Hope Town, Elbow Cay – Abaco, Bahamas
Anchored beneath the red and white candy-striped lighthouse marking the small town of Hope Town (pop. 260) on Elbow Cay, we are settling into island time. Our initial stay in Marsh Harbour was a bit longer than intended due in part to an ill alternator. Rod noticed after a week on the hook in the harbor that Lucky Peek’s battery bank wasn’t charging fully as it should. He consulted the on-board bible of boat mechanics, Nigel Calder’s Boatowner’s Electrical Manual, and after a barrage of tests with the digital multi-meter (festive yellow unit the size of a 1990 cellphone with two small poker things on wires to touch various electrical parts to measure their health) determined that something was definitely amiss. We got a slip in the Marsh Harbour Marina so we could plug in to keep the batteries from dying and arranged for Andrew, a local electrician, to take a look. For the reasonable price of a Rum and Coke, Andrew confirmed that the alternator needed some work. Looked like we going to be at the dock a few days while the alternator was being rebuilt to replace three diodes and the stator. Well, a few days turned into eleven (island time, mon) and we worked on attaining Regular status at the Jib Room, the restaurant/bar/hang-out at the marina. We met some interesting folks and as usual, people were curious about us and our story since we are a bit younger than the typical cruiser. No, we didn’t win the lottery. No, we aren’t trust-fundees. Yes, we did know how to sail – in Idaho. No, not Iowa. While the details in these conversations may vary, they all conclude the same. We’ve done the right thing in living this adventure now while we can. Yes, we’ve given up many things, but what we gain will be priceless. There’s gotta be a Mastercard commercial in there somewhere.
During our stay we did get some exercise in between our gab sessions by walking, cycling, and swimming. We used the marina’s complimentary bicycles, circa 1959, to tour a bit of the island and visit our friends at Boat Harbour Marina across the peninsula. We snorkeled a nearby reef, Mermaid Reef, and swam with many crayon colored fish including clouds of ballyhoo which swim just under the surface – at face level! A bit freaky at first, but these small bait fish didn’t seem interested in poking us with their long pointed beak snouts, so we accepted their proximity. We also spotted a couple of large grouper camouflaging themselves against the brown rock. A popular menu item here in the Bahamas is Grouper Fingers, which is delicious, but we couldn’t see any fingers on these groupers. 🙂
Among the many other boats in Marsh Harbour was s/v Little Gidding. Her crew of two consists of David and Eileen Quinn. Eileen writes and sings about living aboard their sailboat and she offered a free performance at the Jib Room. A talented songwriter, she captures the ups and downs of this cruising lifestyle, making everyone laugh as well as discreetly wipe away a few tears. After her show Rod joined a couple other cruising musicians in an impromptu jam session with his guitar. Ted, of s/v Flicka, brought his guitar and enough songbooks for those interested in singing along, in whatever key suited them. Brant, of m/v Lazy Bones, brought his keyboard and his talent for accompanying whatever was requested. We had so much fun that night that we arranged to get together again a couple nights later aboard Lazy Bones for chili dogs, compliments of Brant and Eleanor, and more music. Another great evening.
A few days after docking at the Marsh Harbour Marina a cold front moved through bringing rain and gale-force winds. From our snug slip we had a front row view of the waves sweeping into the harbor turning the boats anchored there into hobby horses and the 45 knot winds with gusts to 56 creating a constant sheet of spray. We anxiously watched a 70 foot trawler drag its anchor while its crew of two desperately tried to reset it in the high winds amongst the other boats. It soon became apparent that these folks needed some assistance. Several other cruisers from neighboring boats hopped in their dinghies to offer a helping hand, and to hopefully prevent damage to their own boats in this unfolding rodeo. It was nerve-wracking to watch as one dinghy bounced in a dangerous fashion under the trawler’s bow while working to free their anchor rode. Meanwhile, two large pieces of canvas blew off the trawler into the waves and someone’s jacket became airborn. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the dinghy crew at the bow freed the tangled anchor rode and moved away to safety while the trawler dropped the hook again. I think I could hear, even above the howling wind, a collective sigh of relief as the trawler’s anchor held and its erratic movement stabilized. The next day on the morning VHF Cruisers Net, the trawler captain gave a public Thank You to the brave helpers that came to his aid and to those that salvaged his lost canvaswork. An anonymous response of, “Hey, some days you watch the show and some days you are the show.” Provided the appropriate levity and summed it up nicely.
On our last day in Marsh Harbour we had an opportunity to join a group in visiting The Farm. Since arriving in Marsh Harbour we had heard reference made to The Farm but we weren’t sure what exactly was being grown there. An island herb? It wasn’t until we were loaded into the back of a pick-up truck along with 30-some other curious boaters in the caravan that we learned the name of the product being grown on The Farm. Hearing the name still didn’t clear up the mystery for us. Perhaps this was a Bahamian word for an island herb? It turns out that Neem, of the Neem tree, is used in many products ranging from face lotions to pills taken for a variety of ailments. The leaves can be used to make tea of dried and crushed into a powder for pills. The oil from the fruitnut is used in salves and other homeopathic products. This relative of the mahogany tree can reach heights of 60 feet, but here the trees are kept pruned to protect them from high winds. We were educated on Neem in an informal lecture in the orchard before participating in Farm activities. We harvested leaves and planted some Neem seeds which will germinate in about 10 days and be ready for transplanting in approximately 3 months when the fast-growing saplings reach 2 feet tall. This excursion gave us a welcome chance to see a different part of the island while learning first-hand what exactly takes place on The Farm.
