Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 14, 2012

The newest of the regatta boat classes is a small, youth class boat.  This is the first boat of that class to be built and launched in George Town.

Number 17, Lady Muriel, passes ahead of number 16, Tida Wave, in a race of the big A Class boats.  Lady Muriel went on to win the A class cup in the Family Island Regatta.  Tida Wave was, as always, a top contender.

Ed Sky was another of the A class boats.  The crew always seemed happy.

The Police Band with its starched white dress uniforms and leopard skin tunics is an impressive reminder of the Bahamas’ British colonial history.  In spite of the uniforms, they can boogie with the best of them.

At Conception Island I have this entire crescent shaped beach to myself.  Look closely.  I’m waving at you from the near end of the beach.

This is a frigate bird circling over us at Conception Island.  It is almost four feet from wing tip to wing tip.  Sometimes the bird books call it a ‘magnificent frigate bird’.  It truly is.

Bill is standing in front of The Hermitage built by Father Jerome atop Mt Alverna (206’) on Cat Island beginning in 1940.  It is a miniature monastery for one with a one seat church and a one bed adjoining building.  The almost vertical approach path takes you past the Stations of the Cross, a recreation of Christ’s tomb, and Fr. Jerome’s own tomb.  Nearby are a water catchment area, a cistern, and a separate kitchen building.

Greetings from the Bluff Setlement, Cat Island, Bahamas.  It has been a long time since I have written anything, and I have lots of excuses.  We were really busy in George Town, and we had both bad internet connections and computer problems… so much for my complaining.

We spent a month in George Town; longer than we have ever stayed before.  The well sheltered harbor is huge.  It is bounded on the ocean side by the long and skinny Stocking Island and a string of smaller islands, rocks, and reefs.  The land side is Great Exuma Island, the mainland where George Town and the smaller towns are located.  Between them is Elizabeth Harbour, a body of water large enough to “float all the ships of the British Navy.”  Unlike most of the places we go in the Bahamas, there are good facilities here.  There are two banks, a couple of grocery stores, restaurants, a gas station, a hardware store, and all the things you would expect to find in a 1960s small American village, plus it has a commercial airport.  That makes George Town a great place for us to have guests aboard.

We arrived in George Town on April 4, and Robert and Susan Banks came into the harbor on Impetuous III the next day having stopped along the way from Great Galliot Cay to visit Lee Stocking Island and its Caribbean Marine Research Institute.  We all went to Big D’s Sand Bar, a collection of brightly painted open buildings on a nearby beach.  In addition to beer and booze, Big D’s served grilled grouper, grilled snapper, and grilled conch, or if you want one, a big juicy hamburger or hot dog.  The grilled seafood was seafood with potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and plantains cooked on their grill in a foil pouch.  They also had a conch salad stand where the conch salad man did his work.  He made his conch salad by yanking a live conch from its shell, then skinning it and washing the slime off with salt and lime juice before dicing its meaty foot.  The meat was then mixed with freshly chopped tomatoes, peppers, and onions before being “cooked” by squeezing lime and orange juice over everything.  The salad could be spicy or mild.  Don’t ever ask for extra spicy.  The salad maker may put in half a goat pepper instead of a quarter.  I like hot, but a goat pepper is really, really hot.  I know it all sounds horrible, but Big D’s conch salad man did it right, and it was really good.  A full moon was expected the next day meaning the tide was extra high.  It flooded the sand under our thatched hut shaded outdoor table as we ate.  I just love eating in restaurants where I don’t have to wear shoes and the waves lap at my toes.

The next several days were spent both piddling about and readying the boat for Julia and her family’s arrival.  I restocked the boat with food from Exuma Markets.  Bill lugged 5 gallon jugs of diesel fuel out to the boat from the Shell gas station.  We both rearranged our things to free up some space in our tiny world for four more people.  Bill collected over 30 gallons of rainwater on our decks saving him from bringing it out to the boat from town in the dinghy in jugs.

