Wednesday, December 1, the opportunity we waited for to go to Nassau, the nation’s capital on the island of New Providence, arrived. We weighed anchor and left the protection of Royal Island harbor. A little way south of the island is perhaps the best dive wreck in the Bahamas. The story goes that a guano carrier was on fire, and the captain beached the ship to save the crew. The ship was then hauled off shore where it went down, the fertilizer killing every living thing in the area. Surprisingly however the biota was given a clean slate and every formerly indigenous life form returned with a vitality and variety unseen elsewhere. Marine biologists are interested in how this effect came about, and divers are treated to a great underwater show. We would have missed the wreck, if I hadn’t spotted a sweet looking two masted schooner in our way. She was the “Liberty Clipper” which Judy renamed the “Flibberty Gibbet.” She seemed to be anchored, and as we approached we saw her jolly boat was launched and a dive party was exploring. As we passed by we saw the superstructure of the ill fated freighter sticking out of relatively shallow water.
By the time we reached open water, Judy was feeling headachy and under the weather. She spent most of the thirty mile or so passage down below resting. At first we were motor sailing but as the wind came around to our bow, we hauled our sails and motored the rest of the way to Nassau. The sky was an even blue and cloudless except for a low bank of cumulus clouds in the direction of New Providence (NP). Another piece of sea lore tells that in pre-GPS days, skippers could use cloud formations as tell tales of land. Another lesson observed! In the general direction of our heading there were two faint gray areas which I first spotted about 17 miles out of our waypoint outside the Nassau Harbour Channel. I took them at first for trash fires which is the islands form of recycling, then for the smoke stacks of cruise ships. Finally I decided it must be the high rise of Nassau’s skyline.. I was grateful that it was stationary and I could use it as my guide-post. As we got closer I realized I was seeing the famous architecture of Atlantis, the Mega resort on Paradise Island.
As we came within sight of the channel markers, I was hearing the harbor traffic communicating with Harbour Control. I woke Judy who had plotted our entry to ask if we needed to check in with the harbormaster. The Cruiser’s guide affirmed my thoughts and we announced ourselves and asked permission to enter the harbor. After switching down to channel nine, and stating our boat name, documentation number and last port of call, we were welcomed. They asked which marina we would be staying at and told them we would be at anchor off of the “marine centre.” It was all very simple and polite. “Permission granted.”
Paradise Island ( F/K/A Hog Island)is a small island north of N.P. separated from the city of Nassau by a channel perhaps a half mile wide. One could see how it made a great natural protection from the elements and from any enemy. Nassau is one of the oldest harbors in the western hemisphere. We entered the channel at minimum steerage speed to give room to all the commercial traffic. Ahead of us lay the giant cruise ship docks that are the life’s blood of this city (and probably the country as well.) On our port side just before Atlantis was the Sivananda Yoga Center. There are many paths to paradise. The anchorage we sought was just a little beyond, after the few container ship operations which were in full swing.
The cruising guide suggests that there is no really good holding in Nassau harbor and suggests cruisers use one of the dozen or so marinas that are here. The charts that Lou Spitz loaned us showed a good anchorage and with marina fees over a hundred dollars a day, we joined about two dozen other cruising boats just off shore of “the Green Parrot” harbor side restaurant. I wasn’t sure our hook had set, so I asked Judy to let the anchor settle a while and see if she moved. The promised front we had come to avoid was starting to pipe up in the harbor, but we were here and probably settled in time. We kept the engine running for a while, and kept an eye on the GPS to see if we were snug or not. I looked around, and noted that some of the boats near us had two anchor rodes out. The infamous “Bahamian Mooring.” The guides tell us that this form of two anchor mooring was popular before the advent of newer styles of anchor, such as the Danforth, the CQR, the Bruce and the Plow. We use a Delta, generally recognized as the best for these bottoms. The old fisherman anchor, famous on Tattoos everywhere, but rare on boats anymore was not very secure in these waters and often required two anchors set at 45 degree angles. The guidebooks add, “avoid anchoring near boats with two anchors out.”
