07/04/2008/3:40 pm, New Bight, Cat Island
A whole parade of boats left Georgetown on Sunday morning (April 6) and we were part of it. One cruiser reported 37 boats heading out Conch Cay Cut. Most of us had been waiting for weather to leave and from the cut we were off in all different directions. The majority headed north - Little Farmers, Black Point, and onward to Nassau or up the Exuma chain while five of us headed for Cat Island. As we neared the coast, we were astounded to see Cygnus approaching from Long Island. It seemed amazing that we had each left different islands and converged on the same waypoint at the same time. The others went straight to New Bight while Jim and I opted to tuck in on the Bight side of Hawks Nest Point for the evening. Other than the Marina and Resort with its own landing strip, there is not much there. We took a short walk around, obeyed the sign telling us to stop to look both ways for traffic as we crossed the runway, and spent a restful although somewhat rolly night.
Next morning, we traveled the last 10 miles to New Bight - a lovely wide bay with Cygnus, Pickles, Shadowfax, Mermaid and Shandal (?) already there - and joined Mary Lou and Bob (Cygnus) for a walk up to Father Jerome's Hermitage at the top of Mount Alvernia.
Father Jerome was an interesting man. The short history is that he started out as an architect, became an Anglican priest, combined his talents to build several hurricane-proof churches in the Bahamas, became enamoured of the Roman Catholic church and went off to Rome to receive training to become a priest. Upon his return to this part of the world, he continued to design and build churches and eventually, while in his 60's, built his own hermitage in a place he had long admired - on top of Mount Como (also called Mount Alvernia) at 206 ft above sea level, the highest hill in all of the Bahamas.
As we began the climb, we passed by the Stations of the Cross, wound around piles of rocks, stepped carefully up the narrow stone steps carved into the rock, and reached the summit. It truly was a climb worth making. It was steep but short, with a breathtaking view out over the water and songbirds singing merrily from bushes on all sides. The architecture of the hermitage brings together elements from a number of cathedrals and although containing several connecting rooms, a bell tower, arches, nooks and crannies, the whole thing is sized for one person. There really seemed to be a feeling of deep stillness here - an imprint left by a deeply devout and caring person, or perhaps it was there to start with and that is what drew Father Jerome to the place. The hermitage was austere and spartan, the path steep and rough, the words carved into the rocks were all about weeping and hardship and endurance - traditional words, and certainly appropriate ones for Father Jerome's people. Above and around and below and in the centre of it, the natural beauty of the place evoked - in me at least - feelings of wonder and hope, renewal and survival, love and glory - perhaps also appropriate for the people who live here and those who visit.
We eventually made our way back down to the road, passing several patches where the land had been burned to allow new growth, and past the ruins of the Henry Hawkins Armbrister great house - one of many Loyalist ruins to be found on the Island. Next stop was the Bluebird Restaurant where we munched on the most delicious conch fritters we've had yet, downed icy cold Kalik beers and chatted with Pam and Don (Shadowfax). Because we didn't really feel ready for the hearty Bahamian meal being served here, we headed out to the fish fry huts in search of a chunk of grouper. No luck - they were all closed up, but as we walked by Lula's we found her grating coconut under the casurina trees and told her what we were after. Next thing we knew, we were piling into Cardinal's car and he had instructions to take us to the Bridge Inn up the road a ways.
This led straight into a whole new adventure - not so much of the eating kind, but of the meeting local people kind. Marguerite wasn't really cooking that day I don't think, but in the spirit of helpfulness that pervades this place, she said "Oh yes, I can get sandwiches for you." As we asked what kind she had, we discovered that sandwiches meant hamburgers or cheeseburgers. With an order for 4 cheeseburgers (scratch the fish - here we were a couple of miles from town with no other choices and our drive not expected back for an hour) she headed off to the kitchen. I'm not sure where those burger patties came from but they were plenty chewy and it was close to an hour later before they arrived at the table, accompanied by home made fries which I'm sure were still round spuds when we got there. It is my suspicion that she had to fire up the grill, take the patties from the freezer and heat the frying oil before she could start our meal. It was so typical of the hospitality we found.
As we chewed, Marguerite's son Bradley and his son, Delinn ( I don't know if I have that right or not) engaged in lively conversation with us, ranging from American politics to the value of school uniforms to the renovations and improvements they were making at the Inn.
Because our driver didn't arrive to take us back, Bradley piled us all into his truck and took us to town, stopping on the way so we could pick up a few things at his brother's convenience store. (We discovered later that Cardinal had returned half an hour after he dropped us off and found us still inside so he left again, assuming someone else would drive us back - and he was right!) We loved young Delinn - all dressed up in his school uniform - pale blue shirt and navy pants. He certainly had fine social skills and a great interest in showing us around. Answers to all our questions were accompanied by Sir or Ma'am, and Jim laughed aloud when he told his initially shy cousin, "It's all right, Tray. They's just white folks - you can talk to them!"
