Following our two day passage from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, on Tuesday-Wednesday the 2nd-3rd of February, we spent the next week and a half in the Nassau/New Providence Island area. On board with us were John Dragat and his daughter Juliana, who had joined us in Miami for the passage to the Bahamas. We had met John and his family in the Abacos in April 2008 when they were chartering a Moorings catamaran, then spent time with them in Cape Cod later that summer, including cruising with them to Martha's Vineyard with us on Liberty and them on their boat, Vado Pazzo. Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas, and its largest city by far. Over half the island nation's population lives here, around 300,000 people, and many of the younger folks from the Out Islands come to Nassau to work.
The weather was forecast to be fairly settled on Thursday, then get worse as a front came though during the weekend, so we decided to get away from the hustle and bustle of Nassau. We motored east just about seven miles to the several mile long Rose Island and its little anchorage on the south side where we could drop the hook for a day of relaxation. We took our first dinghy exploration, finding a channel cut into the island to give access to a couple of houses (with fancy yachts tied to the docks) and the vacant lots of a partially completed but abandoned "development project." While dinghying past one dock, several very large, mean looking dogs came out to bark at us until we got away from their dock. Later we beached the dinghy on a sandy beach only 20 feet wide or so, with a path that led across the island to the north/windward side. While the kids played in the surf and John hung out watching them, Nancy and Dave hiked up the beach. With very limited exceptions, there is no private ownership of Bahamian beaches - all are public from the water up to "one cart's width above the high tide line." Well, when Nancy and Dave rounded a bend on the beach and headed towards a small but nice looking house, the same big dogs raced out, barking menacingly. We backed away, keeping our eyes on the dogs, until we got around the bend to safety. So much for public beaches.
After hiking back over the island to the dinghy, we drove our overloaded dinghy through choppy seas into the wind to the protection of a small beach at the head of the little bay in which we were anchored. John, Nancy, Juliana and Josh hung out on the beach (even commandeering a hammock hanging in a tree) while Chris and Dave went out on the first hunting expedition of this year's cruising season. An hour of snorkeling and the hunters returned with the day's bounty - Chris speared the first "bug" (lobster) of the season, and Dave chased down the first conch of the year. Back on board Liberty we enjoyed conch fritters (which Juliana gobbled down, noting she had not had them since we first served them at Manjack Cay in the Abacos when we first met), and grilled lobster and bacon-wrapped venison filets. As night fell, the wind began to clock in advance of an approaching cold front, and shifted farther south of east. The choppy waves were able to find their way into our little anchorage, unprotected from the south, and Liberty began bouncing around. By morning we were glad to raise the anchor and sail back to Nassau harbour.
With a fairly strong cold front approaching, John graciously invited us to berth Liberty at the famous Atlantis hotel and marina. Atlantis is a Las Vegas-style mega resort on Paradise Island, across a short bridge from New Providence Island and Nassau, with several large hotel buildings, a casino, and a huge water park with lazy rivers, water slides, about 20 swimming pools, beaches, and many saltwater ponds filled with sharks, rays and fish. There is a big shark tank with tubes through which two of the water slides exit, the Leap of Faith and the Serpent Slide. Under the hotel buildings is a long, meandering walk through the biggest, most elaborate aquarium we've ever seen, with fish, sharks, and rays swimming among the discovered "ruins" of the lost city of Atlantis, and "artifacts" decorating the dimly lit passage. The hotel features a gallery of luxury shops, some incredible glass sculptures, and tremendous architecture everywhere one looks. Beautiful people abound too, mingling with pasty-skinned overweight New York lawyers sunburning at the pools with rum drinks in hand. All in all, Atlantis is a truly fantastic resort development. Rooms here start at over $400 per night, and dockage runs from $4 per foot up to $7 per foot, depending on how close the dock is to the main hotel. Liberty got a slip in the $4.50 section, so at under $200 per night, six of us got to sleep on board, eat our own reasonably priced and well prepared food, get wristbands for the water park and other attractions closed to the public, and even bring our own lunch and rum drinks into the pool/water park area! Before coming here we had thought only of the $4 per foot dockage, way more than we normally are willing to pay for a marina, but after a couple of days here we now believe Atlantis is a bargain - it's not just a marina, but a theme park that one could be happy at for days on end.
Our marina cards not only got the six of us on board wristbands for the attractions, but allowed us to invite guests, and Dave's college friend and fraternity brother Keith Gizzi and his family were in Nassau for a winter break from the Cape Cod cold. Keith and Cara and their 3 children (Hugo, Lucia and Stella, aged 6, 4 and 18 months) came over to Atlantis for the day on Saturday to enjoy the water park with us. About 18 months ago they had sailed with us for a day from Cape Cod to Plymouth, Massachusetts where they live (and when Stella was just one month old), so it was good to be with them again in an environment where Liberty is more comfortable! After a day riding water slides and playing in pools (Dave and Keith found the Leap of Faith quite exhilarating), we went back to Liberty for a very quick drink before the Gizzi's had to get their exhausted kids back to their hotel in Nassau (and the exhausted crew of Liberty could get to sleep also).