Later, speaking with cruisers with local experience, they concurred, but added that in this harbor with a strong current changing with every tide, large and frequent commercial traffic and a bottom scoured by long time heavy use, the old mooring technique “still holds.”
Since Judy was still achy, we were uncertain of our holding and unsure of where to tie up our dingy ashore and the day was wearing on, we planned to hang out on board till the weather improved in a day or so. Since the first few days at Marsh Harbour, we hadn’t stayed at a slip once. We anchored out every night except a few nights: at Hope Town where we picked up a mooring ball and paid a twenty dollar fee and Spanish Wells for two nights at $15 a pop. Part of island living is not feeling rushed to do anything, so a nap or some book reading time is always in order. The regimen of getting up at six ayem to listen to high grade weather reporting on the single side band radio with Chris Parker, and getting to bed not long after dark to conserve battery power was now out of sync. The “Big City” noises of police sirens and ambulances blending in behind the grinding of machinery at the container port gave way to the competing bands playing ashore at “the Green Parrot” and “Luciano’s.” Here it was midweek, but the music was Saturday night, and went on loud and for hours. Here was the flip side of the solitude we’d enjoyed for the last few weeks. On top of this, the cruise ships are fueled with bunker “C”, the molasses of the petroleum industry, the stuff left over after everything of value has been stripped out. It’s the part of petroleum where the stink lives. At sea where these behemoths burn a gallon every six inches, no one gets to smell the smoke left in their wake. Here in port, with up to seven liners belching smoke to keep the burgers frying and the spas bubbling, the bright lights and bells of the slots and the air conditioned heated pools up to snuff, you might say it stank.
And there was evening and there was morning.
Day two in the capital-- Well, the wind is still blowing and we don’t really need to go ashore so let’s read the guide books and plan our visit. Dave’s folks, sort of the object of our trip to Nassau, weren’t due till Saturday and nothing on shore looked that inviting and Judy still was not up to snuff…It is eighty degrees and sunny, except for the wind it’s lovely, another pass-day. Lying on the chaise in the lee of the dodger and almost at the foot of the Atlantis tower, book in hand, “ain’t life grand!”
Friday morning, December 3, we saw an official looking boat visiting several of the cruisers anchored nearby. When they came to us, the harbor police decided to board us in a random check. It was fine and the men were very polite. Soon afterwards, Kelly and Mike from FL on Ciao Bella a 41 foot Morgan ketch stopped by to visit and give us some local knowledge, and Jean Francois from Quebec on Misty, a 37 foot Gulfstar sloop, stopped by to see why the police wanted to board us. Some of the local knowledge gained was that for $1.25, you can get on any bus and ride the entire route and get to see the whole island that way. We found out where the internet is available unlimited time for free and for an hour if you buy something. Kelly and Mike also told us about eating “under the bridge” at the local fish fry shacks. Jean Francois is a boat builder and had lots of suggestions on materials and projects.
Steph deployed the dingy and we motored into the “Green Parrot “dock. We walked west on Bay Street towards downtown and ended up in the cruise ship crowds….Too many people in too crowded a location for my tastes! Tourists with a few hours ashore to buy duty free alcohol, Cuban cigars, Chinese “Designer” bags, T-Shirts and gifts from the straw market. We wandered through a Christmas crafts festival and found Dunkin Donuts for internet. Part of the crowdedness of the streets was the fact that they were setting up bleachers in every available spot for the junior Junkanoo parade on Thursday, December 9. Junkanoo is like Mardi Gras or Carnival and the bands are all dressed in these amazing costumes and headdresses. Unlike the festivals surrounding Easter, this festival is held on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas and again at New Years. It is strictly a “Bahamian Ting!” It bears no relation to Christmas except the date, and as far as we can find out, its origins are unknown. Even theories about the name differ. One is that it honors John Canoe, A leader of slave rebellion (or a slave holder.) Another theory is that it is a corruption of the French, “gens inconnu” or “unknown people.” The musicians play goat skin drums, sousaphone, trumpet, flugelhorn and COW BELLS and whistles. The cow bells and whistles are the trademark of Junkanoo bands. The term for cow bell is Kalik, which is also one of the local beers. So, Junior (kids) Junkanoo bands will parade on December 9 and the adult Junkanoos whoop it up on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Years.
