Saturday, March 29, 2008

Artists’ Outpost

March 23-27, Little Harbour
In 1952 a sculptor and professor named Randolph Johnston brought his family to a small cove at the south end of the Sea of Abaco called Little Harbour to escape the self-destructiveness of society. He built a beachside foundry where he could create lost-wax bronze sculptures. His son, Pete, now carries on the sculpting tradition.

The first time we came to Little Harbour in 1992 you could only visit the offbeat community, including a high-end gallery, by boat. Now tourists arrive by car and the formerly funky open-air restaurant, Pete’s Pub, has acquired a mainstream patina. It’s still a great place to hang out, though!

Our previous visits had never coincided with the fascinating process of a bronze pour in the foundry. Rava, a very charming French artist who was Randolph’s last apprentice, did most of the work, along with an assistant. They joked around with us and explained every step of the process. Chunks of copper had been heated to 2000 degrees throughout the morning. We got there around noon and watched as they geared up in full protective spacesuit-like outfits, donning different helmets for different steps in the sequence. They added pieces of lead, then tossed several glass bottles into the bubbling mixture in order to attract impurities so that slag could be skimmed off the top. Finally they pulled blistering hot silica molds from a kiln, carefully hoisted the fire-orange crucible out of a flaming cauldron, and poured the molten metal into each mold, an extremely dangerous procedure.
An hour later we returned to witness the next step. Rava dunked the molds in a barrel of water to cool and cure them, then chipped away the molds. Everything turned out as intended; it was a successful pour. Incidentally, the lost-wax part of bronze sculpture comes into play as the silica molds are formed. Once the pour is finished and the molds destroyed, the sculptures are only about halfway through the labor intensive lost-wax process. But they are well on their way to becoming beautiful works of art.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Familiar Waters

March 15-22, Marsh Harbour
We’re back in the familiar waters of the Sea of Abaco. In addition to our previous trip on Pelican when we spent three months in Abaco in 2004, we vacationed here in 1992, 2000, and 2005. By land or by sea, we enjoy it enough to keep coming back.

Not only are the waters familiar…so are the high winds! March is the windiest month of the year, and successive weather fronts clock the wind direction from south to west to north. Weather systems in the Abacos, not to mention tide charts, are more limiting than we wish they were. With each approaching front, boats hurry to one of the five harbors in the area with all-around protection looking for a first-come, first-served mooring or good holding.

Northerly winds were on the way, and Saturday we pulled into Marsh Harbour, one of those protected anchorages. It’s the second-largest city in the Bahamas and the hub of the southern Abacos. Here you can jump on one of Albury’s ferries destined for Great Guana Cay, Elbow Cay, or Man-o-War Cay, each with its own personality and array of shops, restaurants, beaches, and activities. Or you can rent a car and drive to either end of the “mainland” of Great Abaco.

Our anchor held fast in Marsh Harbour for a week as two fronts blew through. But we took advantage of our location at the center of the hub and made side trips along several spokes: Great Guana Cay for Nipper’s Pig Roast under coloful umbrellas; Hope Town, where we spent our first family vacation in The Bahamas at Abaco Inn; Cherokee, a clean, quaint, always freshly painted town boasting the longest dock in The Bahamas stretching into a shallow sound that almost dries at low tide; and Little Harbour for fabulous fresh fish and the best coleslaw around at Pete’s Pub.

During the week we reconnected with Claus and Rachael after almost a month apart and enjoyed spending time with their visiting friends: first Fred, Heidi, Hilary and Molly Street, and later Paul Danelski…all great people and now our friends, too!

For me, the highlight of the week was the outdoor Easter service for cruisers at the water’s edge in Marsh Harbour. Pastor Silbert Mills presented a moving and inspiring sermon that infused Bahamian flavor, expressions, and passion into the eternal message that Christ the Lord is risen indeed!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Whales and a Dolphin

March 14, New Providence Channel
Crossing from Eleuthera to Abaco, we transited the very deep, and on this day, calm water of New Providence Channel. Off in the distance, Keith spotted something jumping on the surface of the water. He said, “There’s a big group of dolphins over there…. No, they’re way too big. They’re whales!”

