Bahamas Redemption: Cat Island

January 15, 2019

Our return to the Bahamas had begun to seem less a triumphant march and more a quiet limp.  Since leaving Annapolis, we found ourselves plagued by minor mechanical issues which, in turn, had become the source of continuous delays and frustrations.

First the alternator in Norfolk, VA… then the water pump immediately after that, once we reached the Abacos, Bahamas.  The problems have not been exceptionally severe.   However, the solutions seem to be either elusive, painfully slow, or slippery and difficult to get to the bottom of.

Add to that a lukewarm feeling about our previous Bahamas experience.

Part of that shortfall certainly resides in our previous travels which have left us with some big shoes to fill when it comes to amazing experiences.  That may leave unrealistic expectations on our part at times.

Admittedly, we have had some incredible experiences in the Bahamas.  On occasion, we have met some unbelievably friendly, hospitable, and helpful individuals.

The range of water color here certainly is unlike anything we have seen in all our travels.  However, despite the color and clarity of the water, we have largely been flabbergasted by the relative lack of marine life in most places.

Sadly, all of the mega-twats (mega-yachts), charter boats, cruise ships, not to mention the overall elusiveness of finding any kind of a unique Bahamas culture, have again and again led us to the conclusion that much of the Bahamas seemed like a giant sandbox in Florida’s backyard rather than a separate country (and I have previous expressed my affections towards everything Floridian, or Flacidian, as I prefer to say).

Like so many other places on the planet, the original inhabitants of the Bahamas (the Lucayans) paid the ultimate price for European exploration.  “The Lucayan dividend from their first contact with European man was extinction within a quarter of a century… through mass abduction into slavery, ‘white man’s’ diseases, and starvation” (Waterway Guide – The Bahamas, 2016).  Not surprising when you have aristocrats who convey the message, “with 50 men, you could subject everyone and make them do what you wished…” (Christopher Columbus, in the Bahamas, 1492).

The Bahamas family names present today are largely those descendants of either slave holders or slaves.

*****

By the time we finally worked through our water pump issues in Abacos, we were already looking to move on, utilizing the Bahamas merely as a stepping stone to get somewhere else rather than a destination in and of itself.

We had been intrigued about getting to Cat Island and Long Island last year, though they had remained just outside of our grasp.  Now they both fell within our current trajectory, so it made sense to give them a shot.

Looking back, we are so happy we made that decision.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that, for us, both Cat Island and Long Island proved to be redemption for the Bahamas.

While we could find unoccupied and isolated anchorages in other places, these were the first places we arrived at that felt truly off the beaten path.  

No mega-twats at all… in fact very few boats in general.

Remarkably friendly people… warm, welcoming, hospitable, and willing to go well out of their way to help out.

*****

CAT ISLAND

Our overnight passage from Abacos to Cat Island, which had us sailing atop 15,000 foot North Atlantic depths through squalls producing 25 knot winds and buckets of rain, seemed like a bit of a gauntlet to run… a cover charge for Cat Island, if you will.  A continual line of cruise ships on the horizon re-enforced that perspective.

Nevertheless, we made it unscathed and no worse for the wear.

The next morning, as we headed for the southern end of Cat Island, a pod of exceptionally curious and playful dolphins hung around for a very long visit, riding Exit’s bow wake and darting back and forth all around us.

Instead of stopping at the more popular (and populated) bay of New Bight, we continued another few miles to Old Bight, and anchored a thousand or so feet off the beach.  We made a conscious effort to place ourselves so we weren’t blocking the sunset view of the guests of Rollezz, the only resort on the beach for miles, which we had heard was very friendly towards cruisers.

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Over the course of the following week, we learned just how much of an understatement that really was.

The entire time, we were the only boat at anchor in the bay.  In fact, the nearest boat was four miles away in New Bight.

Carl and Yvonne, the proprietors of Rollezzz, have taken a secluded slice of Cat Island and created a perfect resort retreat – a small operation run by dedicated locals with the sole intent of providing a perfect holiday experience for Cat Island’s visitors.

Thought we were not guests at the resort, we were invited on three separate occasions to stay for dinner, free of charge.  They allowed us to simply hang out at the resort; they engaged us in extended conversations; they offered rides; they helped sort out a rental car; they were absolutely amazing.

The rental car allowed us to wander freely about the island…

…as well as visit the Hermitage.  Ordained by the Church of England in the early 20th century, with a background in both theology and architecture, Father Jerome came to the Bahamas and, with bare hands and faith, set about repairing storm-devastated churches.  The Hermitage, built by Father Jerome, was where he spent the last seventeen years of his life.

There was a guest book inside.  Oddly enough, it was signed by a family from Spokane, WA, who had been there less than one month prior… small world.

Dinghy explorations to the beach or the mangroves…

Local fisherman Raynold and boat captain/police officer Kenneth helped us to pay back some of the good will offered by Rollezzz with lobsters Raynold caught free-diving to donate for the group dinner on our final night at anchor in the bay.

More than likely, we would have stayed longer, but shifting winds had now made the beach a lee shore, and swell coming from the west had nothing but open ocean to build upon.  At dinner that night in the Rollezzz restaurant area, the guests looking out at Exit joked that our mast looked like an antique pendulum-style metronome going tick-tock-tick-tock… back and forth.

We have been told on more than one occasion that our tolerance for rolling at anchor is quite high.   Yet, in this instance, one night was more than enough for us to decide to relocate to New Bight, which offered better protection.

New Bight also offered the opportunity to haul hundreds of pounds of water hundreds of yards from a filling station to our dinghy on the beach in a rather ambitious water tank top-up project…

Enjoy the local food, drink, and celebrations…

Exploration…

Sunsets…

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Cat Island sunset January 11, 2019

Finally, after ten days, though we could have easily stayed much longer, we decided it was time to pick up anchor and head for French Bay, about three and a half hours away at the south end of Cat Island.  From here we could stage our departure, leaving the remaining seven and a half hours to Long Island possible to be done during daylight hours, which were still limited between 7am and 4pm.

Picking up anchor was a relatively simple task.  We were literally sitting on top of it, as though it had just been dropped off he bow roller…

New Bight anchor

Along the way we did a quick dinghy deployment to try to get a couple of shots of Exit underway… any deployment while under sail will have to be an endeavor for future consideration.

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Three and a half hours later we were at anchor in French Bay.  Not another boat in sight. Private bay… private anchorage… sweet.

 

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