Tuesday 17 APR 2018 – Little Farmer’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas
Freedom. This morning in bed my legs can finally glide smoothly across the sheets. For almost a week our bodies have been pinned into position by a thick, steamy atmosphere that made our clothes and bedsheets sweat-sticky. This morning, though, we can move. It’s the winds. They started strong yesterday and have settled today to about 15-20 kts, whipping away the excess heat and humidity. The winds are the result of a weather front for which we have been waiting for about a week here in Little Farmer’s. We probably could have continued further north, the storm not being as severe as predicted a week ago, we could have managed it at anchor in many places, instead we played it safe. So, this decision cost us some time. Was it a bad decision, though? I wonder. Glenn says, stealing our friend Patrick’s words, “Any decision is a good decision.” Meaning of course, that sometimes out at sea it is very hard just to make a call, any call. We have access to a bunch of information and we also rely on experience and instinct, but actually choosing a path is daunting because the wrong choice can be, albeit rare, catastrophic. So, any decision, particularly one that is safe, is a good decision.
As we walk our daily walk this morning I vent a little about this stay in Little Farmer’s Cay. As much as I have enjoyed the little island, I am quite happy to be leaving tomorrow. As is true of many tourist locations, I have felt somewhat exploited here. This is, possibly, the price of buying authenticity. It’s not just that prices seemed inflated though, I have also felt a lack of hospitality that felt borderline hostile at times. Of course, this is not without justification. The three or four centuries of colonialism perpetrated on The Bahamas has been an appalling set-up for this phase of its (touristy) history and the people here are definitely pushing back. But still, I don’t know if I’ll return anytime soon.
Ghostly photoshoot from Little Farmer’s tonight, our last night in town:
Wednesday 18 APR 2018 – Big Major Point, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas
The wind was sympathetic, filling in early for our departure this morning. Roosevelt Nixon, the owner of the LF Yacht Club came to the dock to untie our lines and help us get off the tall dock. We are underway by 9AM. Our sail is an easy broad reach with winds from E at 10-15kts. We are headed for Big Major’s for one reason alone – Pigs! Swimming pigs, if you like the finer details. If it were just Glenn and I, we probably wouldn’t stop, but Ava mentioned a desire to see the squealers, so we sidetrack.
At the anchorage, a bit after noon, we pick a spot out of the way of the pig traffic. There are dinghies, skiffs, and runabouts that bring people in a constant stream to the small sandy beach where the pigs are stationed. There is a pig palapa for shade, but no other pig amenities as far as I can see. And there are quite a lot of people on the beach petting, trying to pet, and feeding (?) the big and small pigs. It’s kind of chaotic, so we wait, eating our lunch and preparing the kayaks before we go. This is good because soon the crowd dissipates. We will have the pigs all to ourselves, we think.
As Ava and I paddle, we chat excitedly in anticipation of the cuteness ahead. I’m not sure Ava had ever been around pigs before; given that we live in a small city. Maybe she’s seen one at a petting zoo, but I have certainly not given her the “opportunity.” As we near the beach we see a young guy with a long orange ocean kayak getting ready to leave from exactly the place I want to land our boats. I recognize him because he paddled through Little Farmer’s Cay when we were there. “Hi!” I yell out as I am disembarking, knee-deep in the shore waters. “We saw you a few days ago. Where are you headed?”
A walkabout is a rite of passage ritual in the Australian aboriginal cultures in which adolescent men are sent into the outback for a long stretches of time to prove their ability to survive, and subsequently, their manhood (i.e. value) to their community. From how I understand it, the young men are sent alone, without (m)any accessories, and they are expected to hunt for food and water, set up shelter, and move across vast distances. Sometimes I think Glenn and I are modeling a sort of a self-imposed, adult walkabout to Ava, putting ourselves in an isolated wildernesses (is it so isolated?) in order to teach her to find value in the physical and mental struggles that an adventure (i.e. life) presents.
Sean, the kayaker, walks and talks with us as we make our way to the pigs’ area. He’s been here for a few hours but hangs out with us a bit longer. He seems hungry for the chat. When we finally reach the pigs, they are a disappointment. It’s not their fault… it’s their nap time. With a few exceptions all of the pigs have crowded together in the shade of the palapa, lying on their sides in neat rows, snoring. It’s adorable but a little more docile than expected. Now we understand why all of the people have left. Oh well. I take a few photographs and the three of us head back toward our kayaks.
Back on Netzah, we find out more about Sean. A week ago he flew to George Town, rented a sea kayak for three weeks and is making his way around the southern Exumas by paddling and beach camping on his own. Big Major Cay is as far as he will go because he wants to turn back to get to George Town for the big Bahama Family Island Regatta taking place next weekend. Sean is a kid. Raised in Colorado with two years of college behind him (in Physics, which he likes, at Iowa State, which he doesn’t). He’s taken a year off in between and is about to resume his studies in September closer to home in Boulder. He tells us about his motivations for his trip (To have an adventure!) And we are quite curious about this, not because he’s doing it, but because so many people his age are not. “Why is it,” we ask, “that you are alone? Why are there not more of you?”
Are we doing something wrong as a society that so many young people seem to not have a desire to see the world? I wrack my brain a little. What is keeping younger people, right when they have the most freedom and the fittest bodies, home? I can’t help to blame the computer. Its powers of representation have gotten so lifelike as to provide the adrenaline rushes formerly only available through actual adventures. Perhaps this has produced a risk- (or discomfort-) averse generation.
