Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Hello Turks and Caicos

I know that to many the name sounds vaguely familiar but one can't quite figure out where one has heard it before. In the Atlantic, just under 80 nautical miles south east of Mayaguana in the Bahamas lie the islands of this British Overseas Territory which boasts a population of approximately 30 000. The Turks and Caicos islands are very similar to the Bahamas; full of coral reefs, flat, semi-arid, a little short of fresh water and blessed with absolutely clear blue water. One of the longest coral reefs in the world is found along these islands.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Bye Bye Bahamas

Jamaica Cay
Our second last stop in the Bahamas was the idyllic island of Jamaica Cay where we had a barbecue on the beach with miles and miles of golden sand and no one else around. Not even sandflies disturbed our precious evening meal.

The following day we left for Salina Point settlement, the most southern village on the island. We negotiated for five hours through shallow water dotted with menacing coral heads. At some point we had to take the sails down as the wind was piping up and it was becoming difficult to steer the boat with that much power on the sails. We motored the rest of the way through some treachorous areas in the bight of Acklins and then came out on the deep side and headed straight south.

At the entrance to the bight on the southern side, we were met by jumping dolphins who seriously looked like magical creatures in the orange afternoon light. I knew then how the references to mermaids originated. As we watched, the telephone rang and we were all taken aback as the Bahamian telephone network was a bit of a hit and run making it impossible to know when you would be able to receive or make phonecalls and that we had not used the phone for a month. It was Tshina calling from Denmark wishing Pam a happy birthday in advance.

We crawled our way through some more coral heads in an attempt to find a place to anchor. We tired to anchor twice and still no luck. The bottom being rock solid hard was not cooperating with us. In the end Mads snorkelled down to the third anchor spot and had to shift some sand for the anchor to settle a bit. We had, earlier with Liz and Paul, made jokes about American seamen who told stories of carrying shovels for digging holes for their anchors and had written them off as ridiculous and bored yachtsmen. Not that a shovel would have helped in this coralled bottom but it would have saved the skipper's arms from engaging in complex under water exercises for which no water aerobics class can ever prepare you.

We settled for the night and watched the fishermen's boats rolling in the shallow waters.
Salina Point Settlement
Mission water collection was on the programme. Ingrid, Thyra, Fika and I left the skipper to go and forage in the neighbourhood. This time it would take a dinghy ride, a 3km walk with four jerry cans to get to the settlement. It seemed that Saturdays were reserved laundry day. All the young girls, whom we asked for directions, were engrossed in the weekly washing of school uniforms and Sunday school dresses. Salina point is located on the eastern side of the island facing the Atlantic which pounds the rocks everyday making the sea look menacing. The village has everything the inhabitants require: mobile phone connection, desalination plant, school, clinic, church and also amazingly 3 restaurants and a small hotel.

We were even escorted to the general store where we could purchase frozen food and canned goods. The proprietor, a very friendly man with a warm laugh, drove us to the public tap, filled our jerry cans and drove us back to the harbour. His children were then asked to load our dinghy and help push us it out as the tide was low by the time we returned.

The captain was pleased to see his crew return. We prepared the boat for departure. We were all a bit subdued as this was our last anchorage in the Bahamas.

At four o'clock on March 23rd 2008 we picked up and waved goodbye to Acklins island. We were aiming for Turks and Caicos, some 160 nautical miles south east of Acklins island. Typically the wind was not cooperating with us as it came straight from the south of east. As we rounded off Castle Island, we decided to make a straight course towards Turks and Caicos and then tack up north. As it were, we tacked up north and the skipper realised that the best option would be to sail all the way up to Mayaguana's north coast and hope that the wind woud shift east so we could make a straight southerly run for T& C. On the second afternoon we spotted Mayaguana and waved and waved. This would be the last island we would see in the Bahamas.

