Friends, let me tell you a little bit about luxury. You may think you’ve experienced luxury in your life. Perhaps you’ve dined at the finest restaurants, sampling delicacies from the minds and hands of world-renowned chefs. Maybe you’ve enjoyed the contained fury of a fantastically-expensive supercar, guiding the precision machine over the mountain roads of Europe. Or perhaps you’ve sunk into a buttery leather seat aboard your private jet, decanting only to refresh at the most exclusive resorts in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, you do not know luxury. You do not know amenity. Nor affluence. You do not know a number of other words that I found in my thesaurus. Allow me to display for you a true image of kingly luxury.
After two nearly rain-free months in the Bahamas, capped by two weeks of cruising the Far Out Islands where fresh water is very dear, this shower (for there is only the one) at the South Side Marina in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos has been the stuff of our dreams. True, it has but one temperature (a welcoming cool), is open to the (bright blue) sky, and requires the full-time occupation of one hand to operate. These are trifling matters compared with the ability to remove salt, grime, and stink from our bodies. Since arriving, we have been profligate, showering nearly every day. We’ve also washed the boat, desalted our increasingly-wonky electronic devices, and run many loads of laundry. For us, this is the height of diamond-crusted opulence. Babylon ain’t in it.
So how’d we get here? When we last checked in, we were about to break the seductive bonds of the cruiser’s enclave of Georgetown, Great Exuma. To force the issue, we signed up to participate in a rally of about 30 boats on a trip to Long Island. Long Island is the first of the loose Bahamian island group to the south and east of the Exumas, known as the Far Out Islands. Once here, provisions, fuel, and (as noted above) water become much more scarce. In addition, a number of these islands were hit hard by Hurricane Joaquin, which parked itself over the area for about a week last October.
Having filled all the tanks and jerry cans with the required liquids and loaded all the stores Georgetown had to offer, we set off early on a sunny Monday at the tail end of the convoy.
After a morning’s motor in a dead calm, we anchored among the fleet in the wide and protected Thompson Bay. The winds had blown hard throughout most of our stay in Georgetown and we often wished for a calm day like this. Having received one, we stifled in the thick, still air; wind scoops rigged to minuscule effect.
By 5:00 we’d all dinghied ashore and clambered up to the Sou’ Side Bar & Grill to find other means of refreshment.
We shared in a cruiser’s pot luck dinner, listened to a local rake ‘n’ scrape band, and watched the sun set over our boats in the bay.
The next morning we piled into a school bus for a tour of the island.
The tour was a combination of the sobering and the decadent. Our driver often stopped to point out hurricane damage: how high water had risen, the reshaped landscape, and particular structures lost. We stopped to see St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, believed to be built by Spanish settlers (presumably as a Catholic church) in the 17th century and thought to be the oldest church in the Bahamas. Despite its ruined condition, it is still an active church and we found offertory candles left in discrete corners.
We next stopped at the comparatively pristine Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, which watches over Clarence Town from its prominent hilltop site.
After this brief interlude of self-improvement, we then disembarked at Dean’s Blue Hole. At over 600 feet, it is one of the deepest salt-water sinkholes in the world and a site for competitive free diving. Half-enclosed by a low cliff, the hole is approached from an adjacent, isolated, beach.
We stripped to our bathing suits and walked out toward the hole. As we neared the edge, the sand quickly fell away from our feet and we were wading in a cobalt circle, only a couple yards from our neighbors standing waist-deep in the turquoise surf.
The descent into indulgence continued at our next stop, Rowdy Boys Bar & Grill in Clarence Town for lunch and a dip in their (fresh, chlorinated) pool.
After a filling afternoon of jerk chicken and beer at Rowdy Boys, we had to marshal our stamina to attend the final event of the day, a cave dinner at the Stella Maris resort. Like it says on the tin, a cave dinner is just that: dinner in a cave. Albeit a candlelit cave with a full bar and live band. (Sorry, no pics. Too dark. Hell, we needed our iPhone lights to see the food.) After a full day of boosting the local economy, we found Delancey in the dark, climbed aboard, and crawled into bed.
To provide a little karmic balance, the next morning we walked across the island to the ocean side to join a group cleaning up flotsam washed on the beach.
