Thursday, March 4, 2021

Bahamas Wrap-Up

I'll begin my wrap-up of Intermezzo's Bahamas cruise by filling in a few gaps between my prior posts.

Between leaving Glass Bridge and sailing to our too-brief visit to the Berry Islands, we ventured further south along the coast of Eleuthera and anchored in Hatchet Bay Harbor on February 26.  The harbor was created by blasting a hole in the side of a large inland limestone pond to connect it to the sea. The steep limestone shore and very narrow entrance make this one of the most protected harbors in The Bahamas.

I didn't expect this man-made harbor to be very attractive, but it is. Despite the limestone geology of the harbor perimeter, there is enough soil cover to support relatively lush green, low-lying vegetation of mangroves, small palms and other shrubs. The shore is dotted with a few small colorful houses. Even the small shipyard, where a large steel barge is nearing completion, is neat and unobtrusive.

We took the dinghy to a public dock jutting out from the brightly painted blue Boater Haven Bar and Grill. The grill was not grilling, as the kitchen was a few days from opening after a renovation.  The bar is popular in the evenings. The owner, Emmett, is welcoming and friendly.

Amy and Robin walked around town and checked out dining possibilities for a dinner out. I went for a run through town, across the island along a dirt track through the bush, to a beach on the ocean side of the island.

Hatchet Bay's Alice Town was the most Bahamian settlement we had encountered so far, mostly local residents living in small old homes, closely spaced along narrow lanes. The homes and neighborhoods show their age and limited income, but they are kept neat and clean. There isn't much tourist infrastructure and, what there is, is low-keyed, quaint and rustic- a few restaurants, a small inn, not much else.

After an afternoon exploring, we returned to the boat, showered, enjoyed sundowners and then dressed for dinner.

We dined at the tiny The Front Porch restaurant in town. It was expensive, it took a long time to get served, but the food was superb and the owner and staff are super-friendly. Martin, the chef, prepared us fresh wahoo filets, slightly blackened and topped with a dollop of rich stone crab sauce, served with nicely seasoned roast potatoes and steamed vegetables. A rare case of food being better off the boat than on.

Martin and I compared notes for making shellfish stock for sauces. My focus is on extracting flavor and velvety texture from simmering empty cracked crab and lobster shells. Martin's is on removing the sauce from the stove immediately upon smelling the crab begin to caramelize in the hot butter, not cooking it a second longer. Martin invited me to cook for him. I felt flattered, but out of my league, an enthusiastic amateur up against a seasoned professional, "the best chef on the island" according to one of the richest men in the Bahamas who was dining next to us. (The face of the man's father appears on the Bahamian $50 bill!) I declined Martin's invitation on the basis of not enough time, feeling some relief.

We left Hatchet Bay the next day (February 27), sailing back to Current Cut. It was a beautiful downwind sail in ideal conditions of sky, wind, waves. I put Amy and Robin through some sailing lessons, helming Intermezzo and trimming on all points of sails and practicing coming about. 

We went through the cut with ease at slack current and anchored off the west shore of the "hook" at the northwest end of north Eleuthera Island.

We beached the dinghy to explore the tiny Current settlement and see if there was anything fresh worth buying at the little market. The settlement felt similar to Alice Town,  but smaller, poorer, a bit more weathered, still very neat and pleasant.

The settlement's name makes the signs on buildings sound funny when you read them. The Current Library. The Current Methodist Church. It makes you want to ask where the Past Library was and the Future Methodist Church will be. Or wonder if you might find the library and church in different locations if you came back the next day.

We raised anchor early the next morning, February 28, and made our passage to the Berry Islands. Again, beautiful downwind sailing conditions, easy going and relaxing.

I put fishing lines out and caught an big, 18-pound dorado (mahi-mahi) along the way. While I enjoy eating freshly caught fish and acknowledge the "eat or be eaten" reality of the mostly carnivorous ocean, I don't like killing fish, especially dorado. When you pull in a dorado, its skin is a rainbow of bright blue, green and yellow hues. A truly gorgeous and glorious palette of living color.  When the fish dies, all the brightness and luster disappears, the colors become muted, the sparkle gone.  My hand being responsible for this loss of living beauty causes very poignant feelings to arise in me. Sadness, guilt, a moral heaviness. And then comes the skinning and filleting of the fish, where I transform it to the food form we are familiar seeing in markets and restaurants, leaving behind a stripped carcass of head, bones and guts.  It is not a process that I enjoy, but one which I do with great care, to extract as much food as I can, of the best qualities of cut and freshness.

Fishing is not a sport or a pastime for me. It is a decision to be a predator, honor the life that I take, and to make the most of the food provided. I don't fish often because it is such a big deal for me. I also recognize my ignorance and hypocrisy as I regularly consume fish I don't catch with little consideration of how it got onto my plate. Like Martin's delicious wahoo. Catching this beautiful dorado is a reminder for me to be more mindful about eating fish, perhaps eat them less frequently.

So, the chronicle above fills in the gaps between blog posts. Now for my reflection on The Bahamas and our cruise as a whole.

The Bahamas are now on my Top 3 list of sailing venues, the other two being the Sea of Cortez and Maine. The waters are strikingly beautiful in color and clarity. Wind and sea conditions make for great sailing, the variable and sometimes boisterous weather making things interesting and tests of good seamanship.  Anchoring in mostly sandy bottoms is easy, with good holding. The swimming, snorkeling and kayaking in warm shallow waters is excellent. I love the remoteness of the place, the expanse of cays and islands to explore. It is a place that requires your boat to be well-provisioned and self-sufficient.

In the Sea of Cortez and along the coast of Maine, the land forms are visually dominating, the striated desert mountains and long-extinct steep volcanic islands in the Sea of Cortez, the timbered fjords, jagged rocky shorelines and islands of Maine. In The Bahamas, the land is clearly just ancient reef or sea bottom that has been exposed to become dots and strips of tenuous terrain in a vast blue seascape, regularly assaulted by wind and wave working to make the land disappear.

The people of The Bahamas are friendly and hard working, in a relaxed, island-style way. Their friendliness seems authentic and polite, often reserved. I prefer the sometimes falsely exuberant expression of welcome found in tourist destinations.

Intermezzo performed well and behaved itself with only a couple of minor repairs needed along the way. It is a good boat for The Bahamas, shallow draft, stable and comfortable at anchor, sailing well in the often favorable tradewinds, motoring dependably and economically when otherwise. 

My crew was great. Not one word of anger expressed after a month of close-quarter living (even by me, which is probably a personal record!) Amy and Robin took good care of the boat, did their chores cheerfully, flattered me with their enjoyment and photography of my cooking, appreciated all the natural beauty around us, always friendly, polite and respectful to those we met along the way, always graceful and grateful. Amy learned a lot about sailing, discovered her natural talent for steering a boat under power and sail, and endured seasickness stoically and without making a mess. Robin added to her crewing experience and skills, helped with Amy's learning the boat and its ropes, was a supportive companion to both of us, keeping an eye out for our well being and happiness, a seemingly constant practitioner of metta bhavana, towards all beings...including fish.

As for me, I think I did a decent job as a sailing instructor, though my teaching style could do with some polishing. It was a very relaxing cruise for me. No worrying. No distraction. No regrets. No wishing I was anywhere else. That's a pretty good definition of being happy, isn't it?

The Bahamas will be remembered as being among Intermezzo's very best days.


The narrow entrance to Hatchet Bay Harbor, a hole blasted through the side of a limestone pond