Tuesday 13 MAR 2018 – Penton Cove, Great Stirrup Cay, Berry Islands, The Bahamas
Right after our morning coffees we pick up the anchor and move back to the SW coast of Great Stirrup Cay, exactly where we were before. The winds will be switching back today and we want to be in the lee of the land again. We are always trying to be in this “shadow” in order to have a smooth stay. I tend to think this moving around is a bit of a pain, but as soon as we move, I’m glad as we are steady and calm again.
There’s a beach very nearby where we take the inflatable kayaks this morning. The paddle to shore is fun. I realize while rowing how much I have missed the exercise since walking back in Great Harbour last week (and since I stopped my push up program about, uh, 39 weeks ago). Once on land the three of us take a hike, spiraling our way to the top of the small hill that dominates this part of the island. There are a few paths and even a “stair” cut into one of the boulders on the way, but for the most part we walk across unmarked rock and sand easily climbing in elevation as we pass the small beaches and coves facing the Atlantic. The terrain here is a jagged limestone weathered gray and sharp over time. It’s not a hard walk, just a little threatening to the soft skin of our ankles because we are in flimsy flip flops. Amazingly, the whole island, and every bit of The Bahamas, is completely made of limestone. There’s not a single other rock type! However, the limestone comes in all varieties here. There’s the soft white sand of the beaches, the yellowish parts that get uncovered during low tides, and the gray, pocked areas that make the hard and rough hillsides. Though it’s just one type of rock, the variation helps provide some visual interest. When we reach the top there is a small, white lighthouse calling to be climbed. Unfortunately, it’s locked and not for visitation, and my timid cronies won’t climb the fence I know, so I don’t ask. At least there’s a great view, I say to myself and then the others.
On the way back down we find a much shorter route that gets us to a beach on the bay side that also serves as a construction staging ground. It’s a bit messy but we walk through easily enough and then wade back to our boats in time to get to Netzah for lunch.
Wednesday 14 MAR 2018 – Between Hoffmans Cay and Devil’s Cay, Berry Islands, The Bahamas
Today we motor 17 miles south to an anchorage in the lee of Hoffman’s Cay (close to Devil’s Cay, Glenn reminds me). It’s a beautiful spot, but it turns out to be a very rolly one too due to the unfortunate circumstances that pit the wrap-around-swell against the evening’s wind direction.
I’ve been thinking about this word, swell. It’s strange that in English it can mean both the physical surge of the ocean’s tide and, colloquially, “great” or “awesome,” in the parlance of a bygone time. I don’t think of the ocean swell as something great. If anything, I am awed and a bit scared of her rising and falling. The infected amplification is ominous and could at any moment, seemingly, turn on us.
Thursday 15 MAR 2018 – Nassau Harbor, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
As soon as we crack open our eyes, Glenn and I have the same thought: let’s get out of here! As lovely as this spot is, the ocean’s back and forth trundle has ruined our sleep and some of the pleasures of being here. We raise anchor and depart efficiently by 8AM. The sail south is excellent. We have steady 15kts winds at our backs and we sail almost the whole way to Nassau, 37 miles, at a speed of 6kts+.
Sometime after 3PM we enter Nassau Harbor through the West Channel, take a hard left, and… we are back in civilization. In the harbor we move between two islands: Paradise island, the tourist’s side with large hotels and fancy houses, on the north (left), and New Providence Island, where the locals live, work (mostly), and shop, on the south (right)side. We pass the cruise liners waiting for their departures south, we pass rusty working boats, and then we pass the Atlantis. If you know only one thing about Nassau, it’s probably the Atlantis Hotel, two rising, pink, beachside tyrannosauruses, collared together with a Rialto Bridge suite high in the sky. It has casinos, pools, aquariums, brothels, and a marina we can’t/won’t afford. Just kidding about the brothels.
