20/01/2008/10:03 am, Marsh Harbour
We've been moving back and forth in the Sea of Abaco, and from harbour to outside anchorage and back to harbour again.
On Wednesday, in Hope Town, we hung out at the Coffee Shop till they (very politely) kicked us out at 1 when they close for a couple of hours. Having consumed several cups of coffee and some of their delicious quiche, we felt ready to cut the internet ties and do some more exploring. We went off to the Wyannie Malone Museum where we watched a most interesting little documentary on the Abaco cays and wandered through the exhibits.
One of the most interesting things we discovered involved the lighthouse and an important way the islanders earned their living back in the late 1800's. They were engaged in the frequently lucrative practice of "wrecking", or "wracking" as it is often called. When ships foundered on the reefs, the islanders swung into gear to salvage everything they could. One notice we read said that their first priority was saving the souls onboard, but they then stripped everything possible from the wrecks and burned the rest so that there would be no visible sign of the reef that would deter other ships from approaching. Enterprising folks, these hardy Loyalists! You can imagine that they were not at all interested in having a lighthouse built. Attitudes change over the passage of time, and now the Elbow Cay light is a landmark and source of pride.
In another neat little bit of synchronicity, we walked past the school and stopped to peer in the windows. A woman appeared and invited us to come in and have a look in the classrooms. It turned out that Laura is a sister of Jeffery, the lightkeeper. Laura was just as warm and friendly as her brother, and just as generous with her time.
There are 64 children at this K- Grade 6 school. I have to say that I was surprised at the rush of emotion I experienced when we went into the kindergarten classroom. It looked exactly like the ones back home - those I've worked in and those I've been a parent in. Laura said they are always looking for volunteers to help the immigrant Haitian children with their English language skills, and for qualified teachers. It would be a really interesting opportunity for a person to move down here and teach for a while - not me at this time in my life though because I like to keep the water moving under my keel!
Laura confirmed for us that many of the Hope Town residents have sold their properties and moved further down island or over to Marsh Harbour, commuting to work here. It seems to have been an economic decision - tourism is the number one industry here, and the tourists like these pretty houses surrounding the harbour.
We had a lovely visit with Will and Muffin on Antares to end the evening, and then on Thursday, we moved further south to anchor just north of Baker's Rock at Tahiti Beach.
This was a beautiful little stop for two nights, and it felt great to have wide-open space all around us. It was quite windy when we stopped but there was just enough protection from the southeast and lots from the east so we were comfortable. The wind direction changed during the night and when we swam over the anchor the next morning, we could see the chain stretched out straight so we knew it had been working to hold us in place. The CQR was tipped on its side and Jim dove down to shove it into the sand a little better.
We dinghied to the beach in the morning and had fun strolling over the huge sandbar. It reminded us a bit of the gorgeous bars of the Northumberland Strait back home in Nova Scotia - much smaller but with the same play value. Although you'd have to trade the image of wafting palm trees and white sand for huge expanse of red sand, the feeling was the same. I heard some young children calling, "Grammie! Come on!" and did a flashback to Mary Beth, Liam and Alex saying those very words during the vacations we spent at the Lusby family cottage.
An industrious urge overcame us in the afternoon and we each made good progress on our chosen projects. Jim finished his repairs of our bowsprit, and I cleaned a whole lot of rust off our swim ladder and the bottoms of the stanchions on deck. (West Marine's Rust Stainsaway and a paste product called Cleanz All are our products of choice for this at the moment.)
I finished reading the memoir of Randolph Johnston - Artist on his Island: A Study in Self-Reliance. It's a good read - about the sculptor who moved his family to Little Harbour back in the 1950's in order to raise fine, competent boys and get away from the Megamachine of contemporary America. (I loaned out the book and will have to look up the exact quotation later). I found it interesting that he lived in Toronto for a time and railed on about rules there as well. Jim says he must have been hell to deal with - but his life story is an interesting one. One son, Pete (also an artist), started the famed Pete's Pub at Little Harbour. The life of the Johnston family in those early days was a tough one - they sure didn't move to an idyllic life of sun, sand and art. They worked hard to earn a living, chartering out their boat, laboriously building houses and studios, and Randolph and Margot were able to really turn to art again only after the boys were grown. We'll make a stop there on our way south - to see the foundry and gallery, and to raise a pint at the pub.
