22/01/2008/10:11 am, Marsh Harbour, Abacos
Hooey - these winds can sure blow! The front, due to pass through on Saturday night and bringing strong winds after it, blew through more slowly so we didn't get the winds till daylight hours yesterday. We much prefer to experience winds upward of 20 knots at anchor during daylight hours. We managed to situate ourselves nicely with good swing room around us, and we have certainly swung - about 280 degrees from Saturday morning to the time I started writing this (Monday morning). The highest gust of wind we saw was 30 knots on Monday morning but mostly we're registering 20 -30 knots - enough to howl and rattle through the rigging, and the temperature on Monday morning was 70.7 Fahrenheit. The picture shows the pull on our anchor line. We have 90 feet of chain out in 8 feet of water. Normally that line would hang right straight down and the weight of the chain would be helping to hold us. In winds like this, that anchor had better be well dug in, and the bottom here is sand and muck so I guess it is!
We've had no wifi (unless we paid real money to oii for it - as opposed to beer or coffee money at Curly Tails or Café La Florence) and no opportunity to go ashore since Saturday night. I'm not sure why our antenna can't seem to pick up a connection from the harbour here. The SSB propagation is poor too and Jim had, until late morning on Monday, been unable to connect with any of the channels he usually counts on to post our winlink waypoints.
So what is Madcap life like these last couple of days? On Sunday, I made a big pot of chili and some corn bread - cosy northern food - and we snuggled down with our books for the day (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides for me - very interesting; Beach Music by Pat Conroy for Jim - highly recommended) and in the evening as the generator ran, watched a movie (Running With Scissors - really weird). I guess Jim and I are slothful creatures because as other folks were moaning about feeling boat bound, or the fellows were engaged in mechanical/electrical/maintenance jobs, we were quite happy to read and drink (juice, coffee, water, wine - depending on the time of day!)
Well ... that worked for the first day... it is now Tuesday morning, and after 48 hours of it, we are definitely antsy. Jim braved the choppy waters yesterday afternoon to get to town and run some errands while I stayed on anchor watch, but it was too chancy to take the computer in for e-mail. We are still cautious enough to resist leaving the boat uncaptained in these conditions, and by the time Jim got back it was getting late and he wasn't altogether comfortable with seeing me go off on my own. I am desperate to move farther than the 36' by 12' limits of this space and get my legs stretched out so it's a good thing the wind has finally dropped. Now we have gusts to 17 knots instead of steady 17 with gusts to 27.
The plan is to leave here on Tuesday afternoon and head for Tilloo Cay or Lynyard Cay. Right now (Tuesday morning) it is debatable whether we will motor across New Providence Channel to Royal Island on Wednesday or wait till the next front goes by (more 25 knot winds clocking from S to N) and cross on Sunday. It depends on what we find for shelter, the continually changing forecast, and whether we leave exploration of Pelican Cays and Little Harbour for our trip back up in April.
Now, I'm heading for Curly Tails to see if I can post these last two blog entries.
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.