May 11, 2011 – James Cistern to Hatchet Bay

7nm cruised today, all under power; 803nm total; high temp 90 degrees (hottest day thus far); water temp 82 degrees – wind clocking from SE to S to W to NW, less than 10 knots; seas less than 1 foot

I don’t know what the fuss was last night, but the dogs of James Cistern raised a ruckous for most of the night. The barking seemed to never quit. And the mockingbirds were right there, egging them on. Songbirds usually quiet down after sunset, but these mockingbirds practised their reportoir of songs most of the night as well.

I must have slept in spite of the noise, since I have no trouble waking up in time for the weather. Conditions are supposed to continue with light winds, although the direction should shift in a few days. I’m not sure we’ll hang out in this exposed location much longer. We walk up to CaSandra’s apartment shortly before 9am. She takes us on a tour of the facilities, and I gather some tools so I can do a repair on a sofa in her living room. I also catch up on e’mail. Around noon we drive into town and have lunch at Lee’s Cafe. She serves up some very tasty grouper fingers. After lunch she swings by her friend Pauline’s place, and she drives us all north on the Queen’s Highway, to the supermarket on the north end of the island. The tired old van has only two front bucket seats. The back end is all open cargo area, so Sandy and I sit on a pair of metal folding chairs. With no windows in back, and no air conditioning, it’s pretty hot and stuffy back there. We hang on to anything we can grab when the van rounds tight corners. We stop at Hatchet Bay, where I inquire about renting a car. We pull off the road when we get to the Glass Window, a well known scenic highlight on Eleuthra. At the Glass Window, the island is very nearly severed into two by the relentless action of the sea. A narrow inlet on the ocean side focuses wave action into a very narrow notch. Some of the surge does spray across to the other side. The road crosses this chasm by means of a narrow bridge, which has been known, during hurricane conditions, to get completely shifted over in position.

We drive through scrubby brush and past small garden patches, in an area which once supported large plantations, but have now mostly returned to the wild. The grocery store is off by itself, but is quite well stocked. We buy some apples, and I compliment the store owner on stocking Washington State apples. He appreciates my remarks, and we have a fun conversation about his store and his travels. Sandy and I stock up on a few things for the boat while CaSandra and Pauline purchase provisions for the mission group which is scheduled to arrive on Sunday.

Sandy and I decide that we’ll move the boat 7 miles up the coast to Hatchet Bay for a couple of nights. We’ll moor there tonight, and then dinghy in to pick up our rental car. Tomorrow will be an inland sightseeing day. We’ll also stay here tomorrow night, and then decide on Friday morning whether to run the boat back to James Cistern or leave it here and hitchhike back to the camp. The weather forecast will likely decide the issue.

During the evening run up to Hatchet Bay, we experience a quick change in weather. What, until now, has been a hot,still day rapidly shifts into dark and threatening skies. I’m actually hoping for a rain shower, to wash some of the salt off the boat. We do get a few sprinkles, but not enough to cleanse the boat. Hatchet Bay turns out to be a very attractive place. It’s quite scenic, with a dramatic, narrow, rocky entrance, and placid waters inside. We have no problem finding an open mooring ball, and secure ourselves in a great spot. It’s very quiet here, and so far, we don’t even hear any dogs barking. I expect we’ll sleep well here.

May 12, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay – The Rental Car and Fortuitous Meetings

High temp 82 degrees; water temp 81 degrees – NE wind at 10-12 knots; inside seas a light chop

While sitting in the cockpit, listening to the weather forecast, I glance out toward the narrow, rocky entrance to Hatchet Bay and am startled to see a small ship entering the harbour. It a coastal tanker named Sea Trader and is delivering gasoline to Hatchet Bay. She carefully clears the tight harbour entrance and follows the deep water channel to the long concrete seawall, where she makes a slow U turn and ties up. It’s pretty remarkable how these cargo and tanker vessels manage to navigate into such tight quarters.

Today we’ll rent a car and explore Eleuthra by road. It’s beginning to rain as we dinghy in past Sea Trader and tie up inside the main dock. We walk over to the small store where we’ll pick up our rental car. The business owner greets us there and tells his store clerk to give us the jeep, which happens to be a small Ford. He asks if I can drive a standard shift. I say yes, but tell him I don’t know how to drive on the left side of the road. He jokingly tells his clerk to cancel the rental.

The car is in fairly good shape, but has its quirks. The gear shift handle has lost its diagram of gear location, and I have trouble locating reverse. Next, I discover that the tilt steering wheel refuses to lock in position. It’s disconcerting to be driving on the wrong side of the road, approaching a curve with oncoming traffic, and have the wheel tilt up as I’m trying to avoid both a head on collision and swerving into the ditch.

