Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Hop, a Skip, and a Jump

Little San Salvador –  Abaco, Bahamas
March 18 – 25, 2015

Our time at this fantastic playground of The Bahamas is coming to an end. Now we are hopscotching our way north. On our first hop, fifteen miles from northern Cat Island to Little San Salvador, a pod of dolphins joined in the play, jumping in our bow wave. We can never get enough of them! Among all God’s creatures, dolphins have to be best at capturing the pure joy of living. 
Three of several dolphins jumping for joy
 Little San Salvador, or Half Moon Cay as it’s now called, is anything but an isolated anchorage every day but Sunday. Owned by Holland America Lines, it’s a daytime playground for cruise ship passengers. Before we arrived that day, 3,000 other cruisers had been ferried ashore. They choose from activities such as swimming, snorkeling, walking the beach, eco tours, watersports, horseback riding, renting a private air-conditioned cabana—even getting married (the ultimate shore excursion!). In the course of a year, 441,000 ship passengers will visit the little island. Fortunately, only 45 of the 2,500 acres have been developed. The ecosystem on the rest of this pristine island is maintained as a bird sanctuary and nature preserve. The ships depart by 4 p.m., taking their loud music with them. For our own shore excursions, we snorkeled on pretty reefs northwest of the cay and, after the ship left, walked the exquisite half-moon beach from one end to the other and back, four miles in all. The next morning, as that day’s liner pulled in, we made a quick departure.
A big ship, a little island

Beachfront bar and water toys

Shore excursion beach villa

Half Moon Beach, sand so soft your feet sink in
A ten-mile skip north landed us at one of our very favorite spots: Lighthouse Point on Eleuthera Island. Although there is no symbol in our chartbook marking it as a recommended anchorage, on another visit by car we had seen a catamaran anchor in the bay for a few hours. So, with settled weather, we gave it a try. Here we were the only ones in the anchorage. On the Atlantic side of the point multiple tiers of reef hug the shore. We dinghied over there and jumped in, Keith loaded with spear and weights, me with camera. Immediately Keith saw two lobsters walking across the sand. In the middle of the day! Usually they only risk coming out of hiding at twilight. The taking of spiny lobster is prohibited April 1 through August 31 for mating season. We think these two, a big male chasing a female, just couldn’t wait. The lady lobster found shelter in the reef. The big boy turned and struck a threatening pose. It was his last stand. And our delicious dinner.

Dinner, anyone?

Fresh as can be! (the lobster)

After snorkeling a while, I was chilled but Keith had more hunting in him. He dropped me off at the shore and headed back to the reefs. Walking down the glorious beach, I was completely wonderstruck by the overwhelming beauty of sky, sea, and sand. My heart bursting, I said, “Oh, Lord, heaven has to have places very much like this. I can’t imagine anywhere more perfect and soul satisfying.” Just then, I think I saw Him smile.

Beauty puts a face on God. When we gaze at nature, at a loved one, at a work of art, our soul immediately recognizes and is drawn to the face of God.
Margaret Brownley

Lighthouse Point Beach
We made a few more skips up the big island of Eleuthera for laundry, fuel, groceries, and stone crab claws. Then it was time for the blue-water jump to the Abacos, a different section of the playground. The Abacos are the only area of the Bahamas with an inland sea between a larger “mainland” (Great Abaco Island) and a chain of sheltering cays. Now at the end of the hopscotch course, we’ve landed in a “safe” space. Soon we’ll turn and make the hop for home base. 
Rock Sound, Eleuthera

Hurricane damage, Spanish Wells

The boatyard, Spanish Wells

Sunrise after a squall, departing Eleuthera

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cat Island’s Many Charms

Cat Island, Bahamas
March 7 – 17, 2015

Cat Island is home to the highest point in The Bahamas, 206 feet above sea level. Around it, lush green hills with low scrub and tropical vegetation undulate to rocky ironshore or sparkling coves and beaches. It’s a quiet island with a much smaller population than other large Bahamian islands. What it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in the charm of its people and places.

