Greetings friends! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! When I was a very busy person, my time went by very quickly. Now I am a less busy person and the time goes by at sonic speed. I am now referring to Green Turtle Cay (pronounced Key) as Green Velcro, because we can’t seem to leave. Although I would like to do separate posts for our various adventures, forever attempting to fill in the time with the pictures, I need to catch up with this summary.
I think you set off from FL with a high degree of anxiety. There are always the horror stories, and yet so many people have done it, time and time again. Our crossing I thought went well. Yes, the kids didn’t feel well, and that was too bad. Next time I would have told them to just stay up all night and go to bed when they felt like it, or to have slept in the cuddy. Shane got up first and was sick, and stayed up top the remainder of the time. Once he finally crashed, he was chipper and fine. Kelly just felt queasy, but both of them were great about it. Our trip was under the moonlight, and as you sail away from the lights of the shore the sensation is a little strange. We sailed with friends, but they were in front of us most of the way. Because we motored continuously (we had a head wind from the east), it was a little noisy, but we did get the sails up at one point and that felt great. We had the jib up most of the time, as it saves gas. I never felt isolated. I felt more determined than anything else; like a parent who knows you can’t mess up because you have your kids with you. I reassured myself with the notion that unless we were extraordinarily stupid, we should be able to plot the course and hit the land. Fortunately that is exactly how it went. I wouldn’t say I took the whole thing for granted, but you feel relief when you realize that it doesn’t have to be an ordeal. It was not until we discovered in Grand Cay that our motor wouldn’t start that I decided I felt both humbled and grateful for an uneventful crossing.
When you reach the Bahamas, you know because the water turns uniformly light green. You can’t really see much in the way of land (we passed “Memory Rock” which literally is just a big rock) but you feel much better. This is a bit of a false illusion. It is like driving out west. Yea, I reached Montana; only 6 more hours….sort of thing. We reached the Bahamas around 11 a.m. (we started at 1 a.m.), but we did not get to the small island, Mangrove Cay, until about 3:30 or 4 p.m. As we motored along, the water was as clear as it could be, and not very deep – maybe 6-9 feet. Fortunately we only need about 3.5-4 ft. to clear anything. When we reached Mangrove, it was awesome, but slightly anti climatic. I don’t know why; I think because there is nothing there and you are tired. We discussed the fact with our friends that we needed to get somewhere safe before the next storm came, and so we had to get up early the next morning, at 3 a.m. to allocate enough time to reach a populated island.
Although Green Turtle was the preferred destination, we opted to go slightly north so we could sail and not motor. We didn’t want to risk running out of gas, although we were very conservative in our estimate. We had a nice sail which felt marvelous. This was two fold – one was that we haven’t sailed the boat very much, literally. The second is that it is so much less noisy. The kids were relieved (I guess) to be over and they took it in stride that we had to get to the next place. We went to Grand Cay, which is not a popular location except for sport fisherman. This loss in popularity probably has to do with the hurricane that took out a big marina in the neighboring island, Walker’s Cay. It was like landing in a little town that doesn’t quite get the idea of tourism. They are very nice, but making their own way without further ado. So you come into the harbor and anchor, and that’s it. It is tough to anchor there as the hold is not great. We were advised to go check in before we did anything on the island (not that there was anything to do) so off we went to Walker’s Cay. That was wierd. We go over to an empty marina where the slips are roped off, and tie up to a cement wall (a fisherman sort of directed us) and walk past broken down dozers with about 40 cats living around them. One individual (more or less) is on the Island and he is the immigration/customs officer. He was fine to work with and then we got out of there, which is like sailing your boat between orange cones on a race track, as the shoals are a bit tricky.
Our friend (new friend) Danny is our elected concierge of Grand Cay. This guy is a one man Chamber of Commerce. He first came over to the boat offering lobster. I paid $12 for about 6 small lobsters. We talked about how to cook them and they were delicious. He helped us figure out the comings and goings of the place. When we discovered the engine wouldn’t start (after the storm blew in and out), he helped us find a guy who was knowledgeable about engines. Chris felt bad for the guy; although he knew engines, his tools were older and more beat up than Chris’s worse tools. I took the kids to town, and they said, “Mom, everyone is staring at us because we are white.” I said, “everyone is staring at us because we are not from here,” the point being that this is a small, very family oriented place. Everyone is friendly, but they aren’t really expecting you. The roads are barely wide enough for two golf carts to pass. The “businesses” are in the people’s houses. Everyone is just hanging out. It is not at all evident how it sustains itself, but it does. So it is a microcosm, with some consistent coming and going from tourists (fisherman and cruisers) on boats. Fishing is the key up there. We ate some really good lobster.
