Monthly Archives: April 2013

New Plymouth settlement on Green Turtle Cay, a great spot

We are enjoying our time here in Green Turtle Cay.  Since coming here a few days ago we have spent a good deal of time exploring the island, including visits to several beaches and most recently a visit to the largest settlement, actually the only settlement on the island, New Plymouth.   This “town” like so many in the Bahamas was settled shortly after the American Revolution by families loyal to the British Crown.

New Plymouth is very compact and well kept village, surrounding a tiny harbor.   As is the case in the Bahamas, there are many churches serving the locals and they are very active.  On the day we toured the area there were both a funeral and wedding going on.   What’s a local to do, so many choices?  No wait, for those who wished, they could go to both after a quick stop at home for a change of clothes.  It was clear that these two events were timed so that they would not conflict with one another, or at least not bump into each other on the narrow streets.  And, to make things easier, they were taking place at two different churches.

The funeral was a pretty big deal with a large procession of mourners processing on foot from the church to the cemetery.  The wedding reception, scheduled for later, was being set up under a large tent that had been erected over the local basketball court just adjacent to the cemetary .  The streets are very narrow, just about wide enough for a golf cart, the preferred mode of transport around town.  I understand that the bride was to be delivered to the wedding via golf cart.   We did see one tooling around with purple and white balloons all over it.  We also noticed that there were plenty of drivers of carts going down the streets with a beer in hand.  Hmm…  Hope that doesn’t lead to more funerals. 

The streets are very well kept with tidy buildings.  The plantings are great.  This was a particularly robust bougainvillea.  Pretty impressive. Hey you, drinking a beer and driving the golf cart, how about a visit to the old jail?   The creature comforts at the jail are pretty stark.   However, it is pink…The homes are very well kept.  There are several museums of life on the island.  Unfortunately, due to the funeral and wedding, they were both closed.   Great garden in back of one though.  Notice the detached kitchen.  That was to keep the heat out of the main house and to reduce the chance of burning your whole home to the ground in the event of a mishap.   Makes sense. The government offices were quite simple but nice.  There is even a immigration office, something that is available on quite a few islands in the Bahamas.  However, some if not all have restricted office hours limited to just a few days a week and never during lunch hours.   I expect that the new jail is nearby.   Wonder if it’s pink too?  Probably or a nice light blue.  What self respecting male criminal would want to spend a night in a pink jail?Brenda posed in front of the Methodist church.  She plans to write an article for the newsletter from our last church in New Jersey about some of the Methodist churches in the Bahamas.  Alas, we haven’t been good enough Christians to have actually attended one of the weekly services.  We did hear that the locals are very welcoming and encourage cruisers to attend.
The gardens were great around town.  This cactus was really nice and about to go into bloom. Another of the local orchids.  This one also growing on a tree and was in someone’s yard.I don’t know what this flowering tree is.  Pretty amazing display.
A sort of datura.  However, unlike the other ones we have seen, this one flowers in an upright manner.  Notice that the 6″ flower is a double, with a second trumpet growing out of the first.   Quite dramatic.
Sort of looks like a gardenia.  The flowers look almost like velvet and are quite large.
There is a ferry service that runs on a very regular schedule, more than once an hour, from the mainland (if you can call Great Abaco Island the mainland).  The gang waiting on the dock were some of the may funeral attendees.  There was quite a crowd.  I guess that these folks weren’t on the invite list for the wedding.
Now that I have successfully segued from gardens to water, how about a shot of a wonderful red legged heron near if not in the water?  Not the actual name but he did have red legs.  We saw him when we were out on a harbor cocktail tour in our dink last evening.  We also stopped at a little beach out near the harbor entrance and enjoyed checking the area for shells.  As it was low tide we saw lots of fun critters.  Brenda was very brave and walked among the skittering crabs, one of which actually had the audacity to bump into her foot.  The nerve…

We were thrilled to spy this beautiful sea slug in about a foot of water.  They swim gracefully through the water by undulating the “wings” that run down their sides.   This little guy was about 6″ long.  What a unique creature.  It seems that each time we visit a beach we see something quite amazing.  We also found a few great shells including these.   Hard to believe that we could just stroll along and find shells this nice just sitting there waiting to be picked up.  I wonder how they sat there after being washed up on shore. What a treat.  The long one was the first of that type we have found and was certainly the find of the day.Today we will take another walk, have lunch ashore and hang out at the marina pool for a while.  I expect that it will be an all together trying day in the Bahamas.

Green Turtle Cay and other wildlife, even green turtles.

It’s Saturday morning and the sun is out here in Green Turtle Cay.  The sun is out…how unique.  Not really as it’s nearly always sunny here.  Now that it’s spring at home this warm weather doesn’t seem quite that unique any more.  Having said that, it’s been really wonderful to be in a place where the temperature doesn’t vary by much more than ten degrees, day after day, month after month.  Some say that they’d hate to loose the change of the seasons.  I believe that those folks are just rationalizing that they live in an area where the climate is nice for about half of the year.  For the other half they are either freezing or roasting while they are chanting “I love the changing seasons, I love the changing seasons”.. Go ahead, keep trying to convince yourself.     How did the slogan go?  “It’s better in the Bahamas.”   Yes, I am convinced.