The High Point
On the highest peak, Mt. Alvernia (formerly Como Hill), sits the Hermitage. It’s the masterwork of Father Jerome, the priest/architect who built seven churches on Long Island (see post below) and four on Cat Island. At age 64, he began work on this one-man monastery in miniature, his retirement home where he would dedicate himself to seclusion and contemplation, inspired by the 360-degree view. Stone by stone, bucket by bucket, he hauled materials up the steep incline, maybe as an effort to share in the sufferings of Jesus. On that rocky pathway he carved monuments to the Stations of the Cross. Although he was a tall man, he crafted the buildings and doorways of the Hermitage to be small enough that one has to stoop to enter. His intention is obvious.
Path to The Hermitage with Stations of the Cross
Bas-relief sculpture of Station XIII
The Hermitage, chapel and bell tower
The Hermitage roofline
The Hermitage from the back. Or is it the front?
When Keith lived in Nassau as a teenager, he was part of a church youth program called Stockade. Among other adventures and activities, they would camp where Atlantis now sits. He remembers his group leader, Edison Pinder. Edison married Eunice, the pastor’s daughter. Her sister lives in Minneapolis and attends church with Keith’s parents. Through that connection, all these years later we found out Edison and Eunice live on Cat Island. We called them when we arrived on Saturday, and they picked us up for church on Sunday. The church was associated with an orphanage. At the end of the service, the twelve kids who live in the home sang a closing song. It was beautiful and touching!

Edison and Eunice formerly lived on a boat and traveled to different islands to work with young people. Now they work with the children and teens on Cat Island. Their summers are filled with Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs. During the school year, they present weekly programs much like VBS in the small primary schools that dot the length of the island. We had the privilege of seeing what they do one afternoon. The kids were amped up when Mrs. Pinder arrived with her guitar. They gathered for a rousing assembly featuring entertaining songs with motions and a Bible story. Then they filed (Girls first! Quiet, please!) back to their individual classrooms, and we moved from one to the next assisting with a craft that incorporated art skills. There are no art or music curricula in the schools, and many students need to learn basics such as how to hold a scissors properly. We had such fun doing goofy song motions and loving on these polite, happy, and energetic kids.
Eunice leading a fun song with motions

Eunice and Edison with Puppet (whose eyes don't look like this is real life!)
 After hosting us at their home for dinner, Eddie and Eunice loaned us their extra vehicle for three days. That allowed us to reconnect with another old friend from Keith’s Nassau life—a classmate from St. Andrews named Andrew Jones. Andrew is a Bahamian-American singer/songwriter. His home lies at the end of a three-mile-long bumpy dirt road where there are no other houses. We’d heard that he was “off the grid,” and so I pictured something humble and rustic. Au contraire! Andrew’s sister-in-law is a Parisian fashion designer/architect. Made from Brazilian hardwood, the custom house she designed is elegant, dramatic, and serene. Completely powered by solar energy, it blends into its natural environment beautifully. If you’re interested in renting a fabulous house/retreat center that can accommodate groups of 10-15, a place nestled in seclusion on a hilltop overlooking a private crescent beach, check out Spirit House Bahamas. Keith called Andrew out of the blue that morning after no contact for forty years, and the connection was instantaneous. Neither of them could have imagined at the end of Form Three the paths their lives would take, or that the next time they’d see each other, it would be on Cat Island.  It was a true pleasure for me to meet Andrew and for Keith to catch up. Our hearts connected over lunch as he told his story of battling life-threatening illness and feeling renewed on Cat Island.
The deck of Andrew's home

His private beach
Keith and Andrew
Driving back toward our boat after lunch with Andrew, we stopped at a resort in Old Bight that other boaters had talked about on the VHF radio. Rollezzz Beach Resort had welcomed anchored cruisers to come ashore and the owner, Carl Rolle, generously allowed them to enjoy a bonfire on his beach. At the resort we talked with Mr. Rolle and somehow got on the subject of Keith’s earlier life in Nassau. He was well aware of the Christian Bookshop on Shirley Street, which Keith’s parents had managed. He said they would know his wife, Yvonne Smith, because she was in the bookstore all the time. In fact, his sister-in-law, Margaret, had worked there. What?? Margaret Smith? We know her! She’s a delightful person who had come to Minnesota to attend our alma mater. There were more old connections on Cat Island than we anticipated.

