Royal Island Ruins

dscn3480When we experience places truly only accessible by boat, or even only by small boat (dinghy), that’s when this whole thing peaks for me.

After a beautiful sail last weekend from the Abacos to the Eleuthera chain, we tucked into an uninhabited area called Royal Island, a little sliver of land northwest of the main Eleuthera island.

It was as remote as you could get. There were signs of an abandoned, and then restarted, and then stalled resort development; beach villas and a fairly substantial ferry dock remained, likely to provide transportation from the main island to the property.

And there was an old fishing retreat that other cruisers had told us was not to be missed. As the story goes, the development was built in the 1930s by wealthy Floridian W. P. Stuart as a remote getaway to kick back with his friends. It included a cliffside bar, a grand fireplace, numerous outbuildings, and trails down to the beach on the Atlantic side.

At some point, the parties ceased, and the estate was left to settle into its surroundings. Many of the buildings are crumbling, with vines forming a picturesque wallpaper. Lizards now have the run of the place, and flora blooms in the holes between the bricks.

The dock was also mostly deteriorated, with a few poles left jutting out of concrete and ragged rocks. It was just enough for us to (very carefully) tie up our dinghy and climb the steps to a little enclave built almost 90 years ago.

We couldn’t stay long, but we respectfully left our mark – a conch shell bearing our names placed on the bar, as others have done before us. And we left, as quietly as we’d come.

Something about boat problems and making lemonade

"A little higher, guys, and a little to the left... I can't hold her all day!"

“A little higher, guys, and a little to the left… I can’t hold her all day!”

The bad news: We had to get hauled out this week.

The good news: We’re back in the water and finally on our way to Eleuthera tomorrow!

So here’s what happened. After slowly traversing the Abacos from north to south, we had finally made our way down to Little Harbor, our gateway to cross to Eleuthera. With the boat safely anchored, Aaron donned his snorkel gear and dove down to clear what we thought was a clogged water inlet for our watermaker (turns out it was just an air lock in a pump which, once found, was fixed in seconds). But while he was down there, he noticed that our sacrificial anodes, or zincs, were in bad shape. The one on our propeller had fallen off (the bottom cleaner we hired in Florida installed it for us and apparently didn’t bolt it on correctly) and the one on our saildrive was just about shot.

We had another propeller anode on board and Aaron was able to do a quick replacement. The saildrive anode, however, was another story. We didn’t have a replacement on board – a definite oversight. And, to boot, replacing it meant disassembling the propeller and reassembling it. Newer saildrives allow zinc replacement without removing the prop… what a concept! Some props simply come off in one piece, but of course, we have a fancy, feathering propeller that folds up when we’re sailing to reduce drag. Great, except that to remove it, it has to be taken apart in many pieces (see photo). Not something easily done under water with scuba gear – at least, not the first time, which it would be for us.

The saildrive. Imagine disassembling this and then reassembling it while in full scuba gear under the boat. Nope.

The saildrive. Imagine disassembling this and then reassembling it while in full scuba gear under the boat. Nope.

For those who are unfamiliar, sacrificial anodes are pieces of zinc, a less noble metal, that stray electrical currents slowly eat away at, rather than the propeller, saildrive, or other underwater metal parts of the boat. They can originate in a number of ways – either from neighboring boats in a marina, or from an electrical issue on your boat. Aaron figures it was a combination of other boats in marinas back in the States, as well as an electrical issue of our own that he found and fixed during our first month on the boat this summer.

The anodes are very, very important and replacing them is just a matter of routine maintenance, not an issue of the boat malfunctioning. He had been keeping an eye on the propeller anode and had it replaced shortly before leaving the States.  However, this being our first boat with a saildrive, we didn’t realize there was another anode for it.  It should have been changed back in the States as well.

So there we were, perfectly positioned to head to Eleuthera the next day, and we had to make a decision. We could cross – the anodes needed attention, but we would be okay for another few weeks or more. But, Eleuthera is even more remote than the Abacos. We started frantically researching how we might get the anodes shipped there, and though there seemed to be a few possibilities, they were questionable at best, and definitely wouldn’t be speedy.

