Exploring Eleuthera, continued

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Lydia Fell

Dec 5, 2010, 2:58:33 PM12/5/10
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George Town, Exuma
December 4th, 2010

We arrived in George Town yesterday mid-morning after a 20 hour overnight sail from Rock Sound, Eleuthera.  We had dithered about which day to leave, following the weather anxiously and trying to choose a window with a good breeze, but not enough that we would have to reef (minimize) our sails.  Since we were sailing overnight, we always plan to have no reason to be out on the deck, for any reason except an emergency.  In the end, we headed out yesterday to find the sea conditions something completely other than forecast, but the wind was on our stern quarter, and despite the rock and roll, we ploughed down the Exuma Sound like a freight train, making great speed.

When we arrived in the harbor, I gave the boat got her fresh water rinse (she was fairly sparkling with sea salt from the trip), and once that was accomplished, we rushed our dinghy over to Chat ‘n Chill.  We rewarded ourselves for our endurance trip south with a cheese burger, fries and a rum punch, and were gratefully in bed by 6.15 pm and sound asleep shortly thereafter.  So, a 12 hour night of good sleep behind me, I’ll try to catch you up with the rest of our Eleuthera trip.

As always when we’re visiting, it’s the people you meet and the friends you make along the way that enhance each experience and make it all the more memorable.  As covered in the last post, we met Loretta and Jack Munsey in the Spanish Wells area, and their warmth and generosity in opening their home to us and driving us down to the Glass Window, not to mention treating us to lunch on my birthday, smacked again of the kindness of strangers and left us grateful for a new friendship.  A few days after that trip, and as we were exploring the town of Spanish Wells on foot, we ran into another couple, Skip and Sharon Warner, who took refuge with us under a covered porch during a downpour.  Conversation ensued, and we learned that they had built a home (with their four bare hands) further down the island.  After sharing a ride from a kindly local who gave us a lift back to the dock in the rain, we parted with a promise that we’d stop in and visit them if we should get to the Pineapple Cays on our way south.

On November 18th, we caught the fast ferry from Spanish Wells to Harbour Island, an island community east of the northern tip of Eleuthera.  It’s definitely possible to take your boat there, zig-zagging through the notorious Devil’s Backbone reefs, but hiring a local pilot to lead you there is recommended.  We’ve spoken to several sailors who have made the precarious trip on their own with no problems at all, but as mentioned in the last log, the seas were still rough from the NE swell that was coming ashore, and we both felt too nervous in those conditions to consider taking our 7 ft draft through the way-pointed route.  The ferry ride, in and of itself was worth the $40 return fare.  We enjoyed every moment of it, intrigued with the circuitous route it took around the shoals (which included being within spitting distance to shore at one point) from the upper, open deck.

Harbour Island is unique and quite unlike other Bahamian communities we’ve seen, with some very old colonial homes (which look like the ones found in Charleston, SC), a lovely road running along the harbor on the West side of the island (complete with very-free-to-range chickens), and spectacular beaches on the East (Atlantic) side.  As soon as we disembarked, we headed across the island to the beaches, where we found the pink sand peculiar to Eleuthera.  If there had been any beach treasure that had washed up from the huge surf of the previous days, it had been raked up.  These beaches were kept in pristine condition by the private homes and guesthouses that sat up on the dunes, overlooking the Atlantic ocean.

The first bar off the beach was Sip Sips, and we stopped to hydrate on a couple of drinks (it was very warm that day), but chatted up the waitress serving us, who told us that her husband’s building crew were working on a historical home in town, and suggested we drop by.

And so, we found ourselves delighting in the Strawberry House, a 350 year old home with pecky cypress ceilings, beautiful original wood floors, solid wood paneling in the stairwell (the boards of which were two feet wide), and 8’ shutters which had accumulated what must have been a half inch of paint over the years, although this didn’t strike us as a negative thing at all.  The house, as you might have guessed, was painted a pale strawberry color, and the shutters and trim were all such a delicious shade of mint green, it made me want to lick them.

