16/03/2008/3:20 pm, Little Farmers Cay
The day started with a novel sight - even before breakfast. As I put the kettle on for coffee, I heard a motor and looked out to see a huge boat nosed up to the rock just up the shoreline from us. It was carrying fuel and because there is no dock big enough for such boats here, it went right up to the bank, let down a ramp and the trucks rolled off. Our neighbours said it came right in between the anchored boats - must have given them quite a start!
We had arranged with Ernestina at Ocean Cabin to try a Bahamian breakfast at 9 this morning, so off we went, mouths watering. The restaurant was all locked up when we got there, but we sat on the deck, letting ourselves fall into the rhythm of a Bahamian Sunday morning; roosters crowing, birds chirping, sun hot overhead already, water shimmering in the harbour, and the occasional person saying hello as he went by. Soon enough, Ernestina appeared, opened up her kitchen and went to work. The result was delicious and unusual - for us.
She made stewed fish - which was nothing like I have ever eaten for breakfast - or at any other time for that matter. It consisted of pieces of fried fish - grouper for me, snapper for Jim - served with onions and potatoes in a spicy gravy, and with Johnny cake as a side. I've seen recipes for boil fish (fish, potatoes, onions cooked together in broth) but this one was new to us. It was a "stick to your ribs" breakfast - meant to fill the stomachs of fishermen before they went out to start their day. The Johnny cake was different from what I make too - made with flour and not cornmeal. To top off the meal, we drank several cups of really good coffee.
Ernestine said the Americans generally won't try this, so we were pleased to be adventurous. I'm not sure we are adventurous enough to try the next thing she suggested - sheep's tongue, but she said it's delicious and that we wouldn't even know what we were eating. Maybe....
Lori, Dana and Nancy (Solitaire) arrived as we were finishing so we all sat around and chatted with Terry and Ernestine for another hour or two. We were the beneficiaries of their warm hospitality as well as their food. One thing we were disappointed to learn about was that the (Canadian) boat that had taken up the mooring next to us had left without paying. We were even more disappointed to learn that some cruisers do this on a regular basis. These moorings cost $10.00 per night - not a huge price. There is ample room to anchor if one does not wish to pay. We heard of people doing the same thing in the Park - where the moorings are put in to protect the coral from destruction by anchors, and the fees help to maintain the Park. It baffles me why some cruisers think it is OK to secure a mooring and not pay for it - kind of sounds like "stealing" a mooring to me. I know I grumbled about moorings back up north, but that was when harbours were filled with them and we were given no choice. This situation is different. There are many choices of anchorages and moorings, and installing moorings for the security and comfort of cruisers is one way the Bahamians earn their income. Every $10.00 not paid is money taken out of their pockets.
Jim replaced the seal in our head and it pumps much better now; we did some routine cleaning and had a swim to break the heat (32 C and very little breeze).
After a trip to the Yacht Club on the northern tip of the cay - where there is Internet - we'll shift our position around to the west side of the Cay where we think we'll be less rolly tonight and tomorrow as the anticipated wind clocks around.
We'll probably move to Lee Stocking Island on Tuesday, and then on to Emerald Bay on Great Exuma Cay a few days after that. We don't expect to have internet connections again till then.
What a day this has been! We followed the folks from Solitaire to the beach at Oven Rock on Great Guana Cay - a wee bit north of Little Farmers. Once we beached the dinghies and hauled them up on the sand, we set off on the trail at the north end of the beach. Nancy and Jim have been here before so they were really clear on the way, but it is marked well enough with rock cairns to allow visitors to find it. In a way, I hate to say a lot about it because it is clean and uncrowded; in another way, it is such a neat place to visit that cruisers coming here might like to know more about it.
