25/01/2008/9:59 am, Royal Island, North Eleuthera
After a couple of days of being boatbound but safe in Marsh Harbour during a long norther, we enjoyed a day of activity on Tuesday. First off was a successful stop ashore to post a couple of blog entries followed by a delicious lunch at Wally's with Steve and Sandra. We were happy to be introduced to this elegant little restaurant where the colours were soft pastels, the food exquisitely prepared and the service attentive. Jim and I both had dolphin burgers that were wonderful. (Note: Dolphinfish is the local name for Mahi Mahi - it is not dolphin the mammal!)
We then made a stop at the BTC office to add more dollars onto our phone card. A find here was a couple of computers free for the using! It kind of made up for the fact that 2 of the 3 payphones outside were broken. We managed to connect with our boys before we had to relinquish the booth to the next man in line.
By the time all our errands and goodbyes were done and said, it was almost 3pm and we just had time to exit the harbour, motor around the corner, across the sea and pull into an anchorage just south of Tavern Cay - tucked in at the north end of Tilloo Cay - for the night. It was after 5 by the time we got there - pushing the boundary of good visibility. Madcap was the only boat there, and wonder of wonders, we had an internet connection so I was able to send a couple of messages.
We knew it would be a longer day than we really wanted to go from Tilloo to Royal Island, so after listening to the 6:30 weather we opted to motor on down to Lynyard Cay and spend Wednesday there. Sapphire was anchored there already so we went ashore with Mike and Cathy, chatted with Carl and Cheryl of Mistique, and after exploring the beach a bit, we piled into our dinghies and made the trek across the inlet to Little Harbour. It took us about 20 minutes with our little 5 hp outboard motor, and we felt perfectly safe in the gentle swells coming in from the Atlantic.
Little Harbour is notable as the spot to which Randolph Johnston moved his family in the 1950's. I had finished reading his book - An Artist and his Island - and was anxious to see the gallery, the foundry, and of course, the famous Pete's Pub. (Note the Acadia U shirt on Jim, the Mt.A grad!) Well - I managed 2 out of the 3. Kathy and I visited the gallery where we viewed some of the bronze sculptures I had seen pictures of in the book, as well as many pieces of Pete's work and a few of Greg's - Pete's son. I coveted the tiny gold turtle earrings, but had to leave them there for the time being. We'll see if there is any money left in the kitty on the way back in a few months! In the meantime, we each bought T-shirts and the 6 of us amused ourselves at the pub. It is a wonderfully funky beach bar - bits and pieces of jetsam and flotsam give the eyes lots to explore. A sign on a post invites all comers to "Pete's Annual 50th Birthday party" on Saturday. We bet it will be quite the party. If we hadn't felt a need to use this weather window to make the next crossing, we would have stayed.
So about this crossing... We've had a happy time exploring the Abacos - the Northern part of the Bahamas - since we crossed the Gulf Stream in early December. Many cruisers stay in this area for the winter because the scenery is lovely, services are widely available, and protection from all sorts of weather is available within easy distances. We were feeling itchy to see new waters though, and needed a weather window to get there. We might easily have been persuaded to hang around Little Harbour till after the party, but to have shelter from the forecast north winds due to blow in on Thursday night and Friday, we'd have had to go back north to Hope Town or Marsh Harbour or some other spot with protection from the clocking winds, and we didn't want to do that.
The trip through Little Harbour Cut from the Sea of Abaco out to the Atlantic Ocean and back in again at Egg Island in North Eleuthera was about 50 nautical miles. Not a bad distance for a day at all, but one that is nice to have gentle weather for. Accordingly, 5 boats set off at the crack of dawn to cross New Providence Channel and get safely into the harbour on Royal Island before the north winds picked up. The plan worked and the crossing was easy. We motor sailed all the way to keep an average speed of no less than 6 knots. If we hadn't been in a hurry, it would have been lovely to shut off the engine, but because the wind was just barely off our starboard bow (we even had to back off it a bit to keep wind in our yankee sail), we wouldn't have been able to make such good time.
As it was, the wind didn't move around to the north and pick up in intensity till late Thursday night/early Friday morning so we wouldn't have had a problem. Royal Island has a perfect little oval harbour with room for lots of boats. There is no town or anything here, but it is in the process of being developed into a large resort. Boatloads of workers arrived each morning and left in the evening.
Jim put out his fishing line on the way over but had no luck. On Sapphire though, it was a different story and Mike called to invite us over for a dinner of freshly caught Dolphinfish! It was just delectable and we enjoyed sitting under the stars and eating food fresh from the sea. Mike and Kathy entertained us with stories of fish caught and released - barracuda - and fish caught and consumed - dolphinfish (which are really pretty) and tuna. Before too long, we'll have those stories too.
During the night, the wind clocked around and picked up so that our anchor alarm went off to warn us of our swing. Jim saw several boats shift positions but we were able to hold tight. The wind blew all day Friday and the water was choppy, so we settled in again with onboard activities. I dug out my tin whistle to practice a melody or two; we tuned in NPR to listen to some of the American political talk and CBC to hear "Ideas", and Gian Gomeschi's program "Q"; we read up on Spanish Wells and Harbour Island - our next stops, and played a few games of cribbage (the winningest man won of course).
Dinner was baked chicken in a lime/ginger/soy sauce, roasted potatoes and carrots, and cole slaw. We lit the candles, dined well, read for a bit and tucked ourselves in bed at our usual early hour. Like most of the cruisers we know, we're hard pressed to stay up past 9 o'clock....zzzzzz... We'll go explore Spanish Wells tomorrow and maybe anchor back here out of the wind again for Sunday.
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!)