The very last Bahamian report is found here:
Windigo spent a great year in The Bahamas (NOTE: The Bahamas is one of two countries out of the 265 listed in the CIA FactBook that officially begins with "The"; The other one? = The Gambia!).
It was interesting, exciting, convenient and a good primer on what to expect while traveling in foreign countries on a sailboat. The entry, visa, and cruising rules here are easy* to comply with, and are only loosely enforced (if you behave!).
The weather kept us on our toes, but never threatened our safety. It was more costly than we expected, but we still managed to escape without being totally broke. Boat performance was exceptional but we had things break because of overuse, wear & tear, and bad decisions. Everything that malfunctioned is now once again operational, with some improvements incorporated into current designs.
*[It will take some adjustment to visit developing countries that are more "third-world", where the actions of officials vary from port-to-port and day-to-day, sometimes not adhering to printed regulations and fee schedules -- read: bribery may be encouraged.]
New Providence 212432
Grand Bahama 46954
Eleuthera, Harbour Island, & Spanish Wells 11269
Bimini and Berry Islands 2308
Exuma & Cays 3575
Long Island 2945
Cat Island 1548
Great Inagua 1046
San Salvador & Rum Cay 1028
Crooked Island 341
Ragged Island 69
The southern islands were collectively more pleasant; perhaps because of less people, organization, development, hassles and "tourism". Some islands in the Sea of Abaco had encouraged development aggressively and now find themselves battling to preserve any tiny patch of their homeland from heavy equipment damage. The entire north half of Bimini was about to walled-off to locals until they threatened to drive a truck through the gate! Of course, New Providence, where Nassau is located, and its connected sister Paradise Island, are developed beyond recognition by anyone only familiar with their condition 50 years ago.
Conversely, Andros has retained its native appearance, rejecting offers of development such as the addition of a Kalik brewery [which they believed would draw undesirable employees from other islands]. The main island of Eleuthera has spread development across its expansive length, allowing many stretches of undeveloped splendor. Mayaguana has been sparred massive development because of logistic difficulties encountered by several consecutive development companies - the island itself seems to be resisting change.
We were told early on that each island and group of islands present their personality and identity in different manners; we found this to be very true, to the extent of observing opposite conditions and intentions existing in adjoining islands.
A few places are not even Bahamian any longer, being sold outright to cruiseship companies. Gorda Cay, on the Bight of Abaco, is perhaps one of the nicest small islets in the Atlantic; it is now called "Castaway Island" by Disney Cruise Lines. Little San Salvador (which was named when Eleuthera was known as San Salvador and is close by) has been renamed by Holland-America and is known as "Half Moon Bay". Bannerman Town on the island of Eleuthera was created from scratch, imports a couple dozen natives from a settlement seven miles up the road each time a cruise ship is in port to "act" as its citizenry, and now boasts its own BaTelCo tower!
Collectively, it is interesting to reflect that in one year, we thoroughly explored a place with over 700 islands with an area of 3,860 miles2, a few hundred settlements, and half the population of Milwaukee, WI, where I grew up.
Bahamians certainly hold the power to mold their future and the future of their children. It has been an interesting evolution from their history of drug-running; rum-running; civil & revolutionary war blockade-running; and the main Caribbean piracy base to an economy based on tourism and legitimate business concerns. Everyone with the least bit of ambition can find employment and has complete freedom to travel and are encouraged to move about to take advantage of education and income opportunities.
Bahamian economy is tourism-based, with over 60% of all employment fueled by short-term visitors by the travel, hotel / resort, and recreational industries or long-term guests that employ real estate and construction workers. 87% of the tourists are Americans. Financial trade has been highly publicized as an "off-shore" banking option, but changes to the laws in 2000 made it less attractive to money-laundering, and the number of foreign firms has steadily decreased since then. It sure is tough to legitimize a place so deeply rooted in contraband smuggling and other illicit trade for most of it's existence!
