Our time in gorgeous, photogenic Calabash Bay was only 2 memorable nights, before we needed to truck on out in the good weather, to get up to Cat Island.
Every time we have a mammoth, wet, choppy dinghy ride or sweaty kayak trip to get ashore I am reminded how nice it would be to get in much closer. About 1/4 mile closer in fact.
New Bight at Cat Island was the perfect opportunity to give this a go. Several yachts – and a potty looking racing trimaran suitable for tiny people only – were already parked so close to the beach in this massive, shallow bay (bight: a curve or recess in a coastline, river or other geographical feature) that they could have swum ashore.
We steeled our nerves and put down the anchor in 5 feet of jade green water, knowing we could bump down on the sandy bottom if we had miscalculated how much the tide was going to drop. Catamarans don’t fall over – yay!
The view from our spot was picture perfect – the lush green Mount Alverina peaks at 206 feet above sea level and is the highest point in the whole of the Bahamas. On top is perched a dinky looking monastery with white roofs, which reminded us of somewhere else – Italy? Austria? Croatia?
The novelty of watching car headlights move along the beachfront made us realise how long we had been away from such thrilling sophistication, as did the brightly painted fish fry restaurants along the beach.
Proprietor of one such restaurant, the lovely Denise, managed to convince me there was actually a point to eating conch (a massive sea snail basically that lives inside a big pink shell) with her delicious conch stew. Plus the woman can blend a giant frozen papaya daquiri like you wouldn’t believe!
We had a good chat about her farming and produce shipping ambitions for the fertile Cat Island and the pros and cons of your husband living on another island. We also had a slight misunderstanding about how many of her homegrown tomatoes I wanted to buy and she came in to work the next day with 5 buckets full from her “field”.
I was so happy to be buying local fruit and veg though and my next purchase included peppers, okra, beans and corn from a very deaf grandma shelling beans on her porch. She was very keen to pass on the bad weather forecast she somehow heard on the radio – these people really value their visitors!
Our walk up Mount Alvernia didn’t disappoint, although it was nearly called off when L decided he might not have the right shoes on for stony paths. Not an objection that I would get away with I can assure you…
Birds and butterflys around us, rising past scrubby allotments of pumpkin vines with yellow flowers, strange climbing peas, maize stalks and many papaya trees we reached the bottom of the hill proper and took up one of the rough walking sticks provided in the manner of proper pilgrims/Nordic walkers.
At the top was wonderful new perspective on the island, with long views of rolling green wooded hills and distant blue bays.
The Hermitage itself is one of the final works of the prodigiously productive and multi-talented Father Jerome originally of Richmond, UK. An architect who experienced a religious conversion during a commission to build a church, he was also a Church of England priest, arts and crafts movement influenced, labourer, Canadian Pacific railroad worker, later a Roman Catholic missionary and a builder of many churches in Australia and the Bahamas.
He finally built this retreat on Cat Island and was allowed to live there by the Bishop. After his death in Miami in the 1950’s he was buried under it.
A trip to Olive’s local bakery – Bahamian bread turns out to be rather sweet and not entirely suitable for a long anticipated cheddar sandwich. The two massive papaya I bought from Olive and her retired teacher husband the baker, were top notch however, the larger one ripening over a week from green to orange in our fruit bowl.
The need for some diesel bought a typically helpful Bahamian solution from the girl at the garage, as she didn’t stock it. We arranged to come back at 4pm when her cousin could run us round to the other end of the Bight where the other gas station was.
Cousin Glen was fascinated with all things British, and he especially wanted to know if there was any truth in their reputation for hard-drinking and brawling, as witnessed in all his favourite British films which seemed to consist of Pirates of The Caribbean 1 – 12…
We told him this was EXACTLY what the British were like, although we later realised we were probably enabling his habit of driving (fortunately slowly) while drinking bottles of Guinness Export 7.5%. He asked us to suggest some more British films he could rent but we had a bit of a brain freeze and I don’t think he is going to enjoy the classic Ealing comedies The Lady Killers and The Lavender Hill Mob as much as we did!!
He asked if we had a gun he could borrow to sort out the wild dogs that were attacking his goats and fortunately the answer was no…
After drinking as many of Denise frozen treats (leaded with rum for me) as we could fit in over the next few days we made plans for our next stop. We needed a stop-over to shorten the trip between Cat Island and Eleuthera Island to daylight sailing only if possible, and we picked Little San Salvador.
A small island which was actually bought by a cruise ship line, there is space at the top of the beach for a few yachts if you don’t get in their way.
Fine we thought!
After putting the anchor down, up, down, up and down again (some of these attempts with an audience of not more than 5,000 cruise shippers) we resigned ourselves to it.
We arrived in pretty choppy seas and found two massive blocks of flats – I mean cruise ships – were parked in front. Plus a couple of glass bottom boats which were buzzing about and a small ferry taking guests back and forth. Bugger.
It was too late to get anywhere else before dark so we squeezed in and tried to find a decent spot. Unfortunately, the Atlantic ocean swell rolls round the corner of the island and right to where we were anchored, giving the most unpleasant rolling, juddering and bumping and in a different direction from the wind which was still quite blowy.
After putting the anchor down, up, down, up and down again (some of these attempts with an audience of up to 5,000 cruise shippers) we resigned ourselves to it. We tried to eat something, took a seasickness pill and went to bed.
When your feet lift off the mattress as the boat pitches in the night it is quite hard to sleep, but we managed a bit. We left at first light next morning, throwing curses at the island over our shoulders as we sailed on to Rock Sound, Eleuthera.
Our navigation skills were tested as we got closer, passing through the amazing shifting sands of the Davis Channel, a huge area to the west of the island with electric blue water 10 – 20 feet deep and passable channels through the exposed sand bars. You could actually anchor out here if you wanted to, in the middle of this sea but in 15 feet of water, a bit like floating in space.
We passed many divers and small boats out hunting for conch and lobster on isolated corals heads and admired as yachts more familiar with this intriguing area, sailed all the way through it rather than motoring.
Arriving at the Rock Sound after a 7 hour trip was like a wonderful dream.
Calm water, a few yachts sprinkled in a gorgeous 3 mile long natural harbour, a sandy bottom, pretty churches and houses lining the peaceful shore. We smiled and went to sleep.