We bravely head north, picking up a hitchhiker along the way. I figure we’ll be thumbing starting tomorrow, and it’s only fair that I offer the same help we’ll be looking for when we hitchhike. Our rider is heading for work in Gegory Town, a few miles up the road. He thanks us for the lift, and we continue on our way. We go all the way to the northern tip of the island, in search of the Preachers Cave. This cave is located near the treacherous inshore passage between Spanish Wells and Harbour Island known as The Devils Backbone. The cruising guides highly recommend employing a local pilot before attempting this passage. At Preachers Cave a ship wrecked on the reef, and the survivors took shelter in the nearby cave. It’s a dramatic cave with high, vaulted ceiling and several “skylight” openings in the ceiling which admit light into the main chamber. We don’t linger here, however, because the mosquitoes here are thick and hungry. We retreat to the windswept beach and watch a large sportfishing boat pound its way through the swells of The Devils Backbone, with pilot boat leading the way.

Next, we backtrack down the island, stopping at a place CaSandra mentioned yesterday. It’s called Queens Bathtub, and is a place which Queen Elizabeth reputedly visited and bathed in during a visit to Eleuthra many years ago. We park the car and walk toward the ocean side, and discover a cove which the waves have carved into the rocky bluff. Waves crash into this cove and splash up over rock shelves, filling large, round pools. These pools seem to be scour holes, formed by boulders rolling around in the tidal surge. It’s a stunning place, and barely even marked along the main road.

We continue south, with a brief stop at Hatchet Bay Cave, a limestone cavern with stalactite and stalagmite formations. We poke into the entrance but, without flashlights or a guide, don’t proceed beyond the first chamber. I step awkwardly into a hole hidden in the shadows and scrape my leg. Sadly, this place has been badly defaced with graffitti, broken cave features and litter.

We drive on to Governor’s Harbour, in search of a place to stop for lunch. This town was the first center of government for the Bahamas, and was originally settled by The Eleutherian Adventurers in 1637. It’s an attractively sited community, with graceful old buildings fronting on a sheltered bay. A few cruising sailboats ride at anchor a short distance off the beach. We drive around past the Customs and Immigration Offices, and order lunch at a waterfront cafe across from the ferry dock. Sandy thinks she sees the man who rented us the car, but I’m not sure and so don’t call to him.

After lunch we drive over to the historic old library building, where we get out and walk around. We wander past an interesting old Anglican Church, and view headstones in the adjacent cemetery. Some of the markers are for people born in the late 1700’s. We return to the car, and I drive back along the bayside street. I glance over to an unusual looking dark gray colored dinghy, which is hauled up on the beach. I’ve only seen one other like it, and it belonged to our friends Christina and Maciek. I glance out in the bay and, sure enough, Calypso is one of the boats anchored here. We can’t believe our luck at finding their boat. But how to find them. Sandy figures they’ve likely come ashore for groceries. We drive up the street and pull over so she can study our tourist map and hopefully learn where the nearest grocery is. While so engaged, a car pulls up and we see our Hatchet Bay friend who rented us the car. It’s the same guy we’d seen while eating lunch. We roll down the window and he cheerily greets us and asks how we’re getting along. We tell him we’re having a fine time, and ask him where the closest grocery is. He points out a store less than a block away. We thank him and he drives off with a smile. We pull over to the small grocery store and walk inside. Sandy immediately spots Maciek, loudly clears her throat, and the surprising reunion begins. The chain of circumstances which has enabled us to cross paths once again is nothing short of amazing. Some may call it remarkably good luck, but we all chose to credit the Lord’s grace.

We offer to take Chris and Maciek with us on a short road tour around the Governor’s Harbour area, and they eagerly accept. We drive out in search of the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, a recently developed Bahamian botanical reserve which we learned about while eating lunch. It’s very new, and extremely well done, with a beautiful water feature, a couple miles of winding trails, a viewing tower, and attractive signs pointing out native plants with medicinal properties. Numerous species of birds have been attracted to this area. We are fortunate to spot the Great Lizard-Cuckoo, perched in the brush.

We continue our drive past a district of luxury waterfront homes, and then swing west, through Palmetto Point. We stop at a local wholesale produce store, where I’m surprised to find Red Delicious apples with the hometown Stemilt Warehouse sticker on them. We return Christina and Maciek to their dinghy where we say proper farewells and hoping that we’ll be able to renew this friendship in the years to come. We drive on as they motor out in their dinghy toward their Calypso.

It’s now approaching the dinner hour. We drive back north and stop at The Rainbow Inn, a seaside restaurant and motel just south of Hatchet Bay. We’ve read that they serve excellent food here, and we’re not disappointed. We enjoy a delightful dinner on their screen enclosed veranda. Sandy has Mahi Mahi and I try their cracked conch. Both are delicious. We enjoy chatting with our waitress as well as with the owner. It’s past sunset when we drive out to the dock. I unload the car near the dinghy and then drive the car back to the little store. The owner who had given us directions to the grocery was there (this guy shows up everywhere) to refill the gas tank. I walk back to the dock and find Sandy chatting with a guy who is seated on the seawall, fishing. He’s from Freeport and came here on a construction job. The job just shut down for lack of funds and he’s stuck here. He’s fishing so he’ll have something for dinner. We wish him luck, and dinghy back out to the boat as darkness settles in.

