April 1, 2004
The patient reader who has endured the ranting in our last two entries ("Who Owns the Water?" and "Spare the Goose") knows that we're concerned about how the North American approach to property ownership and development is being exported to the Bahamas. Foreigners, mostly from the States and Canada, are buying up chunks of island real estate and are developing them for the exclusive use of themselves and their North American customers. We're now in the Jumento Cays, a hundred mile long crescent of small islands in the southwestern corner of the Bahamas. For the past week we've been pinned down by ugly weather. After the peaceful isolation of the first few days deteriorated into utter boredom, we're ashamed to admit we began to long for some development -- not a lot mind you, maybe just a place you could buy a cold beer (David) or an ice cream (Eileen).
Our place of refuge was Flamingo Cay, a mile and a half long scrub covered rock mostly populated by small lizards (a lot) and birds (not so many). We weren't the only human visitors. Four Bahamian fishing boats shared the anchorage with us. Each boat, about 40 feet long, was accompanied by four or five open skiffs powered by outboard engines. In normal weather, a couple of fisherman go out in each of the smaller boats and dive the coral patches that dot the surrounding shallow banks. At the end of the day, they return to the mother ship to clean and refrigerate their catch.
We weren't experiencing normal weather. The day after we arrived the wind piped up to a steady 25 knots. The seas to the north and south of the island looked downright nasty, white spray filled the air. Two of the fisherman dropped by to ask if we had heard a weather report. They explained they were from Long Island and were fishing the banks until lobster season closed at the end of the month. We told them that Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weather Centre was predicting sustained winds in the 25 knot range or higher for the rest of the week. Our friends weren't happy. "Well, mon, I can take 20 knots, but 25... that's too much wind, mon!" one admitted. His companion added, "I hope we're not still stuck here when the season closes next week."
The first day, David went snorkelling on some of the small coral heads in the lee of the island. He noticed several of the fishermen, prevented by the big waves from harvesting more extensive reefs further afield, were doing the same. "I don't think I'll be finding much that's edible," he told Eileen. He was right. After a couple of hours, the Bahamians unloaded a bunch lobster and fish. David returned with one modest grouper and a single conch. "I see we're planning to survive off the bounty of the sea," Eileen commented.
The next day we decided on a shore excursion. Eileen found some nice shells on the beach and David checked out the defunct light at the top of the island's highest peak, which just happens to be the highest point in the Jumentos. It took him about ten minutes to climb the 138 feet. "Now I know how Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norkay felt," he said.
We spent the third day on the boat. "Let's listen to some music," David suggested. "The stereo has been broken for six months," Eileen pointed out. "Remember my Christmas present?"
"Oh, you mean that new CD player in the box that we've been carrying around ever since we left Florida?"
David spent the rest of the day tangled up in a mess of multicoloured wires. Just as the sun set, Annie Lennox started singing in the main saloon. The cockpit speakers remained mute. "I think we're missing a few parts," David muttered. "You didn't notice a stereo shop on shore, did you?"
That night the wind increased until it was a sustained 30 to 35 knots with gusts over 40. One of our two anchors began to drag, putting us at an uncomfortable angle to the seas sweeping around the end of the island. At one in the morning, in the middle of a shower, David scrambled into the bucking dinghy and took a third anchor out and got us facing in the right direction again. "Never a dull moment," he said as he towelled off.
In the morning, the wind was back down to 25 so we took our hair cutting tools to shore and set up shop on the beach. Our coiffures turned out to be strikingly similar -- let's call it the natural blow dry look. Fortunately, we both have a good supply of hats.
Saturday, David decided to change the engine oil and automatic transmission fluid. They didn't really need to be changed, but he couldn't resist the urge to cover himself and much of the boat in a black slimy mess.
When we woke Sunday morning, for the first time in days, our wind-powered generator wasn't howling. The sky was clear and the rocks off the tip of the island were no longer obscured by white foam. The fishing boats had disappeared. Fortunately, we had run out of projects, so we weighed anchor and left.