Most of the debris came from the cargo ship El Faro, which sunk just offshore during Hurricane Joaquin, taking all 33 crewmembers. For the first few months, the beach was littered with stuffed animals and boxes of Frontline Flea and Tick Treatment (which the local veterinarian happily accepted). By the time we’d arrived, the pickings were less useful but no less abundant and we quickly filled our bags.
Finally, it was time to move on. Before leaving Georgetown, we’d decided that we wouldn’t make any grand plans about our future destinations. Instead, we’d take each sail as weather and psyche allowed, without thinking of them as legs in a longer journey. It was this thinking that found us on a lazy sail up to Callabash Bay at the top of Long Island, with a vague plan to meet our friends Lauren and Brian aboard S/V Nightingale Tune in Rum Cay later in the week.
We arrived in tiny Rum Cay and anchored next to our pals among the coral heads of the Port Nelson Roadstead.
The following morning we dinked ashore.
Like Long Island, Rum Cay was heavily damaged by Hurricane Joaquin and we beached the dink rather than tie up to the unstable remains of the government dock.
We walked to the south of the island to see the fairly depressing remnants of the Sumner Point Marina.
Adding to the daunting extent of the physical damage, repairs have been hindered by a dispute between the land owner and marina operator. One of our guidebooks describes the pre-hurricane marina in glowing terms, “The beautifully designed club house has a restaurant and bar, open daily for happy hour. The restaurant boasts gourmet dinners. You have to wait until Gorda Sound in the BVIs to enjoy both meal and ambiance that meet their standard.” Exactly none of this was in evidence during our visit.
We hiked back up the sandy road to the settlement. We popped into Kay’s Bar and Restaurant, where we met the cheerful Kay and her patrons.
Kay’s mother opened the bar in the 60s, naming it for her daughter. A proclamation on the wall commends her support for the Bahamas and cites celebrities who’ve imbibed on her sand floor (Peter Benchley, Jackie Onassis). Mom still lives next door (“She’s sleeping,” said Kay). Business has not been so good of late, as rebuilding has been slow and most of Kay’s patrons came from the marina. After some cold beers and conversation, we bought some vegetables from Kay’s small concession and Kay scooped us a bag of local salt, engagement-diamond sized crystals harvested from the islands salt ponds.
After a few days of short hops between anchorages, we were faced with our first overnight sail since departing Charleston, NC. Our next stop would be Mayaguana, the furthest south and east of the Far Out Islands. Mayaguana lies about 130 miles southeast of Rum Cay, with no easy anchorages in between. We set out late one morning with S/V Nightingale Tune as buddy boat, keeping periodic contact on the VHF radio.
The day started out rougher than we’d like, with not inconsiderable wind and waves smack on the nose.
The seas lay down some in the night, but the wind direction remained unfavorable for our course so we continued to motorsail. At about 4am, having just changed watch, we were startled to hear what sounded like a WWI fighter plane following immediately behind us. As I could see no WWI fighter plane immediately behind us in the full moonlight, I began to look for other causes. I shot a glance at the temperature gauge (which I do every 30 seconds or so anyway) and saw it rising above its normal mid-range position. Deb took the helm. I jumped to the stern, saw that the exhaust was no longer spitting water, shut off the engine, rolled out the jib, and, while Deb sailed the boat, ran below. After a quick multi-point diagnosis (raw water intake okay, strainer okay, hoses okay), I turned to the raw water pump and felt the cover plate. The pump should be cold with all that seawater running through it. It was warm. The impeller, the rubber vane that pushes water through the heat-exchanger (which works like the radiator on your car, except the antifreeze is cooled with seawater rather than air), must have failed.
No problem; we have three spare impellers for just such an occasion. Here’s the fun part: The cover plate to the raw water pump is held in place with six tiny machine screws. If I drop one, it goes straight into the bilge, five feet below. The screws are bronze, so I couldn’t fish one out with a magnet. No matter, as it would likely roll under the fuel tank, never to be seen again. Oh, and the boat is pitching and rolling as it is wont to do when sailing. After a few minutes of tense screwing, I got the impeller replaced and we were back in business, only a little off our course. As a bonus, we now know what the engine sounds like when the raw water impeller dies.
Sunrise found us in very different conditions. Having separated from S/V Nightingale Tune in the night (we took different courses around the tiny Plana Cays enroute), we rejoined in the morning, both under full sail as we approached Mayaguana.
