Playground

A friend commented that even though we have talked a lot about all the weather we saw the past few months, all the pictures showed sunny calm water.  I flipped through our photos, and sure enough they all look pretty calm.  

So here you go:  the storm clouds building and the eerie calm before the storm in Green Turtle last week. 

^^Then the squall.  

Captured the first rains we saw in months in this pic.  The far boat started dragging his anchor seconds after I took this photo so it was time to put the camera away. That one boat caused a lot of stress to all the others in the harbor.  Even though this squally weather was very expected, the owners anchored in a grassy part of the harbor with little scope and upwind of several boats that had attained moorings in preparation of the winds.  He had been approached earlier and given suggestions of where he could find better holding in the harbor but did not head them.  Instead he got off his boat and went to shore for dinner even though we were expecting winds upward of 30 knots and thunderstorms to 40-60 knots.  He, and the nearby boats, were lucky that when he dragged through the anchorage his boat did not hit another.  We hailed him on VHF to let him know his boat was on the move but by the time he finally was able to dinghy out the anchor grabbed, thankfully before he hit the rocks behind us.  The owner then went and re-anchored in the same exact bad spot with the same amount of insufficient scope played out.  He then started to get in his dinghy to go back to his dinner.  He got hailed on the radio by multiple other unhappy boat owners who firmly asked him to at least stay with his boat!  For good reason too, as they anticipated he was on the move again a little while later.  It is frustrating when you have done what you can to secure your own boat and another boat owner either carelessly/ignorantly/arrogantly/whatever-ly makes it all for not.  Unfortunately we run into this scenario over and over. It is tiresome. It’s also why there are so few pics of the crap-o weather.

After this triple front system moved out of the way, we headed towards Double Breasted to wait for our friends on Nessa, Happy Healer, Anywhere and Raven.  After a long afternoon of shimmying our way into the anchorage on an especially low tide we enjoyed it all to our selves….well, for a little while.  About 7:00pm we see a charter boat heading into the anchorage.  Not good for two reasons: “A”, charter boats approaching always command our attention (and evoke a sense of dread) and “B”, it was way too late in the day to be able to read the water depths and the current was still ripping.  It was not a smart time for any boat to be trying to navigate around what we call “creepy corner”.  Not surprisingly they ran aground.  When they finally got off they came into the anchorage and anchored with only one anchor.  Double Breasted is one of the very few anchorages where two anchors, in a Bahamian moor deployment, are required to keep you centered in the narrow channel during the tide switches.  They were far from us and they did make it through the night without event. The next day, though, they learned why two anchors are strongly suggested.  By then there were five boats in the anchorage and they were two boats away so we were not too concerned with them until we peeked out the hatch before going to bed and found that they had dragged down the channel and were now between us and the boat in front of us.  Fortunately they ran aground before running into us. Keith got in the dinghy to see if  they needed help to get off the beach and reanchored.  They actually asked if he would come on the boat and just re-anchor the boat for them, they didn’t know what to do.  “NO” When they got off the beach and did reanchor they chose a spot that is nearly dry at low water.  Oh well.  Probably safer for both them and us if they are sweetly and securely sitting on the sandbar.  We were relieved to see them move along the next day (after they got them selves ungrounded-for the third time).  People, you stress me out!!

Enough whining.

This is where we are right now and I don’t want to be anywhere but here!  Double Breasted is a breathtakingly gorgeous little gem made up of nothing more of a few craggy rocks and spit of sand and shallow water in the middle of them.  Our closest friends brought us here 16 years ago, it was their special spot. Over the years we have shared a lot of memories with a lot of different friends in this spot.  Being here makes those memories more vivid, for that reason no other island can ever be as special.   Prettier? maybe/maybe not. Better anchorage? Well, yes, there are better anchorages out there.  But more special? No. We are quite happy to hang out here for the next few weeks.

^^The anchorage is in a narrow channel.  One side is rock the other side is sandbar (out of view in the picture as it was high tide)

^^Those rocks look much closer after the sun goes down 😉

^^ My boys, just chilling on the beach

^^ Keith cleaning up a conch for us for dinner.

^^Just a little tiny spit of sand, but so perfectly so.

^^ The entire anchorage looks out to clear shallow water and sandbars that materialize as the tide falls.  Little pockets of warm water pools settle in between the bars.  Natures pretty playground.  Yep, not in a hurry to head back to Florida just yet.  

Oh, not sure if I made our plans known on the blog; here they are…  We are hoping to hang out here with several friends for a while, then head to Florida for a few weeks for a much needed reprovision stop and to install the new water maker (so excited about that), from there it depends on the hurricane season. We may rent a mooring ball in George Town in one of the hurricane holes as a safety net and head back to the Exumas or, we may investigate getting clearances to Cuba or, might stick to the US until fall (not my first choice!).  We aren’t sure yet.  After hurricane season, if not before, we will head back to the Bahamas to see some of the places we didn’t get to see before heading on “down island”.  At least that is the plan for today.  Right now I’m not going to worry about it too much and go for a swim.