Perhaps my love of the “no season, seasons” is clouded by the fact that this is my first opportunity EVER, in my whole life, to avoid the cold.  Yes, it’s still novel but I expect that the “novelness” won’t wear off any time soon.

Ok, enough about the weather.  Let’s talk about how great this place is.

We are anchored in Green Turtle, White Sound, a lovely little harbor that is protected from all directions.  After months of running for cover every time the wind direction changes, it’s great to be somewhere secure for a while.

Yesterday we went for a walk on one of the sheltered sound side beaches.  The one that was recommended was Co-Co Bay, a mile plus long beach on the sheltered side.  We have found that the shelling is better on sheltered beaches than on the ocean side where shells tend to be ground into powder before they even reach the surf line.

The best time to look for shells, or walk on the beach, is at low tide.  It’s easier to find shells when the water is low even though the range here is about three feet. Having said that, with the full moon, the tide range yesterday was more like four feet which exposed more of the beach than normal.  That made for particularly interesting shelling.  Areas that are normally covered, even at dead low, were shallow enough to walk through.

The beach was very peaceful and serene.  Brenda and I were alone with the exception of one other person we ran into along the way.  It turns out that she was from New Jersey and visiting friends.  It’s indeed a small world.

These flats are very pretty.We don’t know what makes these little humps but some sort of critter spits out sand in great volume, creating these mounds.  Normally, they are under water but with this very low tide the view was very interesting with small bumps all over the place.  Brenda was pretty creeped out imagining what was lurking just under the surface that might grab her toes.    Alas, her desire for shells won the day and she braved the wild mounds.This beautiful star fish was over a foot across.  Believe it or not, this photo was taken through a foot of water.  That’s gin clear water.  This urchin looked like a lot of the guys that we have met who cruise, present company excluded, sort of.  A bit sparse on the top.   I expect that being “bald” will make this one an easy target for a ray or nurse shark.    Hmm… Urchin roe anyone?This little guy was very hard to spot but what an amazing creature.  He didn’t seem too terribly distressed.    I guess that he could tell that my hand was a lot softer than his shell.After a few moments he opened up to check us out.  Notice that I changed my grip when the pincers came out.The homes in this area are pretty large.  This flying boat was parked in front of a particularly nice spot.   Interestingly, just a few houses down was another identical plane.  I found myself wondering if this was a classic case of “keeping up with the Joneses”.   The first home we passed was clearly the winner as parked in front, along with the plane, was a 60′ motor yacht.  “OK, just try keeping up with that neighbor!!!”    What fun it would be to taxi down the beach, into the water and off for lunch in Miami.  I would do that.
Speaking of eating out.  (Nice segue Bob) We had a wonderful dinner last night with our friends Larry and Susan who live aboard their Valiant 42, Moira.   We have enjoyed their company a number of times over the last few months and it’s nice to be in a harbor with them again.    The dining room is just off this wonderful patio at the Green Turtle Club.  As it’s spring here (Yes, the seasons do change, a little.  It rains a bit more, but not that much.) and this native orchid was in full bloom.  I think it is an encyclia species.  Brenda and I had a greenhouse with hundreds of orchids for over 30 years.   The orchids had to go as we spent more and more time aboard.  Oh well, time marches on.   Seeing this plant brought back memories. There were hundreds, many hundreds, of little 1″ flowers.  Quite charming. Perhaps a bit random, but this guy, who went back and forth near us a number of times yesterday, reminded me of one of those duck shooting games at an arcade.   His boat seemed impossibly small and the little motor buzzing away was quite comical.
I guess that I should get the lead out and move in with my day.    Almost forgot.  When we were anchored outside of this harbor we did see a few green turtles.  It’s always funny to watch them pop up their heads to take a look.   I swear that they were looking at me, looking at them.

Enough musings for now.

Wanna visit Great Guanna? Say yes, we did!

On Tuesday we dropped the mooring in Man-O-War and headed a short 5 miles to  Great Guana Cay.  Yes, the cays (pronounced keys) as islands are known here, are very close to each other here in the Abacos.  As an aside, in Florida the keys are pronounced keys.   More logical, to my way of thinking.

The weather was uncharacteristically calm and the seas so flat that you could count the starfish as the bottom passed 20′ under Pandora.  We also saw a few “items” that must have fallen overboard from passing vessels.  How about a lawn mower, or two?  So much for pristine waterways here in paradise.  I can only imagine what the sea would cough up if we could see the bottom in most harbors up north.

There was a front approaching and within a few hours the calm conditions were no more and the wind had piped up to 20kts.  These thunderheads marked the approaching front.  The view ahead of Pandora was amazing.  I stood on the bow watching the bottom flow under us for an hour.  You could easily spot sea biscuits and sand dollars too along with star fish.  The star fish were easy to spot as some were about 18″ across. If two photos of clouds is good than a third is better.  We were happy to be on the hook when the front came though later that day.

Great Guana Cay is known for Nippers, a beach bar that is supposed to be one of the best in the Bahamas.  For us, we weren’t that impressed as it seemed a bit ratty.  Having said that, perhaps it was the fact that it was blowing a gale, sort of, and there were a few guys at the bar that were acting more like high school football players on a bender than the adults that they probably played in “real life”.   There’s something pathetic about a 50 something guy with a doo rag on his head and a beer in his hand.  Oh well…  I am happy to say that I don’t have a doo rag.   For that matter, I am not even sure how to spell it.  In spite of all that, the view was spectacular as the bar overlooks the ocean and the third barrier reef in the world.  Alas, we toughed it out and enjoyed the view. 