We couldn't see the opening until we were right at it - and then we just stepped down into it as a bat made a quick exit. (We didn't see any others) This cave is much different from the Rocky Dundas or Thunderball Caves - this one is inland and you don't get wet unless you want to - there are no fish either. But the cave is spectacular - complete with stalactites and stalagmites. A bucket with a little cup sits under one of the drips and we tasted the water - clear and pure - not all minerally like I expected. It is interesting even if all one does is stand on the rock. It is especially rewarding to go for a swim. Most of us took a dip in the pool, and Nancy, Jim and I swam around the corners to explore as much as we could. We were fascinated to swim slowly around, gazing upward at the stalactites, and downwards through the crystal clear water. The water was coolish but felt good, and Nancy's waterproof light was handy to have.
After our refreshing dip and exploration, we headed further along the path to the beach on the Sound side on a hunt for sea beans. We were all successful scavengers and came back with an assortment of sea hearts, hamburger beans, various other nuts and seeds and beads. It was a lovely little crescent beach; the sun was hot, the water turquoise and there was plentiful wrack to poke through. Mind you - whenever a beach is good picking for sea beans, it also has its share of garbage and this one was no exception. It is so sad to see the numbers of plastic bottles. There were enough plastic forks to have had a dinner party, and there are a whole lot of people walking around with only one shoe.
On Nancy's suggestion, we gathered up all the fishing buoys we could find and brought them back to the Little Farmers Dock for the local fishermen to reuse.
Then it was time for a quick change of clothes and we were off to the School Fair. This community has about 70 full time residents, and 9 students in the K-9 school. We talked briefly with Miss Wallace who has been the teacher here for over 20 years. The local women had been busy cooking, and we bought dinners for $8.00 - ribs or chicken or fish, served with peas'n rice, macaroni and cole slaw. We also had the chance to try another local dish that I've been wanting to taste - Guava Duff. It is like a bread pudding with Guava filling and a custard sauce poured over. Mmmmmm. With full stomachs (again - we never go hungry here) we stood on the lawn to watch the school children sing their national anthem, recite their pledge, and then sing the Little Farmers Song. There is quite a bit of local pride here - they have their own island flag and their own song. The Little Farmers Steppers performed a couple of drills, and during one, a little boy - age 3 or 4 joined them and we all got a chuckle out of his attempts to keep up. It was sweet to see this little guy playing with John (Last Paradise) later - one so fair, one so dark - both absolutely gorgeous children.
The event was well supported by both the cruising community and the local parents. We were interested to hear the MC extend special thanks to the cruisers. He commented that tourism is the lifeline of the Bahamas and that our support for such events as this is valuable. Jim and I agreed that although we all know cruising dollars are important here, we have never felt anywhere we have visited on this trip that people are just after our dollars. There is far more of a sense that folks welcome us to their beautiful islands, and want us to have a good time. There are often offers to take us fishing or exploring, but it has never been pushy. The children invariably say hello (often it is "Good afternoon, Ma'am") the drivers wave, the walkers ask us how we are. Interestingly, when we return the greeting and say, "How are you?" the answer is something along the line of " I am just fine - the sun is shining and I'm glad to be here." We have yet to hear anything remotely like - "Getting by", "OK", "Not too bad".
We went for a stroll around town and then back to the boat. In advance of the northerly front coming, the weather is hot (30 C) and humid. We had little energy for anything very active so it was swim time and then settling in with our books and a rum punch. At dusk, when it got a bit cooler, I cooked up some of our lobster into that excellent curry dish from Embarrassment of Mangoes.
Quite a number of boats have joined us in this corner - last night there were 3 of us, and tonight there are 8 - 3 on moorings and the rest anchored. I guess we were not the only ones to think this is a good spot to ride out a northerly. Speaking of riding out the fronts, we have had a few more of them lately and we're not sure if this is typical spring weather, or just a run of northerlies. Either way, we make our choices in how we consider them. If schedule is important to a boater, they could be considered problems. For us, and for most of the boats we hang out with, it is just something to watch and give consideration to as we pick our destinations and plan the length of stay. We have yet to be seriously inconvenienced.
