This Eletter with all the links to crappy underwater camera photos, because my main camera is once again in the shop, is at this link:
Either cut & paste this URL into your address bar or just click on it.
A very popular place with Americans and Europeans, the Sea of Abaco is a well-protected and beautiful cruising area. The many cays have provided a location for many second homes, resorts, and condos. The fishing is good here, especially along the reef to the north, and provides much of the lobster catch we witnessed on opening day of the season (August 1st).
A shallow sea bordered by Little & Great Abaco Islands to the south and west, and dozens [hundreds?] of cays, islands, rocks, islets and reefs to the north and east. Marsh Harbour is located at the center of the ‘Hub of Abaco’, and although it only has a population of 5000, it aspires to rival Nassau in both good and bad categories. A minor crime problem is being addressed, but mostly involves petty incidents in poorer neighborhoods. Marsh Harbour turned out to be an excellent provisioning stop as large, well-stocked stores offer prices as good as, if not better, than Nassau.
There is a larger percentage of White Bahamians than in Andros or Eleuthera Island proper; about the same as the North Eleuthera islands of Spanish Wells or Harbour Island. Their history goes back nearly as far as the Eleutheran Adventurers, but has grown considerably in the past 50 years.
Many of the cays are ‘private’, but none seemed to shun visitors, open to Windigo anchoring in their harbours and cycling their roads and shopping in their stores.
The idea in our overall intentions was to remain in cooler, hurricane-repelling water for the first half of the season. It worked, but Karin’s prediction [months ago] of Hurricane “Karen” coming to visit on her birthday was uncanny, if harmless. We had outstanding weather, and the hurricane threat seems to be waning, but we stay prepared nonetheless.
Tourism is very much a part of Abaco, and visitors are welcome because of the money they may part with. But we found people in the less commercialized settlements just as friendly, if not more sincere. Everywhere the children are approachable and inquisitive about who we are and what the heck Pedigo is and why our bikes have such small wheels and whether we have sailed in a storm and . . . .
We continue to spread goodwill and entertain the kids by passing out the ‘Happy Meal’ type toys we collected prior to leaving the States. In the very old farm community of Norman’s Castle, miles from a paved road, we were received by dozens of excited kids, unfamiliar with visitors to their community; but perhaps more comfortable with strangers than the adults there because they ride the bus to the schools in the larger surrounding towns. The bag of toys we carried that day was easily depleted!
Coopers Town is the “Land of Gazebos”, with no less than FIVE of the structures along the waterfront, with more inland. (One of these was great for wireless I-net access – see Cruising Notes, below.) The gazebos, as I have mentioned in previous eletters, are a gathering place for men from 20 to 90 during any time of day, with a slight increase of population at lunchtime. The gazebo offers a forum for political discussion, weather speculation, and the ubiquitous domino game with players rotating in and out of player’s seats. I remember this daily gathering in front of the neighborhood Puerto Rican grocery store of my youth.
Definitely a local tradition and NOT a ‘tourist’ attraction, the gazebo occupants usually treat me ambivalently at first; so I enter, take a non-prominent seat and do not say or do anything. This blends me with at least half of the occupants which are doing the same “nothing”. When it is understood that I am in no need and offer no interference to their routine, an air of acceptance settles in and a greeting or question is directed my way. Remaining unassuming for the entire visit leads me to have personal conversations and perhaps even get invited into the domino game, which I try to play at the highest level out of respect, but usually relinquish my seat in short order.
I derive the greatest enjoyment of the places we sail to by NOT being a tourist; partly because I cannot afford nor desire to ‘buy’ all the touristy stuff and services, but mostly because in a short time I am able to feel what it is like to live in these places. When we make friends here, there is no ulterior motive other than the friendship. Any assistance given or accepted is purely because of a desire to help one another.
See Cruising Notes, below, for a description of the cruising community.
See Cycling Notes, below, for the disconcerting survey results.
Jim Peternell described our track left on the Bight & Sea of Abaco as being similar to the circuitous route drawn on the heels of the Family Circus kids. Those not familiar with the comic strip, some of those cartoons show the dotted-line path to school or to take out the trash as it leads throughout the neighborhood, petting each dog, drinking from every bubbler, and stopping to look at every interesting distraction.
THIS IS EXACTLY OUR INTENT!
So when we speak with locals about our travel plans, I simply calculate an estimate of the Bahamian Islands visited so far, and then announce how many there are left to see [subtracting the first number from 750 – the number of islands, cays, islets, and major rocks in the country]. We might actually do it!
