Man-O-War: A Photo Journal

Man-O-War is a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, heritage and community, that is the essence of island living.

Roughly 300 people live here year round – some work on the island, but most take the ferry to Marsh Harbor daily to work on the mainland. There’s a tiny little library next to a tiny little schoolhouse next to a tiny little post office, like a box of pastel crayons.

The houses are just as cute – yellow, purple, turquoise – with coconuts and conch shells lining the properties and golf carts parked outside. Water is sourced from cisterns that catch and store rain water.

Walk the main street off the marina and you’ll pass by friendly neighborhood cats, ducks quacking at the piers and swimming alongside turtles, cotton trees bobbing in the breeze, and shops that may or may not be open, depending on the owner’s plans for the day. You’ll most certainly meet at least one Albury – the family has been on the island almost from the beginning, generation after generation of boatbuilders, sailmakers and master woodworkers. It is a maritime town to its core.

As you head northwest on Queen’s Highway, the island narrows and at The Low Point, a slip of road and a picnic table is all that separates the Sea of Abaco from the Atlantic Ocean.

The air is fresher here in Man-O-War, the pace slower. Life is simpler and more vibrant, and pleasures come easy – like the slick of salt on your top lip from the spray of the steady ocean breeze.

Green Turtle to Great Guana

The most beautiful princess and her Great Guana sunset

The most beautiful princess and her Great Guana sunset

Finally, we are getting on island time – taking a deep breath and allowing ourselves the opportunity to enjoy where we are, even if it means putting a few non-essential projects on hold.

Due to a cold front that made traveling further south with Clarity impossible, we spent two weeks in Green Turtle Cay, but it turned out to be such a blessing. We tucked into a cozy little anchorage in White Sound that was surrounded by gorgeous resorts and was a short dinghy ride to town. Just a few days in, we met another cruising family that’s spending the better part of the winter in the Abacos on Wild Child, their Beneteau. Their daughter, Marleigh, is Claire’s age, and the two became fast friends, running like kitties along the beaches and setting up coconut stands.

Amazingly, a few days after that, we spotted Dark Horse anchored just off the island. Just a month ago, we celebrated Christmas in Florida with a couple of cruising families – one of them being Dark Horse, an incredible force of six (four kids aged 8 months, 2, 7 and 9) who have been living on their schooner for three years. We guided them into our anchorage in Green Turtle, and like that, our community grew again.

We explored the island together and the kids climbed trees and put on magic shows while the rest of us bathed in the warmth of adult conversation – heightened by healthy doses of wine, rum and moonshine. We took our dinghies over to No Name Cay to feed the wild pigs. The men convened to share charts and review forecasts.

And when the weather window did lift, we caravanned down to anchor off of Great Guana Cay together, spending the next three days doing school and work on our respective boats in the morning and meeting in the afternoons for snorkeling, diving, fishing and sandcastle-building.

Finding this, a “family,” friends for Claire and for us, was one of the things I was most worried about when we decided to leave all that was familiar in Chicago. To have found a taste of it this soon was an unbelievable gift.

As another cold front was bearing down, the three of us parted ways to find safe harbor – Dark Horse to Marsh Harbor, Wild Child to Hope Town, and us to Man-O-War Cay. We hope to meet again before our paths further divide. Dark Horse plans to leave the Abacos sooner than we will, as their draft prevents them from comfortably cruising the southern cays here, and this is the end of the road for Wild Child, heading back to the States in another month or two.

For now, we’ll enjoy the next week on our mooring in Man-O-War as our cozy little community of three.

The Case of the Three-Thousand-Dollar Black Bean

Claire in her "hospital costume," as she called it, right before they put her under.

Claire in her “hospital costume,” as she called it, right before they put her under.

To say that the last week was a rough one would be putting it mildly.

After striking out Monday at the local clinics and waiting out the national holiday on Tuesday, Aaron and I caught the ferry Wednesday morning with Claire, rented a car (from Big Papa, because in the out-islands, everything is family run) and drove to the clinic in Marsh Harbor.