Clarity's Saildrive

Clarity’s Saildrive

The bigger problem, though, was that there aren’t any yacht yards in the Eleuthera island chain that could haul out the boat. So, either we swallowed our pride, turned the boat around and stayed in the Abacos to get the boat hauled, or we continued on and either got the parts shipped somewhere in Eleuthera and did all the work underwater in scuba gear (don’t drop anything!), or hoped the old anode held up long enough to get to Georgetown in the Exumas and got hauled out there. Honestly, we were extremely lucky that Aaron noticed the problem the day before we left, when we were still in a place that afforded us some options.  It’s amazing how a $20 part can bring everything to a halt.

After a day of letting the bad news sink in, we bit the bullet and ordered the anodes to be delivered to Marsh Harbor, as we had done with the engine shift/throttle mechanism a month or so ago. We called the Marsh Harbor Boat Yard and got on their schedule for a haul out the soonest they had an opening, a week later. And we tried to make the most of the time in between. It’s all just time and money, right? A lot of both.

hauledUltimately, it all turned out fine. Sure, there were hiccups. Our package was delayed clearing customs, which pushed us back a day. And the delay meant that we missed our window for a short-haul of just a few hours to replace the anodes, and instead had to be fully hauled out and blocked for a night. But, we also rented a car in Marsh Harbor to maximize our time. We did a big provisioning run, filled our propane tanks, got diesel for the boat, stopped at the bank, made a few trips to the hardware store, and even managed to get a few birthday presents for Claire. Her birthday is at the end of March, and toy stores and Amazon shipments just don’t exist here, especially not where we’re headed. Marsh Harbor was our best bet, and luckily, I found just what I was looking for – a kickboard.

Those pesky anodes

Those pesky anodes

Aaron also put in two grueling days of hard manual labor, taking advantage of the boat being out of the water to take care of as many things as possible in addition to the anodes, like cleaning the bottom of the boat, resealing and cleaning out some throughhull fittings, fixing our underwater speed sensor, reinstalling the rubber fairing around the saildrive (lots of sanding and gluing), and overseeing some workers fixing our broken window and changing the oil in the saildrive (it has to be drained out and pumped in from the bottom).

The boat was hauled on Wednesday midday and was back in the water 24 hours later. By mid-afternoon Thursday, we dropped anchor again in Little Harbor, where it all started. And tomorrow, we will cross the Atlantic 65 miles to Eleuthera – with two new anodes in place, and two spares of each on board.

While Aaron was taking a break from working on the boat, he walked across the yacht yard to several men working on a beautiful catamaran. Feeling somewhat gloomy, he thought, “If we could only afford something like that, we wouldn’t be fixing stuff all the time.” The boat is two years old and valued at roughly $550,000. What could they possibly be fixing on such a new, expensive boat?

Both rudder shafts were apparently cast with inferior steel and had swelled in place. The result: The owners were barely able to steer the boat. It was hauled out and had been there for quite some time while new parts were made, others were ordered from France, and many, many hours of hired labor were put in to tear apart and rebuild the steering system. Someone’s cruising plans had not just been delayed, but completely canceled.

We will always have problems to fix, parts to replace, and maintenance chores to do, as this boat is many times more complex than our previous one. Weather conditions will delay plans, freak medical conditions will pop up. The lesson here is to not let these things kill your spirit. I think we’re getting better and better at that.

Life In The Out Islands

Cosmo, the black kitty here who lives around the Hope Town Lighthouse, most definitely operates on island time.

Cosmo, the black kitty here who lives around the Hope Town Lighthouse, most definitely operates on island time.

When most people (myself included, until a few months ago) think of life in the islands, simplicity comes to mind. Ease. Life without worries. But when you start realizing the complexity of sustaining these small, remote communities, getting on “island time” is as much of a necessity as it is a luxury.

First, a definition. The Abacos are considered out islands of the Bahamas. Out islands are any of the hundreds of islands that are “out” from Nassau on New Providence Island (the biggest city in the Bahamas – home to around 80% of the Bahamian population). Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island is the biggest city in the Abacos and serves as the heart of the island chain, from where all goods and services flow, to the even more remote islands, the out-out-islands, like Man-O-War Cay and Great Guana Cay.

Stores on the more populated islands are open Monday through Saturday and most of them close for lunch from 1 to 2 p.m. every day. Stores on the out-out islands are open more or less at the whim of the owner, and nothing is open on Sundays.

The out island grocery stores get shipments in by ferry from Marsh Harbour, and Marsh gets supplied primarily by Nassau, which is primarily supplied by the U.S.  Not many things grow successfully on these islands, and attempts at sustaining livestock have mostly failed. Given the song and dance required to get a gallon of milk, you begin to understand the pricing.