A bit of aragonite is mined from Ocean Cay for export; salt for mainly industrial use is shipped worldwide from Great Inagua; a pharmaceutical company produces drugs in Freeport; beer and rum are brewed mostly for local consumption on New Providence; and the government pays the salaries of a large percentage of citizens. Farming & fishing make up a tiny part of the remaining industry.
Imports contribute over 80% of the foodstuffs consumed by Bahamians, and virtually everything else is imported, mostly from the US. High tariffs, import fees and stamp taxes collected from these items finance the government as there are no sales or income tax in The Bahamas. This increases the cost of everything for sale here, but some food items are price-controlled by the government to allow access by the poor.
Being only 35-years-old, the country has a Prime Minister that came from a small town; all of the high-level officials truly have the best interests of the people in their intentions; and the accelerated change has benefited most of the peoples. The leaders of the two political parties that have exchanged the Prime Minister's duties over the past couple decades are good friends and ex-business partners that actually came from the same party. One gets the impression that they work together behind the scenes for the betterment of the country even though their individual styles are completely different. (Perry Christie has a good-natured personality and seems to utilize negotiation as his primary tool; Hubert Ingraham has a firm, bulldog-like tenacity, with the strength to will his intentions into existence. Together they are effective as the good cop - bad cop team!)
In The Bahamas, Windigo covered over 3000 nautical miles [multiply by 1.15 to get statue miles] and was underway for over 600 hours. We ran the engine much more than expected, mainly because of wind generator malfunction, but also to meet certain deadlines for weather and visitors. This was a learning experience for sure = we intend on decreasing engine time in 2008.
Jim says our path reminds him of the "Family Circus" comic strip when the kids run around leaving a dotted line trailing everywhere except their intended destination. Like those cartoon kids, we simply didn't want to miss a thing. I'd say we were successful, attending several festivals, parties, celebrations, and holidays; being in the capitol for the national elections; seeing the Bahamian Regatta a few times; experiencing a wide range of weather, including only one named storm, and survived unscathed; retracing historical voyages, such as the various possible routes of Columbus; living in a few "cruiser communities" with their morning radio net and coordinated activities; sailing near or walking & cycling on well over 600 of the 750 islands, cays, rocks, islets, and spots enjoying all the native flora & fauna we could find.
With our criss-crossing route and multiple visits, we THOROUGHLY explored Morgan's Bluff on Andros; Royal Island north of Eleuthera; the Bight of Eleuthera; the Sea of Abaco, especially Marsh Harbour; George Town on Great Exuma; and of course, the impossible Spence Rock passage.
That Spence Rock passage was our greatest navigational feat of the year, making passage through a place not used by experienced local fishermen in their vessels drawing just 5½ feet without the greatest of care. We traversed the cut under a full moon at 2330 hrs. during a dead calm, reading the bottom with just moonlight and the depthsounder without incident.
Other navigational triumphs were the navigating of the Devil's Backbone, rarely done without a pilot; leaving Harbour Island around the south side of the island; sailing the Bight of Abaco, an area not frequented by cruisers; seeking protection along the Bight of Eleuthera during a stormy month; traversing the underside of Great Exuma and arriving in George Town from the east; surfing into Steventon, Great Exuma on 3-meter swells (only to find the anchorage untenable and had to leave upon arriving); spending a month on the Bight of Acklins, not recommended for vessels with Windigo's draft; and the occasional puttering about in coral-strewn places such as Flamingo Bay at Rum Cay; French Bay & Graham's Harbour at San Salvador; Hens & Chickens Reef at Andros; the east entrance to Abraham's Bay at Mayaguana; and Columbus Bay at Samana Cay [at sunset = I'M NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN!].
We did things that only a few other cruisers do, such as spend the hurricane season out & about; sailing the extra day here & there instead of motor-sailing; actually going to shore everywhere we anchored; and visiting Great Inagua, which is a bit out-of-the-way for most cruisers, who seem to be in a hurried- (and harried-) mode by that stage of their travels so they simply bypass a true gem of a place.
