Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Would Anyone Leave This Place? Hope Town, Abaco

The iconic Hope Town Light House

Hope Town on Elbow Cay, Abaco is a wonderful place to spend some time on a mooring ball. Most visitors and the boaters will climb the old light house, walk the beautiful beaches, stroll the quaint narrows streets, shop, or dine out at one of the restaurants in Hope Town. Some might visit the museum to see the artifacts from 230 years of continuous habitation.

 Rainbow over the mooring field

This beach is not as famous at Harbour Island but looks just as pink to me

White Pepper, however, chose to go the pool every afternoon for a pool party for eight straight days. Thanks to the gracious toleration of the Hope Town Inn and Marina the boaters would gather in mid afternoon and while away the time till sunset telling tall tales, trading maintenance tips, and playing games such as Mexican Trail dominoes or Sequence. The ladies would work on their straw baskets while the guys would lounge in the pool. Everyone would bring an hor d orvers and for some reason the resort allowed us to bring our own drinks. All we had to do was clean up when we left.

 Most afternoons the ladies brought food

Peeing in the pool not allowed guys

The situation was so favorable that it brings up the question, “Why would anyone leave this place?” Sadly, having run out of money, spending most of it on mooring ball rent, rum and cheese, White Pepper had to depart for Marsh Harbor, Abaco to look for an ATM machine, fresh fruit and vegetables. I can't wait to go back.

Little Harbor, Great Abaco

The passage from Royal Island to Great Abaco is rather long, about 50 nautical miles. Since White Pepper tries to wait for mild weather we usually have to motor or motor sail.  The trip in 2015 was pleasant.  I caught a small fish.  It was probably a grouper of some kind and should not have been out in these deep waters.  It did taste very good, however.

Small fish, big appetite

After the passage most boats go to Little Harbor or Linyard Cay.  We have had good luck ducking in behind Tom Curry Point.  Tom Curry Point is a lightly protected part of the Bight of Old Robinson.  In settled weather it is a good alternative to Little Harbor which can be hot and buggy as well as requiring a mooring ball.  This year we got nailed with a swell that made the anchorage quite rolly.  White Pepper was glad to leave after two nights, not having been able to sleep after midnight of the second night when a big swell set in from a distant Atlantic gale.

We stayed the second night in order to dingy into Little Harbor which has become quite a tourist attraction.  As faithful readers of this blog will remember Little Harbor was the home of famous sculptor Randolf Johnston.  He took his family from New England where he had been an art professor at Smith College to the Bahamas in an old sailboat in the 1950's.  After a short stay at Black Point they all moved to Little Harbor where Mr. Johnston  built a foundry and resumed his sculpting.  He became quite well known for his nature sculptures.

Currently Little Harbor is in the middle of a controversy about developing a private marina and housing development.  The locals are vigorously opposed.  White Pepper did not see anything amiss and wondered what all the fuss was about.  Regardless if this development follows the usually Bahamian trajectory nothing much will happen.

Back in Little Harbor itself little has changed except that the prices have gone way up. I understand that the grandchildren are now in charge of the foundry that still operates in Little Harbor. Reproductions of Mr. Johnston's sculptures are priced between $8,000 and $32,000. Beer at Pete's Pub is $5.50.  (Pete is Randolf's son.) Hamburger's are $12.  Most of the visitors to Little Harbor do not seem to care about the price.  Jan did get a good picture of one of Mr. Johnston's sculptures in a natural setting on the hill above Pete's Pub.

Sculpture by Randolf Johnston

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spanish Wells

Little has changed at Spanish Wells since White Pepper last visited in 2008.  The fishermen are richer than ever and the the town quite prosperous.  The only news is that Spanish Wells gave up its no alcohol policy and there is a liquor store and several restaurants sell drinks.
White Pepper picked up a mooring ball in the small mooring field at the eastern entrance to the harbor.  We were only a hundred feet from the spot we occupied in 2008.

The path from Hachet Bay to Spanish Wells leads through Current Cut.  Currents at the full or new moon can exceed 6 knots here.  One guide book states that slack water here is 2 hours after Nassau high tide.  White Pepper was a half hour late and still felt currents of 2 or 3 knots. However, the transit was uneventful.
Current Cut from the West

The new liquor store and backyard bar is called Bubba's.  It is on 12th Street.  Most of the boater's hang out there.  There is also a new upscale restaurant at Shipyard Point that also serves drinks.  It has a spectacular view.  Regrettably, these pictures are locked up in the Olympus.


