08/04/2008/3:42 pm, Cat Island
Mary Lou and Bob (Cygnus) and Jim and I rented a car on Tuesday and headed north to see what we could see. We had several items on our lists - beaches, ruins, fuel, and palm hearts for weaving.
The road followed the beach in many spots, making the drive just a gorgeous one. We stopped to wander around the lovely resort at Fernandez Bay where the folks were friendly and the ambiance superb. Mary Lou and I both bought copies of a fine book - The Cat Island Guide, produced by Jacqueline Campaigne - and used it as we continued our travels. We did a little "back and forthing" as we discovered that fuel should be next on our list and we couldn't seem to find the service station. With both the guidebook and the chartbook naming The Lot - between Orange Creek and Arthur's Town as the location of the Club Crystal "Service Station", we finally located the lone Shell fuel pump by the side of the road! With $40.00 worth of gas ($5.40 per US gallon) in the Dodge Caravan, we headed off once more, this time in search of food. The helpful lady at a convenience store suggested Sammy T's, and gave me a most delicious bennyseed (sesame seed) cookie to munch on as a stopgap measure. I hadn't seen bennyseed cookies since Charleston - these were a little different - made with chocolate in them.
Sammy T's turned out to be an upscale resort with a beautiful deck where we ordered grouper and cracked conch along with salads - no menus, just a list from the server. The food was superb; the price when the bill came reflected it - about $45.00 for the two of us. Ah well - we made up for it later.
We passed through Arthur's Town - the seat of government for the north end of the island, named for a privateer, Arthur Catt, whose surname is probably the source of the whole island's name. Sir Sidney Poitier grew up here in this neatly organized little town with well-kept stone church, butter yellow school and tiny green police station. Up at the end of the road at Orange Creek, we went walking on a beautiful beach but found no interesting shells. Jim swam out to have a look at what we thought might be a reef worth snorkeling but it turned out to be mostly kelp, so we loaded back into the car and headed south again in search of a road across to the ocean beach.
Bob had his hand-held Garmin GPS with him and was able to pinpoint exactly where to turn. I'm glad he was with us, because although the map also showed a road, it was really just a track and I don't think I'd have convinced Jim to take it without Bob's backup. We were all impressed with the accuracy of the cartographer on that GPS chart. Once we reached the end of the track, we walked a bit farther to the bluff overlooking two lone gravesites and a little path down to the beach. It was just glorious and if the sea had been a little smoother, would have been fine snorkeling. We each found a number of seahearts and a couple of hamburger beans among the trash and wrack washed up against the bank so we were all delighted. We were also reminded of the huge number of plastic bottles and single shoes that find their way ashore. Note to all: stick to re-usable bottles and hang on to your shoes and the beaches will be cleaner places!
By the time we made it back down below New Bight, the sun was sinking lower in the sky and Mary Lou and I were on a mission to find palms. She weaves baskets and had promised to teach me, but we needed materials. We found a couple of silvertops along the way but needed more so at a likely-looking spot, Jim pulled the car off the road and we headed down a path. It wasn't long before the men came after us - having been quite surprised when Mary Lou and I disappeared into the bush. It must have been a traditional gathering place because the bush opened up to a clearing with many plants. We gathered several hearts and happily set off down the road again.
A proper visit to Old Bight and a trip down to Columbus Point and Bain Town will have to wait for another visit because it was time to head home to New Bight and a fish fry.
When we had first come through town, Lula's was open but this time her shutters were closed and we all groaned in disappointment. Luck was with us though, because we passed her on the road and after hearing that we were four hungry folks who would eat whatever she had to offer, she turned straight around, threw open her shutters and fired up her stove. In short order, she produced delicious stewed chicken, accompanied by peas'n rice and boiled cabbage. (Even Jim agreed that the cabbage was good - not overcooked.) We handed over $18.00 per couple for it and also bought a coconut pie and homemade bread.
Lula had been on her way to the store so we gave her a lift back to Smith's Bay but by then the lights were out and the doors locked. In the "island way" we then took her to her friend's house where she left some money so her friend could pick up the soft drinks she needed and bring them by in the morning. While we sorry we couldn't have assisted her more in her shopping trip, we were really glad to have had the time to visit with such a lovely and interesting woman. She is one of 8 children, all college graduates as are her own three children. The concerns of her life are much the same as those of many of us in Canada and the US. She works hard, values her family, doesn't have huge expectations but expects integrity and respect as she devotes herself to achieving her modest ones.
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.