Having no large indigenous land animals seemed odd, coming from the heart of America where wild and domestic animals run wild everywhere, even in the urban environments. But in The Bahamas, the largest indigenous mammal is the Hutia, a rodent a little bigger than a squirrel but lacking the bushy tail. These timid creatures remain on a few islands where they bother no one.
Cattle left behind by erstwhile ranchers roam many islands, but are no longer actively raised. Pigs live here and there with some wild boars providing sport hunting and food on a couple islands. Some islanders keep domesticated horses for riding, and there are the wild horses of Abaco, but they are severely endangered. Wild burros roam Inagua, along with a more wild version of pigs, akin to the razorbacks in the US.
There is a group of traveling veterinarians that neuter dogs and cats on the islands to control the feral dog & cat population; they do a decent job (Spring Hill College has a much worse cat problem than any island here), but some islands suffer from too many strays (the largest fault of Great Inagua).
Tropical and sea birds abound. From giant flamingoes to tiny hummingbirds, there are permanent flocks and migratory visitors everywhere.
The reptiles are ubiquitous; mostly small anoles and lizards, with a few snakes. The Exumas hosts larger iguanas (and Inagua has the tiniest ones in the world), but the little ones are everywhere, inside and out. They would seem to Americans as pests, but they do not bite, spread disease, or eat a lot. In fact, most eat only crickets; and one-a-month at that, so not much lizard poop!
Ah, but the true horde of The Bahamas, just as anywhere in the world, are the insects. The most annoying are the noseeums/midges, or sunset/sunrise bugs, as they are called here. These tiny bastards also live in the southern US and are way too small to have teeth, so they spit ACID on your skin and suck up the dissolved nutrients. Gross. And when they are in great numbers, it is as a thousand needles laying waste to your dermis. Fortunately, they only reach these numbers for a brief period in the morning and evening, and are easily avoided.
Mosquitoes are present here, but I found them to be a bit less aggressive than the Wisconsin variety, with the itching not as potent, and Malaria-free. Again, mostly active at sunset.
The most dastardly are the "doctor flies", horsefly-sized, beach-dwelling nasties that are NOT too small for teeth, and in fact "operate" on you by biting a good-sized chunk of flesh and carrying it away. The wound bleeds, and is slow to heal. Repellant works for these and the rest of the bugs, but I for one will not hang around an area with doctor flies!
Bahamians are basketball crazy. There are plenty of football lovers, and on many islands the players on softball teams have hero-status, but basketball is adored. The sport really took off and was followed by everyone when Rick Fox, a Bahamian, had a fabulous career in the NBA (and married Vanessa Williams).
They make courts anywhere and everywhere, using real goals when they can; otherwise piecing together backboards and rims from found materials just so they can sink a jumpshot from across the road. I cataloged the various courts and goals made of old bicycle rims, crates, and pallets throughout the islands while on my bike rides.
Besides a few basketball backboards, this national resource is prolific because of the trade deficit ($200-$400M out / $2.5B in!) = many products are imported and the pallets are a byproduct of the massive inflow of goods brought in by cargo ship. The hardwood shipping platforms accumulate on the docks of every island, so over the years Bahamians have learned to utilize them in the construction of many structures including:
And an entire Regatta Park Village!
I applaud this innovation and recycling of found materials. If more residents of the US and other "fully" developed countries followed this scheme, there would be less waste & pollution and increased wealth through the practice of solving problems with materials available at no cost.
I logged the position of 98 BaTelCo towers, lighthouses, and radio towers; not visiting those on Grand Bahama Island, or recording the confusing and changing layout of the New Providence towers. This project sent me to the far reaches of every island & cay, sometimes on primitive roads not traveled by other visitors. Although it stretched the limits of my small-wheeled road bike, it put me in high stature with the locals; showing I was interested enough in seeing places that usually only they frequented. I have relayed the recoded positions of these towers to the cruising guides listing less accurate numbers in their publications.