Yesterday afternoon the wind had cut down enough for a walk on the beach.  It’s an impressive one and in spite of the reefs that break the surf, the waves were still rolling in and crashing like they meant it.   This spot was pretty amazing as the waves crashed over and into the air with ferocity.  In spite of all the wave action the water was very clear.  The sand, because of the constant pounding is very soft and fine. After our walk on the beach we decided to try the “other” bar, Grabbers.  It was perched on the leeward side of the island, with a lot less wind.   That’s good.  We liked it very much.  They even have a pool.  Pretty nice spot.  Great view.  They call this sunset beach.  That’s because you can see the sunset from the bar, but you probably already figured that one out.  The view over the pool was very nice.  We recommend this spot.

How about a commercial for the place?  Yes, that’s me trying to look cool.  Alas, no hope.  I am just not cool material.  No comments about the hat…  I am at peace with my “un-cooleness”, mostly and totally after a few beers.   At least I don’t have a doo rag.We headed back to Pandora to enjoy the sunset.And moon rise.  What a beautiful sight.  Today?  Who knows.  Perhaps another short hop and another sandy beach.   Only two weeks till Brenda heads north so we had better cram in as much sightseeing as we can.  Time’s short.

Man-O-War Cay, a true treasure in the Bahamas

Yesterday, Sunday, we arrived here in Man-O-War Cay after a short five mile motor from Hope Town.   The flavor of this island is so different than Hope Town with it’s thriving boat building waterfront.  Hope Town is much more of an island resort and this island seems to be all business.  In some ways, nix the palms and you’d almost think that you were in Maine.  The harbor is very small and well protected and with loads of moorings, some of which are alarmingly close to one another.

Last night we went on a “cocktail cruise” in our dink and enjoyed the sights of the waterfront and harbor.   This little wooden boat caught our eye.  It seemed right at home near the rustic cabin.  Not the sort of sight that we have seen much of here in the Bahamas.  It looks like someone named Billy-Bob should live in that house.    Nearby there were several egrets that eyed us suspiciously   Fly away, not fly away, fly away…

What a beautiful sight. These lovely Abaco sloops were moored out in front of Albury’s boat shop.  They used to make a lot of these in the past but much of their work these days is in fiberglass fishing boats.   We have seen their fishing boats all over the Bahamas.  This morning we headed ashore with the hope of having breakfast but no luck.  The only spot to eat is open for lunch and dinner.  However, that did not deter as we just toughed it out until lunch.

As we were walking around we spied this lovely sloop fresh from the paint shop. 

All of the boats here on the island aren’t traditional.  I am not sure exactly what this is but expect that Jacques Cousteau would have a pretty good idea, I’ll bet.Brenda was particularly excited about coming here because the island is home to a store selling batik fabric from a company called Androsia and we were told that this store is the largest distributor for Androsia.  These fabrics are died and patterned by hand in a shop on the island of Andros,  an island that is not on our itinerary for this year.  (Andosia from Andros?  Get it?)

Brenda was in heaven and had a tough time deciding which fabric to buy.  The colors are great.  While Brenda was shopping, I was enjoying the view of the harbor from out in front of the shop.  Nice boat, that Pandora.  Wonder who’s she is?  Our next stop was the canvas shop.  This used to be THE place to have sails made for the wooden ships and sloops coming out of this harbor’s yards.  Now, descendants of the same sail makers turn out wonderful canvas bags, and lots and lots of them. Now Brenda heart was really racing.And, they were even making MORE bags.  What’s a girl with a bag fetish to do?  You guessed it.  Buy a bag!!!  In case you are wondering, Brenda showed admirable strength and resolve and only got one.  But, it was a BIG one and the PERFECT bag.   I am sure that the flight attendants will be green with envy as two or three of them help her hoist it into the overhead compartment.   “Would you like us to check that for you Miss?”.   “No, thank you, I am sure that with just a few more helpers we will able to lift it.  No really, I am sure that it will fit just fine, if we push just a bit… harder.”

The main transportation on the island is golf cart and there are well maintained concrete paths going everywhere.  The homes and yards are very well manicured.  We particularly liked this lovely garden path.There are flowers in profusion.  With more rain here than in the southern Bahamas, things are a lot more lush.   Brenda and I enjoyed the flowers.  I guess that April is a good time for flowering trees.  Do you recognize this one?  If you guessed poinsettia, you’d be right.  I expect this is what they look like if you put them out after New Years and they don’t end up under a snow drift like up north.

No idea what this vine is but they are very pretty.  The flowers are about 3″ across.The fruit of a palm but clearly not a date palm. Some sort of lily although the plant is not so lily like. These trees put out a riot of yellow flowers.    Quite a sight.These red flowers are on a bush that is trimmed into a sort of feathery hedge.  This spiny plant had an alarmingly sharp spine on the end of each leaf.Of course, the ever popular hibiscus.These 5″ flowers looked like they were made of velvet.   An amazing color.
After lunch we headed back to Pandora just ahead of a deluge of rain.  After months of sunny and dry weather it seems that we are in the rainy season.  I was told that it rains a lot in April.  It’s nice to keep the salt off of the decks.   Yes, it does look a lot like Maine.  Speaking of Maine, we’ll be there in a few months.  I had better swim while we are here because I’ll not be in the water much in Maine.

