2022 Letter #2 from the Bahamas by Greg and Barbara Allard
Hello Everyone – Here is our second Letter from the Bahamas for 2022.
Several of you did not receive the photos with the last Letter. It may have to do with the capacity of local internet service; if you do not receive the photos, please let us know.
This from a recent news report from the Bahamas:
“He said as he approached Grand Bahama, he realized his fuel was almost empty and immediately knew he was in “problems.”
-Andrew Rolle, a Bahamian, upon being rescued after several days at sea, when he ran out of fuel.”
It is a rare cruiser to the Bahamas who doesn’t at some point realize that he is “in problems”, an appropriate Bahamian expression if there ever was one. Stuff on boats always seems to fail no matter how much rigorous preventative maintenance has been done. The worst situation is breaking down while in the open ocean.
This young Bahamian, Stephen, found himself “in problems”. Fortunately he was not far from help. While in our dinghy, we came upon him in his disabled boat – the outboard motor would not run. We took his boat in tow, and learned that he was from a fishing boat named My Rebecca from Nassau, and they were going for conch. They hoped to take 7,000 conch to market.
A couple of days later, at the mouth of the entrance cut into the harbor, we saw the fishing boat Stephen was working on, anchored with the stern placed in very shallow water near some rocks – a strange place to anchor. We went over, and Stephen explained to us that the propellor shaft on the boat, which connects the engine and goes through the bottom of the boat to the propeller, had broken. They had ordered and received a new shaft, and they installed it, which explains why the aft end of the boat was in shallow water – to allow them to pull the shaft out of the boat while the crew was standing on the shallow sandy bottom. When they installed the new shaft, they found it was too short, so they were waiting for a shaft extender piece to arrive. Incredibly resourceful.
Five fishermen live on this boat. They had their laundry out to dry.
Yet again, a few days later, we found My Rebecca tied up at the government dock. The man in the red shirt is the diver – he is the one who retrieves the conch from the bottom, breathing compressed air from a pump on the surface. Stephen Sands, whom we towed in, is in the rear of the small boat.
Stephen wasn’t so anxious to have his picture taken but eventually agreed. On his arms were tattoos with the names of his three children: Stephenelle, Stephenique and Stephanos. In the rear pocket of his jeans was a flask of something, likely needed to survive on the cramped quarters of the old fishing boat.
In our last letter, you met Alvin, who found a perfect hose for a repair on our boat. This is Alvin’s son Quincy – Alvin’s second youngest of his nine children. Quincy has a full row of beautiful gold teeth on top. He is a smart, affable young man with a good sense of humor. He has solid experience around the water, which shows as he assists boats entering the marina, and helps them to safely and securely dock their boats – which is quite an art. A bad dock-hand can cause damage to a boat in an instant. Quincy just had a new daughter in Nassau, and he flew there this week to see her for the first time. This highlights one of the realities of the Bahamian economy – many families are split when (usually) the father has to travel to a distant island for work. Moving between islands is expensive – usually by local small aircraft.
We explored the sand flats off the west side of Great Harbour Cay. The water is shallow, especially at low tide, and there is much wildlife: sting rays, fish, conch and juvenile black-tip sharks about 2-3’ long. Barbara is in the dinghy behind me. Our friends who were with us said that they wondered if she was paddling away…
This year there was an abundance of these beautiful Cushion Sea Stars, which can grow up to 20” across. It has a thick body and knobby spines which form geometric designs. Some are tan; this one is orange-brown. We don’t keep them and it was returned to the water.
One of our favorite adventures while at Great Harbour is to do a “dinghy expedition” a number of miles south to an island called Money Cay. Legend has it that a hermit found a trove of money there, years ago. The entire area has to be one of the most spectacular places on earth. Pristine beaches, sparkling water and total solitude. One day we saw a local fishing boat there, but the majority of time we are totally alone.
It’s a bit of a challenge to reach Money Cay – you can go there only on the top half of the tides over the sand flats. Otherwise there is barely enough water to float the dinghies, let alone run them at any speed.
In this photo, our friends Jim and Ellen have just explored a secluded bay. The water under their dinghy is about 12’ deep. Both of our dinghies are equipped with bimini tops to provide shade from the Bahamian sun.
Here is a Queen Conch, with the most exceptional range of colors we have seen. This one is live – you can see the little critter poking out. We took its picture and returned it to the water.
This is the same Queen Conch as shown in the prior photo, and how it looks in its normal place on the bottom. The sea growth on the top of the outer shell serves as camouflage, making it difficult for most predators to find them. They use a big single claw to drag themselves across the bottom looking for food.
One day while exploring some remote islands, we spotted this bonefishing boat in the distance. The man standing on the platform at the rear of the boat is Percy Darville, one of the most famous bonefish guides in the Bahamas. He is 69 years old, and has served as guide to Jack Nicklaus, who has been a regular at Great Harbour.
Percy is using a long pole to push the boat through the flats while his client, standing in the bow, scans the water for the elusive fish. Bonefish are between 1′ to 2 1/2’ long and live in the shallows; they are considered a premier gamefish, and give the angler an extraordinary fight. It has been said that if a bonefish were as big as a battleship, it would take a battleship to land it. All bonefish are returned to the water, both out of sportsmanship and since they are difficult to eat because of……
Barbara anchors the dinghy, ready to explore a new cay we just landed upon.
Since our first letter, we have received several questions about how the Bahamas may have changed, post pandemic. Masks are to be worn any time you are inside (except while eating), and it is enforced. We met one cruiser who was asked to leave a food store because he had no mask. All of the dockhands, even outside, are masked.
Diesel fuel at our marina is now around $7.50 a gallon, about average for the Bahamas.
There is a good deal of construction going on here, mostly higher-end vacation homes for foreigners. But the economic downturn and possible recession have appeared to put many of those plans on hold.
There aren’t really food shortages, just gaps in time as to when the food is available. The mail boat came in again yesterday (on-time two weeks in a row) so the stores should be re-stocked by now. Few are going hungry but people often run short of things they would need.
There are three food stores on this island; two of them have a limited selection, and one of the two has no fresh produce or dairy products at all. This is the third, and best one, A & L.
Since the mail boat had just arrived, the A & L store was well stocked with fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, cheese and breads. Most meats are frozen, and consist of chicken, pork and some goat.
A price list on the refrigerated case at the A & L store. Virtually all food comes from the U.S., and the higher costs are reflective of the significant shipping and handling expenses from Florida. Much of what is shipped needs constant refrigeration. Everything from the U.S. goes through Nassau, and then is transferred to mail boats for delivery to the remote islands. Inflation has hit the Bahamas too. A box of breakfast cereal is $7.00. The Bahamian dollar is on par with the American dollar, and both types of currency are accepted everywhere.
On these remote trips, miles from anywhere, we always value having another dinghy exploring with us, in case we find ourselves “in problems.”
While cruising on a boat, approaching storms may soon get you “in problems.” But it’s all worth it to be in such a beautiful country.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Nelson Henderson
Best regards to you all.
Greg and Barbara
Copyright Greg Allard, 2022