Change in Scene -December 19, 2002
Eileen buys some bananas from a friendly resident of Green Turtle Cay
Last week we were in West Palm Beach, FL, waiting for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. The popular anchorage at the north end of Lake Worth was packed with like-minded cruisers. The night after we arrived, a strong cold front crossed Florida, causing a rapid wind shift and severe squall activity. The wind in the anchorage piped up to a steady 25 to 30 knots, with gusts around 45. Several boats began dragging anchor.
With horror, we watched the ketch in front of us break loose. No one was on deck. Our dinghy was lashed to the foredeck and its outboard engine mounted on the stern rail. There was nothing we could do to help except blow our air horn to alert our hapless neighbours that they were dragging. As it turns out, they were fully aware of this fact. The skipper was below in the engine room desperately trying to put his engine back together - he had been in the middle of replacing a broken alternator when the squall hit.
The ketch narrowly missed us, grazed the boat immediately behind us and then took out a small sloop in its path. The two entangled boats stopped short of the shore, pinned against the pilings of a marina. During the ten or fifteen minutes it took for this drama to unfold, the VHF airwaves were full of voices sounding the alarm. No one ventured out to help.
A commercial tow boat service was quick to respond and pull the boats off the pilings. Neither sustained much damage. The errant ketch got its engine going and proceeded to re-anchor. The wind was still blowing hard and the skipper had a difficult time. The radio came alive again with angry voices telling him to anchor somewhere else, not near where they were parked. No one volunteered to help. The poor guy ended up at the fringe of the pack, with two anchors deployed on plenty of scope.
By morning, the wind had died down and we went ashore to do some last minute errands. We locked our dinghy to a steel cable on the beach. Lake Worth has a bad rep for things going missing. The nearby supermarket and marine store were crowded with cruisers rushing about on similar missions. There were line ups at the bank machines. We risked our lives dashing across four lanes of whizzing cars to get from one shopping plaza to another. A boating couple scurrying alongside us commented, "This is more dangerous than crossing the Gulf Stream in a norther!"
The wind continued to moderate and clock around until by late afternoon it had become a gentle westerly breeze. Just before sundown, we weighed anchor and set out across the Gulf Stream on a comfortable broad reach. We passed on to the Little Bahamas Banks in the wee hours of the morning and continued south-eastward to make our landfall at Green Turtle Cay.
New Plymouth, the main settlement at the south-east end of Green Turtle, is one of our favourite Bahamian towns. Its pastel painted clapboard houses line concrete streets not much wider than North American sidewalks. Golf carts are the main mode of motorized transportation. You don't have to worry too much about becoming a traffic fatality on Green Turtle. After we had cleared Customs, we sauntered down the main street towards Sid's grocery store. The few people we passed smiled and greeted us. There was hardly anyone in Sid's, perhaps because there really wasn't much to buy there, at least not in the way of fresh produce. We bought two oranges, a tomato and a 2003 calendar depicting water-colour scenes of the Bahamas. The cashier welcomed us to the islands and advised that she'd have some fresh baked bread available the next morning.
Back on the street, we met a friendly woman carrying a box of bananas on her head. We talked a bit and bought a hand of bananas. As we continued our stroll, we didn't see any bank machines. In fact, we didn't notice any banks. We did pass two well cared for churches, however.
We drove our dinghy back to "Little Gidding". People on boats we didn't know waved as we passed them in the anchorage. After we had boarded our boat, an older fellow rowed over to introduce himself and chat for a few minutes. Our conversation was interrupted by a local resident announcing on the VHF radio that she had found an inflatable dinghy adrift and would like to return it to its owner.
Florida seemed to be awfully far away.