Liberty did manage to free its anchor from the sand a couple of times to get away from George Town and see other parts of the Bahamas. On January 22, 2009, a good weather window opened for a sailing trip to Long Island (the one in the Bahamas, not in New York). Liberty joined a dozen other boats, including several with kids on board (More Cowbell from Houston, Rio Dulce, Gotta Life and Three @ Sea), for the trip. The trip to Long Island is about 40 miles, reached by sailing mostly on the Bahama banks (shallow, protected waters). The day we chose to sail, the wind was light from the southeast. After motorsailing the four or so miles out of Elizabeth Harbour, we sailed an hour and a half through our only stretch of deeper water in Exuma Sound before re-entering the banks and shallow water. We were all able to sail the next 8 mile or so leg to the northeast, but then a turn to the southeast put us enough into the wind that the motor came on pretty much for the rest of the trip. All 12 boats pulled into Thompson Bay on the west side of Long Island within an hour of each other and set anchors in the deep soft sand of the bay.
Thompson Bay provides good protection from the west through south, with exposure only to the southwest. Soft sand provides good holding, although we had been warned that the silty water precludes making water (not good for the filters). Long Island is aptly named, being the Bahamas' longest island at around 80 miles. There are lots of touristy things to do here, and we intended to take advantage of them.
After our first day gently swinging on the hook, we heard on the radio that another group of cruisers was organizing a dinner outing at a local restaurant. Club Thompson Bay, also known as the Thompson Bay Inn, is a less than 10 minute walk from the north beach in Thompson Bay. The proprietress, one Tryphena, is well known for the Bahamian dinners she cooks up if enough people commit to dinner reservations. Dave and Dana from More Cowbell decided to join us for Tryphena's famous Bahamian feast on Thursday evening ($15 for conch fritters, grouper fingers, cracked conch, barbeque ribs, fried chicken, fried plantains, macaroni & cheese, peas & rice, cole slaw and desserts). She starts serving rum drinks around 4 or 5 pm, then conch fritters at 6:30 through the cocktail hour, but the buffet-style dinner, which she had promised for 7 pm, was served on island time - around 8:30 pm - giving Tryphena's son plenty of time to serve way too many rum drinks to thirsty cruisers! We stumbled back to our dinghies in the dark, a challenge better appreciated by understanding the path we took to get to Club Thompson Bay. After pulling our dinghies up on the beach and tying them off to trees or setting anchors in the sand, we had to hike a narrow rocky path through the woods to a dirt road that led out to the main road. Interestingly, there is an old fresh water well right on this path that has a bucket for hauling up water. We tasted it, and it was fresh and sweet! We've heard that in past years cruisers used to actually refill their tanks from this well, but it sure seems a lot of work, filling jerry jugs ½ gallon at a time, then lugging them back to the boat. Anyway, the path, so easy to hike during daylight, proved a much more formidable challenge in the dark night, with only the faint light of Dana's cell phone to illuminate the rocky way. The rum drinks didn't help either! Laughing uproariously, we all made it back to the beach and our dinghies, and eventually home to our respective boats, satisfied in every way by the local food and drink, and the fast internet connection that enabled us to check emails, do a little work and even make some Skype calls.
After a day of recuperation at anchor and a much quieter Friday evening on board, the Texas-based crews of Liberty and More Cowbell (great boat name) rented a van so we could spend Saturday exploring Long Island. With Dana at the wheel of our right-hand drive Nissan van (like parent country Britain, Bahamian driving is on the left side of the road, opposite of the USA), we took in the key sights on Bahamas' longest island. We began the morning driving to the northern tip of the island to see the Columbus Monument, marking the third landing site of the famous explorer during his 1492 trip (and our second Columbus monument in the Bahamas, the first having been at San Salvador back in December). The road to the site is under construction, but is at the critical juncture of being bulldozed from a narrow path to a wide road, and the going was so rough that we finally abandoned the van and hiked the last mile and a half to the hill with the monument. Arduous, but worth it - the views of the Atlantic to the north and the incredible reefs and shallows around the northern Cape Santa Maria (named because that's where Columbus' flagship went aground on a reef) were stunning. After a long (and filthy) hike back to the van, the intrepid explorers (Liberty and More Cowbell, not Niña, Pinta & Santa Maria) were off again.
On our drive south we stopped briefly to visit St. Mary's Church, thought to have been built by the Spanish settlers in the 17th Century. It is the oldest church on the island, but is now in partial ruin. Once a Catholic church, it was destroyed by a tidal wave and the Catholics turned it over to the Anglicans and built another church. It is very interesting that the Bahamians leave these ruined churches, as well as houses and other abandoned buildings, in complete disrepair, crumbling into history. We saw this also in San Salvador in December.
A quick stop at a beautiful beach was followed by a long drive south to explore first a large blue hole and later a large cavern. Dean's Blue Hole is a 600+ foot deep dark blue hole at the edge of the island, right at the beach. Long Islander's proudly claim that it is the deepest blue hole in the world. About 75 feet across at the top, the sand bottom slopes steeply in and then just drops off into nowhere - kind of scary, but we snorkeled it, and the boys both jumped from cliffs over the blue hole out into the water - fearless kids! We also got to observe the members of a local church who were baptizing two people in the waters of the bay right at the blue hole. The new believers were dressed in blue robes, and they were dipped backwards and immersed into the water while the rest of the congregation sang on the beach. We joined them for one hymn and sang along during the moving ceremony. The blue hole also sported a free-diving sled, a floating contraption with ropes that are anchored at the bottom; folks with iron lungs can see how deep they can free-dive. Dave was able to pull himself about 30 feet down the rope, before either his lungs or his courage gave out.
From the cavern we drove south to Clarence Town, home to a couple of very old, very famous churches, both built by Father Jerome (St. Paul's when he was an Anglican Missionary, and St. Peter's when he converted to Catholicism), one of which offered stunning views of the surrounding waters and reefs from its bell tower, entrance to which was gained by climbing a very narrow series of ladders high up. No insurance company in the US would write a policy that allowed visitors to climb up that tower, but hey, we're not in the US - thankfully! We also stopped in to the marina in Clarence Town, and - here's another "it's a small world" story - we saw the same boat tied up at the marina that gave us a mooring ball in Annapolis back in October! After visiting and sharing our "how did you get here" stories, the Liberty/More Cowbell crew stopped at a local eatery for cracked conch and other local fare before heading back in the dark to drop off the rental van and then drop, exhausted, into our berths on our respective boats.
Dave had to fly back to the States on the following Tuesday for a business trip, so on Monday morning we raised the anchor for a fast sail back to George Town.
After the blue hole, we found Mr. Leonard Cartwright (of Bahamian, not Ponderosa, fame), who drove us to the secret entrance to Hamilton Cave on his family's land. Mr. Cartwright then led us on a guided tour of the cave, crawling at times, for over an hour. Stalactites and stalagmites, bats, stone carvings, and other interesting "cave things" interested kids and adults alike.
Liberty's crew at Cape Santa Maria
Ayla, Geneva, Brady & Josh
Sam, Brian, Erin, Ann Marie & Chris
Dave draws water from the well
Sheep run wild on the island
Our good friends Dana & David
Ruins of St. Mary's Church
Dean's Blue Hole, right off the beach
Josh jumps from the cliff
into the blue hole!
Chris pulls himself down the ropes
into the depths of the blue hole
A baptism in the waters around the blue hole
There were bats everywhere!
St. Paul's Anglican Church
View of Clarence Town from St. Peter's
St. Peter's Catholic Church