May 13, 2011 – Moored in Hatchet Bay

High temp 86 degrees; water temp 82 degrees – E wind at 5-8 knots; seas calm inside

When we returned to the boat last evening, we found a new boat in the harbour, however, this morning he has already departed. I tune Chris Parker in, and it seems that most cruisers are leaving the Bahamas. Earlier in our cruise, a substantial percentage of boaters calling in to Chris were on their way to George Town. Now, most are leaving, headed back to Florida or the Carolinas. A smaller group are moving south. These folks tend to head down to places like the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, or Panama where they can evade the typical hurricane paths. We, on the other hand, are staying around here for the next 8 or 9 days. It’s starting to feel a bit lonely, from a cruisers standpoint. I wonder how much company we’ll encounter once we start heading toward Florida.

Weather patterns are also in the process of change. Up until now, the forecasts have mostly centered around cold fronts and low pressure systems migrating south and east across the States and offshore, toward the Bahamas. Now, we’re hearing much more about stable high pressure centers, tropical lows, atmospheric instability, and the chance for thundersqualls with accompanying winds of 30 to 50 knots. I expect that when we move, we’ll likely either have very little wind or way too much wind. Good forecast information will be critical to making good decisions. It’s a little troubling to consider that, as we move north, I’m having an increasing amount of trouble tuning Chris in, and we’re also likely to see fewer cruising boats with better radios than ours. We’ll just do the best we can.

We spend the morning attending to boat chores. The other day Sandy discovered that the pump for our galley faucet has quit working. This is inconvenient, but not a serious problem. We like filling the coffee pot with the electric pump, but the sink is equipped with a hand pump which is more than adequate. I check the fuse, and it’s fine. I examine the electrical connections and splices, but see nothing out of order. I’m afraid the problem is either in the pump motor or the switch. Rather than test further, we’ll just hand pump our water from now on, and I’ll fix it after we get home.

I mix up a new gallon of 2 stroke gas for the kicker motor, and dinghy in to the dock with an empty 5 gallon jerry can. I tote it down to the gas station, get it filled, and tote it back in my handy fold up wheeled cart. We eat lunch on the boat and then dinghy ashore so we can head down to James Cistern. We want to drop on by the camp to meet the director, who is scheduled to fly back in today.

We walk out to the main road, and with one hand hold up a paper plate with the letters “JC” for James Cistern written on one side, while the other hand tries to thumb a ride. It feels awkward, since we have to stand on the left side of the road, which means I have to thumb with my left hand. Traffic is extremely light this time of day, and the few vehicles which are moving seem to be mostly going the other way. However, less than 5 minutes goes by before a Ford pickup pulls over. We hop into the truck bed, amongst squares of roofing material, and off we go. The driver takes us a little more than halfway to James Cistern and then pulls over. He’s headed up a side road, so we climb out, thank him, and then start walking down the road. We walk for nearly a mile before another car comes by. We’re relieved when he pulls over and takes us the rest of the way into town. We walk the short distance out to camp, and find CaSandra at home. I plan on catching up on internet, however, the system appears to be down, so we catch up on small talk to pass the time.

Abe McIntyre, the Bahamas Methodist Habitat executive director, is due to fly in at 4pm today. We accompany CaSandra to Governor’s Harbour Airport to meet his flight. He’s returning from Alabama along with KP and Mannix, who are on the BMH staff. I toss 4 folding metal chairs into the van, so everyone has a seat. His plane arrives on time from Nassau. Everyone seems to know Abe, and his return is a joyous occasion. We all get introduced, and then pile into the van for the short drive back to the camp. Plans for the next couple of days are made. KP gives us a ride back to Hatchet Bay, and takes us on a little driving tour of the community before stopping at the Hatchet Bay project work site where we’ll be working next week with the volunteer team from North Carolina State University. BMH is building an addition to a small house in town. A large extended family lives in the house, and they desparately need additional living space. The project is well along, and we’ll be finishing up wiring, sheet rocking, taping, painting and outside paneling, along with cleaning up the construction scrap which is in scattered piles outside. KP seems to have a good handle on putting these construction projects together with volunteers. Next week should be very interesting.

After touring the work site, KP drops us off at the dock area, which is absolutely humming with activity. The Mail Boat is in. It comes every Friday, and it’s tied up to the end of the concrete seawall. A fork lift is off loading cargo of all sorts. We dinghy out under one of the mooring lines and return to our boat. Before long, the Mail Boat pulls away from the dock and threads her way out of Hatchet Bay. It doesn’t seem possible for a boat of her width to fit through the rocky channel entrance, but she makes it with ease. Once she leaves, lonliness returns to the anchorage. We barbeque a mixed veggie and pork dinner, and enjoy dinner in the cockpit while savoring another beautiful Bahamian sunset.

