Three Times Elated in Eleuthera

I started a day of thankfulness for (probably) the best year of my life with a large papaya wiv’ a candle stuck in it.

Sometimes sleeping on a boat is like the best kind of camping, that special feeling of almost sleeping outside and nature being very close. If you like that feeling you will know it makes you sleep very contentedly, even if you do wake in the night with the noises of animals, rain or sloshing wavelets and changing sea breezes. If you don’t like that feeling…why on earth not?!

20180225_172840
Pretty and peaceful Rock Sound, Eleuthera Island

We awoke in the 3 mile long, picturesque natural harbour of Rock Sound, Eleuthera on a calm and sunny day.

A bit of a landmark day for me, being not only my late February birthday but the 1 year anniversary of giving up working for a living. I started a day of thankfulness for (probably) the best year of my life with a large papaya wiv’ a little candle stuck in it.

20180226_090124-1
My birthday papaya, lovingly transported from Long Island!

Rock Sound is an old-fashioned town, well loved by cruisers for its warm welcome, decent shops, restaurants, spacious and sheltered anchoring and a selection of nice things to do. We started with a walk about, admiring the brilliant garden flowers and brightly painted colonial cottages.

An attraction called the Ocean Hole was sign posted so we followed.

Surrounded by trees and shrubs, a perfect circle of depth unknown, Ocean Hole is the local swimming hole, picnic spot and petting zoo for fish. Jacques Cousteau once tried and failed to find the entry point of its tidal waters, which have a fresh water layer on top and on the day we visited a few snorkelers were floating about exploring the rocky edges.

 

Having read a tip in the guidebook I had some cream crackers with me and a few pieces attracted a well fed shoal of mixed tropical fish. Not having got stuck into the whole snorkeling thing yet they were fascinating to watch.

Fortunately John can sense alcohol from a long way off..

Also fascinating was to hear L call over to me “Sue, we need to go, this American couple have invited us to go to the pub” (Thrust remaining crackers into hands of closest child and go before he changes his mind!)

So began one memorable afternoon and evening in the company of Candis and John.

The walk to the pub was not entirely straight forward as it involved getting directions from a taxi driver to 3 possible bar options and a lot of wandering chickens and dogs. Fortunately John can sense alcohol from a long way off and just a glimpse of a beer advert seen through a derelict fence was enough to tell him we had arrived.

The bar was dark and cavernous with a purple pool table and the kind of sturdy wrap around bar stools that will keep you upright after way too many Kaliks (the best Bahamiam beer IMHO).

After John had disarmed the jolly regulars by telling them that the taxi driver had asked them not to beat us up please, we had beers and birthday “fruit champagne”! L and I earned much kudos by being the only people who had ever heard of Echoes, the Pink Floyd album track after which John and Candis’ beautiful Catalina yacht was named.

By the end of the day we had enjoyed a gift of delicious guava “birthday cake” from Candis, had a lobster lunch and had joined with their friends for dinner at the groovy waterfront restaurant Frigates.

Well travelled Anglophiles Christopher and Robin and charming super-sailors John and Diana were great company. After (surprisingly little!) liquid encouragement John started his loving recreation of all the best bits from Monty Pythons Holy Grail and The Life of Brian in some pretty convincing British accents.

Our table resounded to his cries of “they say they’ve already got one!” and “what have the Romans ever done for us?” until we wobbled back into our dinghys and across the calmest of waters on a beautiful moonlit night after a most special day.

I fail to buy some local fish (all sold) but manage to spend $110 in the grocery shop. Stuff here in the Bahamas is very expensive

More delightful calm greeted us in the morning as we reluctantly pulled up the anchor early and motored out of the bay to make progress up the island, which was needed if I was to catch my Easter flight from the USA to the UK.

20180227_105140
A dream-scape of sea and sky

We motored north up the leeward West coast of Eleuthera Island, to a quick stop in historic Governor’s Harbour.

Travelling across a sparkling smooth sea with reflections of clouds and even of our boat, the pale blue horizon blended seamlessly into the sea like a dream. The rocky coast line was full of strangely eroded cliffs with shadowy overhangs and cave like holes, as well as enticing coves and beaches dotted with anchored yachts.

20180227_110458

A slightly too close for comfort encounter with a ferry rushing out of Governor’s Harbour from behind the sea wall did not detract from the loveliness of the scene for too long!

We managed to get ashore that afternoon for a short walk round some lush tree lined streets. I fail to buy some local fish (all sold) but manage to spend $110 in the grocery shop. Stuff here in the Bahamas is very expensive.

20180227_143656
Governors Harbour – it’s hot work dragging a dinghy, a bit more water would have been good!

Opening the cruisers guide book we pick another stop for the next day, the quirkily named Glass Window.

A narrow point on the island where the Atlantic and Caribbean seas are separated by just 30 feet of rock, which has a hole in it like a “window”, there can be no more vivid demonstration of the benefits of sailing on the “lee” or wind sheltered side of an island.

20180228_143711
Don’t go there…

The contrast between the foaming, pounding rollers flinging up mists of sea spray and hissing like the Devil through blow holes in the ground on the Atlantic side versus the gin-clear waters and peaceful beaches on the Caribbean side was stark.

20180228_145327
Fortunately this is the side we were anchored on! That is us and one other yacht on the darker blue bit.

We kayaked ashore and walked through a little woodland to have a good look at the amazing views on both sides – L as always skipped towards the spray-soaked cliff edges in a manner calculated to make me light headed with fear.

Also on the calm side we enjoyed our first proper little snorkle in the shallows of our anchorage off Twin Sisters beach, with some actual brightly coloured tropical reef fishies and even a small sting ray, which was staying very still camouflaged amongst the yellow brown sea grass beds.

Another spot for our “spend more time next year” list and our 3rd happy day in Eleuthera Island.

Next morning we reluctantly pull up the anchor again and head North West for New Providence Island and the reported craziness of the Bahamian capital Nassau, USA visa applications, reported crime waves, multiple marinas and massive resorts with some anxiety as to what we would find. Just how crazy it would be…

Calabash to Cat, a hill and a Hermitage

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.

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!

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…

20180221_133145

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.

20180221_135827

 

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.

…I don’t think he is going to the enjoy classic Ealing comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob as much as we did!!

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.

20180224_140706
Why did we come here again?

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.

20180225_125544
A fisherman travelling in small circles round his divers down, to stop them getting hit by passing yachts

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.

20180225_172840
Beautiful, peaceful, calm Rock Sound on Eleuthera Island, Bahamas