Thursday, April 15, 2021

Storms and the scareceness of salads: the payoffs of cruising the Bahamas

Veggie day eventually arrived. Not on the day we planned it, nor in the way we imagined it however.

We did TRY to sail down there like the valiant pirates we imagined ourselves! But Mother Nature decided to put these wayward scallywags in check. We did lift anchor and head toward the mouth of the bay with Alleycat leading the way. However, wind and waves were unexpectedly wild and threw them around. Like a pendulum in a rush, their mast rocked forward and back as the crew and boat fought all the elements.

Quick VHF radio call and an unanimous decision. Without leaving our safe harbour, we made a 180 degree turn back to calm and safety. We admitted defeat. But we hadn’t forgotten those veggies! We resolved to rent a car instead. Only no cars were available that day and the next day was Sunday, and guess what? The legendary veggie place was CLOSED ON SUNDAYS.

We rented the car Sunday. Only by then, the rough weather outside our bay had made it’s way in. The boats rocked incessantly, things rolled around, morale was tense. Waves crashed ashore making the dinghy landing a bit difficult and involved salty limbs and perhaps a swear word or two.

Luckily the renting went much more smoothly. Called a number I found online, met Kitra in a parking lot, she took $70 cash, had a look at our driver’s licenses and sent us on our way! Off to explore the rest of Eleuthera - we could visit veggie heaven Monday morning before returning our car.

Found an open beach side café and marveled at the beauty and power of nature. We watched the wild waves slam their front tables as we waited for the one waitress to make her way over. It took a while. A loooong while. There was no urgency in her movements. Her pants were working overtime trying to accommodate a frame that had outgrown them a while ago. They seemed to groan under the pressure. We groaned as well… ‘Pleeeeease can we have a menu? A beer maybe even?’ 




She served the one other table of needy tourists and saw us. And her smile flipped a switch on our irritability. Now we were mesmerized by her two toned red eyes. We forgot what we wanted. It was like alien zombie movie stuff. But she was nice enough and finally brought us some cool beers and left us with menus. We decided her eyes were some funky coloured contact lenses, left over from a Halloween surplus? We weren’t in danger of a zombie apocalypse. But we did discover they were out of the majority of foods on the menu. Burgers and fries and wings it is then!!! In the end, she only forgot one of the four food orders. Eventually, with full bellies, we thanked our red eyed server and headed onward.

To the Queen’s Baths. A rough roadside sign, a forest walk, a climb over some jagged rocks, revealed a place of breathtaking beauty. Huge pools of turquoise water, protected from the crashing waves of the ocean, inviting the curious to wade and watch as the tide slowly came in and made the spectacle more beautiful and more dangerous. We took full advantage. 






 And there were beautiful windward beaches to walk, with countless old wrecks to contrive elaborate stories of adventure and demise... it was a full day!

Back in our bay, the boats still rolled around and we dreaded returning. We parked the car and braved the evening aboard. Bruised hips notwithstanding, we made it through til 10 pm without a hitch. And then we happened to pause our TV show, check the weather Apps and saw the green and red monster heading our way fast. We called Alleycat, the boys decided to hoist up the dinghies just in case. And then it all just came rushing at us. The boats swung around, wind whipping up, storm clouds, thunder, lightning, rain pelting. We went from lying around on the couch, to soaked, adrenaline pumping, engines running, alert and ready for the onslaught within less than 10 minutes. The boat had changed direction and swung us into the shallows, with the concrete city was too close for comfort behind us. The boat pounded and lifted with each wave and then we realised we were in REALLY shallow water. The boat would soon be slamming the ground in these waves. We’d have to reanchor in the huge winds, huge waves, sheets of rain, pitch darkness.

Blinking and spitting at the rain, stomach in knots, shivering, I watched John trying to keep his balance at the front of the bucking boat. We managed. We resigned ourselves to our cold wet state and got to the task at hand. And we got out of immediate danger. By 1 am we were sipping chamomile tea, my feet in my Walmart slippers, trying to lull ourselves into calmness so we could attempt sleep.

And we woke on Monday morning, Shiloh creaking and rocking and begging for reprieve from the side slam of waves. But it wasn’t to be. And we had to get back to shore. The veggies awaited!!!

An hour later, we’d managed the wet and rough dinghy landing and had driven down to Palmetto Point, eyes peeled for the road side sign we’d seen online. And then it came into view. ‘There it is!!!!’ I poked at the air and tried to stay calm.


