We enjoyed Long Island. Itâ€™s almost like a throwback to the 50â€™s; the people would no sooner think of not saying hello to you than not stop to offer you a ride. Here, the Bahamian singsong accent has morphed slightly into a kind of slow-mo dutch lilt; a little easier to understand due in large part to the slower pace of speech. The pace of everything is slower here. One day, while picking up a few groceries in the H&H grocery store in Salt Pond, I was waiting to pay for my groceries. The man in front of me, in conversation with the cashier and another customer, told the story of a young 15-year old boy at the local high school causing a ruckus. He said, “Did you hear about the trouble up at the high school?”. “No, no”, they said, as other customers crowded around. “What happened?” This young boy got angry and threw a chair at the teacher. Everyone had a comment. “You can’t be doing that acting out, no way” and “oh boy, he going to end up at the reform school”. Turned out this man was the island commissioner and that sort of behaviour is so unusual that he took it upon himself to talk to the boy and try to straighten him out. They have very little violence in the schools here and everyone agreed that “That boy be picking up some of that Nassau bad acting”. Nassau is the buggaboo for these out-islanders. It’s a big scary city with lots of crime and unfortunately, it’s where all the young people have to go to either continue their schooling or to get a full time job.
On top of being a throwback to the 50â€™s, Long Island also has pretty rudimentary medical services. After returning to Thompson Bay from Cape Santa Maria, I stayed with Strathspey for two nights on my own while Blair took a short 45-minute flight up to Nassau. Heâ€™d been suffering from a persistent stomach ache for the last month and after two visits to a very competent doctor on Long Island (sheâ€™d trained in a German hospital and is just here for a few years), he decided to fly into a center with all mod cons. Long Island has no facilities for things like x-rays, ultrasounds or even blood work and this doctor had raised the specter of appendicitis so we deemed it prudent to get all those tests done pronto. Blair stayed with good friends of ours in Nassau and the tests ruled out all the obvious culprits so at this point, weâ€™re wondering if he got a touch of ciguatera, a poison carried by reef fish down here or perhaps some sort of lingering food poisoning. Paradise is great unless of course it isnâ€™t great because youâ€™re sick and then all you want is to be home and in familiar surroundings.
Staying by myself in Thompson Bay, I realized how much I depend on Blair while cruising this year. Before he left, he explained how to set up the generator to charge our batteries and I said I thought I had a general idea of how to up-anchor by myself if it was necessary. But, the next thing I knew, weâ€™d dinghied ashore, Iâ€™d hugged him more than once, he was in a taxi to the airport at Deadmanâ€™s Cay and I was standing on the dinghy dock all by my lonesome. Climbing down into the dinghy, I put on my lifejacket, and pulled the outboard starter cord, all the while thinking â€œPlease, please startâ€ and â€œJeeez, here I am, all by myself on a boat 4,000 miles from home!â€.
But, I wasnâ€™t really all by myself. Our good friends, Bruce and Nancy on Seabird and Jim and Jeannie on Estelle were here in Thompson Bay with me and they werenâ€™t about to go anywhere while I was on Strathspey by myself. I have to say that I get a little teary when I think about how these guys took me under their wings. From dinner on Seabird, to Valentineâ€™s lunch at Maxâ€™s Conch Grill and dinghy ride offers here and there, all the way up to Jim and Jeannie saying â€œNightie, night Maryâ€ over channel 72 and and monitoring it all night in case I needed them, it was a pretty nice group hug! On Friday morning, Bruce and Nancy picked Blair up at the airport in their rental car. It was a group goodbye also as Seabird headed down to the Jumentos and Estelle headed out to Conception and Cat Island. These are truly good people that we feel a strong bond with after meeting them in October, only four short months ago. Sailing generates a closeness, an immediate closeness, one not found often in our other life. I think the only thing that comes close to it is when you share music with others.
Blair missed Valentine’s Day with me but he more than made up for it with the “present” he carried home from Nassau. He returned with a big box of fruit and vegetables; Asparagus! Strawberries! Snowpeas! Who would have thought I could wax lyrical about these things that we take for granted in Ottawa. Yes, our environmental footprint with this kind of off-island food is embarrassingly large (maybe a size 16 even) but to have such wonderful food aboard was a big treat and for today only, we’re going to look the other way. With these purchases, we’re still eating well. Interestingly, in a switch from our Great Lakes cooking style, we rarely use our barbecue on Strathpey. This is partially due to the high winds at anchorage that make for a longer cooking time and as well due to the fact that the barbecue is buried under all the additional paraphernalia we’ve packed aboard Strathspey for this year of cruising. We tend to do a lot more stir-fry dinners, salad plates or broiled fish, mostly because neither of us wants to eat a heavy meal in 30°C weather. We’re finally seeing almost the end of the big Wahoo Blair caught and after the last fillet in the freezer is gone, we’ll be looking to add some Mahi-mahi to our diet. We’ve not yet tasted the Caribbean lobster either; a species without those succulent claws so prized in our northern lobster.
