get there so that I can catch up on work. Eugene's place turns out to be quite a Bahamian marvel--an entrepreneurial masterpiece in a land of few resources. Eugene has personally built a motel that has a half dozen rooms, each one elaborately decorated in a different theme. Outside, in a richly landscaped little yard about the dimensions of a small hockey rink he has done elaborate landscaping with grass and shrubs and curving walkways, with such things as a gazebo, a miniature dance floor, secluded retreats with benches, picknick tables, an open area with seating for viewing movies on a large outdoor screen. Then, enclosing the other side of this multipurpose outdoor space, Eugene has built a separate building that houses a bar, a petting zoo, and a covered area where a band can set up and play. Eugene shows movies for the towns folk ($5 per person) and regularly has musicians come in to play for his guests and anyone else who wants to come. Elsewhere, he has a "clubhouse" where the wifi is located. Eugene appears to be one of a kind in this langorous Bahamian land where most people appear to be either unemployed, underemployed, or government bureaucrats with clean white shirts and secure jobs. I suppose this is unfair to the Bahamas. There must be lots of hardworking people. But to this point neither Dick nor I have seen people so industriously engaged as Eugene.
Morgans Bluff Commercial Harbour, Andros: 25*10.333' N / 78*01.685' W
Distance: 19 miles
Total Distance: 9,422 miles
Monday, October 25, 2010
The wind is up and it is not at all clear that we will be able to leave here before Dick departs. He has a flight out of Nassau on Wednesday noon so he'll have to get there by plane that morning. It would be nice to send him off with a final dinner of better fare that we typically manage on board Kobuk but here at Morgans Bluff there is nothing within walking distance except Willie's--and it doesn't look like it would offer much besides Kalik or Sands (the two Bahamian beers). The cruising guide and the Explorer Charts make mention of a place called Kamalame Bay that is located about thirty miles down the coast. It is situated on Staniard Creek and is supposed to have a small marina, a restaurant, and exclusive facilities for those wealthy few who prefer seclusion over diversion. If we could get to there it could be a civilized ending to Dick's time aboard, but the run south needs winds that are not too strong. We don't have access to weather forecasts here, but when you don't know what the weather is going to be then the highest probablility is "more of the same." Since today is too windy, tomorrow may be too.
With little to do but relax, we fritter the day away in idleness. I do make an afternoon trip off to Eugene's once again, and combine that with a little shopping for rum and franks, but otherwise we really do little more than read and walk around and then finally muster the energy to beat the heat by going to the bay to take a swim. Time in the ocean gives us a chance to shave and clean up--and this time we use dishwashing soap to work up a lather since the bar soaps we have aboard are utterly hopeless in salt water.
The evening turns out to be the most animated part of the day. Dick and I carry on for hours discussing America's decline, the rise of China, and the problem of nationalism. In fact, our evenings usually have a couple hours dedicated to this sort of conversation, and usually our divergent views make for animation and verbal aggressiveness. But tonight we seem to have more synchronized sentiments and we go to sleep with even more of a sense of comradeship than usual.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Lacking a weather forecast to assist with the decision about whether or not to cruise today, I decided last night that our approach would be to head out first thing in the morning and then make a judgement after exiting the channel and experiencing the open sea on our planned heading. We expect the northeasterly winds to continue and nobody has told us that they are likely to abate. It is a bit problematic since they have continued to bear down with almost as much intensity as when we came over from Chub Cay the day before yesterday. To get down the east coast of Andros, however, we will have to follow a course south that is slightly more easterly than when coming from Chub Cay, and this may put our nose up against the wind just enough to make everything uncomfortable.
There really are two options for proceeding down the coast. One option is to get outside the intermittent offshore reef and run in deep water. The other is to stay inside the reef where the water will not be as rough but the shallows will be strewn with hazardous coral heads. In calm conditions, the run inside the reef would be a pleasure since the coast is scenic and the transparent water would be fine for piloting. Dick could stand on the bow and use his formulaic hand motions to point the way. He favors the tomahawk chop as an indication of where to go and the pointed finger for specifying hazards. From a theoretical point of view, this is a good enough system but the problem is that Dick gets rather excited about things and tends to make his hand signals in a rather animated fashion. Not content to simply give a fixed designation for the route or the hazard, he feels compelled to indicate each with a sort of range from side to side. I find it hard to discern his meanings when his hand motions are modified so as to expand a two-word vocabulary into an entire dictionary. But really, with the wind up this inner passage is not going to be a good choice anyway: the water may be calm enough for us to ride comfortably but it won't be calm enough for Dick to read the hazards and channels. Unless the wind dies, we almost surely will have to stay outside.
