Friday, March 25, 2011

A visit to Black Point (x 3)

The Exuma archipelago stretches out over a hundred and fifty miles and comprises 365 cays, or as the tourist board says, “one for every day of the year.” When we refer to Staniel Cay, we often mean the dozen or so islands in the middle of the group from Pipe Cay to Black Point on Great Guana Cay. This twelve mile long area offers a variety of activities from vegging out on your own private beach to hob nobbing with the mega yacht set at the hub, Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC.)  More importantly it offers many alternative sheltering spots from the high winds that accompany cold fronts on a regular basis.  As these fronts pass through or near, the winds clock around and today’s sheltered lee side of the island is next week’s eye of the storm. As in much of the Bahamas, there are few all weather anchorages, and flotillas of cruisers often pick up on-mass from one anchorage or roadstead to another at the hint of a significant weather front.
Black Point is the southernmost part of this neighborhood for us. It offers little for the tourist but attracts boaters with its free water, free trash disposal (donation requested), free Wi-Fi and what has been referred to as the best Laundromat in the Bahamas. During our extended stay in the area we visited Black Point three times. The cruising guide refers to it as the second largest settlement in the island chain, but you can’t prove it by me.  Aside from the facilities listed above, I found it to be charming in a minimalist way. If there were cows you could call it bucolic.
 Aside from the coconut palms fringing the beach in the harbor, the change in vegetation from the other islands in the group is striking.  This is where I learned the term pot-hole farming. Here the bedrock is clearly in evidence. It is winter, and the wind-swept, water stressed vegetation is stark, growing by chance in the small pockets of soil trapped in the pockmarked limestone surface.
Our first visit was all business, having a ponderous load of clothing and linens needing a good washing. We motor sailed down to the open bay which we could see from Staniel, although we had to go way off shore and around Harvey Cay to avoid the shallow reefs. We anchored in good sand in about 12 feet of water between the two charted docks, the Government Dock and the little dock at Rockside Laundry.  I have already described the doing laundry and fetching water in the previous post.  Our first visit lasted just for a few hours as we had to rush back to SCYC to participate in the Pirate Party that evening.  During our second trip to Black Point, we sailed in to the anchorage and anchored under sail because the engine was overheating.  We had the same chores and having completed those chores, we walked over to Lorraine’s Café for some lunch and World Wide Web.  We have found that many out-island business cater to so few customers that it is not unusual for the shopkeeper, cook or landlord to be out and about.  We all carry VHF radios, and give them a public shout-out on channel 16. While sitting in Lorraine’s Café all alone, we’ll radio her…“Lorraine’s Café, Lorraine’s Café, This is Bentaña, Are you open for lunch? Over” Lorraine might answer and change from 16, the hailing channel to a vacant working channel. Anyway Lorraine showed up and we asked if the kitchen was open and she said did we want to eat. She gave us the Computer password and an hour later we had our cheeseburgers and fries.  The internet was about as slow as the food service.  Lorraine said come back in the morning, the connection will be better. We were kind of tired and so we returned to the boat for a well deserved sleep.
The next morning (actually days later, but I have condensed all of our Black Point visits in to a single thread for the sake of simplicity and mostly because they have blended together in my mind,) after a good shipboard breakfast we went to explore Black Point and retry the internet. As we prepared to get in the dinghy, a remora appeared resting under Bentaña. I had trimmed some fuzzy cheese and threw the moldy bits at the fish.  We saw that there were two, and they seemed to like green cheddar. I got some nice video footage and I’m told its good luck to have remoras hanging around. And so ashore we went.
 A hand stenciled sign at the government dock says, “Cruisers don’t miss the Garden of Eden.” The cruising guide mentioned this roadside attraction as well, so we were off to find it. Just a the end of the government dock road was “More Fire” a “C” Class Bahama sloop lying on its side waiting for the next regatta.  This is also the location of the trash trailer and the water spigot. On the way down the road, we met Samuel and his wife sitting in the shade at the side of their home plaiting palm leaves into long strips which they sell to the shops in Nassau where they are turned into “straw” bags and other island souvenirs. I asked if I could take their picture and Samuel said “it was OK, Friends had told him they saw him on Facebook.  His wife was camera shy and he didn’t want the photo published.  (The so-called “straw” is actually very strong palmetto leaf fibers which resist the elements. They are used as thatching on gazebos and beach and picnic umbrellas. Presumably they used them on houses in the past. When woven, they serve as mats, bags, wall coverings and room dividers) 