I've come to like sailing, biking, hiking, Pedigoing and snorkeling around in the islands. These things started out pretty simple and carefree. We would sail the boat, during the day, to a new anchorage. The next day we would put Pedigo together and head to town with our bikes in tow. In town we would ride around checking out caves, looking for geocaches and other landlubber activities. When we would return to the boat and bath time came, we put on our snorkel equipment and jump in!
Sounds like a pretty easy existence, doesn't it? It actually started out that way but then we began experiencing the many things that could go wrong either while at sea or on land. Let's see, in the last month: engine quits; sails rip; Pedigo's drive breaks; bike tires blow; seat breaks off; mosquito, dog and shark attacks; etc. (o.k., no actual shark attacks . . .)
So now Mr. Safety (Captain Bastard) kicks in and those spontaneous activities become a little more complicated. Here are some examples of the way it is NOW:
Our enjoyment of The Bahamas was greatly enhanced through the use of our bicycles. We went to places not usually visited, and SAW more than those cruisers that rented vehicles because of our slower speed and accessibility to knowledgeable residents. The aerobic physical exercise was a great compliment to the physical but mostly stationary activity of sailing Windigo around.
Although the road bikes allowed easier long trips, some of the road conditions warranted mountain bike usage, and there were several times where the use of our bikes was impossible. The full suspension of the Moultons was fantastic, but the biggest obstacle to rough road passage were the skinny, small diameter tires. We will consider a change to mountain bikes at a future time when we can afford them.
Bike maintenance aboard a small vessel is a nightmare. The salt air and occasional salt water has devastating effects on the equipment. I completely rebuilt the bikes twice this year, and they badly need another right now. Replacing all the cables and housings and chains every four months is a pain; and this is necessary even with constant cleaning and lubrication. If I build different bikes in the future, they will incorporate design features more tolerant of the harsh conditions. But first I will need to teach a couple hundred sailing students to afford the upgrade.
Below are the mileage statistics for my Bahamian cycling. Highlights of these numbers include:
Island Miles Ridden
Chub/Frazer's Hog, Berry Islands =40
New Providence, Nassau =260*
Spanish Wells/Harbour Island =140
Moores Island =30
Long Island =168
Rum Cay =16
Acklins Island =157*
Crooked Island =80
San Salvador =104
Cat Island =150
Great Inagua =120
*total miles ridden in two visits to these islands.
It is interesting to note that the Bahamian government lists the total amount of improved roadways at 960 miles, with ALL roads totaling 1,673 miles; this affirms the achievement of my riding every road in The Bahamas.
This link will bring you a spreadsheet of all anchorages Windigo used in The Bahamas, with a bit of a description of the area, the locals, and any cruisers present at the time of our visit.
To all the naysayers that poo-pooed our extensive navigating of The Bahamas with a seven-foot draft:
My advice to other deep-draft vessel crews would be to consider the possibility of exploring any area that seems at all accessible regardless of what others advise you. Gather all the information and local knowledge you can amass; research the local habits and patterns of fishermen and boaters; then utilize EVERY navigational tool at your disposal to attempt a difficult passage. Time the tides and currents to your movements, understand tradewinds and ocean currents and WEATHER so you are not surprised at some common anomaly that runs contrary to what one would expect at first glance. By expending a great deal of time becoming intimate with a particular area, you will gain an appreciation of the subtleties and nuances of the place. Even if you cannot fully complete your penetration into a difficult harbour or passage, you will learn a lot about the information gathering process, and that process may save your butt at a future moment.
You will also acquire a lasting respect for the sailors of days gone by, who had far fewer resources of information, far less seaworthy vessels, and virtually no assistance in times of trouble except what they carried aboard. They had no EPIRBs or engines!
I cannot exaggerate the positive impact of our bicycles on the cruising experience. They were the single item that caused us to be thrilled with a place where others only wished to rush through and get on to another island. The freedom and intimate connection the bikes provided improved our experience throughout The Bahamas; even New Providence held treasures not seen by a grand majority of sailors. The bikes gave us inexpensive necessary transportation; provided much needed aerobic exercise; allowed exploration of the far reaches of any island; put us face-to-face with locals on their terms at their speed. We found every store, landmark, attraction, geocache, beach, hilltop, etc. completely accessible and were able to seek out directions most efficiently. We are working on a conversion to mountain bikes to continue this level of access in the less-developed countries we are heading to.