When we realized that it was almost Christmas, I was anxious to get out of there. We had no choice. We had to sail without a motor to Green Turtle, where there was an authorized dealership. Danny, da man, towed us out with his skiff, and we started sailing. There was absolutely no wind. The previous day (of course) it was really windy, so it felt frustrating. We were doing 1/2 a knot. I envisioned arriving Christmas Eve (it was only Tuesday). But as we passed the land (again, visualize small uninhabited islands with lots of shoals), it picked up. It was really pleasant and we just worked our way along, motorless. Now anyone who plans this types of trips reads people like Lyn and Larry Pardee, (http://www.landlpardey.com/), and Chris has a number of their boats on board. Other people like Connie McBride of Simply Sailing (http://www.simplysailingonline.com/) are also big advocates of sailing always, and motoring only when required. As you quietly work your way into the water, with no options but your sails, your patience and your wits, you think of these people. You realize how critical it is to not be dependent on your motor, anymore than you want to be on your GPS. But you know in your heart that you are dependent because you are new to sailing. So I guess I was basking more on the liberation side than on the pity party side of my brain as we inched along. The sunshine helped considerably, as when it storms here, it isn’t mild or short, or warm, and that is an adjustment if you left snow country and still have your long johns on.
I share this sailing experience because I had such a different introduction to the Bahamas than some colleagues we have since met. As we worked our way to Green Turtle, it was under a full day of sunshine, followed by a full moon. I couldn’t have lit up the harbor any brighter if I had a spotlight. It was like riding along in a big turquoise colored bathtub. Now, as a side note, we met some really nice cruisers in Green Turtle Cay, and they had sailed over the week prior. Although their sail over was calm and uneventful, like ours, they reached the Bahamas and experienced 50-60 knot winds. One set of friends lost two anchors as they had to cut and run, because they were being dragged toward the rocks. Another friend hit the rocks and had to have their boat hauled out. We saw yet another boat near Grand Cay, a monohull, literally stuck on rocks at low tide. So things can happen here. You really need to pick your shelters in advance of storms. I felt like Chris and I had such a different experience, and I was again grateful and humbled. None of the people we met were foolish people or the type with something to prove. I think there is such a thing as bad luck, and bad timing. But it came as a surprise to see how powerful the tides and winds can be here, and I am talking about the inside, not in the Atlantic Ocean.
We stopped outside of Green Turtle Cay because we didn’t want to navigate into a little zig zag channel without a motor. Some might have, but we opted to be towed in by Abaco Yacht Services. You pay for that, but we felt it was safer than coming in and hitting someone on a mooring ball. We chose Black Sound, versus White Sound, because of the location of the dealership. They are like culdesacs, with the town of New Plymouth in between the two bookends of the sounds. Although Abaco Yacht has boat slips, they did not want us to put our boat in one, as they locked their gates at night and for the holidays. So we had planned to go further down (in the culdesac or harbor) to a marina called Black Sound Marina, but we couldn’t get there because the wind had started to blow. They had the motorboat in the back which didn’t work at all, and the rope got caught up. Then they worked from the front, and that worked better. There was a marina across on the other side, “The Other Shore Marina” and that’s where we landed – literally. We tied up to the dock, and while it was only 11:30, Chris felt like having a cocktail. Because we had been sort of spinning around as we worked on our maneuvering, it had been a bit stressful, but only for us. Everyone else seemed cool as can be at the Other Shore. Now it was time to focus on Christmas.
