February 28, 2019
Tomorrow is already March.
It has been exactly two years since we finished our tenure with Scuba Junkie. Those last two years have put us on an entirely different trajectory from anything we ever could have anticipated. We were already on an obscure orbit taking us well off the beaten path; suddenly it became an even more obscure orbit on an even less travelled path.
We’ve now been on Long Island for going on six weeks. It’s nice for that to have been a voluntary decision.
After arriving at Long Island on January 17, we decided to anchor overnight at Hog Cay.
Jay and Tami, cruising friends aboard S/V Avighna whom we met last year in the Exumas, had raved about Long Island. In fact, they were already here in one of their favorite anchorages, Joes Sound, within view of Hog Cay.
Furthermore, their good friend Ashley, who we had met last year at Georgetown, was scheduled to arrive at Long Island in less than a week.
After the parts fiasco we had in Marsh Harbour, which resulted in our coughing up an extra US$600 to FedEx for duty fees we shouldn’t have been charged for and likely would never see returned to us, we had decided to take a different approach… smuggle the parts in via a mule.
Okay… that’s a bit of an exaggerated overstatement.
However, the reality is that any non-essential, non-engine parts shipped to the Bahamas ARE subject to 40% duty in addition to the 12% VAT tax.
That being the case, tourists traveling to the Bahamas by plane can carry virtually unlimited parts, electronics, equipment, you name it – without causing even the raising of an eyebrow.
Fortunately, since Ashley was already coming, we just had to get the highest priority items to her doorstep before she boarded the plane. Our priority items making the list which had to be both available and portable, were: a replacement heat exchanger tube stack (a three foot long bronze cylinder that goes in the Perkins engine cooling system), a new digital battery monitor, and another SD card for our PredictWind system (screw you Nassau Customs, where our first SD card is probably still sitting on a shelf somewhere).
We joked that Ashley would certainly be questioned by authorities… the bronze tube stack, digital display battery monitor, and SD card – looking remarkably like a metal pipe bomb, detonator, and transmitter code…
…nobody batted an eye in the end.
And while we can joke that Ashley was our smuggling mule, the fact is we can’t say enough about how much we appreciate her effort. Without her assistance, a number of issues either never would have been resolved, would have cost a ridiculous amount of money to sort out, and/or would have taken stupid amounts of time to wade through.
But that is jumping well ahead.
Ashley wasn’t due to arrive for nearly a week.
We decided to take advantage of the north wind to get us the twenty or so miles south by sail to Thompson Bay and the Salt Pond community so we could explore that area of Long Island. In a few days, when the wind shifted back to the south-east, we could return to Joes Sound to see Tami and Jay, prior to Ashley’s arrival.
Just before we left Hog Cay, Tami and Jay appeared in their dinghy, offering a welcome bottle of wine and a delicious boudin sausage. Absolutely amazing!!!
After a brief visit, we made for Millers Bay, towards the southern side of Long Island, where we enjoyed a wide open anchorage all to ourselves.
As an added bonus, we were literally at the back door of Chez Pierre – a tiny resort and restaurant run entirely by a lovably feisty and very French-Canadian elderly gentleman with a magic touch in the kitchen.
The use of a rental car for a day allowed better exploration of other parts of the island and its dramatic coastline.
After a few days, we decided to head back north.
ANCIENT MARITIME EQUATION…?
On February 6th, sailing from Thompson Bay back to to Hog Cay, we stumbled upon what we could only assume was an ancient maritime equation. It appeared that adding our current boat speed to our current depth revealed the true wind speed… hmmmm… I assume I am not the first person to have noticed this…
It doesn’t seem to always be the case… I’ll have to gather further data on this…
Coincidence…? Ha! I think not…
Looking on the charts, the channel into Joes Sound looked scary as Hell. The charts indicated a narrow and shallow channel with fast current, hard bottom, and less than three and a half foot low tide depth, unsuitable for boats wider than fifteen feet… certainly not for the faint of heart.
The fact that it was high tide, and we knew that S/V Avighna (a cat with far more beam than our fourteen feet two inches ) had gotten through repeatedly with no trouble, seemed of small consequence as we approached the channel, which looked tiny.