The next day, Sunday, Juliana had to leave us to fly back to Boston and her regular life, including school (which she had missed a week of to come sailing on Liberty). When John took Juliana to the airport in the morning, Dave dinghied across the harbour to the marina where another kid boat, Las Sirenas, was staying to retrieve their two girls (Haley, 12, and Alana, 9) and mom Esne to spend the day with us at Atlantis. (Scott, of course, got to do what cruising captains often do - spend the day on the boat doing boat chores while the crew enjoys a day out having fun!) Chris, Josh, Haley and Alana spent hours and hours sliding down slides and enjoying the Atlantis water attractions, while Nancy and Esne visited poolside. When John returned from the airport at noon, he and Dave moved Liberty out of the slip and into the Nassau harbour anchorage. It took several tries and spots to get the anchor to hold, and by the time Liberty was well set, the day was nearly done. We returned the Las Sirenas crew to their boat and captain, and spent a quiet night aboard Liberty at anchor.
On John's last full day with us, Monday the 8th of February, we decided to take advantage of the settled weather and improve our fishing luck. We motored Liberty out of Nassau harbour headed for deep water, trailing two ballyhoo rigs from our sturdy offshore fishing poles. 10 miles later, we'd had not a single nibble, and we steered our way into shallow water behind tiny Green Cay, maybe a couple of acres of scrub and pine trees with a small beach, surrounded by big reefs. While Nancy tanned and hunted for shells, the boys snorkeled the reefs, searching in vain for anything to eat. We found only pretty coral and pretty fish, none of the eating variety. After a couple of hours, we reboarded Liberty for another hour of deep sea fishing on our way back to the Rose Island anchorage. Again no luck, but a huge Yellowfin tuna jumped all the way out of the water, twice, just a dozen or so yards off Liberty's cockpit. Even though we couldn't entice him or his friends to take our ballyhoo, the sight of this majestic fish was tremendous.
After a quiet night at anchor at Rose Island, on Tuesday morning we sailed back to Nassau so John could catch his flight back to the USA and his normal life. Before sending him off in the taxi, we made our way to Potter's Cay, a small commercial boat pier with about 25 or 30 local food stands. Each about 20 feet by 20 feet, built of wood and painted in garishly bright colors, with a few benches or picnic tables out front and in back, overhanging the waters of Nassau harbour, these shacks offer the best in truly local fare. Bellies full with cracked conch, fried fish, conch salad, plantains and French fries, doused with local Kalik beer, we bid adieu to John as he set off in a taxi for the airport and we settled in to begin another family cruising season in the Bahamas.
We spent the next couple of windy days at anchor. Our first night didn't go well, as we swung around too close to another boat in the anchorage (possibly because we dragged, we're still not sure), and at 4:30 am we decided to re-anchor farther away. The winds were blowing pretty hard, over 20 knots, but our anchor held firm through a very windy Wednesday as a cold front pushed through. By Thursday afternoon the winds abated some, so we were able to get off the boat to visit some of Nassau's historical sights. From the dinghy dock at the Green Parrot, a local bar/restaurant that is the unofficial "cruiser's central" in Nassau, we walked down Bay Street (fronting the harbour) to downtown Nassau. We admired the bright pink government buildings surrounding a couple of small squares with statues of famous people, then hiked up the hill to Fort Fincastle, a very small fort built in the shape of a ship high on a hill overlooking the entrance to the harbour and Paradise Island with the Atlantis resort. Later we wandered by the straw market and found the cruise ship dock, where we watched folks in various shades of pink and red board their big ships and we visited with a gentleman from Cat Island who moved to Nassau 20 years ago to work. Tied down by a mortgage, he longs for his out island home, and we enjoyed discussing our fishing and other experiences at Cat Island at the end of last year's cruising season. We watched the Carnival Conquest pull away from the dock - we think this is the ship on which we will be spending a week with Dave's family in July to celebrate his parents' 50th anniversary.
A very strong cold front was predicted to hit the Bahamas on Friday afternoon (the same storm that brought snow to New Orleans, Mobile and much of the rest of the country on the 12th of February). Winds were predicted to blow 35 to 45 knots, with squalls over 50 knots. We were worried about being anchored in a harbour with not so great holding, so we decided to pull into a marina for a couple of days to wait out the storm. We did clock at least one gust at 53 knots on Friday night, and it was still gusting over 35 knots on Saturday morning. By late Saturday afternoon the winds settled down some, and after an internet break at Starbucks and a quick provisioning (mostly fresh milk, fruits and veggies) at the City Market grocery store, we turned in early to be ready to leave Nassau on Sunday morning, bound for the northern Exumas.
Chris speared the first lobster of the season!
Juliana loves conch fritters!
John, Josh & Chris
building sand castles
A few of the ocean from Rose Island
John takes a rest from castle-building
The Dig: an elaborate aquarium in the midst of the Atlantis "ruins"
Nancy & Dave coming out of the Serpent Slide
Juliana, Chris & Josh in front of a glass sculpture inside the resort
Josh & Chris enjoying the water slides
Dave takes the Leap of Faith
Hugo & Lucia enjoyed a day at Atlantis with us
Josh gets ready to ride again!
The Serpent Slide goes through the shark tank
Chris going down the Leap of Faith, a 60ft. drop
We explored The Dig with the Gizzis
Haley & Alana joined us for a day of fun
The kids raced each other on the Challanger Slides
Green Cay sits alone, uninhabited
Coming back from a hunting trip
Bahamian Government buildings are pink
Fort Fincastle, built in 1793, looks like an old paddleboat
The Queen Brigitte that the boys raced on last April is sitting in Nassau
Check out these Bahamian jack stands!
was carved by slaves - 62 steps
Chris, Josh & Hugo pose with the tarpons