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.