We start out early. The route out the channel takes us into the teeth of the wind and for a mile and a half we slog directly to windward at a slow pace and with plenty of bow spray. Finally, we can turn the corner and head for our first waypoint down the coast. Even off the wind the ride is uncomfortable and I feel as if I have to constantly struggle to anticipate what the sea is going to do to us. We persevere for about a half hour before I turn to Dick and tell him that I have decided that we should turn back. He seems to support the decision, but I don't actually act on what I have said. I keep going, planning on making the turn momentarily. But then I find myself failing to plan the reversal of direction and instead monitoring more closely the rough water we have to deal with. I am not too sure why, but gradually I become more comfortable with the conditions we are handling and with nothing being said I continue on with our run. Minutes pass, and then an hour, and then another. We keep going, and by noon the conditions are slightly better than before--either that or I have gotten more used to them. Anyway, we never do turn back and by mid-afternoon we are making our way in past the reef to Staniard Creek.
After locating the neck of land on which the Kamalame Bay resort is situated, we motor up a slough and around a bend until coming to its small dock that is a marina for a maximum of eight boats. We tie off and disembark to seek out some information about whether we can rent a slip for the night. The resort is a beautiful, collection of small cabins and an understated main building. We speak there with Margaret who describes the situation. The minimum charge for taking a slip will be $100. To come ashore costs $25 per person. If we would like to use the facilities (eat in the restaurant or drink at the bar, for example) there is a $100 per person "door charge." Without finding out how much an actual meal or drink might cost, we explain to Margaret that the prices are a bit too high for us and she kindly suggests that if we cross over to the other side of the slough we will find there a shallow, sandy area where we can anchor for the night. Also over there is a nice beach--and a public dock that Margaret asks us to stay clear of since the Kamalame Bay employee shuttle makes frequent trips to there and back. Margaret also tells us about a couple bars and a small market located on the other side. We thank her for helping us out and head back to Kobuk. After casting off and running over to the other side, it becomes clear that we actually can nose up to shore there and spend the night with the main anchor buried in beach sand and the lunch hook strung behind to hold the stern off shore. This will make it easy for us to come and go, and in the early morning when Dick has to take a taxi to the airport he will be able to disembark without our having to run ashore first. And where does the taxi come from? Well, actually, that is another thing that Margaret did for us: she called a taxi and arranged for a 5:45 am pickup at the public dock. The taxi driver's name, says Margaret, is Zippy.
Although we do not end the day with a gourmet meal, we do manage an end-of-the-day swim and a reasonably tasty on-board meal. In the evening, Dick asks me to explain what the basis was for my decision to keep going on the water after having said that we would be turning back. I ind it impossible to give him a rational answer. I don't suppose there is one.
Public Beach, Staniard Creek, Andros: 24*50.537' N / 77*53.387' W
Distance: 30 miles
Total Distance: 9,452 miles
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Zippy the taxi driver arrived when it was still dark, well before the designated time. The tide was out and Kobuk's bow was hung up on the beach so that disembarkation was into just an inch or two of water. We tiptoed ashore, goodbyes were said, and Dick was on his way. With Kobuk hanging on the beach and no light yet radiating from the eastern sky, the sensible thing to do was treat all this as a dream and go back to bed for a couple hours.
When I arise, the sun is guilding the land and Kobuk is floating free. The wind is down a bit and it seems a good day to move along to Fresh Creek, a major Andros settlement with shops, slips, and fuel. The run southward along the coast has none of the marginality of the last couple days on the water and by noon Kobuk and I are powering past the barrier reef with the Fresh Creek channel straight ahead. The town has spread itself along both banks of the drowned river mouth, a straight running estuary that penetrates a good distance inland but that here on the coast is a pinched waterway that even a minor leaguer could throw a baseball across. Most of the town is platted out on the north side of Fresh Creek, but but Lighthouse Marina and and a few other businesses occupy the south side. The two sides are connected by a low bridge that crosses Fresh Creek less than a mile from its mouth.
