16 November 2002
Spanish Wells, Eleuthera Islands in the Bahamas N25.32 W 76.45
Sweet and Salty
Well we have the first taste of the Caribbean and it is both sweet and salty. We departed Fort Pierce on November 10th late in the afternoon and planned to cross the Gulf Stream overnight arriving at West End on the Grand Bahamas Island the next day.
As night fell the wind picked up to twenty knots. We were racing along with the boat doing 8, 9 and 10 knots. It was exhilarating and we wanted more and that's when greed overtook us. Deciding not to go to West End we continued due east and when the winds turned south east to head south and get a great deal of distance toward the BVI. The night was brisk and warm and the stars were brilliant. To top everything off the space shuttle was to launch Monday night and we were certain we could see it from the boat. It was perfect, this is what it's all about. Our good fortune continued and we knew when we decided to turn the corner we would want to have gone far enough east so as to make way southwest to our destination. Some on board thought we would soon see Africa but actually the Azores would be next landfall. There is an old adage for this passage that says you must go north in order to go south. The meaning is that you must go east northeast enough in order to turn and then head south southwest. Suddenly the second night the wind did shift and it did it on a dime never going to southeast but rather coming out of the north with a load of bad weather. The next two days we were in rain squaws and seas of eight to twelve feet with winds of 25 knots and gusts of up to forty five knots. It was a hell of a ride and cut short our ambitious plans. On top of that the shuttle launch was postponed.
The boat performed impeccably, pounding and pitching and slamming. The crew on the other hand made some rookie mistakes one of which was to leave some hatches open causing our gear and bunks to get wet. There is nothing more miserable than to stand watch from 0100 to 0400 being washed with spray and occasionally drenched by a rouge wave knowing that your bunk is wet and in six hours you're back on. Now that's the salty. Of course once things are wet with salt water they must be washed in fresh water or they will never dry.
If I failed to mention it our friend Herb Eskelson joined us on this leg of the journey. He will be with us until December 3 when hopefully we will be close to the BVI. He has been a great help with his years of experience. He has a retiring demeanor and only occasionally expresses his opinion. Oops, sorry, wrong guy. One day he'll have a story for our log about my struggles with the head before we left Ft. Pierce.
As the storm started to subside, we decided to lay in at Spanish Wells in the Eleuthera Islands and catch our breath. This Island of fifteen hundred people is the fishing capital of the Bahamas. Not the sports fishing capitol but commercial fishing capital with one hundred foot fishing boats supplying over 50% of the lobster, conch, and fish consumed in the islands. We were warned about the cut through the reef by every guide book we had on board and with our depth sounder in question, we decided to call for a pilot. It was thirty dollars well spent. We are now docked up at a run down marina with the only other boat in the marina an 80 footer waiting for new propellers and a shaft and a bill for $15,000. He didn't call for a pilot. Customs and immigration showed up at the boat and we cleared in in less than a half hour. We had not yet forwarded the official clearance to the Bahamian Department of Agriculture for our cat but we had all the paper work. I was about to tell the customs agent the cat never went off the boat and therefore would not officially be in the Bahamas when she wandered onto the docks and onto the marina grounds, relieving herself in the sandy soil.
Did I mention that the marina was run down. Now not to over do it but in fact everything seems to be in poor repair on the Island with the Marina taking the governors prize. The thick coats of Bahamian paint in hues of pink, blue, yellow and lavender seem to be what holds the Island together. I guess when you're on a flat little island with a high probability of everything disappearing with the next hurricane, one does not build expensive villas. And besides fishermen may not have the income for such houses.
Decorating for Christmas starts just after Halloween and they go all out as you can see by this picture and those on our picture page. Many of the brightly colored houses have tidy and well kept gardens reflecting the British heritage of their owners. The soil as we Midwesterners know it is nonexistent but in the limestone and sand they grow a variety of vegetables and flowering plants. The houses on the high side haul sand from the low side for fertilizer. It's just too hard to dig in the limestone, making a good case for the cemetery being less than 100 feet from the ocean.
The first night in we looked for a restaurant and the choices were limited. Since the fleet was out only one sandwich shop was open serving hamburgers and turtle. No movies, no bars, no restaurants and very few cars with most of the residents getting around in high powered golf carts. We were almost run down several times by people not used to seeing strangers in their little village. Everyone has been very nice. Today we stopped at an electronics store/ FM radio station/ telephone store to find an internet connection. In such a small place each store seems to have several diverse products and services to offer. Take the appliance repair/pizza house/ fish bait store not far from here. You would be well advised to avoid the anchovies. Well the owners wife at the FM station made several calls and the next thing we knew we were in Richards' house checking our e-mail. Richard, whose surname was never mentioned, has lived in Spanish Wells since age eleven when he moved from Nassau with his family. He went on to add that the move was prompted by a shooting his father was involved in. I didn't follow up with any questions since his father was sitting in the drive way. Yesterday our pilot Woody Perry brought us breads that his wife baked. He stops by every time he goes our way. Today he went out to guide a one hundred and thirty footer through the Island and through the cut. Woody will have a nice Christmas if this keeps up.
Rene is now tuned into the Dave Jones weather channel making her first contact this AM. Dave provides a service for cruising boats in the Caribbean giving them guidance as to the weather and on his advice we are staying put for a few days. We are also receiving weather faxes and even beginning to make sense of them.
But hey we can walk to the beach (and a half a mile into the water before it's up to your waist), there's a small grocery store and the diesel is the cheapest in the Caribbean at $2.40 per gallon.
You can see why we would wait for the right weather.