It was beyond anticlimactic. A shady yard with big empty wooden tables barely managed a welcome. No one in sight. The promise of a hot coffee immediately deflated. The coffee machines were all dusty and cold. There were a few jars of jams and hot sauces. The fridges held some unlabeled containers. And then there were the veggies. Old, wrinkly peppers, green, red and yellow, told us this was not the day. Nothing new here. We’ve been here a while. We’ve seen our peak and now we are on our last days.

To it’s credit, the market had some fresh homegrown lettuce and herbs. We bought them up in utter desperation. We HAD TO find something to buy. I found a lady crouched between boxes of wine to ask about the containers. She was busy. How could she know the importance of this day, this very moment for us?! “Bring them to me and I’ll tell you what they are”. REALLY? *crushed*... Eventually she came over and identified hummus. Which I bought.

Now surely there must be pies, pitas, soups, lasagnas, the world famous bread?! All those mouthwatering photos we’d seen on their Facebook page

 




“Bread is tomorrow”. But as we all know, tomorrow never comes.

That was our last chance. It was their last chance.

We survived one more night in the rolling, vomitous conditions and we finally sailed out. The hummus is watery and bland. But at least I’ve got a green salad!!!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Buccaneers - the booty, the bounty and the broccoli

Having resigned ourselves to moldy broccoli and canned beans, we departed the little town of James Cistern, headed for beaches and beauty.

We happened upon paradise. An extra dose of paradise in fact. South Cistern, a few miles down, revealed lines and layers of sand bars in every colour of blue and beige the mind could fathom. And then it added more. We had to go exploring.




What we found after pinching ourselves at the beauty around us, was a mystery we will carry onward. Like excited sleuths in a PG-13 adventure movie, we ran from pile to pile of rusted, melted wreckage. What could it all be from? A ship? A barge?  An old dump site?! There were giant rust-orange engine parts and hunks of remnants of cans and even bottles. And then JW pulled out a fully formed little light green bottle from the ancient heaps. We gathered around as he shook off the sand to reveal the embossed cursive letters: ‘Coca Cola’. How old are these?! How could they still be sitting here on the beach? Why are we the first to find them?! I couldn’t wait to get back to the boat to do some Googling. But first – enjoy more paradise!







We kept a couple bottles each and carried on our walk, marveling at the numbers of small conch shells lining the beach. We found little piles of them in the edge of the forest, smashed. We imagined the shipwrecked crew breaking them and eating them whole for sustenance.

Back at the boat I laid out our treasure haul and started investigating. First article I came across, with a photo of our exact bottles: “OLD COKE BOTTLE SELLS FOR $110,700”. Huh?! Whaaaaa?! Two seconds of excitement. So much fun! Yippee! Woohoo!!! VHF call to Alleycat “We’re rich! Our coke bottles are worth over $100k!!!” 

And then, coming back to earth, I read on to discover the featured bottle had been a prototype… never actually released and had perhaps been smuggled out of the factory by an employee…. Turns out the ones we found are actually from the early 1950’s which is so cool! And they’re selling on Ebay for $10 to $20 each. Not so cool. Those are the ones in pristine condition, not burnt in a fire amidst ship parts, on a random beach in the Bahamas. I don’t think any buyer would appreciate the story to explain the nicks and gashes on our specimens. We’ll just have to add them to our coffers that hold our precious stories and memories. Lads and lassies, time to raise the Jolly Roger and move on. A whole five miles south to Governor's Harbour!


We walked the town and toasted our luck over burgers at the fittingly named Buccaneers. 

And then came the news. The most exciting news. The veggie place does exist! They even have a website and a Facebook page! They have farm fresh eggs and homemade hummus and fresh baked breads and free wifi as an added bonus. Apparently. We are approaching this revelation with caution. Can’t get too excited until we are standing there on terra firma, amongst the bounty.

Today is the day. Time to weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen! Pirates of the Eleutheran coast. More like scallywags. We’ve found our treasures, we are off to continue the plunder and pillaging!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Strong rum and weak dryers - the wild veggie quest part two

There were no veggies. No local farmer’s market bustling with eager customers, filling their baskets with locally grown fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and guavas and limes. The dream we carried, clung to, fought weather and waves to reach, was a façade. A mirage across the desert of Bahamian grocery stores lined with processed foods and overripe American produce. To be fair, it would have been a first if it had existed. But that dream kept our spirits up on those blustery days aboard…

 

There was no karaoke either, for us. Hatchet Bay did provide the safest shelter a boater could ask for though, and Rinaldo served up some brutally strong rum drinks. 