On our way back to the dink, Steph said he wanted to go eat at the Fish fry under the bridge, so we dropped the computer at Bentaña, petted and fed Mary, and hopped back in the dink to see if we could find the right place. Well, we found the right place and it was a hopping Friday night. It is mostly locals who hang out there and they enjoy the conch salad and “Fry-Fish” along with the beer. You can even get Barracuda (eat at your own risk—they eat reef fish which carry Ciguatera)! In searching out just the right place to eat, we decided on Doc Sands and sat down with Ed (Eduardo Jimenez) and Tina, who are professional photographers, both Bahamian. We mentioned that we had been to The Current and Ed said he was from there. We mentioned that we had met Sue Martin and he said, “Oh, she is my cousin!” It didn’t seem to be a surprise to me. Small world…..and the six degrees of separation made smaller again!
The harbor is very busy with all sorts of traffic; tour boats, diving boats, booze and cruise boats, speed boats and work boats ply the waters. Most of them have no idea what the term “NO WAKE” means, so we have been doing quite a lot of bouncing on the hook here.
Laundry day in Nassau and JUNKANOO
Sat 12/4 We loaded the dingy with dirty laundry, the dock cart and detergent and headed east to the Nassau Yacht Haven which was reported to be near a coin laundry, and hospitable to cruisers “on the hook.” We tied up under their Poop Deck Restaurant and Judy stopped in at the dock master’s office to request docking privileges. When I asked if what I needed to do to check out, the Dockmaster said, “Well, you can come in and say Thank you!”The marinas all have washing machines, at marina prices, so we headed for the “townie” wash house. It is at Shirley Plaza on Shirley Road. We got several differing sets of directions and found ourselves walking all around town on the east end, far from tourist venues. This is a great way to soak up local flavor and color. There were about four washer loads, so once again I left Judy to wash while I went shopping. “City Markets” advertises in the cruisers guide…”We deliver to your boat.” There are seven “City Markets” in Nassau, and the word was they were the place to shop, and there was one nearby. With my knapsack on my back and my camera around my neck, I did more sightseeing along the way. The store was a pretty good representation of a super market. Not as spiffy as “Maxwell’s “in Marsh Harbour, but that was only a month old. My plans were to scope out the store and replenish our milk and eggs and a little meat, just what would fill my knapsack. We would return here for a big shop before heading to the out-islands. We discovered the out- islands are referred to here as the “family islands.” It’s where everyone has family. I found a pretty decent selection of groceries, and some of the prices were competitive with home. I’ve gotten over the sticker shock of all imports being marked up ~33% duty, plus shipping costs. It appears that commonwealth products may be exempt, and we now eat Irish butter. I did notice some empty shelves, and what my friend Bill the book retailer calls “wallpaper,” the art of spreading items out a mile wide and one row deep.
Outside “City Markets” was a whole plaza with a KFC, Starbucks and more. This is important because, where there is Starbucks there is usually internet. Outside the clothing store a bake sale was going on. Besides the usual brownies, blondies and cup cakes with sprinkles and store-bought iced loaf cake there was duff, (I don’t know either,) delicious gooey chocolate cake and homemade rum cake. As good as the chocolate cake looked; I chose a slice of rum cake. After all, I was sampling the local delights, and it was for a good cause. BTW it was good!
I hoofed it back to the wash house where Judy was finishing up the folding. I pitched in while the TV played “The Fugitive,” with Harrison Ford. We loaded up our dock cart, a handy little item that has big wheels for irregular terrain and collapses to take little space and then headed back to the dink. Along the way we saw kids carrying buckets of water from a spigot in a side street. Soon this will be us! Down on Bay Street, Judy got splashed by passing cars where a water main had broken. This explained the decently dressed kids carrying water to a decent looking house. Almost back at the marina a guy with a card table is set up along this busy waterside street. He is selling spiny lobster, fresh fish and conch. We chatted and took some pictures. A passer by cracked a pose with these large crustaceans .
