04/11/2010, Little Harbor, Great Abaco
About two weeks ago we sailed MANDY over a very shallow bar. She sucked in her belly over treacherous coral heads only inches beneath her keel. The squeeze was worth it as the bar gave entrance to the deep and protected bay of Little Harbor, Great Abaco; a haven these days for cruising boats and artists alike.
In 1952 the revered sculptor Randolph W. Johnston brought his young wife and fellow sculptor Margot Broxton and their three sons aged seven, nine and eleven to the harbor in their Bahamian built schooner "Langosta." Randolph had determined that he must find an escape for his family from the modern world of his time. He perceived "the Megamachine" threatened his very existence with the threat of world war, materialism and race suicide through nuclear annihilation. He sought a place he could work in peace, where his soul could take wing and his loved ones would be safe. "What we have to find is a sympathetic physical environment - a good climate and a social milieu in which there will be the least possible interference with our individual lives."
Randolph and Margot literally carved out an existence from the uninhabited harbor. They dedicated themselves to their self sufficient lifestyle and educated their boys through daily communion with nature, the rigors of boat sailing and navigation, house construction and survival through self-reliance. They grew or hunted for their food and each member of the family was responsible for their part in the survival of the whole. This style of organic education is called "un-schooling" today; a name coined in the seventies by homeschooling guru John Boston. Sixty years ago however the idea would have been ridiculed, perhaps even criminalized by the mainstream.
Since visiting Little Harbor learning about its history and reading Randolph's diaries of those years of struggle, I have spent a good deal of time thinking back to our own family's fifteen year experience with "un-schooling" from 1990 until 2005. We were lucky to have had much encouragement from those who had gone before and I can only imagine the periods of doubt assailing Randolph and Margot who it seems were the original un-schooling devotees. "We did not come here primary to grow bananas or dry shark meat but to grow three good men and true." Not only did they raise their sons successfully but in Little Harbor Randolph's sculpting career blossomed and he built and established his own foundry next to the family's home. His work has been compared to that of Cellini, and through private and government commissions he and Margot forged a prominent place in the world of sculpture. Their sons Bill, Denny and Pete became engineers, writers and artists, taking responsibility in the pioneering of the island. From Randolph's diaries wryly called "The Good Life for Those Who Can Take It," it is evident to me as a fellow un-schooling parent that the Johnston boys may have suffered in their physical isolation from a lack of general socialization in their parents' fervor to distance themselves from the Megamachine. However, the young men's carefully nurtured human spirit was the springboard that enabled their bold leap back into the world, certain that they could achieve anything if they willed it so.
The harbor is still home to Pete Johnston. He returned there after several years studying art in Europe, married and began his own family. The beachside gallery is filled with his and his father's work as well as several other Bahamian artists who visit regularly to work in the inspirational island paradise.
Raising and educating children is never without pitfalls, false starts and self-examination, however we choose to do it. Our visit to the shelter of Little Harbor where the Johnston family forged a path was an unexpected personal journey of reflection for me. Our homeschooling experience was not perfect by any means, but like the Johnstons we chose what we felt was best for our family and were rewarded with a unique journey of self reliance and joy in each other.
Sketch by Randolph W. Johnston "Artist on his Island - A study in self-reliance"
04/10/2010, Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abacos
Ok, OK, we're not water babies or even water old farts. The truth is that when snorkeling or diving are in the offing I would prefer to sit, dry and warm, on the deck, rum in hand, and listen to all the wonderful stories as the mermen and mermaids re-surface. Why would I want to swim where this beast is prowling?
Each to his own I suppose. Understood that the Bahamas offers one of the most beautiful underwater environments anywhere on earth, but it offers much more in addition.
I doubt that anywhere is the sailing more nearly perfect than here. Temperatures are consistently in the 70's, there is always wind, usually from the east, which gives hundreds of miles of fast, flat water sailing in the lee of the long skinny islands. You do have to get used to barreling along at over five knots in water less than eight feet deep for mile after mile, but the crystal clarity means, in good sun every detail of the bottom is visible. Even the persistent cold fronts are useful, since the wind clocks 360 degrees in such a predictable manner that with good timing a fair wind can be found for any destination. No bashing to windward here! With over 700 islands, about 30 inhabited, there are countless secure and comfortable anchorages giving access to pristine beaches, mangrove creeks, periwinkle gathering (good with beer) on the rock shore, cliff hikes and small intriguing settlements.
Should you tire of flat water, exit through the cut or around an island headland and the coral drops away precipitously underneath indigo Atlantic rollers.