We were so hopeful, but after multiple attempts to get the bean out, we had to come to terms with the realization that true medical help was not only necessary, but a plane ride away.

Claire, happy as can be in her pillow fort, in our hotel room in Marsh Harbor.

Claire, happy as can be in her pillow fort, in our hotel room in Marsh Harbor.

Sitting in our hotel room that night in Marsh Harbor, waiting for the flight Claire and I would have to catch the following morning to go to the hospital in Nassau, Aaron and I were in bad shape. Totally defeated. We just couldn’t catch a break, it seemed.

“Do you want to quit?” “…Do you?”

Honestly, we didn’t know what the other would say.

You see, the bean was the cherry on top of two weeks that have been equal amounts stressful and wonderful. Yes, there have been amazing anchorages, gorgeous beaches, swimming and snorkeling, and great friends.  The other half of the story is that, shortly after we crossed to the Bahamas, our batteries stopped holding their charge and would die overnight. Our watermaker all of a sudden started functioning at 50% the output we had when we brought it online in Florida. One of the windows of our hard dodger shattered, showering our entire cockpit and parts of our salon with glass.

Our Wi-Fi for tethering to our phones, which we need for work, wouldn’t load properly, even after hours of troubleshooting. Bugs started cropping up in our galley at night. And a prolonged cold front came through that not only brought temps too chilly for swimming, but also winds and a sea state that made getting further south impossible until it lifted.

And then, Claire stuck a bean up her nose – “tree trunk,” she named it shortly after it took up residence in her left nostril. So you see, we were already pretty run down.

Planes, trains and automobiles - all because of a little black bean

Planes, trains and automobiles – all because of a little black bean

In a really big way, we were lucky. Though we had to get the bean out as soon as possible, Claire’s “ailment” was not painful. But it was extremely traumatic for her, not really knowing what was going on, with Aaron and me trying to hold her down and doctors she didn’t know shoving tools she didn’t understand down her nose.

The biggest contributor to the decision to fly to Nassau was that she simply wouldn’t lay still. She just couldn’t calm down, even with a shot of Valium to try to ease the anxiety. With each attempt at the clinic in Marsh Harbor, her fight got stronger, and it became less and less safe to try to get the bean out. So, alas, a flight to Nassau, where she could be safely put under, was in order. If it’s any indication of the state she was in when we got to the hospital, even the sight of a nurse walking in with a pen would send her cowering behind me, poor thing.

The staff at Doctor’s Hospital in Nassau was fine. We went straight there from the airport and were registered in the emergency room almost immediately. Shortly thereafter, the doctor on call told me he was working with the ENT and the anesthesiologist to determine a plan.

Keeping spirits up in the waiting room! Markers make everything better.

Keeping spirits up in the waiting room! Markers make everything better.

What I didn’t know, though, and I wish the doctor in Marsh Harbor had told me, is that to put Claire under safely, she needed to have fasted for at least six hours. I had given her snacks on the 1 p.m. flight, so we had to sit and wait until 7 p.m. for them to treat her, Claire getting more and more hungry and antsy as the minutes wore on.

Finally, when it was time, I think Claire was so excited to finally leave the waiting room we had been in for hours that she took it like a champ, happily putting the hospital gown on, smiling, joking with the nurses. She gave me a thumbs up while they wheeled her away in her bed – it was as far as I was allowed to go – and they sent me out to the waiting room. It was an absolutely horrible feeling.

The infamous black bean

The infamous black bean

But 20 minutes later, it was done. The bean had been successfully removed, she was waking up and I was allowed back up to see her. “They found tree trunk,” Claire said in a sleepy stupor, and as I called Aaron with the news, relief washed over us. We flew back the next morning, took a cab back to the ferry dock, made the 20-minute trip across the Sea of Abaco, and were back on Clarity by 11 a.m.

