After Sandy and Brooklyn flew out of Staniel Cay Friday morning, we made a quick detour south to pick up our sails in BlackPoint Settlement. A cold front was moving through the northern Exumas that day and although Staniel Cay was warm and sunny, we could see a definite line of clouds and squalls just north of us. After talking to weather guy Chris Parker, we decided to take advantage of the winds and head west to Andros Island on Saturday. We sailed out of the sunshine at Staniel Cay and north into the rain and high winds; all the way north to Shroud Cay, a good departure spot for Andros Island. We’d been waffling over whether to head back to mainland USA by retracing our steps through Eleuthera and the Abacos but friends Bruce and Nancy on Seabird sang the praises of Andros Island, a remote and little-populated island due West of the Exumas, so we’ve chosen this path northward.
Leaving Shroud Cay at sunrise in overcast skies, we skirted northward around a large area flagged in our chart book as being full of big coral heads. At 9:30, we turned west, the sun came out, the wind blew steadily between 15-18 knots and we had a wonderful sail across the shallow banks for about 4 hours. Around noon we left the banks and continued into a deep body of water with the improbable name of Tongue of the Ocean. The depths went abruptly from 20 feet on the banks to over 1000 feet and got steadily deeper to 5000 feet. This is a far more isolated sailing area and for most of the day, we were the only boat in sight; a first for us. We arrived at Andros Island around 4 pm; a long sail for us after puttering distances of 10 miles between the Exuma Islands for the past month.
The east side of Andros Island has the world’s third largest barrier reef and there are only a few places where it’s safe to cross through the reef and into harbour. At the same time, Andros is home to quite a few AUTEC stations (Atlantic Undersea Testing and Evaluation Centers). This is where the American Navy tests their submarines, torpedos and other assorted underwater toys. These are pretty advanced testing centers and even though AUTEC has commandeered the best natural harbours and safest cuts through the reef, we’d read that you are allowed to enter their harbours only in a real emergency. Fresh Creek harbour is open to all though and about a half mile from the reef entrance there, we took our sails down and turned our motor on. Blair said that underwater these AUTEC guys could tell from our engine pitch whether we were a Russian sub and even how many blades the propellers had. I was glad that our little Yanmar 27 engine pitch was perhaps part of their schooling and there was no case of mistaken identity that afternoon.
We motored through the break in the reef, up into the creek with its very strong current and tied up at the Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina. The place is almost empty right now except for Strathspey and some sailboats belonging to an outfit offering college environmental courses out of Cleveland, but in season, this is a popular fishing center and dockage is hard to come by. Besides bonefish, marlin, grouper and snapper, land crabs are considered a delicacy here and in June, Fresh Creek hosts a huge crab festival that attracts 30,000 people from all over the Bahamas and Florida. Androsia batik is produced here in a small cottage factory just around the corner from the yacht club. So all in all, Andros is a pretty prosperous island considering its small population.
For us, it’s a welcome change from the hustle bustle at Staniel Cay and surrounding area. There are few cruisers here and the VHF is silent much of the time; quite a change from the constant radio traffic in the Exumas. The people are friendly, the stores are larger and full of good fruit and vegetables. There was another strong cold front that roared through Monday and Tuesday so we spent a bit of time here, tucked away from the winds, touring the island by car and taking some time to repair the refrigerator and other minor items that are slowly grinding to a halt because of constant use and salt air. The only drawback to Fresh Creek is the gazillion no-see-ums that are feasting on me in particular; for some reason, they ignore Blair completely. It appears that Skin So Soft is no match for the Androsian breed of no-see-ums and my legs are covered with red welts so numerous that I feel like a scabby-legged 8-year old on summer holidays again!
Here on Andros on Easter Sunday, the big tradition is to go to the beach after church with all your friends and relatives, hang out, swim and cook hamburgers and hotdogs over an open fire. At the marina, a group of teenage boys spent the entire afternoon doing fancy jumps off the pier. They challenged each other with increasing more difficult jumps in a Bahamian patois that was beyond me. As soon as I said hello though, they toned their speech way down and it was recognizable as English with that Bahamian singsong sort of drawl.