As Jeffery said when we left the dock today - "Stay a while and enjoy yourselves". That is exactly what we plan to do. For us, that is one of the major learning experiences. We don't try to control the schedule. We build it around Mother Nature. It works a whole lot better that way.
14/03/2008/2:51 pm, Little Farmers Cay
We thought we had seen the best of the Bahamas - the water, the sky, the friendly people, and then we moved again and saw even more. These Exuma Islands are so full of beautiful communities; we just keep shaking our heads and marveling.
After a day of "housekeeping" jobs in Black Point, we headed back to Madcap to make an early night of it - stopping on the way to chat with Laurie and Frances (Glory Days). They return to Manotick, ON each summer and are old hands at spending winters in the Exumas. One thing we were pleased to hear them comment on was the value of making the first trip a shakedown cruise. We sometimes wonder if we should have made additional purchases before we left, but they supported the idea of finding out what we need and don't need, and then getting it for the next time. It's the old "Just GO" thing. Too often, when would-be cruisers wait until they have every single item purchased and every detail planned, something happens and they don't make the trip at all. There are boaters here in every kind of vessel - beautiful or weathered - with up to the minute technology or with paper charts and VHF only - with all the mod cons or with the bare minimum.
We tucked into the southeast end of Little Farmers Cay again and tied up to an Ocean Cabin mooring. After settling ourselves down, we took a run over to say hello to our neighbours, Abbie, Jeff and little 9-month-old John on Last Paradise. Now there is a young family with adventure in their blood. Hailing from Michigan, they're full-time cruisers with experience in the South Pacific and with plans to sail back to New Zealand. When we admired their courage, Abbie just smiled and said "Captain John" is a fine sailor who requires them to adjust their timetables, but not their cruising lifestyle.
Ashore, we strolled up to Ocean Cabin to pay our $10.00 per night for the mooring and see who might be about. We found three very cheery fellows in the tiny bar - all from the Bahamian Patrol vessel we had seen tied up at the dock. We joined them and spent the next hour in gales of laughter as they joked and teased. Conversation ranged from their jobs (keeping an eye out for boats smuggling drugs or humans) to our itinerary, to their favourite methods of making peas'n rice, to the Family Islands Regatta at the end of April, with a whole lot of good-natured ribbing of each other and of us. The Peas'n Rice bit was fascinating - I don't even remember quite how we got into it, but I mentioned that I'd been experimenting with ways to prepare it and all of sudden, two of them were telling me how they make it. These men know their way around a kitchen!
Cruisers kept strolling in... Sandy and Dana (Sol Purpose), Bruce and Carla (Deuces Wild), Jim and Nancy (Solitaire) and their guests Lori and Dana, Jeff and Abbie and John (Last Paradise). Terry and Ernestine Bain are the owners of Ocean Cabin and they kept everyone supplied with Kalik, all the while accepting reservations for dinner and directing VHF callers to their moorings. Their daughter, Khadejah, arrived in from school and flung her arms around her parents with a big hello. Two other daughters are in Fort Lauderdale - one in high school and one in university. We saw some pictures and they are all lovely.
On the way back to the dock, we stopped to request some fish from Jeffery and he later met us at the beach with freshly caught grouper fillets and a bag of lobster tails. Oooh - we'll eat well for a few days. For dinner, I pan fried the grouper and made a new kind of rice and beans - this one with kidney beans and coconut milk - and a bowl of cole slaw. My plan had been to make a banana cake but the warm breeze and starry night made me want to get out of the galley. Perhaps tomorrow...
Friday night ended with full stomachs, and full hearts - full of this beautiful place with welcoming Bahamians, the camaraderie of fellow cruisers, the caves and coral heads and fishing spots we'll explore over the next few days. Tomorrow is the All Age School Fair - with games and food and music.
The wind has pretty much died down and we'll have a few days of light and variable wind before the expected northerly on Sunday night and Monday. This may be a very good spot to be tucked away.