Further on, we trawl (troll?) around in the harbor in front of the Bahamas Yacht Club looking for a suitable spot to anchor. It’s deeper here than usual and there are a lot of boats. We come around twice getting to know the neighborhood and finally settle on a spot between the tiny Gallway Bay sloop, the River Rat catamaran, and the mighty Cayuga from Ithaca NY. Almost as soon as we are set, I am aggravated. Nassau has a lot of boat traffic. This much I expected. But so much of it is too fast and too close. It keeps us almost perpetually rocking. Also, periodically there is a burst of loud dance music on one of the passing party boats catering to the spring breakers. Oh yea, it spring break I remember.
Friday 16 MAR 2018 – Nassau Harbor, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
Before we leave the boat this morning I spy a bit on our Gallway Bay neighbors. I think everybody does this in anchorages, checks out other boats and the folks on board. Right? I don’t mean to suggest anything salacious and I’m not using binoculars or anything, I just like to watch and see how other people are managing this wet life. Anyway, it’s a very young, very cute couple, a guy and girl, in their early twenties at most. Judging a little from their boat, it seems they maybe have been out for a while and perhaps do not have much money. They are flagged Canadian. Unfortunately for the rest of this story, Glenn rushes me along when he sees me gawping.
In town Glenn and I tie up the dinghy at Rubis gas station. It’s hard to tell with whom we can leave beloved Svetlana around here. There are many private marinas, but no services for the many anchored boats in the bay. At Rubis there are many slips filled with pleasure trawlers. At the very back end we see one other dinghy, so we figure this might be okay for us too. I leave Glenn with our boat and go in search of permission. When I finally find someone, he’s a gas station attendant who nonchalantly agrees to let us stay. We lock up the dinghy and head out, but it feels a little strange…
On our exploratory trek, we find Solomon’s Fresh Market, a grocery, to my extreme delight, full of beautiful fresh produce. It is also, to my extreme dismay, crazy expensive. As we walk further we find an area of old fishing shacks under the bridge that have been converted each to small seafood restaurants, and we find the Poop Deck, a second floor restaurant and bar which despite its name is pretty nice. We stop in for a beer. The bar tender, a very nice Bahamian young woman tells us about the cheaper grocery up the hill and we discover, under the Poop Deck, not what you would expect, but a very nice pull up dock. Lesson: It always pays to give in to your beer drinking whims… as if we ever don’t
When we return to land for dinner that night we tie up at the dock under the Poop Deck. As we do, we see our Gallway Bay neighbors preparing their dinghy to leave. “Hey you are our neighbors!” I say a little too excitedly perhaps giving away my stalking activities. If they notice, they don’t let on. We get to chatting. They – Eloi and Anabelle – are seriously adorable, bright-eyed, open, and willing to answer all of my “what are you guys up to” questions. But at the moment they are headed one way and we are going another, so we invite them over for dinner tomorrow night so we can get to hear their story.
Two kind of great things about Nassau:
Frist, the dinghy tie-up situation points out that while every last bit of coastline here is privately owned, there’s a very relaxed attitude about this ownership. So far we have not been asked to pay to tie up anywhere. This may be, in part, out of a desire to not take responsibility or be burdened with someone else’s property, but I suspect it comes more from a general ethos of the islands themselves. Capitalism can only go so far with people that just don’t feel like it.
Second, and more lovely, is that everyone here calls each other “dear,” “darling,” “sweetie,” (or “ma’am,” if situations are more formal). It doesn’t feel pejorative, but rather emerging from a tradition of formality where titles are the proper means of societal address. This British (perhaps?) leftover seems to have evolved into these lovey words that float in the air at others, at me, and put a smile on my face every time I hear one.
Saturday 17 MAR 2018 – Nassau Harbor, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
The three of us go on a grocery run up the hill at the Super Value. On the way we stop at McKenzie’s for a fish burger and beer.
