George Town/Long Island/Jumentos March 7 - 21, 2006

Click on the above thumbnail for a map of points visited during this time period.

Fun in George Town and off to explore the more remote islands...

We arrived back in George Town a few days into the annual Cruising Regatta.  We arrived just as the last sailboat race was over, but with five days remaining of other activities for the Regatta. 

Chuck was soon roped into becoming the fourth member of a team entered in the dinghy coconut gathering contest.  Talk about adult madness?   Each person can use (only) one scuba fin for propulsion (but feet may not be in the water).  Each contestant was required to wear a life jacket, but since most jackets would somewhat constrict arm motion, many were donned in rather unconventional configurations.  Some 800 coconuts were released in a cove off of Volleyball Beach, with some coconuts bearing special marks for extra points.   After they were all gathered, the number gathered by each team was counted.  The teams then competed in a series of four coconut-themed events.   Coconut bocce, coconut basketball, coconut bowling, and coconut pyramid building (points awarded for height).   Chuck's team gathered more than all others (101 coconuts), and did well enough in the other events to come in first overall, thereby awarding each member of the team a bottle of rum and a blue regatta flag.  Not bad, for a bunch of old farts.  (Many of the other teams were, um, somewhat younger.)

A couple of days later we both participated in a Scavenger Hunt.  There were six members per team and each team had to collect 30 things.  Our team had three dinghies between us, five hand held radios, and our GPSes.  We thought we were really prepared.  Unfortunately, the hunt didn't require much in the way of using a GPS, but did call for us to dinghy all over the George Town area to search for the items.  Many had to be collected from other cruisers, so we visited a lot of boats looking for things such as a purple bucket, a pink boogie board, a Regatta t-shirt from a specific previous year, a Thelma and Louise DVD, etc.  We also needed  exactly six (inflated) blue balloons, the names on a monument at the top of a very tall hill, the number of colors on a burger hut at the far end of Stocking Island, an old (specific issue) local newspaper, the time of church choir practices (from the church sign), a rubbing of a specific name (found eventually on the concrete sidewalk leading to the dinghy dock in George Town), the first three lines of Bahamian National Anthem, etc.  We worked hard and had fun, but didn't place.  A team of cruising teenagers who live in the area most of the year won the prize. 

A "variety show" was held the last evening.  It was a hoot!  Some of the participants were awesome.  A teenager sang "The Sound of Music", accompanied by another teenager playing a flute.  What a performance - Barb said it sent chills down her spine, and Chuck decided it was best not to publicly characterize his reaction.  Lots of fun comedy acts.  Lots of people singing and playing who had no talent, but apparently thought they did.   A few got the mike turned off when their act got interminable.  There was a lot of Bahamian talent too.  Some great dancing and gospel singing.  Everyone turned out for it even though the sea conditions were rotten.  The winds had been around 20 knots most of the week, so getting into town from any of the anchorages was a wet ordeal, topped only by the return trip into the waves.  We got totally soaked on our trip back to Tusen Takk II around 9:30 pm, where we paused on the back deck to hose off the salt water from ourselves and our foul weather gear, and left things there to dry.

The free wi-fi network that we and other cruisers had been using (by sitting on a bench that surrounded a large tree just outside the police station -- although we later learned the network was installed in the school across the street) was mid-regatta suddenly turned into a secure network.  No more free network!  That left only one other place in town (an electronic store) to get internet access.  Unfortunately, their connection was severely overloaded by the hordes of cruisers crowded into the small shop -- some at provided stations, some seated on folding chairs with laptops living up to their name, some standing with their computers perched on a counter or a pile of big boxes (TVs for sale) or a counter-top display of for-sale CDs.  So some days we didn't even try to connect.  With 10 to 20 other folks trying to surf the web, response was not just molasses-slow, it was molasses-in-North Dakota-on-a-winter-day-slow. Lots of cruisers seem to be now using Skype (which uses the internet to provide phone service), but it was so slow from the store that it was mostly unusable.  We suspect there will be major improvements to internet access by next year and someone will have figured out that a lot of money can be made from it.  Instead of $3 a day, it will probably be $10 or $15.

