14/03/2011/10:00 am, Thompson Bay, Long Island
We tried to do as many things as we could without feeling rushed during Mary Jean's last two days in the Bahamas - and I think we got the balance about right.
The wind came up as predicted on Friday night, so by the time we rose on Saturday it was a very windy anchorage and we were glad to be here in Thompson Bay. We had stopped far out on Friday night to avoid close encounters with anchored boats in the dark and at first we thought we'd stay there. One dinghy ride in to Fox's wharf changed our minds though! Distances are so deceiving - it looked like we were just as close as we would be if we were further into the corner, but it was a long wet ride. After shopping for fish and produce, we moved almost half a nautical mile further in and found ourselves a nice little spot just deep enough (6.5 ft at low tide - we draw almost 6), well into shore and out of the worst of the waves.
The shopping and conversations were excellent on that first trip ashore. Roger Fox and his son Chris were busy cleaning the catch from Roger's fishing trip to the Jumentos. "Small Change" was tied alongside and the coolers around the fish cleaning table on the dock were filled with grouper and hogfish, conch and lobster tails. We bought filets of hogfish and grouper as well as a goodly number of lobster tails. ($7 per pound for the fish; $11 per pound for the tails - and because you aren't getting the whole lobster, there's little waste.) Roger kept our purchase on ice while we walked up the road to the "rock pile" where the small Farmer's Market was in progress (second and last Saturday of the month - I don't know what time it started but we were there about 10:30) Here we filled our bags with plantain, Bahamian sweet potatoes (red on the outside, white on the inside), yams, cassava, plantains, bananas and papayas from two different gentlemen. A lady at another table was selling sparkling white sea salt and bottles of home made hot sauce. We got some of each. Next stop was the Hillside grocery store where we replenished our supply of limes and yogurt and then it was time to hurry back to Madcap to shift some of this food from bags to stomachs!
I steamed some lobster tails in sea water, melted fresh Irish butter with a bit of garlic, sauteed a couple of sliced plantains, scooped out sweet chunks of papaya, and we sat down to a lunchtime feast from land and sea. Ooooh gooooood!
We hadn't been able to reach Alton Fox so we arranged to rent a car from Stanley Pinder starting at 2 o'clock on Saturday. He met us at the dock and we drove him back to his home up in Millers before continuing north in search of straw work. Mario, at the Blue Chip restaurant in Simms directed us to Pearl, Elsie and Jelelah - "Go past all the churches, go around the corner and turn right." Pearl was just braiding her hair as she got ready to go to a church convention in Nassau the next day but she opened her tiny grocery store/straw shop for us, and I bought two of the lovely fish shaped straw placemats that seem to be a Long Island trademark and Mary Jean bought a rustic basket. She told us that Elsie's shop was a block farther along (a block? on a little rural dirt road?) but after we drove a piece, questioned a woman out for a walk, turned and came back, we found it right next door! I parted with a little more money here - on a big bag that I'll probably use for knitting supplies. Next stop was her sister-in-law, Jelelah. She had the biggest selection of hats, bags and baskets, the highest prices - although all were very fair and negotiable - and Mary Jean purchased two lovely baskets: one woven and one of a different style from what I've seen before - round, tall and stitched from plaited silvertop fronds with a knotted loop for hanging or carrying.
It was beach time then and despite hearing from several locals that we could not drive to a beach on the Atlantic side up here, we took a paved road from Millers, parked where it became pot-holed gravel near the end, and walked down the hill, up over the dune and onto a ruggedly beautiful beach. The NE wind was roaring, making it too chilly to swim, and the huge reef smashed shells and even plastic to bits, but Jim found several sea hearts and a hamburger bean, Mary Jean and I picked through bits of shell and we all had a good walk, listening to the roar of the surf and feeling awed at the ruggedness of the coastline here.
We drove out the road by the Chez Pierre sign and it did not appear to be in business anymore - despite the sign at the end of the road, there was no sign at the big house by the beach that we figured must be the place. We did find goats though! A great herd of them went trotting by at a good clip as Mary Jean and I walked down a lane toward them. We laughed at one little guy who got left behind by the herd. He seemed unconcerned at first and then as he saw us, he looked around, saw none of his family and started the most pitiful bleating. We stood still and watched as, "baaa-baaa-baaaing" away, he moved slowly past us and then broke into a run as he reached the edge of the scrub. We never did hear an answer from the herd, but he must have known how to find them. Hmmmm - just like two legged kids, some goats move according to their own timetables!