And now we are anchored just outside the harbor entrance of Hope Town, on the western shore of Elbow Cay. Just a short distance from Marsh Harbour but decades apart in appearance. The charming houses lining the pedestrian-only narrow streets showcase the simple architecture of the 1800’s while their fresh, vibrant colors announce their continued occupancy – along with the occasional wooden sign out front with the family name on it. Many of the homes are now operated as vacation rentals so instead of a family name the wooden sign might say “Yellow Bird”, and of course the house sports a pretty shade of yellow. “Green Shutters” has, you guessed it, green shutters. The protected harbor is jam packed with boats on moorings with barely enough room between them for other boats to maneuver. We had been warned of this so we opted to anchor outside the harbor and then dinghy in to take a look. We were happy with that decision.
As we were dinghying toward the harbor entrance that first time we came upon a 45 foot Beneteau sailboat that had cut the corner of the entrance channel a bit too close and had firmly planted their keel on the shallow sandy bottom. Their boom pushed hard to port with 4 people straddling it to no avail indicated they needed some help. We altered our course to see if we could provide any assistance. We tried taking their main halyard in the dinghy and pulling hard to one side, essentially creating a visual triangle of their mast and the halyard from the top of their mast leading at some taut angle to our dinghy off their port side. No go. We pulled on a line from their bow. Nope. The exasperated captain thanked us for our attempts but said they would just wait for high tide in a couple of hours. One problem with that… a couple of hours away was LOW tide. We hated telling him that high tide was actually 8 hours away – at midnight. His shoulders dropped, his face fell even further, and he muttered something in his native French. We were able to help after all in towing three of the eight family members in their broken-motored dinghy into the harbor to Abaco Charters where they needed to deliver the big boat back to (and get a new motor for their dink). An hour or so later, as we were visiting with Doug and Grace on Tide Pool in the harbor, we were happy to see the dark blue hull of the Beneteau entering the harbor. They were able to work their way off the shoal after all. We saw the vacationing family again at a distance the next day in their now functioning dinghy and we received cheery waves from all 8 arms.
In the late afternoon of our first day in Hope Town we climbed the skinny spiral steps of the famous Hope Town lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1863 and is still operated by a kerosene lamp and the fresnel lens that was put in place in the 1930’s. This is the only remaining manned lighthouse in the Bahamas. We timed our visit perfectly as we were there to witness the lighthouse keeper igniting the kerosene flame. Rod helped in turning the ancient hand crank to raise the weight that would then slowly drop over the next 12 hours turning gears that would spin the lens at its appropriate pace, illuminating waters 15 miles out. From our vantage point roughly 120 feet above sea level we gazed across the crowded Hope Town Harbour to the vast Atlantic. Then we walked ever so carefully to the other side of the lighthouse along the narrow catwalk with a tattered net for flimsy rail to view Lucky Peek anchored alone in the serene bay below. We reflected back on reading Jimmy Buffett’s “A Salty Piece of Land” where one story line covers the search for an intact fresnel lens just like the one that was inches from our noses. We then laughed at how this experience would never be possible in the states unless pages of liability releases had been signed. With big toothy grins on our faces we descended the steps and hurried back to Lucky Peek in the fading sunset. We went to sleep that night with the comforting glow of a big nightlight that flashed at perfect 5 second intervals marking the eastern shore.
We hope everyone successfully rang in the new year and had a speedy recovery.
We spent New Year’s Eve day at the pool with our crossing friends, Terry and
Peggy from Attitude, and Robert and Carolyn of Gypsy Common. The pool is at
their marina, the Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbor Marina. We drank rum and
coke, compliments of Peggy, ate conch fritters and fresh fish fingers (bet you
didn’t know fish had fingers), swam in the pool and soaked up all the Bahamian
sun we could take. It was a beautiful 78 degrees!!! Read it and weep, you
northerners. After all that fun, Robert and Carolyn insisted that we stay for
dinner, always delicious from Carolyn’s galley. Robert shared his great Cuban
Rum and Lisa discovered her new fondness… Banana Rum.
We toasted an early New Year with champagne and then borrowed a flashlight for
the walk across town and dinghy ride back to our boat. On our walk we were
drawn into the New Year fray by all the reggae sounds spilling into the streets
from the harbourfront dining and drinking establishments. Our energy level
pumped up by the beat of the live music, we had a second wind! After a quick
stop at Lucky Peek to freshen up we loaded back in the dinghy and headed to the
Jib Room at Marsh Harbor Marina (400 yards from where we are anchored). We
danced to the heavy reggae beat and consumed their signature beverage, the
Bilge Burner. It was at that moment, we felt that all the preparations and
hard work to get here had paid off and we were truly passing into a new phace
of our travels with the new year. Oh, and Lisa danced to enthusiastically that
she sprained a toe!
We made it back to the boat some time after midnight and had an extremely lazy
New Years Day of reading, relaxing, and recuperating. Now we are living the
life! And it’s great so far!