On this trip Jan and I discovered a wonderful beach that we somehow missed on the first trip.  It faces north towards the Atlantic and dense fringing reef. This is residential property and undeveloped.  The locals see no need for beach bars and tee shirt shops as long a the fishing remains so lucrative.

Spanish Wells Beach

From Spanish Wells White Pepper headed for nearby Royal Island to stage for the trip to Little Harbor on Great Abaco.  There is little to say about Royal.  The promising development that we saw 7 years ago remains moribund.  There is no place to go ashore.  It is, however, a great anchorage and transit stop for coming and going to Spanish Wells.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mooring Balls at Hatchet Bay

Entrance into Hatchet Bay

Hachet Bay in northern Eleuthra bills itself as the “safest harbor in the world,” except that it is not. It could be so with adequate mooring balls and here in lies the conflict.

Hachet Bay was originally an inland lake. An entrance to the Exuma Sound was dynamited out in the early 20th century to make a harbor for a cattle ranch nearby. The cattle ranch is long ago defunct, but a wonderful 90 foot wide by 10 foot deep channel provides entrance into 360 degree protection. The problem is that the holding is described in one guide book as “feeble” and that the bottom is foul with debris from numerous wrecks. Indeed, Jan saw a water heater on lying on the bottom while on a kayak trip.

The solution is mooring balls. Several were installed by the government and were essentially free; in that no one was available to collected the nominal rent.

The local government of Alice Town has declined to intercede due to liability issues. However, this year (2015) a local restaurant, the Front Porch, has taken over control of the mooring balls and has started charging rents.

The rest of the story is courtesy of Francis, an employee of the Front Porch. He is obviously an interested party. He told us that the decision to take over the mooring balls was done with little forethought. No one considered the issues of maintenance. Gradually it dawned on the Front Porch that something had to be done beyond mere collections.

According to Francis, the mooring balls in the western part of Hachet Bay are worthless and should not be trusted. Indeed he has collected a number of these
mooring balls from the mangrove swamps after storms. The several balls in the eastern part of the bay have been inspected and seems to be sturdy. They lack tag lines and are difficult to secure.

Francis assures me that improvements are planned. New moorings will be placed with appropriate foundations and lines. Existing moorings will be brought up to USA standards. Divers will do yearly maintenance. As in all of the Bahamas grandiose schemes abound, but few are ever brought to fruition. Time will tell about Hachet Ball.

White Pepper sincerely hopes that Francis and the Front Porch succeeds in installing numerous high quality mooring balls in Hachet Ball. If so it really would be one of the safest harbors in the world. There is room in here for 200 plus mooring balls. Most of these would likely go to boats interested in long term storage, esp. over the hurricane season. There is a good airport nearly, the Governor's Harbour Airport, built courtesy of the US military during the Cold War. If 200 yachts showed up a marine service industry would quickly evolve. All of this is a pipe dream of one man, but White Pepper completely endorses the idea.

Note added in July of 2017:  All of the mooring balls have rotted away. I am told that the anchors remain in place and can be used by diving down to thread a mooring line through the ring.  I spoke at length with a cruiser that spends all season at Hachet Bay and northern Eleuthra.  He gave Francis negative reviews. Regardless Hachet Bay is a good place to visit.  You just have to anchor with caution.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Rock Sound 2015

White Pepper has written about Light House Beach and Harbour Island, but what about Rock Sound? We spent 8 days there celebrating the Easter holiday and the homecoming festival.

Rock Sound, Eleuthra, has so much to offer the boater. There is almost 360 degree protection. The anchoring is secure in 8 to 10 feet of tenacious sand.
Fuel and good groceries are readily available. There is a bank, restaurant, and liquor store within easy walking distance. A very good doctor attends at the local clinic. It would be easy to spend weeks here.

Within Rock Sound itself there is less good news. Many buildings and homes are well kept. Many others are derelict, the inhabitants having gone to Nassau or to the graveyard. There are a number of other interesting buildings which appear derelict, but are actually inhabited by illegal Haitian refugees. Bahamians regard Haitians with suspicion, but possibly these immigrants will reinvigorate Rock Sound. Tourism is far away. There is no industry here. Agriculture has been abandoned. Fishing is difficult considering the population pressure. Regardless Rock Sound has many natural advantages, and with proper guidance prosperity should be possible.

One of Rock Sound's natural advantages is the Ocean Hole. It is a land based blue hole that rivals Dean's Blue Hole in depth, size and beauty. The town has created a park around this hole that is peaceful, refreshing, and beautiful. A mile and a half away there is a marvelous ocean beach that is much under utilized.

