29/01/2008/3:56 pm, Spanish Wells
I had arranged with Pinders - the grocery store and water taxi people to take Kathy and Mike (Sapphire), Mary Lou and Bob (Cygnus) and Jim and me to Harbour Island on Tuesday. The price quoted was the same as the Bohengy ferry and the times were flexible. It made sense at the time because we wanted to get back in time to relocate down to Egg Island for the night - in preparation for an early start on Wednesday morning. It didn't turn out to be quite the same deal as the ferry. What they didn't tell me was that rather than take the water route along through the tricky Devil's Backbone (doesn't the very name make you want to go there?) Pinders takes people on a short ferry ride over to Eleuthera Island and then by car on a land route past the airport over to where another ferry makes the 5-minute crossing to Harbour Island. The $30.00 round trip only took us that far and it was another $10.00 roundtrip per person to get across the next little stretch. I was irritated by the misrepresentation and at missing the backbone route, but the return trip was actually quite informative because Gurney Pinder was our driver and he was happy to share his knowledge.
The town on Harbour Island is Dunmore, but the place is usually referred to by the Island name and it is famous for its pink sand beach. That too was a little bit of a let down at first. For some reason I was expecting really PINK - the same way Northumberland Strait sand is really RED, and what it is is pink - subtle pink - and it took a bit of time for our eyes to pick it up.
With all that complaining out of the way...the beach is absolutely gorgeous. It goes on for miles and really is a beautiful soft, pastel pink that shows up especially when the sun is high and it contrasts with the azure colour of the ocean. It is velvety soft with the tiniest flecks of coral. It is a movie screen beach - perfect for ladies in floaty gauzy dresses and men with half buttoned shirts and rolled up pant legs to run into each others arms. Gee - we didn't actually see that happen - but it was the kind of place where it might! We did see horses come down through the trees, take refreshing rolls in the surf and move along to their shady enclosure to wait for paying riders. We saw families playing, and people relaxing on well-manicured beach properties with lounge chairs and beach umbrellas.
The six of us strolled up and down the beach until we had worked up hearty appetites, whereupon we repaired to the Harbour Island Lounge for lunch. Conch salads, Caribbean salad (with greens, mangoes, blue cheese) hamburgers, grouper burgers washed down with Kalik beer made us all happy. Then we were off to explore the shops. Some exquisite clothing had to stay on the racks because it was outside our budgets, but Kathy and I managed to pick up a couple of books and I found some pretty earrings to replace the one I lost in Marsh Harbour.
On the drive back, Gurney showed us fields that once contained hundreds of mango trees and now hold only one or two. Hurricanes Floyd and Andrew caused salt water to rise up over the roots and many of them could not recover. If I heard him correctly (from the back of the van) the farmers were also hit by a blight that killed many trees. He said his father used to have a huge acreage in production but now very little is grown on the island. Speaking of islands, I asked Gurney what the difference is between an island and a cay (pronounced key). He said it was his understanding that when they were named, an island was inhabited and a cay was not. Mary Lou had heard that an island had fresh water and a cay did not. Spanish Wells is the town on St George's Cay and was so named because the Spanish ships used to come in there especially for the water so who knows?
As we arrived back at the dock and were about to climb into our dinghy, a large motor vessel pulled up and to our great surprise, it was Wet n' Wild with John and Rhoda Page on board - from Trident Yacht Club in Ontario - our home club! The last we had heard about them was from Strathspey's blog and we thought they were still far south of us. It was great to have a brief visit with them before we headed off again.
Our (Madcap and Sapphire) grand plan was to anchor just off Egg Island to give us a good start in the morning. Like many grand plans it was a good one in theory but ... Unfortunately, the wind was blowing directly at us so we had our sterns toward the shore with our bows heaving up and pounding down in the wind and waves all night long.
We managed to have a delicious dinner of grilled tuna, Bahamian pumpkin - that tasted a whole lot like squash - and salad. But things went downhill after that. None of us got much sleep as Madcap and Sapphire bounced around. Our holding tank seemed to have gotten all shaken up too and it smelled horrible inside our cabin.
It was a less than pleasant night to end a very pleasant day.
28/01/2008/11:28 am, Spanish Wells
Sapphire and Madcap made the half hour trip over to Spanish Wells on Saturday, and dropped anchors just outside the entrance to the harbour. It didn't take long to confirm what the guidebooks said: this is a working harbour and self-sufficient town, named in the day when Spanish explorers considered this place to have the sweetest well water in the Bahamas. Big and well-kept fishing boats lined the harbour, side by side with little sport fishing boats. Boats with "arms" like those we saw back in Georgia were also tied up. Jim was told that they fish for crawfish - although the man pointed at another one and said it had just come back from Miami. "Fishing?" asked Jim. "Nope - shoppin'"came the answer.