I'm pretty sure we would have eaten better at the Blue Bird, but we ended up with a really neat experience and that counted for a lot. Back on board Madcap, I cooked up a spicy beef stew in the pressure cooker and we ate at about 9 o'clock under the stars.
05/04/2008/7:17 pm, George Town, Great Exuma
The beaches on Stocking Island are spectacular. Jim and I walked along the Ocean Beach on the opposite side from Hamburger (Monument) Beach and then back across much further up. The sand over there is all finely crushed shell and coral - easy to walk on - and the waves were crashing in. Jim and a cute little crab played chicken to see who got the right of way. The crab won after he stuck out his claws and stared him down with his googly eyes! We took a windy (as in curvy) little path back to the harbour side through what seemed to be a dry slough that must get a salt wash now and then, to encounter an entirely different kind of sand. This was velvety soft - like walking on suede below the high water line and icing sugar above that.
From Monument Hill above the beach, the view was glorious as always and we "sat a spell" to gaze out over Elizabeth Harbour. (There is a move afoot to rename the harbour in honour of Rollie Gray but that hasn't happened yet.) These monuments were placed high atop the islands to indicate to passing boats that salt and/or provisions were available there - something the same idea as the inukshuks placed in the Arctic by the Inuit - to indicate a cache of food and supplies. This may also be the reason for the name "Stocking Island". One of the benches near the monument is engraved with a series of hearts waiting for names to be carved in - of couples engaged or married there and the latest entry is March of this year - quite a stunning spot for momentous decision-making!
Many of the boats in our anchorage shifted over to Kidd Cove to reduce the wet dinghy distance to town, or to Hamburger Beach where it is not as bumpy, and a whole parade of them left on Saturday morning. We are still at Volleyball Beach. It's bouncy but not so bad that I've had to have a fit about Jim's "stay put" policy. Fortunately, it calms down nicely during the night, but I must say, I'll be happy to be tucked away out of the wind whenever that happens.
We dropped by Mya 1 on Thursday evening and met George and Catherine. It is always great fun to meet people from Nova Scotia, knowing that we may well see them up the coast this summer. We discovered that George hails from Purcell's Cove, also home of Vince and Diane (Finn McCool) whom we met last August (and caught sight of in Black Point a month ago), and of our friends Pam and Gary (Atlantic Star) who sailed with us in Cape Breton and kindly hosted us for part of our Halifax stop. At the Happy Hour on Hamburger Beach on Friday night, we caught up with Frank (Local Knowledge) last seen in Marsh Harbour. He flies a large Nova Scotia flag along with the Canadian and Bahamas ones, and hails from Digby.
On Friday morning we weathered the trip across to Georgetown to do laundry and see if the computer was fixed. Success on the first item - still waiting on the second. There were lots of machines - $3.per wash and $4. per dryer. I double bagged everything to bring it back because once more we took some waves directly over the side of the dinghy. The water was back on and boats were lined up along the dock to lower the hose and fill their cans. It sure helps to be able to fill them right in the dinghies.
Late on Friday afternoon, we headed back to the beach - it was time for Happy Hour at Hamburger Beach. We're keeping our fingers crossed for a Sunday trip over to Cat Island, and so we were really interested to chat with Carla and Bruce (Deuces Wild) who highly recommended that stop. They've cruised in this area many times and Carla had lots of suggestions for us. Most of the folks we talked with are headed up the Exuma chain or over toward Nassau and on from there to Florida.
I always like to scan the table for interesting nibblies. Some creative person had made delicious little wonton packages served with plum sauce, and I had more than one taste of a spicy black bean dip with tortilla chips - those precious things that are had to come by in many of the markets. The artichoke hearts/mayonnaise/parmesan cheese dip is always good and always seen; a jug filled with bright orange carrot sticks and leafy green celery stalks looked great and tasted crunchy, and I munched on a few celery sticks stuffed with a curry filling and topped with peanuts - something a little different and very tasty. I took a plate of quesadillas and they disappeared in short order.
Saturday is a day for walking again. Jim went to town to pick up one more load of water and his computer while I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and then we dinghied to Sand Dollar beach for a stroll. We met up with Marilyn and Bruce (Reflection) who have been hanging out in that neighbourhood so we had a chance to catch up with them too, and then we spent the rest of the sunny afternoon watching volleyball games at Volleyball beach. Evening found us at St Francis for a light dinner - scrumptious grilled tuna wrap for me and so-so fish sandwich for Jim. I gave him a few bites of mine.