Sailing the Bight of Abaco was unique in its isolation; when we successfully burst out onto the Sea of Abaco through the “impossible” Spence Rock Passage, we felt a kind of freedom and traveled up to the northwestern most inhabited islands of The Bahamas. After an overnight at the remote Strangers Cay, we were in Grand Cay for the opening of lobster season. It was great fun watching the bushels of crayfish come in, get measured, weighed and put in the freezer. After a four-month hiatus, the fishermen were glad to get $16 a pound for their boatload of tails. [It was here my good camera once again died; The bushels of lobster tails look impressive even in digital hell!]
From there we visited the gorgeous Double Breasted Cays and Sales Cay (uninhabited, with nothing for sale!), and then reentered the Bight of Abaco for a visit to Duffy’s Rock and to seek to sign its logbook. Luckily, the Rock is just inside the edge of Little Abaco Island and another passage through Spence Rock was not necessary, although Spence Rock is in about five feet of water and so strict attention to tides was necessary to get close (the reason we did not visit there before we departed the Bight the first time). We anchored close and swam to the Rock, but did not find the cache and logbook, only a tiny package of fresh water remained; but it was a glorious feat of adventure nonetheless.
Exiting the Bight once again, we visited Fox Town & Crown Haven at the tip of Little Abaco Island. The town of Crown Haven was started in 1932 when an approaching hurricane threatened the tiny settlement on Cave Cay (just at the end of the Spence Rock Passage over in The Bight) and in the eleventh hour, the government sent a boat to evacuate the people there. They were brought to the tip of Little Abaco Island with the clothes on their backs, and their town was completely wiped off the cay. They started anew on Little Abaco, and called their town “Crown Haven”, as the British Crown’s government saved their lives. We got the story from a woman we met who happens to be the last remaining inhabitant that was born on Cave Cay all those years ago.
While anchored at Fox Town, I cycled the length of Little Abaco Island and onto Great Abaco Island to Coopers Town. Karin experienced the death of the Pedigo drive while ferrying water with the assistance of local boys. I had rebuilt the dying drive once in Eleuthera, but the gears were now worn smooth and the resources to fix it again were not to be had until we reached Marsh Harbour. So from then on, we paddled Pedigo at greatly reduced efficiency wherever we needed to go.
Leaving Fox Town, we visited the line of signing trees on Allans-Pensacola Cays; took a walk through a swamp on Powell Cay; stayed at Coopers Town, the hometown of the Prime Minister; saw reef sharks and fishes at the ocean pass at Manjack & Crab Cays; rode our bikes through the forest from the Green Turtle Ferry Landing to find The Farm at Norman’s Castle; thoroughly explored Green Turtle Cay including New Plymouth and the CoCo Bay house of cruising friends we met six years ago on the Inland Waterways of Illinois and Ohio. [Joe has installed a wonderful rainwater cistern system.]
After traversing the Whale Cay Passage, we arrived at Marsh Harbour, our base of operations for the next few weeks while we received mail. I also rebuilt the Pedigo drive, welding aluminum mounting for the new composite, internal chain-driven unit and rebuilding all the external chain & sprocket assembly. It is once again in full efficiency!
We also cycled Great Abaco Island, made many friends, and explored the surrounding cays & islets.
We stayed at Man-O-War (with these very cool, original Royal Telephone Call Box and Postal Box) and Elbow Cay (with the Hope Town Lighthouse: one of the last three continuously operated kerosene-fueled, hand-cranked rotation lighthouses in the world – ALL in The Bahamas! The operator must pre-heat and light the very bright lamp every night and extinguish it in the morning. The cable suspending the weight for rotation must be wound every two hours throughout the night. The kerosene is delivered up the tower by hand-pumped air pressure and needs recharging every two weeks. The original fresnel lens are still in use and must be carefully hand-cleaned every other day. Kerosene was once used all over the world, but most lighthouses were converted to electric, such as the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse at one of my favorite places in Wisconsin.)
Also at Great Guana, Matt Lowes, and Sugar Loaf Cays. We ventured down the east side of the Sea to see Tilloo and Lynyard Cays, checked out a hurricane hole at the Angel Cays (with a freighter wreck washed up on shore to the road!), and anchored at Little Harbour to find a geocache in the Bight of Old Robinson and cycle to Cherokee.
We returned to Marsh Harbour in-between adventures to meet friends, get mail, and work on Windigo projects. The community in the Harbour during the “season” consists of one hundred-plus boats; the dozen boats of those we knew that came and went held a wide range of sailors, from a lone Brit on a small steel sloop to well-equipped ships of retirees. A Dutch couple explained the difference between being from Holland and being “Dutch”, and we decided that I am DEFINITELY “Dutch”!
