The Southern Out-Islands
Mayaguana was where we left off in our last conversation. The island is some 26 miles long and 9 miles high and has a population of 250. The population is basically in three small settlements. Your not going to get away with doing much wrong and not being found out here. Or for that matter any out islands. Its a community, tightly knit, and forged through hardships and coming together. When a hurricane rips through these parts, FEMA is not there to pick up the loose ends. They all must come together or die trying.
The devastation of past hurricanes and storms are prevalent on these islands. Lots of houses never really take down the window barriers or if they do, they are rigged as working shutters. Easily closed at the last minute to block out those devastating winds. There are ruins on every island telling of a richer past and of a hard future. Its hard to tell what these people do for money. On Mayaguana most everyone had a car and of course a cell phone, but what work can be had? Most it seemed worked on Government projects or directly for Nassau.
The roads are all dirt and coral based and its all in shambles as they are attempting to improve their quality of life with “government” water lines and paved roads. Nassau is spending tons of money on the infrastructure on these out-islands giving them all Reverse Osmosis water, paved roads and an airport on or accessible to all. Of course these projects are on island time and it will be quite a while before things are finished up. Asking one local guy how long they had been working on it, he had to think for a while and said “a long time mon”. If I was out of work and was collecting a paycheck to do the work I would do it slow as hell too.
Regardless of the infrastructure the people were all very helpful and quick to throw a genuine smile. They are doing the best that they can, with what they have. Its all anyone could ask of them. They are not out in the streets asking for change or begging for this and that. Even the town drunks just wanted to chat with someone new. Visitors to these islands are rare, and a sight that brings a smile to their faces.
One of the grocery stores I went into was a one room shack, with a wonderful old woman whom was on the phone when I entered. Every space was filled with all sorts of things that one would need, but given there was no selection. One brand for each thing and it would be the cheapest available. There was a counter and behind that I noticed the bed, or shall i say bunk. 2×4’s were nailed together to form a single bed for her. I was not only in her store, i was also in her living room, dining room, bed room, and kitchen. This is where she lived. Beyond the single bed, there were two plastic chairs that one would find at the dollar store back in the states. She was just doing the best that she could do.
The anchorage in Mayaguana is exposed from the SE to the West with a barrier reef being the only protection from that direction. Anything form the north it was beautiful protection, but with any strong clocking winds, place was a death trap waiting to happen. It was 4 miles wide and 1 mile tall which would allow for fetch to build up and make most boats drag anchor. As was evidence on the beach, I was not going to stay here too long.
Mayaguana’s barrier reef was not as intricate or as large as Abaco or Samana’s coast line. But it was plentiful in fish and lobster. The day after I arrived the winds died out to nothing and the water was smooth as glass. Taking the opportunity I went out on the reef for some exploring. On the way I ran across another example of how dangerous is can be. There was a 50 foot steel hull sail boat that had run on the reef at some point. Even steel is not barrier enough to keep out the ocean when she wants in. It was broken in several pieces and had been there a long time.
That day was another day that the ocean gave up its bounty. Missing my opportunity at a monster grouper, two queen triggers and the largest lobster I have ever seen were not as lucky. Just after I speared the lobster a 6 foot yellow shark came into check things out. Grabbing the gopro I got my first shots of a shark on the reef. His movements did not show he was ready to attack, more curious than anything so I stayed in the water for a while and watched. Such beautiful creatures and misunderstood. The only really dangerous creature in the water that day was Me. Mankind kills 10s of thousands of these creatures a year, Sharks kills are in the single digits.
Calms are always a precursor to coming winds and with that wind I raised the main and hauled the anchor. Sailing on and off the anchor has been a great joy this year. Having a boat that sails as well as Om does, has allowed me to almost never turn on the motors. The last boat I brought to the islands, I filled the diesel tank (100 gallons) every 3-4 weeks. I am still well above a half a tank on what I bought in Charleston (100 gallons) and I have sailed close to 1,000 miles. Thats good for the wallet and the environment!
Waiting on the proper winds and using them to my advantage has lead to weeks of waiting. One day back in Abaco I tacked 25+ times and covered 60+ miles to make 18 good miles. Thats of course because I did not want to wait. Before I am able to haul anchor and sail away from Long Cay it will be 7 days of sitting and waiting. Back in the states I am so used to getting everything instantly, its been good to slow down and learn to relax again. Allowing fate to dictate when and where has been refreshing.
The sail here was mostly uneventful. Directly downwind with a confused sea made it a bit uncomfortable. I learned to fall off a bit which made me do a few jibes. A jibe is when you bring the eye of the wind from say starboard (right) past the stern (back of boat) to the other side of the boat Port (left). This allowed for the sails to stay to one side and my speed to be best Optimized. It was 115 nautical miles (126.5 land miles) and took around 17 hours anchoring up at 3am.
Sun rise showed there was one other boat in the anchorage. I really needed some exercise so I landed the dinghy at the government dock and walked the miles across the island. Really had no clue what to expect of this place. Its part of my habits to never really read about a place until I am there. Leaves room for pleasant and unpleasant surprises lol.
