March 7, 2023
And the adventure continues…(I hope you read to the end so you know it’s not all paradise here in paradise.)
After two most-welcome days at a marina where I sat for hours in a rocking chair on land getting some time on solid ground, alas the swell started rolling the boat at the dock. As the winds were reported to be increasing and the entrance to the marina can be impassible in heavy seas, we decided to book it out of there and head back to George Town, where at least we didn’t have to pay for rockin’ and rollin’.
As predicted, the winds blew steady and hard for a week, with large seas reported outside the relatively protected harbor. For me, it was a long seven days of relentless wind and choppy seas such that we rarely left the boat as rowing against all that wind and chop was hard. And as the wind was out of the east, we couldn’t sail in any direction but back from where we’d come, and so we waited…
One day, I rowed the short distance alone to the social gathering spot, Chat ‘n Chill, for a respite, but the wind on land was stronger than on the boat, which at least has a dodger and cabin to protect us, so I came back disheartened to endure the wind and seas for several more days. Needing to do something to lively things up, I organized a dance at Chat ‘n Chill, which a number of people attended. It was great to feel the spaciousness of movement on land, as for me, the boat can feel very confining after days on end.
Mid-week, one of our two bottles of propane ran out, so the never-daunted Will decided to row the one mile across Elizabeth Harbor to drop off the tank and pick up some groceries. With many engine-powered dinghies going back and forth, he caught a tow back, getting soaked in the process from all the chop. Another day, he got a ride from our Canadian friends to pick up the tank. This time he put on a large rain poncho to save himself from getting drenched. Having been soaked on another occasion transiting the harbor with this couple, I gave that outing a miss.
Finally, the wind let up somewhat and we ventured out in the dinghy to explore one of the extremely protected “holes.” There we encountered Dennis, whom I’d met a number of years ago when he was a launch driver at Handy Boat in Falmouth where I kept my boat. Now in his 80s, he has no fixed address and has been coming to this spot in the Bahamas for decades. He offered Will a neat home-made fishing lure made of PVC, which he learned about in Fiji from a solo around-the-world sailor in an engineless boat. The stories you hear of and from sailors are endless! Alas, Will lost the lure the first time he used it when a fish actually took a bite, but he’s since made several himself (see design below). We continued on a long hike to the top of monument hill overlooking the harbor, where sailors have spelled out their boat names in stones on the flat landscape below. It was great to finally stretch our legs, muscles, and energies in an outward direction on land.
We met up with a number of people from Maine during our week waiting out the winds. The first was a family who bought sv Avatrice, which I recognized as the boat that was owned by a woman in Maine who, for more than twenty years, ran Women Under Sail, a sailing school for women. After texting since Florida with another family who sails in Maine, we finally met up with them as they sailed over to greet us in their small dinghy.
So the week was not without its entertainment and diversion, but for me, it was a week of feeling stuck on the boat. From Will’s perspective, it was another week in not-undesirable weather, tackling boat projects, reading, and enjoying the warm air and cool breezes, despite his partner’s distress.
Although the wind was still up, it finally changed to a favorable direction such that we could head east to Long Island, one of the so-called Out Islands of the Bahamas. To get there, we had to navigate one of the infamous “cuts” that took us out of the relatively protected harbor into open ocean. To do this, you try to plan to go through at slack/”no” tide to avoid the wind-against-tide phenomenon that causes rough seas and breakers. We heard later that some friends got an early start and a wave crashed into their cockpit from abeam and scared them pretty badly. We, on the other hand, got a later start and had medium choppy seas for only a short bit before things calmed down. The cut behind us, we had a great sail behind the reefs toward Thompson Bay. Ever the cautious one, it is often the case that for me, the anticipation of the impending threats are more difficult than the thing itself.
