Our sincerest thanks to Greg and Barbara Allard for sharing their thoughts and beautiful photography from their Bahamas cruises. These photos and descriptions will have you aching to follow in the Allard’s wake! Stay tuned for more letters in the weeks ahead.
Letter # 4
Sometimes, in these letters, we may give the impression that cruising in the Bahamas is all about spectacular clear turquoise water, friendly and interesting local people, historic places, great food, and gentle winds. Yes, we often have those things. But not always.
The type of cruising we do is not for everyone. Right now we are hundreds of miles off the coast of the U.S., in a foreign country. Some people enjoy their boats by “coastal cruising”, where they stay close to home port, and go out for day trips. Over the years, we have often enjoyed boating that way. Non-boaters have a vision of what we do as similar to an experience on a 1000’ long cruise ship, where they are served lobster and steak and the finest wines. Of course, the beauty of a cruise ship experience is that, to use a Bahamian word, there is no “boderation” (“botheration”) – that is, the running and maintenance of the ship, the meals and entertainment and all of the other support work is done for you by other people.
Not on “Meander”. We are self sufficient, and we have to do it all: Barbara and I must function as navigators and pilots, ship’s engineers and mechanics, weather analysts, route planners, and still have time to do cooking, laundry, and repair any one of the dozens of onboard systems. (We carry many spare parts.)
Our boat is not simple. We have two Detroit Diesel propulsion engines, each rated at 735 HP. They need fuel, and we track their usage carefully, since fueling locations in the remote Bahamas are limited, and the few suppliers that exist often run out – if for instance the fuel barge cannot make it to their location because of bad weather.
On board, we can make two of the three critical things we need: water and electricity. We can’t make fuel. For electricity, we have two generators (which like the engines need to be maintained), and we have a watermaker, which takes salt water and using a high pressure pump pushes it through a membrane to remove the salt. (It makes the best drinking water you’ve ever tasted.) Good water is critical for us; many Bahamians do not even drink their own municipal water, and rely instead on bottled water.
Provisioning (stocking the boat with food) is critical, since in the remote parts of the Bahamas there are few stores, and selection is often limited. We have three freezers aboard, and bring an assortment of frozen foods from the U.S.
The most difficult challenge we face is the weather. When we have internet access (which is better every year in the Bahamas) we can use a number of excellent marine weather sites which help us make good decisions about whether to go or not to go, and where to go. If we don’t have internet access, we rely upon our Sirius XM Marine Weather receiver which obtains extensive weather reports for us by satellite; this means we can access that information far from land. “Meander” also has two radars aboard, which can help us see approaching storms up to 48 miles away.
As we near hurricane season, we have to give extra attention to any reports of tropical storm activity, and make preparations if needed.
We were in George Town (for the Regatta) when this system first approached. George Town was not a good place to ride out this mess, so we had to go either north or south. After analyzing the projections, and meeting with Jim and Ellen on the boat traveling with us, we decided to go south to Long Island, to a place called Thompson’s Bay, which would provide protection for us from the projected week-long 30+ knot NE winds.
We left while the weather was still good. Here, Barbara pilots us south, through the shallow waters of the banks west of Long Island.
The trip to Long Island was uneventful; winds were still calm, and our course brought us through some spectacular waters.
We anchored in Thompson’s; the holding was good – which means the anchor dug in and held us quite well. (That doesn’t always happen – often the bottom is rock or thick weeds, and the anchor has a hard time holding in those kinds of bottoms.)
After a couple of days there, the weather information projected that conditions would deteriorate even further, so we pulled up our anchors and travelled about two hours along the west coast of Long Island to a little marina at Stella Maris. The plan was to seek shelter in their enclosed basin.
This is an aerial view of the marina from their website, taken on a nice day.
One problem with the Stella Maris marina: there are over three miles of extremely shallow water leading into the marina. At low tide there is not sufficient water to float our boats, which draw about 4’10”, and at low tide there is only 4’ of water. So we had to time our entry into the marina at full high tide.
