Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sailing through the Ocean to a Cay with No Name and Come Back Fr. Wah Jah

This has been a very good week for the crew of the Peregrine. We started out in Marsh Harbor to fill our propane tank and pick up our mail. Sarah sent us a box of mail and other items on December 15 (air mail - $22 postage) and it took exactly one month to arrive here. Postage due upon receipt $25.
On Tuesday, we sailed through the Whale Cay passage to Green Turtle Cay, which we had visited briefly early in our Bahamas sojourn. In order to traverse the Whale Cay passage, one has to sail out into the ocean through an opening in the reef, past Whale Cay and then come back onto the Little Bahamas Bank through a relatively shallow cut. We have made a point of doing this only when conditions are relatively calm, because the passage is no joke. Northerly winds generate a “rage” condition when the ocean swells break all across the shallow opening; boats and lives have been lost. Even heavy and powerful ships are vulnerable. In 1986 for instance, a freighter broke up here with the loss of a crew member and the captain’s 13-year old daughter. We made it fine on Tuesday , but we keep in mind that the sea is great and we are small.
This week we spent some time in a tropical paradise just south of Green Turtle Cay near Pelican Cay and No Name Cay. There is only one home on Pelican Cay and the much larger No Name Cay is uninhabited; long white beaches, colorful fish, a couple of reefs and a mysterious lagoon. We had the whole area to ourselves.
I collected a French grunt off the beach of No Name Cay for Annie’s fish dissection assignment. Annie was unenthusiastic about this dissection, so Mary Ann and I made the first incisions, but soon Annie was digging around in the eye searching for the fish lens, which was hard, bright, and spherical.
On Thursday we treated ourselves to a golf cart rental and discovered areas of Green Turtle Cay that we had previously not seen, including a public picnicking area on he windward, ocean side of the island and narrow roads cut through white coral.
On Saturday back to Treasure Cay for weekly mass (held here on Saturday at 5:00 PM). The same priest ministers to much of the Abacos, including: Hopetown, Marsh Harbour, and Treasure Cay. After knowing him for several weeks, we find we have been mistaken about his name. After our first visit to St. Francis Church in Marsh Harbour, I asked Paul, the Haitian shuttle driver, the priest’s name.
“Wah Jah,” he answered.
“Wah Jah,” I asked?
“Wah Jah!”
“I see, it’s Wah Jah.”
We were in agreement; the priest was named Wah Jah, and we were cool (or perhaps down) with that. After future masses we addressed him as Fr. Wah Jah. He smiled and answered to Wah Jah. With other parishioners, we referred to him as Fr. Wah Jah.
Now we learn that his name is Roger (a name I can successfully pronounce), but we have been using the Haitian immigrant pronunciation of Roger, i.e. Wah Jah. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can pass as Haitian immigrants, and I wonder whether we might have offended Fr. Roger.
We learned last night that Fr. Roger has taken some weeks off to return to his home in the Philippines. We hope this break was not necessary due to the stress of being frequently called Wah Jah, not only by the Haitian immigrants, but by white folks pretending to be Haitian immigrants. We hope he returns to his good work here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Back to Man-o-War; On to Treasure Cay

Since this was a windy week, we spent some time in Man-o’-War's excellent harbor. On Man-o’-War we enjoyed the company of some new friends. Temple and her orthodontist husband Richard, had sailed from Maine. We took several long walks with Temple, a gentle, gracious lady (incidentally, Richard sails a 56' Hinckley, one of the most beautiful yachts we have seen anywhere).

We also met an interesting English couple, Michael and Jackie, aboard the 41' ketch First Lady. When Mary Ann and I stopped by earlier in the week to examine their broken chain plate, Jackie immediately invited us aboard for tea and biscuits, although the package referred to them as “Digestive Biscuits”. They tasted like Lorna Doone cookies, but I must find out why they are called Digestive. Do they aid in digestion or what?

The next evening Michael and Jackie visited us after dinner and we enjoyed Annie’s pineapple upside-down cake with coffee and red wine in the Peregrine’s main cabin. As I earlier suggested they have an interesting story. After Michael had studied economics at Oxford, he traveled in 1972 to South Africa on business where he met Jackie (they now have a son and two daughters). Michael then joined the English diplomatic corps and was assigned to various posts, including (still in the 70’s) Botswana (where they no doubt met many ladies of traditional Botswanan build).

