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Reflections on de Bahama.
When locals would go by our boat, they would smile and raise their hands and say "IRIE MON!" The Non-Carribean initiated would say, "errr, what exactly is an 'Irie?'"
I think on my last log, we had gone from Miami thru Bimini to spent a couple days in Nassau.
We debated whether to make a circle NE to the Abaco island chain and Grand Bahama to the NW, or go down the Exuma chain to the Southeast and back. With only a month to spend (so we can head up the intracoastal waterway in April), we couldn't do both this trip. Art had been to the Abacos, so we went to the Exumas.
The Exumas are a chain of islands about 100 miles long. Most of the islands are small and unihabited. Occassionally you'll find a small marina or little settlement, but it is much more wilderness compared to anything in the US (that we have experienced, anyway). For example, we found very few traffic lights. Povisions are relatively rare thru much of the Exumas. Fortunately, we are pretty self sufficient. Even more fortunate, the water is so clear you can see that fiberglass eating reef in enough time to turn the boat. In the month we were there, we stayed in a marina just one night, and even that was really unecessary.
In the Exumas I felt like I really was able to relax for the first time. The Keys were fun, but perhaps we had too hurried a pace, and there was still a lot to be done getting the boat fixed up and figuring out where to stow things. But in the Bahamas there were a few days with nothing to do -- except relax, play volleyball, and I even contemplated one great work of man (20,000 leagues under the sea). I have decided that one great work of man per month is a reasonable pace. Everyone seemed to settle in a bit to living on the boat and routine things became a little easier once we got the routine down and the systems set up. It's really not a bad life. Awesome actually.
The Bahamas were a paradox: Water stunningly clear and beautiful with an unbelieveable range of aquatic colors. When you snorkel (beautiful reefs) you feel as tho' you are flying because the water is so clear you can't see it. That shark swimming nearby seems really close. Yet despite (or because of) the clear beautiful warm water (I wished I had been able to keep my swimming pool so tourquoise), great stretches of the Bahamas are underwater wastelands: White sand bottoms with nothing growing on it. Great stretches make you feel like you are gliding over some kind of desert. Where there are reefs you find teeming life, elsewhere is strangely barren. We did not see one dolphin. The land too, seemed somewhat skimpy on life. Few birds, not a lot of critters, (except for the iguanas on two islands) and not even many bugs (no complaints about that).
We had a great time in the Bahamas, we were sorry to leave and could have happily spent months there. The locals are friendly and the cruisers we met are great folks. We will have to go back again some day.
Specifics of the trip for those interested in such things: The first island we went to was Allen's Cay, the last remaining home of native Bahamian iguanas. There is a pretty anchorage between two strips of land (about 200 x 10 yards long) with pretty little beaches that are the iguana hangout. The iguanas are up to about 1' long, and pretty tame. Boaters feed them all the time, so the scurry up to you and will share sunbathing on the beach just a few feet away from you. They are very cute, when they run their bodies wag from side to side as if they aren't completely comfortable with their little legs or should be slithering on their bellies. We fed them some grapes which they indicated were a local delicacy. We also caught a grandaddy lobster of the reef there, one fed the whole lot of us.
I know why lobster are so expensive. If I had to pay my lawyerly hourly rate for the time it took to actually catch a lobster; eating lobsters nightly would completely exhaust my entire cruising budget in about 7 weeks.
We spent a night at Shroud Cay, shaped like an "O" and unique for the mangroves. The mangroves have water trails thru them, nice, but not as developed as those in the Florida Keys. We had dinner there. Unfortunately, we were the dinner, skeeters the diners. Kiera decided to row back thru the mangrove (this was after dinner), and surprised us by rowing the dink over an hour straight and almost 2 miles. She was very proud, and I feel a lot less dependent on the OB motor.