 

Boat Boys (and Girls)

 I know we will encounter lots of “boat boys” as we travel further south through the Caribbean and some of them offer real services, but it is not something really seen here in the Bahamas.  Only here in the “big city” of Marsh Harbour have we encountered anything close.  There is a public dock here where the ferry boats load and unload and you can tie up your dinghy for free and go to town.  During the summer and when the kids are not in school there are frequently kids of all ages stripped down to their underwear jumping off the pier and having a good time just being innocent kids.  They also come scurrying over when they see you headed towards the dock.  Some ask if they can help you tie up, some ask to be “sponsored”, some just ask for money.  I haven’t figured out how to think about this yet.  They are just kids playing around and have learned how to make a little candy and soda money, it’s worked for them before so I can’t blame them for trying again.  Why wouldn’t they.  On the other hand, I want absolutely no part in reinforcing this behavior.  We simply and politely as we can say we don’t need help and Thank You.  If they are not too pushy we enjoy chatting with them.  But a friend of ours brought up a good point “five-year-old logic will mess you up” he said, and a dollar is pretty cheap insurance.  We’ve watched the kids climb into the dinghies and play with the items in the boats while the owners were in town (life jackets, buckets, oars) so it’s not like they are doing a good job of “watching” your dinghy for a dollar, but I don’t want a cranky kid fiddling with our outboard motor either.

I had a pushy little girl the other day, but I have to give her props for her honesty.  She said she wanted dimes and quarters, she likes to take them to the bank.  Me too, me too, my dear.  Keith keeps getting the same little boy asking to be sponsored.  He must not recognize him though because his reason has changed four times already.  Sometimes he needs a costume for a church play, sometimes he needs a uniform to go on a field trip.  Keith asked where his field trip was to, he said to a resort.  Poor thing, hasn’t learned to lie very well yet.  In frustration today he just wanted money to buy something.  We didn’t support the behavior, but I’m still struggling with it.  I’m not sure what is bothering me so much, is it disregarding a child asking for help; who am I to think I know their situation?  Or is it that I don’t like being asked for money when no service is being offered (kids or not).  I know for sure I don’t like trying to sneak into the dock before the kids notice us; we even went in the rain to avoid them one day.

I may not enjoy being approached by them, but I do enjoy watching the innocence in their play.  Just jumping from the docks, squealing, and teasing, and daring, and pushing.  Universal kids at play. 

When I asked Keith to slow down so I could take their photos he said “you know they are going to ask for money when they see the camera right?” 

“Yeah”

It was a fun interaction though, they showed off their jumps while playfully asking for bikes for Christmas.  The little one only wanted chocolate.  We responded by asking them for items on our wish list.  I guess they don’t believe in Santa anymore. It was a fun little banter. (The pushy little girl wasn’t there)

Lynyard Cay

Grey would still be the word of the day so we’ve been busy exploring on land again.  We saw the roof of a cabin as we dinghied by this point, the roof had a hole in it. Decrepit things beckon to us,  we just had to check it out.  As we walked up to it there were yellowed pages from books everywhere, some pages had even flittered down into the open, dry cistern under the front porch. The doors and windows were open or missing. Once we got close it was evident that it had been ransacked by humans and critters both.  Keith went inside, stepping over spilled Scrabble tiles that were scattered across the floor.  A HUGE owl swooped down and startled Keith before flying out one of the open windows.  I wish I had gotten a picture of either the owl or Keith’s face!  We had fun peeking around at the vintage dive gear and collected shells strewn about. It was obvious that someone used to have a good time there.  The beds still had blankets on them but the rodents had eaten the mattress till only the wire springs were left and, of course, we found the source of the book pages fluttering about outside.

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Going for a longer walk, we found a small pond on the island and made our way to the “Treasure” beach.  The ocean side beach is smothered with a heart wrenching amount of litter, almost all plastic.  As disturbing as it is to see, it did provide us with an afternoon’s worth of entertainment as we sorted through the garbage.  Items from the El Fargo cargo ship that sank in hurricane Joaquin have been washing ashore along the islands.  We found several items most likely from the ship including packages of Frontline flea medicine, new containers of Men’s deodorant, and lots of pharmacy items including several bottles of unopened medications and unused syringes.  I found a plastic capsule from an inflatable lifeboat with and identification card inside but the ink had washed away and I don’t know if it was from the wreck or not.

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*Pictures below—WHAT ARE THESE?  We have found several of these the last few weeks and have no idea what they are.  They kind of look like a urinal from the top but are closed on the bottom and look like they were glued into something.  Any ideas?

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Yep, still looking too rough out there for me!!

