We’re well into winter in the Bahamas now and everyone tells us to expect one cold front after another, where the wind clocks from the standard East/Northeast, through the South, West and back to Northeast again. The wind howls during the fronts but between the fronts, the weather is mild, good for snorkeling and great to travel on to the next island. We stayed at Warderick Wells through New Year’s waiting for an especially long-winded front to pass. Our anchorage was sheltered enough that we could dinghy ashore and hike most of the trails that criss-cross the island. These trails are narrow and require alertness to avoid the ever-present Poisonwood bush, a cousin to poison ivy and poison oak; actually more like the granddaddy though because a brush with Poisonwood can land you in the hospital desperate for oral cortisone.
We were like little kids after each hike and snorkel trip, always stopping into the park headquarters to tell them what new bird or fish we’d spotted. Judy, at the desk, always helped us dig through the park’s excellent collection of books to identify our finds. Amazingly, we found a second Lionfish, a baby, which makes the park wardens even more determined to catch those pesky fish. Actually, pesky is too mild a word for them because apparently the sharp barbs on their pectoral fins have a deadly poison that can lay a snorkeler flat for days.
We stayed in Warderick Wells for almost two weeks and the difference between Strathspey and real cruising boats became obvious very quickly. Strathspey is a racer/cruiser meant for fast sailing, out for a weekend or at most a week between ports. As much as we love her, we know we’re pushing Strathspey to her cruising limits down here. The boats we’re amongst right now have water makers, inboard diesel generators, cavernous storage lockers and believe it or not, quite a few of them have washers and dryers onboard; all the right stuff to allow our fellow cruisers to be shore-independent. So, as much as we loved the snorkeling at Warderick Wells Cay, our dwindling gas reserves for the Honda generator, the growing garbage bag landfill site on our foredeck and our cravings for a fresh salad or two all conspired to make us upanchor and head towards civilization, Staniel Cay that is.
Heading south on the shallow banks, we simply sailed between a series of long-established waypoints on our chart. These waypoints and the lines joining them are marked in the definitive chartbook for the Exumas (The Explorer series) and surprisingly, they’re even marked on our chartplotter software. Not surprisingly, most everyone else cruising down here is also using these charts and consequently, we’re all on the Exuma Highway even though there’s lots of wide open space. It’s not a terribly busy highway though and we saw only six other boats on our way into Staniel Cay. We pulled into the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to fill our water tanks and to get some fresh produce and milk. While Blair took care of the water, I went looking for one of the three grocery stores located here. The grocery stores down here are about the size of our convenience stores at home and their stock fluctuates depending on when the mail/grocery boat swung by last. We’ve discovered grocery shopping down in the Exumas is pretty loosey goosey, with lists out the window and counting yourself lucky if you get there right after the boat so as to find what you need before they sell out. The Blue Grocery store had everything I needed at about 20% more than what I would have paid at home so all-in-all, I’m counting myself lucky.
Never mind the price of groceries, it’s an eye-opener how precious (read expensive) water is throughout the islands. We paid an all-time high of $0.45/gallon at Cape Eleuthera but have heard that it is only $0.20/gallon at the main marina in Georgetown, at the southern end of the Exumas. At either end of the price spectrum, the reality is that it’s hard to get used to paying, and paying dearly, for something that at home we take for granted. For years, I’m embarassed to admit, we carted stacks of bottled water down to Strathspey and at the end of the weekend we’d cart all those empty plastic bottles home to our recycle bin. There’s no room for bottled water on Stathspey these days and even if there were, all that extra garbage would be hard to get rid of. In the Exuma Park, there’s no garbage disposal and here at Staniel Cay, there is a $5 charge to dispose of one green garbage bag. Recycling is a pretty fledgling proposition down here so not really an option. So, these days we are drinking the water from our tanks; 40 gallons in our bow tank and 35 in our port side tank. Before we left Trident Yacht Club, Blair installed a separate facet in our sink and hooked up a Seagull IV water filter to it. This filter removes bacteria, viruses and that tanky smell so it’s not a hardship and the water is as sweet as our Navan well water.
When we arrived at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, John and Rhoda of Wet ‘n Wild were here. We shared a tasty lunch with them at the yacht club restaurant, swapped some DVDs to watch and decided to spend the night on dock to give our batteries that extra special charge that our generator can’t provide. Staniel Cay Yacht Club has nurse sharks, and lots of them, that hang about the docks, waiting for fish scraps to be tossed in the water when the fishermen are cleaning their fish. We’ve read that sharks have an incredible sense of smell too and it takes just a minute drop of blood in the water to make them sit up and take notice. In the slip next door to us, a young lad on a big charter yacht had caught a Mahi-mahi which the captain cleaned for him. While cleaning the fish, the captain tossed a small piece of skin into the water off the stern of his big swim platform and instantly there were at least five nurse sharks circling… waiting… The captain sliced off two huge fillets for his guests’ dinner and then handed the remains to the ten-year old who held the tail a good foot above the surface while stirring the water with the rest of the Mahi-mahi’s long body. Immediately, one of the sharks darted forward and yanked the shark out of the boy’s grasp and swam off with all the other sharks close behind. Not sure where that lad’s mom was….
