Thursday, May 17, 2007

Grand Bahama Island and Back to America

During our last week in the Abacos, we visited the uninhabited islands of Manjack Cay, Allans-Pennsecola Cay, and Great Sale Cay. The tradition on Allans-Pennsecola Cay is to leave the name of ones boat on the Signing Tree on the windward side of the island, so we carved “Peregrine” into a piece of driftwood and hung it from the tree.
After a lovely all-day sail to Great Sale Cay we anchored in placid waters and blew our conch-shell horn as the sun sank on our last day in the Abacos. The sunset blowing of the conch shell is a tradition in the Bahamas and in Hopetown or Marsh Harbour one might hear a dozen shells of various size and tone sounding as the sky turns orange and red.
The next day brought another perfect sail over (very) shallow waters to Old Bahama Bay Resort/Marina on the west end of Grand Bahama Island. There is no anchorage here, so just sailors pay the marina price and enjoy themselves; there is much to enjoy. Aside from the exercise room, T.V. and internet access, patrons were allowed use of the beautiful pool, beach, pool table, ping pong, bicycles, and Hobie cats on the pristine beach. There was a shortage of 13-year-old girls on cruising boats, but Annie buddied up with Carrie Clark (two boats down) and they spent most of their spare time together.
Carrie’s dad was a generous fellow and former starting offensive lineman at Clemson University. In addition to the American and Bahamian flags, he flew the Confederate Stars and Bars, two Clemson Flags, and an upside down South Carolina flag. When you’re 6’6’’ and maybe 260 pounds, nobody questions your flag choices.
West End Settlement was the the most impoverished Bahamiam village we encountered , but as had been the rule the residents were friendly and eager to help visiting yachtsmen. Working at the resort and fishing seem be the main sources of income here, and alcoholism was clearly a problem.
At Sunday mass (3/10) in the tiny St. Michael’s church, Fr. Dan (who attended St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana) preached an impassioned, excellent homily. After mass many parishioners introduced themselves and three of them offered us a ride back to the marina. We would miss this level of hospitality when we arrived in Florida.
On a ride to Freeport (3/12) our bus passed a funeral procession for a Miss Mary Williams near the Anglican Church. The 200-300 mourners seemed to all be dressed in stylish black dresses or black suits and white shirts.
Incidentally, I received a bit of a compliment at the International Bazaar in Freeport. A middle-aged security guard gave me directions and then asked if I were Bahamian. I thanked her and asked why she thought so. “I don’t know; you just look Bahamian.” Maybe I’d been in the country long enough. The morning of our sixth day at West End dawned on clear skies and winds from the east, so we could finally sail toward Florida. A much happier sail than our trip over, the winds and the seas were behind us and even as the swell grew higher, we slid down the waves with smiling faces. We watched hundreds of flying fish skim the water, sometimes for a couple of hundred feet, and encountered a pod of brown Atlantic Spotted Dolphins who played in our bow wave for 15 minutes before leaving us.
A few days later, we met Ann and Dan Clegg at a marina in the Palm Beach area. Sarah made us great hoagies for dinner, and the next day (3/19) Dan treated us to a spring training game between the Dodgers and Cardinals in nearby Jupiter, Florida. On the 20th Dan proved himself to be a real sailor next day on Lake Worth.
After goodbyes to Dan and Ann, we headed down to the Keys and waited in Key Biscayne a few days for improved weather. While standing at the bus stop in Key Biscayne I asked a 70-year-old pedestrian for the time. I was wearing khaki shorts, a Land's End polo shirt and boat shoes; I had showered and shaved that morning. “Excuse me, sir; do you know the time?”
He looked me over and said, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” I guess panhandlers dress differently in Key Biscayne than they do in Toledo, but it was a helpfully humbling moment. Near our mooring in Crandon Park, Key Biscayne, was a narrow mangrove-covered island about 300 yards long which was packed with Snowy Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Black Vultures, various terns, and Magnificent Frigate birds. We had seen frigate birds in the air throughout the Abacos, but never so many as here. We didn’t know whether they were nesting, but dozens of adults and immature frigate birds were perched in the trees on the west side of the island.
Mass at St. Agnes Church in Key Biscayne was quite the contrast from West End Settlement. The large church was well supplied with Italian marble. There was a good deal of chatter before mass, especially in the front right side of the sanctuary which contained what might’ve been called the Very Well Groomed Ladies Guitar Choir. The choir also contained a middle-aged man plucking a bass fiddle and an apparently retired gentleman beating a native-American-type drum with his fingertips.
It is a very active parish with several Sunday masses in English ands Spanish and two masses each weekday, but I don't remember any introductions or ride offers after Mass.
Key Biscayne may contain the most expensive housing of the entire trip. We saw a three-bedroom condo on the ocean advertised for $3 million, and I know you could buy a real house in Palm Beach or Boca Raton for the same price. We definitely aren’t moving to Key Biscayne.