22/03/2011/10:50 am, Duncantown, Ragged Island
We had envisioned a week long trip down through the Jumentos but that hasn't happened quite the way we planned. Hmmmmm - I think I've been saying that a lot lately!
We left Thompson Bay on Friday and had such good sailing winds that we came all the way down to Flamingo Cay, bypassing Water Cay - our first stop last year. There were several boats in the little anchorage by the two palms, but just like last year, we opted to anchor in the next little bay. We covered 56.2 nautical miles and had the engine on for less than an hour (just to get us out of one anchorage and into another). While we were tired after 11 hours of sailing, it was so much better than having the engine roaring away.
We dined on a new recipe I invented, and named Chicken Quatro - for the 4 C's - coconut, curry, cassava and chicken. I must say, it was very tasty! I had never cooked cassava before but the farmer who sold it to me told me to cook it till tender, then peel it and add it to a stew or whatever I was making. It has a texture somewhat like the Bahamian potatoes, (firmer than the ones we are used to) and it worked well with coconut milk and curry powder - with a dash of the hot seasoning salt I bought at the same market. I sauteed chicken pieces with onion and tossed it all together to simmer for half an hour. Mmmmmmm.
I've mentioned "perfect moments" before, and that evening was one of them. The moon was full or nearly full and shining brightly across the water. Madcap had just the gentlest of rolls happening and we were full after a tasty dinner and pleased with our day's sail. CBC was coming in loud and clear on the radio. As we sat in this lovely anchorage among the most southerly of the Bahamian Cays, we listened to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe - recorded at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax, Nova Scotia - about a 20 minute walk from our home. It seemed to link the two parts of our lives so very well.
We listened to conversations among the fishermen on the 3 boats off Flamingo Cay, and passed several more anchored at Jamaica Cay while their dinghies scattered through the area to fish. Scott had explained to us that there will usually be a crew of 6 to 8 people plus a cook. The cook stays on board while the dinghies with a diver and a driver go off fishing. The men own their own dinghies and pay a percentage (plus their gas and groceries) to the captain of the big boat. The Captain C - the mailboat - was anchored off Flamingo Cay for a while in the evening too, before heading off across the Lark Channel. We smiled when we heard the radio call from the Captain C to one of the fishing boats, "Have you got any snapper?" and we watched as a dinghy went flying off to the mailboat.
The next day was a good sailing day too, and we moved on down to Buenavista Cay where we were the only boat on that lovely long stretch of white sand. This is the first time in months that we've had an anchorage to ourselves, and we made good use of it. We dinghied ashore and walked down the beach to the trail that leads to the southern end and another beach. I gathered some palm fronds for weaving, we swam in the clear blue water, and dried out as we walked some more. The house up at the northern end didn't seem to have anyone around this year - although we didn't go up close to investigate because our legs were tired of walking in the deep sand. Last year, we took cans of vegetables and beer to the two gentlemen staying there - an elderly fisherman who still rowed miles back and forth to his fishing grounds, and his son (I think).
We kept moving south and made the difficult decision to bypass both Raccoon and Hog Cays and come straight to Ragged Island's Southside Bay on Sunday. I remember Raccoon as being a really pretty little spot - and there was only one boat there. Hog Cay is a cruiser favourite and there were several boats we've met in there, but we had weather coming and we decided Southside was where we'd prefer to ride it out. Once again it was a fine sailing day - although a more "vigorous" one than the last two. We had the main and the Yankee up and were flying along at close to 7 knots, but eventually switched to the stay sail as the wind built to a sustained 18 - 20 knots. Eventually we had to furl in the stay as well and motor sail as we headed up into the wind for the last 45 minutes.
We went ashore to the beach and walked to town - take the trail to the road and then walk past the dump, across the airport runway, up the hill and around the corner. The runway is finished now and the roads are all smooth black asphalt. The crews were here working on them when we were here at just about this time last year. This is a very small little settlement - fewer than 100 people and it is so amazing to see such roads! It being Sunday, there were few people about, but we did find a working payphone - a most unusual thing. After a hot and dusty walk back, we stopped to say hello to the folks on Jubilee - the only other boat here and then enjoyed a quiet evening. Our Sunday dinner was stewfish - made of snapper I had in the freezer, onions and Bahamian Sweet potatoes - spiced up with some of the hot sauce I bought at the market.
We have been experiencing more of that eau de sewer lately and so we spent Monday morning dealing with that. We took up the table and the floor boards once more, wondering if it was the vent again, and discovered that the macerator pump had not been pumping. The tank was absolutely full. I will not describe what happened when we disconnected hoses to see if there was a blockage - lets just say I used lots of javex afterward. (And kiddos - you'll be impressed - your dad did not throw up or even gag!) Back in the fall I questioned whether we really needed a $200 spare macerator pump on board, but Jim took the old one out and installed the new one and it worked a charm. Thank goodness! No more smell and an empty holding tank. We poured buckets and buckets of water down into the bilge, pumped that out too and disinfected everything in sight. (You'd be proud MB) (and Alain - I didn't have to come to close to any tubing!!)
The predicted high winds and squalls arrived about noon and lasted all afternoon and evening. The highest I happened to see on the wind indicator was 29.2; the wind generator has been working hard enough to divert some of its energy over to the hot water tank and that hardly ever happens. Our anchor is well dug into one of the sandy bits here in the bay. We are in 7 ft of water at low tide and Jim put out about 100 feet of chain so we have lots of rode to hold us securely. I am always amazed that we can possibly stay in one place with such a wind - but we do!! (Knocking on wood here). We spent the afternoon with books and charts - of Cuba. Because yes - I really think we are going to get there this year. We'll deliver our boxes of books to the school on Tuesday and wait for the seas to calm. We'll visit with our old friend Phicol and then we'll be Cuba Bound.
ps - We have just delivered books to the school - 10 students this year - after Percy (from the house with the plane on top and goats, pigs,chickens in his yard - and pigs on the beach too!) drove us to town. We missed Phicol somehow and are now going to find him.