This harbour is long and almost fully enclosed with room for a whole fleet of fishing boats and it's easy to see why Spanish Wells is considered to be home to some of the best fishermen in all of the Bahamas. There are a few moorings at the eastern end and a marina at the western end. High-speed ferries run back and forth from Nassau and Harbour Island. Water taxis and private boats abound.
When we first arrived at the dock (we tucked the dinghies in just in front of Pinder's Grocery Store near 7th St) a gentleman on a bike rode over to welcome us. "Hawk" lives here 6 months a year and is just about the best one-man welcome committee we've seen. "Yes, your dinghies will be fine there." "Do you want some tomatoes? See that woman right down there by the buggy? Go down there and get some - they're fresh off the vines, and get a pumpkin too." "Garbage? Put it in any of the bins around town - it's collected every day." "Internet? There are several hotspots around, and you can come down to my place if you want."
And so off we went down by the buggy to buy juicy tomatoes from Shirley. She also had green peppers, pumpkin (different from the ones we are familiar with) and pigeon peas. We ate tomatoes and peppers for dinner and pumpkin & rice will be on the menu another day.
Mike, Kathy, Jim and I walked pretty much the whole town, stopping at the Gap for a tasty but very, very slow lunch, at the Food Fair for oranges and green onions, and at Kathy's Bakery across the street for fresh bread and a bottle of home made pickles. I have always loved buying groceries at little specific shops and I like doing it here too - produce in one place, bread in another, meat or fish in still others. Often, in the small stores, we find an older woman or two sitting behind the counter along with whoever is doing the serving. I haven't asked, but my thinking is that these women have been working in the stores all their lives, and are still there to help or keep company. We've met them in New Plymouth, Marsh Harbour and here in Spanish Wells. It's a nice small-town sight.
We walked along to the peaceful garden at the Methodist church; it had about the only shade in the entire town, pretty little paths with lots of benches and chairs, and signs with bits of scripture on them. On our way there, we were passed by a couple of young girls on three wheel bikes. One of them had a toddler in the back - probably a babysitting situation, and the other had a big boombox! We could hear them coming a couple of blocks away - they sounded like those cars that cool dudes drive around with the bass pounding, the windows down, an elbow hooked nonchalantly out and eyes scanning around to see if anyone notices them. I was so surprised to turn around and see these two preteen blonde girls with hair in cornrows peddling their bikes. They parked themselves down by the Methodist Garden and even did some dancing in the street, and I think they were quite pleased to be the objects of our attention. Kathy and I took a little walk on the beautiful white beach while the guys filled jerry cans with fuel and water (FREE water in jerry can amounts), and then we came back to the boats.
It was a still, quiet night. As dusk fell, Jim went on deck to look at the stars and called me to come look too. A couple of metres off on our port side - nearest the shore - we could see one tiny spec of light - there for a moment or two and then gone - then back again. We have no idea what it could have been - a fish giving us the beady eye? A UFO (Unidentified Floating Object)? A lone firefly that went swimming? It hung around a bit and then passed on by -definitely the strangest thing we've seen.
We made sure we were well lit (the boat, that is, not us) and took advantage of the limited wifi from the boat to make a posting and some phone calls. The water was absolutely still overnight, and when the anchor alarm went off at about midnight, I got up to see that we had swung a perfect 180 degrees with the current.
By morning, the wind was up again and we headed back to Royal Island - discarding our tentative plans to anchor off Little Egg Island and snorkel on the reef. We tucked into a spot close to where we were last time - we knew the holding was good. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the same spot because when the tide lowered we began to bounce. Up came the anchor, ahead we went, down went the anchor. We were a bit close to another boat but figured we'd be OK. More about this figuring in a minute...
In the meantime, we dinghied over to the ruins of the old estate. We explored the fringes of the area, trying to see a little of what was, in the 50's and 60's, a grand property with dock, windmill, citrus groves. Paved paths led inland, stone walls still stood - many with plants growing from the remaining fragments of roofs. We'd love to have explored further, but thought we should probably respect the Private Property sign!
On the way back we stopped to say goodbye to Cheryl and Carl on Mystique - off to Nassau in the morning, and Jean-Michel and Anne on Cipango, an Ottawa registered boat. It was a delight to meet them because we had seen the boat in Marsh Harbour but hadn't spotted Ottawa on the stern. Jim discovered that they knew several people in common and we had a really good gab.
Back to the close anchoring, overnight the wind shifted and we found ourselves uncomfortable close to the boat next door. Not within collision distance, but definitely too close for a good sleep. Lesson learned - next time we leave more room, even if it means moving a 3rd or 4th time.
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.