In a bit the four of us notice some sea birds nipping at the water behind the stern of the boat. Together we laugh at the utter foolishness of these birds, who have nether talons nor beaks large enough to catch the fish that have surfaced beneath them. The birds’ ambitions seem to exceed their capabilities. We wonder what amusement they receive as they drop down again and again, dipping their webbed feet and gulping in the sea’s waters, skimming their “prey”. The birds don’t even come close to a nibble, yet they keep this game up for twenty or thirty minutes until the fish finally swim away. The scene begs the question: if you know there is no final reward just the feat of the undertaking, would you do it anyway?
Thursday 19 APR 2018 – Hawksbill Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas
We sail to Hawksbill Cay today. It’s a twenty-five mile hop which in the light southeasterly wind takes a while as we hover around 3kts of speed all day. 3PM arrival.
When we arrive we drop anchor, put up the sunshade, and immediately jump in the water to cool off. The water is extremely clear here and the temperature is refreshing. We stay in just long enough to cool off and then climb back on board. Glenn goes below for a nap and Ava and I stay in the cockpit chatting. By 4 – 5PM, the same time as yesterday, we see some good sized fish (10” – 18”) surfacing, probably to feed. The school swims toward us and then under our boat. To get them to come back I stick my foot in the water and splash. This brings them back. As the fish draw near again so does a pretty large (6’-7’) lemon shark. I wonder where he was when we were swimming an hour earlier?
Friday 20 APR 2018 – west side Norman’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas
Norman’s is an easy, short sail in light ESE winds. We make the eight-mile sail in under two hours and drop anchor at 10AM. We’ve been to Norman’s Cay before, but on the east side in “the pond,” the sheltered area only accessible from the sound side. This time we are on the west coast in a crescent shaped cove good for the current wind direction. This area is a very quiet and very ritzy part of the island. On land we walk to the sole restaurant, McDuff’s. Situated in a grove of well-manicured, flowering trees along several large island bungalows, is the most beautiful restaurant in all of the Exumas. Unfortunately, it’s also too expensive for us, so we only get beers and appetizers.
Saturday 21 APR 2018 – west side Norman’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas
We are now only forty miles away from Nassau, our next stop. Because we are so close, but don’t want to be in Nassau too long (Ava and I are flying out next Thursday), we will stay at Norman’s until Monday. The nice thing about this anchorage is that most boats stop overnight and leave in the morning, giving us the cove completely to ourselves during the day.
In the afternoon I go for a solo kayak paddle. I take off to the south paddling swiftly. There are clouds to the southwest from a visible squall. They cover the sun with a soft gray haze that reduces its violence. I am in battle gear nonetheless: 50+ SPF sunscreen, hat, glasses. The water here is so clear and because it’s shallow, I can see the topography of the ocean floor, its soft moguls of white sand, with astonishing clarity. Still though as I move the shimmer of the water’s surface plays trick on my eyes. More than once a large underwater dark rock, for example, becomes a swimming ray or shark.
As I paddle further and further I feel my body working. I am moving well. Though I sweat, the breeze evaporates it before it can form a layer on my skin. I look down. I am in a bathing suit. I am older now and my body is starting to show it. I suppose I wish certain parts were tighter, but I don’t care too much because the overwhelming thing I notice about my body is how strong it is. As I paddle each side holds its own with only a tiny disbalance. In most things I am better on my right side, but in the kayak I tend to turn more to the right, meaning my left side is somehow more efficient, or I don’t know, better at kayaking. I don’t stop for rests now I just pull left and pull right. I get lost in the rhythm, the burning in my shoulders to the back of my mind. I notice the landscape, the same one I have been in for months now made of only three things: buttery limestone, clear liquid turquoise, and dry shrubby forest, with penetrating clarity. Each shape and color becomes a moment of reflection on a beauty in front of me that I have been overlooking. I am nearing the end of this portion of the trip and my brain is instinctively soaking in the last images I will carry.
Sunday 22 APR 2018 – west side Norman’s Cay, Exuma Islands, The Bahamas
Last night I had a dream I became a dog. Here’s how it happened.
I am someplace indoors, warm and dark. Standing in a pool of light, I am talking to someone I can’t see. There are many other people there as if it’s a party or something, but I am in my own head space. Out of the darkness two shin-sized dogs run to my feet. One is white and the other is black. These dogs are very, very active, playing roughly with each other, pouncing and jumping around. They nudge my legs to play with them. They are sweet, but I am holding back because they seem very nippy and I worry they will bite my hands and hurt me. I try and pay attention to a conversation, but the dogs persist, so I reach down with both hands to pet them. Right away the white one aims her sharp little teeth at my right hand and bites down hard. I get ready for the pain surge, but nothing happens. Strangely, it doesn’t hurt at all. In fact, it feels rather good. Then the black one chomps down on my left hand. Same thing, no pain, just a nibbling hand massage. This is so weird, I think to myself, have I grown insensitive to dog bites? Soon the pups are biting up my arms as I get down on the floor with them. Their bites feel like tickles as I roll on my back, laughing hysterically, forgetting the crowd of people in the room. Without thinking then, I begin to bite them too. First I go for their little legs then their ears, but soon it’s anywhere I can put my mouth, the three of us rolling and biting each other like one big dog ball. Once I’m playing like this, I am their partner, losing consciousness of my size, my ways, my humanness. In my mind, and maybe to everyone else too though I can’t tell, for the time that I am on the floor, I am a dog.
This is when I wake up.
Monday 23 APR 2018 – Nassau, New Providence Island, The Bahamas
We are on the banks by 8:30AM for our journey back to Nassau. The southerly winds are perfect for our NNW aim. We get moving with one reef in the main and the jib in wing-on-wing flying along at 7kts plus. It’s quite possible that the reason for this entire trip was to have this one sail. It’s perfect. We arrive in Nassau at 1:30PM.