Update and some stats…
We are tied up in Highborne Cay Marina, near the top of the Bahamas Exumas Islands chain, waiting for the latest front to pass so we can proceed north. Weather calls the shots, as usual.
I was going through my daily journal to determine how many places we’ve visited this season and discovered that since leaving Port Antonio, Jamaica in early November 2016, we are now floating in our 16th cruising location! Twelve of the sixteen anchorages, or moorages, or marinas have been in the Bahamas. The Bahamas is the fourth country (with Jamaica, Cuba, and Turks & Caicos beforehand) that we’ve visited this season. Also, this season, we have cruised over 740 miles!
This blog entry is about my four favorite Bahamas stopovers to date...
These favorites were chosen because: they were unique, inspiring, fun, and challenging; I learned something at each place; I took away a story or stories; the landscapes and people and non-people in these four places were irresistible, fascinating. If future circumstances make it possible, I’d consider returning to explore these places some more. Here we go…
Mayaguana Island (Abraham’s Bay anchorage)
Abraham’s Bay was our first Bahamian Island anchorage and we learned a few things there that helped prepare us for the next places we visited.
At Mayaguana Island we learned about “Cuts”—reef openings that allow passage into a protected anchorage. Cuts can have shallow spots and are affected by tides and currents, so going through them requires advance planning and sharp eyes reading the water color to avoid grounding the boat.
Entering Mayaguana’s Abraham’s Bay through its cut was complicated and a little unnerving (it was very difficult reading the water with our inexperienced eyes), but Ron’s superb helmsmanship got us in.
The next day, we jumped aboard our dinghy to go ashore. We got stuck in the Bay’s tidal exchange and had to drag our dinghy, outboard too, for 300 yards to the dock, where there was some water again to float in. Another learning.
After our dinghy tidal exercise, we staggered into Abraham’s Bay’s Matthew Town settlement. And there, we met Marissa. Marissa became our Mayaguana Muse. She explained that the Batelco office (sitting in front of a 175’ Bahamas Telecommunications Company radio tower); and, a small restaurant and under-supplied grocery store behind, were all run by her mother. Marissa was home ‘for the moment’ from her college in South Carolina and was helping out by running the Batelco office. She also told us a bit about the settlement–“it’s really small, not much here,” reported that “when it rains, you have to run” to escape ravenous mosquitos; and, she confirmed that we could check in at the government office across from the Batelco tower. Marissa suggested we order lunch at her mother’s restaurant, which we did and it was quite good. The restaurant was operated out of her mother’s house, which added to our enjoyment of being there. Marissa also fixed me up with a Batelco SiM card for my iPhone and gave me a super 7GB-data deal.
Checking into the country didn’t work as Marissa prophesied, though. Despite Marissa’s affirmation and a billboard adjacent to the government building unequivocally stating that check-ins were performed inside, the office manager stated (unequivocally), “We do not do that here.” So, we left the office. Marissa materialized out of nowhere and offered us a car ride back to the dock and our dinghy. “By the way,” she said, “You really should take “the cut” along the dock out to your boat.”
There was actually a narrow, marked channel alongside the dock that dumped into the anchorage. Marissa was gone before we had a chance to thank her. Well, muses do that.
Mayaguana is where we first learned that Bahamian islanders’ survival depended on regular Nassau ‘mailboat’ food and other necessity deliveries. “If the mailboat doesn’t show up on Wednesday, I can’t finish some of my construction projects for another two weeks,” an Abraham’s Bay carpenter installing a deck around Marissa’s mom’s house told us. The store’s sparsely-supplied shelves were waiting for the mailboat too.
After leaving Mayaguana and anchoring off Exuma Island settlements, we found that the mailboats were often delayed and store shelves were sometimes empty.
North & South Long Island, Bahamas (Little Harbor/Rose’s Settlement, Salt Pond, and Grand Harbor anchorages)
Long Island is, well, long, measuring 76 miles. And, it’s narrow…about 4 miles at its widest. We spent two weeks exploring Long Island.
Long Island’s history is tragic and fascinating. It’s worth researching to learn about the Lucayan Indians, the Loyalists, the cotton plantations and the island’s 1834 abolition of slavery. A lot of the settlements are named after families and individuals using the possessive form…like “Rose’s” and “Seymour’s.”
We sailed to and anchored in Little Harbor (our weather guru Chris Parker’s recommendation) on Long Island’s southeast shore. It turned out Chris was quite correct about this anchorage being a good shelter from sea swell. Later on that day, a catamaran, peeking through Little Harbor’s cut, saw us inside and radioed to ask our opinion of the accommodations. We replied that all was good. The captain came by after anchoring and presented us with enough fresh mahi-mahi for many dinners. Ah, the kindness of strangers!