Back at the Blue Chip in time for dinner, we were the only boaters and Mario sat us down in the little room just off the main dining area. Before serving us platters of grouper, conch, peas'n'rice, potato salad and coleslaw, Mario chatted about the old days when each home had goats and chickens and grew plentiful vegetables. He knew Dr Cottman (Out Island Doctor) and worked on the mailboats for many years. He said the farming done now is subsistence farming and that times are tough.
He appears to be right - we hear over and over again about how projects don't get finished, trips don't get taken, hopes and dreams are dashed or delayed because of "insufficient funds". But despite shakes of the head or rueful laughter, these hardy folks continue on - growing a few things in their backyard gardens, going fishing, renting cars, serving beer and dinner, making straw hats and bags, tending tiny stores with shelves of rice and beans and canned milk and viennese sausages and fridges stocked with sodas and water. There is always a smile, a wave, time for a "How are you doing?" Every settlement has 2 or 3 or 4 churches and a domino table can always be found under a shady tree. After dinner at the Blue Chip, we joined in the conversation with the folks gathered around the bar: a man here for his brother's funeral this afternoon, a friendly fisherman who had been propping up the corner of the bar since we were here in the afternoon, a fellow from Deadman's Cay who had lived away for a number of years and was happy to be back home. I smiled as he told me that his "Mummy has 89 years and Daddy has 91." Good genes there!
On Sunday morning, we loaded Mary Jean's things into the dinghy for one last ride - a dry one!! - piled into the car and went in search of one more beach to walk. We drove out the Indian Hole Point road to the site of the sweet little Parrots of the Caribbean Bar that we had visited 3 years ago. We'd been told it isn't open any more and that's what we found. The 2 colourful cottages still look rentable though - with chairs on the porches and kayaks at the ready.
From there we moved on up the island, ending up following our stomachs to a beach with a restaurant. The bright yellow building sitting right by the road on the beach at Deals is part of the Beach Bungalows operation, run by a Canadian, John Misner, and staffed by Letta - a witty, chatty Bahamian woman who says she has never met a rude Canadian. We sure hope we can all keep up that reputation. Lunch was delicious - fish fingers made from snapper - moist, light, tender - and a cheeseburger for Jim. We were able to see our first footage of the devastation in Japan on the 2 big screen TVs. While we have been listening to reports on CBC radio, being able to see the pictures was really helpful in understanding the scale of damage. John came in while we were there so we were able to chat with him as well. He has been travelling these islands for 30 years and Long Island is where he decided to develop some businesses. He is planning to put in a long dock and some mooring balls here so this will be a place to watch. His website is: www.beachbungalowsbahamas.com
And then it was time to head for the Stella Maris airport again. It seems hardly possible that 10 days have passed since we were here to meet Mary Jean's plane. It was a busy place today. Two Pineapple air flights left, one after the other at 2:30, and we waved good bye to Doug and Claire as they boarded one of them. Folks who had been here for the funeral yesterday were leaving, and so were a number of church ladies, bound for the convention of the Prophecy of God in Nassau. The turn around time is quick with these planes. They touch down, the door opens, people descend while bags are removed from a hatch in the rear, more people climb the steps and luggage is loaded, the door closes, the propellers whirl and they are off again all within minutes.
There was a charming moment as Mary Jean's Southern Air flight prepared to depart. A young woman and her son had come in on the flight and were waiting for their ride. Just as the plane started to taxi away, she realized that she had left her computer bag on board. As she came running to the fence, the pilot saw her and slowed. The propellers wound down, the door opened, the steps came down and one of the ground crew went forward to speak to the flight attendant. The bag was handed out, and the departure process started again. The delay was only minutes and a relieved and happy woman waved her thanks.
Jim and I headed back to Thompson Bay, stopping to pick up Mr Pinder in Millers. He dropped us off at the beach where we had left the dinghy, and we arrived home at Madcap just in time to tidy the cockpit and pour a glass of wine - ready to welcome Valerie and Graham (Bonnie Lass) for Happy Hour. What a delight to see these two again! We spent many days rafted together at Vero Beach, and arrived at Great Sale Cay on the same day. Our last sighting of them was when they left Green Turtle Cay and we had so much to catch up on. They were perfect companions to cover that "empty boat" feeling just after company has left. The time changed today to Daylight Savings Time so we had a lovely long evening in which to share stories and laughs - and oh, Valerie's laugh is positively infectious.