Karin also enjoys walking to meet the peoples, and meeting the peoples was the one single thing that enhanced her year the most. The discovery of locals is accomplished by walking to the stores, laundries, libraries [her favorite!], and churches on Sunday, even if you are not religious. These places are SOCIAL gathering spots where one can get information on anchoring, passage-making, entertainment, festivals, local food, history, and other items of interest.
I preferred to socialize with native residents in the town "gazebo", an ubiquitous roofed patio located on the beach or in the center of town where locals hang out to discuss politics, the weather, crazy sailboaters, or anything else of interest. I would suggest to enter this arena gently = this is definitely native turf and I always tried to approach as a welcome guest instead of a lumbering invader.
To amplify the last point, I will now dispense advice how to efficiently and comfortably exist in the world of "Island Time". [As always, my free advice comes with a money-back guarantee!] An example of how I would score a desperately needed engine part for my boat:
I may inquire about the part at a store or shop if one exists. This inquiry would be done AFTER a great deal of pleasantries are exchanged with the clerk, owner, stockboy, and any other customers present. The greater the need of the part, the longer the period of pleasantry exchange. Your objective may be accomplished and several friends obtained by this very first step.
But a hard-to-find part or lack of stores complicates the issue, no? What is needed in this case is to walk [or cycle] around to seek out the best mechanic in town. Or the junk yard. Or the wealthiest resident. Play it by ear to locate the most probable source for your part. Once you have identified the individual most likely to have the resources to help you, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TELL HIM DIRECTLY WHAT YOU NEED! This may seem contrary to business practices you have learned in the past, but you must realize that (1) you are not at Wal-Mart; (2) this capable individual has no direct interest in you or your stupid little problem; (3) he probably does not HAVE the part at this moment and probably lives for the moment; (4) you are on "Island Time" [refer to (3) and the part about living for the moment].
Instead of asking, begging, or worst of all, demanding the procurement of your part, forget about it for now and make small talk. Ask him about the weather [which you actually care about] - or where to get fresh water [which you probably need] - or anything else that you can chat about. Ask about his family and his history; show an interest in his life & island. Tell him whatever he asks about you, but don’t offer boring seas stories now. After making his acquaintance, shake his hand, smile and thank him for all he has offered and LEAVE.
The NEXT day, happen to wander by his place = smile and wave. Only chat if he starts a conversation, then only expound upon the previous day's subjects. After an enjoyably short period of time, shake his hand, smile and thank him for all he has offered and LEAVE. I will point out that this is a lesson on how to obtain a badly needed engine part, but there has been NO TALK of that and very little of your boat. You have not gotten the part, but have done something much more important to the process, you have made a friend.
Although "Island Time" may preclude the construction of a house in a few weeks, restaurant service as fast as Milwaukee, or a meeting / party to start at its scheduled time, the time it takes to make a true friend is inversely proportional to all that other stuff that takes much longer to get done compared to back home.
ON THE THIRD or FOURTH DAY, during the visit with your friend [which will probably include lunch or a ride or more introductions to his friends and family], you happen to mention the serious problem you have with your engine. NOW you have the cooperation of a friend in a faraway place that has a much greater chance of getting the part than all the shopping and asking and demanding you could muster.
If you behaved well the first couple days in his presence, your engine part problem is soon to be solved in some way you probably couldn't have imagined. Perhaps the part will be made or 'found' that very day; perhaps it will need to come from off-island, but you new ally has the ability to expedite the process.
And you will discover, after a few of these transactions, that although the initial objectives get accomplished, the friendships and experiences will be more fulfilling than buckets of engine parts. At this point, you have accepted the flow of Island Time. Congratulations.
Read about new & interesting countries in upcoming editions of the Windigo Travelogue Catalogue.
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