Rolling into Green Turtle Cay just in time to clear customs last Friday night, we anchored in White Sound, a moderate-sized anchorage with land on three sides and a long channel leading in. We came in here to shelter from some high winds expected from Tropical storm Olga, a late-breaking post-hurricane season storm. The central and southern Bahamas were hammered with gale force winds but we escaped with 20 knot winds only. Here too, we caught up on a few outstanding boat chores.
Blair was finally able to don fins and mask and confirm the state of our sacrificial anode. Disappointingly, it has started to corrode to a point that we will schedule a haulout to replace the anode in mid January depending where we are. We liked Green Turtle Cay; it’s a warm and friendly place and definitely low key. Every day we were there, at some point during the day, we’d hear a call on the VHF channel 16. “Break, break, this is the Green Turtle Club dining announcement. All interested parties, please switch to channel 69″. On channel 69, this sweet and mellow voice proceeded to describe their dinner menu. It usually consisted of a 4-course meal with three or four entrÃ©es only. The entrÃ©es were described in such loving detail, you’d think you were reading a menu from a 5-star restaurant; “succulent pan-fried grouper almondine prepared with a mango salsa, fresh string beans and Bahamian peas and rice prepared daily on our premises…” She finished with the reminder that cocktails and h’ordeurves were served at 6:45 and all reservations must be received by 5 pm. I love it!
Right now, I’m reading what is likely to be one of my most favourite books this year, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (borrowed from Jeannie on Estelle). The story deals with the author’s quest for pleasure and inner calm. Her pleasure definitely peaks in Italy, due not a little bit in part to the wonderful food she discovers there. Much of our pleasure over the past six months has centered on food as well. We got an email from a friend of ours with the comment, “Is that all you guys do is eat down there?” Yes, I must admit that food does play an important part in our day. Although this is a sailing tour of the Atlantic coast down to the Bahamas, it’s been a gastronomic tour of sorts as well. We’ve been more than happy to dine on whatever the regional delicacies happen to be; FletÃ¡n in the GaspÃ©, lobster in Nova Scotia and Maine, Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake, peanuts in Virginia, shrimps and BBQ in the southern states and now conch in the Bahamas. We’ve enjoyed it all and I’ve even attempted to reproduce some of these dinners on Strathspey. I’ve realized though that there are definitely some recipes that seemed relatively simple, yet I’ve trashed our small kitchen and used every pot and pan I own. We’re talking about those dinners where you have to wash the dishes BEFORE the dinner – all you chefs out there know that of which I speak! I’ve been banned from making those meals on Strathspey now that we’re monitoring our fresh water consumption so closely.
The cooking on board has taken some adjusting to but so have our evening hours. Blair was browsing in a bookstore during our travels and came across a book that contained a whole slew of interesting boat stats. One of them declared that 80% of boaters, while cruising, go to bed around 8 pm. I have to admit that, unless we’re out visiting another boat or out for dinner, we’re hard pressed to stay awake past 8 pm so we’re well within this 80%. On the other hand, we’re up at the crack of dawn, long before Chris Parker’s weather SSB broadcast at 6:30 am.
Every morning, when we listen to Chris, we’re feeling a little bit inclined to pat ourselves on the back for having crossed to the Bahamas when we did. Boats have been stacking up in Lake Worth, Fort Lauderdale and Miami for the last week and a half with not much chance of making that dash across in the foreseeable future. Tropical storm Olga plus a succession of cold fronts in the US have all conspired to keep boats holed up in Florida. They say that as December progresses, you get fewer and fewer weather windows to skedaddle across the Gulf Stream. Because the stream flows north at a good clip, any wind that blows against it (Northwest, North or Northeast) sets up large and uncomfortable standing waves. Sometimes, the waves are not only uncomfortable, they’re downright dangerous. So we’re glad we gathered up our gumption and made the leap when we did.
Even here we’re feeling the effects of the cold fronts as the wind blows. And it blows! It’s common knowledge that in the northern Bahamas, the Abacos that is, this time of year is windy. Yep, it’s warm and the sun shines down every day but the wind is incessant. Even in those sheltered little anchorages, with protection from most directions, the wind still catches Strathspey‘s bow and pulls her anchor taut. I’m glad to be here but I have to confess, I have yet to sleep a night straight through. When that wind starts ratcheting up to the point where it’s a high-pitched whine through our rigging, I hear it all and get up to check that all the lights onshore are in the same location as they were the last time I looked two hours previously.
Waking us up every night as well is our nightly rain shower. This is dry season right now and there are few clouds during the day but every night we get at least one minute of rain. Just enough to make us get out of bed, close all the hatches and comment that it’s way too hot to have everything shut up. By that time, the rain has stopped and we simply open all the hatches and climb back into bed.
One of the nicer things we’re noticing here is the lack of those razor-sharp mussels on all the docks. All the way down to Florida, we’d scrambled to keep our dinghy well away from these mussels for fear they’d puncture the thick rubber, yet now in the Bahamas, there is no sign of them. On a more practical note, we definitely notice the big difference in prices here. Diesel is $5/US gallon, chemi-loaf bread (the pre-packaged white sliced stuff) is $4/loaf and the automatic washers and dryers are a whopping $4/load. On the other hand, there is no income tax or sales tax here so any money required to support the infrastructure must come from the high duties slapped on all their goods. We’re thinking it’s not a terrible price to pay for the privilege of spending a warm winter in one of the prettier areas of the Bahamas.
