Our first few days in the Bahamas have been, as hoped, relaxing and pleasurable. We arrived at the Bluff House Marina docks last Wednesday at 1:00 and were greeted by Johnnie, the Arc Bahamas coordinator, and Gwen, Richard’s wife. The docks are poorly designed so it took us ages to get the boat properly tied up to the fixed short finger dock and rear pilings…almost as big a challenge as our crossing!
Our initial trip to Customs was interesting. Johnnie took us in a golf cart, which is the main mode of transportation on Green Turtle Cay. It was a good 20 minute trip on dirt roads and, for the last stretch, badly eroded tarred road. I inhaled the warm breeze gleefully. The smell of dusty roads mixed with tropical flowers and herbs reminds me of my childhood in South Africa.
We entered the main island town of New Plymouth, a very authentic-feeling Bahamian community, with pastel-coloured homes, tiny island roads with formal-sounding names (like Parliament Street) and unpretentious stores. Steve was the only person allowed into the verandah-fronted customs office. As he disappeared inside, Johnnie, Paul and I went on a wander around town, admiring the little park of statues dedicated to the loyalist founding fathers (and a token founding woman and slave or two)!
We returned to find Steve still entrapped – filling out manual forms in triplicate while the officious woman jabbed her finger and gave him directives. We went to the little grocery store and bought bread and cold drinks. Prices of basic foods are astronomical here….we came fully stocked but that won’t last. Amusingly, there were several golf carts buzzing about putting up elaborate Christmas street decorations. It seemed strange to be listening to “Baby it’s cold outside” while eating blackened grouper in Harvey’s Grill, dressed in shorts and t-shirts in November.
Steve eventually finished and the customs officer closed her office, declaring it her lunch hour – from 2 – 3 pm. That is one thing we need to learn from these Bahamians i.e. “island time”. The bank is only open two days a week for a couple of hours. Most businesses were open 9 am to 3 or 4 pm with an hour or two lunch break!
Back at the Bluff House that evening, we met up with the crews of Galadriel and Turbo’s Tub, who had both made landfall a few hours after we did. We all enjoyed rounds of “Tranquil Turtles” during happy hour at the pool side bar, and then enjoyed our rally wrap-up dinner at the Bluff House restaurant. The food and company were great – I enjoyed the cracked conch. The prize giving was a bit of a non-event – the winner not being present at all. In fact the two boats who had blatantly disregarded the organizer’s advice and warnings by heading straight for the Abacos rather than wait in North Carolina for a system to pass, won the rally! They had been and come and gone by the time the rest of us “compliant” boats showed up. Disappointingly, it was not much of a rally. We tried to get in the spirit by raising our flags, and Johnnie tried his best to welcome all of us.
We spent the next few days in Green Turtle Cay on the Bluff House docks, spending time at the pool, on the beach, doing laundry, fixing up the boat and waving goodbye to crew and friends from otber boats. We took the dinghy into Black Sound and New Plymouth one day, visited an ocean reef beach, enjoyed drinks with friends on Galadriel, a stunning 54 foot Little Harbour sailboat, and ate out at the Green Turtle Club with friends on their reopening night (they sustained damage during Sandy).
The two resorts in White Sound, the Bluff House and Green Turtle Club are both pleasant and charming, not opulent or brash. It is currently their off-season so nothing is busy and they have good special deals for us early-birds. Green Turtle Club serves “Tipsy Turtles” which we enjoyed as much, or perhaps a little more than the tranquil variety!
One thing that’s very much in evidence her is damage from Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in the Abacos before taking off again for New Jersey and Staten Island. Uprooted palm trees, flotsam and sea weed on the beaches, boarded and damaged houses and boats blown over in the mangroves. Most disappointing of all was the murky turquoise colour of the sea….we had been looking forward to the legendary clarity of the water, with different hues providing a guide to shallow banks versus navigable channels. Instead we relied on our chartplotter entirely as the water was churned up and opaque. (See hurricane damage photos)
Ultimately we found Green Turtle Cay to be a charming stop-over. It has the feel of an authentic Bahamian island, a working community unspoilt by large-scale tourism. The little dirt roads, tropical flora, smell of fried plantain and conch from local café’s, chickens in the streets, all add to the charm. Sadly, we did not see any turtles for which the island is named. They have become scarce and the few remaining keep to the reefs well away from people. It is only a matter of time before conch becomes scarce too – there are no conservation guidelines and few regulations for fishing. However, I confess, I have been getting my fill of it while I can, rather than taking the moral high ground!
View our photo journal for Green Turtle Cay.