One thing that has been hanging over us since we entered the Bahamas was our relatively short visa permit. Strathspey has her own 1-year cruising permit but Blair and I were only granted a 3-month stay. Our short stay was granted only because we cleared customs in Green Turtle Cay where the customs agent did not have the authority to grant a longer stay. She said not to worry and just check in anywhere else and have it extended to whenever we wished. Easier said than done! When we arrived back in Georgetown, after a less than happy docking at the infamous Exuma Docking Services docks, we hurried up to the customs office to do the necessary paperwork before it closed a half hour later for the weekend. At this stage of winter, Georgetown is a crowded anchorage and we planned to only stop overnight, get our visiting permit extended and scoot on up to Lee Stocking Island.
The customs agent was the same woman at the Georgetown airport – the one who’d given me heck for taking Strathspey‘s original cruising permit with me rather than a copy. She bluntly turned down our request for an extension. “Come back 3 days to 1 week before your visitor permits expire”. I literally was speechless and I admit I was pretty close to tears. It was not one of our better days down here; after circling for half an hour in front of the Exuma Docking Services, changing fenders and lines from starboard to port side and getting no docking help up against those awful nail-studded pilings. Now this! I think probably the stress and worry of Blair’s visit to Nassau and then the relief that he was on the mend probably made this frustration loom a lot larger than it should have but nonetheless, I was not a happy camper. Blair, who’s pretty good at dealing with bureaucracy, spent some time pleading our case but even after consulting her boss, she was adamant and we left the way we came, with a visiting permit that is a month too short. This means another long sail down to Georgetown at some point in early March which is the last thing we want to do because the boat population here grows by approximately 50 boats per week. So at this point, we’re trying to figure out a way to work this “challenge” out.
Sticking to our original plan though, we left Georgetown the next day and had a great sail up to Lee Stocking Island using our most favourite blue gennaker sail. Again, we motored past all the boats in front of the research station there and found our way down to a deserted spot, miles from anyone else. We stayed here for two nights and at one point climbed up to Perry’s Peak. At only 123 feet, it’s the highest point of land in the Exumas. That fact alone points out why even when you’re tucked in behind an island for shelter, these islands are so low that you can still feel the 20 knots of wind blowing across the water. That, in addition to the fact that at most anchorages even when we creep in to six feet of water, the gently shallowing waters sometimes only allow us to get about 300 yards offshore. Most of the time we just hung out and read and swam. Blair’s reading This is Your Brain on Music, an interesting insight into how our brains process music. I finished Wind from the Carolinas by Robert Wilder. It’s a good read for anyone planning a trip to the Bahamas. An older book, written in the mid ’60s, it’s a fictional work that weaves in a history of the loyalists who left the Carolinas after their defeat in the War of Independence and tried to make their future in the Bahamas.
We’re still enjoying ourselves but here’s where I inject a small bit of truth into what paradise (this life of ours aboard Strathspey) is really like. Well into our eighth month of cruising, each of us has developed our own list of petpeeves but both of us agree that #1 on this list is dinghy travel. Sure, it had sounded pretty cool when we were planning this trip. We’d read all the stories that say that your dinghy is like your family car down here. Well I can tell you in all certainty that its only resemblance to your family car is the fact that you depend on it. But your family car never has you sitting on a hard wooden seat with your garbage, laundry and computer squeezed in behind the gas tank. All that while you bounce from wave top to wave top, trying to avoid the unavoidable salt spray that once it coats you, ensures that the clothes you’re wearing will take ’til next week to dry. We have a 10 foot Zodiac with an inflatable floor, powered by a 8 horsepower motor. It’s a good length for us and with just the two of us aboard, it gets up onto a good fast plane pretty quickly. I think though, that if we were to do this trip again, we’d consider a hard bottomed dinghy that, although heavier, would slice through the waves faster and more smoothly.
So here it is, the third week of February and we’re definitely noticing the migration patterns of boats is changing. On the SSB radio every morning while listening to weather guy Chris Parker, we hear a distinctly different sort of query. Back in December and early January, most of the boats were requesting weather information for the crossing from the USA to the Bahamas. Now, cruisers want information for traveling further south to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. These are the boats who plan to be down below the hurricane belt before June. We’re noticing too, how much more crowded the anchorages are getting now. Back in January when we made our way down the Exuma Island chain, often we’d be the only boat in an anchorage. The last time we were in Black Point Settlement, there were only eight other boats; compare that with the 22 cruisers we’re sharing the bay with now. Apparently February is a busy month down here as the weather and water gets warmer and fewer cold fronts make it this far south. March is even busier so we’re glad our schedule dictated that we cruised this area early in the season before it got crowded.
We’re meeting friends and family at Staniel Cay over the next three weeks and hope to explore this area and north of Warderick Wells between their visits. Blair and I both agree that now that we’ve stretched our necks all the way down to Long Island, the focus and mood aboard Strathspey seems to be directed in a more northerly direction at this point. We want to work our way back through the Abacos, stopping in at the more northerly islands we missed on the way down. In the past eight months, we’ve traveled over 4000 miles to get here and no matter our feeling that we’ve only just arrived, it’s time to start a bit of the leaving, however gradual.