So let’s talk money. The ferry for Aaron and Claire to get to the mainland on Monday ($21 round trip per person) and the cab to and from the Cooper’s Town Clinic. The ferry back to mainland for the three of us on Wednesday morning, the rental car to drive to Marsh Harbor ($75), the hotel stay ($150), as we’d missed the window to get back for the last ferry. Then on Thursday, the flight for two (round trip – $300 for the 30-minute flight, thanks to last-minute booking), the cab to the hospital, the cab from the hospital to the hotel, the cost of the hotel stay in Nassau ($260, the cheapest we could find), the cab from the hotel to the airport on Friday, the flight back, the cab for Claire and I back down to the ferry stop ($85), and the return ferry trip. And that’s just travel.

The first two clinics – Green Turtle and Cooper’s Town – didn’t charge us anything, and for all of the effort of the doctor in Marsh Harbor and his staff, and the medicine they used, the total was only $115. At the hospital, however, there was the emergency room charge ($500), for simply registering and sitting in the waiting room for more than four hours. Then the substantial charges really began, because to have her put under, she actually had to be admitted. And with that comes the cost for the ENT, the cost for the anesthesiologist, the cost for the nurses, the cost for the bed. We had to put down an additional deposit of $2,500 for them to even treat her.

We don’t have the final bills yet, but the charges for the hospital visit alone will be more than $2k (they could be more or less than the required deposit – we have no way of knowing until we get the bill).

Of course, you do what you have to do. We never hesitated, each step of the way, in getting Claire the care she needed. In doing as much as we could together, then Claire and I flying ourselves to Nassau to save the flight fee for the third person. In trying as best as we both could to swallow our frustrations and exhaustion and keep Claire in good spirits.

Kids are so resilient; it always amazes me. The same day she and I made it back to the boat, she was out playing at the beach with her friends, supremely happy. No pain, no residual symptoms, nothing.

I slept 12 hours that night. I still feel tired.

We’re trying our best to not let these things kill our spirit. Aaron was able to isolate and fix the issue with the batteries and we have a plan for troubleshooting the watermaker. With fastidious cleaning and a military approach to crumbs and food waste, the bug issue seems to be dissipating. We’ve found a place in Marsh Harbor that can replace our shattered cockpit window, we have a workaround for the Wi-Fi, and the seas should finally lay down enough in the next day or two for us to head south.

Above everything, though, Claire is healthy and back to her happy self, running face-first into the waves and setting up coconut stands on the beach with her friends.

I’m sure six months or a year from now, I’ll look back on the story of the black bean and laugh. Right now, it’s still just a bit too soon.

Crash Course in Island Healthcare

whiningfeeHave you ever wondered what you’d do if you stuck a bean up your nose in a remote location?

No?

Us either. Turns out, we should have.

We’ve been in the Abacos for almost two weeks now, and we’ve already had some amazing pinch-me moments.

But one thing to remember – we are reminded every day – is that we are not on vacation. This is our life. And with that comes the expected tasks (laundry, cooking, cleaning, school, work, boat projects), and the unanticipated ones.

On Sunday morning, as I was preparing some meals for the week, Claire asked to see a few of the dried black beans I had out. And then she proceeded to stick one up her nose.

“I wanted to see what it would feel like.” I don’t know what else to say about the act itself. For the longest time, we thought she was joking. But that’s a pretty specific experience she put together. Turns out the joke was on us.

Now, in the States, I’d just throw her in the car and take her to the nearest walk-in clinic so they could suck it out and we could be on about our day. (We tried and tried and tried all of the obvious ways here on the boat to get it out.) But in the out-islands of the Bahamas, when you live on a sailboat, things work a little differently.

We are fortunate that the island we’re currently at (Green Turtle Cay) is developed enough that there’s a clinic – however, it’s only open Monday through Friday and there’s no after-hours emergency line to call. So, Monday morning, we piled into a golf cart rented by another cruising family we’ve come to know here and headed to town.

