We are back in George Town after a wonderful five-day side trip to Long Island, with our friends Paul and Mary aboard Tai Chi. The weather forecast in advance called for strong 20-25 knot winds from the East, curtailing our plans to go first to Conception Island – a park island with little protection from these winds and ocean surges. The anchorage at Thompson Bay, Long Island, was quite protected and the strong winds meant that our wind generator and solar power managed to maintain our battery-charge better than usual and keep our engine-running down to a bare minimum. Despite the strong winds and a rude boater who yelled at us on Channel 16 when we anchored nearby initially, we had a delightful sojourn in Long Island. It was memorable in several ways:
- We had an amazing “Blue Planet” experience when we rented a car for a day and explored the island, including Hamiltons caves, Dean’s Blue Hole and the Columbus monument.
- It’s the furthest point south that we will go on this journey.
- Our return trip yesterday was the first time that we have retraced/reversed our route since leaving Toronto last June.
Paul and Mary have sailed enough, both with us and on other charters, to tolerate well the cruising realities of close-quarter living, marine head issues, wet dinghy rides, careful water and electricity rationing. Before we get into the good part of the adventure, I need to temper the account of our life in paradise with a little of the gritty realities! We have been having issues with our marine toilet aka the head, and fixed two of these issues by replacing the flapper and joker valve assembly with spare-parts, and gluing the broken head pump handle before Paul and Mary arrived. However, we still have a blocked external hose so can only use our holding tank. This would normally not be a problem, but the pump-out boat in George Town has been out of the water for repairs and there was no other facility since Emerald Bay where we last pumped out. (Update since our return to GT: The pump-out boat is now launched and operable – Halleluja!). So with no land loos nearby, and 4 people on board we were in imminent danger of holding tank overflow – not a happy prospect. Anyway, Claude and Marie had on board an unused manual holding tank whale pump, which they gave to us, and with Claude’s help Steve managed to get the appropriate fittings and hoses assembled before we left for Long Island. Then as soon as we were safely away from anchorages and habitations but still in calmish water, and Paul and Steve managed to pump out our head holding tank. You have no idea how delighted we were to see a steady brown streak of S#$% in our wake! Whew…or more appropriately, phew! Buckets of salt water were needed on deck to clean away the remnants of that unsavoury task.
Back to Long Island! There were about 10 other boats anchored in Thompson Bay when we got there. On our first day we took the long (very wet , windy and bumpy) dinghy ride into the Long Island Breeze Resort in nearby Salt Pond. Jackie and Mike are the proprietors of this cruiser-friendly resort, which has a good restaurant, cruiser-lounge, free wifi (if you’re eating there), book exchange, showers and laundry (at a fee).
Their place is one reason Thompson Bay is a favoured anchorage among cruisers visiting Long Island, and Mike even hosts the morning cruisers net. We had great grilled grouper sandwiches and fries on the balcony, accessed internet for banking and correspondence, and checked out the local “Hardings Supply Center” which sold groceries, hardware, kitchen-ware, stationery and more! However, it being between biweekly mail boat visits, there was no fresh milk or bread – a common tale in the Bahamas. We dropped our garbage in the dumpster, picked up dinghy gas and water at nearby Long Island Petroleum, and left our propane tank to be refilled at the LI Breeze the next day.
So to our Blue Planet experience. Paul had made arrangements the previous day to rent a car from Fox’s Auto. We were up and packed up early and tied up by 8:40 am at the Fox’s Auto dock, half way between the anchorage and the government dock at Salt Pond. We picked up the car with no fuss and drove south down the Queen’s Highway which runs down the length of Long Island (which has the most settlements in the Exumas).
We headed first for Hamitons, where we had arranged with Leonard Cartwright for a tour of the caves, which are on his property. We followed him a short distance to the mouth of the cave where he handed each of us a flashlight. We did not realize what a treat we were in for. The caves were unspoilt and more extensive than we expected. Leonard was a great guide – very knowledgeable and friendly.