To call this place a town is a little misleading for anyone who has not been in the Bahamas. Towns here are small settlements that typically have a Batelco tower, a grocery store, an eating establishment, and maybe an all purpose gas station for land and water craft. Anything more than this is likely to be either nonexistent or located in some other town. The residential part of a town usually consists of perhaps a dozen homes interspersed randomly with the few business and a similarly small number scattered about in an exurban fashion. Fresh Creek is bigger than average--a major center for Andros Island--and its unusual size means that there are choices as to where one might eat and one might lodge. But even this center is small enough that gas can be gotten for boats only by lugging jerry cans ashore. Settlement south of the estuary is called Andros Town; settlement north of it is known as Coakley Town. But really, they part of the same town and from the outside the whole place usually is referred to as Fresh Creek.
When I tie Kobuk to the end of a dock at Lighthouse Marina, images of such pleasantries as fresh-water showers, sit-down meals, and clean laundry are dancing in my head and, indeed, on this one occasion fantasies do actually become real.
Lighthouse Marina, Fresh Creek, Andros: 24*43.489' N / 77'47.113' W
Distance: 17 miles
Total Distance: 9, 469 miles
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Andros is large but quite undeveloped relative to the other outer islands I have visited so far. Being undeveloped is one thing; being undeveloped relative to the rest of the islands I have visited so far takes the condition to a completely new level--a level that would be almost incomprehensible to any American who has never traveled to rural areas in the third world. This town of Fresh Creek, for example, is one of the two or three main urban centers in Andros, but when I stopped by at the main grocery store to buy milk or soy milk I was told that they had none but expected to get some in tomorrow. The town appears to not even have something equivalent to a small hardware store--a place where you might expect to find things like mops or electric cable or wall brackets. Such things must be available somewhere, but they do not reveal themselves easily here in Fresh Creek. Of course, I may not be looking in the right place since the few stores that do exist are only marginally thematic: they usually offer an eclectic mix of products that you or I might categorize as obtainable only in places like drug stores, hardware stores, furniture shops, flower shops, etc. In the Bahamas, such compartmentalization is exceptional.
I imagine that the population of Andros is so small that such specialization is economically viable only when everyone on the island shops there. In other words, if a pharmacy were to exist in Coakley Town then it likely would preclude the existence of another such store, not just in the same town but all around the island. After all, even here on Andros (where overland distances are great by Bahamian standards) a trip across the island probably is less than two hours by car.
You can look around a lot in the Bahamas without finding anything that looks as if it is a special product of the islands. Gift and curio shops all carry the usual generic crap like carved turtles and jewelery boxes decorated in seashells while upscale stores sell expensive stuff that is produced overseas for the international crowd. Hard it is to find something that looks authentically Bahamian and that anybody with any taste would really want. It is a surprise, therefore, to come across something in this out-of-the-way corner of the country. On a bumpy dirt road, only a couple hundred yards away from the Lighthouse Marina, I find the Androsia factory.
Androsia is the name for a company that produces batik fabrics in bulk. The factory is a simple warehouse constructed of a steel frame on which is hung sheets of corrugated metal. Large open bays along one side front on a concrete platform that appears to be set at a level for loading trucks. But I only see the warehouse in the near distance: here on the right before reaching it is a small wood frame building that identifies itself as the Androsia Shop. I go to the door but it is locked--with a handwritten notice that if the door is locked one should inquire at the factory. This I do, and in the process get to see various women preparing cloth for the batik patterns and doing the dying. Eventually, I locate a
Most batik operations I know of tend toward the handcrafted, one-off tradition and generate a patch of fabric that is rather limited in size. But here, the batik patterns are produced on bolts of fabric that are five or more feet in breadth and thirty yards long. The company has a wide range of patterns that it can print up on one of three kinds of fabric: cotton, mommie cloth, and canvas. The patterns feature the sorts of things you might expect--fish, birds, palms, shells, flowers, and the like--and they are not particularly refined in their characterization. But they are done in bold and large sequences on fabrics that have been dyed to electrifying colors. The result is very satisfying and the cost is remarkably low. Most things in the Bahamas are more expensive than in the United States, but in this one instance the product is sold at a very reasonable price. You can see for yourself by going to www.androsia.com.