Well, back at the marina, Judy returns to the dockmaster’s office to thank him. The tide is out, and our dink is six feet below the dock, and almost at the end of the ladder. While we are loading our day’s work product, a tall curly haired sailor enquires, “Is everything OK?” Aside from the frustration of a dropped cell phone call to Harry and Carol Otterbein who had arrived safely to Nassau, we told him we were fine, doing laundry, etc and taking it back to our boat. He introduced himself, Daniel, the Captain of the “Liberty Clipper.” We told him we had passed his schooner at the dive spot south of Royal Island and came in close for a good look at his pretty ship. He invited us to tour the boat tomorrow and we asked if Harry and Carol could join us. “Of course,” he replied.
Headed back to the boat, we stopped off at “Caio Bella” to tell them about the Laundromat. Kelly says, “there’s an anniversary party at Green Parrot, we’re going over, I think maybe they’ll have free food.” “What time,” Judy asks and we now have dinner plans.
Well, we stowed our cargo, something you can’t do at home, and dressed for a party. Kelly said they were going over in a half hour, so we were right on time , but when we motored over there the place was quiet with a handful of regulars at the bar. There was more activity next door at “Luciano’s of Chicago” so we returned, without going ashore, to tell Mike and Kelly. They were all ready to leave, but now there was no rush so they invited us on board for a tour. Mike reminded both of us of our late friend Max, sun parched and wiry with a braid down his back. Max hated the term “aging hippie” often applied to him. “Aren’t we all aging?” he would ask indignantly. Kelly is his partner and they have lived and traveled on boats a long time. The boat had been transformed by the two of them into a very personal home. Mike’s woodwork and their decorating created a practical, cozy and snug space full of good vibrations. We talked about diesel engines, and he explained why Perkins, the brand we share, is the best. It was getting dark and we were ready for dinner, so ashore we all went.
By now the crowds had gathered, and the DJ was “laying down hot tracks.” I think that’s how they say it. Peter, a jovial cruiser from Nova Scotia joined us with a bucket of Kaliks he offered around. This place, the Green Parrot, has been so accommodating to cruisers on the hook. Free waterfront docking is rare in many places. Most waterfront is private property here, as in most urban areas. For commercial and insurance reasons a good tie-up near anything is hard to find. So, just like the nice people at the Nassau Yacht Haven we were made to feel very welcome here too. About five or six dingy’s were tied up at their small rickety floating dock, and I guess most of them were patrons tonight.
As we arrived in Nassau earlier in the week, I smelled barbeque on the shore. I was sure it was from this place, but in all our wanderings, BBQ was not forthcoming. Cracked Conch; Conch Salad; Conch Fritters; Conch Burgers and Seared Conch or, Fried Grouper or Fried Snapper was ubiquitous. Tonight I get my BBQ Chicken. Judy and I would split the dinner, and Mike and Kelly split a Fried Chicken dinner. Peter still had four beers.
Our timing could not be more perfect. Good friends, good music, good food and then the DJ paused. Out in the parking lot was the sound of a brass band. Marching, strutting, mumming to a growing drum beat and staccato kalik sound, in came a dozen musicians. They were costumed in bright colored masks, breastplates and aprons covered with feathers, sequins and mirrors, putting out a raucous rhythm. Lead by an assortment of brass, followed by the kalik rattlers and whistle blowers and pushed forward from the rear by large booming drums, the music was infectious. Instant Junkanoo Fever. Winding their way around the bar’s oval, twisting and turning, the winds blaring, the drums throbbing and the steady whistle and clang became euphoric as they wove their way around the patio where we sat. They gyred and gimbaled. I was ecstatic. This is what travel is about. Another National Geographic / Kodak moment, we were razzed and we were jazzed. (I have successfully downloaded a video clip to my facebook page, “Stephen Sellinger(not the one from Maryland.))
|Liberty Clipper preparing to dive at the ship wreck|
|Entering Nassau Harbour, Atlantis to the left|
|"Northern Light" departing Atlantis|
|Tina and Ed|
|The never ending laundry...|
|Dinking back to Bentaña at dusk|
|Kelly, Mike and Peter at the Green Parrot|
|Blow, bro, blow!|