We had already been advised: don’t go in at low tide; best not to go when the current is ripping either in or out; favor the rock wall on the right side which is deeper; the left looks more forgiving but is much more shallow; hug the floating marker at the end of the entrance to avoid the sandy shoal that cuts across the whole channel; once past the shoal turn quickly, it shallows up quickly on the other side.
The actual experience: nerve-racking though uneventful… commit, then trust your instincts and what you see, and refer to the Navionics display continually. It certainly helped that we had Tami and Jay in their dinghy just ahead of us to pilot us in our first time navigating through the channel.
Having successfully passed through the channel unscathed, we were rewarded with one of the most picturesque locations we have ever anchored in.
In short order we were also introduced to three of the key players (and really cool people) in Joes Sound:
Earl Wilson – A Joes Sound local and one of the friendliest and most kind-hearted people we’ve ever met. Governor General, Fish & Game Warden, as well as full time caretaker of Hog Cay (privately owned by the Graham family who owns a large chunk of northern Long Island)
On a “Jeopardy Final Question” side note:
Earl was once the keyboard player for the one-hit-wonder “Baha Men”. He accidentally cut off one of his fingers, resulting in his departure from the band, just before they landed this huge hit…
[Sound of buzzer]… Alec… What is “Who Let The Dogs Out?” … ouch!
Pat Harris – Honorary Mayor of Joes Sound. A New York/Long Island native who has been sailing most of his life, coming to the Bahamas for decades, and living on a pontoon houseboat in Joes Sound for a number of years in the winter. During the summer he runs the historic sailing yacht ‘Ventura‘ in New York Harbor.
Mitch Hale – Earl’s best friend. An American farmer/rancher/hunting guide from Oklahoma who has also been coming to Long Island for decades.
Hog Cay, just south of Joes Sound, is a private island. Earl maintains everything on the island, including a very rare flock of around four thousand nearly extinct West Indian Whistling Ducks which they protect and feed. He has also, without a college education, installed electricity as well as an amazing reverse osmosis water system (which he kindly let us use to fill our tanks with fresh water!).
Luckily, one day Peter Graham (grandson of Mr. Graham) and Earl took us (Jay, Tami and Ashley along with another cruising boat) on a private tour of the beautifully kept up island.
On another day, we were ecstatic to hear word that a young manatee that frequented the area was in the small private harbor on Hog Cay. Earl invited us to come over for a swim. It was amazing! The first manatee we have ever seen, much less swam with. Kris named him ‘George’. Apparently it comes by regularly to drink fresh water from the hose they have run to the edge of the dock.
Another car rental offered the opportunity to explore areas on the northern end of Long Island.
However, when four boats made a simultaneous amphibious assault into Joes Sound on January 30th, all with the intention, it appeared, of anchoring together, the area instantly become stupidly overcrowded. We decided it was time to pick up anchor and head south again, back to Thompson Bay for a while.
There was always dinghy access to Tiny’s Bar, which we visited on several occasions…
Tiny’s Bar! In fact, the first time we arrived at Thompson Bay, we only had $15 in cash. The only ATM on the entire island is thirty minutes away by car and most businesses accept only cash.
Tiny’s had $4 beers, which meant we had enough for one round. Inevitably, after we finished those beers, the bartender/owner Jason asked if we wanted another round, prompting us to explain our cash situation. Jason thought for a second and then walked around the corner, producing a five dollar bill he explained someone had dropped earlier and not picked up after it had been caught by a breeze.
Five hundred pennies from Heaven… sweet.
It all ended up being a moot point a short time later when Jason offered to open a tab for us so we could get dinner as well. Hmmm… fifty dollars in credit for a couple of deadbeats at anchor in the bay who could leave more easily than get to an ATM… go figure.
A perfect example of Long Island’s hospitality.
Needless to say, we left the five dollar bill for the next thirsty cash-poor sailor… gotta pay that forward.
Other Salt Pond hospitality?
Basil Fox, has a private dock which he allows boaters unlimited access to use as a dinghy dock as well as a nearby cement structure at which cruisers can dispose of bagged rubbish absolutely free of charge… righteous.
Or, when we visited the Salt Pond liquor store, the owner left her store, and brought us back two big bowls loaded with chicken and grits from a wedding celebration BBQ across the street.
Everywhere we went on Long Island, like Cat Island, were locals who went out of their way to greet you, offer pleasantries, or provide help when possible.
