Thursday, April 22, 2010

Getting cooler - water is only 25C

We are now in Georgetown, Bahamas with the next country to be the USA where we will be leaving the boat for the summer (hurricane) season. We are noticing that it is cooler here, particularly in evenings.The last blog came from Puerto Rico which we very much enjoyed. For some reason not many people cruise PR other than to get to the next place east or west. We quite liked it and it was very nice to find a place that was not at all crowded with boats. We even went to a Sam’s Club store with our one-day guest membership to provision since shopping there was *much* cheaper than in the Bahamas where there are now income taxes and high duties on almost all imports – and almost all food is imported.

From Boqueron, PR we decided to make a long push all the way to southern Bahamas (about 430 nautical miles). This turned out to be just slightly more than three full days (75 hours in all) with two fast days of reaching in good winds (171 and 150 miles) and one day of tacking downwind to get around the Turks and Caicos Islands (the latter are much larger than I expected). This was a good trip since it was our longest passage with just the two of us on board and we had a good sail with no motoring at all. It seems to both of us that the worst passage length is two nights since it takes that long for one’s body to get used to the motion so that sleep comes more easily. A trip of more than two days at least means that you can sleep well after two nights.

We entered the Bahamas at Mayaguana which is about as far away from most people’s image of the island chain as could be imagined. It is a large island (something like 20 by 5 miles) with a population of a few hundred. We anchored off the largest town, Abraham’s Bay which has a population about 70, but two large churches. People are incredibly friendly and helpful. We could not find the town store (why should it have sign, everyone in town knows it is the store) and someone walked us to it from some distance away – we had passed it on the way. As we walked he told us about the churches, their pastors and who the next pastors would be when the incumbents retire in the next few years. Cars and trucks had Mayaguana plates with numbers like 56 and T34. There was free internet there, you sat on the cistern outside the Adminstrator’s Office (see picture) and you could use Wifi, as long as you had a good antenna to get a decent signal. There were only two other boats in the large harbour – but no sign of life on one. The dinghy from this boat was ashore with one inflatable tube deflated. The big boat was also looking a bit worn – we wondered if it could have been abandoned.

One reason we came to Mayaguana was there were predictions of pretty nasty weather for a few days with squalls of 35 knots. The harbour is well-protected by its reefs but also very shallow with few places more than 10 feet deep. We had to anchor more than half a mile away from shore – in fact the dock can only be reached at mid-tide and higher, even in the dinghy. This photo shows a squall coming in over the harbour but we did not get the high winds that were predicted.

Speaking of abandoned, there are three C47/DC3s at the airport that were forced down there during drug flights to the US from points south. The airport is interesting as well. There was a US missile tracking station on the island at one point and they brought in almost everything by plane. To do this, they built an 11,000 foot runway – longer than those at major commercial airports I think. They only use less than half of this for the three flights a week to the island from Nassau.

After Mayaguana, with nasty weather forecasts prominent in our thinking, we continued our tour of the less-populated ‘Far Bahamas’ as they are called by doing an overnight to Long Island where we spent three nights in two locations. This is still a pretty laid back island but a lot more lively than Mayaguana. We spent two nights at a lee anchorage at the south end of the island. The beach here was gorgeous with lovely sand and very shallow waters. Again we could not anchor close to shore and even had anchor the dinghy offshore since it was so shallow.

Clarence Town is famous for having two churches built by the somewhat legendary Father Jerome. This Englishman was an architect who became an Anglican priest. He came to the Bahamas in 1908 to fix a rebuild seven Anglican churches on Long Island that had been devastated by a hurricane. Later he went to Australia and became a wagon train driver, horse breeder, monk and missionary … not to ignore the fact that he converted to Catholicism and becoming a different kind of priest. He returned to the Bahamas and built even more churches on Long and Cat Islands and in Nassau. His highly distinctive churches are quite lovely but also very robustly built to survive any future hurricanes. The photo shows his Anglican church (1908) in the foreground with his Catholic church (1930s) in the distance. The latter was fancier than this one and could easily have been in Spain with its white walls and pastel blue trim.

After Long Island we came to George Town on Great Exuma Island and the atmosphere totally changed. This is the kind of Bahamas that we generally think of with lots of people, resorts, and other tourist facilities. George Town holds a unique place for the cruising fraternity. Hundreds of boats come here each year, overwhelmingly from the US and Canada, and stay for the winter time for the biggest event of the year, the Family Island Regatta which involves races in traditional Bahamiam-style work boats – although these are race boats for sure.

I am a library fan and the one here is terrific. It is in a little blue building and crammed with books. You can join for $3 and this lets you both borrow books and exchange books. The books you bring in are not directly exchanged however. They look them over and decide which ones they would like to add to their collection. Duplicates, and books that they cannot fit on the shelves get added to the exchange collection. The librarian was an added bonus. She knew what they had in the collection – no catalogue for these folks and was immensely funny too.

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