Bye Baha Mar

As we chatted about leaving this beautiful desert in the Atlantic, the fishing rod suddenly started coming to life. Mads got very busy in the next half-hour. We could see that we caught a dorado, the most delicious fish on the planet. As Mads reeled it in, we could see all its fantastic colours and children and adults were clapping like mad in anticipation of a feast. Then the rod just bucked over forward and silence. Lo, the fish was gone. We thought it had managed to untangle itself. But what were we seeing behind the boat. A ginormous shark of some sort. We ran downstairs to check in the marine book. It turned out that it was the rare Atlantic white tip ocean shark. The fellow was quite pleased with our catch and it stayed with us for an hour just behind the boat. We were determined that we were not going to fish for it, so the fishing rod stayed put. We sailed on towards the east coast of Mayaguana during the evening and by midnight we were well out of Bahamian water.

Our exit was dramatic, exquisite and expressed our true sentiments about the Bahamas. We would never forget the warm friendly people who prize their conch and rice and peas above all dishes. We would remember their national pride and resilience in this blue water desert of the Atlantic. We respect them for making themselves into what they today are; from slavery into a thriving people who love their children, their homecoming meetings and their regattas.

What is a Sapodilla?

Now some of you might be wondering what in the world I am talking about, mentioning strange fruits that are not a common sight in world supermarkets. Well in the Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean, this very tasty fruit is part of the daily diet (in season of course). It resembles a kiwi but tastes like a mixture between a pear and a mango. If you ever find one, enjoy.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Campari and Sapadillas

Ivan, the owner of a resort on Delectable Bay (I am not making it up), who took us for a Sapodilla hunt through the bushes.
Next to an old cemetery, we met two people hacking away into some bark, which turned out to be the main ingredient in Campari.

Blue holes and crabs in Acklins

Meet the two eccentric Brits, Liz and Paul the hardy sailors, though not too hard on themselves, from Wales who enjoy the ocean and their home with the equally mad horse named Alex whose favourite hobbies amongst others include eating from the fruit bowl and switching on lights. Alex and Liz convinced Mads one night to venture out for some nocturnal fishing from the enormous blue holes in the bay. These holes are known to run through from the islands' bank side in the west to the ocean side in the east. Apparently Jacque Costeau, the mad frenchman, in an experiment to determine the length of the blue holes poured dye in one and watched from the helicopter a couple of hours later the dyed water coming out far on the ocean side. I do not quite remember the precise distance but it was over 5km outside the eastern shore.
As Mads could certainly not miss the opportunity for fishing: he and Ingrid had tried for a solid hour, earlier during the day where the fish proved to be too big. Mads had also been swimming in the swirling bathtub and spotted 6 sleeping sharks, large fish, crabs so he was very excited to catch some crab.
However delightfully easy it may sound when a salesman tells you a crabtrap is the best way to catch crabs, don't believe them. It proved toughgoing and all the bait was just eaten clean by the time they pulled the trap up. So came Paul with the brilliant idea of jumping in with slings to spear hunt the crabs amid loud protests from Liz who was not impressed by her intrepid crazy man whose source of thrill that night was to be derived from diving, in the dark, into a huge circular hole with swirls and strong current. In the end, they jumped in.

Needless to say we had crab for dinner the following day. Ai Ai Skipper.

I wonder what the manufacturer was thinking. It is good chocolate at least.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Spring Point Settlement

Coby, once a bodyguard of a former Prime Minister, has a bar and cafe on the main road of Acklins which goes through Spring Point where he serves amongst other interesting things'pig's feet sauce'. Sauce is pronounced with a very strong southern Bahamian accent and sounds more like 'soous'. Apparently Chinese aphrodisiacs are also available at the bar. At Coby's bar, the local workforce; fishermen, waterworks people, road workers, stops for a midday Kalik, pig's feet and Coby's fresh baked bread.

An ancient cottage in Acklins- there are many of these abandoned houses around. Two thirds of the 300 000 strong Bahamian population lives in Nassau therefore many islands are quite empty.

One of Coby's goats. We could not have this one for lunch though.

The life on Acklins

What can we say. We have seen many beautiful sunsets and they are never quite the same. Optical illusion? Maybe. This particular sunset was viewed on Long Cay after a very appetising day- goats on offer, fish and lobster galore and not to mention the interesting population of Albert Town. The total number of the population kept changing with each person we asked. The first reported 19, the second 21 and the third 23. So we will stick with the latter. Even small settlements can feel very big (it is demanding work to make a census) and this former capital of the Bahamas felt indeed like that.