May 14, 2011 – Moored in Hatchet Bay – An unanticipated fishing trip

6nm cruised today, all under power; 809nm total – high temp 82 degrees; water temp 81 degrees – E wind at 5-8 knots; seas a light chop

I’m up a bit early, rousted out of the sack by the gray kingbirds. I’ve got a bit of a war going with them. They have this squeaky call, and they just love perching on spreaders, shrouds, and stays. While perched there, they do what all birds do, plus a few extras. In addition to the usual droppings, they pelt us with seeds, and they cough up wads of partially digested insects. The decks, cushions, cabin roof and solar panel are really getting trashed by them, so every time they land on the rigging I give things a good shake. It’s a war I’m sure to lose, but I must engage them nonetheless.

We hurry breakfast along a little this morning, since we’re expecting to catch a ride to Camp Symonette to help set up for the coming week. We dinghy in and are at the meeting place by 7:30am, but for some unknown reason, our ride doesn’t show. We wait for an hour before concluding that something has come up. We have an open day ahead of us, completely unplanned. I wonder how it will unfold.

We have the laptop computer in the backpack, since we’d hoped to get online at the camp for a while. We decide to try to find internet service here at Hatchet Bay. We walk over to a small motel with a sign out front which advertises wifi, but no one is around, so we walk back toward the dock. We walk up to the restaurant which is located on the hill at the head of Hatchet Bay. It is called The Front Porch. They have a sign for wifi also, but we don’t see anyone around. Just as we’re about to leave, a car pulls up. It turns out to be the owner, and he confirms that he does have internet service. We walk inside and find a nice gift shop. I get set up on the front porch with an outlet and a good internet connection. I’m able to catch up on sending pictures to son Ken. By the time I’m done it’s lunch time, so we decide to have lunch there. I order a crawfish (lobster) burger and Sandy has a grilled chicken burger. Both are delicious. Talk with Francis, the owner, wanders onto the topic of fishing, and he entices me with remarks on how good the fishing in the bay and nearby waters is. He’s passing out tips on how to catch the local fish. I get this idea, and ask him if he’d be willing to go out on our boat for some fishing. I figure his local knowledge and our boat would make a nice partnership. He says he’s always up for going fishing. He says 3pm would be a good time to head out.

I dinghy back to the boat and fetch my cast net and bait bucket. I’ve seen some dense schools of pilchers around the mooring docks, and Francis tells me they’re ideal bait around here. I’m really rusty with the cast net, and my first several casts are total disasters. All I succeed in doing is educating a lot of pilchers to swim deeper. However, I gradually get the hang of it, and start catching a respectable bucket of bait, a few pilchers at a time. As 3pm draws near, Sandy points out a good looking spot across from the mooring dock. I walk over, scramble down the bank, and give the net a toss. The net opens nicely and when I draw it in, it’s loaded with shiny little bait fish. We’ve got our bait.

Francis comes down to the dinghy around 3pm and we run out to the boat. We select lures, and he recommends a trolling route across the bay and through the cut. Nothing hits, so we troll up and down on the outside a few times. Still nothing. Next, he guides me out to a drop off, where we anchor and try bait fishing. The first spot doesn’t produce, so we move to a new spot, a short distance beyond the entrance to Hatchet Bay. He starts getting bites right away, and brings up several small fish, mostly grunts and undersized groupers with his hand line. He gets a hard strike and the fish cuts his line. Probably a mackerel. He switches to a wire leader and attaches a new hook. Meanwhile I start getting bites as well, mostly small fish. He ties into a good jack, hauls it in and tosses it into his cooler bag. Meanwhile, I’ve had a heavy strike which has cut my monofilament leader, so I also switch to wire leader. Francis gets a nice strike but misses the fish. Almost immediately after, my rod jerks down, and I have a good fish on. Mackeral, Francis exclaims. Sure enough, as I play the fish, the sleek silvery shape of a nice mackerel rises to the surface. It’s about 24 inches long and full of fight. After a couple nice runs I guide it in to the boat. Francis nets the fish, and gives me an enthusiastic “high five”. A good fish for the cooler. The fish keep biting, but we land nothing of keepable size. As the sun nears the horizon we reel in our lines and rig up to troll back into Hatchet Bay. Just inside, he hooks and lands a small mutton snapper. Nice conclusion to an unanticipated and spontaneous fishing trip. We’ve all had a great time, and a new friendship has been formed.

Sandy steers our boat back to the mooring ball and I run Francis in to the dock. While I’m fileting fish on the dock, he trots up to the restaurant and fetches a couple of cold Kalik Gold’s. We reflect on the day’s fishing and savor the end of a most enjoyable day. He says he has to drive in to Governor’s Harbour in the morning, and we’re welcome to ride along. I would like to swing by the ATM machine at the bank in Governor’s Harbour, and so thank him for the offer, saying I’d appreciate that very much.

