January 25th, 2008 / Norman's Cay, Bahamas:
Well, we've been
in the Bahamas for almost two months now, which is a good indication of just
how well we've taken to the idea of "island time". We always
thought it was a phrase made up by feckless beach bums, but it's true -
a person definitely calms down and stops rushing down here. The
scenery is just too gorgeous and the snorkeling and diving are just too
good to rush through. We've become what Bruce Van Sant calls
"Leisure Sailors" - we take our time, wait for the proper weather
before leaving anywhere, and do our best to appreciate all of it.
What's the sense in rushing around?
The color and
clarity of the water here is totally absurd! From far away, all
the colors of Malibu Barbie's swimming pool are there. From
directly overhead, even the minutest details on a big cartoony starfish
twenty feet below on the bottom are easy to make out.
Another tough day!
water like this is a blessing and curse, though! On the one hand,
you can stick your head out over the side while you're underway and
watch a little show - we've seen turtles, dolphins and even a big
shark pass along peacefully beside us. On the other hand,
sometimes from far-off, harmless clumps of sea grass look the same as
boat-wrecking coral and rocks to our inexperienced eyes, and we worry
about whether the boat will get smashed or not based on our educated
But we're slowly learning to distinguish what's rock, what's
coral, and what's actually only a shadow being cast on the water by an
overhead cloud. Winding through a labyrinth of coral and rocks to
get to a safe anchorage requires a lot of concentration and care.
But as soon as the anchor's down, those same obstacles become a
really cool place to snorkel over! Our favorite anchorage for
diving so far was between a small island and a reef that bordered the
open ocean. On board, the swells coming in from the ocean made
things uncomfortable, but at the reef we saw thousands of tiny neon
fish, waving anenomes, a sting ray, a school of snappers, and a sea
turtle the size of a riding lawn mower who did not want to be friends
. Now whenever we anchor in a new place, we can't wait to put on our wetsuits and jump over the side for a look around.
We took great pains to avoid hitting these rocks earlier in the day.
We spent the
holidays in and around Marsh Harbour and at the last minute Alicia's
dad flew in to join us for Christmas! We had a great
time stuffing ourselves, going to the beach, snorkeling and just
showing him how we live. He stayed with us on SARABANDE and
adapted to boat life quickly. Being a Marine for 30 years meant we
didn't have to explain the finer points of a Navy shower! For
Christmas day, we anchored the boat outside Hopetown and attended
church services under a big, ancient fig tree. The priest and a
gang of musicians showed up in a fishing skiff before setting up
the altar on a simple folding table. Parents let their children to sit
in the branches overhead, and the priest performed a couple of
numbers with the band at the end of the service. Sitting outside
for a Christmas mass was a nice change, and it was the un-stuffiest
church we'd ever been to!
Applause for the singing priest!
TFC and AMC on the way back to Marsh Harbor.
dad flew back up north, it was time to tackle some repairs that we'd
been putting off until after the holidays. SARABANDE had a few
bumps and bruises we needed to attend to before moving on from
Abaco. We spent entire days trekking to the outskirts of town on
wild goose chases for obscure parts. We checked each little
store, asking for help and chasing leads, but at least it’s a
good way to really get a feel for a place. Once we were
away from the shops obviously geared towards cruising yachts and
tourists, the prices went down and the people who worked there were
more helpful. You pass by all the posh resorts and see houses
with the chickens scratching in the yard and little kids coming home
from school. We ended up finally rounding up everything we were looking
for, and got to know our way around pretty well as a by-product.
Alicia explains coconuts to Louie on one of our all-day part searches.
dog breed of the Bahamas is a medium sized, earth-colored mongrel
called a “potcake”. They were all over Marsh Harbour,
walking along the roads, sleeping in parking lots or abandoned
buildings, and on isolated back roads it’s possible to encounter
packs of 5 or more. Turning a blind corner and seeing a bunch of
rowdy, barking dogs charging at you is not something working an office
job in Manhattan prepares you for.
read that approaching dogs will instinctively back off if you bend down
as if to pick up a rock (or better yet, why pretend? Actually
pick up a rock and be ready to throw if need be). This seemed
like an excellent opportunity to test out this piece of trivia, and lo
and behold, it works! Must be some primal memory dating back to
our days as wolves and monkeys. A pretty handy thing to
Potcakes love to hang around busted out old cars! And who doesn't, really?
potcakes meant no harm, though. Very rarely did we need to resort
to the rock pantomime, and thankfully Louis has good dog manners.
Usually after the initial burst of bravado, they’d size him and
us up as OK, then go back to sleeping or lazily walk along with us for
a little bit. One of them in particular really wanted to come
home with us.
Eventually we found every part we were looking for and made all the necessary repairs.
We said goodbye
to Marsh Harbour and sailed our way down the sea of
Abaco, anchoring for a few days just outside of Little Harbor to wait
out a blow. We had our sights set on Nassau, which our guide
book assured us had cheap, good fishing supplies and fresh produce.
It was a 75 mile passage, and we needed daylight to navigate
through the rocks outside the harbor, so we left at 5 pm in order to
arrive at our destination with the sun high in the sky. Just
before nightfall, our fishing gear at last began paying for itself and
Alicia hauled aboard a beautiful, struggling king mackerel!
We poured rubbing alcohol into its gills to help it pass into the
next world and watched it expire
cockpit floor with pangs of remorse. The remorse faded when
six huge portions of spankin’ fresh fish safely tucked away in
Goodnight, sweet prince.....
Encouraged, we put the line over again but the only
thing we caught for the rest of the night was a small, scary black
thing with big teeth that looked like an eel crossed with a barracuda.
By the time we hauled it in it was already dead, and something else had even taken a bite of it, so we cut it up and
salted it to use for bait later. The head got tossed right overboard
though, because those creepy eyes wouldn’t stop looking at us.
aside, it was a peaceful overnight passage with a full moon and 15
knots of wind on the beam. It was a nice reminder that time at
sea can be relaxing.
In Nassau, we had our first official boarding experience by two members
of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.who wanted to see our cruising
permits and passports and such. It seems they were checking
random boats in the anchorage, and at first we were a little
nervous. wanted to see our cruising permits and passports and
such. We were in the
middle of some projects and SARABANDE was a mess inside. It took
us several minutes to remember where we’d put our cruising
permit, but they assured us that we were the nicest people they’d
met all day.
Alicia cautiously offered them gin and tonics, since it was late in the
afternoon and we were embarrassed to offer them lukewarm water, the
only other beverage readily available. But they declined,
checked all our documents and officiously went on their way.
Watching them leave, we worried about whether we’d offended them
by offering them alcohol.
About half an hour later, a resounding THUNK hit our hull and we
hurried into the cockpit, thinking our anchor had dragged and
we’d been blown into another boat. But instead we found the
same Bahamian officials, very embarrassed about accidentally hitting
our boat (it was a windy day), but wondering if our offer still
stood. They explained that their shift was nearly done and so
they were more comfortable accepting a drink from us now. Gin was
poured all around and we spent a pleasant half hour together, telling
each other a little bit about our lives. No harm was done by
their bump, and we parted as friends, even got invited to a Super Bowl party! What a difference a little
hospitality makes. It doesn’t seem like serving up booze to the US Coast Guard would fly, though.....
because we've been touched to receive emails from several potential
cruisers in the spot that we were a year or two ago, we started a
new section with little blurbs about some of the more mundane,
day-to-day tasks aboard a cruising sailboat. We're amateurs, but
we are managing pretty well and thought perhaps what we had to say
might be of use to someone.
Alicia & Brian