We asked the workmen in the Strawberry House where the locals ate, and they directed us to a very small restaurant (well, “restaurant” is a stretch), where we ate an ample lunch in the local style of fried grouper, peas and rice and carrot salad.  The waitress, who appeared to be the daughter-in-charge of a family-run business, had either never taken, or assuredly failed the chapter on Human Relations, but the food was good, and we continued our amble around town.  We happened upon a very old, impressive looking library, with an enormous banyan tree on it’s front lawn, but it wasn’t opening for another half hour, and we had been warned that the ferry wouldn’t wait for the Bahamian Governor, let alone us, and not to be late. Reluctantly, we headed back to the harbor.

Satisfied that we’d explored the Spanish Wells area sufficiently, and grabbing some favorable wind, we headed out of our anchorage on November 19th,  joined up with our friends on S/V Troubadour, and headed for Current Cut, the door in to the rest of Eleuthera.  The cut itself is high, narrow, and thankfully, also short because the current which runs through there is formidable and enough to prohibit progress through the channel without some hefty horsepower on an outgoing tide.  We timed our arrival for low, slack water, so current wasn’t an issue at all, although I held my breath as we traversed water with only 8 inches under our keel.  Once clear of the cut, we had a choppy, wet motor sail over to Hatchet Bay, in which we secured ourselves to a mooring ball immediately before dark.

Hatchet Bay was originally a large, deep pond which was separated from the Exuma Sound by a narrow strip of rock.  An entrance, which feels incredibly narrow when you’re navigating through it, was blasted out many years ago, transforming the pond into a very secure, sheltered anchorage from wind in any direction.  The holding for anchoring in the bay is very poor, which resulted in mooring balls being set in the harbor which are free to transient cruisers.  Troubadour and we were the only sailboats in the bay, and it was a quiet, fun time as we set off to explore what was in the community.  We checked out the local laundry – did a great job of washing the clothes, but the dryers were on the blink, so we hung out on the boat after we’d added some clotheslines.  The Front Porch is a bar/restaurant at the head of the bay, owned and run by a wonderful couple, Francis and Gina (who could both have made better money as models, so beautiful were they), and they directed us up the main road north, to Gregory Town for Thanksgiving dinner options.

I don’t even know if it’s necessary to stick your thumb out in order to get a lift in Eleuthera.  It seems that if a passing car has the space, they stop to pick you up anyway.  So we spent a wonderful day hitching to the famous Surfers Beach (where there were surfers, although the big swells from the NE had mostly abated at this point), and then on to Gregory Town proper, which is locally thought of as the Bohemian town of Eleuthera.

Elvina’s pub was one of our stops, where the ceilings were covered in surfboards, owned by surfing enthusiasts, and stored by the owner of the pub, Chicken, to save the hassle of regular visiting surfers having to transport them to and from the States.  It definitely added to the interesting ambiance.  Chicken sat us down and gave us the scoop about his open mike nights.  Being a lover of music, he had built a stage in the pub, and equipped it with drums, electric guitars, a keyboard and bongos, not to mention a major sound system, to encourage anyone and everyone who could play an instrument, but hadn’t brought theirs along, to participate in music-making.  Lenny Kravitz, a resident in Gregory Town, was a frequent customer, but rarely played.  However, his band members who were also in the area, were regulars.  We had met two guys in Hatchet Bay who were visiting their vacation home in Eleuthera, and were anxiously awaiting open mike night so they could participate on their electric guitars. 

The bad news for us is that open mike nights didn’t even start until 10 pm, after the locals had fed their children, helped with the homework, tidied up their kitchens, and then headed out for Elvina’s.  To we cruisers, 10 pm may as well be 3 am, particularly if you’re hitching your way there and back.  So, I’m regretful to tell you that while we were at Elvina’s on open mike night, we were too pooped to hang around until it started, despite our best intentions.   Reluctantly, we walked up to the main road again and stuck our thumbs out for a ride back to Hatchet Bay, feeling very much like old farts.

Huey, a truck driver for Heineken, picked us up in his delivery truck, surprisingly, and filled our trip back with animated, friendly chatter and helpful points of interest while he sipped on his Busch beer.  I don’t know what his alcohol blood level was, but his driving was just fine, and I was enormously amused at the lack of open container laws in Eleuthera.  We gathered later from Gina that unless you actually kill someone with your drunken driving, the local police, should they happen to stop you, (which they never do), won’t even mention it.

