Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Nitty Gritty

Our original plan for this trip was a modified comma course. We would sail from south Florida to the northernmost Bahama islands; visit, explore and enjoy that island and then proceed south to the next island and repeat the process working our way south until we ran out of money or until Mary Ann refused to sleep in a triangular-shaped bed any longer. A good plan! Short day sails from one island fringed by sandy beaches and palm trees to another.
Of course, our sojourn in the Bahamas has been nothing like that. The weather has been the greatest limiting factor. The weather is milder, even than south Florida, but is much windier. Many days the winds blow 20-30 knots all day and the smartest course is to remain at anchor in a protected harbor. Some days it is exciting (and wet) just to motor the dinghy from the boat to the dock. A trip out into the ocean is in fact dangerous as it is hard to find the gaps in the reef when 10-foot waves are breaking all across the opening.
Other concerns include: food, water, ice, church, laundry, and propane. Marsh Harbour, on Great Abaco Island, is perhaps the least beautiful of our stops, but the town has everything we need. Take food for example; everything in the Bahamas is more expensive than in the States,but when one gets to the out islands, also called the family islands, the price goes way up. Shortly before leaving, I bought a gallon of milk at the Glendale Ave. Krogers for about $ 2.25; at the Marsh Harbour supermarket the same gallon costs $4.00, but two days ago in Hope Town milk cost me $ 8.50 for the gallon.
We also require fresh water every few days. Fifty gallons goes pretty fast, especially with showers after swimming. It’s not free, however; good reverse osmosis water runs 20 cents per gallon.
Since our refrigerator runs down the boat batteries so quickly, our fridge is functionally an ice chest. That means one block of ice per day ($4-$5 per ) or the expensive milk will be chunky and the sandwich meat will be green. Have you ever washed down a green ham sandwich with warm Diet Pepsi?
Catholic masses are also harder to find than we expected. The large majority of Bahamians are Christian, but most are protestant, and again Marsh Harbour has regular Catholic masses at St. Francis (with a ten-minute sign of peace).
The same principle applies with propane and laundry; we need to fill our propane tank every two weeks or we can’t cook (or even make coffee!). Again, the only settlement which offers same-day propane is Marsh Harbour. Laundry must be washed every 5-6 days and Marsh Harbour has two laundromats. Laundry at the marina costs $8.00 a load, but white shirts remain fairly white.
There are probably yachts down here which are virtually self-sufficient, equipped with: water makers, solar panels, satellite dishes, washing machines, generators, and very large fuel tanks, but not the Peregrine.
As I write this we are moored in Little Harbor; sandy beaches, coconut palms, snorkeling reefs, and ragged caves are abundant. Pete’s Pub and Art Gallery (check offers overpriced drinks, some food (the cheeseburger runs either $13 or $14 depending on type of cheese) and bronze sculpture at really high prices, but no water, propane, laundry, church, or milk at any price. I suppose a Wal-Mart Super center near the beach would lessen the charm.) So, if the winds are less than 30 knots tomorrow, it’s back to Marsh Harbour to fill our propane tank and our other basic needs.
May all of you enjoy the best possible Near Year.
(note on photos: No doubt most of you realize that you may click on the photo for an enlarged view; if you haven't, try it. The underwater photos were all taken by members of the Peregrine crew (most by Sam). Unfortunately, Sam is now in Ohio where the water is currently hard. Since we still have many of Sam's photos saved on the compuer we will continue to include a few.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Man-o-War Cay, Merry Christmas, Farewell Sam