And, above and beyond all that, we got a lotta shit sorted out over the past six weeks:
- Finally figured out our PredictWind weather software along with our Iridium satellite connection which will allow us to receive weather updates offshore once we’ve lost cell signal. And what of the PredictWind SIM card we had given up on in Marsh Harbour? A new one smuggled into the Bahamas duty- and bullshit-free by our parts mule Ashley.
- Our blog, which had been relegated to a mere laptop journal while a million other things took priority every day for two years, is finally up and running, and even nearly current.
- Replaced our engine heat exchanger tube stack (diagnosed as needing replacement in Marsh Harbour by Basil) thanks to Ashley’s hand delivery of parts to avert another engine parts duty crisis and Jay’s mechanical assistance. Jay also helped to re-align our alternator pulley which was creating excessive amounts of belt dust. Jay is amazing!!!
- Substantial repair of our genoa thanks to Tami and Jay’s sail repair skills and Tami’s expertise on their onboard vintage Pfaff 130 sewing machine. The UV protective cover (which Kris had already re-sewn a year before in Port Canaveral) was coming apart again.
- Installed a new Victron Energy digital battery monitor (again, thanks to Ashley for the delivery and Jay for the installation guidance) which helped solve battery charging mysteries we had been experiencing ever since replacing our house battery bank. Our old monitor continued to tell us that our new batteries weren’t taking a full charge. Thankfully, the Victron proved that the discrepancy resided in the old monitor… not the system. Very important considering this rather simple looking device (in actuality a quite sophisticated calculator) is our only link to monitoring our battery system. Without close monitoring of electrical use and current state of charge, we risk both a shortfall of electricity and reduced lifespan of very expensive batteries.
- Kris re-lashed the bimini cover after we discovered it wasn’t attached properly to the frame.
- A thorough scrubbing of the outer hull below the waterline (much easier than it was in Charleston).
- Got our visas renewed at the Long Island airstrip. Our deadline was down to one week left on our three month visa.
Ultimately, we owe Jay and Tami a huge thanks for helping us to sort through all of our questions, insecurities, and shortfalls. They provided not only endless advice and assistance, but also materials, tools, and hands-on demonstrations, even sailing a day out of their way to come back and perform in-the-field triage on our genoa, with the sewing machine they have aboard. Not to mention the fact that it was a blast simply hanging out with them.
And again, a big thanks to Ashley for dealing with the hassle of bringing stuff to us. It was great to see her again as well.
After all that, hopefully our Bahamas courtesy flag is the only thing we will need to replace in the immediate future.
I realize I probably just hexed us with that last comment…
Oh… and what to do with an old underwater camera housing chronically leaking water through the control button o-rings…?
Obviously… retire the housing…
The solution…? Add a GoPro to the pile of things you have Ashley bringing with her from Florida… woohoo!
And, what does one do immediately after acquiring a GoPro? Why… go up the mast, of course!
Though the volume and diversity of marine life in the Bahamas would certainly not be described as abundant, the water color, clarity, and temperature still make for some worthwhile snorkeling.
One day, after being rewarded with a large crab for my spearfishing efforts following a long dinghy ride to some of the more distant reefs and bommies, Pat (who, after decades of spearfishing here, votes crab as the best tasting seafood in the Bahamas) led us up one of the mangrove creeks to explore an area worthy of a National Geographic photo spread.
And, while lacking in some marine species, the Bahamas clearly has some mahoosive sharks that seem to know exactly where the fish cleaning is done.
As January turned to February, and February prepared to give way to March, we went back and forth along the Long Island coast. Down to Salt Pond (Thompson Bay), back up to Hog, Cay, into Joes Sound, back to Salt Pond, up to Millers Bay, back to Joes Sound, back to Thompson Bay…
After spending over a month at Long Island, we found Long Island locals to have the very same endearing and unique charm we had only found just recently on Cat Island. It was funny when we mentioned that to an American expat who stopped by the boat, we were told, “Ya, but they’re weird. They’re into that voodoo stuff on Cat.”
Everyone’s got their own interesting take on things…
How would we sum up Long Island?
A Thompson Bay sunset…
… and an official Joes Sound toast offered by three best friends Earl, Pat, and Mitch on Valentines Day 2019…
Joes Sound Toast:
(Repeat after me)
Here’s to us!
Who’s better than us?!
And they’re all dead!
… and maybe a movie…