Thursday we toured the north end of the island and planned to sail north on Friday. But the wind came on strong and we stayed put for another day. It was a fortunate turn of events because there was rake ’n’ scrape music on shore that evening. Traditional Bahamian rake ’n’ scrape includes a concertina or accordion, a saw, and a goombay drum. The music style evolved in the Out Islands, most notably Cat Island. We’d met and talked with Pompey (Bo-Hog) Johnson several times but didn’t think we’d get the chance to hear him play. He and his renowned group, Bo-Hog and the Rooters, have appeared on The Today Show and even in Paris. That night at the regatta site on the beach in New Bight it was a treat to hear them in person.
Heating up the goombay drum on the stove. Really!
Crystal Smith, saw; Pompey (Bo-Hog) Johnson, concertina; Cedell (CD) Hunter, goombay drum
Other Highlights (from south to north)
Cristo Redentor Church, designed by Father Jerome
Interior of Cristo Redentor
St. Francis of Assisi chapel, designed by Father Jerome, in disuse and being overtaken by the bush
Fernandez Bay Village resort; we had a delicious lunch when anchored here
With Julian, owner of Da Smoke Pot, who hasn't cut his hair in 27 years!
Beautiful stone church in Arthur Town
Orange Creek Beach
At the mouth of Orange Creek; dries at low tide
Shanna's Cove resort, where we had a most amazing dinner!
Cave at Man o' War Point
A gorgeous natural sculpture garden of hurricane-tossed, sun-bleached casuarina roots 
Speaking of charms, Cat Island is said to be the center of the practice of obeah—a Bahamian/African form of voodoo that combines bush medicine and witchcraft. We’d heard we might see bottles hanging from a tree in a yard or objects above a chimney to ward off evil spirits. Some islanders won’t leave a window open at night because spirits might enter. It isn’t spoken of openly by practitioners, and we didn’t see evidence of it. What we did see all around us were signs of God’s grace and goodness in the extraordinary beauty of creation and the charming people we met.
God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon…. 
Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, 
But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere. 
Psalm 19:1-4 MSG

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Long Island Discoveries

Long Island, Bahamas
February 23 – March 6, 2015

On October 17, 1492, Columbus made landfall at Long Island. Cape Santa Maria, the northern point of the island, is so named because Columbus’s flagship vessel, the Santa Maria, purportedly sank on the dangerous reefs off the cape. A bay at the northeast tip is called Columbus Bay because he himself rowed in there.