And we say hurrah to that.

We non-chalantly walked past this house and commended the workers for doing a great job restoring it. We were also secretly proud that someone has put his/her money to renovate this old cottage only to be told "oh no, no one is going to live here. At least no one living. This is going to be a mortuary" . Oh well, at least the departed will rest well. It turns out that the islands have no facilities and they have to transport bodies to Nassau for embalming before they are sent back to the island again.


From Rum our next destination was Mayaguana island lying south east of Rum and one of the truly remote islands of the Bahamas. At Rum we had been waiting for a north easterly wind which typically arrived much later that it was forecast and at that came at night when everyone had gone to bed swearing at meteorologists and the unpredictability of the wind. It was thus that we ended in Acklins; the wind was blowing a steady 15 knots from the east and we were making very good speed and not to mention that we were not heading straight into the sea. BEAM SEAS, who has ever heard of such a concept when sailing from the USA to the Caribbean. We took such a pleasure from the sail that we went through several dishes for dinner. Then the wind changed and in our recently acquired pleasure of comfortable sailing, we refused to give this precious commodity up and instead of sailing straight into Mayaguana, ergo, the waves, we changed course and decided to visit Acklins and Crooked Islands. And what a great discovery it was.
Long Cay
As luck would have it, sometimes it comes in abundance, we continued sailing due south and arrived too early at the entrance to the bight of Acklins. The captain heaved the boat to and waited for first light. After dawn coffee, we sailed into the shallow bight slowly doglegging around the green water, a very unsettling issue since one is used to the crystal clear water in the majority of islands. As we were about to find a good anchor spot, an enormous barracuda leapt out of the water and onto our hook. We discarded it for fear of ciguatera only to be told later that the stock in the area is perfectly safe to eat. A couple of hours of rest for the exhausted crew after a hearty breakfast was on the cards.

In the afternoon we dinghied over to the far lying docks in search of Albert town which lies on the opposite shore of the island. With the baking sun directly over our heads we made slow progress up the hills amidst numerous wandering goat herds. Close to the village we met a man skinning a goat and when we enquired about the roaming goats, he told us we could eat goat for dinner if we wanted to with the only provision being hunting one. It turns out that the goats are wild and with no natural predators the numbers have proliferated. I suppose it is less exerting to dive for conch than to spend your day with a dodgy hunting rifle in a scorcher hunting goat amidst thorny acacia trees.

Albert town is small picturesque settlement dotted with bright and luminious walls . At the centre is an old wooden church that sort of serves as a tourist attraction to the village. Judging by the response of Officer Wright, who overzealously enquired about our mission and religiously took all our details only to be miffed that we were not carrying our passports; one has to conclude that there cannot be that many tourists in the village.

From Georgetown to Crooked-Acklins Islands

Conception mangroves

Ingrid playing with the camera

the shark that got away with our fish

After spending too long a time in Georgetown, the chicken harbour amongst sailors, we had had enough and decided to start moving eastwards towars Conception and the rest of the east lying islands in the Bahamas.
At Conception, we were met by incredible beauty, unsurpussed if I have to say it myself. This is an uninhabited island of exceptional spleandour consisting of natural bays, corals and mangroves. On our second day there, whilst snorkelling with Mads, it was brought to my attention that a huge shark was just swimming past. Very close encounter indeed at about 10 metres away. In trepidation I looked at Mads for support, who then told me in sign language to just relax and sure enough the shark was gone after five minutes. We identified it as the White Tip which is not known for aggression, but hey, a shark is shark no matter what anyone tells you. Remember Jaws! OK, we know Steven S spoiled it for the shark population, not exactly good PR for the species.

We spent a couple of days at Conception (mangroves with clear water, turtles, more sharks) and left for Rum Cay some 20 miles south east of the island. We departed too late as we were entranced by the mangroves which then meant a late entrance at Rum which is literally covered in corals. We made it to the anchorage without much drama except our elevated heart beats. We swear not to do it again.