Leaving Staniel Cay Yacht Club the next day, we motored just around the corner to anchor in the lee of Big Major’s Spot opposite a nice looking beach. Little did we know but this was Pig Beach. Years ago, someone loosed some pigs on Big Major’s, they multiplied, went a little wild and are a sideshow fed by all the cruisers that dinghy ashore. These guys expect food and now they actually swim out to your dinghy when you approach, will try to climb aboard if you swing too close and we actually saw someone get bitten when he accidentally got between the pig and it’s food. We stayed a good distance off and tossed them some perfectly nice grapefruit which they turned their nose up at – picky porkers it would seem. This was a nice big bay with excellent holding and although there were 20 other boats keeping us company, two of them over 100 feet long, we had lots of that important personal space around us.
One of the big attractions in this area is the Thunderball Grotto, an underwater cave made famous in the James Bond 007 movie, Thunderball. At low tide, you can actually swim into the cave without going completely underwater. This area is another no fishing zone so there were lots of beautiful Parrotfish, Yellowtail Snappers and Schoolmasters swimming around us, amazingly unafraid, and again we found two big Lionfish down in a smaller cave. The next day we dinghied a good distance out past Fowl Cay to two small unnamed islands and Blair tried his luck (unfortunately without luck) at spear fishing with a Hawaiian sling that Estelle had loaned us.
We left Big Major’s after a late lunch and sailed about seven miles south to Black Point Settlement. This sailing is such a treat after motoring for so much of our trip down the ICW. One of the bonuses of these incessant Bahamanian winds is that motoring and motor-sailing have really not been part of our vocabulary since we arrived in the Exumas. We topped up our diesel tank in Cape Eleuthera and it’s reading just slightly less than full mainly because we’ve been using these strong north winds to push us from island to island.
Black Point Settlement is right at the top of Great Guana Cay and boasts the best laundromat in the Bahamas. In fact, this is a popular spot for cruisers to stop into mainly because of the laundromat. In fact….. cruisers save up their laundry just so they can use the above-par washers and dryers here. We followed the crowd and I’m happy to report that the facilities are definitely 5-star; such are the simple pleasures of cruising. Another nice little touch is the free public water tap right around the corner from the government dock. This town is small but has a well-stocked grocery store and two restaurants. One of the restaurants, right next door to the laundromat, is Lorraine’s Cafe, a very good place to sample fresh fish and that traditional accompaniment of Bahamian peas and rice. We got two Red Snapper dinners and have decided that Red Snapper ranks right up there with Grouper as one of our new most favourite fish.
We’re keen to catch our own fresh fish though and Blair rarely misses an opportunity to talk to the locals about where to fish and who has fish to sell. Because of a week of high winds and rough seas, no one’s been out fishing. But although no one has fish to sell, everyone is happy to give advice. Blair spent a good while with one fisher who said that to catch Red Snappers and Yellowtails, trolling with our new rod and slinky looking lures won’t do the trick. He needs to take the dinghy out to the reefs, and line fish in one spot with bait. Blair bought the story and the hooks, lines and sinkers as well. Ida, from the Laundromat, provided the bait – she was clearing out the apartment above the laundry after her tenant moved out and she found a big stack of 6-inch ballyhoos in her tenant’s freezer which she very kindly handed over to Blair. So the pressure is on!
Here in Black Point, I had my first taste of Sapodilla fruit. Mrs. Adderly of Adderly’s grocery store offered me one, freshly picked from a tree in front of her store. She called it a Sapodilly and it looked like a tan tennis ball and tasted like a super-sweet pear, nubbly but with sections much like an orange.
We liked Black Point Settlement and because we spent a few days here, we were privy to the natural rhythms a small town goes through as the day progresses. A real joy was to watch the school children on their way home after 3 pm. They were dressed in green and yellow uniforms and all unfailingly polite, saying “good afternoon” as they passed by and “yes ma’am” if you asked them a question. It’s a small town though and the children here in Black Point attend the local school only to grade 9 and then head to Nassau to live with relatives and continue their schooling in the big city.
Another reason we like Black Point Settlement is that we think there is a bit of serendipity in the air here. On Thursday afternoon, we stopped into Lorraine’s Cafe to pick up a loaf of her mom’s coconut bread; a wonderful thing made with freshly grated coconut so fine that we could taste the difference it made. When Blair mentioned he was looking for a haircut, Lorraine drove us over to her friend’s business, Esther’s Beauty Salon. Now, this was a pretty laid back place; one chair, Esther in bare feet and The Word, an evangelical TV show playing quietly in the corner. In another corner was a set of drums and an organ, which of course piqued Blair’s interest. One thing led to another and we stayed an extra day so Blair could jam with Esther and her church choir on Friday night. Esther plays the organ and sings like Aretha Franklin, her son plays drums and with her big heart she’s gathered up a group of kids under 13 in this town and organized them into a sweet yet funky choir; think Pointer sisters or Jackson Five with a whole lotta gospel thrown in. These beautiful kids sang BIG, they moved and grooved to the music and you just knew that come Sunday, the entire congregation would be on their feet and joining in. We loved Esther and the kids loved Blair and, happily, we have a firm invitation to come back to The Gordon H. Winter Memorial Chapel on our trip north and you can just bet that we will.