“Oh, no. We can’t fix that here. It’s way up there? No, we don’t have a tool for that here. You’ll have to go to the mainland for that.” (Keep in mind that I had gritted my teeth and paid for the expensive call to the clinic when it first opened that morning to explain the problem and make sure they’d be able to see us.)

Well, the ‘mainland’ is the northern part of Great Abaco Island, across the Sea of Abaco from where we are, and we had two options: Cooper’s Town and Marsh Harbor. The former is a smaller town but still with a government clinic allegedly more well-equipped than the one at Green Turtle Cay. Marsh Harbor is the third-largest city in the Bahamas, with robust medical facilities, but farther away (i.e. more expensive for travel). And with a cold front that has settled in the Abacos like a cold that won’t quit, the seas are kicked up and we don’t want to move the boat out of our protected anchorage.

So, luckily again, there’s a ferry from Green Turtle across to Treasure Cay on the big island. From there, we’d have to cab it to either location – with the ride to Marsh Harbor being twice as expensive.

Early Monday afternoon, Aaron spoke with the staff at the Cooper’s Town clinic, who were very friendly and helpful on the phone. They gave us the names of specific doctors in Marsh Harbor who could help, but right as we were about to make the decision to head straight there, realizing that we’d never make it back to Treasure Cay in time for the last ferry of the day and would have to also pay for a hotel room there, they said, “Bring her here to Cooper’s Town. We think we can get it out.”

Off Aaron and Claire went on the 3 o’clock ferry (I stayed back to save the ferry fee and also make some progress on a work deadline). By 3:30, they were in a cab and by 3:45, the doctors were taking a look at her. “Nope, we can’t get that out. Too far up there.” It didn’t help that Claire was flinching and crying anytime anyone tried to get a good look up her nose.

Back in the cab, back on the ferry, back to the dinghy, back to the boat, $115 poorer and still with that damn bean firmly planted up Claire’s left nostril.

The thing is, if it had been anything else – a viral infection, a jellyfish sting, a weird bug bite – they likely could have treated it here in Green Turtle, and definitely in Cooper’s Town. But this is now bordering on internal medicine.

Oh, and another kicker – today is a national holiday, so everything is closed.

So tomorrow, we have an appointment with a specialist in Marsh Harbor at 2 p.m. We’ll have to hop in the dinghy to shore, get the ferry again, rent a car and drive to Marsh Harbor. If the specialist can’t get it out, either because Claire won’t settle enough for him to make a good attempt or because it’s lodged in too far, we’ll have to take her to the emergency room, where they’ll likely have to put her under to get it out.

Hopefully, we’ll make it back to Treasure Cay in time for that last ferry at 5 p.m., though likely not. So, add the price of a hotel room to the tab.

One thing I will say, though, is that so far, the costs of this debacle have all been travel-related. The medical professionals haven’t been able to help us so far, but there also wasn’t a wait at any of the clinics, and no fee just to walk in the door and be seen, unlike in the States, where the five-minute visit at each location would have been $100 or more, with or without resolution.

Yes, such an amazing and exciting life we lead as cruisers, with the swimming and the snorkeling and the sailing. And the planes, trains and automobiles required to hopscotch back and forth across the Sea of Abaco, all because our delightful, intelligent, inquisitive daughter decided on a whim to jam a bean up her nose.

Address: The Abacos

It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, we’d never even heard of these islands. These unbelievable islands where the water is so clear, it’s a window to the colorful creatures below, the sand so white that it glows at night almost brighter than the moon. Countless stars, like glitter tossed on black paper. And so many shells! Enough to weigh down the boat properly with Claire’s and my collections combined.

What the Abacos have in beauty, however, they lack in consistent Wi-Fi. More to come soon on how daily life has shaped up for us, but in the meantime, here’s a look at Spanish and Nunjack Cays.