When Jason mentioned taking s/v Blue Moon to the Bahamas for the winter of 2013/2014, it was nearly the last place in the Caribbean I wanted to go. Jason’s friends Marty and Hernan, living on their boat s/v Oceanaire in Bimini, encouraged us to come down, but I just remembered the high-rise luxury resorts of Nassau from my layover there on the way to Cuba in 1999, and thought, “Man, this guy really doesn’t get me, does he?”
We started poking around and reading up, and my dear family friends Ed and Bobbie Collins from Leelanau County popped up, singing the praises of the Bahamas, where they have spent their winters for over 30 years (18 on their sail boat Puck and 12+ in their house Puck Cottage). They invited us to stay at Puck Cottage, to dink around in their Grady White “ipuck”, to shower on land and to wash our laundry (all true luxuries to cruising sailors). They shared their charts and cruising guides. They took us to dinner with friends full of advice on anchorages and passages. And they’ve engendered in us (even in the skeptical me) a love for the Bahamas. The Abacos are to the Caribbean what (my beloved) Leelanau County is to the Midwest – an out-of-the-way, slow-paced, sparsely populated, absolutely gorgeous place. What my father calls “God’s country.”
As we were leaving the Bahamas in April 2014, I said to Jason, “Next time, we don’t leave.” Here we are!
For the uninformed (like me), the Bahamas is an independent nation, settled by British loyalist and their slaves fleeing the US after the Revolutionary War. It is racially diverse, and hosts (more or less willingly) a large Haitian population. It comprises 700 islands extending over 750 miles from the coast of Florida to almost Haiti. Only approximately 30 of the 700 islands are inhabited, and 75% of the 300,000+ people live in Nassau and Grand Bahama. (As we pulled into Nassau in January 2014 for me to fly to Miami for negotiations, having pulled into Grand Bahama in November 2013 for me to find wifi to keep turning documents, Jason bemoaned, “700 islands, and you brought me to the two islands I most wanted to avoid?!”)
670 uninhabited islands. Eight weeks in 2013/2014 and probably another four in 2015, and we’ll only just skim the surface. So far, our two favorites are Manjack in the north of the Abaco chain and Norman’s Cay in the north of the Exuma chain. Both provide long white untouched beaches and more colors of blue in the water than Crayola could ever name. At both we never saw anyone on land, and only saw a boat or two anchored in the other anchorages.
In Manjack, we swam with the sharks and rays, and chased the turtles. We ran the beaches and built a bonfire. We left twice, once to get beer (we’d run out, and it quickly became clear that the bottle of gin we dug out of one of the holds was a really bad idea) and once to catch a flight back to New York for work, but considered staying forever.
In Norman’s Cay (which we affectionately call Deke’s Island, for our dear sailing friend Norman “Deke” Jamieson), we played Frisbee on the beach and hoisted me up the mast to take pictures of the unimaginably beautiful water colors (second below). We swam to a small spot of sand with a single palm tree (first below), and ran an old beat-up road the length of the island. Norman’s Cay also has the wreckage of an old drug-trafficking airplane that crashed into the bay (third below). The Bahamas were the headquarters of a massive drug smuggling operation en route to the states in the early 1980s, evidenced by some of the empty blue plastic barrels washed up on shore. Brita dreams of finding a barrel still full of cocaine and becoming a DEA agent upon turning it into the authorities. Sadly (or luckily) all of the barrels we’ve found have been full of nothing but beautiful white Bahamian sand.
The water in the Bahamas is unimaginably clear, and, on the bank, has sandy bottoms. For a “lake snob” like me, the Bahamas felt just like home. If only we could figure out how to waterski here…. The depths are shallow – at times we have more knots of speed than feet of depth. (For two sailors trained in the New York Harbor, dredged to well over 60 feet, this was unnerving at first.) We have bumped bottom a handful of times, in every case mid-channel at nearly high tide. Most sails involve setting sail and arriving to port near midday, so the sun best illuminates the shallows for us to navigate – Jason at the helm reading the GPS and me on the bow pointing out coral and sandbars to avoid. We had to pull out of Carter’s Cay in the Abacos at 3 am high tide one night, following our GPS breadcrumb trail of the entry from the day before, crabbing against a nasty current, to anchor a dozen or so feet outside the cut, and take off again after sunrise. We got stuck on our first approach into Hope Town Harbor and were pulled off by a runabout sporting two 350hp outboard engines. Bobbie and Ed tell us running aground is a right of passage for any Bahamian sailor, but for us it is still slightly embarrassing.
Our only complaint about the Bahamas is the price of alcohol (life is tough). It is by far our biggest expense. You can’t get a case of beer (local or imported) for less than $55, and a bottle of cheap wine is about $12. Rum is cheaper. So we’re learning to drink rum! We’ve been enjoying peach iced tea mixed with a very nice bottle of spiced rum someone brought to Blue Moon during a boat party in Chelsea Piers (Thank you!) and we’re trying Cap’n and diet coke and of course Dark ‘n’ Stormies. We did start our trip with the traditional Kalik and Sands toast we’ve started and ended each of our trips to the Bahamas with.
These first two weeks, we’re kicking around the Abacos. The big news of the week is that I am eating fish nearly every day (after 15 years as a strict vegetarian), and Jason and I are adjusting well to no jobs, no blackberry, and no i-phones. Other than that, we’re enjoying the hospitality of Bobbie and Ed at Puck Cottage with both sets of parents. Last weekend, we sailed up to Man of War and Great Guana Cay for three days with Jason’s parents, including drinks at Nipper’s and dinner at Grabber’s on GGC. Yesterday we went out for a leisurely day sail and hoisted Jason’s mom Linda up the mast. Later this week, we hope to head out with my parents somewhere else. Then, come February 8th, weather permitting, we’re setting sail for the Exumas.
Random pictures below: 02/04/2015 sail with my parents, Jason’s parents and Ed Collins; lunch at On Da Beach with my parents, Jason’s parents and Bobbie and Ed Collins; dinner at Harbor’s Edge with my parents and Jason’s parents; dinner at Firefly; the view from the widow’s walk at Puck Cottage.