The weather finally cleared up (the wind died down) and we headed to Long Island.  It is aptly named as it is 89 miles long, but only a mile or so wide.  We considered riding our bikes on the island but ended up renting a car so we could see more of the island.  The first day we drove to the southern end, had lunch at a Bahamian-style lunch stand, and took photos of the beautiful churches designed by Father Jerome in the 1800s.  He was a trained architect who became an Anglican priest and who redesigned the churches on several of the Bahamian islands, replacing wooden structures with structures that could withstand hurricanes.  He was a great architect as you can see from the striking churches we photographed.  We stopped at a blue hole -- a spot in an island or sometimes in the ocean that is very deep.  This one -- Deans Blue Hole -- is right on the edge, with surf just to the south but road access right up to a small ridge on the west.  Plod through the ankle-deep white sand over that ridge, and wow!  Spectacular sight, with the high cliffs to the north and the surf to the south, and the pale blue of the submerged sand falling quickly to the deep deep blue of waters 660 feet deep.  One of our guide books says a team of divers in 1992 discovered that the blue hole opens up into a vast (over 4,000 feet) underwater cavern.  We were not tempted to fetch the scuba gear to duplicate their feat:  it takes an eleven-minute descent to get there, and staying no longer than two minutes commits you to five hours of decompression.  No thanks.

When we returned to the anchorage that evening our sailboat friends had arrived and we joined them for dinner at the local hot spot - the Thompson Bay Club.  Family-style meal, followed by many games of pool on the single pool table, where Barb and Dan, of Quixotic, formed a team that went undefeated through a series of challenges from teams of other cruisers and locals alike.  Barb started out strong, maybe because she had drunk less at that point, maybe because she was initially more relaxed, maybe because lady luck was whispering in her ear, who knows?   As her game began to deteriorate a little, lady luck began to heckle the opponents, and so Barb and Dan continued to win, sometimes by dint of Dan doing so well, sometimes because the other team prematurely sunk the eight ball, etc.  To get to the Club we had to dinghy to the beach and walk on a narrow path through the woods and then a quarter mile on the road.  It was no problem getting there, but more of a challenge getting back in the dark after several drinks. To make matters more challenging, we were hit with a sudden and unexpected shower just as we were halfway back to our boat.  No foul weather gear to don on this occasion.  We have seen so little rain that we didn't mind -- it was only a little chilly and we hoped it was washing some of the salt off the boat.  What a fun evening! 

The next day we drove to the end of the paved road at the north end of the island with Dan, Denise and Kelby from Quixotic and then walked almost two miles to the Christopher Columbus Monument.  It is believed that Columbus stopped in the Bahamas during his discovery of the Americas and some believe Long Island was his first stop. 

The guidebooks describe the island as being somewhat unique;  the locals are exceptionally industrious and self-reliant and friendly.  We concur;  walk down the main and unusually unlittered north-south highway -- Queens Highway in name -- and you are sure to be offered a ride by a local.  Sit at "Burgers and Beer" for awhile (and it will be "awhile" if you order burgers), and if there is a local there, consuming multiple Heinekens, you are sure to strike up a friendly and informative conversation that will lead to him running to his car to get a bag of fruit he had picked (for whom?) to present to you.  Sweet oranges and "sour oranges", described as created by grafting lemons to orange trees (or was it vice versa?) and good for squeezing onto fish or conch as a marinade.  We split our good fortune with the crew from Quixotic.