I had thought I would do laundry today (Monday), but no such luck. Mike, at Island Breeze, said laundry is not available until tomorrow and wouldn't even start a list today, so I'll have to get on the radio just as soon as I get a chance so I can get my loads of sheets and towels and salty clothes taken care of. We'll refill the guest cabin aka garage with the items that have been stashed in every other nook and cranny, Jim will ferry Jerry cans of fuel and water back and forth, and we will pay some attention to the rest of the "boat jobs" that we happily ignored while we had company. I will finally make it to a wifi spot to get this and 4 other postings up, too. I've been writing, but have had no opportunity to post them - so scroll back if you have the time and inclination to find out what we've been up to!
Because we can't get propane until Wednesday - and we have a number of items requiring internet connection to take care of - we will probably leave here on Thursday for the Jumentos. There will be no phone or email (except for sailmail) then until we get to Ragged Island so, just like the last week, it will be a dry spell for communication.
11/03/2011/1:35 pm, Thompson Bay, Long Island
We generally live by the maxim that sailors should never make plans based on a schedule. We on Madcap change our plans regularly - usually on the basis of weather or a new idea but in this case, we have an unavoidable schedule.
So it is that despite what I wrote last evening, it is Friday and we are not ashore exploring Rum Cay or drinking beers on a shady porch or dining at Kaye's Restaurant. Instead, (at 1000 hours) we are motoring back across the sound toward Long Island. Our bottom line "schedule" is that we have to have Mary Jean back at the Stella Maris airport on Sunday for a 2:30 flight to Nassau, and it was all looking good earlier in the week. We knew that the weather for Saturday was somewhat awkward for what we had planned but we thought it was still doable. The front would go through today and while the winds would be NNE18 to 20 on Saturday, we'd be OK. I kept joking that we could still leave here on Sunday morning and get MJ to the Cape Santa Maria Resort by noon on Sunday and she could catch a taxi from there and everything would be fine - but she kind of shuddered each time I suggested it, and Jim grumbled, and finally even I - "the queen of down to the wire" gave it up as a bad idea ;-)
However - when we asked Chris Parker for the sea state this morning, he told us that on Saturday we would be moving in confused seas with swells coming one way and wind driven chop another. We already know we do not like confused seas - especially biggish ones! It was decision time - and there was really only one choice.
So ... the anchor came up; I called Dolores to cancel our dinner reservation; we swung by Seabbatical to say thanks and goodbye; the cornbread came out of the oven too late to share with them; and we were bound for Long Island, leaving this place behind. We had forgotten to put SPOT out last night, so it went out as we were leaving - sure to confuse the folks on our receiving list when they see it again tonight in a new place!
As Mary Jean says, she has gained a real sense of just how connected we are to weather and how the fact that we often say we don't know just where we will be at a given time is not just indecision on our parts. We are totally connected to Mother Nature and weather is the deciding factor almost all the time.
The front passed as we came down the west side of Long Island and brought no problems at all. We could watch rain in other places and the advancing line of dark clouds, but somehow it just moved around us. There were no complications and we arrived back in Thompson Bay just after dark, anchored and ready for the increasing winds.
We had to have the motor on the whole darn day, but the sun was shining, the fishing lines were out - and something made off with yet another hook and lure. The leftover lobster made a delicious lunch (the pic above is of that other fish lunch - with Mary Jean's barjack). We read our books - me on my perch on the back rail, Jim stretched out on a cockpit bench and Mary Jean on the foredeck. (The Fencing Master, Grave Secrets, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - respectively).
We will spend Saturday and Sunday morning exploring Long Island again before we reluctantly send Mary Jean off to the north. The schedule called the shots today with support from weather, but it has worked out just fine. We generally tell our guests to arrange their flights to Nassau or Fort Lauderdale and then we'll tell them where we are from there. That is what we did with each set of visitors this year and it has worked well. The going home part is trickier unless we stay in the same area. We were lucky this time - we got to move around, see two new places, avoid bad weather, and get back to an airport for MJ's scheduled departure.
Rum Cay goes back on the list for next year's exploration. We will be here until we set off south bound for the Jumentos. Life is good!
10/03/2011/1:29 pm, Rum Cay
We left Conception Island on Thursday morning - a little later than planned because, once again, the propane tank emptied itself before the kettle got to a boil for the morning coffee. This is the second time this year. I wonder which of our guardian angels are getting a chuckle out of delaying the morning coffee? What would be so wrong with delaying dishwashing water or even afternoon tea? Captain Jim obligingly switched tanks so we could all have our morning shot of caffeine and by the time we got the dinghy hoisted, it was 0630, Chris Parker time. He reported conditions that reflected what we were expecting, so after we heard what we needed, we up-anchored and waved good bye to Conception Island. We'll be back because we have more exploring to do here.