Next stop was Norman's Cay, a U shaped island with a nice anchorage at the end of the "U". The island is the former pit stop of the infamous drug dealer Carlos Lehder, there are ruins of what was once a little group of nice houses right on the beach (As a side note, there are ruins of house all over the Exumas, signposts of man's efforts to set up a bit of paradise, ruined by hurricanes or lack of funds. Yet you see new develpments all over the place as well; destined to become future ruins, no doubt). A couple run a resturaunt (McDuff's; great eating) there, using the former drug plane runway for frequent trips to Nassau or the States for supplies. A DC-3 sits in the middle of the harbor. It was fun to snorkel on, with many fish. I didn't find any drugs. I didn't get the story on it but I figured it was a failed drug run. We made a bonfire on the beach that night, Kiera and Colette's first, and from then on had nightly inquiries about whether a bonfire was possible wherever we were staying.
Art caught a stingray; chased him down like Bligh pursuing the great white whale, harpooning him from the dinghy while Jackie steered. We ate him for dinner, not too bad, though I'd pass it in favor of fish or lobster.
The next stop was Warderick Wells, which is in the Exumas National Park and home of the park HQ. No taking game in the park. They had a 50 cal machine gun on top of the building, evidencing local poachers not being completely happy with the restrictions. The island (like all) are made up of fossilized coral, and this one is set up with marked path over it, interesting but tricky with loose rock and sink holes abounding.
We spent a night in a marina at Staniel Cay, home to the famous "Thunderball" grotto, a natural sunlight cavern in which several aquatic films (including the namestake 007 film) have been made. Right next to the grotto is "Piggy beach," where a local swine has won favor among the boaters by swimming out to greet them off the beach. She now has little piglets which the kids loved.
Next stop was George Town, the major cruising stop in the Exumas, if not the Bahamas. Several hundred boats spend anywhere from a few days to the entire winter there, many come back year after year. The community features a well stocked grocery, pharmacy, and marine supply stores. There was a gaggle of kids there, and we spent an enjoyable week with some new friends: playing volleyball, gathering coconuts and rope swinging, eating (Easter potluck), guitar and bonfires, Easter egg hunts, happy hours and barbeques, and being entertained in a special concert by Eileen Quinn, a cruiser/songwriter. (My favorite goes like this: "This is a song about all the things I really miss about my old job." That's it :)).
We had nice following winds on the trip back to Miami. We had to hold out a couple days in Nassau when a strong weather front passed thru, but after a couple days the wind dropped to 25 so we took a shot. The waves were 6-8', but they were following us so they weren't too bad. We hit 11 knots (12 MPH) surfing down them. I was taking a nap in the bunk when we got hit by a rouge wave. You would not believe how much water can come thru a little 12x6" portall from one wave. I spent the rest of the trip back sleeping on the setee (couch).
The winds died down a bit after that, and we had the sails wing on wing for the whole trip across the Bahama Bank.We crossed the Gulf Stream at night; it was fun to see the lights of the freighters and cruise ships, and the phosporescence sparkling in the water behind us.
Stuff which may be of interest to other boaters:
Caframo fans are awesome. We bought the DC fans at Home Depot for $22 each. The use .3 amp at low power, .6 at Hi, and put out an amazing amount of air. We have 9 of them scattered around the boat. Failures so far:
Air marine 403 wind gens are noisy. They do work well, and being self regulated are easy to set up. They are reliable, and you do get used to them after a while. But they do make a racket. I'd have to think hard about whether I'd get them again. Probably not.
Battery Shack 100 amp alternators (From Marathon). So far, so good. They put about about 80 amps, maybe a little less when they are warm. Good deal at $260 each.
We have been very happy with our boat, the Fortuna "Island Spirit" 37 catamaran. As we have become more familiar with the boat, there is lots of evidence where Fortuna made an extra effort to do a quality job and used quality parts when they could have cut corners. I am impressed with the design layout. None of the gear they supplied has suffered a failure so far with a few minor exceptions which is not there fault. They have been responsive and helpful. I'd recommend considering them if you are in the market for at 40ish cat.
That's the report for now; we are heading off for the intracoastal waterway. Til then, fair winds.
Bryan aboard "Irie"