It’s a small run-down facility, with only a few slips for larger boats. We guess it was built in the 70’s, and has not been well maintained, probably because access to the marina over the three miles of really shallow water discourages most boats from attempting the passage. At one time it’s likely that a channel was dredged for the three miles, but the first hurricane would have filled that in, and it is just too expensive to do after every storm.
We timed the approach correctly, and we had about 1’7” of water under our keel, just enough to squeak into the basin. As I write this, “Meander” is docked in the lower part of the basin, in the “L” just behind the tree. “Latitude” is just behind us.
The move to this marina turned out to be a prudent one: we’ve been here over a week now, and we’ve had continued high winds, with repeated thunderstorms and driving rain. The owners and staff at this marina have been superb, and we recommend it to any cruiser.
A view from our boat, docked inside the marina. Once in a while the sun poked through the clouds, but only for a minute or two. Each wave of thunderstorms brought heavy gusts of wind.
It has rained so much that Jim (on “Latitude”) said:
“Think we need a cruise meeting this AM, or why bother… all we need to do is start getting two of each of the local animals on board?”
The advantages of weathering stormy weather while tied to a dock are significant; it provides an opportunity to go ashore and explore the island you came to visit. It also gives you the confidence of knowing that your boat will be there when you return. We’ve have friends who left their boat anchored off shore, and when they returned the anchor line had been cut through from sharp coral on the bottom of the harbor, and their 40’ boat wound up on a rocky shore.
Our marina is part of a large resort which is on the east side of the island, and since we are guests at the marina, we have full use of the resort’s beautiful property. There, we saw first hand parts of the large storm we were evading. The waves offshore were 6-8’ in height.
We then came upon something strange, as shown in this photo. The resort had created a salt water swimming pool carved out of the rock along the shore. Off to the left is a set of stairs leading down into the pool. The fresh ocean water comes in from the right side, and flows out the far end. They put tons of sand into the pool, to make it comfortable to walk on. The pool never has to be cleaned, vacuumed or treated with chemicals. The natural flow of the ocean provides a constant source of clean water.
Here is the channel which was dug out of the rock to supply water to the pool. This was a clever approach to providing a good, protected place to swim on a rocky coast.
No place to be in a boat.
We rented a car, and at the end of a horrendously potholed half-mile mud-dirt road, we came upon a small house. This woman, Sarah Adderley, is a basket maker, upholding a fine but declining tradition.
The Bahamas are home to huge land crabs. They normally hide in the woods and come out at night, but this one decided to cross the road in front of our car. If he stretched his claws out, he would be at least a foot and a half wide. Some Bahamians eat them, but they need to be purged for several days or else they taste foul.
Over the years we have collected a number of quality Bahamian baskets, but until we met this man, we had never known a male basket maker. This basket was $18, and was an unusually good design.
Charles Wallace of Dunmore, Long Island, The Bahamas. Proud basketmaker.
The rains continued. We passed this church and saw a group of smart Bahamian goats, who had taken shelter under the portico. We didn’t think the pastor would be too happy when he saw the mess they made.
We drove a mile down another muddy, soaked, potholed road, in search of – believe it or not – a French restaurant we’d heard about. There are only a dozen or so “restaurants” on this island of 3,500 people and many of those are take-out places – serving the Bahamian version of fast food. So when we heard of a fine French restaurant, we just had to find it.
It took this French-Canadian, Pierre, fifteen years to build his restaurant which is in the middle of nowhere. He performs the exceptional cooking, waits on the tables, and washes the dishes. All alone.
Dining on the porch at Chez Pierre restaurant, with Jim and Ellen. We had quite simply one of the best meals in a very long time. Even if it was raining!
“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” John F. Kennedy
As of this writing, we are still docked at the small marina on Long Island, as the thunderstorms still roll in and the winds howl. It looks as if we may not have an opening in the weather for at least several more days. There are many worse places to be. In our next Letter we will cover more of this interesting and diverse island.
Greg and Barbara
Copyright, Greg Allard