Friday, 08 August 2008

Photo sample

Alive and kicking

Family and friends
We are alright and still enjoying the Caribbean but we are almost at the end of our trip. However we will update the blog and attempt to fill you in on our meanderings in the last 3 months. or is it 4 months? Watch this space. After the carnival here on Grenada, we should be able to put time aside for sharing our experiences with you.
cheers to you all
Pamela, Mads, Afika and Thyra

Monday, 07 April 2008

The family visits

Mie and Thyra

We were lucky to have a visit from Kristian (Mads' brother), his son Sebastian and the cousin sweet Mie. They arrived in the midst of very nice weather, knowing how lucky Kristian is, I am sure he had especially ordered this from the Gods when he left Denmark. The beautiful weather persisted for the duration of their stay in the Exumas. Afika was the happies girl on the planet with her cousin to play with the whole day. Sebastian who is 8 years old was a little abashed at his little cousin's constant show of affection but they had a blast. Kristian was immediately put to duty, i.e. cleaning the boat underneath and removing all the growth that had hung on for weeks thus slowing us down. The new diving equipment was tested and it was satisfactory (not too good, but will do). We picked Ingrid who arrived from South Africa and left for the northen part of the Exumas where Kristian had a few bites on his fishing rod. But they got away. And true to his style, he was ready to fish again. Not to be cheated, he went out fishing again and caught a few horse-eyed Jack fish. Mie was happy enough with the swimming and snorkelling but not the sand. Sebastian enjoyed the swimming and snorkelling and seeing the Dutch version of Adam and Eve, a couple we interrupted in their anchorage by coming up early morning and anchoring right next to them.

We caught some barracudas off Leaf Cay but they were too big to eat anyway. Cigautera poisoning deters any fool from even trying a morsel of an oversized barracuda. Mie was our drink specialist and dish washer. Sebastian provided the entertainment.
At Leaf Cay we found our own secluded beach with iguanas who bit on anything green mistaking it for leaves. This is where we spent most of our time, snorkelling and trying tó find a way across the island.

We left for Georgetown on the 24th of February, caught another big Barracuda, discarded it and went for the anchorage. That night we tried the 'Rake 'n Scrape', a Bahamain music speciality. Sebastian was the star of the show, dancing with virtually the entire club of Edies Edgewater Restaurant. The next day we had to say goodbye to our family who had been with us for 10 days.

Georgetown the big boat trap

Rasta for a day

You know where to get your hair done

Georgetown, in the south of the Exuma, the biggest town in all of the Exumas, can be best described as a relatively alright anchorage. Its best feature is that once you get in it is hard to get out. Then you get to practise the G'town shuffle, moving anchorage according to the weather and internet availability. This harbour, with Stocking and Elizabeth islands acting as buffers against the prevailing easterlies, has sometimes up to 500 boats. Our first week there, the boat count was 250. The town also host the annual family island regatta where both local and visiting boats take their chance at winning.

Now the thing with G'town is that one has to understand the set culture, the hierachies and values of the yachtspeople. The area being full of sensitive souls tends to admonish those with a bit of humour in their bones and only welcomes 'the community' spirit.

The 5F Festival

Little Farmer's Cay is the proud host of the First Friday in February Festival and it is a treat indeed. One experiences the social network of this small community flavoured with visitors from all over the Bahamas. And they come in their little private planes full of babes, of course. By the airport, the regata takes place and this is where you see Bahamian seamanship and humour. The boats commit fouls against each other, and in true male bravado push each other towards the finishing line. And by Jove do they sail fast the Bahamian C-Class boats. They are a thing of beauty and awe carrying 4 to 8 men who sit on planks on windward to balance the boat. The mail boat (nation wide Bahamian boats which travel from town to town delivering goods and people) came from Nassau and Georgetown carrying at least 5 boats. At the end of each race, it seemed there always was a protest against a foul or unfair decision. We spent the first day dinghied after the participants, betting on the winner.