 

On the main island of Abaco there is the ghost town of Wilson City it was once used for logging.  We dinghied across to go exploring and looking for treasures of the non-plastic variety.  It was a failed mission.  The waves were breaking on the west coastline and we had to go around the point and pull the dinghy up in the mangroves.  Some of the foundations were easily seen from the water, but we heard the neat stuff is inland.  I can’t tell you, we never made it “inland”.  There was no path and it was so densely overgrown that we could not get more than a few feet in.  Of course the mosquitos waited to swarm us until we were completely tangled up in the brush.  I’ve never been swarmed so badly, I even had bites on the palms of my hands.  We quickly retreated.  I’d like to give it a go again, with long pants, a machete, and a full bottle of bug spray.

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The water is still pretty even when the sky isn’t.

“E” Dock Reunion

 

We are enjoying cruising with Saraid and decided to head up to Double Breasted together making a stop at Allens-Pensacola.  Pulling onto the anchorage we saw a lone catamaran, and it looked familiar……..Temporary Insanity!  Our other dock neighbors!  Hello, John and Anne.  So here we all are, three boats from the same dock all at the beginning of our cruises.  If we had planned it, it would have never happened.  Naturally a potluck occurred.  Delish.   

Wanting settled weather for anchoring at Double Breasted, we hung around at Allens for another day.  Then another when we started hearing grumbles of a possible tropical LO developing just south of us.  Then another when we heard grumbles of the now more probable possible tropical LO developing AND heading towards us.  But the current weather was pleasant even if too brisk to really get off shore for diving on the outer reefs, we still did enough diving to satisfy us and keep our bellies filled.  

On one of the afternoons while the boys were busy cleaning conch Lisa and I took a walk to the ocean side to visit the signing tree looking for familiar names. Some of the boards were ingenious!  One name was written with 5200, I’m sure that one will be around for a few more decades. I also liked the one that laced their name on a piece of drift wood, so smart. I have got to make us a name board!   

^^Boat food.  It’s the best.  Especially when shared in the cockpit with friends 🙂

 

 

China Harbour, Abaco

What do Crab Cay, jellyfish, blue holes, and Chinese submarines have to do with each other? 

This, sadly, is definitely NOT a joke; if you hang in here with me for just a minute, I’ll pull it all together.

We spent several nights anchored in Crab Cay while in the Abacos, I didn’t put it on the blog because of what we learned before I had a chance to upload post and I knew I needed to at least try to confirm what we were hearing and seeing, I’ve been back in the world of Internet and so now here is a belated post of Crab Cay.

On our first night anchored at Crab Cay, we noticed it had changed since the last time we anchored here. The beach had no sand left and underwater we noticed everything covered in a fine silt. The jellyfish were so thick it was almost impossible to be in the water. I read that jellyfish population blooms can be used as baramoters of an ecosystems health and in this case it felt true. But lots of places had changed in someway and from the cockpit in the anchorage it looked exactly the same. It wasn’t until we went exploring in the dinghy the next day that we started to put the first pieces together. We had friends who took us here 15 years ago and showed us a blue hole up in the mangroves that we had swam in. We went off in search of it again, but were confused as we thought it was in the mangroves in the creek at the corner of the anchorage, it didn’t look right though. We kept looking and found a small but very distinctly dredged channel that you could only see from head on. We dinghied in and saw that behind the thin front of untouched strip of mangroves there was an expanse of dredged channels and clearing of vegetation. We hadn’t been able to find the mangroves because they were no longer there. It looked like it was going to be a huge development of some sort. A marina? Condos with slips? But why? Green Turtle just a few miles away couldn’t keep their places filled, why build new construction in an even more remote and not necessarily picturesque spot. The spot is remote by land and boat really. It just didn’t make sense. 

Further in we could see one piece of earth-moving equipment that was not in use. Whew, we thought that maybe this would be another run-out-of-funds projects and the poor earth would do her best to heal the fresh scars on her own. We looked some more for the blue hole without luck but did find a scaffolding tower that was obviously placed to see the work site, we climbed up and took a quick peak. We were sad and went back to the boat.

 Later in the week while we were in Green Turtle, Keith was talking to a fellow cruiser about how we noticed the new development in Crab. He stopped Keith and said “wait, you went ashore!” , “you’re lucky you didn’t get shot”. Wait, what?! This is the Bahamas! He proceeded to fill Keith in on the story. It is not a condo. He explained that The Bahamas government approved a deal in which the Export-Import Bank of China will back 41 million dollars for a Chinese company, CHEC, to build a state-of-the-art commercial shipping port in the northern Abacos.  When the fellow cruiser had poked around, the Chinese company had apparently displayed a very strong security presence.  He showed Keith a few photos he took. Armed security and a big flag saying China Harbour. Not exactly what we had seen. 