When we arrived in Long Island, wouldn’t you know it, there were our friends on Avatrice, as well as a couple dozen other boats who had the same idea of fleeing the wall-to-wall boats in George Town. Our friends offered to share their car rental, so we happily spent the day touring most of the island with them. First stop was Dean’s Blue Hole, which is known to be the deepest blue hole on the planet and is in fact where they have the annual freediving (no scuba tank) competition where the world record was recently set at 393 feet! We snorkeled and saw some cool fish, and our six-year-old friend found a sea biscuit, which looks like a puffy loaf of bread with a star on top.
Next stop was Clarence Town, which was modest and quiet but for a bakery, a church, and a marina. Last stop, at the complete other end of the island, was Cape Santa Maria, with its monument to “the gentle, peaceful, and happy aboriginal people of Long Island, the Lucayans and to the arrival of Christopher Columbus on Oct 17, 1492,” (!) superb wording since Mr. C slaughtered the entire population within 20 years. It’s a brand-new monument created at some expense on the high cliffs above the bluff—very impressive and very strange at the same time.
From Thompson Bay, we sailed up the coast to Calabash Bay, just south of Cape Santa Maria, where we spent four days awaiting the arrival of my Polish delivery skipper friend on her trans-Atlantic crossing in a brand-new catamaran. What a thrill to finally meet up with her and her crew and share a meal. After showing off our boat and telling them about another Freedom for sale in the Abacos, they diverted on their way to Florida to see it, and it turns out her partner/first mate bought it! So we may be seeing more of them next season in the Bahamas in between deliveries.
The winds and seas having calmed down a bit, we had a great sail to Conception Island, further east and out to sea. Like the Exumas National Land and Sea Park, this island is administered by the Bahamian National Trust and was stunningly beautiful in its pristine, uninhabited state. Although there were plenty of boats anchored off the long beach, including a number of large motor yachts, it was big enough that everyone was spread out so it didn’t feel over-crowded like George Town. We walked across the island and had a small beach to ourselves where we played like teenagers.
Next day we motored down to the creek entrance and rowed into the huge mangrove creek in search of turtles, which we heard were plentiful but alas eluded us. A modest-sized cruise ship was anchored off the creek, which we discovered was a National Geographic explorer vessel. Their next excursion was snorkeling the reef where we reset our anchor, so we snorkeled alongside them and saw the best underwater coral reef and fish yet. It’s a whole other world down there, although we understand that the fish are nowhere near as plentiful as in years past before so much of the coral died due to global warming, acidification, pollution, and other evils that man has wrought.
From Conception, we had another delightful 40-mile sail to Cat Island, which is my favorite island so far—a large open harbor protected from the prevailing winds; numerous small beachfront food shacks locally known as the “Fish Fry” where we had the best conch salad yet with mango and pineapple and fish stew for Saturday breakfast, a Bahamian thing; a great grocery store with fresh veggies unloaded that morning from the mail boat; a wonderful meal of fresh lobster; and a brand-new laundromat so we had clean sheets once again! We hauled out the bikes and enjoyed stretching our legs in a circular motion as well.
At the grocery store, Will started chatting up a woman who lives on the island in an entirely off-the-grid house that she built. As it happened, someone had just shown her an upsetting picture of a dog and she was fuming. Will picked up on her agony and asked if she was from OK, and pretty soon, she was sharing some of her life story, which took her from Nassau, to France, Germany, San Francisco, North Carolina, and then to Cat Island, the land of her father’s people.
Forever the gregarious one, Will suggested that we would enjoy a visit to see her solar oven and solar everything, and she said sure. So the next day we set out hitchhiking to the other end of the island to find her. Two hours and several rides later, we managed to track her down with the help of a neighbor since everyone seems to know everyone on this island, and Sylvia came to meet us in her car. We rode on a bumpy road through the bush to an area known as Greenwood with a dozen or so houses, mostly owned by foreigners. Entering the property, we weaved through palm and fruit trees to meet Elza, her partner of twenty years, and a compound of structures that they built over more than a decade, including lots of solar panels and lots of batteries. The newest concrete house had one room and a huge wrap-around porch, which was breezy and cool. The crowning jewel was the upper floor with its ocean view, queen-sized canopy bed, inviting couch, simple table, and breezes flowing in from all sides. I admired it longingly…
We sat down on the porch for sliced oranges and the loaf of my fresh bread we’d brought to learn more about each other. Sylvia is fluent in French and German, having moved to France in her twenties to learn the language because of one inspirational song. When they first moved to Cat Island, she taught French in the island school, and Elza was the island nurse. Before that, Elza was a nurse and healer in the states; she’s seen it all. Among many other things, Sylvia is a builder, and Elza is a writer and painter. Together they started the Cat Island humane society and at one time had many dogs, each of which is now buried on their land. While they now live a simple, quiet life away from most people, they had a lot to say about the underbelly of Cat Island, including the fact that much generation land—untitled land that has been in families for generations—has been essentially stolen from locals in order to be sold to the highest bidder, and this includes land that was Sylvia’s grandmother’s.