Man-O-War.  Now this is a lovely spot, rain or shine.

Abaco sloop and some fishie pix

It’s Sunday afternoon and we are waiting for the tide to rise enough to get out of the harbor for a run the few miles to Man-O-War Cay.  I have to say that it would be easy to spend a few more days, no make that another week, or more, here but it seems that we should be moving on.  Moving on is more about seeing something new than a particular need to be on the move.  This is a very pretty spot and a welcome, and more cosmopolitan change from the very rural and simple settlements that we visited earlier in our trip in the Exumas.

From our limited visit to date it seems to me that the Abacos are the “white Bahamas” as opposed to the “black Bahamas” that we have seen for much of our travels further south.  I’d also say that it seems to me that southern areas are more like what I would describe as “real” and I like that. Yes, there are blacks here too but it seems that they are the employees of the white Bahamians.

It’s hard to say which I like better but this area is much more like the US than the Bahamas, as nice as it is.  It’s certainly easier with more, if fewer, protected harbors.

A traditional boat type that was developed in the Abacos is called the Abaco sloop.  I understand that these “type” boats are still made in Man-O-War Cay and I am looking forward to seeing a shop, or two, while we are there.   This one has been sailing all over the harbor since we arrived.  She is a very nice boat with beautiful lines.We saw another one that was stored, as they all seem to be, under a shed roof.  In this sun the seams would dry out pretty fast and the boat wouldn’t hold up for long.  A pretty view from the “boat house”.   Getting things around town, with the very narrow streets, is a challenge.  Sometimes, it seems, you have to improvise.  Perhaps enclosing this photo is a bit random but I though it was fun.  With water being in such short supply here these tanks are used to catch rain water, as infrequent as it is.  Speaking of rain, we had a deluge last night and the dink was filled about half way to the gunnels this morning.  I guess that this tank would have filled up PDQ had it been in place. So, now for the “fishy” part.  I have taken quite a few videos but it seems that they just don’t look as good as it seemed when I took them.  Perhaps underwater photography is one of those “you had to be there to appreciate it” sort of things.

Having said that, here’s two that are pretty good.  This one is of a very nice queen trigger that I saw back in Warderick Wells, in the park area.
This one includes a shot of a really pretty nurse shark with his or her own personal remora in tow.
Well,  perhaps this post has a bit of seemingly unrelated items.  However, it’s my blog so there…


The Hope Town light. They hated it then, they love it now.

One of the most iconic images of the Bahamas is the candy striped lighthouse here in Hope Town, a lighthouse that is very much a part of the island and culture here.  It seems that the love of the lighthouse wasn’t always the case in it’s early days.

The early residents of Hope Town were transplanted loyalists who escaped the newly formed United States following the revolution.  Their goal was to bring to this little Bahamas Island the life that they left behind in the States.  They planned to transplant their agrarian lifestyle, complete with slaves, from the life that they had left behind in a country that no longer wished to be connected with their British homeland.

However, there was one important problem that they seemed to overlook in their goal to begin anew and that was the availability of the water to grow crops.  Oops…  It seems that this island, as is the case with so many here in the Bahamas, lacked a good source of fresh water.  Alas, growing crops wasn’t going to work for them.

So, what’s a loyalist to do?  Here’s an idea, let’s salvage wrecked ships…  As luck would have it, not for ships but great for the island residents, the reefs just offshore, on the Atlantic side, were particularly nasty and claimed many ships each year.  It seems that poorly marked reefs were as much a part of the Bahamas back then as they are today.

The reefs were not so great for the ships and their crews, but a great opportunity for the new residents of Hope Town.  Here’s an idea for a business plan… Let’s rescue the crews and passengers of those foundering ships?   Oh yeah, and we’ll keep the cargo and salvageable portions of the ships to compensate us for our troubles.  On top of that, we can take the wood from the ships, build new ships, and sell them too.

Good news, sinking ship persons!  We’ll rescue you.  Bad news… about your valuable cargo.  Finders keepers…  Sounds like a pretty good business model, actually, and it was.

So, fast forward to a time when there was a move to put up lighthouses, to warn unsuspecting mariners, along some of the particularly nasty areas of the Bahamas.   What do you think that the residents of this island said to the idea of a lighthouse to warn ships that they were straying into dangerous waters?  You guessed it.  NIMBY! (If you’ve been living under a linguistic rock, it means Not in my back yard.).

The islanders fought tooth and nail to keep this lighthouse from being constructed, even going so far as denying the construction workers access to fresh water to make concrete.  Keeping a lighthouse, designed to save lives is a particularly interesting way to keep the local economy healthy, for sure and probably not an unexpected response from folks who kept slaves.

After years of wrangling, the lighthouse was eventually built and today it is one of the most beloved symbols of this still fiercely independent island community.

While the Bahamian government has let most of the lights and markers fall into disrepair in these waters, the Hope Town light not only operates each evening, but it is still powered by kerosene and it’s original cable and weight mechanism that has kept the light rotating since the mid 1800s.