I snagged these massive carrots at the grocery store in Hope Town. They were supposed to go to one of the restaurants on the island, but the deliveries got crossed. Also, no fresh fruit available, so time to get creative with canned guava! Turns out guava pureed with yogurt makes a pretty tasty popsicle.

I snagged these massive carrots at the grocery store in Hope Town. They were supposed to go to one of the restaurants on the island, but the deliveries got crossed. Also, no fresh fruit available, so time to get creative with canned guava! Turns out guava pureed with yogurt makes a pretty tasty popsicle.

While staples like dry goods are consistently stocked, other items, like fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy, are happenstance. If you see something you want in stock, buy it, because they might get something completely different the following week. Sometimes, the shipments to the restaurants and the grocery stores get mixed up, and you just make do with what’s available.

And when there’s inclement weather, cold fronts, kicked up seas, etc., the shipments are on hold. When we visited the grocery store on Green Turtle Cay the second week of January, their shelves were low, as a boat hadn’t come since before Christmas.

It may not be obvious, what with rainbows of shimmering blue in every direction, but drinkable water on the islands is a precious commodity. There’s no immediate fresh water source, like rivers or lakes, so most islands use reverse osmosis and also catch rain water in cisterns. In almost all restaurant restrooms, there are signs to use the water sparingly.

Mail is also very much weather dependent and processed on “island time,” and the post offices run on a whimsical schedule.  The small office may or may not be open, and if it is, your mail will make its way down to the mail boat pickup whenever it does. Once the mail boat picks up the outgoing mail, it’s off to Marsh Harbour. But even there, it gets sorted when it gets sorted. The same goes for the reverse. Friends that we met in Man-O-War in late January were still awaiting a Christmas card that had been sent to them in early December.

A side note regarding addresses: In the out islands, a car is a rare siting. Most everyone travels by golf cart. But some also live on archipelagos where there simply aren’t roads, their dwellings accessible only by boat. Which also means that streets are absent in their addresses, and as such, their properties all have call names. “Sue Jones, Sunset Splendor, Dickie’s Cay, Abacos.” Sounds as magical as it does remote.

Each island that has residents has a bank  – or, I should say, they have a building that serves as a bank. In Hope Town, for example, the bank is open only on Tuesdays, and only for four or five hours. A representative from the Royal Bank of Canada handles the needs of the islanders, but the transacting is more rudimentary. For instance, we needed to get more cash and ATMs on the island do not exist, including at the bank, even when it was open. We queued on the Tuesday we were in town for 15-20 minutes and then Aaron requested a cash advance on our credit card – the only way we could get the paper money we needed.  The bank did not charge any transaction fees, other than what Visa charges us, and it was a rather easy affair.

With views like these from your porch, why would you be in a hurry to get anywhere else?!

With views like these from your porch, why would you be in a hurry to get anywhere else?!

Islands with more residents have health clinics, though these are not the emergency walk-in facilities frequented in the States. They are staffed mostly by nurses, with doctors who visit on specific days of the week to assess specific cases. Like the stores, these clinics are open Monday through Saturday, closed on Sunday, and if you visit the building as a walk-in, you may see a sign on the door that the staff has gone to do a house call and will return later. There are no emergency numbers to call for after-hours consultations.

Communication also works a bit differently in the islands. Given that the islands are all very much maritime communities, much of the correspondence between friends and businesses is done on designated channels on the VHF radio – including for those who live on land. Work also does not happen at the nail-biting, life-or-death pace that courses through our veins in the States. If you call a business to inquire about inventory, or getting work done, they may or may not call you back the same day. They may or may not respond to email. And if you have a verbal agreement for them to come out and assist, they may just get too busy that day. “It will get done.”

When we first arrived in the Abacos, I initially saw all of the negatives in this less-structured framework. What if I need groceries on Sunday, and what if they don’t have what I want? What if I can’t make it to the clinic before 5? Should I even bother to send postcards? It took me awhile to shed the heavy burden of immediate gratification in all things.

But the longer we’re here, the more I develop a calmer rhythm, and I respect, as I should have all along, that all people, including business owners, should be able to spend Sunday at church or with their families. Having certain businesses, like banks, only open one day a week has made us both more intentional about our schedule and more relaxed.

With a complete absence of convenience, I’m redefining “need.” I’m becoming more adaptable, more flexible, more resourceful.

Island time…. I think I’m just about there.