11/04/2008/3:46 pm, Little San Salvador
It was an exciting day on the sea!
We set off from Fernandez Bay toward the tiny island of Little San Salvador, now owned by the Holland American Cruise line but still available to cruisers. Jim had his yoyo fishing line out as well as his rod and reel. That simple little yoyo - a line wrapped around a plastic circle - with a shiny pink and silver lure and a big hook kept attracting some big fish. Unfortunately, even though JD the hunter/gatherer pulled in 4 - count 'em - FOUR fish, they were all barracudas and we had to let them go. The thing with barracudas is that they are known to be carriers of ciguatera (a naturally occurring toxin that passes through the food chain - symptoms are numbness and tingling followed by nausea and vertigo, or paralysis in the worst case scenario.) It's rarely fatal but unpleasant enough that we don't want it! Some of the books say a fish under 5 pounds is OK; other books say as long as it is less than the length of one's arm from elbow to finger tips, it's OK, but we did not want to take the risk.
We operated as a team; Jim reeled in the fish - and it was exciting. Barracudas are silver and shiny and heavy enough to feel good on the line. They have very sharp teeth too so Jim donned heavy work gloves, I held the fish up out of the water while he grabbed it and removed the hook from its cheek and then eased it overboard and into the sea again. Each one stopped thrashing around while he was working the hook out so although the teeth looked ominous, they weren't threatening, and Jim had his lures and hooks to use again. While we wished for a fish for dinner, it was still good to catch something!
It was while Jim was sitting on the starboard deck holding his fishing pole that I noticed a dolphin leaping on our starboard side. Soon, there were 6 or 7 of them frolicking back and forth under our bowsprit as we plowed along through the water. We were doing about 6.5 knots and these beautiful creatures just played along with us. We had heard of such a thing but had never experienced it ourselves - and let me tell you, it was an experience.
They honestly seemed to be playing. They would crisscross ahead of the boat - just inches from the bow - run alongside, veer off to surface and then roll over as they crossed in front of us again. Their timing was impeccable and their ability to swim together and with the boat just amazing. We stood out on the bowsprit and could look straight down at them as they played in front of us. It lasted about 10 minutes and then they gradually peeled away - to look for another source of entertainment or perhaps to have a more leisurely swim. We were just thrilled with this display and it seemed pretty dull to go back to fishing and navigating again.
In due course we arrived at Little San Salvador, crossing behind the gigantic Carnival Imagination that was anchored off shore, and nosing in to drop our anchor in the NW corner of the bay. We watched the "boat people" play on the beach for the rest of the afternoon - riding horses, swimming, sunning, sailing hobie cats and pedaling pedal boats. Once the last launch delivered them back to the mother ship, we headed ashore ourselves to stroll along the beautiful crescent beach and marvel at the infrastructure here. There must be money in cruises because there was no shortage of shore facilities for them. This cay was bought by Holland American as a daytime playground for their cruising passengers, and although it must be felt as a loss by the small boat cruisers who loved the place for its remoteness, it is still a fine stopover on the route north to Eleuthera. We read that the firm is happy to have boats anchor here because it adds local colour and that the shore staff is polite and friendly. That was our experience. We roamed all along the beach, chatted with the three fellows on a 4-wheeler who were doing a last sweep of the beach to make sure no one was left behind, and generally nosed around the place. Despite the crowds who had been there all day, I found two really pretty shells that I hadn't seen before and we stopped to gaze at a tiny owl who swiveled his head almost all the way around as he gazed back at us.
We opened Juan's fabulous Medalla Real Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and savoured every drop as we watched the sun go down. It seemed oh so appropriate that it was a brilliant orange sun that sank through the clouds and then at the very last moment turned inarguably green as it dropped below the horizon - my very first green flash!
09/04/2008/3:44 pm, New Bight, Cat Island
I wish I could figure out exactly what it is that makes a moment priceless.
We got up this morning and ran a bunch of errands - returned the car to the grocery store, arranged to get water from Lula and told her we'd be back for breakfast at her place. It was as we were sitting at her picnic table on the beach that it hit me. I was totally and perfectly happy, right at that very moment. It was more than contentment or being in a pleasant place - there was nothing wildly exciting nor any set of rational facts about it - it was just simply a perfect moment.
Lula's table sits beside the beach so we had the sound of waves lapping on the shore; the air was fresh because it was still early in the day; the branches of the casurina trees leaned over us (picture soft pine needles on trees with long branches) while the sun started its rise through the sky; the food was simple and tasted satisfying. Lula served grits and sausage - strips of bologna cooked up with onions in a spicy sauce. It was not something I ever thought of eating for breakfast but it was just right that day. Even Jim declared the grits (white grits instead of yellow) to be the best he had ever eaten.
Was it because all my senses were involved? Were the planets aligned? Was it the simplicity and pureness of the moment? I still don't know. What I do know is that it doesn't take much to make a perfect moment - just a few random circumstances and the time to notice it. Perhaps this is one gift of this trip - the time to notice things.
Our lives are often so busy and there are so many imperfect events taking place - personal and global. We have places to go, things to do, people to see, situations with which we must cope. We accept as a matter of course that we do not live perfect lives or experience perfect days. We are not joyous all the time and we don't feel successful all the time. The secret is in the moments. If I can remember to notice the moments, it will be one immeasurable lesson from this year of travel.
The rest of the day was good - we hauled anchor and headed off to Fernandez Bay where we went ashore to enjoy the scenery from the resort and have a drink at their bar in thanks for permission to anchor in their "front yard". We stopped to say hello to Kate and Chuck on Eridanus, also anchored in that pretty little bay, and then spent a quiet evening with our books and a pasta dinner. It was all just fine, but it was the feeling of the morning that stayed with me through the day.
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.