Enjoy the pictures

Cat Island : Fernandez’s gifts and revenge

The skipper with the mutton snapper

It may seem we mention the word resort quite often but as a sailor it does fulfil its purpose when you are in need of some comforting and this normally coincides with the mood after a day of bad weather. Such was the fate of the Double O crew in Fernandez Bay north of the Cat Bight. We had been experiencing good weather for days in succession. We should have suspected that something was afoot. Dear Reader, if you ever have a chance to find your Atlas, find Cat Island in the eastern Bahamas and you will see it is completely exposed to the west, which is of course, true to Murphy’s Law, the wind blew a good 25 Knots straight from the Exuma Sound, the least desirable direction, leaving us all wondering when it will change direction. The wind did change direction and we were even sorrier. After two days of a howling westerly, the wind shift came upon us swiftly and demanded attention. That was the first time I heard so much traffic on the radio since our arrival on Cat Island. In 5 minutes, the wind had moved from west to true north and this shift is unfortunately not favourable for sail boats that are exposed. It was the first time I experienced the feeling of being ín a washing machine. Everything moved violently about for a few minutes and then ’settled’ to a rhythmn of a gentler, still rocking move which persisted for a day. The following morning, with dry eyes from lack of sleep, we sheepishly summoned courage and decided to brave it to the restaurant at the resort overlooking the bay. Needless to mention, we had a protracted breakfast. Muffins have never tasted nicer. It is comic to think that bars and restaurants in ships caught in bad weather make a killing as long as the undesirable weather persists (this is a trade secret, I was told by a reputable skipper of a large ferry operating in western Florida). Following copious amounts of coffee, we managed a swim and back to the boat to clean up the previous night’s remnants from a dancing boat. We ended up putting a swell bridle which in simple terms meaning you force the boat to face the direction of the swell instead of the wind. This calmed us considerably not to mention our heads and stomach acids.
Two days later we went fishing and caught us a sizeable Mutton Snapper, a fish of excellent food value. By that time we had already forgotten the havoc visited upon us by the seas. The snapper was indeed delicious and it fed us for a good three days.

Cat Island :Tomatoes and Haitians

The marine nomads enjoying a well deserved swim at Hawk's Nest
The rest of the day was spent driving up to the northern end of the island and a swim at the tip of the island. After trying to find a place to eat, we were lucky in our fourth attempt and we enjoyed a late lunch in Arthur’s town at Hot Spot, a local joint full of colourful Cat Islanders with a quite share of their life stories. We found out that Sidney Poitier comes from this island. In times before the borders between countries were tightened, Cat Islanders would sail down to Haiti to find brides (so goes the story anyway). And the tomatoes we ate there! Delicious. As we walked doen the hill from the heritage we spotted some boxed along the road full of sun ripened tomatoes. The woman who walked out of her field to sell them was so very pleased that we left with more tomatoes than we needed.
The straw shop run by Mama Irene carried all sorts of goodies made of, you guessed right. Straw. Mads got himself a very durable panama hat which he still has up to this day (april). He is very grateful for a hat that can withstand the marine environment; it has survived a teething baby, submersions in sea water and being stepped on.
We sailed a few miles south to Hawk’s Nest area after being duly warned about the wild life in the area. The mangroves had their fair share of no-see-ums and mosquitos but we were clever enough to stay on the windy side to enjoy peaceful nights. Hawk’s Nest as a marina, a resort and a private airstrip where those rich enough to own or hire private planes regularly fly in for a spot of fishing for the weekend. I can imagine the conversation back at the club in New York (and I mean a real club not the one where you bob your head hoping the DJ will soon play something you like):
Charles: So Harold, what did you do last weekend?
Harold: Oh I flew down to the Bahamas for some fishing. And I caught a gigantic Wahoo, I almost could not reel it in. I think I won the fishing tournament for the weekend, my catch was a good 60kg. I returned with the boys in time for Sunday dinner at Martin’s.
Charles: That settles it then. I will have to fly my plane down next week as well, we can’t have you running around with such an ego. I promise you that I will catch a bigger one next time and I will not even use two days on it. By the way, how is the landing strip there? The madam does not like a bumpy landing…etc etc.