 

He also boasted of their laundry facilities, so I decided to lug our waterproof bag over one windy afternoon. Couldn’t find the man himself but presumably his wife, sat behind the counter in their closet sized convenience store, baby on breast, offered to show me to the laundry. We meandered through doors and gates, kids of various ages playing, guys erecting a canopy, broken cars, old dusty dogs, half cured cement platforms, loose garbage, toys, broken tools, chickens and more until we arrived at an open door. She held out an inviting arm and explained that there were no coins involved but that I could just go ahead and then let her know later how many washes I’d done. I barely heard her though, as I was too amazed at the room. It was basically an outhouse to the family home, all the Christmas decorations and copious amounts of junk overflowing giant Tupperware containers, boxes, or simply strewn along the shelves that you could barely squeeze by, to wedge yourself in by the two filthy washing machines and the dryer. Well, better get to it then. Trying to touch nothing, I loaded up the machine and off we went for a walk through town.


 


 

Nearly four hours later, nine dollars for the pleasure, through about 4 x drying cycles, cursing, rainy squalls, thirst and hunger and in the company of our new companions, the yards’ resident dusty scabby dogs, our one load of laundry was washed and finally dry. Well almost dry but I wasn’t waiting another minute. Sigh...

And then we woke up one morning to not a breath of wind. Easter Monday and no promise of hot cross buns around here, so it was time to leave the safe harbour and head off, toward those elusive veggies! Our exit through the treacherous cut that we’d barely maneuvered a few days earlier, was a calm clean cruise. We made our way out the flat blue waters into the Eleuthera Sound. This is the way it should be! The lee of an island. Protected from wind and waves, a smooth sail south along the coast in the glorious sunshine. A blissful morning.

We reached James Cistern, the sleepy little village rumoured to host a farmer’s market on weekdays. We’d have to wait til the morning. We anchored on a rock and reanchored, and finally settled. Soaked up another gorgeous Bahamas sunset. 


The next morning came the bad news.

Alleycat headed to shore to investigate. No place to dock the dinghies! Just rocky shoreline. The government jetty had no planks… we’d have to wade in to get to those veggies! So be it. We hobbled over rocks, knee deep, our cooler bags in hand and headed in. There were two food stores. Neither had heard of a veggie market. Our faces fell. Our hopes dashed. Our dreams shattered. We ignored the processed junk lining the aisles and passed up the rotting three avocados. We scooped up the few bits of two-week-old-imported salvageable vegetables packed in the fridge and moved on. You have to shrug off the punches and look ahead.

Got back to the boat to find my newly acquired broccoli full of black mold. Frozen veggies it is then!

Our reward for positivity in the face of adversity was pretty much a heavenly scene for the next day. 


 

And then there's the promise of a meet up with awesome sailing friends we haven’t seen since they waved off the dock in Titusville months ago.

So tonight there will be partying, merriment, laughter, feasting. Friendship. And then we will find another adventure to pursue, absorb, appreciate. Governor’s Harbour, the old capitol of the Bahamas is just a short sail further south. And maybe, just maybe, we will find some veggies.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Hatchet Bay Day

I’ve just hoisted myself up onto the old wooden dock, dinghy rope in hand. No ladder in sight. Had to make due. Not very elegant, one foot dangling just above the inflatable pontoon, the other knee splayed far above, hands groping for anything solid… but I managed to get up and ‘look ma, no splinters’! JW has just killed the dinghy engine and is offering up empty bottles of vodka and whisky and a little plastic bag of garbage.

We’ve arrived in Alice Town apparently, headed to shore via the bright blue and white buildings where ‘Boat Haven’ is painted boldly. Seems like a good place to start the adventure.

 

We’re barely off the dock and stood in front of a huge faded hand painted mural of the island, when Rinaldo appears, smiling from ear to ear.

“Is dis ya first time in Hatchet Bay?” Stocky and dark, his glistening gold chain and framed huge Bahamian coin pendant commanding all the attention. A cocky rooster bolts by in the yard behind him, commanding his harem.

We explained that it was, that we’d had no plans to be here but that this morning was quite a rough sail and we’d seen this protected bay on the charts and turned in for shelter.