In the afternoon, on the advice of a local, I move Kobuk to a different dock located a little farther away from the mouth of Fresh Creek. The wind is already pretty strong and is expected to strengthen even more this evening. Since it is coming out of the north north east, it is running right up the barrel of Fresh Creek and this makes things a bit uncomfortable. Gerald is the young man who manages the marina operations--an easy job these days since Kobuk is one of only three boats here--and he has no objection to our relocation. He spends the day here dockside talking with his friends and looking across the creek towards Coakley Town on the other side. He wears his trousers in the low-slung style, with the crotch more or less at his knees, and when he moves about he does it with a bit of a swagger.
Lighthouse Marina, Fresh Creek, Andros: 24*43.452' N / 77'47.113, W
Friday, October 29, 2010
Ever since arriving in the Bahamas over two weeks ago, I have had one ear clogged up with wax. It started when we first arrived in Marsh Harbour I'm pretty sure that wax is all it is since this sort of thing has happened a couple times before. There is no pain so no infection, but I can't hear much in my right ear and the blockage seems to create a tomb-like silence in there--well, silence with a constant ringing. Why is it that when we are in a completely silent environment we start to hear a steady ringing? Anyway, it is not very loud and only mildly distracting. The bigger issue is the impaired hearing. I find myself struggling to hear what people say and this in turn undermines my self-confidence: 'Is THAT what that person said and if it's not then maybe I shouldn't react in the way I am about to.'
Since there is a clinic in Coakley Town and Kobuk is stabled until the wind dies down (tomorrow looks promising), I pedal over to see if there is a nurse who can help me out. The clinic is clean, small, and well staffed with two administrators, a nurse, and a pharmacy. There are also three women waiting to be seen, a couple of whom have children with them. There are no men about and nothing terribly urgent seems to be happening. I pay my money and wait my turn--and when the nurse is free to see me she confirms that it is only wax and recommends I use over-the-counter wax softening ear drops called Cerumol before seeing the doctor early next week. I explain that I willhave skipped town by then so she sets me up with the ear drops and suggests I go see somebody in Nassau.
As is so often the case with these little Bahamian towns, establishments that we would view as virtually synonymous with "downtown" are anything but that. In this instance, I need a bank with an ATM and the one bank, I learn is a couple miles north of town. I peddle out that way and en route I pass a home at the side of the road with two children playing in the front yard. It looks to be an older sister--maybe even a teenager--and a boy who is noticeably younger than her. As I pedal by, the boy yells to me and asks if he can ride my bicycle. I yell back, that he can when I return. When I reach the bank it is just before closing time and there is nobody about except the bank guard, a beautiful young lady who looks to be about 21 years old. She is dressed in a perfectly tailored guard's uniform--olive trousers that show off her compact butt and a spiffy blue shirt that looks starched and completely uncrinkled. She looks so cool that I suspect she doesn't even know HOW to sweat. She has all the accoutrements, including a pistol holstered at her hip. We spend a few minutes talking and when she speaks her authoritative tone of voice is more an expression of her bearing and character than of her role as a security guard. We talk about online courses, as it happens, and she expresses interest in doing a degree in forensics (she used to be a cop, she says). Her hope is to find a program that she might do online rather than having to leave the Bahamas where no program of this sort exists anywhere. She is perhaps the fourth or fifth young person I have talked to here in the Bahamas who has expressed a desire to study for a degree online so as to avoid having to move to some other country. It occurs to me now that there is a tremendous opportunity for universitys to cater to this need--but of course most universities are too suspicious of the online pedagogy and too wedded to the old way of doing things to really pursue this solution to what is for them a serious and continually growing cash flow problem.
Only when I am about to leave do the young lady and I introduce ourselves. She tells me her name and when I say it she corrects me. This happens twice and it's clear that she wants her identity to be unsullied by the linguistic inadequacies of this odd stranger. I wish I could hear better.
