The Ragged Islands

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Lydia Fell

Feb 23, 2011, 3:34:43 PM2/23/11

Double Breasted Cay, Ragged Islands

It seems like a long time since I last wrote, just before Michael and Fish
came to visit when we were still in George Town. Since then, we've made the
long and hard-earned sail south to the Ragged Islands, (the Jewel of the
Bahamas) and have been soaking it up here for nearly two weeks.

It was lovely to have Michael and Fish aboard for 10 days, and between the
snorkeling, beach walks and a day sail around Stocking Island, we all had a
good time together. They are the perfect visitors; easy to please,
appreciative of the liveaboard experience, and interested in what was
happening in the cruiser community. Skip, who's perpetually proud of his
youngest son and all his talents (which include being a wonderful musician),
volunteered us as a quartet for Beach Church one Sunday. We sang "For God So
Loved the World", (part of the John Stainer Crucifixion for those of you who
are familiar), acapella and on key! Fish, who has a beautiful, bell-like
clarity to her voice and normally sings alto, took the soprano line, so we
pitched the song down a minor 5th to accommodate her and also me for the
alto. Michael sang tenor, and Skip was a resonant bass. It's a gorgeous,
moving piece, with harmonies that make the hair stand up on the back of your
neck, so practicing it was a delight for the week before our performance.

After Michael had very kindly done the dinghy runs with 5-gallon water jugs
to fill our fresh water tanks back up, they flew home to Georgia (and
another cold front), and we provisioned fresh veggies for our trip to the
Raggeds. The perfect weather window we were expecting was lacking wind
(albeit in the right direction) but as it turned out, we had a stellar wifi
connection that day, and I spent virtually all of it on the phone to my mom
in England, and my daughters, just trying to catch up. By the time I got
around to talking to Emily, the future bride, and for whose wedding we're
returning to the States in the Spring, our connection was tenuous at best,
and I gave it up for dinner and an early bedtime.

While there's a general cruising rule to avoid schedules, we were under the
gun to make our first leg toward the Raggeds so that we wouldn't miss the
high tide crossing of Comer Channel which lies between Long Island and the
top of the Jumentos Cays, a necessary route for deep draft boats. On
February 9th, we had enough wind to sail, but it was a beat the whole way to
Long Island and we had no choice but to motor-sail the 36 miles, dropping
anchor after dark. The following morning, we set out again for Comer
Channel, timing the passage on a rising tide which left us, at worst, about
15 inches under our keel in the shallowest spots. No fears - we'd already
experienced the heart-stopping depths last year - but sunset left us short
of our first anchorage and we spent an uncomfortable night not far off the
rhumb line to Water Cay with enough surge to keep the boat rolling
relentlessly and making sound sleep impossible.

The next day of, again, motor-sailing, delivered us to a very lovely,
secluded anchorage off Nurse Cay where we reveled in the seclusion, the
silence and an utterly calm anchorage. Portia greatly appreciated the break
too, after all the sailing and the previous rolly night, and spent a good
long while on deck surveying her new surroundings. It's amusing to watch her
keen interest when her vista changes; I sometimes wonder whether she wishes
she could get off the boat and explore.

Finally, on February 12th, we arrived in Hog Cay, stunned at the sight of 36
other boats anchored there. The enticement at Hog was, of course, the
Valentines Day beach party which was started two years ago (this being the
third, and our first) by Maxine, a local Ragged Island woman who runs the
grocery store there. She brought great quantities of turkey, baked ham, peas
and rice and macaroni and cheese, all ferried in on local boats from Ragged.
The cruisers added side dishes and desserts to the feast, and while they
made up the majority of the attendees, there were a good number of local
Ragged Island folks that boated over for the event, bringing with them their
instruments; goat-skin covered oil drums, a set of bongos and plenty of cow
bells. Amid the endless feast of food and grog, we enjoyed our own, special
Junkanoo in which many of the cruisers participated in both the playing of
instruments, and dancing. It was a wonderfully, festive day, and we were
grateful to have made it down here in time for the experience.