The Easter homecoming was both festive and poignant. Many natives return annually to celebrate Rock Sound. The music is very loud and lasts well into the early morning. Hugs and “how are you”s are the norm. Easter Monday is a particularly English holiday that is scrupulously celebrated in the Bahamas. Since nothing is going on and no stores are open it is a true day of rest. But by Tuesday morning everybody is gone, having returned to Nassau or wherever.

White Pepper left Rock Sound with deeply mixed emotions. We were pleased to have spent such a marvelous week here. There was a sense of mission accomplished having fulfilled a promise made long ago to visit for Easter. Hopefully, White Pepper will be able to come for many future Easter weekends. However, for now it is off to northern Eleuthra and more adventures.

Harbour Island by Car

Paula and Don, our Bahamian hosts, took us and other guests, Paul and Maxine from Yorkshire, England, on a car tour of northern Eleuthra on Easter Sunday. We made all of the stops—Tarpum Bay, Governor's Harbour, James Cistern, and the amazing Glass Window. The bridge over the Glass Window looks pretty rickety, and I will bet will fall down again soon. Until it does, however, the view is spectacular with the deep blue of the Atlantic to the north and the turquoise of the banks to the south. These two bodies of water mixed together 200 feet underneath a one lane bridge.

The high light of the day was Harbour Island. We took a right turn off the Queen's Highway at Lower Bogue settlement and soon passed the Harbour Island airport. We got a glimpse of what Harbour Island is all about from the sight of at least a dozen large private jets as well as several dozen smaller jets and planes. Then we stopped at a parking lot and walked to Three Island Dock which provides small private ferries (for $5 fee) to Harbour Island. I assume that even the richest and most famous have to sit in these humble launches for the 5 minute ride across the small sound to Dunmore Town, which is the only town on Harbour Island.

Let me say that Harbour Island is a cross between Manhattan and Hope Town. It certainly does not appeal to everyone, but it is a unique community in the Bahamas. The town itself is much like Hope Town, Abacos with the old wooden buildings all stuck together, high pitched roofs and narrow streets. Districts in London must have looked similar 250 years ago.

But the people, shops, foods, and most of all the prices are straight out of today's New York City. Paula and Don wanted to show us something different so off we went on the golf cart to the Pick Sands Hotel and the Blue Bar for lunch overlooking the famous pink sand beach. There are other pink sand beaches on Eleuthra, but Harbour Island is the only one the public visits. The Pink Sands Hotel is a world class 5 star resort. The Blue Bar, however, is an ordinary beach bar/restaurant with prices meant solely to keep out riffraff (like us?). The view from the Blue Bar is magnificent. There is the deep blue Atlantic Ocean lapping up against a wide, flat beach of pink sand. The last little waves are actually pink, especially at low tide.

 Pink Sand between her toes

View from the Blue Bar

After lunch our party went down to spend a few hours on the beach itself. We helped ourselves to the hotels cabanas. After all hadn't we just had lunch with an 18% gratuity added and a 7.5% VAT (Bahamian sales tax) added. We did have the foresight to bring our own beer and water to the beach. The beach is fabulous and everything it is advertised to be. The sand is not actually pink. It is white sand but mixed in with the sand are innumerable small grains of red coral and shell. The overall effect from a distance is pink. Jan and I took a long walk along the beach and could only marvel at the homes/mansions lining the beach. As we walked along at least 4 of those large private jets took off overhead.

Towards late afternoon we all packed back into the golf cart for a tour of the town. Then as a last treat we all went down to Valentine's Marina for a drink at the Rooster Bar. We watched the sun drop down over dozens of mega yachts. Most of the men at the bar seemed to be bored captains and crew of these boats. We watched a sports fisherman clean some the huge Wahoo fishes he had brought in.

Finally, it was back across the water and into the car for the 90 miles ride back to Rock Sound. We had another look at the Glass Window as the sun was setting.

All in all the day was quite a tasty little morsel of beauty and luxury. Thanks Paula and Don!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Light House Beach

White Pepper came to Rock Sound, Eleuthra to celebrate Easter and the Rock Sound Homecoming festival with Bahamian friends Prof. Don Maples and his wife Paula von Hamm. Paula is from Rock Sound although she and Don live in Freeport. We had met 4 years ago at the homecoming, and this reunion had been on the books for some time.

One day during our stay they drove us out to the Cape Eleuthra Club which is the new name for the marina at Powell Point. The scenery was exquisite with a 270 degree seascape. The service was leisurely even by Bahamian standards. After lunch we set out for the beach. Light House Beach is not just another beautiful Bahamas beach. It is one of the finest beaches I have ever seen! And I have seen a lot of beaches.. However, it is not easy to reach.