Early on Saturday, we raised the anchor and headed back to Marsh Harbour. Our laundry bags were overflowing and we had pretty well exhausted our fresh produce supply. Also, the weather forecast called for some strong winds coming in. Our choice in a big blow is not necessarily a crowded harbour, but Marsh Harbour is the best place in the area to do the "jobs" and we figured we might leave again as soon as they were done. As we entered the harbour, we were delighted to see many familiar boats; Sapphire (last seen back in Florida), Stout Wench and Jabiru (Black Sound on Green Turtle Cay), Ketch'n Dreams (Sugar Loaf Cay) as well as Kilissa, Princess, Te Amor, and Windswept, last seen here in Marsh Harbour. The harbour was much more full than last week - lots of boats moving in for protection, and we decided to stay among them. Interestingly, there are 4 Bayfields here: Sapphire (a 40' ketch), and 3 36 footers - Celebrian, Madcap and a new one with a green hull - Zancada.
We trundled a gigantic load of laundry to the well-equipped Laundromat - filled with many other folks with gigantic loads. ($2.00 in quarters per wash load and 2 minutes per quarter for dryers (30 minutes was enough and the dryers were big). The procedure is to find someone whose load is nearly finished and stand there ready to pop in the dirty clothes just as soon as (s)he pulls the first load out - and both men and women were here doing the washing. Hmmm - now that I think about it though - the laundry men were all local. Cruising men dropped in and out, helping to carry the loads, but disappeared while the agitating and spinning was going on. Is that just the way our shore duties have worked out? Were the men single and doing their own wash just as they would back in Canada, while the cruisers are mostly in couples? If I find myself in need of entertainment next time, I'll analyze the clothes going in those washing machines. As for us, Jim handled the hardware store and the liquor store, and the purchase of gas and water. I missed a humourous incident this time - picture him trying to haul the dinghy out from under the pier, grab an oar that came loose, get from ladder into dinghy and ending up with feet one place, hands another and backside in the drink! No harm done - except to his pride! After the clean clothes were ferried back to the boat, we loaded up on groceries. Maxwell's has everything a person could need so we restocked the fridge with veggies, cheese and meats.
There was time for a quick cleanup of the boat, some prep of hors d'oeuvres, and we were ready to welcome visitors for Happy Hour. Steve and Sandi (Princess), Kathy and Mike (Sapphire) and new friends Bob and Jan (English Rose) dinghied over to join us for a couple of hours of animated conversation. These cockpit parties are just the finest way to get to know people, learn from their experiences, share ours, and have profound discussions on life in our times. (Of course that part depends on how many rum punches we've consumed!)
16/01/2008/11:12 am, Hope Town, Abacos
Tuesday's adventures were top notch: snorkeling in the morning and then a visit to the famous Hope Town Lighthouse in the evening. We got in around 2pm, picked up a vacant red mooring ball owned by Hope Town Marina ($20 per night, water 25 cents per gallon, showers $4.00) and set off to explore. Bruce, our neighbour on Orient Express, told us that his favourite time to visit the lighthouse is at dusk so we poked around the town first and saved that till later.
We had heard that Hope Town is a beautiful place and it is. The harbour is a tiny one and well protected all round. In fact the entry is interesting all by itself. The instructions say to look for the yellow house with the road beside it and steer as if you're going right up that road. Then hang a right (or turn to starboard) into the harbour channel. We came in on a high tide and I'm just as happy we planned it like that. There is lots of water in the harbour but a high tide makes the entry less challenging.
The streets are narrow and winding; the houses are pretty colours with gingerbread trim and flourishing gardens. The picket fences have hearts and stars and pineapples carved into them. One thing we noticed was that most of the homes are rentals. Unlike New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, there don't seem to be a lot of local people living "downtown". We'll have to find out more about this. We found a payphone to call my dad, found the internet café where we'll have a coffee and get connected again on Wed morning (since we didn't lug our computers in with us), checked out the hours for the museum and then paid a visit to Vernon's Grocery Store where we picked up a loaf of whole wheat bread - still warm from the oven - and one of his famous key lime pies. Then it was back to the boat to dig into bread and pie (we have no will power regarding food at all!!)