But, why? It just didn’t make sense. There are only two settlements close by, Cooperstown and Foxtown. A large port didn’t seem warranted. A different Chinese company has already built what could be the worlds largest shipping port in Freeport, Bahamas.  Our first thought admittedly was that this would be to facilitate the export of seafood from the Bahamas to China. We have run into suspected poaching fleets off the banks before and remembered when a whole Chinese fleet of lobster boats were confiscated for illegally fishing in the Bahamian waters, so this started to make worrisome sense even though it was just wild speculation on our part. Sort of. But why did they stop construction, did the funding fail? Nope, get this- It turns out that during the excavating they came across an unexpected blue hole. Yeah, that secret one that cruisers have been enjoying for decades, that one. I am so glad a thorough environmental study was completed before commencing on the dredging. So the project is on hold while an environmental study can be done. Blue holes are fragile ecosystems and they are tied together with underwater caverns.  You can’t just fill one in and there are organisms only found in the Bahamian blue holes.  Sadly I doubt one blue hole is going to stop a multi-million dollar project. On this topic, sorry, I am cynical and I just can’t see the hope. While the construction at the Crab Cay site is on hold, the primary construction site further down the coast, where the actual port will be,  is still in full swing. We saw the action as we sailed by but were too far away to get any pictures.  We may have gotten our picture taken though, there are plenty of security cameras all around the perimeter of the work site. (I also found this blog post from another cruiser who took photos of the main CHES site.)

Curious, we kept asking around. We started hearing things about a 60 foot deep channel being dredged to the new port. That doesn’t make sense. Marsh Harbor is less than 20 feet deep. Why 60 feet of water?! We read an article in the local newspaper about the project, it sounded all positive and like a well supported endeavor, but the feedback we were getting from the locals was anything but. Some were sad and felt like there whole nation was being sold, others knew little about the construction, some were upset to hear the mangroves were being removed and said but they can’t! Sorry, they did. We also heard that even though lots of jobs were promised, that the wage offered by CHEC was so low that it was refused by the Bahamians and that the Chinese workers are not leaving the construction compound. New jobs or a boost to local businesses has yet to be seen. All of this was opinion, gossip, unverified scraps of info but we still kept asking around trying to wrap our heads around the thought that our beloved, secluded northern Abacos as we know it was about to disappear.

One day we talked to two local business owners who were able to make it all make sense. We were talking about the rumors of where they were dredging, and how deep, and how it didn’t make sense. They said “Oh, but it absolutely does. Let me tell you why……” They explained that not too long ago the Bahamian government apparently approved a deal for a Chinese Naval base on Cat Island in the Exumas. The US apparently got wind of it and apparently let the Bahamas know that it would not be in their best interest to move forward with this agreement; the deal fell through. (Note, I have not been able to find a source to confirm this. It didn’t exactly make the front page of the Abaconian or Florida Today). Then they asked us what boat needs that much water.  The answer- only a submarine. Making sense? We had friends who saw a survey boat working in front of Allens-Pensacola. We are hoping that we are connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected. 

 The deal not only involves the shipping container port which is actually going to be located just south of where we saw the construction, more toward Cooperstown, but also the small bridge that connects Great Abaco with Little Abaco Island. Right now it is a tiny filled-in land bridge that unfortunately blocked off flow between the islands. They plan on removing the old bridge and restoring the tidal flow (the only good news I’ve typed yet). Unfortunately, they are replacing it with an opening 150 foot wide bridge. Again, huh? It’s barely a creek between the two islands what boats are going to be going through there. Not very many without a whole lot more dredging. 

 We kept saying to each other over and over, I’m glad we didn’t wait another ten years. I’m not even sure what to expect when we head back over next month. This sad discovery has lead us to want to stay and soak up as much of the northern Abacos as we can, it might be our last chance before the good fishing grounds are dredged away causing the pristine beaches erode like they have at Crab Cay. Are we overreacting? I hope. 

I feel helpless for the blue holes and mangroves (the nurseries and filters of the sea) and I don’t know of a way to help. So, if you do, let us know! If you have more information on this port and what it may be (or not be), we’d like to hear it, we are still sadly curious.  

  

I have added a few links for news presses, articles, and websites on the Northern Abaco Shipping Port if this crazy story interests or worries you too. There are also a few links to photos that I did not want to post here for copyright concerns but are better than mine.

 So where is Crab Cay? Here are a few screenshots taken from Google Earth (I think I am allowed to post these here as long as they are unedited and referenced, if you know differently please let me know and I will remove the images)

 

 

 I took a few photos from the first day we found the dredging sight, they aren’t very good as we didn’t know what we were looking at.  With out a reference phot it’s hard to tell what has been done already.

^^ the mangroves are gone

^^large blocks from the dredging blocked the channel into the construction site

^^ the scaffolding on site