Easter was celebrated with hot cross buns for breakfast, a walk to the tall concrete monument atop the highest hill on Stocking Island, and a shell collecting expedition on the Atlantic-side beach.  The storm that had given us the rainwater had also restocked the shells on the beach, and I filled my little nylon shell bag to its top.  In the evening I baked an onion tart, and Robert and Susan came over.  We all watched the tart disappear with a drink in hand.

On Wednesday, April 11 the Self family arrived.  Julia, Isabella, Olivia, and I walked to the straw market while Josh and Bill ferried the luggage to Irish Eyes.  Olivia with her very red hair and very fair six month old skin attracted lots of attention.  Several locals admonished us with “don’t sunburn that baby”.

Isabella wanted to go to the beach, so we moved Irish Eyes across Elizabeth Harbour to Sand Dollar Beach where we anchored for their stay.  We went to the beach that first day before supper.  Our routine was thus established; beach in the morning, beach in the afternoon, meals and noon time naps aboard Irish Eyes.

Isabella enjoyed swimming, digging in the sand, and walking the Stocking Island trails.  Olivia splashed in the water and took extra naps in the shade of her tent.  The adults tagged along for all the fun.  Julia and Josh snorkeled over a reef in the harbor where Julia found a milk conch shell.  Julia, Josh, Isabella, and I walked the sand flats looking for sand dollars with limited success, but Julia found a live queen conch.  The beast was quite ugly with long eye stalks and lots of slime.  Isabella said she wasn’t eating one.  We left the conch in the water.

Bill has a conch shell horn which he sometimes blows at sunset when he has an audience.  Isabella decided to give the horn a try.  She was most impressed with herself when, like a trumpet, the horn transformed her rude pursed lips noise into a clear loud tone.

Sadly, on Sunday April 15th it was time to put the Self family on a plane home.  Because it was windy enough to make the dinghy trip wet, I stayed dry on the boat and let Bill ferry our guests and their luggage into town.  Josh and Julia had arranged for the taxi driver that brought them from the airport to pick them up on Sunday for the return trip.  That taxi was a no show.  Another driver picking up his fare said, “She is in church.”  At the last minute Isabella spotted Rudy, the driver of last year’s taxi, passing by.  Bill waved him down saving the day.  (Isabella is a smart cookie!)  After some further delays at the George Town airport, the Self family made it home without any sunburn.

With our first guests gone, the boat suddenly became bigger.  We returned to our usual routine of walking the beaches for shells, knitting, reading, eating the occasional meal ashore, and doing the inevitable boat chores.  It is sometimes distressing to recount how many things have to be cleaned, oiled, resewn, tightened, patched, replaced, repaired, polished, and put away.  But, I think it could be expected because our home is basically a machine with lots of parts, sitting in the sun, floating in salt water, and always moving.

Tom and Susan Tipton flew in on April 22.  Unfortunately, the weather was not kind that morning.  The wind blew in gusts over 30 knots toward the town making the harbor rough and any dinghy trip into town a wet and miserable prospect.  Fortunately, their flight was delayed several times, and by the time they actually arrived the cold front had passed over us, the wind had changed direction, and the wind speed had dropped to a pleasant and steady 15 knots.  (By the way, cold fronts here are not cold.  They are just windy with the wind changing direction as they go by.)

We spent Monday and Tuesday doing our usual routine of walking the nearby beaches and island trails, picking up shells, and generally being lazy.  On Wednesday the Family Island Regatta began.  For the entire Bahamas this was the World Series and Super Bowl both rolled into one.  Ashore the George Town waterfront sprouted dozens of gaily painted plywood shacks erected in haste with wiring and plumbing that would horrify any building inspector.  Booze, beer, loud music, and fried food were freely dispensed into a milling throng of scantily dressed women, hip boys, Rastafarians, old men, and children.  Every coconut on the island was there ready to be converted into the local alcoholic concoction of gin and coconut water.  Piles of conch rested in the shallow water awaiting their doom.  Three ships were moored at the government dock having brought scores of people and race boats from both Nassau and the Out Islands for the event.  Beauty queens and bands were ready for the parades.

