Better in the Bahamas
Now this is more like it. After nearly 2 months of mainly motoring in a southerly race against winter, we are now into more leisurely, dare we say, more ariose sailing. Had we known the challenges we’d face, we may have decided against undertaking this adventure, but thank goodness for ignorance. It has gifted us with never-to-be-forgotten experiences and secured a deep sense of accomplishment. We don’t have a set destination, but since we have crossed the Gulf Stream to venture from the U.S. to the Bahamas, we both have begun to feel like we can now shift out of “getting there” mode and slip into “enjoying here” mode. We can now let our whims and the weather determine which way to point Ariose’s bow, and where to drop hook.
We’d like to share a bit of a photo essay of our first weeks here, where we are indeed, finding it better in the Bahamas. Hope you will enjoy it too.
We arrived at West End, Grand Bahama, and docked at Old Bahama Bay, a charming resort/marina, to recover from a tiring, rolly, overnight Gulf Stream crossing.
Conveniently, there is a Customs & Immigration office on site (the mauve building in the centre – it’s kind of obvious that we are no longer in the US!). After filling out the forms (note the plural!). patiently providing the same information over and over, we were given permission to stay for 6 months. Wonderful!
We could then take down our Q flag, the yellow “quarantine” flag that needs to be flown once a boat enters foreign waters , indicating that all on board are healthy, and the vessel is requesting permission to check in to Customs. That flag was replaced by the Bahamian courtesy flag.
We were greeted with warm congratulatory hugs from fellow Canadian cruisers, Rose & Joe on Winds of Change, and celebrated together that evening by consuming the champagne bon voyage gift from Brian & Deb, Shirley’s brother and sister-in-law, with anchovy-stuffed olives from Spain, a special treat from Shirley’s Mom. Apologies for the grainy photo… blame it on the bubbly.
There was a strong Canadian contingent here. We enjoyed meeting Marek, Lukas and Noles, 3 young guys from Thunder Bay who sailed here on Summer Salt (pictured below), and Debbie & Rolly from Sudbury rounded out the Northern Ontario representation, We also enjoyed getting to know Diane & Gary on Perfect Match from Saint John, NB.
We spent a couple days at the marina, which, conveniently for us, was offering a discount rate to entice business back after Hurricane Matthew’s damaged had forced it to close. We relaxed, decompressed, and comfortably waited out some too-strong-for-us winds, feeling safe and snug watching the sea’s fury from the vantage point of the breakwall.
We helped ourselves to the resort’s complementary bikes …
and explored the town of West End just a few miles down the road. It’s a small village, with parts terribly damaged by Hurricane Matthew’s fury.
It’s impossible to imagine what it was like to be in the midst of 150mph/hour winds, but seeing the results leaves no doubt it must have been terrifying. The few local people we had a chance to chat with were quick to mention their gratitude that no one lost their lives. (click to enlarge)
Tim identified native garbage shrubs (litterati arborus) – how informative to be travelling with a biologist! – with branches trapping debris scattered in the winds. The refuse was not limited to the bushes … the ditches, people’s yards, the seaside … all littered. We could imagine how it would feel absolutely overwhelming to tackle clean-up of this scale.
Most businesses were closed. Conch gathering seemed to be flourishing, though. This fellow is hammering a small hole where he then inserts a knife to cut the ligament securing the conch to its shell, allowing the meat to be easily pulled out.
We were shocked by the numbers of harvested conch shells deposited along the shore were shocking, literally creating new extensions out into the sea. We’re hoping that these piles are the results of decades of sustainable harvest, but suspect not. Just a couple of weeks ago, we noticed these shells for sale in upscale Florida souvenir shops for $25-40. It’s curious that here, the shells are tossed in refuse piles, without local folks being able to benefit from anything further than the meat.
You’ll notice that Hurricane Matthew’s cast offs also collected in the discarded conch shells.