 

The truth was, that this morning had been a wild ride from hell and there was no way we were going to make it to our intended destination only 10 miles further down Eleuthera’s coast.

We awoke hours earlier in front of a palm tree lined white sand beach, relative calm and sunshine said good morning, despite the side roll of little waves that had the sliding door doing it’s annoying ‘thump thump’ and the crew bumping hips into bannisters and chairs…

 

Wonderful morning to keep heading south! Southeast actually. Though the forecast warned us that just around Mutton Point Rock up there, the seas might have different ideas. The wind was actually swinging a bit southeast, which would mean no protection here in the supposed ‘lee’ of Eleuthera. And with the 17 knot winds, that could make for a potentially ugly ‘beat’ directly into wind and waves.

But there were fresh vegetables at a local farmer’s market we’d heard of, just 16 miles down, in a place called James Cistern. How bad could it be?! What’s 16 miles when fresh veggies beckon??? Well…

An hour later we had made it 3 miles. Things had fallen here and there in the boat. We were both at the helm, holding anything to secure ourselves. Sea spray slammed the entire boat and our shocked faces, eyes wide, mouths spluttering, as each four to five foot wave buried Shiloh’s bow, and jolted the whole lot of us back up, then immediately down into the next wave. The wind howled into us, adding to the assault, at 15 to 20 knots. It was unrelenting. I zoomed out on the chart plotter, looking for anything, any place, any way we could escape this. I could barely look at the screen and my finger was bounced off it over and over as I tried.

And there it was. Only 3 miles further. Hatchet Bay. A tiny narrow entrance, hacked out of the rocky shoreline, that opened up into a big calm bay. Hallelujah! We just had to endure another hour or so of this sheer hell, and then traverse the tricky little entrance with huge waves and big winds to complicate the maneuver.

Alleycat was ahead and turned the corner into the cut. But they literally disappeared into a sheer rock face. Adrenaline pumping and prayers to all sorts of gods, I finally saw the cut. Between waves that is. And there was a fisherman in a tiny boat in the middle. No!!!!! But I had to do the 90 degree turn and pull Shiloh sideways to those waves, and gun it. As we turned, one huge wave lifted and tried with all it’s might to dump us into the massive rock at the entrance. I held that helm like it was a life and death mission and pulled her away. The tiny fisherman just stared. And within one minute all the waves, the wind, the chaos were behind us. We were in a huge flat, calm bay. I wanted to kiss it. The water, the land that surrounded it and made all this possible. Alleycat was anchoring over in a corner. As we pulled up I was still shaking. I knew I was alive! Heart racing, ever grateful and somehow a part of me wanted to do that again. But I settled for a cup of tea and some research about the town we were now going to explore…



And so, just like that, there were to be no fresh veggies, but instead we had Rinaldo, eyes shining and enthusiasm oozing from every pore.

“You can dump de trash right here!”

“Dis is the boat haven. Have you heard of us? We have everyting. A shop here, restaurant and bar. Tonight we have karaoke. So if y’all up for it, come and join us!”

Our self led walking tour of town revealed a lot of old boarded up houses, trees growing up inside instead of out. A few friendly faces and a little grocery. There were two boutiques selling elegant church wear, and three little liquor stores. Three little bars. A catch all government building painted pink. A few kids kicking up dust as the sun beat down on all of us. We stopped at Da Spott for a beer. One of the online reviews of Alice Town had mentioned this place as THE social hub. Well, we met an 80 lb greying rasta man who mumbled a bit to himself and the bar maid who dozed before and after getting our drinks. Oprah’s voice droned from the TV mounted above. And that was it. We happily guzzled the cool liquid and moved on.




 

Spent a peaceful night out in the bay, with big plans for today. Laundry at Rinaldo’s Haven, a couple groceries at the bright green store. And supper with karaoke for entertainment tonight. Couldn’t pass that up! (We did see the bar with karaoke machine. The size of a shipping container, one table for customers, one table with a home karaoke machine and speaker mounted proudly. A tiny bar. Can’t wait!)

We might be here for the whole weekend. A forecasted storm that boaters like to call ‘a big blow’ should arrive tomorrow night and last a day or more. Fresh veggies and all the other adventures will have to wait. Our plans are not our own out here. Mother Nature reminds us who’s boss from time to time. But we wanted to meet some friends further south! We wanted to have reached a certain place by a certain date! Ha!