First pick up the Queen's Highway east of Green Castle and follow it south east as it bisects the long spine of South Eleuthra heading towards East End Point. This part of Eleuthra is about 10 miles long. Most of the land is deserted. Wemyss Bight is about the only settlement of note. The landscape is dry, thick scrub. Finally at the Bannerman Town city limits the the two lane black top turns right. You, however, continue straight along a narrow dirt trail full of ruts and tire busting rocks. The chart says it is only 2 miles long, but the road takes at least 30 minutes to travel. We passed three cars coming out. Each one said, “yes, this is the right road. The worst is yet to come, but it's worth it.” Finally, when it seemed that the rental car can not possibly take anymore abuse there is a sandy parking lot overlooking a beautiful palm shaded beach facing out into Exuma Sound. But this beach is not the one. To the east is a sandy trail leading over a hill and around the abandoned light house that once long ago guarded East End Point.

No This is not the most beautiful beach in the world

This is the most beautiful beach in the world

Coming over the trail on foot a most amazing beach opens up facing the Atlantic Ocean. It is about 200 feet wide and a half a mile long. The beach is flat with white sand. The sea is deep blue with dense coral formations. For some reason the beach is free of the copious plastic debris that coats most remote Bahamian beaches. I am sure no one cleans this beach. It seems to clean itself. The waves lap gently onto the shore despite a vigorous sea state offshore. Behind the beach are sculpted limestone cliffs. To the south there is the rugged East Point. Above everything is the light house. Climbing up to the light yields fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Exuma Sound to the south. I felt good just being at this most wonderful spot on God's creation. Mere words can hardly describe Light House beach, and the pictures barely do it justice.

 East End Point in the distance

The abandoned light house

Paula, who works in real estate and is quite knowledgeable in these matters, tells me that developers have claimed to have acquired rights to this land for $1 from the descendant of a former slave. The claim has been tied up in court for decades. How could someone buy one of God's best efforts for a dollar? If this beach is ever developed it would anchor one of the world's premier resorts. However, my heart would break to see a tiki bar or tee shirt shop on Light House Beach.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Replace Those O-Rings

Faithful readers of this blog will notice more and more posts this year about mechanical issues and maintenance. I do not seek to harp about routine maintenance. However, I do wish to point out how White Pepper has been embarrassed by failure to maintain equipment that I did not even know needed maintenance.

The refrigeration is point number one. The system was installed in 2007. It had worked flawlessly ever since; at least until it didn't. The freezer first failed at Great Harbour Cay this year. Gobby Frances got it going again. However, further failure was inevitable because the o-rings in the fittings were old, cracked and leaking. Later I did find a one sentence item in the fine print of the skimpy owner's manual provided by Frigoboat which recommended that the o-rings be replaced every five years. This should have been a huge “black box” warning, not just a casual “oh, bye the way.” To be fair Frigoboat had left a set of o-rings in the compartment with the compressor. These had been ignored.

Back in George Town, Exuma, Bahamas a miracle occurred. Jan and I walked into town and met with Mr. Rolle, who does refrigeration locally and was recommended. He said he would meet me in half an hour which he did. An hour later the problem was fixed. He replaced the o-rings with new ones. I did not want to use the spares that had been lying there drying out for 7 years. He purged the system, vacuumed out the moisture and recharged the whole unit. Two hours later there was ice in the freezer.

Moral of the story: if you can't service the refrigeration (and I can't) then have someone do it periodically.  N.B. I replaced the entire unit back at in Green Cove Springs. During the replacement of the external keel cooler, it crumbled and fell apart.  The moisture in the system could just as easily been sea water as atmospheric contamination.

Point number two is far more subtle. White Pepper has been having alternator problems and difficulty charging while motoring probably since Florida. There was no question the the alternator was working. It was brand new. Also the belt was tight. However, the alternator was not giving up the amps to batteries. The alternator seemed to work for a while and then quit. I suspected a loose wire and several were found and tightened. Things seemed to improve until the alternator failed completely at Water Cay.

Finally, a friend, Peter from Pearl, came over and applied his expertise. Eventually he found a blown 100 amp fuse. This fuse had been installed years ago during the long stay at Fort Pierce, FL in 2008. I had forgotten about it. Why it blew is still a mystery. Peter advised me not to use the solar panel or the wind generator while charging from the motor. Maybe the current from the solar panels and the wind generator along with the output from the 100 amp Yanmar alternator burned the fuse. We replaced it with a 150 amp fuse for now. Everything seem to be working so far.