The conversation turned to boat life, and it soon came out that I’ve been longing for some time on land. Sensing my not-well-disguised distress from earlier and Will’s hints that I needed some time ashore, within minutes I had an invitation to stay in the heavenly upstairs room whenever I wanted! At Will’s encouragement, I accepted their incredibly generous offer, we went back to the boat to collect some things and leave Will off, and Sylvia brought me back to Shangri-la. I sat on the upstairs porch in tears at my incredibly good fortune and was told dinner would be brought up on a tray. Soon a thermos of lemon grass tea and several bento boxes appeared outside my door, each dish more sumptuous and nutritious than the next. I sighed out loud with every bite, surrendering to the abundance. In between bites I read Hafiz and Rilke, wrote in my journal until my pen ran out of ink, and then collapsed into bed where I stayed until late the next morning, the sounds of surf and birds lulling me to sleep and awake. The bed was rectangular and spacious, the room was clean and white, and the ground was still and quiet. I melted with gratitude into what the universe had provided.
And so, for a few days, I recharged my batteries on land, both in solitude and in the company of two wonderful women, whose stories they shared freely along with their home. I am deeply grateful and humbled by their generosity and spirits.
After three nights, I invited Will to join us, and we spend an equally restorative time—together and apart—in the room overlooking the sea in Greenwood. Here’s what he has to say about the experience:
Yes, I appreciate how much this sounds like “prayer answered.” But I believe there is a difference when I say, “Get out of your own way and the universe provides.” More than a week prior, I had contemplated what a local might be like to stay with, given that Tasha had done much research and there were simply no affordable, decent places for her to stay to get some strongly desired (and needed) land time. Then, not only does it happen, but it happens with a place in our style, and from interesting people—a well-traveled Bahamian, and a giving American-turned Bahamian— and a marvelous ascetic and aesthetic “retreat,” complete with gorgeous food. Then, the lovely experience of daily talking and nightly reading of Elza’s intimate memoir—quite a combination—as well as a look behind the veil.
Their place was a compound built of just two rooms but so many interconnecting passages/breezeways and other ephemeral/screened-in transition zones. We had the top floor/room admitting of light, air, birdsong, and ocean lapping. Sitting on the wrap-around deck you could see the ocean over the treetops—a monastic room but a resort’s sort of amenities.
I did not know how long Tasha would stay but the thought of a week was always in my mind. That she invited me to join her after two nights for the final four nights tells you what a generous person she is, as she needed the land time, not me, though I had no complaints about how idyllic it was. It is my belief that treasures like this are to be found everywhere but only time will tell if we admit them. In the meantime, I’m happy that Tasha got her groove back.
We ended our visit at the highest point in the Bahamas, Mt Alvernia, where in 1939 the architect/priest Father Jerome built a scale replica of a medieval hermitage in honor of St Francis of Assisi, and as it turns out, where Sylvia spent her first nights on Cat Island in a tent when she returned to the Bahamas twenty years ago. It was nothing short of adorable, with is tiny rooms and passageways. This was one hermitage for a priest; the off-the-grid hermitage in Greenwood, which they call Sylwood Shalom, is another—for Sylvia and Elza, and now for Will and me.