We spent Monday with Shervin Mackey who had a day off from his job at the Bahamian Power Company and gave us a tour of Andros. He showed us all his favourite out of the way places and introduced us to cousins, aunts, uncles, distant cousins, friends, bartenders â€¦. well, you get the picture. We met more people and heard more island stories over the day than weâ€™d heard in the last year.
At one point, Shervin took us to one of the AUTEC piers, blithely leading us past all their No Trespassing signs out to where his â€œMummy Auntâ€ Loreena and her grandchildren were casting for bonefish. She was his great aunt, 67 years old and a champion bonefisher. Loreena pointed out the bonefish muds; long patches of whitish water that result from the bonefish stirring up the sand and water while feeding on small shrimp. This pier was an excellent place to fish from in the early morning and Loreena had caught five good sized bonefish by the time we arrived. Bonefish are real fighting fish and despite being notoriously hard to fillet and eat because of all their bones, theyâ€™re considered a real delicacy. Andros is the bonefish capital of the world; interesting to us as weâ€™d never even heard of bonefish before this past month.
Loreena also wove wonderful straw baskets; works of art with Androsian batik fabric woven through the baskets. In typical Bahamian fashion, the price of these baskets was hard to pin down. Sometimes, they say “Make me happy” when you want to know the price of something here. Sometimes, they say “What would you pay for that at home”. Sometimes, they say, “I’ll ask my friend, daughter, father, mother, neighbour…..”. These were beautiful baskets and I’m still waiting to hear how much they cost so I’m not sure if I’ll leave Andros with them.
During our travels with Shervin, everywhere we stopped there were two or three Turkey Vultures, soaring in wide circles, perched on rooftops or simply standing at the side of the road. Shervin said Vultures are really common here on Andros and they eat anything and everything, â€œYou go lost and you happen to die, everybody going to find you because of the buzzards circlingâ€. Nice thought. Shervin was funny and full of great stories. He had some typically Bahamian turns of phrases too. When I asked him how old his children were, he said â€œI have a boy who is 11 to 12, a girl who is 13 to 14, another girl who is 15 to 16 and another girl who is 17 to 18â€. Kind of like shoe sizes we thought. He explained the process for building a house here in Andros. Itâ€™s basically, pick your lot, â€œclean it downâ€ and start building. At that point, you send the government your application to buy the land. Shervin says â€œYou cannot wait on the government to get a thing done and we builds de house before de approvalâ€. He said heâ€™d applied for his deed and permits 17 years ago and just got the paperwork back last year.
Here in Fresh Creek, in this out of the way place, weâ€™ve met Gratton and Jennifer of Moon River. They are cruising with friend John on Vivacious, a 30 foot Endeavor. Gratton and Jennifer shared our shed at Iroquois Marina all last winter; while we worked on Strathspey readying her for this cruise, they worked on Moon River for their cruise to Nova Scotia. In some small-world moments, weâ€™ve met them at the St Peters lock in the Bras dâ€™Or Lakes, LaHave Bakery in Nova Scotia, Staniel Cay last week and now here in Fresh Creek. I know these chance meetings have a better probability than the proverbial 10,000 monkeys on typewriters producing a Shakespearean play but itâ€™s always a real surprise to see people we know from home.
The Androsia batik factory was an easy five minute walk from the Lighthouse Yacht Club. The word factory is stretching the truth a little though. It was a barn-like structure with three separate areas; one for printing the cotton fabric with wax designs, one full of dyeing tubs and a clean area with four sewing machines to create the final products. It was a pretty casual place and when I asked for a tour they said “Hep yuself mam” so we took ourselves on a self-guided, watch-where-you-step sort of tour, talked to some of the employees and pretty well made ourselves at home in there.
Andros has been a nice stop; remote and quite different from the rest of the Bahamas, both in landscape and weather. Soon we head north to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands and continue our trek northward.