With stomachs full, we watched the sun get lower in the sky and then set off for the lighthouse. We docked at Lighthouse Marina and followed the path along the shore and up the hill where we found a sign saying "open till 5". We were a bit worried but very soon a young man emerged from the house and, in answer to my question about whether we were too late, said with a smile, "Yes... but you're lucky because I'm going up now and you can come with me!"
The Hope Town Light is a distinctive red and white striped stone building - round, tall (of course) with thick stone walls. It was built in 1863 and is one of only 3 kerosene lights left in the whole world - all of them in the Bahamas. It has a fresnel lens that floats on a pool of mercury and can be seen 17 miles away. Those are the facts as I know them - now let me try to give you the experience.
Jeffery told us that his father kept the light for over 20 years and he started the job 4 years ago. We followed him up the circling stairs - up and up and up - taking peeks through the narrow arched windows at the harbour and the Sea of Abaco as we went. We watched as Jeffery poured alcohol into the burner to warm it before lighting the lamp, and as he took down the drapes that protect the lens from the sun during the day. (The bright sun on the prisms would be a fire hazard.) He allowed us to climb the ladder up to the very top where we stood beside the lens itself. This light has pattern of 5 flashes and then a 5 second interval. I was surprised to see that the interval is created by an open space - where the light shines but not through the lens, instead of being blocked off. Jeffery said every light has its own unique pattern in the lens. After about 10 minutes, he lit the kerosene lamp and wound up the mechanism that keeps the lens turning. He showed us the little mantle that looks just about like the one in our old Coleman lantern that we used to take camping, and told us that they are getting harder to find. The company in England that used to supply them has closed and they have tried out another kind that starts well but doesn't last very long. Wouldn't that be an interesting little niche for someone to fill?
Now here is the thing about this light - it has to be wound every two hours!! That means that every two hours throughout the night, Jeffery or the man who job shares with him, has to climb those steps and wind up the gears again. He said he used to take his turn with his siblings when his dad ran the light too. As we watched him wind it, Jim asked what the other handle was for. He shuddered and said, "That's what I would have to manually wind - all the time - to keep the light revolving if anything happened to the weights!" As we talked, we could see the pride he takes in the work - it is his family tradition, and he laughed when I asked if he would be passing the job on to his children. "I hope so!" was his reply. It was beautiful being up here on a clear and calm evening; Jeffery said it is spooky being there on a wild and stormy night, but that there is no sway in the tower. Part of me would like to experience it then...part of me is happy to leave it to him!
The whole mechanism floats on a pool of mercury for balance and elimination of friction and is supported by a thick post that runs right up through the centre of the tower. We all marveled at the minds that invented the system and the builders who put it together.
We had such a wonderful time being up here for a tiny piece of the real lighthouse work. The Bahamas Lighthouse Preservation Society is working to keep these lights manned and not turned into automated ones; this is an important piece of history that is an important piece of today too.
We finished the evening on the boat - surrounded by other boats - yes - but knowing that after we explore Hope Town some more, we'll head out to open waters again on Thursday.
14/01/2008/10:40 am, Man-O-War and Sugar Loaf Cays
We had a gentle sail for all of an hour over to Man-O-War Cay. The distances are so small here that one could go cay hopping back and forth every day. Since we haven't been here before, our emphasis is on exploring each cay, and we'll enjoy more sailing later. One of the books had an anchorage marked at the north end of Man-O-War and, being a little tired of harbour life, we joined the two boats already anchored and dropped the hook. Once again, the sand was very hard and the CQR was not dug right in the way we would have liked, but the wind was light, we had about 80 feet of chain out in 10 feet of water, and we didn't move other than the swing caused by tide. On Friday evening, we just stayed on the boat to read, eat (BBQ pork chops, peas n' rice, cole slaw) and sit for hours under the glorious stars.