* * *
I end with another story (this one is for you, Nancy). A couple weeks prior to meeting Sylvia and Elza, I was tasked with getting some provisions and taking ashore the trash in a solo expedition before we left George Town with my cousin during her visit. Part of that involved dumping our “dehydrated” poop into the trash—rather than dumping it overboard as 99% of boaters do in the Bahamas as there are no facilities to do otherwise. Our “composting” toilet being what it is, it takes a little getting used to aiming your pee so it doesn’t mix with said poop so it can in fact dehydrate, more or less, as well as pushing a button to flush as you go. I’ve gotten used to it, but our guest alas was not as pee-direction-pointing-while-simultaneously-flushing savvy, and thus, rather than dehydrating in coffee chaff, on this occasion, our poop was the opposite: super-saturated.
Ever the cautious one, I determined I would take the bag in its bucket ashore separate from the other trash so as not to risk spilling the mess, as happened early on before I became so pee-direction-pointing-while-simultaneously-flushing savvy, so I set it on deck to put into the dinghy. As we pay by the bag, Will saw the bucket and stuffed the poop bag into the other trash bag, which contained among other things a large empty tin of olive oil. I was annoyed but didn’t say anything because I didn’t want my guest to feel like she had contributed to any wrongdoing.
After rowing ashore against wind and chop, I lifted the bag from the dinghy to place it on the dock and, you guessed it, the tin of olive oil broke the bag, exploding the contents all over the dinghy in what I will not attempt to describe but you can surely imagine. It was a stinking mess!!! I hung the bag from a cleat while using a sponge to clean my legs, shoes, and dinghy with salt water, and then carefully carried the bag to the truck, refusing the offer of help from the lovely man on the dock. Needless to say, I was disgusted and disheartened, but on sv Nirvana, we practice the art of no-blame, so I spent the next few hours dissolving the feeling that naturally surfaced. As a bonus, it was yet another occasion for practicing the art of communication: Speak your truth and follow through with your convictions.
We then set out for Lee Stocking Island, which I’d been told was beautiful. Wanting to be spontaneous and respond to wishes from others that we explore other possible anchorages along the way, we tried ducking into a tiny cove to anchor and ran aground, despite the charted depths indicating it was safe. It took a painfully long 15 minutes and agonizing more than effort, but we finally got off just before dead low tide. We then motored to the nearest anchorage, where we were cautioned by two boats that the charts where we were headed were wrong, thus saving us from running aground again.
By that point, I was truly distraught and through tears, uttered out loud what had been building up in me for weeks, “I need a break!” “I need some time on land!” And “I want a rectangular bed that you can climb into on three sides!” It was a huge revelation and relief to admit this to myself and confess it out loud. At the same time, Will sensed that our recently made plan to sail in a Bahamian Sloop Regatta, aboard H2O, at 5F (Farmer’s First Friday in February Festival), was too much to care about at this juncture. Over the course of the next two weeks, I remembered that some friends had been to Cat Island and raved about it. I found myself fantasizing about an airy cabana on a beach swinging in a hammock, drinking pina coladas, imagining what it would be like to leave the boat for a few days, to have a break from living within the confines of 36 x 12.5 feet, and to sleep in a rectangular bed.
Three weeks later, the universe responded. And trust me, it was light years better than a beach cabana! Reconnecting not only with myself but with Will, I felt nourished like I haven’t felt in some time. I think this is what it feels like to live in the flow: Be open and everything you need and desire will come to you.
4 thoughts on “NIRVANA S4:E5”
What an amazing time on Cat Island! You guys probe deeper than most and the rewards speak for themselves. Can’t wait to read what comes next.
Look what the tide brought in!
Two beautiful, open-hearted, sailors arrived one day, cheerful despite needing a respite on land. We had a room and they had the medicine: little seeds in their speech and writing. “Surrender to the abundance,” they said. One day they sailed away. Now their seeds are sprouting everywhere….thank you from Sylvie and Elza
Love reading your blog. You really take me there . Thanks again for sharing your amazing stories. Carry on sailors ❤️