The once maligned and now beloved light is kept operating by a group of volunteers that have done a wonderful job of keeping a Bahamas icon in top shape when every other light has been converted to electric operation, if it operates at all.  This is what Wickipedia has to say about Hope Town and this remarkable landmark.

Hope Town   “Hope Town features one of the last operational kerosene-fueled lighthouses in the world. This lighthouse was built in 1862 and became operational two years later,[1] it is striped horizontally red and white. Its light can be seen from 23 nmi (43 km) away.[2]

The Hope Town Lighthouse is one of only three Manual Lighthouses left in the World. It has a spring mechanism that has to be hand cranked every several hours to maintain the sequence of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The lamp burns kerosene oil with a wick and mantle. The light is then focused as it passes through the optics of a first order Fresnel lens[1] which floats on a bed of mercury.”

Brenda and I took a self guided tour of the light and were really impressed with it.  I loved the machinery and inner workings of the light.  Brenda was impressed with just how creepy it all was. Yeah, nice inner workings Bob…  Seen enough?

The light stands like a candy striped sentinel over the harbor.  It’s the tallest thing in the area, higher than even the BATELCO cell tower.  This view, from town, shows just how big this light is relative to the low islands of the Bahamas.The grounds, while a little scruffy, are well kept. There is a wonderful spiral staircase with some 200 steps.  Brenda loved that feature the best, as you can imagine.  Can you say dizzy?  Wait, is that rust I see? Are those stairs safe to stand on…At the bottom of the staircase there are a number of five gallon jugs of kerosene waiting to be carried up the 200 steps to power the light.  I’ll bet that the keepers are in great cardio shape after feeding this light night after night.  The kerosene is pressurized in these chambers to keep the light burning.   Pop quiz…  What is the operating pressure needed to keep the light burning?  The gears that make the light turn are really wonderful.  It’s hard to believe that this mechanism has been cranking steadily since 1864.  Perhaps it’s their liberal use of the ever handy “3-in-one” oil.  Can’t anyone pick up after themselves?The views from the top are spectacular.  Can you pick out Pandora down below?For the more “mature” readers…  Yes Mom and Dad, that’s you.  Here’s a, sort of, close up of Pandora.  As you descend that wonderful spiral, there are a number of windows with great storm shutters and fabulous views.  Can you imagine what it would be like to stand in front of this window when a hurricane is blasting through town?  Good thing that the wall thickness is measured in feet instead of inches.  It’s clear that the residents of Hope Town will continue to fight to keep this lovely landmark operating with as much enthusiasm as their fore bearers fought to keep the tower from being built.  That’s a good thing.

So, how about Pandora’s first season in the Bahamas?

It’s hard to believe that we have been here in the Bahamas for three months.  It was on January 18th that we cleared into Nassau and began our journey through the Bahamas.

In some ways it seems like it’s been a lifetime since we crossed over from Ft Lauderdale and yet in some way it feels like we have been here for just a few weeks.  Our perception of time aboard has changed.   For our nearly 40 years of sailing, our trips used to be measured in days, weeks at most.  Now, with months aboard we aren’t in as much of a rush… “Let’s fit in as much as we can into this weekend!”  Now we often stay in the same harbor for a week at a time, something that would have been unthinkable prior to this trip.

We have seen and experienced so much, so many firsts…

Preparing to head out into the “almighty and scary” Gulf Stream was a major focus for months with fretting on what it would be like.  In retrospect, it was not that much of an event, probably because we chose a good weather window and were well prepared.  Actually, some of our longer crossings here in the Bahamas have been much worse.  Go figure.

Brenda’s first overnight sail was a very big deal for her as she had never done that before.  For me, it was my first overnight that involved water so shallow that you could see the bottom, in the dark!!!  And doing this with no aids to navigation made me very anxious.

Having spent my life sailing in the ever-so-well-marked US waters, sailing toward the impossibly narrow Northwest Channel Light in the middle of the night with squalls all around (where there are absolutely some nasty rocks but, alas, no light) was a major fright for me.  Passing between rocks in the wee hours of the morning that would have torn the bottom out of Pandora while she was barreling along on a broad reach made my mouth dry.    The problem was that I did not trust the Explorer Charts and the recommended waypoints to steer toward yet as I had not used them before.

As it turns out, the coordinates, as I had been told many times by those who knew about such things,  were indeed “spot on”.    However, on that first night when we ran from Ft Lauderdale to Nassau to clear in, I have to say that I wasn’t confident and, more than a few times, wondered if our trip to the Bahamas might end up being one of the shortest on record.   For sure, the squalls that hit us off and on that night contributed to my unease.

So, what was the Bahamas like?  Well, that depends…

The Bahamas, or should I say, the Bahamians are very friendly.   The people that we have met have been warm, welcoming and quick with a “good morning”.    Everywhere we have gone we have met folks who are proud of their country and when they learned that it was our first visit, they wanted to know where we had been and what our impressions were.  Mostly, they dress with care, perhaps no better defined than by the uniforms worn by school children and the very natty uniformed police.