We passed a shed with a “supermarket” sign, it was closed, but I could see a bin of potatoes inside.  A little farther down the road was “Adderley’s Friendly Market” a more well stocked vendor with multiple side business, cottage rental, golf cart rental and straw market. The grounds were well kept with lots of potted plants, cave drippings and the ubiquitous net floats that wash up on the beaches. Adderley’s is a cross the street from Deshamone’s, the other restaurant offering free Wi-Fi.  We stopped there on our way back.
A little way down the road we found another Wi-Fi hot-spot at Scorpio’s with happy hour and dominos (indoors or out,) as their attractions.  Nearby in the side yard was a sloop in the building stage and I took some photos. It looked like the work was stopped in mid-stream, not uncommon here.  I was told they were waiting for additional wood for planking. The ribs and other curved members are usually made of local wood which is very tough, and is found already pre-shaped on the stump, as straight thick trees are a rarity here. There unexpectedly was a huge cactus in the front yard. Across the street was the very neat All-Ages School.  The schools welcome volunteer help from the cruising community, as government resources barely (rarely) trickle down to the family islands. What else is new?? Text books are not supplied and any sources are appreciated.  We met cruisers on “Spartina” and “Samana” working through “the Seven Seas Cruising Association,” delivering cartons of books donated by a Florida School district. They had carried them and delivered them to the schools by sail boat from the United States. The school kids like their parents are friendly and polite. They wear uniforms and “Dickies” seems to be a prestige label. I’ve been told by American educators that the school standards are high.
Just after Scorpios and the School is what looks like a generic concession stand, where we meet “Cookie” the telephone guy. He’s on break enjoying the seat in the shade. We ask him about the structure, which he tells us is used to serve beer and food during the regatta.  We have seen several similar structures around, and we come to learn that the regattas coincide with island homecoming, on whichever island they may be held. With little work on many of these “Family Islands,” most of the population goes off to the big cities like Nassau or Freeport to work, and send money and goods back to the family.  The regatta is the excuse for everyone to come home and be with family.  It’s also a darn good reason to party and the population swells as cousins and nieces, uncles and friends get together back home.
I ask “Cookie” about the pallet of shrink wrapped phone books on the government dock.  At Staniel, I calculated six hundred books on a pallet.  He said there were about a hundred and twenty five phones on the island, but BTC (Formerly BaTelCo, nee Bahamas Telephone Company) has no clue about the islands.  I suppose that a pallet is the smallest shipment they can make.  “Cookie” invited us to help ourselves, as the books were not home delivered, but available on a pick-up basis only, and there were bound to be left-overs.
Well “Cookie” returns to the phone company pickup truck with “no riders” on the door to continue servicing his customers, and we continue down the road toward the Garden of Eden.  Down the road we find Bertram Brown and his wife Varonice, sitting in the shade of the Gazebo in front of their home, plaiting straw for the market. Alongside, out in the hot sun, finished strips are drying and changing from the green pliable fibers to sturdy tan fabric. We stop for a chat, and unlike Samuel and wife, they welcome photos.  We talked about plaiting and gardening.  The radio was turned to “Rush Limbaugh,” which they said they “got a kick out of.” I walked around their garden which provides them with their pumpkin, corn and pigeon peas, the traditional Native American agricultural triad. The staple carbohydrate in the diet is “Peas n’ Rice” with the pigeon peas as the legume of choice.  Most restaurants have supplanted them with French fries. The garden was more rock than soil, but it kind of worked. After all, these are desert islands. After our nice meet and greet in the shade, they point us further down the road to the Garden of Eden.
We round the bend at Regatta Point where there is another concession stand and pavilion. It has a lovely view of the banks where sloops from many of the family islands will soon gather on the racing circuit. A little ways further there is a deep sink hole with banana trees enjoying the little moisture and shade that it can provide. We pass more houses, some neat and trim and some storm wrecked and in ruin. Next to what looks like a very fine house by Black Point standards is the garden for which we trecked out here. A hand stenciled sign on an unregistered car part was the clue.  Sort of next to and behind the lovely house was a collection of drift wood and coral pieces in a dry-park setting.  This was clearly a fusion of “Ojets Trouve” and “Outsider Art.” The whimsical sculptural collages were lots of fun and were clearly something to see. Deeper into the garden we found the home of the artist, and the more productive and “Gardeny” part. Willy Rolle was off-island at a job, but the potholes around his home are a marvel of productivity.  His wife, a sweet barefoot woman in a red headcovering and jeans invited us to look around.  She is troubled with vision problems, and the doctors in Florida have been unable to help her much. After Judy and I walked around a bit marveling at the variety of fruits and shrubs, she came out and was naming the dozens of fruits.  Most of them I had never seen or heard of before.  Many of them are exotic even to this place, as Willie has collected the varieties himself through friends and admirers.