We arrived at the settlement on Man-o-War Cay on a gusty Tuesday afternoon with mixed expectations, since some of tour cruising guides are scarcely willing to recommend anchoring here. A substantial percentage of cruisers consider rich food and strong drink as the essential to the the lifestyle, but there are only two restaurants on Man-o-War Cay and no bars or liquor stores. Man-o-War turns out to be unusual in many ways.
Upon arriving, we first encountered a 60-year-old black Bahamian man, John, in the shack on the fuel dock watching Dr. Phil on TV who was discussing threats to family relationships at Christmas.
Surprisingly, Man-o-War is very clean. The Bahamas (and Eric might suggest most second and third world countries) are afflicted with litter, but not here. The streets are clean, and the yards are not just well-maintained, but garden like. (I have included several garden photos Mary Ann took while walking the island.) Although the harbor and marina are full of boats, the island is dominated by the locals (probably 90% are white descendants of the Loyalists who colonized the cay 200 years ago) and unlike Hope Town, there are few rental cottages or evidence of tourists.
The very industrious folks apparently support themselves through their own labor. The original wood boat-building industry has been replaced by construction of fiberglass boats at Albury Brothers boatyard. There are two other boatyards, Edwins 1 and Edwins 2 (I think Edwin owns both of them) which build and repair various boats. On Wednesday night, Mary Ann and I were surprised to see at 8:00 PM that Albury Brothers shop (full of tools and materials) was left open and unlocked after the employees had departed for home.
We also noticed that services were being held at the New Life Bible Church and the ladies in church were wearing chapel veils. Three protestant churches serve the spiritual needs of the town’s 600 residents.
There are no full-size cars or trucks on the island; everyone drives golf carts or surprisingly tiny trucks. And the residents appear to be fertile; the golf carts frequently contain more than one child (though they are never wearing safety belts).
So, Man-o-War Cay is a clean, safe, picturesque, Christian, industrious community where alcoholism is pursued in private (rather than celebrated in waterside bars), and which seems to have just about perfect weather (except for hurricanes). The coastal scenery is also gorgeous, but you’ve probably grown tired of me telling you that; I’ll just attach some photos.
We are a bit melancholy right now since we are away from all of you at Christmas and because we must say good-bye to Sam on the morning of the 26th; Sam is returning to his engineering studies at the University of Toledo. He is probably feeling ready to return home, but we will miss him much. Sam has: been good and cheering company, helped move the boat in the right direction, spent untold hours forcing the principles of algebra in Annie’s sometimes resistant head, been a friend to all of us, playing countless games of “crazy eights” with his sister (including their own variations of the game). An important member of our crew will be missing when Sam’s plane lifts off Tuesday morning. God’s speed, Sam.
Finally, the merriest of Christmas to you all; enjoy all the delights of the season which we will miss.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hope Town, The Abacos 12/18

On Wednesday we finally got out of Marsh Harbour and headed south along the islands which border the east side of the Sea of Abaco. We anchored on the east shore of Tilloo Cay, a lonely spot near a small reef which we snorkeled on Wednesday and Thursday, the best reef so far.
On Thursday, we sailed to Hope Town, another of the villages which was founded originally by New England Loyalists who fled the American Revolution.
Friday night we enjoyed a special treat as Hope Town performed their Christmas play in the local Methodist church. The cast ranged in age from about three years to 40 or so. The very small kids played the angels and the sheep and they got the most applause. (I’m unsure about the racial overtones, but two of the sheep were little black boys who wore whiteface makeup to better match their wooly costumes.)
Sunday Communion service in Hope Town was held under a tree in a small park next to the harbor, simple and beautiful. The Advent wreath was imitation pine boughs, with some sparkly tinsel wrapped around it and suspended from a branch of the tree. The candles stayed lit but they burned fast in the gentle breeze. I could hear mockingbirds and ringed-neck turtle doves around. We sang acappella. There were a handful of well-dressed little children who quickly climbed the tree when they arrived.
Eventually, their mom scolded them and they came down. I
didn't see the parents since we were in the front row of wooden benches which were our pews.
Right after mass, Annie, Sam and Mary Ann changed into swimsuits in the public restroom and hit the beach. After about an hour Mary Ann wanted to climb the steps and sit on a wooden bench at the top of the beach since she was tired of sitting in the sand.
When she reached the top of the steps, a little tyke passed her politely saying, "Excuse me." Here came a few more kids and eventually the mom and dad. After exchanging hellos Mary Ann looked at the mom and said, "I know you!" She looked a bit puzzled, then stuck out her hand and said, "I'm Lori. This is my husband Chuck." It was Lori Hawes, from Toledo, St. Joes!
Mary Ann and Lori spent the next half hour gabbing with each other and exchanging all sorts of info. We had seen the Hawes children in the tree before mass.
Talk about a SMALL WORLD!
Later, Mary Ann and I joined an elderly man on that bench above the beach. He was in his late 70’s and frail looking, but has lived a very accomplished life; he is in fact a famous craftsman. Winer Malone is descended from one of the original British Loyalists and is the last in a line of wooden boat builders. Winer has spent the past 50 years of his life building wooden boats by hand (no power tools, no blueprints). His best-known design is he Abaco dingy, a classic twelve-foot, dinghy usually propelled by a long sculling oar over the transom or a sail; these dinghies were used for fishing, travel, courtship . . . But Winer has built his last dinghy; his children and grandchildren have moved to Florida (where the living is easier), and he can’t afford to see his grandchildren often. He isn’t happy about the changes in the Abacos, but he enjoys the fresh breeze off the Atlantic and the fabulous colors here (which cameras can’t quite capture). The 45-minutes we spent conversing with him was a great privilege.

Peregrine Geography

A month ago, I included an update on the geography of our travels which was followed by at least one request that I do so more often. So today I am attaching two maps which outline the trip down the Intracoastal Waterway from 10/25 'til 12/2 and another chart describing our early movements in The Bahamas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Whale Cay Passage and Marsh Harbor 12/10

After four nights in New Plymouth, we enjoyed diminished winds Thursday morning, so we decided to head a bit further south in the Abacos to Marsh Harbour. This requires a brief passage out into the ocean and then back onto the reef-protected Little Bahama Bank. There was little wind and the ocean swells (4-6 feet) were gentle, round, and spaced 50-60 feet, so we had an easy ride; it was as close as we could get to a winter sleigh ride.
Soon after returning to the Bank, we approached a beach too lovely to pass, at Bakers Bay on Great Guana Cay, so we dropped the hook and dinghied ashore for some snorkeling and exploring. A few years ago, this spot was a stop for the Disney cruise ships, but they bailed out on it and Thursday we had the beach to ourselves. After swimming and lunch, we sailed on to Marsh Harbour which is the third biggest town in The Bahamas (5,500 pop.) and a base of operations for many cruising sailors. Marsh Harbour lacks some of the charm of New Plymouth, but it does have two real supermarkets, ATMs, four marinas, and two marine stores.
Sharp contrasts abound in Marsh Harbour. There are luxurious yachts in the marinas and high-priced resorts alongside poorly paved streets, mongrel dogs running loose and raggedy men drinking beer on the corners. Nevertheless, Bahamian children appear well taken care of and at mass the little boys wore dress shirts and small shiny ties. We listen to the news every morning (read by Silbert Mills), and so far as I can tell there is no crime here.
Luckily, Marsh Harbour was having its Christmas festival Saturday night a few blocks from the marina and there were many entertainments including a performance by the Royal Bahamian Police Marching Band. The music was well-played, Christmassy and fun, which they performed while executing synchronized marching in the street. The crowd loved it, and I was especially impressed by the real leopard skins (complete with dead leopard heads) worn by the drummers. Harmony reigned at the festival but all the music, including Feliz Navidad, was performed with a Bahamian beat. The food was great; the lobster dinner (with two fresh lobster tails) was $14, and the barbecued ribs were making lots of smoke and going fast.
Another highlight, Mary Ann and I were interviewed on camera by Silbert Mills in person who was wearing a white baseball hat, but who speaks like an upper-class Englishman.
On Sunday morning a van from St. Francis DeSales picked us up and delivered us to mass at the beautiful little octagonal church in a rocky canyon outside of town. The congregation was a remarkable racial and social mix, about equal parts white and black with a sprinkling of Asians. Father Waja is Filipino, but his English was easier to understand than the Bahamian accent. The sign of peace went on for several minutes with retired American bankers and penniless Haitian immigrants all wishing each other peace. Especially memorable was an elderly woman offering a wonderful rendition of “Ave Maria”. She was blessed with a clear, soprano, operatic voice and must have been an accomplished performer in earlier years. Again, this was in some contrast with the highly rhythmic (even reggae) hymns sung by the church youth choir.
We will probably make Marsh Harbour our base of operations too, but plan to sail away for a few days this week visiting surrounding islands.