I’m taken by our experiences of the last couple days here on Eleuthra. Sometimes, and in some places, when you just go with the flow, some amazing things can happen.

May 15, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay – Attending Church in James Cistern; Mission Team Arrives

High temp 85 degrees; water 82 degrees – SW wind at 12 knots; seas 1-2 feet inside

It’s Sunday and we’re going in to James Cistern to attend the Methodist church service. We’re generously given a ride by Francis, who’s driving that way to try and buy some fresh fish. He drives us all the way to Governor’s Harbour, where I withdraw some cash from the ATM. He drops us off in front of the church. We have a couple of hours before the 11am service starts, so we walk out to the camp and talk with CaSandra and JC. JC will be driving the Habitat bus in to church, and will be going from there to the North Eleuthra airport to pick up the mission team which is flying in today from Florida.

The church service is nothing like our Methodist service back home. It feels much more like a revival service, with soulful music, clapping, lots of Hallelua’s, prayers and hands on the forehead for healing. The church is not quite half filled. People are dressed in their finest, with the women wearing bright, colorful dresses and showy hats. A pair of women lead the announcements, opening prayers and early hymns. During announcements, we’re recognized as guests and invited to introduce ourselves. We’re given a warm welcome, punctuated with applause, which here represents a “Praise the Lord” expression. The childrens choir sings a hymn, beautifully performed. The service apparently lasts 2 hours or more, but we must leave early with KP, who has to be at the airport by 1:30 to pick up our mission team.

The flight arrives on time, and 13 students from North Carolina State University, along with their two adult chaperones, walk out of the single story terminal and into the bright midday Bahama sun. It’s very hot and still. I can just imagine how different everything must seem and feel to them. They board the bus and, on the drive back, KP gives a running introduction to Eleuthra. We stop at project houses in Gregory Town and Hatchet Bay, where the team will be working. We leave the bus group at Hatchet Bay and return to the boat. We’ll meet up with them on Monday morning, at the work site.

We spend the balance of the afternoon taking it easy. I dinghy in to the dock with my cast net, to replenish my supply of pilchers. My casting is a bit better, but still rather marginal. A local has sympathy and offers to give me some tips. His first throw is perfect, and nets a dozen or more pilchers. A large crowd is gathering on the dock for the 5pm arrival of the Mail Boat. I dinghy back to the boat and we watch the Mail Boat maneuver in and back out while eating dinner. In the evening I go out to the cut to try my luck with live pilchers, but the fish aren’t biting.

May 16, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay – First Day of Mission Work

High temp 85 degrees; water temp 81 degrees – SW wind at 12-15 knots; brief afternoon squall; seas 2-3 feet inside

I have just enough time to get Chris Parker’s weather and eat breakfast before we dinghy in to begin our first work day on our mission project. We miss the cross street while walking through the Hatchet Bay settlement, and so take a long way around, seeing most of the community in the process. By the time we backtrack and find our project house, the Habitat van and bus have already arrived. Mannix is lining out the team with various jobs. Some work on wiring, some spackle joints and apply stucco on the exterior siding, some caulk seams in the plywood flooring, and yet others grab rollers and paint 1×4 trim boards. One pair of guys man a jackhammer and chisel out a section of block wall to create a walk through passage. Another applies texture to interior walls. I put up sheetrock on the ceilings of two rooms. All this is going on within the confines of an addition to this very small house. The addition can’t be deeper than 10 or 12 feet. Somehow, our crew of 18 people manages to maintain a steady pace of work in spite of cramped quarters, tools that must be shared, and job skills that are being learned on the fly. It’s really quite an amazing process.

We break at noon for a delicious lunch of beans and rice and pork chops which is provided by the grateful family whose home we’re working on. After lunch I have time to walk down to a nearby beach for a quick, refreshing dip in the sea. While walking down there I notice the faded sign of a barbershop. After my swim I poke my head in to see if the shop will be open tomorrow. The barber, a cool looking guy with an absolutely amazing pile of braided and styled hair on his head, insists he can get me in and out in no time. I plop down, wet swim trunks and all, and he fires up his shears. Three other guys are hanging out, watching the tv. His wall air conditioner is set on 72 degrees, and he turns a fan on me, which helps cool me off. Once he starts cutting, thick tufts of shorn hair fly across the room in the fan driven air. The guys on the side lines are obviously big NBA fans, and the talk about playoff teams, particularly the Chicago Bulls, is fast and furious. Meanwhile, my barber is obviously highly skilled at his trade. He gives me a great haircut as well as beard and mustache trim. It feels wonderful to be trimmed once again. The charge for this service is only $12. I tip generously.

Back at the job site, work progresses into the hot part of the day, interrupted briefly by an afternoon rain shower. We knock off around 4pm, with the last part of the day devoted to collecting tools, cleaning brushes, rollers and putty knives. Everything is loaded onto the van, and we head down the road for an attractive ocean beach. Mannix drives well past the Governor’s Harbour airport before turning left at the cross-island road which leads to the beach. We just make the corner before the van lurches to a halt. Steam surges out of the hood, and the smells of overheated engine mix with the odor of sweaty bodies. Cooling water pours out of the engine compartment and onto the pavement. The van refuses to go an inch further.

No worries. We all hike about half a mile down the road, take a left and walk down to a beautiful Bight of Eleuthra beach. A substantial swell is rolling in, just right for a little body surfing. The entire work crew charges into the water. While swimming, we spot a waterspout to the northwest. It hangs around for 15 or 20 minutes, and actually touches down for a while. Sandy and some others walk the beach, which has an interesting collection of shells. While we’re out cooling off and relaxing, Mannix and KP are pouring water into the van’s radiator. They think the water pump is going out. A rain shower signals the end to our beach time, so we climb back into the van, hoping it will get us back to the camp. It does pretty well, taking us all the way back to James Cistern and up the cutoff road toward the camp. However, on the last little hill before the camp entrance, it dies one more time. Fortunately, we’re within easy walking distance of camp, so everyone grabs their stuff and hoofs it down the road. Showers and a hearty meal await.

We’re impressed with this crew of young people. They’re cheerful, eager workers, and they appear to all be good friends. I think they all belong to the same church group back at NCU. Little setbacks like the stalled van, an igloo water cooler which ran dry too soon, and little problems with tools don’t phase them in the least. They seem to be here for all the right reasons, and it’s fun to be working along side them.

After dinner Mannix drives us back out to Hatchet Bay. He’s really a remarkable fellow. Today we’ve observed that he has considerable construction expertise, and is also a patient and gifted teacher. On the drive back, he mentions that he used to be a bonefish fly fishing guide on Andros Island, and is an avid bird watcher. You just never know what you’ll discover once you start getting to know someone.

As we dinghy out to our boat, we find we’re no longer alone in the mooring field. Sunseeker has tied up to the mooring ball nearest to us. We met them briefly while we were at Cat Island. We have a nice visit with them before the mosquitoes start to pester. Back on board, we quickly put up the bug nets, and then sit outside for a short while, marveling at a massive, churning cloud to our immediate southeast. The setting sun dramaticly lights it up, and as the sky begins to darken, flash after flash of lightning sets the cloud aglow. Some lightning bolts trace the outline of the cloud, while others dart out into the twilight sky. It’s far enough away that we can’t detect any thunder, but the cloud is huge enough, and the lightning spectacular enough, that it seems right next to us. While watching this remarkable light show, a concentrated, steady white light begins to glow on the top, toward the left edge. This light grows brighter and finally reveals itself to be the full moon, rising from behind this stunning cloud. Ultimately, the mosquitoes drive us below. Outside we hear the oddly incongruous strains of a brass band as it cranks up, mostly out of tune. They quickly hit their stride, and New Orleans style jazz, with lusty trombones and bold trumpets, wafts out across the still waters of Hatchet Bay from somewhere in the nearby community.

May 17, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay – Second work day at mission project

High temp 84 degrees; water temp 82 degrees – W wind at 10-15 knots; seas light chop in the bay

It’s quite breezy, out of the west this morning. I follow the usual routine of recording weather, eating breakfast, and then getting ready to dinghy ashore. It will be another warm day at the project site. We walk through the settlement, now recognizing some familiar faces who are also getting a start on their daily routine. We beat the Habitat bus to the project house, and busy ourselves with cleanup and organization of the work area until they arrive. Today the exterior stuccoing continues, along with taping and texturing of the interior walls. I concentrate on putting up 1×4 trim around the ceilings and floors.

KP finishes up on the wiring. A short while later, we discover an electrical problem. We’re running a pair of skill saws, a chop saw, and a heavy duty electric drill to mix stucco on a pair of extension cords which run out into the yard. After KP makes his final wiring connections, I notice that the chop saw seems to have a lot more power and torque. The two skill saws begin emitting electrical sputtering when they crank up. Somehow, KP has inadvertently tied a 240 volt line into the outside extension cord source. He corrects the problem before any tools burn up. (KP later discovers that one of the lines he was trying to tie into ran to a 240 volt wall heater.) We make good progress, however, as the afternoon continues, it becomes increasingly more congested in the small work area rooms. Good spirits prevail, however.

We again accompany the team on the bus back to camp. No beach time today. After dinner the team will attend a bible study at the nearby church. We’re weary and sore as we roll up in front of the main camp building. We’re revived by showers and some relaxing time in the shaded breezeway before dinner. Our evening meal includes beans and rice along with pork chops, followed by a dish if ice cream. We decide to skip the bible study. I’ve offered to present a power point slide show on our sailing trip after work tomorrow evening, and I need to sort through pictures and put it together. Abe gives us a ride back to Hatchet Bay around 7pm.

May 18, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay; third day working on mission project

High temp 78 degrees with thunderstorm in morning; water temp 78 degrees in ocean – SW wind at 12 knots; seas light chop in bay, dead calm on ocean (east) side

Following our morning routine, we dinghy ashore around 8am. The team bus rolls in at the same time, and we climb in for the short drive through the settlement. Tools are unloaded, and I see a guy toting a small table saw up into the yard. I wish we’d had that tool available for use on Monday and Tuesday, when we were ripping 16 foot 1×4’s by hand with a skill saw.

It’s getting really congested inside the small rooms, with pairs of workers hanging doors, installing ceiling, base and door jam molding, texturing walls and painting. Everyone is patient while waiting to sneak past workers to their own job location. I pair up with Charles to hang sheetrock on the hallway ceiling. We install wood ledgers on both ends of the hallway, so we have something solid to screw into. This step wasn’t followed when the room ceilings were sheetrocked, and so we have several soft corners in those locations.

Charles and I complete our ceiling installation shortly after lunch, and we’re pleased with the results. I check one of the recently hung doors and discover a problem. When I close the door, a 1 inch gap appears between the door’s edge and the jam. The upright jam boards have been directly nailed to the stud framing, with no effort to shim the jams to fit the door. I check the other two doors, and one has more than a 1 inch gap, while the other can’t even shut, because of an angled gap. Meanwhile, the trim installers have already begun nailing casing in place. KP isn’t around, so I stop all work on trim, and Charles and I begin disassembling the back room door jam. I cut the top piece to proper length, and have a couple kids begin cutting shims with the chop saw. With a little effort, we get the jam shimmed and nailed into place, and we’re pleased with the uniform 1/8 inch gap from top to bottom. We get a good start on the second door, but before we finish, an afternoon thunderstorm has rolled in right on top of us. Mannix has everyone pack up tools and we end up knocking off around 3pm.

Today we’ve also been impeded with a lack of materials. KP makes a morning run to the supply store for caulk, texturing, sand paper and lumber, but doesn’t return until mid afternoon. In the morning I inventory the 1×4’s and estimate the amount of footage necessary to finish out the trim work, and Mannix phones KP with the additional number of boards. I understand problems of running short, but in many cases, it’s clear that the estimates were way off to start with. The kids are also frustrated. They lack the initial skills, but are quick learners if properly instructed. They respond really well when I start fixing the doors so they hang properly.

We run back to camp in the bus, kids make a quick change into swim suits, and we head out to the beach for an afternoon swim. We go to the Atlantic beach we couldn’t get to on Monday, when the van broke down. This time we make it, and enjoy a beautiful pink sand beach, and virtually calm Atlantic waters. The west wind has totally calmed the ocean side. It’s heavily overcast, with lightning off to the north. It’s a good break for all.

We return to camp for a tasty dinner of barbequed ribs and macaroni and cheese. Afterwareds, I give a slide show of our trip from home and sailing down through the Bahamas. We don’t get back to the boat until well after dark. Long day, quite frustrating, but we hope for better tomorrow.

May 19, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay – Fourth Mission work day

High temp 85 degrees; water temp 80 degrees in the ocean – SE wind at 5-10 knots; light chop

We’re a bit slower getting started this morning. Several days of hard physical exertion, along with getting in fairly late last night, result in our getting off the boat a little more slowly this morning. By the time we walk over to the project site, the team is already there and getting lined out by Mannix. We grab our tools and get to work. I focus on completing the door adjustments, and then install the stops. Sandy takes her caulking gun and caulks seams and gaps along the ceiling and base moldings. I next try to finish hanging sheet rock in the hallway ceiling. A big wad of wires still hangs down on one end, and KP is the one who must finish tying wires together. I decide to build a trap door attic access. We still have wiring problems. Only one bedroom has outlets which work. Both other rooms are still feeding 220 volt power. Consequently, all extension cords must plug into the back bedroom’s outlets. Cords snake down the hallway and out the window to the chop saw and table saw which are set up outside. Since the people working inside no longer have direct access outside, every piece of wood to be installed inside must be measured and then passed out a window to the saw operators, who cut to specification. The pieces are then passed back inside. It’s again a very congested workspace, with caulkers, trim installers, ceiling texturers, touch up painters, and door hardware installers all competing for the same workspace. Then, to further complicate the process, KP shows up and begins working to fix the wiring problems.

Everyone knows that this is our last work day, and we all want to get as much done as possible before we wrap up. We actually come quite close to finishing the job. I’m certain it would take only one or two more days to finish, but that will fall to a new team. Mannix tells everyone to pack up the tools a little before 4pm. We all gather in back for a group team photo. We feel good about our accomplishments over the past 4 days. Now, it’s time to head for the beach. Mannix takes us out to shipwreck beach, and it’s quite a trip. He’s driving the big green school bus, and when he gets to the cross-island dirt road leading to the beach, he stops the bus. He tells everyone to close all the bus windows. This seems an odd order, since it’s quite hot outside, and we’re all really sweaty. Once he starts up the dirt road we understand. The road is extremely narrow, with dense brush crowding in on both sides. We barrel down this narrow road with stiff, brittle broken branches clawing, slamming, and scratching along both sides of the bus. It’s a wild ride, culminating at a turn around just above the beach. It’s a gorgeous spot, with soft coral sand, dark reef patches offshore, and a rusting shipwreck just off the beach. I go for a swim while Sandy walks the beach. She fills a pocket with sea glass. This is easily the best seaglass beach we’ve yet encountered.

After our beach time we drive back to the camp. I grab a quick shower, and then we hop in the van with Mannix for a ride back up to Hatchet Bay. He’s doing some after hours work to help out a friend. We have decided to fix dinner on the boat tonight. I visit with the folks on Sunseeker before dinner. After dinner, while enjoying our flavored coffee and cookies, we are entertained by the Junk-a-noo band which is once again practising. Tonight seems to feature the drums, cow bells and police whistles. It’s quite a joyful sound.

May 20, 2011 – Moored at Hatchet Bay – Our final day with the Mission Team

On their last full day in the Bahamas, the mission team will go on a sightseeing excursion. We’ll stay here in Hatchet Bay for the morning, doing cruising related chores in anticipation of tomorrow morning’s planned departure. If we finish in time, we’ll catch the BMH bus on their way back from North Eleuthra, and spend a final afternoon with our mission friends.

The air is hot and sultry at an early hour. We pull our laundry together and dinghy in to shore. We walk over to the laundromat which is located on the main road into the settlement. It’s very warm and stuffy inside, but we’re pleased with how clean the place is. The machines appear to be in good working order, as well. We pay the owner directly for 2 washers and 2 driers. While Sandy is loading up the washers, I walk back to the dinghy dock and run the inflatable over to the extreme north end of the concrete seawall. The tieup there is directly across the street from the water bottling plant. I walk over with my two plastic collapsible water jugs. It costs me $7.50 for ten gallons of water. I lug the containers back to the dinghy and run them back to the boat. By the time I get back to the laundromat, Sandy’s got the driers started. While the clothes are drying, we walk up to the local grocery store and pick up several items which are on our provisioning list. I haul the groceries back to the dinghy while Sandy folds clothes. The whole process goes very efficiently, and before 11am, we’ve finished our laundry, bought groceries and replenished our drinking water supply.

We treat ourselves to lunch at Francis’s Front Porch restaurant. I figure that, since a local fisherman came in yesterday with a load of stone crab, Francis is sure to have that delicacy on the menu. Sure enough. The stone crab is excellent. We’re each served up with two huge crab claws. After lunch, Sandy picks out a large, beautifully patterned shell which Francis has collected while diving. He gives her a very special price, and it will be a treasured souvenier of our time here at Hatchet Bay.

Around 1:30pm the BMH bus pulls up in front of the restaurant, and we climb aboard. KP is driving, and the kids have ridden up to Preachers Cave, stopped at the Queens Bath, and eaten lunch at Leaping Lizard in Gregory Town. For their next activity, KP has promised to take them to a special beach. He drives another of those brushy cross-island roads, and parks at a wide spot just above the ocean. We walk down a short rocky path, and descend a steep rock cut toward a jumble of coral rock boulders. By climbing down the rocks we reach a patch of sand in a narrow rock alcove. We wade out into the water to sneak around the corner to find KP’s special “Hidden Beach”. It’s a narrow crescent of sand, hemmed in by steep rocky bluffs. We love the place. Soon everyone is in the water. I’ve brought our snorkel gear along, and most of the kids take a turn at snorkeling. KP sits atop the rock bluff, and at one point alerts the swimmers of an approaching shark. Everyone retreats to the waters edge until the dark form slowly passes by.

After beach time, KP still has some time to kill, so he drives us all down to Governor’s Harbour where he shows us some of the BMH projects which have been undertaken there. He fuels the bus before heading back to camp. We grab showers, and then drive over to James Cistern, where a community fundraising barbeque is underway. We’ve ordered in advance, and the food is served up in generous proportions. After dinner the kids wander down to the edge of the bay to watch a local Bahamian clean conch. They’re fascinated with the process, and the conch fisherman seems pleased with the attention he’s attracted.

It’s nearly dark by the time we dinghy out toward the boat. We decide to stop by Sunseeker for a final visit with George and Karen. They invite us aboard, and we talk until it’s pitch dark outside. We make our exit, with a boat full of unpacked laundry and groceries still in need of stowage awaiting us. It’s been a long, full day and we’re both very tired.