When I pedal back to the boat, I pass the house where the two children were outside playing, but now neither of them is in sight. I carry on for a few hundred yards and then turn onto a side street to explore a part of Coakley Town that I have not yet seen. Almost immediately I come to a gang of young boys playing in the street and one of them yells to me "Can I ride the bike now?" I say "Yes" because it is the same boy who asked me earlier. He comes over and I hand him the bike. He pedals up and down the street for a while and then returns the bike to me with a very proper "Thank you." All his friends have stopped playing and are staring at him with their jaws hanging open.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
We're out in the middle of the Tongue of the Ocean, making our way northeastward from Andros to New Providence (the island on which Nassau is located). The crossing is about 25 miles. For many days the wind has been whistling down from the northeast--exactly the direction that is least desirable, but now the wind has settled a bit, and has shifted its angle of attack to the east. Kobuk's bow is slicing into the oncoming waves but at a sufficiently indirect angle from head-on that there is no banging or pounding and only occasional eruptions of spray. The wind is still uncomfortably strong--close to 15 knots I would say--but we are trudging onward without shivering the timbers and as long as conditions stay as they are we should be off the west end of New Providence by noon. There is a strong current flowing against us, however, and it combined with the wind and the waves has dragged our sog (speed over ground) down to little more than five miles per hour. I am hopeful that when we get to New Providence and begin running along its north shore that the alliance of forces working against us will ameliorate. There is little chance that they will change a lot, but even a small decrease in their force can make life aboard less tumultuous.
The Tongue of the Ocean is a deep water extension of the Atlantic that separates Andros from New Providence and also from the Exumas farther south. Here in their more northerly regions, the Bahamas consist of platforms, or plateaus that usually only have a fathom or two of water on them and that periodically rise up above the water to form the many existing island groups: Bimini, Grand Bahama, the Abacos, the Berries, Andros (actually three large islands and countless small ones), New Providence, Eleuthera, the Exumas. Each of these refers not to a single island but to a cluster that sits on a shallow-water plateau and that happens to break above the surface of the ocean. The island groups, incidentally, have a tendency to appear somewhere along the perimeter of a shallow bank rather than nearer its middle. As a consequence, they usually have deep water close to shore (but perhaps a mile or two off, beyond a reef) along one side but extreme shallows extending offshore for miles and miles on the other. It is one of the pleasures of the Bahamas that one day you can be cruising for hours, distant from land, with a world of turquiose under your hull and visual awareness of coral eruptions and multitudinous fish and radiant white sand all there to be seen in the aquarium; but then the next day you are traversing the great, impenetrable depths of the mid-ocean, completely at sea where the water is a somber blue, opaque and reflective.
There is a fallback plan for the day: if we are excessively delayed by adverse conditions we will put into West Bay, a protected anchorage where we first make landfall, but if our schedule remains intact and it still looks possible to reach Nassau before sundown then we will carry on. The gods smile and we make it to West Bay by noon, but when we round the end of the island and begin running along north shore there is no increase in our speed made good. Still, we are on target to make it to Nassau so we persevere.
After cruising for weeks among "outer" islands of the Bahamas, the presence of suburban Nassau along the shore looks like grand scale development. A continuous presence of houses and hotels along with occasional sites where construction is under way make the city seem to be bigger than it is. In fact, Nassau is a small place--comparable in size to a place like Peoria, Illinois--but its status as the only urban center in the country and its significance as a transportation hub for interisland traffic (and, indeed, international traffic) do give it a metropolitan veneer. When Dick and I arrived in the Bahamas we flew into Nassau and spent the night before continuing on to the Abacos the next day. Our brief contact with the city left me thinking that Nassau has a certain amount of visitor-friendly gloss but that it really isn't terribly exciting.
When in late afternoon Kobuk motors into the Nassau harbor it does look a bit more dramatic than it had the first time around, but that is mostly due to the five big cruise ships docked there. They tower over the downtown like looming monsters. If the sun were to be setting in the north instead of off to the west, I am sure that their shadows would be sweeping across the whole of the city, thereby giving literal expression to an economic metaphor.
Nassau Harbour Marina, New Providence: 25*04.472' N / 77*18.779' W
Distance: 47 miles
Total Distance: 9, 516 miles