Sailing is only a part of the cruising experience and in the settlements, especially of the Out-islands, the history of this far flung archipelago provides plenty of interest for the curious. Whalers, pirates and wreckers followed after the Spanish, who had made short work of the local Arawak Indians, but the largest influx was of Loyalists who fled the Carolinas after the Revolutionary war, with the goal of recreating a plantation society, under the English Crown, unencumbered by the vulgar specter of Democracy. A cursory look or feel of the gritty limestone soil makes you wonder what they were thinking and provides a 200 year old example to match those of some contemporary genius's ,of arrogance born of privilege. In less than a lifetime most of these plantations failed and the settlers returned either to the U.S. or England, or if they remained they settled for a simpler life earned from the sea rather than the land. The present population consists of descendants of these loyalists and their subsequently freed slaves, who soon outnumbered them and bearing the surname of their former masters, migrated throughout the out-islands. Thus in Big Nochs bar in Rolleville, Great Exuma, affable and very big Enoch Rolle told us that every single inhabitant of his town has the last name of Rolle, an English land-owner who never once visited these islands.
The one big negative in this paradise is the summer threat of hurricane. It overshadows everything. All economic activity, all housing, all life is at its mercy, so much so that locals always reference time and dates by the hurricanes; "just after Andrew" or "before Floyd". The islands seem generally so idyllic, so gentle, washed in the extraordinary hues of sky and sea, that the contrast with hurricane borne destruction is grating. But it is as natural as the tide and so must be dealt with. It makes for modest dreams and flexible plans.
Above or below the water the Bahamas are beguiling and will lure us back long after we and Mandy have moved north.
04/09/2010, Hope Town, Abacos
For all those that had to have the explicit detail, here she is!!
04/02/2010, Rock Sound, Eleuthera
As we make our way north we have passed some real and some imaginary mileposts in the sand. In Georgetown we crossed back to the north of the Tropic of Cancer, which runs right across the main street. We made our first dip into the tropics fifteen months ago in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and then reached our most southerly point at midnight on September 2nd off Punta Maniato in Panama, where at 07 10.3 N we were only a little more than 430 miles from the equator. Her in Eleuthera at 025 15.9N we are still more than 400 miles south of our start in San Diego. At Mathew Town in Great Inagua we reached our most easterly point at 073 47.0 W which is a little more than 2,000 miles to the east of San Diego. Along the way we have sailed more than 5,500 miles and slept in more than 100 anchorages. If nothing else our anchoring technique has improved.
Through most of those anchorages, when there are other boats, they are mostly of a kind and Mandy is often the most distinctive and to our eyes at least, the prettiest. However, the day after we crossed the 40 miles from the Exumas to Rock Sound, Eleuthera, blown fast amid the pouring rain, thunder and lightening of yet another pre-frontal disturbance, David Clarke and Marge Grigg sailed the Friendship, Maine based schooner "Winfield Lash" into the sound and the bar was raised several notches. David spent eighteen years building this beauty and delights in showing her and the wealth of detail he included to anyone who shows an interest. What's not to like on a ship where the compass binnacle, cast of bronze, is a half clad nymphette with perfect breasts and very alert nipples. In the horse business the aphorism is "keep your horses in the worst company and yourself in the best". I'm not sure how that transposes to the mariner, but for now we and Mandy are in great company sharing stories with David and Marge and laughing at his fierce New England wise cracks and at his silly T-shirt which boldly asks "Have you hugged your binnacle today?"
03/12/2010, Compass Cay, Exumas
The word is that not in living memory has there been a winter like this one in the Bahamas with cold fronts marching through one after another and almost no sign of the prevailing easterly winds. The cold fronts are coming straight here from the east coast of the U.S. which is our destination in a couple of months. Of course up there the fronts are much colder and we are not in a hurry to move much further into them. Our progress has been tempered by north to north west head winds every three or four days, the winds clock around and then there is another front. It is all very unusual for the Bahamas. We have not done very much snorkeling or swimming as the air temperatures are chilly and since we are water wimps anyway, it doesn't take much to put us off. This was on a good day though, the water was so sparkling and clear I could not resist. This bay is stunning and is just across from Compass Cay marina where they have a group of nurse sharks hanging out underneath the docks where they wait for scraps from the boats. We will be continuing up to Eleuthera and then to the Abacos Islands after that as soon as we get some south or south easterlies to blow us up there.
03/06/2010, Georgetown, Great Exuma
Cathy and Bruce Goforth have gone forth. Actually they have gone back to the Far Bahamas and then will be going on to Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico. We met them at Great Inagua when they let us tie up to their boat Serenade in the very surgey boat basin, where space was very tight. Since then we have travelled together and enjoyed their company over many shared dinners, drink sessions, dinghy rides and hikes across various remote islands. They are actually the most travelled people we have ever known as they were teachers all their lives in multitudes of foreign American schools, their daughters grew up in places like Yemen, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Jamaica. It is sad to say goodbye when the time comes, but we hope that as with our lovely friends on Sidewinder, we will meet up again some time in the future.