I guess this is as good a place as any for a bit of a sidebar rant. On many of the islands we’ve visited so far, even those that are uninhabited, we’ve been utterly dismayed at the amount of garbage scattered about. It really generates a deep feeling of disgust about the consume & discard world we’ve been a part of. We will never be able to purchase something plastic again without thinking long and hard about other options. We’ve seen where it will end up when we’re done with it.
Back to West End. Once the winds calmed, we set sail to explore the Abacos – they’re a chain of barrier keys at the northernmost boundary of the Bahamans.We motored out of the protective breakwall at West End…
then were met with the roaring Atlantic’s breaking waves.
Kidding! It was actually a glassy smooth day as we headed north around Grand Bahama Island over onto the Little Bahama Bank, essentially a limestone shelf rising out of the deep Atlantic offering shallow depths and relatively calm waters.
It’s about 10 feet deep for miles and miles, with aqua waters stretching as far as the eye can see, making the experience feel like we were sailing in an artificial swimming pool. In case you are wondering, no, we’re not missing the brown waters of the IntraCoastal Waterway. VNR (visual navigation rules) are key in the Bahamas. As always, our charts are important, but many areas are uncharted or conditions have changed, so we need to keep a keen eye out for coral heads or rocks, or sand shallows. We’re still finding this unnerving. Our eyes have yet to be able to distinguish if that darker patch is weeds many feet under our keel or rock at the surface.
We headed to Great Sale Cay, with an overnight stop en route at Mangrove Cay. We had such gentle breezes that after a full day of sailing, we had made little progress and still had to fire up our engine in order to make our anchorage before dark. Our engine, unbelievably, is running reliably. We’re grateful for our good fortune in having got off so easily from what could have been a disastrous situation, but nevertheless, we are enjoying getting in as much sailing as possible. This has meant MANY hours of creeping along at 1-2 knots, giving ample opportunity for getting around to important tasks like finally making curtains for Ariose, and making music, and doing lots and lots of staring out across green waters to the horizon. Mmmm.
Great Sale Cay is usually just a convenient mid-point stop-over for people heading to or from the Abacos. We had noted its well-sheltered anchorage and thought it would be a good place to drop hook for a few days and just “be”. Other cruisers, when we shared our plans, were quick to suggest we wouldn’t want to stay as there’s nothing there. Upon further queries, we learned that by “nothing”, they were referring to the lack of shops, services, and other cruisers. Sounds like a perfect destination, we thought, and headed there.
We ended up spending 4 relaxing days on the hook in a perfectly secure anchorage at this island, uninhabitated except by a resident feral pig population, enjoying “nothing” more than rowing Poco …
in to explore the rugged shoreline …
finding a gorgeous beach that we had all to ourselves, …
with remnants, we assume, of a U.S. cold war-era missile base, …
drifting in the shallows…
to watch turtles, barracuda, rays (some leaping through the air in their rather dazzling imitation of a kite in flight), strange underwater creatures like a homely little bat fish – photo turned out too blurry so you’ll have to use your imagination on that one – and being entertained by graceful nurse sharks cruising the mangroves. Great Sale Cay was a perfect place for us to transition into island mode.
There was a recent wreck on shore – that can destroy the feeling that this is a perfectly secure anchorage.
At day’s end, we’d return to Ariose to enjoy another sunset followed by dinner in the cockpit under brilliant, starry skies, then be gently rocked to sleep.
That’s the way many days are unfolding while we’re cruising the Abacos. Mostly relaxing. I say “mostly”, because we do always feel, to some degree or another, the vulnerability of being in this little shell of a boat on the water. That need to always be vigilant can wear, and on windy nights in particular, it can be exhausting to be bounced around in a rather fruitless effort to sleep, getting up every few minutes to check that all’s well. Maybe as time goes on and we get more experience under our belt, our inner brain will be more trusting and be able to turn off a little more. Or maybe not. Just when we begin to wonder why we’re doing this, the winds calm for a few days, and we’re seduced again by the tranquil aqua waters, white sands, and breathtaking sunsets, and we feel we could stay out here forever.