We are still on track for a 3 am departure to Puerto de Vita, Cuba - a trip of about 60 nautical miles. I hope we'll find an internet connection there to let you know how it goes. We are excited!!!
17/03/2011/10:30 am, Thompson Bay, Long Island
We have been here in Thompson Bay longer than we would have liked (although as you'll see, it works out OK), and it feels like we've been mostly finishing up chores we needed to take care of before departing.
After making blog postings and attending to email on Monday morning, we walked over to the beach that can be found at the end of the trail from pole 108 along the highway north of Club Thompson Bay. I do love that - "Take the trail from pole 108!" We have known about it since we first came here in 2008 but have never taken it, and we are glad we had the time to go this trip. The view offshore is fabulous with limestone columns and craggy cays but the beach is polluted with plastic. We expect to see washed up fishing buoys and rope and net and even plastic bait boxes. We hate the sight of oil jugs and water bottles and margarine tubs and a hundred other plastic containers, and the ever present sandals and shoes. One observation is that people are using solid underarm deodorant instead of the roll on kind. We didn't see as many of those little balls as we used to!
The Georgetown crowd came in on Tuesday. People here were told that there would be 40 boats coming and only about 20 showed up. Tryphena, at Club Thompson Bay was expecting about 80 people for dinner tonight and prepared accordingly. Jim happened to be there this morning when the call came in that there would be only 34 or so people coming. You can imagine her distress. Mike at Long Island Breeze confirmed that everyone is affected. The grocery stores brought in extra supplies on the mailboat; they were expecting more people here too. It is a real shame that someone involved with the Georgetown group didn't call on Tuesday - the day they left Georgetown to let Tryphena and Mike or Jackie here know that only half the expected boats were really coming. I understand why some of them changed their minds - it was really windy out there and probably a rougher ride than some would like. But still, it would have been both polite and helpful if the providers of food and beverage for them here had been alerted.
I did laundry on Tuesday morning ($4 per load) and the list system they have at Island Breeze really does work well. We stopped in at Sou'side bar Tuesday evening to have a Kalik or two and chat with the fisherman/bartender and when Roger Fox came by, we were able to tell him how wonderful his fish has been. (steamed lobster, lobster dip, panfried grouper, seafood pasta (with leftover grouper and lobster). We took advantage of the 25% off coupon from Hillside grocery for produce on Mon and Tues, and stocked up on apples, oranges, lettuce, limes, cabbage and peppers. The mailboat comes on Wednesday I think so they want to move the items with short shelf life. There were lots of fruit and vegetables still in excellent condition.
Jim has made numerous runs back and forth to Island Petroleum to fill jerry cans with diesel, gas and water. By the time he finished the last one on Wednesday afternoon, all our tanks were filled and we had full jerry cans on the deck. That should easily see us through our trip down to Ragged Island. Last year, we were so careful with water that after being there just over 2 weeks, we used only about 60 gallons. We would have left on Wednesday, but we were carrying around an empty propane tank and even though we have one almost full, we always like to have the backup tank ready. Unfortunately, we hadn't been able to get it filled earlier, so we had to wait for the propane truck to come to Island Breeze on Wednesday. It's a great service - they fill the tanks right there and it cost $11 for our 10 lb tank
As soon as we listened to Chris Parker on Thursday morning, we started off and made it just to Indian Hole Point when the alarm went off on our engine. Once again, we had a broken alternator belt. A friend back in NS suggested that perhaps the alignment was out, and so we began to wonder if that might be the case. We've been breaking belts at an alarming rate this year. Feeling very despondent, we sailed back into the anchorage, dropped the hook and Jim headed to Island Breeze to find a mechanic. Mike sent him to see Scott Harding who said he'd be able to come out in the afternoon. So, we cooled our heels on the boat, trying to keep our spirits up, wondering how much this would cost us and how long the delay would be - imagining a worst case scenario. I did what I usually do under stress - made cookies (with all the green M&M's I picked out of the trail mix - in honour of St Patrick's Day!) - and Jim does what he usually does - ate half of them and fell asleep, and then I did my best to finish off the other half.
Scott was a great guy - friendly, helpful and, best of all, bearing good news. The problem in his opinion was the thickness of the belt we were using. Who knew we had to pay attention to not only the length but also the thickness? We figure that the new alternator we put on last year was the complicating factor. The belt fit the wheels on the engine reasonably well, but was too small for the wheel on the new alternator. Scott showed us the way it should sit in the groove and he also suggested using a shorter one so we would have more room to adjust it as it loosened. He drove 15 miles up the island to find 2 new belts and a couple of hours later we were all drinking beer and talking island politics, culture, and economy - with a new alternator belt on, and a spare. (He says Gates 900 series is a good quality belt.)
So - we have one of those bad news/good news stories again. We didn't get away when we wanted, but we were in a good place for a fix and it didn't cost an arm and a leg. We have another name to add to our list of fine mechanics and helpful Bahamians: Scott Harding - just down the road from Island Breeze. If he's not there, he might be out on his fishing boat, or sailing on the "Running Tide" - the Long Island boat skippered by Roger Fox. They'll be in the Family Island Regatta in Georgetown!
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.