Mrs. Rolle returned to her kitchen which was exuding delightful aromas and we bid her fare well and promised to pray for her vision and headed back towards our boat.  On our return along the same road we met George, sitting in front of his simple pink home with the trellised porch.  George was happy to talk to by passers, and he told us how he had worked in the US “on contract,” which apparently is how we used to get migrant labor. He picked fruits and vegetables in many states, and is now at home enjoying retirement. I ask to have a photo with him and he goes inside to ask his family to join him.  He returns alone and says they are busy watching “Jerry Springer.” Well G-d Bless the American Media, Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Springer together on this lonely outpost of humankind. It makes me PROUD TO BE AMERKIN.
Back at De Shamone’s, it’s time for a comfy seat, a cold drink and some internet. Judy has a Kalik and I order Vita-Malt, a Non Alcoholic barley beverage with purported health benefits. The internet connection is faster than most and we are able to Skype with Judy’s parents.  We’ve ordered a snack of cracked conch. Prepared from sliced and pounded conch, dredged in seasoned cracker meal (hence the name) and delicately deep fried. Tasty and delicious.
While making good web progress, other cruisers pass by and cruise in.  “How’s the server?”they ask.  “It’s kind of okay, just now,” we quietly respond. We know if more cruisers go on line, the server will slow down, but who are we to deprive fellow travelers the manna of free net. Or as the sign at the bar in the SCYC says, “What’s your hurry, you’re here!” So, “here” we met a couple of net surfers with their sweet puppy. They are Paul and Mary.  I ask if the dog is Peter. “No, she’s Jasmine, or Jazzy for short.  But if we get another dog, that’s a good suggestion,” they add as if I’m not the first to ask. Their boat is “Merry Sea” and we’ve heard the name on the VHF for a while, and now we can put faces to the boat name. We like them instantly and offer to share rum with them on Bentaña “when the sun goes below the yardarm.”
As previously mentioned, we had the engine overheating and had to figure out the reason why.  We had already changed the heat exchanger.  In our investigation we found that the elbow between the raw water cooling pump and the heat exchanger had a hole in it, which we discovered when we started her up and the engine compartment filled up with steam and caused all sorts of side effects.
The next morning, Paul from Merry Sea stopped by to see how he could help. We had already changed the elbow and discovered that the raw water pump had a slow drip leak.  Paul recommended that we replace it because once they start to leak, they often fail quite quickly.  Well, he was right, because by that night we had a stream coming out of the pump into the bilge and were awakened in the middle of the night with the bilge high water alarm going off!  So we decided to return to the Staniel Cay area, ordered a new water pump and awaited its arrival by Watermaker Air.
Our third trip to Black Point was with Merry Sea. We needed to do laundry, get water and use the internet but we were only 2/3 successful.  The settlement’s water main had broken during the night and all the water was gone from the storage tanks.  The Laundromat has its own storage tanks, so we were able to do our laundry, but the people who arrived after us were out of luck.  We also had the pleasure of joining up with two of the boats that had come on the Caribbean 1500 to Marsh Harbour.  Kate and Bernie (our leaders) on Mahalo were there as well as Hank and Ellen from La Belle Helene.  We also met Mike and Mary from Braveheart, Susan and Forrest from Rejoice! and Stu and Chuck from Long Gone.  We also met Sharon and Bob on Shazaa who shared some kitty litter with us so that Mary would not have to use all beach sand in her litter pan….We had lots of social time and internet time and were able to Skype with our friends Basil and Danielle on Scrimshaw, our friend Rene’ and my parents.   Technology sure is wonderful!!
We headed back to the Staniel Cay area to pick up our kitty’s special order of Kitty litter and then we would head for points south.
 …But that’s for another day.

Welcome to Black Point!

C Class "More Fire"

The water spigot

Trach trailer

The best laundramat in the Bahamas! Ballast and pry boards in the foreground.

boat skeleton

Consession stand with "Cookie" resting in the shade

Bertram and Varonice Brown plaiting

The Brown's garden

Regatta Point

Banana pit

Welcome to the Garden of Eden!

Driftwood sculpture

Steph hefting fish net balls

fishnet float (they are found everywhere)

Pothole gardening

Gardening on the moon

Mrs. Rolle chatting with Judy

Steph and George
  We are having trouble with the internet at the moment so the rest of the photos will be posted at a later date.

Meeting up with friends from the recent past at Lorraine's Cafe

1 comment: