Arriving to The Bahamas!
We hope to have a lot of fun here...
We pulled away from Port Antonio, Jamaica at 5:00 p.m. on April 2 and sailed northeast through the windward passage toward Haiti. Once the Haitian coast was well in sight we turned our heading to the northwest and made our way to Grand Inagua Island. Matthew Town on Great Inagua would be our first stop in the Bahamas and our port for clearing customs.
Over our 64-hour, 265-mile passage, we were greeted to a mixture of wind strength and direction. We had long sections of ideal wind and several sections of no wind. We had periods of wind that seemed intent on challenging us to guess its next move. On the evening of day two, after five hours of listening to the diesel engine push us through windlass water, we rested the beast for two hours while drifting to the sights and sounds of a "silent sunset supper."
On the morning of day three, the fist low-lying island came into view, as did our first impressions of the Bahamas. The white sand beaches outlining Great Inagua became brighter with each mile of our approach. The sea settled and the wind offered a pleasant beam reach. With the shallow sand bottom below and the blue sky above, the ocean appeared to transform into a giant turquoise swimming pool.
At Matthew Town we were greeted by George, the Port Captain who is notorious among cruisers for his friendly and welcoming personality.
When we approach a country port of call or a new harbor, we typically transmit a call over channel 16 via our VHF radio which sounds something like this: "New Harbor, New Harbor, New Harbor; Sailing Vessel Traveler, Sailing Vessel Traveler, Sailing Vessel Traveler - come in please." After an acknowledgement and a communication of our intentions, a typical reply from the port of call is: "Traveler, what is your length, beam and draft?" This is followed by instructions for entering and docking. The process if fairly consistent and formal.
On our initial VHF call for permission to enter the Matthew Town Harbor on Great Inagua, Port Captain George replied, "Hello Traveler! Just come on in to the harbor. You will see me waving to you from the dock. Welcome to the Bahamas - I hope you have a lot of fun here!"
There is a certain level of docking stress that accompanies each harbor approach. The often sleep-deprived crew works quickly to fix dock lines at the bow, stern and midship. Bumpers are hung from the lifelines to protect the hull. Wind direction is factored into the approach and everyone on deck is intent on locating the actual slip or landing spot as quickly as possible. It seemed that George's cheery welcome may have taken the edge off, at least slightly.
Great Inagua boasts of two circumstances that are unique to the other islands of the Bahamas. As mentioned in our last post, Great Inagua is home to over 80,000 flamingos. It is also home to the Morton Salt Factory.
We hired Colin as our island tour guide and our first goal was to locate the flamingo flock. We managed to spot flamingos, but the grand flock came up short by about 79,950. We found several flocks of a dozen or so, but we also discovered that flamingos are shy and careful to keep their distance. It was still great to see them in their natural habitat.
On the other hand, the flamingo habitat on Great Inagua is certainly not entirely natural. Since 1954 the Morton Salt Company has been producing salt on 300,000 acres of Great Inagua. With a production of 1.3 million tons of salt per year, the plant is the second largest saline operation in North America. The climatic combination of sun and wind enhances the water evaporation that produces brine. Impurities are removed by the controlled movement of the brine through manufactured brine pool reservoirs. This process contributes to the growth of an algal mat on the bottom of the pools. Brine shrimp eat the algae, which keeps the water clean. Flamingos eat the shrimp. Hence the incredible number of flamingos, the majority of which seemed to be away for spring break during our visit.
Our next stop will be George Town on Great Exuma Island where we will be having a crew transition. Our European hitchhikers, Jules and Luisa will be "jumping ship" to join another pair of sailors who are heading to Azores. We will miss them. They have been a great crew addition, always ready to chip in on chores and take the helm on overnight watches. They also happen to have stellar culinary skills!
Sue will also be leaving us to return to her home in Arizona. This is Sue's second crew contribution to Blaine to Maine. Considering the skilled sailor she has become, we hope to see her on board once again during our final home stretch.
And finally, we will soon be welcoming two new crew members. Jared and Ben will be flying into George Town and boarding Traveler for a few days of island hopping before assisting with our crossing to Florida.
That's right, Florida! After seven months, the east coast of the United States is just a (relatively) short sail away!