During the week we watched the three daily races both from our boat and from town where the start and finish lines were just off shore.  The boats ranged from the 28 foot A class down to the dinghy sized E class, and the crews ranged from the serious racers to the fun loving partiers and from adults to kids.  No matter what the class, the boats were all designed in the form of a traditional Bahamas fishing smack and made from wood with a wooden mast, wooden boom, and cotton sails.  Winches, tell tails, Windexs and other modern aids were prohibited.  The larger boats had crews of ten or so and sported up to three pries, long boards sticking out from the side of the boats where most of the crew perched to keep the boat upright with its seriously oversized sail.  For the start the boats anchored in a line, and at the firing of a gun, each boat hauled in their anchor moving the boat forward as they raised the sails.  Collisions, yelling, and the occasional failing of a mast or tearing of a sail characterized the starts.  Motorboats filled with race officials, the police, and spectators darted in and out through the racing fleet during the entire race.  The VHF radio crackled with the race committee’s orders when the course was changed during the race.  Opinions about which marks should be left to port and which to starboard were freely given.  It was a hoot.  We ate two meals ashore, one in one of the shacks and another in a much quieter nearby restaurant.  We missed the parade of beauty queens which, typical of the Bahamas, started three hours behind schedule, but we did see the parade of marching bands.  The first was composed of musicians and dancers from the island’s schools, and the second was the national marching band, the Royal Bahamas Police Band.  Both were great.

Tom and Susan flew out on the 29th.  The 30 knot wind and rain returned on the 30th but by May 5th the weather had settled down and we left George Town going south to Salt Pond, Long Island.  The next day Robert and Susan on Impetuous III also left George Town  heading north up the Exumas on their way back to the states.

On Sunday in Salt Pond, we were anchored in Thompson Bay below the Anglican Church that we had attended a couple of years before.  We laid out our best clothes and waited all morning for the congregation to assemble, but they never came.  Bill went ashore after lunch only to find last month’s service schedule taped to the door but no mention of services in May.  Monday we took the dinghy to town and after walking on the ocean side beach and buying some groceries we stopped at the Long Island Breeze Resort for lunch.  Well, it was Election Day, they couldn’t sell beer, and they were using the occasion to clean the kitchen, all of which meant they were not serving lunch, so it was lunch on the boat for us.

The next day we sailed wing and wing downwind to Simms where we anchored and went ashore for a walk.  Our route took us unexpectedly into a PLP rally.  The Progressive Liberal Party had just won the election by a landslide throwing out the incumbent Free National Movement.  It was a gay party.  We sat in a small restaurant across from the party headquarters and had a couple of beers listening by radio to the swearing in ceremony in Nassau amid much back slapping and the occasional tear.  The owner of the restaurant gave us each a bright yellow PLP tee shirt.

From Long Island we motorsailed to the uninhabited Conception Island where we stayed two days until the wind stopped and millions of no-see-ums left the interior mangrove creek and came out to our boat to feed.  We hurriedly left and motored over a flat calm sea to Cat Island where we anchored off the village of New Bight.  We toured the nearby Hermitage atop the highest hill in the Bahamas.  On the way down we stopped to examine the ruins of the Henry Hawkins Armbrister plantation house at the foot of the hill.  Hot after a morning in the sun, we enjoyed a cold beer and lunch in the Blue Bird Restaurant & Bar sharing a table on the waterside with the people from the two other boats in the harbor.

Yesterday, we sailed up the coast to the Bluff Settlement.  The water was deep almost to the rocky shore, and we toured the nearby parts of the island with binoculars as we sailed along.  Later, from the dinghy we peered into several of the caves that dotted the shore.  Bill wanted to go into one or two, but I don’t like caves and besides it was too rough to bring our inflatable rubber dinghy against the sharp rocky shore.

Our plans are to continue north through the Bahamas over the next few weeks before returning to the states.

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