Our motoring trip to Rum Cay was slow but enjoyable - a day to enjoy the foredeck with a cushion and a book. The fishing lines were out. Jim caught one barracuda and let him go. He lost another fish - it must have been a big one because it was there one minute and then fish, hook and lure were gone the next minute. Mary Jean lost one and then caught a nice little barjack. By that time, we were almost into the anchoring area at Rum Cay so the pole and yoyo line came in and all eyes were focused on coral heads.
I thought it would be much harder to navigate among the heads and reefs, but the water is so deep and so clear that it wasn't really a problem at all. We dropped the anchor in 9 feet of water just off the Batelco tower. It dropped to 7 feet at low tide - but hey - still lots of depth! A boat was leaving from near the marina entrance, and Seabbatical I came in after us - making a grand total of 2 boats here. We had heard rumours of this being a really surgy anchorage, but it is perfectly acceptable tonight (Thursday). We'll see what happens when the wind picks up on Friday!
After getting settled in and eating lunch (salad and that nice little barjack that was in the saute pan not more than an hour after being plucked from the sea) we donned bathing suits and checked out the dark spots in the area. Once again, there were some pretty fish and some OK coral. We didn't see any lobster antennas sticking out from under rocks or any fat fish that would stay out in the open long enough for Jim's spear.
Having struck out in hunter gatherer mode, we switched to explorer mode and headed for shore. I told MJ and JD that dinner would be peas'n'rice, cole slaw and a can of tuna that night and I think they got a little worried because we went right to Kaye's Place just across the road from the government dock and reserved spaces at dinner on Friday evening (it was too late for today). Both Mary Jean and I had read about Kaye's Place and we were all keen to go there. We met Dolores Wilson, chatted with her and bought the book she wrote about her life in Rum Cay, "Rum Cay, My Home". We'll be back there on Friday for dinner and more conversation - especially since we will have read the book by then and I'm sure will have lots of questions for her.
Next stop was the Last Chance Grocery store operated by Dolores' daughter Kaye (after whom the restaurant/bar is named). No yogurt, not much produce - but the mail boat came in tonight so we stand a better chance of picking up some produce on Friday morning. There won't be any yogurt coming on the boat though, and Kaye said, "Come early" for the rest of it. I bought a little packet of "seasoning" - garlic, hot pepper, thyme in sea salt - and Mary Jean is taking home one of her pretty little shell flowers.
From there, we wandered down the dirt road to the Marina - and decided we are very pleased with our lovely, airy, easy to enter and exit spot out in the anchorage. While the marina would be well protected, it seemed claustrophobic to us, and was heavily populated with fisherfolk and surfers. There was no one in the restaurant so we didn't stop for a beer, and we didn't have our computers with us on that excursion so we didn't ask about wifi although I understand it exists. We like the town part of Rum Cay much better than the marina area and look forward to exploring it tomorrow. The Anglican Church is so pretty with its fresh coat of white and blue; the sandy roads beckon to us; the friendly folks sitting under the trees wave and ask how we are all doing. Of course the answer is "Absolutely wonderful, thank you!"
The mailboat, the "Lady Frances", arrived as we were doing our walkabout so we took some pics of pickup trucks backing rapidly down the wharf and young men toting bags and boxes to vehicles parked by the road. Kaye told us the "Lady Frances" makes two stops in the Exumas and one at San Salvador before arriving here each Thursday evening, and the feeling is much the same as on other islands we have visited. It is a social event as well as a "shopping trip." Folks gather and chat before it arrives and look forward to receiving whatever goods they are expecting from Nassau.
By then it was heading on to 6 o'clock and it was time to head home. It was then that the most wonderful event of the day occurred. Angie came flying across the water in her dinghy and upon hearing that we had no luck fishing, handed over a plastic bag with two lobster tails! She and Clark are much better spear fishers than we are - and they were out in 25 - 30 ft deep water too. Jim's diving skills are just not that good, and mine are non existent. So how wonderful was that? They knew we were keen to dine on some lobster and were having little luck catching them so they went out specifically to shoot our dinner. Pretty nice, I'd say!
I put on the peas'n'rice, made some cole slaw, slathered the lobster tails with garlic butter and Jim put them on the BBQ. Oh - what a mouthwatering meal! Mary Jean and I finished it off with Coconut rum over ice - and I think we might have introduced her to a new vice!. What a meal. Thanks Clark! Thanks Angie!
We'll be here on Friday, watching the wind clock around and hoping things don't get too rocky. We'll walk and explore, and dine well again in the evening on whatever Dolores has prepared. Then the plan is to leave here on Saturday, going back to Long Island and stopping either at Calabash Bay, Hog Cay, or going back to Thompson Bay.