We made landfall near Cape Santa Maria on February 23, 2015 and anchored in Calabash Bay on the doorstep of Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort. The resort is set on a long arc of powdered sugar beach that a travel magazine placed among the ten best beaches in the Caribbean.
Award-winning Cape Santa Maria beach
Our second stop on the western shore took us south of the Tropic of Cancer. It feels like it! Temperatures have pushed 90 every day. (Not complaining.) From there, we made our way to the centrally located Thompson Bay, a roomy double bay which quite a few cruisers make their home base for a month or two.
Sign on Thompson Bay waterfront
In January at Great Harbour Cay, our first landfall in The Bahamas this year, we met and hit it off with a delightful couple, Bruce and Gayle, who have come to Long Island for eight years and recently built a beach cottage in Thompson Bay. The first night there, they welcomed us, and during our stay introduced us to many locals and cruisers. The community of Salt Pond at Thompson Bay is full of friendly, warm people, whether locals, winter residents, or other boaters.
At "Souse Out" - Bruce and Gayle on either side of post
We’ve attended events such as happy hours at restaurants, a cruiser’s appetizer party on the beach, and a “Souse Out” to raise funds for the annual sailing regatta. Souse is a breakfast food: meat simmered long in a broth of lime juice and water with onions and potatoes. Keith and I both went for the pig’s feet souse, a Bahamian favorite. We can attest that it’s mighty tasty!
Pigs feet souse - yum!
You can’t see an 80-mile-long island from a boat, though, so we rented a car for two days. Each day we were gone for twelve hours. On the first, we explored the southern half of the island; the second day we ventured north. Up and down the island, settlements are named for plantations owned by British Loyalist families in the late 1700s. Family names like Cartwright, Fox, Adderly, and Knowles are still the main surnames. These families built homes, stone walls (margins), and paths through the brush with slave labor. The slaves cleared fields and planted cotton. But, tragically, there was only one growing season. The cotton depleted the poor soil of its minimal nutrients, and without livestock to fertilize and replenish the earth, a second crop failed. The people resorted to fishing, sponging, boat-building, and subsistence farming. Long Island, however, is now the leading provider of produce to the rest of The Bahamas.
Old French church south of Salt Pond
Tree about to burst into a riot of color
The southern half of Long Island is home to one of the wonders of the world. Just off the beach at Turtle Cove lies Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest of its kind with a recorded depth of 663 feet. Adjacent turquoise shallows only accentuate the midnight depths. We swam across the hole, and thanks to a sweet young couple who loaned us masks and snorkels, snorkeled at the edge. But that wasn’t the exciting part. A dive platform is moored in the middle of the blue hole. This is where a world championship free dive competition is held each year. Two divers were on the platform training when we arrived. During our time there, one of them did a practice free dive. First he put himself in a relaxed state, lowering his heart and breathing rates. His partner gave a countdown, and he disappeared underwater. For over four minutes! Keith and I were both on the platform when he resurfaced. His partner reminded him to “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” He had plummeted to a depth of over 300 feet (no fins) and it took him a good while to recover. Come to find out, this was the current world record holder, William Trubridge. He has set world records fifteen times and, when stationary, can hold his breath for seven and a half minutes! Trubridge lives nearby in order to do one or two training dives three times a week. Pretty routine for him, pretty exceptional for us!
Dean's Blue Hole
William Trubridge preparing for a free dive
Resurfaced after four-plus minutes in the depths (with training partner)
Keith chatting up the divers
Another stop on our southern tour of discovery was Clarence Town. The main attractions in town are two twin-towered churches built by Father Jerome. He had been trained in England as an architect before entering the Anglican priesthood. After a 1908 hurricane destroyed parts of The Bahamas, the Anglican Church sent the priest -architect to help rebuild. He designed seven sturdy churches on Long Island, more on other cays. Their hurricane-proof thick walls have stood the test of more than a century. One of those two churches in Clarence Town is the Anglican Church of St. Paul situated on a hilltop above the harbor. At some point, Father Jerome converted to Catholicism and built a second church on a second hilltop in Clarence Town, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Visitors to this church can climb wooden ladders through narrow openings to the towers for a view of the harbor’s curving bands of azure and aquamarine.
St. Paul's Anglican Church (note towers of other church just to right of this church)
St. Peter and St. Paul's Catholic Church
Our south Long Island sightseeing included walks on spectacular beaches and a delicious dinner at Seaside, a very cool open-air beachfront restaurant. We chatted with the other diners and found out that one of them had lived in an apartment at the very home in Nassau where Keith lived as a teenager!
Silted in tugboat at abandoned salt flats on south Long Island 
The next day we headed to the northern end of the island. There, the scenery is spectacular beyond description, beyond the abilities of our camera to capture it. Bluewater waves crash against the rocky shore at the base of Cape Santa Maria’s dramatic white cliffs, then flow into two exquisitely calm jade-colored lagoons. A monument to Columbus and, ironically, the Lucayan Indians (who all died within fifty years of his landfall) stands over the cape.
The white cliffs at Cape Santa Maria
Blue Lagoon at Cape Santa Maria
Columbus Monument
On our way to the cape, we tracked down Elsie Knowles, an endearing woman who does straw crafts and whose handiwork has been documented at the Smithsonian Institute. We bought a few items at a price that seemed too low for all the time she must have spent on them.
With Elsie the straw lady
Then it was lunch at Stella Maris, a shore-to-shore resort situated above stunning beaches and rocky headlands, that has been run by the same family for fifty years—probably the longest continually operating, privately owned resort in The Bahamas. We picked up a map of the property, which includes the Adderly Plantation ruins. We’d heard they were impossible to find, but not with a map! The buildings, dating back to 1820, are nearly intact, excluding roofs. More impressive were the walls and several hundred yards of stone paths built up several feet above the surrounding mangrove swamp.
Adderly Plantation ruin with tree in place of roof
Untold man hours to build this 5' high stone path
We closed our Long Island tour of discovery with dinner at Chez Pierre, a simple resort with a gourmet restaurant overlooking the beach. Early in the day, we made reservations. During the day, his children arrived after being away for ten months, and the mail boat was late, so he didn’t have time to go buy fresh produce. He turned down all other reservations and we had the place to ourselves. A private table, romantic music, delectable French food—a lovely end to any day!
Beach in Millers Bay at Chez Pierre
The view from our table at Chez Pierre
How to adequately describe these breathtaking Bahamian islands, each at least as amazing as the last? The morning after our two days of expedition, I sat in the cockpit enjoying the view and thanking God for the opportunity to be here, to enjoy His wonders. Then I opened my Bible and this is the first thing I read:
I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart, 
I’m writing the book [blog?] on your wonders…. 
I’m singing your song, High God. 
Psalm 9:1-2 MSG