We experienced the very rural, perhaps best defined for us by our time in Rum Cay where it’s so remote that the entire island only has about 50 full time residents, all of whom, including the resident dogs, show up in force when the weekly mail boat arrives.  Having grown up near New York, where nearly everything is available 7 days a week, these out-islands were a very new experience.   Imagine having your life and everything you need be dependent on the once-a-week boat showing up?   On some islands the mail boat is more of a “ship”, well, sort of a ship…On others, like this one that services several islands in the Exuma chain, perhaps “boat” is a better word.One way or the other, EVERYTHING that comes to these islands comes from somewhere else.    On top of that, there is precious little to choose from in the tiny shops.  And if you come in a few days after the mail boat, there’s not likely to be much in the way of fresh food left.

When we were preparing for our trip and provisioning the boat back in the US, we did wonder, more than once, if we were overdoing it with all that we were putting on board.  Did we really need 20+ packages of pasta?  (Actually, it turns out that we needed more than that)  We have needed most of what we brought and more.  It’s a good idea to bring what you need to live for months from the states as purchasing it here in the Bahamas was going to be much more expensive, if it’s available at all.  The fact that the government puts a 40% import duty on everything that comes in makes many items a lot more expensive than in the States, if you can get it at all.  And that combined with the complexity of getting it to the islands makes the final cost on the smaller islands very expensive and about twice the cost of the same item in the States.

Making friends has been really great.  Sometimes for a week or more we would “buddy boat” with another couple when we were both going the same way.  When our plans were no longer in sync, we headed our separate ways with a promise too hook up again soon, if not here, perhaps this summer in Maine.

Miles and Loreen aboard Ariel, are a couple that that we enjoyed spending time with.  They shared some of their favorite spots with us including Compass Cay, where we mugged it up with some of the “locals”.  We hope to see them again in Maine and I expect that they will visit us in Essex too.  Harry and Melinda from SeaSchell, took us under their wing and showed us the ropes during the early weeks of our trip and Melinda, along with Maureen from Kaluna Moo made a point of recognizing Brenda’s birthday.  Can you tell that she was a happy birthday girl?  We loved the opportunity to learn new things.  Brenda learned basket making from Nancy on Trumpeter, who shared this Bahamas art form with her.   I have to say that Brenda’s getting pretty good at this and has 9 under her belt to date.  One thing that we haven’t gotten used to is the difficulty of doing laundry.  I won’t admit how long we have gone between cleaning the sheets but it’s sufficient to say that it was WAY TOO LONG.  Getting haircuts has proved to be tough too and it’s not a matter of finding a suitable spot to have your hair cut.  It’s about finding ANY place to have your hair cut.  I went for three months between cuts and by the end, which came a few days ago, I felt that I had a small mammal perched on my head, and it wasn’t a very cooperative mammal.

Speaking of wildlife.    We’ve seen plenty.   In particular, the number of sharks , that we have seen.   Most were the harmless nurse sharks, but not all.  In Rum Cay, in addition to the nurse sharks, there were plenty of Lemon and Bull sharks, and they aren’t selective about what they eat when there’s blood in the water.  Where ever there are fish being cleaned there are sharks.  There are loads of turtles but, alas, they are just too fast to take pictures of.  In some places, we saw literally dozens of the 2′ wonders swimming about.

We really love these little curly tailed lizards.  They are everywhere and are oddly curious, often running up to you for a better look.  These tropical long tail birds are beautiful.  Oddly, there aren’t a lot of birds in the Bahamas but these are some of the most beautiful. Perhaps the most complicated part of being in the Bahamas is the weather.  Because most of the anchorages are only protected from one wind direction, you have to be constantly aware of the coming weather, not just tomorrow but days from now.  There were several times when we found ourselves 25 or 50 miles from protection and only a day or so to get there in advance of nasty, unfavorable winds.  That makes for high anxiety and something that has taken some getting used to.  However, assisted by the ever patient Chris Parker, the weather router that we use, we have made it around just fine and in doing so have had some amazing sailing.  

This photo of Pandora was taken by Jay of  Take Two whom we had never met prior to his presenting us with photos of Pandora, under sail.  Jay came up to our boat a few days ago and presented me with these and several other photos.  He took them when we were sailing across the Northwest Providence Channel about a week ago.  Take Two has been the home of Jay and Tanya for the last 5 years.  They began their journey with their 4 children on board and now have 5 including  a two year old.  Yikes!!!   I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be on board with that many folks.  Check out their blog to learn more about this remarkable family.  

Nice photos from Jay?  I think so.

So what do we think of our visit to the Bahamas?  All and all, it has been great with fabulous weather, warm water and spectacular sunsets.   Yes, there have been challenges but much of that was anxiety about the unknown as it’s all so new to us.  But, now that we have been here for a few months, it all seems clearer.  Well, a little bit clearer anyway…

So, we will make the best of the next few weeks prior to Brenda’s flight back to the states and our “other life” in Essex.  I look forward, with a bit of anxiety, to my 900 mile trip back to New England and hope that the weather will cooperate for a quick passage.

Speaking of making the best of things.  We enjoyed a nice visit to a resort yesterday, the Hope Town Inn and Marina.   For the price of a beer, or two, we were able to spend a few hours in the pool.  What a spot and only a short dink ride from Pandora.   Can you say “fresh water?”  It was great.  We may never leave here.Today we will rent a golf cart to tour the island with our friends Jeff and Susan from Meltemi.    We ran into them yesterday as they entered the harbor.  We had not seen them since we were in St Mary’s around Thanks Giving.  With all the islands in the Bahamas, it’s indeed a small world.