Upon the receipt of our last package we were the last to leave the harbour, but immediately made a beeline to the Exumas, via a stop in North Eleuthera. Some of our friends returning to the States FINALLY got a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream after we had spent a week in the cays of Exuma. Such is the life of a cruiser.
The tracks of a few wild pigs were seen on the beaches, and one roadkill piglet confirmed that there are some larger mammals here and there. The lizards are quite huge here, with great, curly tails.
We were fortunate to be sleeping under the stars – and full moon on the 27th of August, for the alignment of the sun, earth, & moon caused the earth’s shadow to sweep across the moon from top to bottom, making a very orange/red lunar eclipse.
Karin’s mentioning of our attempt to see the ruins of the settlement of Normans Castle while in the Bight of Abaco caused a lady in the library on Green Turtle Cay to show here a book, “My Castle in the Air” by Dr. Evan Cottmann. The book has nothing to do with the settlement, but it encouraged us to visit the magnificent structure built by this amateur on the highest point on Great Abaco Island in the early 60’s. Dr. Cottmann completed the concrete ‘house’ with assistance from Father Jerome, the architect and builder of many glorious churches = one on Cat Island, five on Long Island; and designed St. Augustines College on New Providence the Bahamas.
His last home, "The Hermitage," built on the highest point of the entire country- Mt. Alvernia on Cat Island, and I’m sure that will be the highlight of the eletter when we visit there. [If you want to know more now, don’t strain your noodle, just use your Google!]
Something new we started adding to our routine is geocaching. This form of orienteering is organized by www.geocaching.com. Having been intrigued by maps and compasses for my whole life, I first learned orienteering as a Boy Scout. I continued with special training in the USAF and was always Captain Sandy’s navigator aboard Windigo prior to his relinquishing custodianship to Karin & I. The canoeing and mountain biking I did always required a good knowledge of where the heck we were to keep from getting completely lost when it got dark [such as in the underground tunnels of streams and creeks around Milwaukee!]; and I participated in mountain bike orienteering challenges whenever I could.
The geocache craze was brought about by the introduction of handheld GPS units which I have owned since the 80’s when Magellan was one of my cycling sponsors. Karin on the other hand has historically had a hard time with navigation. This has been improving since our Windigo journey began, but she is very interested in geocaching as a way of improving her position-awareness skills.
We found all three geocaches on Elbow Cay, and one with very difficult access in the Bight of Old Robinson. This latter one was especially rewarding as it is a monument to divers who lost their lives in the underwater caves of the area. This monument is placed at the remote site of the incident and would be mostly unknown if not for the geocache.
One more note interesting to this old electrical contractor:
The Bahamians claim to have adopted the NFPA National Electrical Code just as is used in the US; but enforcement is barely present, as my plumbing friend Cliff & I discovered on Andros at the place of largest public assembly, the Regatta Park fairgrounds.
The situation is universal throughout the country:
Harbour Island high-voltage supply for the entire island, lying on the rocks.
Wiring style viewed at several places in Abaco bypassing usage metering and overcurrent protection!
[note: There is hope = in the next eletter, see remote islands surpassing the primitive wiring of Florida!]
This leg of our journey went as planned with myself starting out each new trip piloting and planning our destination the night before. As the trip unfolded I usually panicked about something as silly as “Oh, no we’re going to hit land!” or “I can’t maneuver the upcoming turn because there are no signs!”. Hearing and seeing the panic in me, Kevin nicely takes over and finishes up in style. Thank god he knows me well enough to not let me get TOO frustrated. Kevin runs Windigo like it’s second nature to him but really it’s a tough job and I truly appreciate his competency and the joy it brings this whole adventure of ours.
It’s funny because I use to like to stay places for a while but now after a couple to days, I’m ready to sail somewhere new. When we pull up to a new harbour my women’s intuition takes over and I get an instant gut feeling for the area; good or bad and that usually is what determines our length of stay in any particular place.
Isolation, Population, Isolation, Population, which is best? We were working our way into Marsh Harbor and because the tide was down, we went aground (darn 7’ draft). So we sat there for about 1/2 hour until the tide started going back up. In the meantime a boater came over and invited us over for a cruiser’s party the next night with a potluck/BYO. Wow, just pull in and get invited to a party - my kind of place - yippee! People! Drinks! Civilization! Sooo, as you can see a little of both makes for a balanced existence.
I loved the people in Marsh Harbor so much that I need to talk about them a bit so you know why the admiration. Del & Marie; he is an avid writer and looks like a real pirate with his real pirate ship. Marie is great lady who can [REALLY] sing, sew, and just make you feel so comfortable in her presence you never want to leave. Dick & Carol; he loved talking politics and getting Kevin so riled (I loved it) while Carol was the mother of the marina, always keeping lines of communication going with other cruisers and she had so many interests that it was hard to keep up with her – what a little fireball! They’ve been coming to the Bahamas for 40 years! Hazel; she was my mentor with the running of her boat single handed, fixing her engine, docking, anchoring, walking from one end of town to the other – all this being in her 70’s! John & Yolanda; he was another instigator of trouble for Kevin, always stood his ground in highly charged conversation, lots of sailing experience under that young man’s belt. I consider Yolanda a very good friend who had the most interesting background that I couldn’t wait to hear another of her stories. She wasn’t always sure about her English, but her and I never had any trouble conversing. Bruce; a talented musician-cum-sailor who extended his creativity out to encompass everyone, giving a memorable performance as a pirate host of the Cruisers Net. Nick; a nice, quiet guy and a well experienced sailor- always a lot of fun to talk with. Even when we would try to sneak up to his boat and he would pop his head out like he had seen us all along with a big smile on his face. Cindy & Eddy; a well established couple in this sailing community. We had met them in Bimini (seems like years ago) and it was so nice to see them again here and undoubtedly will run into them again further south. Pat & Darnell; he definitely was the harbour “go to guy” if you needed any help of any kind – he was always there. Darnell had the calmest southern accent which made you like her even more. She organized the first annual “women’s luncheon” that produced about 8 of us and we had a blast – you know, talking about “women stuff”. Mark & Joan; we met them at the end of our stay but after sharing ice cream and lots of good conversation found them to be a truly interesting couple.
Patty, Mimi, and Randy were more ‘permanent’ members of the cruisers community; but they, and many of the business owners add a vast amount of knowledge, time and character to Marsh Harbour.
I will remember every one of these new friends and hope as we continue our travels into new ports that I will hear a familiar voice saying “it’s about time you got here”!
The first ride crossed the entirety of Little Abaco Island, and it’s undulating landscape proved a little more hilly than Andros, but not quite as severe as Eleuthera. Great Abaco Island terrain resembles Andros, with long straight stretches, and some winding, flat roads along the waterfront. The most revealing self-discovery is that I cannot cycle unaffected by the heat, as I once did in my youth throughout Arizona. Even drinking adequate water, there came a time in a few longer rides when the heat overwhelmed me and sapped my cadence and my strength. I was not in danger of exhaustion or physical malady, but simply could not perform up to my own standards.
My friend Mark Siegman and I began a ‘psychological experiment’ many years ago while cycling the vast network of trails around and through Milwaukee named the “76 Bike Trail”. Mark & I would cycle endless hours along these well-used paths, meeting other cyclists along with hundreds of runners, rollerbladers, dog walkers, etc. that were a good sampling of the healthy humanity of Milwaukee. Our “experiment” was to test the congeniality of the cohabitants of the trail by initiating a greeting to each and every person we encountered. The type of response (or lack thereof) was immediately analyzed and commented on to pass the time. Being expert psychologists [NOT] this practice was mainly for our amusement. But a strange thing happened as we continued to observe the responses – we actually began understanding and interpreting the intentions of those we met. We chose to pursue some for conversation which sometimes led to friendships; We also avoided others (sometimes out of fear!)
[a digression: comparing the responses received in Milwaukee to those in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County Florida, found people in Milwaukee to be approximately 50% more outgoing and friendly than those in Florida.]
Having practiced this tradition for many years, it comes naturally for me in a place as friendly as The Bahamas. So when we anchored at the Ferry Landing across from Green Turtle Cay and I went ashore for an exploratory bike ride across Great Abaco Island to Marsh Harbour, I simply continued to do what I have done for decades in the US and on every island visited so far in The Bahamas. (The usual responses from a wave given to a vehicle in The Bahamas were a high-sign, wave, or a ‘toot’, and sometimes it led to a conversation and friendship on-the-spot!)
The data compiled in that day’s ride, however, was disturbing. After completing 70 miles along the Bootle Highway, the results can only be presented in the disquieting categories:
Black people responding to my greeting = 100%
White people responding to my greeting = 0%
To be fair, there were some of the 100% category that were not able to respond to a greeting initiated by me - because they waved first!
I noticed something else about the 0% category ‘participants’ – they seemed to be tense and afraid, even inside their vehicles!(?)
My tour of Treasure Cay that day emphasized the existence of this fear. Supposedly a wonderful place, according to resort brochures and real estate advertisements, Treasure Cay turned out to be a nightmarish flashback of everything I left in the worst of Florida. I could not see the beautiful beaches for the signage. The threats of discretionary removal and innuendo of bodily harm to ‘outsiders’ were displayed openly, and it turned my stomach. It was SO out-of-place for The Bahamas which I had been living in for six months. [And what the heck is the deal with NO BIKES?]
Living away from “the System” and out of the country for a period of time has caused me to be very sensitive to issues, and the only conclusion that makes sense is that the Terrorism Campaign® driven by the current administration has been very successful = people subject to their propaganda are filled with terror! Realizing that a majority of the dozens of people not acknowledging a friendly hello were American and European tourists, with the remainder Bahamian residents, the Campaign® has far-reaching effects. I’m so glad that most of my Bahamian friends are unaffected and remain open, honest, and welcoming.
All the cycling in Abaco was on superlative roads with great vistas of the sea and the ocean. Although I tallied 380 miles on Abaco (bringing the Bahamian total to 2200 miles), we were unable to stay in the open anchorage of Little Harbour long enough for me to make the 100-mile trek down to Sandy Point and Hole-In-The-Wall at the very southern tip of Great Abaco. These communities have only recently been connected to the rest of the island with modern roads, but it would have been a very long very lonely ride. The many miles ridden on the outlying cays made up for the missed distance, but that new road is the only one missed on any island chain we have visited (and we expect to visit every one except Grand Bahama which has no anchorages for Windigo).
With the passage out of the Bight of Abaco past Spence Rock, my respect for the Explorer Charts is second to none. With these charts, a GPS and lots of common sense, a sailor may visit anywhere he wishes, allowing for the limits of his vessel. Much better than the old days.
Unrestricted wireless access was achieved aboard Windigo off Green Turtle Cay (at Joyless Point & in Coco Bay, in Marsh Harbour, Tilloo Cay, Manjack Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Elbow Cay.
In Coopers Town, I walked around the curve of the north end of Bay Street [along the waterfront] to the gazebo where it meets the Bootle Highway. Sitting in the gazebo allows wireless access and a chance to chat with locals.
We actually had our first immersion in a true cruisers community at Marsh Harbour. We have lived aboard going on seven years, and although we have had many friends, neighbors, traveling companions, and dockmates, we have never experienced the organization of the group of cruisers in Marsh Harbour. The first indication of this was the “Abaco Cruiser’s NET” broadcast every morning on VHF marine radio [unheard of in the States]. During this radio ‘show’, everyone is encouraged to participate: weather & sea state are broadcast and discussed; world & financial news is read; emergency messages exchanged; offers to deliver mail tendered; local businesses are given time to explain their services (advertisements!); social graces observed in saying ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’; there’s even a daily Trivia Question to help educate and entertain.
Upon our arrival, we were immediately approached by Captain Del of la Pecheur D’ Etoiles and invited to a party aboard their vessel the following night. It was not the high season, so only 20 people showed for the party – I can’t imagine what happens in February when the harbour is full.
Some of the Marsh Harbour community are permanent, some are staying an extended few months, some only a few days. Some very wealthy, some squeaking by. No one leaves without feeling welcome! The offers of assistance, the sense of security, the sheer unadulterated friendliness of the whole thing makes me wonder if the “liveaboard woes” of Florida and the rest of the US could be solved by the organization of communities such as these. Some of the people on the NET and at the parties don’t even own boats! Some are businessmen on land! The lady that is the NET authority broadcasts from “Blue Dolphin”, and it took us a week to realize that’s the nautical name for her land-based house!
[sorry for all the exclamation points, but having traveled places that harass, bully, and antagonize law-abiding citizens who happen to be on boats, this was a refreshing change!]
As an endnote: While in Marsh Harbour, we attended the memorial service for Bob Toler, a.k.a. Barometer Bob, a long time community asset in North Abaco. While memorial services are sometimes somber and sad, I believe Bob’s was a true continuation of his life with lots of community bonding and positive memories and plans. We thank Bob for this positive addition to our lives as cruisers and dedicate this eletter to his memory and good works.
Next eletter describes the Exumas as we now travel irreversibly south.
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Capt.KL & Karin Hughes
S/V WindigoIII • PMB 365
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