Communication-wise - the internet was down most of Friday but the cell phone is fine at the moment. It also comes and goes but we've had good connections on it lately. We bought a phone in the US (T-Mobile) and put a Bahamas chip in it when we were in Green Turtle Cay. Many of the payphones have card slots to insert a special BTC (Bahamas Telephone Company) card - but it can sometimes be hard to find a phone that works. Cards for both cell phone time and for the payphones are readily available at the grocery stores. Wifi is hit or miss. From here off Stocking Island, some folks use Harbour wifi and some, Gaviota Bay.
April 3rd was my Aunt Ursula's 93rd birthday and it sure was nice to be able to call her and have it sound like she was right next-door. If I have managed to inherit the good genes in women on both sides of my family, I hope I'll have another 20 - 25 years on the water! We are reminded time and time again that there are few age limits in this community. We've met young couples, young families, many 50 and 60-ish folks and a goodly number well into their 70's. Some are still sailing and some have shifted - or always had - motor vessels. It is also interesting to note that we've met quite a few single handers, mostly men; we have run across only two solo women - one in New Brunswick and one in North Carolina.
We never tire of meeting other cruisers and hearing their stories - some have always wanted to take this trip and have finally done it; some have come to both the idea and the journey later in life. An inspiring number figured out early on that they could take time away from "regular" life to cruise from time to time, and some imaginative folks discovered that they could combine the two, starting early and continuing for many years.
While Jim and I cannot imagine just coming straight to George Town to spend the winter at this "playschool for adults", it works for many and good for them! We've had an amusing time chatting with them and listening to them on the VHF radio, as well as meeting those whose traveling is more along the lines of our own.
02/04/2008/2:03 pm, George Town, Great Exuma
It truly is the strangest weather these days. The sky is brilliant blue with cloudy patches, the sun beats down, the wind indicator reads 12 knots and the waves move gently past us. Then all of sudden, a dark cloud rolls over, the wind whips up to 29 knots, the skies open and it just pours while the waves froth up and add salt spray to the mix. Two minutes later it is all over and we go back to sunshine for a couple of hours before repeating the process again. When we are aboard, we rush around and close all the hatches, flinging them open again moments later to let the breeze blow through. We saw a few flashes of lightning last night and are hearing our first claps of thunder as I write this.
Jim and I joined Donna and Rick (Lorbas) on Jabiru for sundowners on Monday evening, and last night Donna and Rick (Lorbas), Gail and Peter) Jabiru and Fred (Casa Mare) joined us. It's been fun to look at our similar boats. Jabiru is a Cabo Rico - about the same length as Madcap and built in the early 80's. Both have an abundance of wood inside and out and Gail and I had a good time chatting about galleys and salon seating arrangements. I've been feeling the need for more space lately, but Rick and Donna had some good comments on that. They sail a Corbin - again roughly the same size and said that after their first year they felt crowded, but when they got into the routine of being down here 6 months each year, they found that the space was just right for them and they valued being on a boat they had gotten to know really well. It has now been 9 months since we left Ontario and it has just gotten to feel cramped in the last month, so we may well find that we have the same experience. We want to check out their wind generator over the next few days as we fine tune our plans to boost our power.
Regarding our power - we are being miserly with it. We rely mostly on ice blocks in the fridge now - turning it on only when Jim has the trickle charger and generator hooked up or when we are motoring. The latest thing that has happened is that our charger is toast. When we checked to see if a fuse had blown, we noticed amber "stuff' melted over the insides. That cannot be a good thing! So now, we use the engine to charge batteries as we travel, and it does seem to charge them, and the trickle charger to try to keep them topped up as much as possible while we sit here. We'll limp along this way till we get back to the US and then see about replacing the charger and getting a wind generator at the same time.
We took a run over to town this morning (Wednesday) and the going over went just fine. I exchanged a bagful of books at the Library ($3. to join which confers the right to borrow from their extensive collection and trade one-for-one from the (also extensive) trading shelves. It's open 10 - 12 M-F and is staffed by cruisers. A water main had burst so we didn't get water, and I never did find Mom's famous bread van. Jim found the computer fix-it shop though and his computer is there being checked over. With any luck, the USB ports in it can be repaired and he can use his Winlink program again for position reports and e-mail. We got just absolutely soaked on the way back - waves crashing right over us. I couldn't even see with the salt water running into my eyes, and our jackets did not one bit of good in keeping the salt water from soaking us to the skin. Oh well - that Bayfield bathtub comes in very handy for rinsing our clothes and the life rails do double duty as clotheslines. I try to be a bit discreet about hanging underwear; a part of me would like to hang out a row of scandalous attire, but Jim and I will have to acquire some first!
We'll be off to the beach again - this time with camera so I can get some surf pictures. Although the wind is supposed to drop over the next couple of days, it will take another day or so for the swells on the Sound to drop so we expect to be here until the weekend.