Hope Town. The real Bahamas? Only the loyalists know for sure…

As the American revolution was heating up and it seemed that the British would be expelled from The Colonies, those loyal to the Crown fled the soon to be  United States.  Many of them settled in the Bahamas and some in the Abacos on Elbow Cay and founded the lovely village of Hope Town.

Today, Tuesday, Brenda and I weighed anchor in Marsh Harbor and made the short trek, less than 10 miles, to Hope Town.  While we enjoyed Marsh Harbor (I finally got a haircut, my first since January) this island, even though it is very close to Marsh Harbor, is beautiful and a world apart.

When I was reading some of the comments on Active Captain, a sort of Web based cruising guide, one reviewer likened Hope Town to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, a lovely spot known for their tiny Victorian cottages.  I agree, Hope Town has the same feel and is actually even nicer and better kept.  We went ashore and toured the Island, primarily to find a spot for dinner tonight and here are some of the sights we enjoyed.

The main settlement of Hope Town is built around a very compact harbor.  The homes are lovely and each is more beautifully kept than the last.  The colors of the buildings, in true Bahamas style, are very brightly painted.

These two pink buildings, perfectly maintained, with green grass all around, are home to an art gallery.  How magnificent.
Out in back of the gallery, with a view of the ocean, is a lovely deck.  I’d love to have this sort of layout on the back of our home in Essex.    I can’t imagine a better spot to host a gallery opening.  I’d go, assuming that they were serving wine.  That’s what they do at openings, right?The island is known for it’s candy stripe lighthouse.  It’s the last manned light and only kerosene light in the country.  The keeper still winds the mechanism and lights the lamp each night.  Actually, there are precious few lights that are maintained at all, manned or not in this country.   I expect that the locals have something to do with this status of this light as there is clearly money on this little island. This is a good example of one of the “streets” that run all around the island.  Golf carts are the preferred form of transportation.   The plantings are lovingly maintained. This was a particularly lovely walkway on someone’s property.  The large pendent trumpet flowers are datura.  Really impressive flowers.  Some folks in the US grow them as a summer patio plant.  Here, they grow well year round. Some of the plantings on the island are very old.  This one is from Captain Bligh’s stash of breadfruit plants brought on the Bounty from Tahiti.   Pretty amazing.  Someone has worked hard to keep this plant living for all this time.  Breadfruit is clearly not an invasive species as this tree is showing it’s age.
Everywhere you turn there is another lovely home to enjoy.   The trim work on this one is perfect. So, did we find the perfect spot for dinner tonight?  You betcha!!! We will be dining at the Hope Town Lodge.  Check out their site as it really gives a feel for how nice the place is.  The dining room requires “appropriate attire”.  “What would appropriate attire be”, I asked?  Hoping that we had something suitable aboard Pandora.  The answer was shorts and a polo shirt…and shoes.  Whew… I can do that.

Prior to dining we will enjoy one of our favorite “adult beverages” on this terrace.  As luck would have it, the patio faces west so we can enjoy yet another Bahamas sunset.  I can hardly wait.  So, is this the real Bahamas?   Right again and one of our favorite stops yet.   

Getting into the Abaco groove and a blue hole

After a few days in Little Harbor, we moved up island a bit to Marsh Harbor.   Marsh Harbor is the third largest city in the Bahamas and a good provisioning spot for anyone planning to cruise the northern Bahamas.  It’s been an alarmingly long time since we have had access to laundry and  a proper grocery and we are anxious to have clean sheets and some fresh food.

And, provisioning has been on our mind so far and with less than 24 hours in the harbor we have already visited the grocery twice.   Can you say avocados     Don’t ask what they cost…

The evening before last we had rain for the third time since arriving in the Bahamas in mid January.  It rained hard and for several hours.  The dink filled up with some 6” of water and the boat was very well rinsed.   Everything had gotten pretty salty over the last few weeks since the last rain so we were happy to have a rinse-off.

As you may recall, prior to our arriving in Marsh Harbor, we spent a few days in Little Harbor.  While we were there we went for a walk and visited a small blue hole that someone had told us about.  A blue hole is a salt water pond where the water has worn away the limestone rock and connected the hole to the ocean through an underground cave which might be a mile or more away.    As a result, as the tides rise and fall, the water in the blue hole rises and drops too.  These holes can be miles from the ocean and yet have a connection so that fish can swim from one end to the other.    One of the blue holes in George Town is reputed to be over 5 miles long from the “hole” to it’s ocean source.

In this case, the hole was very small and came up in the middle of the island over a mile from the ocean, assuming that the cave from hole to ocean was in a straight line, which it might not be.   The water in this hole was perfectly clear and just chock full of reef fish and some varieties that I had not seen prior to this spot.Some of the folks that we has spoken to had taken fins and mask and had gone for a dip in the “pool”.  It hardly looks big enough to swim around in, though.