Annie at the Beach

Hey, this is Annie; sorry it’s been so long. I will make this entry short and sweet ‘cause I have a lesson of math to do, two of science, and read some literature, all before lunch!
Yesterday we (Sam and I) went snorkeling. It was great! Sam let me use his underwater camera and I took some great pics. One is of a Peacock Flounder which is kind of hard , no, it’s really hard to see. It’s right in the middle of the picture, so just stare at it and pretend you know what you’re seeing. I found some beautiful shells - a particularly colorful one that unfortunately was occupied by a hermit crab. And I found a six-holed keyhole urchin, more commonly known as a sand dollar! It was a beautiful coral reef.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rough Crossing, Sweet Arrival -- Green Turtle Cay, The Bahamas 12/5

We finally tore ourselves loose from Vero Beach (also called Velcro Beach) on December 1, and headed down to Palm Beach. We had been sharing a mooring buoy (rafted on) with two other boats for seven nights, but luckily all our mooring buddies were affable, considerate cruisers.
We were especially blessed with the company of Ross and Rosemary Newkirk, retired university professors from Waterloo, Ontario. Ross, a PH. D in engineering has the best possible taste in popular literature (he has read all the Patrick O’Brian novels more than once). Ross also showed us his fishing lures and we’ve already caught a couple of fish on a yellow, spotted squid lure. We just troll the lure on heavy line behind the boat.
So, we motored down to the Lake Worth Inlet on Friday and decided to cross Saturday night with another couple (Corrin and John on “Cee J”). While anchored near the ocean inlet, we were treated to the Palm Beach Christmas Boat parade. At 6:30 PM the fireworks began and then the parade. Perhaps 40 boats decorated with many lights and Christmas displays paraded past the inlet and around Peanut Island to the great amusement of spectators on land and water. Most of the boat passengers were dressed as Santa or elves and many boats had Christmas music blaring loudly. Feliz Navidad was the most popular song, but one pontoon boat loaded with women of color dancing to some funky pop music may have been the Kwanza entry (Mma Ramotswe would have called many of the dancers “women of traditional Botswanan build”).
After the fireworks and parade, “Cee J” and Peregrine motored out into the dark Atlantic enroute to The Bahamas. While the conditions were better than they had been for the past two weeks, they were less than ideal. If you have been a faithful reader of this blog, you remember that we were hoping for small seas and south or west breezes. Instead, we settled for a forecast of 2-4 foot seas and 10-15 knots out of the east (and we were motoring east). The 54 miles from Palm Beach to the Little Bahama bank required 11 hours of motoring into the wind, of climbing the waves and plunging into the troughs. No sailor savors such conditions, but Peregrine handled the water well and the passage progressed safely.
What was the good part? Well, there was a nearly full moon, bright and numerous stars (including the shooting kinds), it didn’t rain, and “Cee J” was equipped with radar so we were unlikely to be surprised by freighters or cruise ships if visibility had deteriorated.
After we entered the shallow waters of the Bank, the conditions improved dramatically. We were still motoring into a 15 knot breeze, but we left the 4-5 foot rollers in favor of a 1 1/2 foot chop, the water a lovely aqua blue so clear that the bottom (18-20 feet down) was clearly visible. Our spirits rose higher as we motored to Great Sale Cay (pronounced Great Sale Key) arriving there at 2:30 PM and anchoring in smooth, crystal-clear water. A nineteen-hour trip which the boat handled much better than the skipper.
Annie, with her new mask and fins, was in the water a few seconds after the anchor grabbed hold and we spent the rest of the daylight hours swimming, snorkeling, and exploring this large, uninhabited island. Great Sale Cay, more than three miles in length,is shaped something like a very fashionable Italian boot and served as part of the U.S. missile tracking range during the late 50s and early 60s.
On Monday we left Great Sale Cay shortly after dawn along with most of the 15 boats which had anchored there and traveled 43 miles southeast to New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay.
New Plymouth was founded after the American revolution (1786) by loyalists from New England who wanted to remain under the British crown. So far as we can gather, a dozen families and their slaves settled the island and prospered. Some of the original buildings are still here (steep-roofed so that the snow will slide off - they last had snow flurries in 1963), and the streets are very narrow, used by cars and golf carts all driving on the wrong side of the road.
On Tuesday I cleared local customs and in the afternoon Mary Ann and I toured the village and shopped while Annie and Sam snorkeled on a great beach facing the Atlantic which featured an offshore and inside reef.
We’re finally in The Bahamas; the water is clear and warm, the grouper and cracked conch are fresh, no one is in a hurry, and there is only one radio station (Radio Bahamas) which plays a mix of Christian gospel, Madonna, Wayne Newton, and reggae Christmas carols. We’re not in Ohio anymore.