After the weather report on Saturday morning, we dinghied in to the beach and enjoyed a blissful walk along the little sandy road - called The Queen's Highway - that runs the length of the cay. It wound around and under mangrove trees, past carefully tended gardens, allowing glimpses of beaches on both the Atlantic and the Sea of Abaco. The houses at this end have fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean with rollers splashing up on wide stretches of sandy beach interspersed with coral. On our way back to Madcap, we stopped to talk with Thomas and Linda who run charters on their gaff rigged ketch, Ciganka. In the afternoon, we dinghied over to the harbour - going aground as we tried to take a shortcut in the northern entrance - and did a little more exploration. We weren't quite as enthralled with this part of the cay - the shops were filled with pretty much the usual kind of tourist "stuff" and the little streets and houses weren't as pretty as those of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. We were surprised that, despite it being Saturday, there were hardly any children and very few local people at all around.
A couple of encounters made it worth the trip though. We enjoyed a conversation with Andy Albury in his woodworking shop where he builds half hulls and fine furniture. Between spits of the chewing tobacco from the plug in his cheek, he talked about his father, Emmerson, and the traditions of the cay. It's a dry cay, with at least 3 churches that we saw, and seems to be holding onto a more simple way of life. As we strolled along Bay Street, Miss Lola came by in her golf cart offering fresh cinnamon buns. Neither Jim nor I can ever pass those up so we bought one - about 8 inches in diameter for $5.00 - and proceeded to devour it as we walked. Oooh - it was gooood.
After a dinghy ride past the marinas and through the harbour, we returned gratefully to our spot "outside" and went back to our idle ways of reading, swimming and appreciating the scenery.
On Sunday morning, after a vigorous walk on the beach with calves burning from moving through ankle deep sand, and a cool-down swim, we hauled anchor and motored over to Sugar Loaf Cay where we tucked in on the eastern side. We had good protection there from the Northwest wind that was due to come through. The rest of the day passed easily and although the wind direction changed, we never did get much in the way of rain or wind. I finished the third of the Mark Burnell books - espionage/suspense/thriller types. Jim and I both liked the first one - Rhythm Section - didn't care much for the next two, and now I'm going to read the fourth - The Third Woman - just to be finished with the series (Jim says it's better than books 2 and 3). Jim is reading Pat Conroy's Beach Music right now and enjoying it.
We did manage to throw off our slothful habits on Monday and do a few boat jobs. Jim did some repair work on wooden bits that have had rough encounters with docks over the last few months and I applied myself to cleaning lockers and brass. We could use a really good beating rain to rinse off the salt (and fill our water tank) but that hasn't happened. Then we'll find time to add a couple of coats of cetol on the brightwork and some wax on the decks and we'll start to look good again. Note - that poli-glow that we applied a year ago and don't like now is the very devil to get off!!
We took a dinghy ride around the area and were delighted to spot three dolphins fishing along the bank. I got out my camera and they dove and moved off. I finally put it away and they surfaced - guess they were camera shy! We watched them for a bit and visited our neighbours - Lynn and George on Ketch'n Dreams. They came over to Madcap for Happy Hour - Lynn bearing her signature drink, a smooooth Bailey's/Cinnamon/Butterscotch Schnapps concoction. We enjoyed both the drink and the conversation.
On Tuesday morning, we motored over toward Johnny's Cay, anchored and dinghied out over the reef where George was waiting for us in his dinghy. He gave us a terrific introduction to snorkeling from the dinghy and to fish hunting. Unfortunately, neither he nor Jim was able to catch dinner, but Jim tried his spear a few times, and we had a fine hour of watching the fish. We realized after we got out there that we hadn't taken a bucket to hold the fish or a knife so we would have been dependent on George for more than know-how if Jim had gotten one! Every time we go snorkeling, we are both awed all over again. It is so amazing to just float around over the coral and watch these brightly coloured fish darting or swimming slowly in and out around the reef. This was a nice reef too - with lots of holes to peer through and twists and turns to follow - all within a few metres of the dinghies.
Then we were off to Hope Town. We're planning to spend one night in the harbour on a mooring ball and another night outside. It's time to do laundry and get water and a few groceries along with exploring the town.
I sure hope we can find a wifi connection somewhere. There has been absolutely nothing since the spotty connections we found last week in Marsh Harbour - no wifi and no cell phone coverage. Jim hasn't been able to make a winlink posting either so we have been quite out of touch. But then the sun is shining brightly, and it's 76.1 degrees Fahrenheit. We're not complaining!