The vegetation in the Abacos, while still pretty desert like, was much more lush than in the Exumas and areas south of there.   I expect that it’s greener here as there are so many more cold fronts with squalls and rain showers hitting this area in the winter than further south.  These cacti were pretty impressive specimens. Bromeliads (related to pineapple but grow on other plants and not in the ground) are fairly abundant too and quite large.  This one was about 2’ tall.   We also saw some native orchids,  but none were in bloom.  I think that they were encyclia.On our way back to the harbor we passed this very nicely painted home.  It seems that bright colors carry the day here.   Colorful buildings are the norm here.  Even the government offices are brightly painted, usually pink.   I like it.So, after two days in Little Harbor we made our way out of the channel, which is only three feet deep at low tide, and sailed north to Marsh Harbor.  The run was about 15 miles and quite circuitous given the many sandbars and shallow shoals that we had to go around to make the run.  I was very glad to have a self tending jib so that jibing around each way point and shoal was less of a production.  By the time we made it to within sight of Marsh Harbor the wind had piped up to over 20kts ahead of a squall which made for a spirited sail.

Last night we will have a couple over for cocktails to share stories and to hear what their first winter in the Bahamas was like.  They were from Rochester NY so I am sure that the temperatures here was a welcome change from winters at home.

Today we did laundry!!!  Clean sheets!!!  I tried to get a haircut, my first one in several months.  No luck…  Hopefully tomorrow morning.



Enjoying Little Harbor Bahamas and some molten bronze.

It’s Friday morning, the sun is up, the surf is pounding in the distance and it’s another wonderful day aboard Pandora.

Yesterday we enjoyed the sights ashore in Little Harbor, a diminutive harbor here in the Abacos.   For our friends aboard Nati, this is their favorite harbor in all of the Abacos and one that they enjoy visiting at least one each season.

After only one day here I can certainly understand why this is a spot that’s so popular with cruisers and charters alike.  The harbor is totally protected, unlike most in the Bahamas that only offer limited protection from wind and seas, and it has the wonderful shore side attraction of Pete’s Pub on the beach.

Pete’s Pub is one of those quintessential beach bars complete with palm trees and and open air bar.  The food is quite good and we enjoyed one of the best hamburgers in quite some time.  Most spots in the Bahamas serve fried foods and to get something that hasn’t been bathed in oil and served along with french fries was a treat.  The burger came with a wonderful pineapple slaw and some Bahamas rice.  Yum…

For me, this photo says it all.  A real beach bar where you pull your dink up on the sand and step inside to watch the afternoon setting sun while bathed in warm tropical breezes.   Actually, “inside” is a relative term as there are no walls and the floor is sand.  It’s a fun and colorful place. Brenda and our friend Anne of Nati enjoying a cool one on one of the decks in  comfortable Adirondack chairs. While Pete’s Pub is the center of the social scene in these parts, the harbor is also the home of a world renowned sculpture studio that creates and casts work in bronze.   As luck would have it, the studio had scheduled a pour for yesterday and had invited anyone interested in viewing the process to visit the studio.  I understand that this studio is fairly unique in that they do the design of the pieces as well as the casting, a combination that is not common.  Most sculptors take their work to a foundry and have the actual casting done by someone else.   We met a young women,  Kristen, who was visiting for a few months to assist in the studio and work on her own pieces.  She was very nice and talked to us for a while about her work.  As the studio has been around for many years, there is a riot of old molds for designs everywhere along with some great pieces on display. I was particularly struck by this piece of a pompano fish, about two feet long.  I would love to have this in our home in Essex.  I didn’t even ask about a price, if it was for sale at all, as I was certain that it was well above our pay grade. The area around the studio had a number of large pieces on display.  These two really big rays were a wonderful installation that would also be perfect for our yard in Essex.  I wonder how they would look under three feet of snow?   Hopefully, I won’t be in Essex to find out any time soon when there’s that much snow on the ground. The furnace, powered by diesel fuel, was blasting away all day and around 2:30 the guys suited up in protective gear for the pour.  Imagine how hot it was in all those clothes.  Sweat much?They poured about a half dozen pieces in just a few minutes.  It was quite a spectacle.   After they are removed from the mold, there is plenty of work to be done before they are sold.  Right next door there is a very nice gallery where you can view, and purchase, their work.   To look at it, the gallery would be just as much at home in Arizona as in the Bahamas.  We have enjoyed watching rays in the water over the last few months and couldn’t resist purchasing one of the little cousins of the big ray sculptures in the outdoor installation to take home.   While not large enough to put in the garden, it will look great on our coffee table.  It’s all wrapped up so you will have to wait till you visit to see what it looks like.

Along the waterfront are lovely palms and well kept sandy roads and beaches.   This place is quite scenic and being the home to some artists has likely contributed to the look of the place. Of course, a shot of the harbor and Pandora is always nice to have in a post.   Isn’t this scenic?    You will have to trust me that Pandora’s in the picture, framed by palms swaying in the tropical breezes.  Get the picture?   I could get used to this.  No wait, I AM USED TO THIS!!!There’s even a very nice boardwalk leading from the Pub to the beach, complete with a nice bronze piece along the way. When you reach the top of the walkway this view greets you.  Pretty dramatic.  I am always struck by how violent the seas look from land and never seem anywhere as nasty from the deck of a boat.    Having said that, I expect nasty wouldn’t begin to describe the view if you were close to this shore in a boat.  These breakers would make quick work of Pandora if they had the chance.  Better be sure I never get close.    Note to self…stay well away from the hard stuff.All and all, Little Harbor, and it is indeed little, is a great spot and our timing to visit couldn’t have been better.