We loved our neighbors lit up candy canes. It really had the holidays a focus again. When you are surrounded with palm trees, and between rain storms it is sunny, Christmas seems far away. We had done just a little shopping before getting on the boat. Getting the gifts mailed that we had purchased for others became an after Christmas priority, as there was no way to mail them in 3 days, no matter what the price. So we wandered into the small town to learn what they had. This place makes Sandpoint look like a metropolis, but when you know small town, you know how small town charm works. There are 3 grocery stores, and maybe 3 shops that sell gifts. After going in as a family for a day or two, we sent the kids in by themselves with a VHF radio and some cash to let them go shopping. It was really cute to see them run off, happy to be free, and getting along famously (that of course comes and goes). The kids came back earlier than expected a tad breathless. Somehow one of them had dropped $25 outside the store. They freaked, but managed to find the money by backtracking. We were glad for their sake they were so fortunate. So they went back and did their Christmas shopping successfully. Chris and I found a fun board game about Island Hopping in the Bahamas. Like many small towns, you can tell that while some shopping is done here, people clearly go to the next largest town to get their main supplies, including toys and clothing, which is Marsh Harbor. I wanted to go to the Christmas Eve service, as there are at least 4 churches on the Island, but all the services were at 10:30 p.m. or later, and I didn’t think I could deal with staying up that late, and then walking home in the dark. I have gone once to the Anglican church, St. Peter’s, since, and enjoyed it very much. We decorated the cuddy with lights and ornaments and it was fun. It is amazing how you can scale down and still feel just as fine as when you tried to do it on a larger scale.
I think that between being forced to slow down (i.e, wait for a part), the holidays, where everything is open on shortened hours, or not at all, and the fact that your cell phone has no signal (even if you wanted to pay $1.99/minute), you just check out mentally. We did learn how to use Skype, so we made some calls to family. We put $10 on a credit, as none of our family had loaded Skype, and while most people do it “Skype to Skype” and pay nothing, you can just call people on their phones and pay at your end. This is so much easier if you have not had time to explain how to get the software, etc. I think it is .02 cents a minute, but it is very reasonable. Christmas was very nice and the kids seemed just as happy as their normally did. I made a mental note about how many times in the past I had the last minute anguish and panic about “balance” with gift giving, and remembered how it was always a waste of brain power. Everyone was fine and understood that whatever gifts their family had for them, it would be awhile before we figured out how to get them. Our gifts were snorkeling gear and the rest of the stuff fit in the stocking, except for the board game. All were content, and I am thankful for cool kids.
Junkanoo is the New Year’s Bahama celebration. Here they acknowledge both Christmas and Boxing Day as holidays. While there is evidence of the US everywhere, there is more of a British feeling, and people are either completely casual, or respectively formal. This division is not a color coded concept. You are either doing the “Bahama mon” or the “yes please and thank you very much.” You just have to figure it out. Junkanoo, is a cultural and heritage celebration, and is done on many of the Islands, although some do it at night and run into the next day (New Years Eve). On Green Turtle Cay, it is a daytime event the following day and the party runs into the evening with fireworks. This seems nicer to me so that the children can participate. What a great parade. The weather was completely cooperative. We have both pictures and video of this. There are lots of children on the Island and interestingly, they wear uniforms to the public elementary school.
After New Year’s we really stepped up and hit the books. We got our end of semester wake up call and realized we had some catching up to do. The school program (K12) requires way too much time on the Internet, and thus we had to stay where there is a connection. The Internet is wireless, and if the power goes out you are stuck, but we braved it and I relentlessly pushed the kids forward. We did skip over to Man Jack (Nun Jack Cay) for an overnight stay, but came back as there is no Internet there.
I think you could be a person who gets bummed at having to stay in one place, particularly if your goal is to go back to your home town with a big list of places you have seen. But boating seems to teach you to take your lumps graciously, and as so many people have said to us, “well, if you have to be stuck, Green Turtle is a good place to be.” Truthfully, it is a great place to be, and we have met many nice people. On Christmas Day, we had a nice cruiser potluck. Later, near New Year’s, the cruisers had another little gathering. We have met some really fun people. Most of them are Canadians, some UK, and a few from the US. Tourism is down here, and the economy has slowed, as it has most places. I anticipate that the prices of real estate and rentals will likely soften, but that will depend on lots of factors. Although we all thought it would be much warmer here, the east coast storms have a very definite impact here. We plan to move soon back to Man Jack, to continue learning how to snorkel, but then we will work our way south.