He has some good stories, but the most exciting described their recent voyage from Nassau to the Abacos. In high winds and heavy seas their chain plate broke; the chain plate is a heavy piece of stainless steel which anchors the shrouds and, therefore, holds the masts up. It should never break. Nevertheless, Michael reacted quickly to the failure and the boat made it safely to port. For more about their trip, check their web page feed://

After four days in Man-o-War, we sailed on to Treasure Cay, about which we knew very little. Treasure Cay is unlike any island visited so far. First, most of these islands were settled by American Loyalists (loyal to the British crown) about 220 years ago (they apparently decided to flee a country where Bill Clinton would someday be president and Rosie O'Donnell would be popular). There is no old settlement here, but in fact there was an attempted settlement here which failed. It was built at the southern end of the beach, now called Carleton Point, but the settlers soon left. The apparent reason for failure is evident; the other succcessful settlements are next to protected harbors, but here there is only a very beautiful beach (check for Carleton Point in the photo of Mary Ann on the beach).
The other difference is that Treasure Cay is not a true community. On most of the Abaco islands, like Man-O-War settlement, family and community activities are common. Young moms drive the kids around in golf carts; the youngest usually held with the left hand on mom’s lap, no seat belts anywhere.
Treasure Cay, however, consists of condos, villas, second homes, a few stores, some restaurants and bars, a large (mostly empty) marina, and one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (according to National Geographic).
What’s so beautiful, you wonder, about the beach? Well, it’s a gently curving crescent shape; the sand is very white, powdery stuff; a dolphin family was playing 40 yards off the shore when we were there; but the light-green, translucent water is probably the clincher. The dark blue water on the ocean beaches is striking, but for most folks Treasure Cay beach on the aqua Sea of Abaco will be thought more beautiful.
The place seems to be prospering (they are building more housing units), but I’m not sure why, since we have seen very few people. There are two bars on the water, and on Saturday night at 8:00 PM , one bar was closed and the other was serving about five gloomy drinkers. The upscale restaurant, Spinnakers, had four tables in use out of perhaps 50. The weather is perfect today (Sunday) and maybe a dozen people are enjoying a 3 1/2 mile beach (one of the ten best in the world). So, I don’t understand the economy here, but I guess they’re doing fine. We’ve spent about $15, so we’re doing our part.
A word about the fauna: we have seen no squirrels, raccoons, or mice, but Little Bahamas Curly-tailed lizards are everywhere; one nearly steps on them. The size seems to range from a few inches to several inches in length, but it’s hard to tell, since the males curl up their tails, and you’d have to catch one and uncurl him to be sure. You’ve probably guessed that the males curl up their tails to impress the females and intimidate the other males (if they lived in east L.A., they might load up a ‘62 Chevy with woofers and hydraulics pursuing the same motives).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Little Harbor - Great Guana Cay

Shallow water is common in The Bahamas, but the shallowest we know of is in the channel entering Little Harbor, the southernmost harbor in the Abacos. I’ll only say that we spent two hours in that channel waiting for the tide to change so we could get all the way into the harbor. ( Oh, and heartfelt thanks to all the nice folks who helped us move off the hard bottom: Andy and his son Andy, Danny, Bruce, and , of course, Larry. Boaters, even power boaters, come very quickly when needed. )
Little Harbor was settled by artist/ teacher Randolph Johnston who moved his family there and lived aboard their boat until it was destroyed by a hurricane. Then they lived in a cave while building real shelter. At any rate he was an apparently gifted sculptor (although it seems to me he was preoccupied with large buttocks) and demand grew for his cast bronzes (lost wax process). He’s gone now, but his son Pete operates a pub/ restaurant and still produces statues of naked people rising from the sea or just standing around being naked.
It is an extremely friendly spot, and a nice couple, Bruce and Lin Olson invited us to their boat New Year’s Eve for snacks, fresh cherry pie, and champagne. Lin is a teacher, but Bruce was a clinical psychologist, so I tried to avoid revealing any unresolved feelings toward my mother, father, or childhood sled, “Rosebud”. A very enjoyable evening and we were asleep by 10:30 PM
Just about midnight the fireworks display began and Pete fired the rockets right out over the boats in the anchorage. If I had been a combat soldier back in Nam, I'd have awoken in a panic thinking that Charlie had just launched a rocket and mortar attack and that one had exploded over my head. (Luckily the only traumatic stress I suffered in the war involved badly impacted third molars.)
We slipped out of Little Harbor at high tide early Monday morning without relying on the kindness of strangers.
Later in the week, we spent three days on Great Guana Cay, across the Sea of Abaco from Marsh Harbour. The settlement here is the smallest and least impressive we have yet seen. I won’t say trashy, but there are beer bottles and litter everywhere, the folks are unfriendly, and some of their houses are near collapse. (Mary Ann thought it might better have been named Bat Guano Cay.)
Once one leaves the harborside settlement, the character of the island changes. As is often the case here, the newer homes are quite nice and frequently enjoy a view of the ocean or Sea of Abaco. We rented a golf cart, and drove, on this long slender island, as far as the road (and the guards) would allow. There really were guards (but low-key, friendly Bahamian guards) because Great Guana is in the middle of a political dispute. The Bakers Bay Resort wants to build a golf course, but the locals are opposed because golf course fertilizer kills coral reefs. They are currently settling this in the London courts.
We snorkeled on a part of their reef Thursday afternoon, and in some ways it was the best we have seen. There were huge areas of purple fan coral and schools of reef fish. This was a large barrier coral reef, but there is much more reef all along the island. It would be a real loss if the reef suffered future damage.