That’s why we go with the flow. In this case we take the town with the bay. The other rickety docks will still be there. New veggies will be harvested. And we will be here at the boater’s haven. Singing our hearts out on Rinaldo’s little machine.

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Manatees, masks and memories

Walking by the captain’s lounge at the marina, on my way to the local bakery I catch a glimpse of the headlines on the big TV. “House deliberates impeachment of president over incitement of insurrection”.

I almost trip on the sidewalk as I contemplate those words. The birds are all still chirping, the grass is still green, but those words are a news headline today. The world has changed irrevocably.

I have a mask in my pocket. It’s as important as a wallet or phone to remember as you leave home. These are the times. Covid. Trump. Chaos. Fear.

But me, I’m walking with a purpose. It’s wintery cold here in central Florida, but there is a spring in my step. I’m oblivious to the local sewage spill and orange cones which warn that the sidewalk is closed and the pond water is toxic. I’m going over in my mind all the things I need to do to shut down our connection with civilization or what it has become. Cancel Amazon Prime, cancel the pay-as-you-go mobile phone service. Buy feta cheese. Buy bulk toilet paper.

We are leaving. We sailed, well limped into the USA in October with a torn mainsail and a broken engine, and fears of the ‘the Covid’ that had taken hold here like an invisible monster. We’ve discovered we are not risk averse. We have used our time here to fix and replenish the boat and indulge ourselves. We have dined out. Dined in, among people. We have walked the aisles of Walmart amongst it’s coughing Walmartians… boy have we shopped. 

 


We should have shares in Amazon. And Aldi and Trader Joes. We have dived head first into consumerism. But there comes a day when we are fed up, shopped out. And this year it’s all compounded by a deadly virus and a wild political climate.  Those blue blue waters and uninhabited islands beckon. Simple, beautiful, peaceful. Oh, and the inevitable daily sundowners don’t hurt either!

For now, I head to my temporary ‘office’ (bakery with free wifi) to download TV series and movies for our hard drives. I’m prepping months of evening entertainment in the Bahamas without commercials and without the need to stream Internet.

Shiloh too is almost ready. She’s getting tired of all the black birds using her as a giant toilet for their missile berry poos. She is feeling the constraints of the ropes, tugging and creaking and strapping her to the wooden dock. Freedom calls. Her new engine is installed and purring. Bottles of oil and dirty rags are strewn around the cockpit. It’s starting to feel like a boat again and not just a floating little condo on dirty water.




A diver will arrive in a couple days to scrape the mossy beard and the crunchy uninvited barnacles that have made themselves at home on her hulls over the past few months. A diver. A man, who will literally willingly climb into the brown opaque expanse below us, where visibility is zero. Where alligators lurk and massive elephantine manatees loll listlessly. He is a brave soul. 



This is a job we happily tackle ourselves in the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas. Sure, sharks hang out there, but you can see them a mile away! Here however, we are so far out of our comfort zone it’s unfathomable.

As a matter of course, an 8 foot alligator was dragged, thrashing and kicking, out of the waters below our dock the other day. Locals and divers nodded and shrugged and went on with their day. Some discussed the cooking of it’s meat. I was in awe.

And there are the manatees. They are grey and huge and not extremely intelligent, yet somehow loveable. Like underwater giant seals/cows/legless elephants who are affectionate and will literally drown themselves if you provide them with a continuous stream of fresh water. I can’t help wonder what was the master plan for their existence.

I ponder this and other deep thoughts over my decaf Americano with a spot of cream and one stevia… aware that within a couple weeks all of this – the coffee shops with the pretentious orders, this local wildlife, the politics and the madness will all be behind us.

This will be our 8th season in the Bahamas! Time flies in paradise.

But we will miss the friends here. 






We will miss walking right off the boat and into a park. We will miss arugula and 48 cent avocados! We might not miss the meth addicts lurking around the parking lots, nor the midnight drag races in our nearby park. We definitely won’t miss the blaring ‘rap offs’ between blinged out trucks at 2am either.

But Florida is special to us. It is a seasonal home with all the amenities imaginable. It is home to so many special friends and some special wildlife.

As I walk back past the marina office, the gang waves. Employees, fellow boaters. The community is alive and well and ever welcoming. I wave back. Hi guys! And just then, out of the muddy waters, a young energetic dolphin pops up with a fin wiggle. Yep, we’re gonna miss this place.