Walking down this dirt path the first signs of a humans are the trash and ruins of yesteryear. Then walking up to a cross roads of sorts I look around at the settlement. The other three cruisers stuck out like sore thumbs whom waved as they noticed me. Walking their way I was greeted by the two students of the school. Always interesting how a single hander is perceived they were all a bit leery of me. All three were bird watchers for the Autobon Society here to study the Pink Flamingos whom are native of the island. Keeping the conversation going was a challange so I said my good byes and walked onward to a huge church that was in ruins. Its huge and looked so out of place. And then a local came out yelling hello and this is the point where I met my faithful island tour guide! For the life of me I have no clue how to pronounce his name. I tried, but between my hearing and his accent it was a loss.
Come to find out, this island has 12 residents. 2 of which are the students, 1 teacher, and the oldest man alive was born in 1931. The tour guide was his son and after he guided me though the gorgeous, but ruined church we went to his house. Greetings all around as the old mans eye lit up to have a new face to stare at. He showed signs of a hard life, also signs of happiness and love of life. The doors stay open in this house and there was chicken feed on the floor where the old man loved to have his hens and roosters visit. It was a guys house, in disarray and a bit dirty, but they lived the life they wanted to live. Little did I know I was in for a concert of sorts as the old man took up his guitar and played a few tunes for me. Asking if I could video it, I was honored to capture the moments of a dying breed of islander. After the songs I played it back for him on my phone and you should of see his eye light up and his belly laugh. Not sure how many times he has had that opportunity to see and hear himself.
Saying our goodbyes, my tour guide led me off to the school room where the other cruisers were. The students introduced themselves, telling their ages and grades and what they wanted to be. 2nd grade wanted to be a police man and the 4th grade wanted to be a pilot. The “teacher/principal” was Jamaican and had been here for over 2 years teaching these bright young boys. She said it was a lonely life, but fulfilling one. I can only imagine…
The island at one time had over 1,000 people living on it. It was an island that exported salt in the big salt ponds. Years past hat was big business in the Bahamas. But slowly things have changed and the evidence of the prosperity was going back to nature in ruins. The town was laid out in a classic city block grid and they were all filled of foundations and walls of the once active town.
Its amazing what Nassau does for them. They have a Power generator that runs 24/7 and a brand new cell phone tower bringing them the internet, and not to mention the school teacher here to teach two children. There is beauty in it, but there is also a great waste. They spend enough money on this island per year to install new solar panels on every house and be done with it. But Nassau is just another screwed up government with hands in all the wrong pockets.
The Bight of the Acklins is a huge area of shallow water surrounded on three sides by different Cays and Islands. The three main pieces of land are Long Cay, Crooked Islands, and Acklins. Even with a shallow draft catamaran most of it is too shallow for me to travel. Yesterday there was another day of absolutely calm and I took advantage of it.
Crooked Islands are around 12 miles north of here and accessible only by dinghy or shallow draft vessel. My Fuel tank was topped off with spare gasoline and my bag was packed with some snacks for an all day adventure. The ride up was incredibly gorgeous as the banks were like a mirror of the cloud filled sky above. Looking out over the water it was so still there was no horizon. Just an expanse of blue sky as far as the eye could see.
Took around 45 mins to motor up at a reasonable rate and I found the access point to walk over land. Rather glad I did not do much in the way of measuring how far I had to walk! It did surprise me though that the roads were all paved. There is really nothing on the inland areas of the Bahamas but scrub land. Tough brush and small trees. It went on for miles and slowly signs of civilization came upon me. Power lines showed up and then houses. The first house was very attractive and the guy had a somewhat new pickup truck. Again I wondered what he did for a living. Every house after though just showed the state of the economy.
One of the goals here was to see if I could find a grocery store of sorts. Its been almost three weeks since the last time I had been near one. And well things are getting short in my fridge! Walking along there were signs of life, and a friendly wave from a few people, but the businesses I passed were all closed. Its been hard times here in the islands. Including the one and only “supermarket”. I didn’t loose faith and continued to walk along. Being on terra forma felt good and it was comfortably in the 70s.
Eventually a friendly face stopped off and asked if I needed a ride. My reaction threw him off since I think its a rare thing to see a white guy walking down the road. I said ” Sure a lift would be great if I knew where I was going.” I asked about a grocery store and was told some directions that gave me hope, but very little since I had no idea what he said. I continued to walk and took a break when I saw the seashore and huge crashing waves on the reef. Not a day to be out there.
Later on I was picked up by by a younger guy that seemed to be a mission. He was super cool and said he was going to stop off at this house coming up and ask directions for a grocery store. Another guy got in the truck and led up to a connivance store which so happened to be beside his house. The two of them went in the house and I walked up to see what I could find. CLOSED! Of course it was, but thats ok I wont starve.
I met back up with my two new friends and they said they would take me back to my dinghy. Once in the car I figured out my suspicions. My driver was on a weed run and picking up some personal smoke ha ha. Just classic. We all chatted about how it should be legal, but they did not share. Shame, but I did not mind. I was just happy I did not have to walk back the 5 miles to my dinghy. Great pair of guys.
Thats all I know for now. Today is another gorgeous day that started flat calm. The winds are slowly picking up and its looking like 3 more days and I will have a gorgeous sail up to Clarence Town where I will find supplies and meet up with a dear friend who’s flying in for her blank-th birthday. Cant tell you a woman’s age…