In the evening Eloi and Anabelle arrive for dinner. Glenn makes his famous fish stew, now one of our go-to dinners for guests because it’s a little fancier but totally easy to make while still chatting with the guests. We find out a bit more about these two adorable baby sailors. (They are twenty years old!!) They are both from Levis, a sister city of Quebec City that sits directly across the St. Lawrence. They left last year on the Gallway Bay, which used to be Eloi’s family boat. We talk a lot about our boat and why we bought an aluminum one, the hardware, the technical stuff. Eloi has many good questions which leads me to think he will spend a good deal of his life on the water. We also talk about potential ways they are thinking about making money, as they have started to run low. There’s working on the mega yachts or being hosts on charters, they say wistfully, until they can buy a better boat and get themselves across oceans. They will figure something out, I’m sure – they are both ambitious to keep their on-board life going. Toward the end of the night we find out that Eloi and Anabelle are YouTube superstars. Maybe not superstars… yet, but they will be. Check out their channel Voilier les Copains, it’s in French, but their enthusiasm and video editing skills are evident nonetheless.
Many of the younger people we meet out here have this pattern of life. They sail until their money runs out and then they go to work for a while, wherever they happen to have stopped. Many times these jobs are maritime jobs, but not always. These adventurers, are true vagabonds, drifting toward their next destination without a long term plan. They move on a hunch and a sniff sometimes toward some new port, sometimes away from a hurricane. They eschew a mainstream western life pattern of working in one’s youth, saving money, and then at the end of life when they’re good and tired, cashing in their savings to take off around the world. The plusses and minuses of this path are obvious, but one thing I don’t hear from our wanderer friends is a longing for a life left behind.
Sunday 18 MAR 2018 – Nassau Harbor, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
My day begins with chopping – a lot of it. I bought bunches of parsley and cilantro to preserve for cooking on the next leg of our trip. I’m chopping them, adding some drops of water and freezing the chopped bits in an ice cube tray. The flavor isn’t quite the same, but the little bit of herbal freshness goes a long way when we’re past week number two of food. Anyway, as my forearms are stinging from their repetitive motion breakdown workout, we hear “Hellooooo Netzah” from outside. We peek out. It’s Patrick! He’s just arrived from his tour around the islands. And he’s with Annie! Annie is his (newish) girlfriend/companion. They’ve been traveling together for almost two months… and they’re still on the same boat. I take this to be a good sign!
Glenn and I hang out with Pat and Annie much of the day. We take them to McKenzie’s for lunch and the Super Value for cheap(er) provisioning. And later they come over for dinner. Throughout the day we get to know Annie, who is wonderful and, seemingly, Pat agrees.
Monday 19 MAR 2018 – Allan’s Cay, The Bahamas
Today is leaving day, but first I convince Glenn to take me back to the grocery for more produce. Yes, more! Today is our third time in three days, but we ate so much with dinner guests here for the past two nights.
We finally get off our anchor at 9AM and motor to Allan’s Cay 30 miles away. From New Providence, we move southeast across an area of banks to get to the top of the Exuma Chain of islands. Much of The Bahamas are characterized by such banks, expansive areas of very shallow water (much of it 20’ or even less) with long, curved dots of island along their edges poking bits of a giant rock jaw upward, the “cays”. You can always tell the banks. It’s where the water is a vivid turquoise. Between the banks, the ocean plunges downward thousands of feet very suddenly. In other words, Bahama’s islands, on a global scale, are the tiny tips of broad, flat plateaus on top of super steep mountains. Sailing here, however, you would never really understand this fact or form without the contour rings on electronic charts. As I read the charts, I construct the section of the earth mentally, drawing slopes whose vertical drop is at least 60 degrees. Wow.
We arrive at Allan’s Cay, a small two-part anchorage by 3PM. We are in the smaller, southwest molar. There are only two other boats here because there’s not much room and it’s a shallow area. It’s a good spot for tonight’s wind and sea directions.