We followed him through the caves as he pointed our various formations of stalactites and stalagmites, some early Lucayan Indian markings, 19th century settler/explorer writing, 4 species of bats, and a fowl snake of the boa family – which made me much more diligent about shining my flashlight in front of me before proceeding! The caves had also been used as a hurricane shelter by some of Leonard’s ancestors, and he had played in them as a child. Leonard had been excavating bat guano for fertilizing his little vegetable garden, and had also done some amateur excavating for artifacts, finding bones and bits of pottery. In general the caves were the most extensive ‘undeveloped’ ones we have visited – no tourist trappings, artificial lighting or gift shop. See our other photos by clicking the link at the bottom of the blog.
We drove on south a few miles turning left off the Queen’s Highway along a non-maintained side road built by a now defunct and “for sale” tourist real estate and resort complex (another common tale of woe in the Bahamas). A little further, a fallen down sign at a fork by a smaller beach track pointed us to the nearby Dean’s Blue Hole. Once again, this undeveloped natural treasure was astounding. Sheltered in the lee of a limestone curved cliff, with a white sand beach stretching away from it is the largest and deepest blue hole in the world. The pristine white sand beach falls away steeply from the shore, plunging to a depth of 663 feet, with a large underwater cavern below. There is a diving platform in the middle anchored to the edge, and a few people with free diving and snorkeling there when we arrived. In fact this is a world centre for free diving (there are several different forms of free diving) and the world free diving record has been set here.
I climbed the path up to the cliff for a better view and we all snorkelled the hole. Besides a good diversity of reef fish, the hole itself was a truly amazing snorkeling experience, seeing the white sand edges drop so suddenly to a deep, deep blue seeming bottomless pit. The cliff edges underwater provides a reef wall. Although nothing is as colourful or diverse as some of the snorkeling grounds in the BVI’s. this one was unique. It was a good opportunity for us to try out Steve’s new little Lumix underwater “tough” point-and-shoot camera. Since a picture tells a thousand words, check out more photos of the blue hole here.
We had lunch in Clarence Town, a pretty little harbour with not much to do or see, currently providing shelter to several sailboats en route to the DR and Caribbean, stuck here due to the consistently strong winds which are showing no sign of abating. We had grilled wahoo and cracked conch at the Edgewater Bar at the Flying Fish Marina. Clarence Town does have two pretty white churches, both designed and built by the John Hawes in the early 20th Century, when he converted to Catholicism after building the Anglican Church. One of them seemed to be getting a new room and general overhaul.
We then headed back on the Queen’s Highway. Other than stopping briefly for supplies and groceries, we travelled the full length of Long Island, to a very rough dirt trail leading to the Columbus Monument at Cape Santa Maria. After a couple of miles the track deteriorated so much that it became unpassable in our rented car, so we pulled over to one side and went the rest of the way (about a mile) on foot. The view from the top of the hill on which the Columbus Monument (and a navigation light) stands was worth the effort. We marveled at how little the area/view must have changed since Columbus himself came ashore….it really is very undeveloped and unspoilt.
The sun was setting as we went back down the island in search of the Adderley Plantation ruins in Stella Maris. We found the sign leading to another very rough dirt, but we saw no ruins. Local knowledge required, I guess….or perhaps the remains have now blown away in the series of hurricanes which have hit the Bahamas annually in recent years.
The rest of our list of things to do remained unchecked as the sun set. However, we had so enjoyed the amazing experiences of the day that we were not disappointed, and happy to head back to the boat for a light, late dinner under the stars.
We headed back to George Town on Friday. The wind had barely moderated but it was all from the East, making for a pleasant downwind jib only sail – my favourite kind! A quick and uneventful trip, though it got a little rolly through the reefs near the cut after lunch. We dropped our hook very near our old spot, next to La Toison D’Or – a happy reunion when they came over for home-made pizza on Tai Chi. Lots of new boats have now arrived in George Town (there are about 150 boats anchored here now) and the Monument anchorage seems to be the most popular this year so it is quite packed.
The most exciting news is that, while we were in Long Island, our buddy boat, La Toison D’or was selected to do a Superbowl commercial, advertising tourism in the Bahamas. So exciting! They will need to go up to Children’s Cay for the shoot, and will have a couple of cameramen with them as they head there – not too far from us through Rat Cay cut just north of Great Exuma. They said that it was a good thing we were away at the time or Tai Chi might have been chosen over them! We are happy for them.
P.S. For those of you who are wondering, wifi is scarce down here – hence less frequent blogging!
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