16/12/2007/9:45 am, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos
We've been pretty sedentary these last couple of days and have much to show for it.
On George's request, we moved in to Black Sound on Friday morning, tied up at the wharf and plugged in to get a full charge on the batteries. We're relearning that using the tides greatly increases our options. (We have been used to using them to make timing decisions, but we forgot about using them for destination choices.) On our first look at the charts, we had discounted Black Sound. But after talking with David and Catherine (Solitaire I) we took a second look, and after talking with Kevin (Dockmaster at Other Shore Club) we didn't worry a minute more. The charts and books give mean low water levels, and the tide here is about 3 feet. That makes a world of difference to a 6 ft draft boat. We like the easy atmosphere here and the convenience of having a short walk to New Plymouth. It is also possible to walk to White Sound so we can reach both ends of the cay with no sweat. Oh, I take that back - there is always sweat - it's hot here!
I must say that it is a treat to be able to just walk off the boat and up the dock. I think we appreciate it especially because we spend very little time on a dock. The house and starting batteries have finally been all topped up. George came by and he and Jim did some more problem solving. We think that one thing that happened was that the batteries got so low it was hard to get them back up. It took hours and hours. (Note to selves - we need solar panels.) Another issue seems to be the automatic combiner and whether it is doing what it should when it should. George came back on Saturday to run a sensor from the battery combiner to the starting battery so the combiner will sense when it needs to isolate the starting battery. We spent another night on the dock while we saw how the batteries looked after a night of draining. (I'll report on that next time) We will look into supplementary power sources over the Christmas break.
I've spent part of the days writing and doing a wee bit of Christmas shopping; there is a beautiful gift shop in New Plymouth - Native Creations - and a couple of other shops with toys and clothes. The prices at the gift shop don't appear to be higher than in other such places, but I think the women's clothing is a little more expensive. One line carried here is Fresh Produce - beautiful colours- and a top I looked at was $39.00. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking, but the same sort of thing was less than that in the US, I think. I finally discovered that there is a good free Internet connection at Pineapples Café - just up the hill from here so I have become a habitué there for an hour or so each day, checking e-mail, posting blog entries and making Skype calls - this morning there were four of us scattered around the tables. There still never seems to be enough time unless I settle in for hours, so forgive me if your welcome emails have gone unanswered! We really do appreciate getting them.
Jim and I both took a lovely long walk up island - dodging out of the way of golf carts - the most common method of travel - and various pickups and other cars. Folks drive on the left side of the road here too, so we needed to remember which way to dodge! Once we got to the beach it was wonderful to ramble along, looking for shells and wading in the water. I found a beautiful cowrie - I think. I really need to pick up the little book I saw at the grocery store to help with ID.
We attended the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Friday night - a most interesting experience. We walked there in moonlight, thinking that the roads were not well lit out this way, and then it dawned on us that none of the houses had lights either! By the time we got to the administrative office lawn, we found a number of other people milling about in the 6:30 darkness, and shared some laughs that they might have lit the tree early and blown a fuse. (Power outages happen frequently here.) Eventually, everything flashed into brightness again and word spread that there had been an accident on the mainland, knocking over a pole. Chairs were lined up on the lawn, lights twinkled on the buildings, children wandered around while adults sat or stood.
It is pretty clear that there is no separation of church and state here. This was an event sponsored by the Bahamian government with speeches from the local Council member and the Administrative Officer of North Abaco, noting what has been done in the past year and what is planned for next. There were also prayers, scripture readings, a sermon and some singing of Christmas carols - all singularly Christian and heavily flavoured with exhortations to "follow Jesus". The elderly "Sister Jennie" who prayed at the end had a voice filled with such warmth and love that I'd like to have heard more from her and perhaps a little less from "Percival". Two different choirs sang - our favourite was the Miracle Church of God; the 6 or 7 women had fine gospel voices. We found the experience fascinating because it is so different from any community event that would happen in Canada these days.
During the service, we could see women inside the building dishing up food into styrofoam containers, and our mouths were watering. Sure enough, at the end of the service, little Paulette plugged in the tree, Santa arrived with goodie bags for all the children, and the invitation was issued to come up for food - children to the back door, adults to the front. This seemed to be a gathering of mostly local people but the lady who told me about it said we were all welcome, so Jim and I joined the line and received our boxes too. Oh - it was delicious Bahamian food. The government bought it and sent it to the best cooks for preparation, and then it was given out with no charge. We devoured tender chicken, smoky ham, Bahamian peas'n rice, spicy mac&cheese, and coleslaw, accompanied by pop or water and cake.
We went off next to Pineapples Bar in Black Sound for music by Kevin (keyboard and voice), Juice (saws) and Brendal (guitar). Their music was lively, happy, danceable. Kevin - of Gully Rooster fame - has a beautiful voice and a great way of communicating with his audience. Couples danced along the edge of the pool, clusters of people gathered at the bar while lights twinkled in the trees and water lapped on the beach nearby. It was pretty fine!
We attended another community event on Saturday night. This one was a fundraiser for the Grade 6 class field trip and great numbers of the local and cruising community were there. It was held at the basketball court, and involved a golf cart decoration contest, hula hoops and limbos for the children, delicious food again - a choice of fish, chicken, or burgers, with drink and cake for $8.00. Because they were a little late starting (like an hour) Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar did a booming business across the street. We sat with Judy - a local part time resident who had us laughing between mouthfuls with her stories of living on a sailboat in Puerto Rico while she played piano at a local resort. After dinner we joined a group of other cruisers for lots of good conversation under the stars and with the laughing of children in the background. They were still going strong when we headed off in various directions to dinghies and winding lanes to make our way home.
We'll move off the dock today and onto our mooring to be secure for the coming wind; there is a strong cold front headed this way with SW winds 25-30kn forecast for tonight. We've been reading up on water collection so we'll try to get some of the expected rain into our water tank too. It wouldn't be a good time to be out in the bay so we're pleased to be tucked away in Black Sound.
Staying put has turned out to be a true blessing.
13/12/2007/1:48 pm, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos
Along with blissful weather, views to soak right into our cellular memories, and extrovert-satisfying conversations, Wednesday brought continuing frustrations with the batteries, and a minor change of plans for us.
We had planned to explore more of Green Turtle Cay, and sail around the Cays north of the Whale while we waited for a sea state that would give us a comfortable passage through there. We would move on to Hopetown, leaving the boat there when we flew to Nova Scotia for Christmas with the family. We seem to be moving in Island time though, because everything we do takes about three times as long as we expect. This is partly because we keep meeting interesting people and stopping to chat- and the luxury of being able to do that is almost beyond belief! - partly because of wind, and boat related issues.
On Wednesday, we trekked up the hill to ATC - the Abaco Telephone Company- to get a new sim chip for our cell phone, stopped at Sid's to get a calling card to use at payphones, and dinghied to Black Sound to check on possible moorings. I woke up in the night thinking that I wanted as much flexibility as possible in getting to Nova Scotia for Christmas (or before if it seemed necessary), and this would provide it.
The result of the day's efforts was that we now have a mooring rented in Black Sound for a month. Kevin MacIntosh of the Other Shore Club was most helpful in finding one for us, and at a most reasonable fee. This means that we do not have to be dependent on the weather or the batteries to move further south as we had originally planned. If we need to leave early - the boat has a home.
With that done, we were free to explore some more, so I went to the local Albert Lowe Museum to learn a bit about the Loyalist settlers. It is so interesting to see that Loyalists came here just as they did to Nova Scotia. The furniture in the house is familiar as are many names - Lowe, Russell, Curry, Christie, Saunders. There is a charming sculpture garden on Parliament Street with busts of men and women who have contributed to the life and times of this Cay. The population here is comprised of blacks and whites - probably because of this heritage.
I visited the Library to check out the excellent selection of books for loan or trade. There are shelves and shelves of paperbacks available for a one-to-one trade, and the librarian said if I am planning to be in the area for awhile, I can sign up for lending privileges.
It is so much fun to wave to the folks in golf carts as they rattle by - some with tourists, and some with locals. We've caught rides on a few of them as we walk the roads too. The children all wave and say hello - whether they are dressed in their crisp school uniforms, or their casual wear. Jim laughed that the only fellows wearing ties around here are the young boys!
We took a late afternoon walk to the beach on the Atlantic side of the island where we marveled at the colour of the water and let the waves soothe our busy minds. Even at dusk when the sky was more violet and grey, the water was brilliant green kissed with whitecaps. The sand under our feet was powdery white - and is reported to be good searching grounds for sand dollars although we were not so lucky on that particular walk.
We met up with Peter and Gail on Jabiru - a lovely Cabo Rico anchored next to us, and with Tom and Jan, Dillon and Sarah on Ripples - the huge catamaran at the mooring next to the one we'll eventually tie ourselves to. In the evening, we dinghied across the brisk waves to Sundowners - a beachfront bar with pool table and loud music where we enjoyed a beer while Brian kindly unlocked our phone and set us up with our new Bahamian phone number.
Thursday brought more calls to Nova Scotia to check on Mum - she is having a few low days - not eating as much as we'd like to see, still suffering from some infections and seeming pretty tired. Dad is spending lots of time with her and I managed to find out bits of information in calls to him and to the hospital. (Regarding calls - when I have wifi - they cost 2 cents a minute on Skype. Wifi however has been very sketchy here. A $10.00 calling card for the payphone gave me 20 minutes. Local air time on the cell phone is 31 cents, with another 50 some cents per minute for long distance.)
The Liquor Store beckoned us for lunch again - conch salad for me this time- with a dash of hot sauce -mmmm. There must be a dozen kinds of hot sauce in the array of bottles there. John - on the stool next to mine - recommended the chocolate cake - and he was right!
The streets were places for fascinating conversations with Beep and Ed of Midwatch, (and a purchase of one of Beep's lovely seaglass necklaces) and Kelly, Debra and their daughters, Danielle and Kristin of Kwitcherbitchin. We watched the big Belize City cargo boat loaded with with diesel tanks maneuver its way in and out of the harbours, as well as the Nassau boat carrying stock for the stores in town. We love being able to see this process. As flats and boxes are unloaded, merchants can be seen checking over lists, and little forklifts trundle loads up and down the streets to the back doors of buildings.
We topped off the day by dinghying to White Sound to say farewell to Strathspey. Mary and Blair are planning to leave on Friday along with a whole fleet of other boats that have been waiting here for weather that allows them to move further south, and it will be a couple of months before we see them again. On our ride back, we stopped by to enjoy a visit and lots of laughs with Joel and Kalin on Achates II - just back from a fine couple of days at Manjack.
The downside of the day was that we couldn't follow our plan to go back to Manjack because of the wonky batteries, but we have George (from Roberts Marine) lined up (we hope) to do some work on them tomorrow. The upside is that this is a beautiful area with beautiful people and we are content to stay in the vicinity now and move on after Christmas. We just want the darned batteries working so we can move around a little!
11/12/2007/1:46 pm, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos
We moved from Manjack Cay to Green Turtle Cay on Sunday afternoon - just an hour or so along the way, and as of Monday morning, we were all legally checked in. We dropped the anchor just off the government wharf - thinking that we'd stay out there overnight and then move in. It turned out that we liked it pretty well out there so we stayed. We were near New Plymouth - the town part of this Cay, and had lots of room around us. There were no worries about bumping anyone if we dragged again. A major plus is that we had a bird's eye view of all the action at the government wharf and a 360 degree view of turquoise water, fluffy clouds and unbeatable sunsets.
About the dragging - a couple of updates: We've talked with a number of cruisers and know a few more things. One suggestion that has come up often is the wisdom of "diving the anchor". That means someone dives down to a) have a look at it, and b) help to get it set by pushing down on it and wiggling it into the sand. This job would fall to Jim as he is more comfortable in the water than I am. So on Tuesday when we moved in a little closer to the shoreline, he swam over it and could clearly see it dig in better as I backed down on it harder. (i.e. put the boat in reverse to pull really hard on the anchor). He will have to work up to being able to hold his breath long enough to go down there and push on the thing!
Another suggestion has been to switch to a Danforth anchor, which some cruisers tell us holds better in the sand. One cruiser swears by his Delta Quick -Set, and another says that a Bruce works better than a CQR. Our second bow anchor is a Bruce so we may switch the chain over to that and give it a try.
And one last thing on the dragging topic - remember that I said last time we didn't think we had woken the folks on the "other" boat? Wrong! As we walked along the road here in New Plymouth on Monday evening, we encountered another couple, struck up a conversation and introduced ourselves. They are Catherine and David on Solitaire I, and when I said we are Jim and Beth of Madcap, they both gasped and said MADCAP? The penny dropped and Jim and I asked, "Are you the boat we almost dragged into the other night?" Yes indeedy. They had been awoken by our voices but were so calm and collected about it that they just quietly watched us get ourselves out of the predicament. It was lovely to meet them, and especially lovely to meet them in daylight and out of danger.
Monday was quite a sociable day for us. As we walked up the main street in New Plymouth - with me oohing and aahing over the gorgeous hibiscuis, and pink and blue and yellow houses, we met John, a wonderfully warm man who welcomed us to the neighbourhood, told us about the Christmas potluck that the cruisers have here, showed us where to buy heavenly coconut bread (Sid's grocery store) and where to get the best conch sandwiches at the best price. Cindy and Rick of Dragonfly came strolling along, as did some new friends, Joel and Kalin of Achates II (from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.) And so we all stood in the middle of the street by the Customs office having a good old chinwag - just like in any village anywhere.
Jim and I went to the Plymouth Rock Liquor Store and Café for lunch - the famous conch (pronounced conk) sandwiches - that really were delicious. Conch has to be pounded thoroughly to make it tender, and these were wonderfully tender morsels. Somebody must have good arm muscles. Cindy and Rick came in, and so did Todd and Joe from Crisis Mode. They were especially helpful as I perused the rum selections and decided which bottles would best fit the needs of the Madcap bar. We dinghied over to White Sound to see Blair and Mary, and then ashore to check out the Green Turtle Club where we met up with Cindy and Rick again and went to the Tipsy Turtle for afternoon drinks. I saw a sign that said they make the best rum punch around, so of course I had to check that out. I haven't done a lot of comparing yet, but it sure tasted fine!
We gobbled half the loaf of wonderfully sweet and tender coconut bread that evening, and finished it off for breakfast the next morning.
On Tuesday, I spend a good part of the day doing laundry at Bluff House. Laundry is considerably more expensive here - probably reflecting a scarcer supply of water. However, I was very happy to pay the price - $3.50 per load - and get rid of those bags of grubby sheets and towels that we've had sitting in the bathtub since Florida. Between loads, I met up with Jay and Bonny from Florida and enjoyed a lovely chat on the terrace. They were interested in our trip and so encouraging. It is conversations like this that make me reflect again on what we have done and how it feels and what a remarkable way it is to make connections with people. Marco, the marina man at Bluff House, gave me a ride up the hill in his golf cart and told me his cousin went to university in Nova Scotia. There is that small world thing again.
While I was hanging around Bluff House, Jim and Blair were trouble shooting Madcap's newest problem. We had been having trouble getting the house batteries to a full charge, and when Jim tried to fire up the engine to charge them some more, the starter battery failed to start the engine. Jim manually combined the two batteries so that the house battery started it, but then found that the engine battery was discharging when it was supposed to have been charging. The battery combiner was not combining the house battery with the starting battery and so it was not getting a charge. If this all sounds like some foreign language to you - it does to me too - and Jim's grey hairs are increasing with the effort of comprehending it all!
We are hoping this will be a quick fix so we'll be able to sail back to Manjack Cay for some more exploring there before we move onward. The wind is too strong just now for a comfortable passage through Whale Cay Cut (between here and Marsh Harbour/Hopetown area.)