(I have to add as aside here, for those cruisers reading this who are anxious to support the Bahamas during their stay here: Kalik beer, while brewed in Nassau, is owned by Heineken, and therefore not strictly a Bahamian beer.  Sands Beer is the only true, local brew.  I, for one, will switch when I next fill my bathtub with supplies.)

There was going to be a Thanksgiving Dinner at Elvina’s which we planned on attending, but the wind picked up in a favorable direction the day before, and we decided in a New York minute to head south with Troubadour to Governor’s Harbour instead.  We had a beautiful sail down there on a warm, crystal clear day, and tied up to a mooring ball late afternoon in one of the most picturesque harbors I’ve ever seen.

On Thanksgiving Day, we went ashore with Chris and Linda, and made our first stop at the library, which stood our in all her pink glory on the harbor waterfront.  It was a gorgeous, old building, very well stocked with all the latest books, and we were excited to see a book-swap section begging for our attention.  The librarian, a delightful woman, allowed us to take our books before we brought our swaps in – such is the trust on these islands – and had some Thanksgiving Dinner suggestions for us, too.  Further down the road who should we bump into but Huey of the Busch Beer, who lives in Governor’s Harbour.  He was surprised and delighted to see us, and told us where to go for the best all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet.  At this point it was early afternoon, and we saw no reason why we shouldn’t head over for our dinner tout suite since the talk with Huey about the menu started the gastric juice growl in four-part harmony.

And so, the Harbour Inn provided turkey, roast beef, ham, spicy grouper, peas and rice, mac and cheese, twice baked potatoes, stuffing, cranberry jelly, coleslaw and julienne beets.  We ate it all – we went back for seconds – and we finished our dinner with cheese cake.  By the time we waddled out of there, our only desire was to nap on the boat and skip dinner.

The following day, being a Friday, was the weekly local fish fry which was held right next to the library, on the beach.  We thoroughly enjoyed that, too and marveled at the effort made by the locals to cook up the burgers, barbecued chicken or pork chops and fried barracuda, along with all the typical side dishes of peas and rice, mac and cheese and coleslaw.  The outside bar served anything you might like to drink, and the road was blocked off for dancing while a local deejay supplied a great variety of (mostly 70’s) dance music.  Chris and Linda did some swing dancing, along with lots of others; we’re not dancers at all. (As my children will attest,  Harrison is my one and only dance partner!)  But it was fun to watch, and wonderful to see the local kiddies out there jumping around.  I loved the fact that this open air weekly party was a laid back, unrestricted, clean-fun Friday night event, and an expression of how the community residents on these remote islands endeavor to entertain themselves.  An evening of this kind in the States would require permits galore these days.

There was a very nice arts and crafts show at the library the following day which fare was mostly “beach art”.  Skip delivered a pile of trade books to the library, and then we took a long walk to the Atlantic beach on the other side of the island – yet another pink sanded, exquisitely beautiful, empty beach.  I have filled my visual memory with more eye candy in the past four years than I have in my previous lifetime, but as usual, the pictures really don’t do it justice.  It was a hot day, and we stopped at The Beach House for a drink after our long walk in the sun, which had a view of the ocean that was worthy of a brochure.  Just gorgeous.

We very much wanted to attend the Anglican/Episcopal Sunday service at a beautiful old church, which, as posted on it’s sign, also took confessions by appointment to keep the RCs happy.  Chris, Linda and we sat in the church for a good half hour, wondering whether they would actually hold a service for 4 people, when a woman attending to flowers enlightened us that the service time had been moved to 3 pm.  Too bad for us, because we needed to leave to catch the fair wind down to the Pineapple Cays.  Ah well, that will be something to look forward to on our next trip.

Even I can’t make it to the end of logs this long, so I apologize to those of you who are still with me at this point.  There’s really so much that we’ve done and seen in Eleuthera, making each day a new adventure for us; I don’t want to exclude any of it, lest I forget.  But alas, I’m running out of steam and I’m sure you’re running out of attention, so I’ll end this lengthy diatribe here, with every good wish for your health, happiness and peace in this Holiday Season.

Love, Lydia

S/V Flying Pig
Morgan 46 #2
"The only way to live is to have a dream green and growing in your life - anything else is just existing and is a waste of breath."
Ann Davison
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