The great thing with the people at the resort was their friendliness, I mean they did not know who we were and yet we could just serve ourselves at the bar and use the internet. Now that is hospitality. We did not even have to put airs, trying to act like we were guests, as yachtspeople, it is almost de rigeur to have to resort to acting like part of the furniture to get a fresh water swim. It does help though with an island that does not have many visiting boats (no yacht fatigue yet). As all TV deprived children, Afika was extremely happy to find that the channel was changed to her advantage. After a few hours in the pool, she had a pre-dinner feast on cartoons and played with little Jessie.

Sunday, 06 April 2008

Cat Island: a clear view of the hills

One of the churches designed and built by Father Jerome on Cat Island
We were supposed to go to Georgetown to pick up a friend, however she cancelled (postponed) her visit, we then departed for Cat Island, some 40 nautical miles east of Little Farmers Cay. By dusk we set anchor in the bight under the highest hill in the Bahamas. The island looked enchanting from a distance encrusted by hills a very different landscape from the flat cays and islands in the north west and central areas. so we were quite excited to see what we would find. The following day, the towering hill in front of us looked so inviting that we had to go. We had read that the island boasts some beautiful churches and a hermitage for a famous priest affectionately referred to as Father Jerome who started as an Anglican priest then converted to Catholicism.
After locating a car rental place at Ms Crawfurd, negotiated the price down by a couple of dollars, we set off to the hermitage. At the parking area, this remarkable and modest building looks over the Exuma sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The hermitage of Father Jerome consists of a small bedroom, a kitchen, a prayer room/study and another room whose purpose we could not discern. One could just imagine the priest waking up at dawn and saying his prayers as the sun rose. This priest lived long in the Bahamas and even managed to change denomination following a visit to Europe. He is remembered chiefly for his architectural skills having built several churches throughout the Bahamas.

A forest gently unfolds around on the east and leading to limestone caves. We pottered around for a bit outside, went to look at the caves and Fika saw two snakes.

Little Farmers Cay first time

We parted with Alex and Raffi in Little Farmers Cay where they jumped onto Alex’s family boat heading for Nassau. We spent a few days in this beautiful community of people, all descendents of a woman called Chrisanna who bought the island for 30 dollars in the 1800’s. Afika was very pleased as there were children with whom to frolic on the island. She rode bicycles, fished for octopus and did just about all the things children get up to. It was here we met the crew of High Five, a family from Canada with three boys on their way to the southern Caribbean. Fika enjoyed spending some time with other cruiser children and was quite sad when we had to leave the following day. We had interesting conversations with Terry Bain, the owner of Ocean Cabin, who has travelled all over the world and returned to this little community to raise his youngest daughter. The children of Chrisanna have indeed done well for themselves; this small community of cousins, relatives and so forth is bubbling with life where various festivals are held to celebrate different occassions and important events of the year with the 5F(Farmer's first Friday February) festival being the most well known event and bringing visitors from all the Bahamas. We left the place with a promise to return after a few weeks for this famous festival.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Chain gang

Oh, how we miss the chain mistress. She's gone to see Fidel and then will be back to the Table Mountain. Cheers to you, resident artist.

Raffi learning the ropes

It was a great pleasure to have the company of Alexandra and Raffi who escaped the Parisian winter for a short break with the crew of Double O. Though the visit was short, by our standards as well as theirs, we had a ball. There are many highlights from this visit: Raffi swimming against the current to check the anchor, snorkelling in the Farmers Cay Cut and searching for conch salad. And now we know something about Alex that we did not: she is a serious fisherwoman. Those poor jack fish had no chance against her desire to catch them for dinner.

au revoir nos amis!

Thursday, 03 January 2008

In Memory of Steven Robin Olejas

We lost our dear friend and colleague, Steven, during the Algiers bombing of the UN building. Steven, with whom we had worked in DCA, was a sincere and kind person who talked so fast he left people reeling and asking each other "can someone tell me what he was talking about". We will miss him terribly and we send our sincerest condolences to Susanne, his wife and the 3 children.
The meaningless terror which the bombers unleashed leaves all of us empty trying to understand the reasons why people like Steven, who try to make the world a better place, have to be killed.
We will miss him.