|Living aboard Diamond Lil these past 2 years has rewarded Captain John and me with countless benefits, the greatest of which are time and freedom. "Taking our time" means being able to stretch a day or two into a week or longer when we find a spot that we love and "freedom" which is what Eleuthera means in Greek seems a fitting name for this laid back little piece of Paradise.
A week ago yesterday we found ourselves in a particular harbour, our first landfall on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera as we headed south from Abaco en route to the Exumas. After a night at anchor in beautiful white sand along the western shore of "The Current", perhaps the oldest settlement on the island, we passed through "Current Cut" and cruised south along the western Bight of Eleuthera, savouring a view of the famous rock formation known as the glass window, covered by a bridge that connects north and south Eleuthera.
Approximately 90 miles long from north to south and 2 or 3 miles wide except at the northern and southern ends, Eleuthera was first settled in 1649 by the a group from England and Bermuda known as The Eleutheran Adventurers. Eleuthera was once a pineapple growing center and at one time Hatchet Bay was the largest dairy and stock raising center in the Bahamas.
Our destination was Hatchet Bay, known as the Country's Safest Harbour where we planned to spend a day or two exploring the area before continuing south along the island. We entered through the artificially cut, 90 foot wide entrance to the bay, secured Diamond Lil to a mooring ball and the Captain headed toward shore in the dingy to inquire about the mooring charge. He was back in no time, insisting that I drop everything and come to shore with him. "It reminds me of Jamaica", were his exact words and with that I put down the vacuum and quickly went through my going to shore routine. Sunscreen application, cameras into my hands free waist pouch, hands free knapsack on my back to carry back treasures found, sandals on and we were off!
My love affair with the Caribbean began with our first two trips to Jamaica so when the captain describes a place by comparing it to my first love he can pay it no higher compliment. The similarities were subtle but sure enough they were there. The beep beep of car horns as drivers warned pedestrians of their presence and acknowledged other drivers that they knew and recognized brought back memories.
Our first impression is that we have landed somewhere very different from anywhere in the Bahamas we have been before. The rugged, rocky shoreline gives way to sparsely populated, gently rolling, heavily wooded countryside. There are few tourists and boaters here. There are no Hatchet Bay postcards for sale, no Hatchet Bay T shirts or ball caps or other touristy items. In fact today is Tuesday and there isn't even milk or eggs for sale until Thursday when the boat from Nassau arrives with supplies.
There are no marinas along this long stretch of Eleuthera, not until the Cape of Eleuthera, x miles to the south. There are no hotels, no motels, just a few cottages which are not even on the water. There is no wireless internet here, no library where we can check email messages and connect with the outside world. We truly feel that we are "away" from it all here. This is cruising for independent and resourceful travelers.
We inquired at the post office and were told that the town administrators were not in the office and to check back at 9 a.m. the following day. Finding a loaf of bread was our next goal and a short walk led us to a gas station with a small store. There were three loaves of sliced bread and we took one in case we had no luck finding what we were really after, the delicious home made bread that we had grown to love since arriving in the Bahamas.
We had read in our Maptech cruising guide that home made bread could be purchased from a woman named Josephine Johnson who sold it from her home. We asked another shop owner for directions to Miss Josephine's house and in typical Bahamian style she directed us to "go straight and turn". She neglected to mention that there were several turns involved and we finally found a school girl who led us to Miss Josephine's house where we did in fact purchase a loaf of home made bread. We gave the girl a dollar for her trouble and her eyes lit up as she thanked us politely as if we had handed her a twenty dollar bill.
The next morning we returned to the Administration Office at which point were told that someone from Governor's Harbour, the next town 16 miles to the south would come by sometime within a week or so and we could check in with them. I asked about the possibility of tying up in one of the empty spots along the town dock and was told that yes we could tie up there, for a small fee, the exact amount was unknown but wouldn't be "much".
The helpfulness of the staff was amazing. Along with 4 other boaters we asked several questions about the area. No there was no bus service on the island they told us. One couple asked for directions to the bat caves and one staff member offered to drive them there. Another boater and his daughter asked about the internationally known surfers beach about 4 miles north of town and a woman offered to take them and their 9 ft surfboard in her pick up truck. Off they went as if there was no more important business at hand than providing assistance to the visitors.
We decided to move the boat to shore so the Captain tucked in to the dock between a trawler and a fishing boat. We kept watching for someone to arrive looking for the dockage fee but during our 8 day stay nobody showed up to collect. Bonus! After 51 nights at anchor or on a mooring ball it felt great to be able to step off the boat and stretch our legs at will.
The bikes came off the bow and the Captain got busy with his oil can, undoing the damage caused by 2 months worth of salt water spray while I got to work with the rust remover on the deck. My bike was operational later that day but the Captain's 10 speed with it's mess of rusty gears was another matter. In order to simplify this rust removing routine in the future he got to work with his xxx, removed the gears, shortened the chain and converted the 10 speed to a 1 speed.
We had wheels and set out to explore. The highway running the length of the island was just steps from the boat so we took our lives in our hands and headed for the bat caves. We found the caves, saw no bats and unfortunately lots of grafitti. Down the hill from the caves we discovered the Sweening salt pond where we discovered 3 large crabs in the water right alongside the shore.
The Captain struck up a conversation with the owner of the fishing boat docked in front of us. His fisherman were due back in the small runabout in about an hour with the day's catch of stone crab and he was filling two huge pots with fresh water so that they would be boiling and ready to cook the crab as soon as it arrived. We watched as the 100 lbs of stone crab claws was divided into two pots and cooked immediately. Vehicles began to arrive in anticipation of the boat's arrival and drivers waited patiently to buy some crab.
We commented on how patient people are here and couldn't help but compare this slow pace of life to the rat race back home in Toronto. The thought of people sitting patiently in their car waiting for an hour for anything was inconceivable.