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.