We altered course to get a better view of eight or ten pilot whales gracefully arching their dorsal fins out of the water. One came right alongside our boat to check out the bigger fish in the sea. She surfaced a few times, then the entire pod dove deep and disappeared. What a thrill!

We read up afterward and learned that pilot whales can grow to eighteen feet long and weigh over 5000 pounds, males significantly larger than females. They live in matrilineal pods consisting of up to three generations of related females and their offspring. Pilot whales can be seen in Abaco year round, but are more common during the spring and summer.

As for dolphin, Keith caught and landed a big, beautiful mahimahi out on the blue water. The twenty-something pound fish will provide the two of us at least eight meals. It's a good thing dolphin are so tasty!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Picturesque Villages

March 8-13, Royal Island-Spanish Wells
We sailed to Royal Island on Saturday afternoon and within an hour-and-a-half of anchoring, a weather front moved in with rain and wind. It has been windy ever since. Keith really wanted to snorkel by Royal Island. A very long reef stretches for miles along the northern side of several islands, including Royal. But the property is under development and it’s forbidden to go ashore and cross the narrow island now. To get to the outer reefs, he would have to dinghy around the island to the north side, a two-mile ride, and the seas have been rough for snorkeling. We decided to move on to Spanish Wells.

Every day, a high-speed ferry leaves Nassau and stops at Spanish Wells on its way to Harbour Island just east of Eleuthera. Tuesday we spent the day there enjoying the historic wooden cottages with shutters painted in bright, contrasting tones. Many of the homes are similar in style to the cottages built in the late 1700s by British Loyalists who left the United States after the Revolutionary War. Beachside hotels and restaurants that accommodate tourists abound. Gorgeous bougainvillea in glorious hues wind around arbors and trail over walls, lifting their blooms to the God who made them. We walked on the famous pink sand, soft and powdery between our toes, and then ate lunch in town on a restaurant terrace overlooking the water. Harbour Island was picturesque from every angle.

Spanish Wells has its share of cute seaside cottages and flowering archways. And the town has its own special charm: it’s extremely neat and clean, the people hard-working and welcoming. As the center for the lobster fishing industry in the Bahamas, it caters less to tourists. Young men who grow up in Spanish Wells tend to leave school early, and nine of ten become lobster men, a highly profitable line of work. While we were anchored near Spanish Wells, around ten lobster boats came into port. As we walked on the wharf, Miss Londa was being unloaded. We talked to a young, friendly lobster man named Nicholas. He couldn’t reveal the weight of their catch but said they had been out for five weeks and would leave again in three days to fish until the season ends March 31. Fifty-pound bags of frozen tails were transferred to four dumpster-size crates and then to refrigerated semi-trailers, all destined for Nassau and beyond. Someone told us that Spanish Wells supplies the entire Red Lobster chain. Whether that’s true or not, it’s ironic that there’s no lobster on the menu at the sole wharf-side restaurant in town.

Spanish Wells is unlike any other town we have visited in the Bahamas. And it’s easily among our favorites.

Luxury at Last

March 5- 7, Nassau Harbour Club
Cruiser’s quote of the day: “I’d rather be sailing in the Bahamas thinking about a hot shower than in a hot shower thinking about sailing in the Bahamas.”

For the first time in fifty days, we checked in to a marina. This is a new style of cruising for us and a new record by far. Previously our longest stretch between marina stays was a week. We took advantage of the opportunity to luxuriate in long, hot showers rather than using a sprinkling of cool water…to let the cabin lights blaze in the evenings rather than cooking dinner by the scant illumination of solar lights…to run the air conditioner all day long rather than cooling off only at night. Ahh…the little luxuries.

