Dependence and Interdependence
02 February 2016 | Little Farmer's Cay
There is a saying in the cruising community – “wait until the boat gets in.” That is to say, when there are no bananas, or onions, or potatoes, or whatever it is you want so the only thing to do is “wait for the boat”. In this case, the boat is the “mail boat” or interisland freighter that brings goods to the islands from Nassau. Most of the goods arrive in Nassau from the United States, but more and more are being imported from other countries. The joke in all this is that, if you ask a shopkeeper when the boat is due in, the answer is usually next week, assuming it comes. And, if it comes, there is no guaranty that it will have what you want, even if the store ordered it.
The Bahamas are pretty arid and desolate places and virtually nothing grows here. Yes, the Loyalists from the Carolinas came here hoping to replicate their plantation way of life, but cotton, sisal, and the few other crops they tried to grow utterly failed. The good news in all of that is that the former slaves (like Mr. Nixon’s ancestor – see prior blog) were freed and ultimately made their own ways using sustenance techniques based on fishing and weaving the natural palm fronds and other vegetation into saleable items. (A significant export crop is dried conch shipped to China.) And, yes, there are some islands where there is sufficient soil in which to grow small crops. We saw that in Eluthera, Long Island, Great Exuma Island, and a few other isolated places. However, even if there is enough soil to sustain a small crop, the planting usually is enough for a family or a few families and certainly not enough to sustain an island. Hence, virtually everything is imported. As a result, it is not just the cruisers who are dependent on the arrival of the mail boat; the local population is utterly dependent on the boats for their daily staples and for the meager inventory they may have to sell in their shops.
When we were at Little Farmer’s Cay, the island was getting ready to host the 5-Fs – their annual festival and major earner for the island. Unfortunately, the boat had been delayed by bad weather and all the business owners were becoming concerned that they would not be able to meet their responsibilities to their cruising guests, not to mention earn the income they had counted on. Tasha, at the local market, had not received a shipment of fresh produce for two weeks and she was down to a few potatoes and an onion or two. Although the boat was due in later in the week (just before February 5), she was not at all certain her order would be on the boat. Mr. Nixon was waiting for his shipment, but he had flown to Nassau to meet personally with his suppliers and make sure what he needed would be on board. However, he too was concerned because the weather had been nasty and the boat was delayed departing Nassau for want of a crane to put a truck on board. (The boat did arrive, with the truck, which was offloaded onto Mr. Nixon’s wooden dock and driven across some planks to get ashore. We do not know whether Tasha’s goods arrived.)
Within the cruising community, there also is a strong sense of interdependence – if you need help, ask and someone will respond; likewise, if you have a spare part someone else needs, you offer it up. A few days after we arrived at the anchorage off Hog Cay in the Jumentos, we were going to go to Duncan Town by dinghy with Dave and Leslie. Just before our scheduled departure, Leslie called on the radio to say they would not be coming due to “an emergency.” Van asked the nature of same and she proceeded to explain that one of their engine rooms (they are on a catamaran) had flooded and the engine was partially submerged. The VHF radio is an open mike (like a party line) and the entire anchorage – all 12 boats – heard the news. Van and about 4 other boaters went to Dave and Leslie’s boat to lend a hand, provide replacement oil (Dave had changed his oil earlier and had no more spare oil), offer assistance and advice, and provide moral support. All turned out well, the source of the leak was located (a faulty shaft seal), all crankcase and transmission oil was removed and checked for water contamination, and the engine restarted and run. While none of us likes to be dependent on others, it sure is nice to know there is a support team when the need arises! We all remember to “pass it forward” even if it is with Vermont maple syrup or homemade raspberry jam.