Both boats tucked into the reef entrance and meandered five miles up Abraham’s Bay among the coral heads to a protected anchorage near the Abraham’s Bay Settlement.
Mayaguana is as Far Out as the Bahamas gets, with only about 300 residents supplied by a mail boat and three scheduled flights a week. After the crews and local winds rested a bit, we went ashore to the settlement, the largest on the island.
We looked into a frame building that identified itself as a grocery store. It was locked, but a gentleman came out of the adjacent house and offered to open it up for us. The adjacent house was Reggie’s Restaurant and the gentleman was Reggie. After deciding we didn’t need onions, soap, or toilet paper (the full selection of the store), we elected to lunch at Reggie’s. We thoroughly enjoyed Reggie’s fried chicken wings with ubiquitous Bahamian sides of corn-on-the-cob and rice ‘n’ peas, washed down with cans of Bahamas Goombay Punch soda.
We arranged for a tour of the island and the following day met Captain Vincent “Scully” Cartwright at the settlement pier. Scully bills himself as “available for the following adventures: bonefishing, blue water fishing, reef fishing, spearing, snorkeling, beachcombing, shelling, and sightseeting.” He is very much and entrepreneur and all around engaging person. Scully was born on Mayaguana, and, following a few years working in hospitality in Nassau, returned to the island to set up his own shop. After introductions, we piled into his truck and set off.
Scully drove us the length and breadth of the island. We stopped in the tiny Pirate Wells Settlement to see, yes, the pirate’s well.
We headed to Betsy Bay at the west end of the island, where Scully identified whelk among the coral. He demonstrated how to break them open to get to the meat. (Hint: smash them with a rock.)
We stopped at the roadside TNT Lounge for a mid-day beer and political discussion.
We climbed around an abandoned NASA satellite tracking station.
Although Reggie’s restaurant was closed for the day (Reggie had to fly to Nassau for a funeral), Scully called “a friend who cooks” who made us burgers and fries while we entertained their kids outside.
Our day with Scully was one of our best experiences on this trip. If you’re ever in Mayaguana and need, well, anything, look him up (Mobile 242.463.0030, VHF Ch. 16).
Our last day in Mayaguana happened to fall on Easter, so we invited Lauren and Brian over for a traditional feast of (canned) ham steaks, cabbage/carrot/cranberry slaw, and sautéed plantains. Lauren baked a yummy marble cake for dessert and we toasted the evening with St. Germain & Champagne cocktails.
And just like that, we were off to another country! S/V Delancey parted ways with our friends (Brian hadn’t yet had his fill of reef fishing) and struck out for the Turks and Caicos. We motorsailed for nearly 14 hours (dirty secret: we motorsail a lot), anchoring in Sapodilla Bay, Providencales. The next morning we tooled around the corner to dock at the South Side Marina (of luxurious shower fame). After clearing in with Customs and Immigration, we took down our well-worn Bahamas courtesy flag and hoisted Turks and Caicos colors.
We haven’t been in a marina in over three months and are squeezing every ounce of amenity out of our visit. We rented a car (Left-hand US-drive car, left-hand UK-drive roads: awesome combination.) to check out Provo (as everybody calls Providencales), a little jarred by its cosmopolitan atmosphere and available services. Deb fell in love with marina dogs Jemma and Effie.
As I appear to be in an endorsing mood, let me put a good word in for South Side Marina and its helpful staff: owner Bob, right-hand-man Cam, dock hand Julien, and bookkeeper/bartender Nevarde. From guiding us into the channel to arranging a rental car to leading daily bocce matches, these friendly folks aim to make your stay in Provo comfortable.
So here we are, washed, fueled, and readied for our next little sail, which looks to be coming up this week. After arriving in Turks and Caicos, I randomly checked the odometer on our GPS and saw that since leaving our home slip in Jersey City, NJ, last October, we’ve traveled exactly 2,000 miles.
I suppose six months is a long time to travel 2,000 miles. At the same time, we’re a little surprised that we’ve come this far. With all deference to wind and weather, in a day or two, we’ll cross the Caicos Bank and make the 80-mile jump to Luperon, in the Dominican Republic, a whole ‘nuther country.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s just a little sail.