Christmas decorating is well underway in Ottawa but in Green Turtle Cay we noticed that there were very few Christmas lights set out and we saw no signs of inflatable Santas or Frosty Snowmen. Rather than throwing a set of lights out on the front lawn, many people in Green Turtle Cay were painting their house the week we were there; vivid yellows, turquoises and blues. Apparently, a fresh coat of paint is the traditional way to greet the Christmas season on that particular island.
We enjoyed Green Turtle Cay although the holding in White Harbour was poor; we anchored in three different locations during the week. After three days in one spot, one morning I thought we might have been in the middle of a slo-mo drag, although it was hard to tell. In fact, Blair was pretty sure our anchor chain was just stretching out in the higher winds. Nevertheless, when in doubt, our motto has always been to re-anchor (not an overwhelming task with our electric windlass to help us). Compounding the poor holding were all the mooring balls throughout this anchorage – something we hadn’t seen a lot of since Maine. Tied to one of the mooring balls close to us was Teaghlach, a Gulfstar 36 from Ottawa. Gerry and Joan on board Teaghlach graciously insisted that there was lots of room to anchor in front of their mooring ball and that they’d just put out a longer line but we decided to move off to the far corner of the anchorage by ourselves. Visiting on board Teaghlach later, we discovered that Gerry and Joan, born in Glasgow but lately of Ottawa, love bagpipes. Blair tooted his pipes for them and was amazed when Joan was moved to tears all because the last time she’d heard the pipes was the day they left Ottawa on this cruising trip. I am pretty sure that is the first time he’s had such an overwhelming response to his piping; very flattering.
We stayed at Green Turtle Cay for a week and then decided it was time for a change of scenery. To get this change of scenery, we had to negotiate an inlet, the Whale Cay Cut, a few miles south of Green Turtle. The islands and cays of the western Abacos form a graceful half moon that arcs from Walker’s Cay in the northwest gently around to the East and then South to Lynyard Cay. On the eastern side of these islands, the Atlantic Ocean pounds the shore and litters the beaches with all manner of seaweed, flotsam and jetsam. On the west side of the islands, the Abaco Sea is protected and calm and the beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. To make our way any further south, we had to go through the Whale Cay Cut, a slight detour out of the calm Abaco Sea, and a short hobbyhorse ride in the Atlantic Ocean for awhile before ducking back inside to sheltered waters. On calm days, this passage is a non-event but when the wind blows steadily from the east for days at a time, the big rollers bully their way into the cut and no boats dare attempt this route. We waited for the 9-foot waves to settled down and, along with about 10 other boats, easily made this little detour so we could explore the rest of the Abacos south of Green Turtle Cay.
Once through the cut, we headed south for Hope Town on Elbow Cay to wait for the passage of yet another cold front with predicted 25-30 knot winds. We actually got ourselves a mooring ball because parking space is at a premium here in Hope Town Harbour. Being on a mooring ball, we’re naturally just sitting here using up precious battery power; to be more accurate, Blair says we’re power sluts. With an electric refrigerator, our SSB radio and our computer, I’m afraid I have to agree with him. Once a day then, we fire up our generator, a Honda 2000, and boost our batteries back up to 100%. There’s a definite protocol with respect to generator operation in a small harbour. This is mostly because, along with generating power, it also generates a bit of noise; definitely more than a wind generator but not too much more than simply running our engine. One by one, around 4:30, the boats in this harbour start up their generators and run them for a few hours. This is not like plugging into the grid though. It’s just more of a stop-gap measure until we reach the next dock.
Hope Town has everything you’d need or want; an excellent pink sand beach for swimming, good paved roads for biking, water (at $0.25/gallon), diesel, quaint narrow concrete slab roads in the waterfront area for strolling on and Vernon’s, a good grocery store. Vernon’s, with Vernon himself behind the cash register sells everything you’d need in the way of food plus a whole bunch more for your psyche. His walls, counters and cash register are covered with scraps of paper inscribed with little bites of wisdom; “Behind every successful man is the woman he did it all for”, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight” and my favourite, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. Vernon also bakes a mean key lime pie which we sampled one night, courtesy of Estelle .
When we arrived here in Hope Town, we paid for water for the first time on this trip. To fill our 40 gallon bow tank with water and a 5 gallon jerry can with diesel cost us $38. Although we thought we were really conserving water (using about 10 gallons a day), obviously this water consumption will be a big consideration when we plan forays into some more remote areas; both the cost and the availability.
We’re staying in Hope Town for a little while so as to have good wifi and telephone connections right now. It’s been great to be able to call everyone at home this past week, two or three times a day, making sure that all is well and under control (despite your 30-40 cms of snow). I’m glad too that the majority of Buchanan’s are in Ottawa for Christmas to include Sandy and Brooklyn in their celebrations. Being so far away at times like this and especially over Christmas, it’s a good feeling to know that we have a wide circle of family and friends to depend on to take care of the two most important people in our lives.
So, at this point, we’re not really sure where we’ll be spending Christmas but it will definitely be unlike any other before. Every day on the cruiser’s net, a verbal community bulletin board on channel 68, we hear announcements for upcoming caroling, dinners, fireworks and church services. Proof positive that at this time of year, friends are naturally gathering together to celebrate the holiday in one another’s company.