Because the island is so long and is mostly north to south, there are few reefs on the west side of it.  Thus, we left Long Island and headed to the Jumentos (AKA Ragged Islands).  The Jumentos are a remote chain of scrubby small, low, narrow islands southwest of the Exumas with only one settlement (at the southern end of the chain, which is closer to Cuba than to George Town).  No nearby supplies along the isolated chain.  No fuel.  No spare parts.  No water.  No nearby help if something goes wrong or someone gets hurt.   So why go here?   The adventure, in general, and more specifically, the hunting for fish and/or lobster.   This wild corner of the Bahamas is like the Bahamas of old, featuring uncrowded anchorages and reefs teaming with fish and lobster.  There is a remarkable cave just south of the anchorage at Flamingo Cay, a cave that easily rivals the famous Thunderball cave at Staniel Cay.  But whereas Thunderball is seen and known by many, the cave at Flamingo is seen by only a few.  There were also many productive dinghy trips out to the reefs for hunting expeditions on snorkel.  Jesse, of "Contented Turtle", was particularly successful.  But this is his third year of hunting.  Chuck can only hope to be as proficient in as little time.   After one particularly successful hunt, the anchorage had a pot luck on the beach, featuring variously prepared Hog Fish as the main entree, many delicious side dishes, and a reprisal of George Town talent show acts featuring youngsters from Quixotic, Contented Turtle, and Seaesta.

Another wild aspect of this area is the large number of sharks.  Every afternoon and early evening we saw large dark shapes in the clear water.   The first time Chuck saw one, it was so wide he thought it was a ray.  But a quick look off the swim platform through the glass-bottom bucket revealed a huge bull shark.   Presumably, they were attracted by the juices that dripped down from our on-board fish-cleaning efforts, even though we deliberately saved the waste parts in a bucket and took them by dinghy far away from the vessels to dump.

On 3/21 we reluctantly realized that if we were to stop at some of the places in the Exuma chain that we had missed on our trip south and if we were to return to Stuart, FL by the middle of April, we needed to turn around.  And so we said a sad farewell to our friends in the Flamingo Cay anchorage and headed back north.  As we were leaving at about nine o'clock in the morning, we learned on the VHF radio that the hunting parties of our friends had been chased out of the water by bull sharks!   We subsequently learned (via SSB) that as we made our way back up to George Town, they pulled anchor and made their way down to the next sizable island further south in the Jumentos (Jamaica Cay), where they again had great luck hunting.  In an earlier article, we contrasted Long Island with George Town.   But we now know that the Bahamas are not a coin, with only two sides, but rather some Platonic solid with many faces.  The memory of the "feel" of those remote islands will always be treasured, and whets our appetite for further exploration of places gloriously remote and outrageously beautiful.

Dinner on sailboat Quixotic with chef Dan and Denise

Chuck getting ready for Coconut Gathering event (notice required life jacket around his bottom)

Race is on (notice how far out his team already is - in the far red dinghy)

Team that found the pink coconut

Chuck's team arriving back on shore

Counting coconuts (they collected 101 of 800)

His team in the process of creating the highest coconut pyramid

Winning team - received a blue regatta pennant and bottle of rum

His team presented with grand prize - coconut art (presented by artist)

Tusen Takk at Long Island

Blue hole on Long Island

Churches designed and built by Father Jerome to withstand hurricanes (rebuilt churches that were wooden)

Another Father Jerome church on Long Island

Another Father Jerome Church

And another

Dinner at Thompson Bay Club

Columbus Monument on north end of Long Island (we walked almost two miles to see it)

Denise climbing to monument

Kelby and Dan checking out cliff at Monument

Chuck and Barb at Columbus Monument

Lunch at Burgers and Beers on Long Island

Drive in cave at Flamingo Cay in Jumentos

Hunters from S/V Contented Turtle and Diva showing off their catch in Jumentos

Beach potluck in Jumentos

Boys doing a Harry Potter skit after Potluck dinner

Watching skits on beach

Enjoying other skits

Kelby doing impersonations of various women - a hoot!

Gathering wood for beach bonfire

Sunset in Jumentos