The Ragged Islands, beach parties aside, are not for the faint of heart.
Cruising down here is for the brave, self-sufficient folks who are able, and
willing, to drop off the face of the earth for a while. Aside from Ragged
Island, these islands are uninhabited, and completely open to changes in
weather, with no where to hide easily from a northerly blow. Worse, a
clocking wind from the SW, to W, to NW could keep you moving your boat
constantly, (and not necessarily successfully) trying to get out of the
surge. If you're not a hunter of the sea (and willing to encounter sharks up
close and personal), you'd better be prepared to eat beans and rice for the
duration, but the most alarming aspect about being down here is that of a
lack of emergency aid.

Walking the exceptionally primitive trails across the islands to the ocean
beaches means quite literally taking your life in your hands. Many of the
trails are fraught with what we call "moon rock", hard jagged limestone as
sharp as razor blades which will leave you punctured and bloody in a
heartbeat. It's a sobering experience to walk these paths, concentrating
with all your might on every carefully placed step, every foothold, lest you
lose your focus, make an error and end up with an emergency on your hands.
Last year, a man suffered a compound fracture of his wrist falling on the
rocks. This year, there have been several injuries ranging from deep
puncture wounds to facial lacerations when cruisers fell, all requiring
stitches. One woman missed one of the steps in her companionway (the ladder
down from the cockpit) and cracked some ribs; another cruiser simply became
dehydrated and passed out in the hot sun. Very fortunately in all these
cases, a retired doctor, who was cruising here also, kindly helped out in
any way he could, but it's not every day that you find a cruiser who used to
be part of the medical world available in your anchorage. While there's a
clinic in Ragged Island, it's the most southern of the island chain and not
easily accessible, requiring a 4 mile dinghy ride once you get your big boat
as close as feasibly possible. And if, God forbid, you require
hospitalization, getting a Medevac flight out of Ragged to Nassau could
involve days of waiting.

Just being here, and keeping the word "careful" at the top of our
vocabulary, makes me reflect upon the Explorers, the Columbus-type pioneers
who boldly went where no man had gone, in literally uncharted waters.
Thankfully, cruising isn't like that anymore, but this area is riddled with
dangerous coral heads and rocky shoals which would chew a boat up in no time
at all.

The tiny population of people who live on Ragged Island are fisherman. If,
when learning how to fish as small children, they discovered that they weren't
destined to become very proficient at it, their futures were then determined
to leave the island after 8th grade (which is as high as school goes in
Ragged), and eventually seek another lifestyle in Nassau, or sometimes, the
States. Down here it's fishing, or it's fishing. There are no other
professions which are remuneratively viable in such an isolated island
community. But the people who stayed, and fish for a living, consider
themselves the lucky ones, the blessed. We've been so fortunate in being
able to get to know a few of them, and you'd be hard pressed to find a finer
group of men, who enjoyed our company as much as we did theirs, and were
willing to share stories of their island life, their families and their

Tomorrow, a Benefit Luncheon is being held at the local school in Ragged
Island, providing the weekly Mail Boat arrives on time. If the Mail Boat,
which will be carrying the food for the luncheon, is delayed, then so will
the luncheon, in which case the cruisers will hear about it on the VHF
radio. We're looking forward to going and meeting more of the local folk,
especially some of the children. While we're on the island, we'll take
advantage of their wifi, and I'll get this log out, hopefully.

Within a couple more weeks, we'll start the trek back to Fort Pierce, FL,
where we've got a list as long as my arm of things that need to be done on
the boat, not least of which is new bottom paint. It's been 4 years since
the last, so it's time. We're going to sail over the banks first west, and
then northwest of here, and eventually jump in the Gulf Stream and ride it
north. I'll write again sometime from there.

Meanwhile, I hope this finds you well, with a peaceful heart.

Love, Lydia

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