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A Different Kind of Cruising -

March 27, 2003 

A cruise ship leaves after our brief dawn encounter - was it something we said?

This morning we woke to find we no longer had the anchorage to ourselves. In the early dawn light, two cruising boats came around the point at the southeast end of the mile long bay where we were parked. The newcomers were a bit larger than "Little Gidding". In fact, together they probably carried several thousand crew and passengers. The ships were owned by the Holland America Cruise Line; the legion of pale skinned vacationers onboard thought they were arriving at Half-Moon Cay.

There are probably dozens of islands world-wide named Half Moon. We couldn't find Half-Moon Cay on our charts of the Bahamas, however. To the best of our knowledge, the island where we were anchored this morning is called Little San Salvador. It's a little over four miles long, a mile across at its widest, and features some nice sand beaches and numerous pretty reefs. Up until 1997, it was uninhabited. That year the entire island was bought by Holland America to be used as a cruise ship stop. We suppose someone in the company's marketing department felt "Little San Salvador" lacked appeal and renamed the island "Half-Moon Cay". Presumably, you can name a place anything you want when you own it.

When we first went ashore yesterday, we felt like we had entered a ghost community. One end of the beach was lined with cabanas, tiki bars and hundreds of beach chairs. All empty. A road ran parallel to the beach, hidden behind a row of casuarina trees. We followed the road a short distance into "town". There we found a cluster of newly constructed pastel coloured buildings. There was a massage parlour, straw market, hair braiding place, children's playground, first aid station, tiny church, large restaurant, a few souvenir shops and several more bars. Still, not a soul in sight. Finally, we wandered down to a yacht basin carved into the rock at the end of the bay. At the dock were a couple of motor launches and a glass bottomed tour boat. We discovered we weren't alone after all - three workers were touching up the paint on one of the boats. We greeted them and commented, "It seems pretty quiet here."

"Wait until tomorrow when the cruise ship comes," one of them said, grimacing. The woman working beside him added, "Actually, there are two ships, not one, coming tomorrow." Her colleague exclaimed, "Two! It's really going to be crazy!"

We've seen the impact of cruise ships on other island communities. A huge ship will pull into a sleepy harbour and disgorge as many guests as the town's entire population. Suddenly, the waterfront is crammed with vendors hawking all manner of handicrafts and souvenirs - some locally made, many not. The shutters are flung open on shops claiming to sell duty free goods. The island's roads become choked with taxis and tour vans. After a few hours, the visitors return to the ship, the street vendors disappear, the store shutters are closed, and the taxis are parked somewhere in the shade. The ship departs, leaving behind a bunch of money - money that's concentrated in the hands of a relatively few entrepreneurs.

Holland America figured it was worth the cost of a Bahamian island to capture the cash its guests would otherwise hand over to local merchants and tour drivers. Hence, the transformation of Little San Salvador to Half-Moon Cay.

Yesterday, after our tour of the town, we walked the deserted beach and went snorkelling on the reefs around the northwest tip of the island. David caught a giant lobster. We returned to the boat to watch the sun slip below the open horizon beyond the bay. The stars came out one by one in the darkening sky. The only sound was the gentle lapping of waves on the shore. "I don't think this place will be quite the same when the cruise ships arrive," Eileen said. David was feeling a bit stuffed from all the lobster he had just eaten. "Time to go," he agreed.

The ships arrived this morning in the middle of a squall. During the night, the wind had picked up and shifted so we were now bucking at anchor on a lee shore. Torrents of rain momentarily obscured the two approaching leviathans. By the time the rain subsided, the ships had turned and were headed around the end of the island. Someone had decided it wasn't going to be a good day for the beach.

We began preparing to get underway ourselves. David was having difficulty not spilling his coffee as the boat pitched. "Those poor people don't know what they're missing," he said. "Sure," Eileen replied, "they'll probably be bored silly lounging around the ship's pool, drinking margaritas, while we get to beat our brains out trying to find a more protected anchorage." David pulled the hood up on his foul weather jacket and stepped out of the cover of the cockpit. "Yeah, but we get to do this for free!" he called back.

David & Eileen