We went ashore and walked along a dirt road to visit Rose’s settlement, a place still recovering from significant damage caused by Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. During our walk, We noticed tumble-down rock walls on either side of the road. We learned later that the walls were constructed by slaves brought from South Carolina in the early 1800s. These walls were used as cotton plantation property lines. The slaves were forced to work on those cotton plantations until slavery was abolished in 1834.
Closing in on Rose’s town center, we saw badly damaged homes and vehicles on either side of the road. We would learn that 2015’s Hurricane Joaquin was responsible for a lot of this and other damage that remained about the island. Moments later in the town center, we saw several newer, prefabricated homes, installed on fragile-looking, stacks of cinderblock supporting each corner of the structures. This cinderblock foundation strategy was probably done to mitigate future hurricane flood damage. Two elderly women, seated in rocking chairs on their new home’s porch greeted us and we asked them about the hurricane. They said they lost everything and that without the government building their new home and providing assistance, they would have had nowhere to live.
Later in our Long Island forays, we learned that not everyone received help from the Bahamian government; the Bahamas version of FEMA ran out of funds.
In order for us to see or do anything further on this and future Bahamas islands, we had to get a new carburetor for our dinghy’s outboard. Sixteen miles north, we could rent a car in Clarence Town (in Great Harbor) and possibly find a carburetor. Great Harbor was supposed to be a fairly good weather anchorage, so we left Little Harbor. With Cetacean’s anchor set in Great Harbor, we settled in for the night.
Next morning, rolling swell and high winds threw us around the cabin. Using the dinghy in these conditions (we were several miles from shore and the outboard was barely functioning) was too dangerous. So, we moved Cetacean to Clarence Town’s Flying Fish Marina, rented a car and brought the outboard to a Sand Pond settlement mechanic, who bluntly suggested we look into replacing the outboard. Parts for this vintage, two-stroke engine weren’t made anymore, he said. A new outboard was ordered from Nassau. And though we would experience one of those aforementioned mailboat delivery delays in getting the new outboard, this setback provided time for us to see, walk and photograph parts of Long Island we otherwise might have missed.
As we explored Long Island, I became fascinated with the profusion of crumbling, abandoned structures we passed and hiked to. I learned that not all of the damage was due to hurricanes or storms. Some of the homes were just really, really old, and were left where they were for different reasons.
A woman at Salt Pond’s Farmer’s Market told me that the aging, broken homes were left in hopes someone might repair them. Some homes belonged to long-dead parents and grandparents. Their descendants could not bring themselves to condemn and remove the structures.
The plantations, built over 200 years ago, were crumbling and being overgrown by local fauna, but were regarded as historic assets, Some of the plantations (really cattle and sheep ranches built by Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution) were not worked by slave labor. But some plantations were erected by S. Carolina cotton farmers, who brought their slaves with them.
We met this man (pictured to left) when we visited Long Island’s North end. In fact, the place we met him was called “End of the Road.”
I saw the house pictured to the right, and to me, it was another remarkable part of the landscape that needed photographic attention. Both of us took dozens of pictures of this house. While we were snapping away, this man appeared out of nowhere, calling out to us, catching us red-handed in our photography escapade. I was worried that we’d trespassed on his property, which was quite true. However, our activities were not the concern. This man, whose name escapes me, but I recall he said he was the local church minister, assured me that there was no problem with our picture taking. The house belonged to his deceased mother (hence, old house serving as a memorial). “I was trying to tell you to walk further on the bluff and see the view from her house!” he said, and motioned for us to follow him.
He took us past the house and we saw a tidal river leading to an estuary . “You can kayak down there. Catch all the conch you’ll ever want. Also, you can see the monument commemorating where Columbus landed on Long Island in 1492!”
We thanked this very thoughtful and generous person for sharing information about his mother’s house, himself and this Long Island historic anecdote.
Another Long Island crumbling house story…We drove by this Salt Pond house and its remarkable found-art landscaping several times during our Long Island forays. Finally, we had to stop and check it out. We were very curious about the house’s front yard which seemed to be a kind of found-art gallery. The house itself (behind the owners pictured to the right) was a hurricane victim, but the couple returned and continued living in it despite its tenuous condition. The roof was collapsing and there was other damage to the outside. I got out of our car to take pictures and again was surprised that someone was there…went through feeling like an invader and then realized that the owners were excited to have both of us listen to them and take their pictures.
He talked about their extended Long Island family members. She seemed a little odd and then, as I listened to her more closely, I realized she was still (even after two years) quite traumatized by Hurricane Joaquin. They had gone to his brother’s house during the storm, but then the floods hit them there. “The water was up to my neck!” she shrieked.