It had also been more than fifty days since we had last driven a car. Keith got back in practice driving a rental car all around the island…on the left side of the road. At the Cricket Club, we ordered British fare, lamb shank and shepherd’s pie, for lunch. Then we toured the historic fort that guards the western end of the harbor, Fort Charlotte. Arawak Cay, Cable Beach, Delaporte, Love Beach, and Lyford Cay are places Keith and his family talk about; it was fun to see them. We walked the grounds of St. Andrews School, part of the British system, where Keith attended Forms 1-3. And we visited the Royal Nassau Sailing Club, where Keith got his first taste of the life we now lead.

Once we re-provisioned at the excellent supermarkets in Nassau, it was time to leave our life of luxury behind and begin to make our way to the Abacos.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Back Home Again

February 29-March 4, Shroud Cay to Nassau
Shroud Cay would be beautiful in any weather. Its network of pale aquamarine mangrove streams shimmered in the sun. Driftwood Beach on the ocean side was even more impressive with pounding surf. Loren and Clairice loved the place as much as we do, but wind from the latest cold front produced choppy waves and soggy dinghy rides.

From Shroud Cay to Allans Cays, 25-knot winds propelled us at 7.5 knots with only a reefed jib. Once anchored, we went ashore to view the main attraction—the iguanas—close up. A little too close for Loren. He offered a chunk of raisin bread to a big iguana that expressed its gratitude by taking chunks out of three of Loren’s fingers, an injury that throbbed and bled off and on for the next two days. Keith picked up an iguana and received some sharp kicks from its claws. Both Loren and Keith emerged bloodied from their iguana encounters.

For Keith, the bigger attraction at Allans is lobster. Last time we stopped here, he speared three lobsters. This time wind and waves conspired to keep him away from that reef. But he and his dad snorkeled in a more protected area at the edge of the anchorage and he shot another big spiny lobster. We were excited that Mom and Dad could have at least a taste of really fresh lobster before they leave.

As we crossed to Nassau, Loren hooked a big one on the Yellow Bank and fought it admirably. He kept the line taut and reeled in the monster by inches. It seemed like the contest would go on all afternoon. But by the time he landed his catch, the only thing on the line was seaweed. The lure showed new bite marks, though, and Keith saw a couple flashes of silver. We think it was a huge barracuda. Foiled again on his last fishing opportunity!

Our passage to Nassau, where Loren and Clairice will depart from, could hardly be considered smooth sailing. Beam seas rolled us around, salt spray soaked the cockpit. It was one of those voyages you’re happy to put behind you. Clairice, who doesn’t have a particular affinity for rough seas, endured it admirably.

We’re happy to be back in Nassau. We walked all over town to tour old haunts together: Hilltop House where Keith and his parents lived from 1970-75, old and new locations of The Christian Book Shoppe where his parents worked, Calvary Bible Church where the family attended, Bay Street duty-free shops and straw market, and Potters Cay. Loren and Clairice commented frequently on how different everything seems thirty-five years later. One of the more obvious changes is the presence of Atlantis Resort. We marveled at the aquarium’s colorful fish and graceful manta rays floating by, their wingspan as wide as our boat, and at the grandeur of the sculptures and architecture.

Monday night Loren and Clairice treated us to dinner. Our taxi driver that night was nicknamed Goat. When Loren asked why he was called Goat, he told us the story. He was born in George Town and his family moved up to Nassau. They told him he was too “biggety,” meaning he was a bully. They left him behind to take care of their herd of 75 goats. Being all alone, he started killing one or two goats every week and cooking them every way he could imagine. After some months, the family asked him to come up to Nassau with the goats. His aunt loaded the mailboat with boxes of potatoes, onions, and vegetables from the Exumas to accompany him to Nassau. His mother met him at the dock and unloaded all of the vegetables, then asked, “Where are the goats?” He had to admit, “I ate them all.” “All 75?!” “Every last one.” He got a really good whooping. She must have whooped the biggety right out of him, because after thirty years in Nassau, he seems like a fine man.

Luciano’s, the restaurant where we ate, is an elegant waterfront location west of the Paradise Island Bridge. Dinner was delicious, the service impeccable, and outdoor seating cooled by an ocean breeze made for a perfect last evening in the Bahamas. We had such a good time together and hope that for Mom and Dad warm memories will outlast the winter back in Minnesota.