Other boats arrived at Great Sale Cay each afternoon, and dropped anchor, only to continue on their way first thing in the morning. We had the pleasure , though, of getting to know another couple, Mark & Amita, from the only other “non-transient” boat here. They also appreciated the simple beauty of time at Great Sale. They have spent weeks here every winter for the past several years. In case you’re wondering what’s in the pot at the end of this rainbow…
… there were a couple of lobster, generously gifted to us by Mark and Amita.
For those of you who know Tim and his culinary habits, you may be taken aback to learn that he actually tried some! Sorry I wasn’t able to capture his reaction on camera. I’m pleased to report, rather selfishly, that at future lobster feeds, I will be feasting on them solo, with no need to share.
Next we were off to Double-Breasted Cay. For some reason, Tim showed particular interest in visiting this string of islands. There, we savoured absolute solitude.
This dotted line of low lying slips of islands protected us from the predominant north-east winds, …
gave us interesting nooks & crannies to explore around the rugged limestone rock laid down over the eons by coral and other sea creatures, and to explore the sand bars washed up by the Atlantic’s currents.
We are thankful that we had the foresight to get a rigid dinghy. If Poco had been the more typical inflatable, she would, by now, be re-christened Poked-holes, we’re sure.
The intense colours of the clear water and the muted colours of the cays really captivated us.
We then headed to Fox Town, on Little Abaco Island. We had to break our pattern of sticking to uninhabited islands. It was time to reprovision. It had been 2 weeks since topping up fuel and water and we still had lots. of both. Our fresh food, though, was gone. Well, that’s not quite true. We did have 2 potatoes and 4 onions stored under the sole, and one lone lemon sharing space in the fruit hammock with some garlic. Our last grocery shop was in Florida, 3 weeks ago. We rather greedily gobbled up our fresh food in the days prior to stopping at Fox Town, knowing there’s a grocery store there. Well, we’re obviously still in “western” mode, because it was a bit of a letdown to find that our supplies of fresh food on board pretty much mirrored the grocery store’s stock! So, we loaded up with all the items they carried: potatoes, onions, and green tomatoes. Although we’re in no danger of starving – we still have now-rusted cans and lots of staples that we’ve carried with us since leaving Ontario – when we do find it, fresh local fruit and vegetables will be a welcome addition to our menu.
Fox Town also promised wifi, at least according to our guide book. Well, “Da Village” restaurant’s wifi was down, but that didn’t stop us from treating ourselves to a rare lunch out.
There’s been lots of interesting finds as we explore the cays, like this prairie warbler, a first sighting for Tim.
We have found signs left by caring people,
and those left by quirky folks too.
The Abacos are popular cruising grounds. We’re not sure when most people are here, but it certainly isn’t now. At almost every anchorage we find in the northern part of the cays, we are the only ones here. It feels really special to have the beaches to ourselves … it’s allowed us to expose some usually white skin to the sun. 😉
Allans-Pensacola Cay was our next stop. It used to be 2 separate islands, but a hurricane decided to unite them.
It’s uninhabited, by humans, anyways, but lots of birds and curious lizards call it home.
Back to the topic of refuse littering these gorgeous islands. Here, visiting boaters have put effort into re-purposing the materials
We took a short hike to the Atlantic side of the cay,
and emerged to be greeted by this whimsically decorated tree where dozens (hundreds?) of cruisers had left their “we were here” signs.
How can you tell we’ve left behind the world of productivity? Perhaps by knowing how easy it is for us to spend hours on end on our shaded corner of the beach.
Or that for the better part of a day, we worked at creating our own sign. It takes a lot of effort to dig tools out from the bottom of the cockpit lockers, to scavenge for materials like wood, washed up ropes, & shells
to add our mark to the tree. Yes – that in 2017, SV Ariose, with Canadians Tim & Shirley, on board, were here, has been duly recorded.
Well, that’s it for this Ariose Note. No drama. We aren’t leaving you with any cliff hangers. Instead, we’ll just leave you a few more photos from our first weeks in the Bahamas.