They pointed out plants they’d proudly replanted and simply got on with life. The artwork was meaningful to them, they were delighted we noticed their efforts. The artwork was an expression of their devotion to their home.
These damaged, crumbling, decaying Long Island houses and other structures remain on the land, and for me, present a defiant and eccentric beauty. I hope they do not fall victim to the kind of development decisions we saw in Caicos and later on in other Exumas spots we went to.
Lee Stocking Island and Leaf Cay…
My third favorite Bahama site is this island and this nearby cay. We came to Lee Stocking looking for a calm anchorage, places to hike, possibly some snorkeling opportunities and a chance to see these rock iguanas our new friends on Tatiana mentioned.
When we reached the top of our first trail outing, we could view both sides (the Exuma Sound and the Great Bahama Bank) of the island. Looking out on the more raucous Exuma Sound side the first day we hiked, the waterway seemed like a freeway. Boats–sail and power–were on the move, heading north or heading south. While waves crashed against the ancient, calcified cliffs and onto the beaches below us, we watched the nautical procession.
Our third day at Lee Stocking Island we dinghyed over to Leaf Cay with James and Kristen (S/V Tatiana) and met the local iguanas. It was an amazing scene…all those colorful, assertive lizards rushing out of the scrub when we came ashore. They had their own agenda, though. Food.
The iguanas were big, but not dangerous. While we were there, a large tour dinghy carrying at least 20 Sandals Resort guests landed on our Leaf Cay beach. It was an interesting moment. We were surrounded by all these folks who seemed to regard the four of us as tour elements.
I felt like one of the iguanas.
Warderick Wells, Exumas Land & Sea Park
We came to this place knowing, somehow, that would we love it. And, I believe we got what we expected.
The Warderick Wells, Exumas Land and Sea Park is a special, special place with dedicated people working hard to keep it that way. The park’s advisory is, “Take nothing but photographs…leave nothing behind but footprints.”
We spent our all too-short time there mostly hiking; with one day of snorkeling. Finding a spot full of colorful reef fish, a huge lobster and healthy coral is not something that’s easy to do anymore. Coral reefs are disappearing throughout the world. Dedicated efforts like those at Warderick Wells are working to slow coral reef destruction. We have to hope that this and other protection efforts continue to make a difference.
To protect the park’s fragile environment, mooring balls are provided for visiting boats. It is necessary to reserve a spot a day in advance. The mooring balls protect the park’s seabed and coral from anchor damage. The moorage is very shallow and narrow. Looking at this favorite site’s discussion’s leading picture, you can see that Cetacean is sitting in a blue-green waterway, meaning it’s deep enough for our boat’s keel. On either side of our boat, the water appears white and that’s because the sand is inches from the surface.
Our hikes took us over well-marked, craggy rock trails. The craggy rock looked to me like an ancient lava flow, sharp and hardened by time. But this material does not originate from volcanic activity. It is calcium carbonate, produced by coral reef organisms. The organism’s efforts dried as sea levels dropped over hundreds, maybe thousands? of years. All the Bahamas Islands were formed this way.
We passed sandy tidal ponds filled with baby mangrove trees. These infant trees are the foundation of the park’s ecosystem. Amazing to think about. I always viewed mangroves as gnarly swamp growth housing biting insects.
We took an extra-long hike our last day at Warderick Wells on several different trails leading to isolated beaches and viewing spots. At one quiet beach, I looked down in the sand and realized I was being seriously studied by a Curly-Tailed Lizard. We’d seen a few of these guys during our park sojourns, but those lizards would quickly move off, avoiding the possibility that we might harm them.
This little guy did not, however, move off. In fact, he defiantly approached me and that was a bit unnerving. Ron, who is fascinated by reptiles, put his hand out and this lizard licked his finger! Then the lizard came back over to me and posed (I’m not kidding-just look at his expression!) for his picture. After that, he approached Ron again, but this time, nipped at Ron’s extended hand. Then he crawled onto Ron’s feet and checked out Ron’s camera bag. He seemed almost reluctant to abandon us. I think he may have watched us leave him.
Needless to say, this was a very unusual experience for all of us. I did a bit of research on curly-tailed lizards. Some of the behaviors our little visitor demonstrated were defined as “courtship” maneuvers. That is, the “tail curling” and “strutting” we observed was demonstrated by “young males at about one year of age. These behaviours will begin in February and usually end in October (see http://bnt.bs/wildlife/reptiles/lizards/curly-tailed-lizards/).” So what was really going on here?
It’s only been a few days now that we bid goodbye to Warderick Wells. We left nothing but footprints. But, in addition to taking photographs, we did take away our stories. I think Cherry, the Warderick Wells, Exuma Land and Seas Park Office Manager, would be okay with that.