May 7, 2011 – Hawksnest Creek to Smith Bay, Cat Island

20nm cruised today, 4 hours under power and 2 ½ hours sailing – high temp 81 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – E wind at 5 to 10 knots; sea surface light wind riffle

Our bug netting has worked well, and in the quiet, protected waters of Hawksnest Creek, we wake following a restful night. Such has not been the case on board Calypso however. Maciek and Christina report that they were invaded last night by both mosquitoes and no see ums, and they had a miserable night.

We retrieve our anchors and get underway by 7:30am. The air is nearly calm as we motor out of Hawksnest Creek and out onto the shallow waters on the east side of Cat Island. We motor around the southwestern tip of the island and steer a course across the bight, toward the aptly named settlement of New Bight.

We plan to visit one of the most remarkable places in the Bahamas. On the summit of the highest hill in the Bahamas, at 206 feet above sea level, one will find The Hermitage. This unique and sublime collection of structures is perched on the very top of rocky Mt. Alvernia. The Hermitage was built in the early 1900’s by Father Jerome, a well known and beloved figure here in the Bahamas. An architect by training, he came to the Bahamas as an Anglican priest in 1908, following a devastating hurricane which had struck the islands. He commenced to building a number of churches, using solid coral rock which could resist powerful winds. He later converted to Roman Catholicism and continued building churches. He built The Hermitage on the model of an Old World hermitage, and it served as his home until his death in the late 1950’s.

We dinghy ashore near the Batelco tower and tie up to a cassarina pine root on the beach. The road to The Hermitage is well marked, and we can see the structure on the hilltop a short distance away. We walk past recently burned patches of ground, which have been cleared to provide places for growing vegetables. One very stony patch has been planted with cabbages. After walking less than a mile up the hill the road ends and a steep path winds up the last few hundred yards. The Stations of the Cross mark waypoints along the rocky climb. Mortared steps and notches carved into rock take us up the hill. It’s almost as though it’s been built at ¾ scale. The structure includes a bell tower, chapel, wash room, sleeping room, and numerous other chambers, all connected by winding passageways. Windows afford sweeping views of the surrounding island landscape and sea beyond. Drains and gutters are build into the stone floor, and the hilltop. The entire site has been bordered with a low mortared wall, which captured rainwater. A cistern and hand pump at the low point provided Father Jerome with his drinking water. We’re pleased to see the site well cared for. Concrete roofs and wooden shutters have been freshly painted. The buildings are completely free of grafitti, and no litter detracts from the beauty of the place.

On our way back down we decide to search for the local grocery store. Sandy steps into the C and O Bakery and gets directions from Linn Ann, the proprietor. While there, she also buys a fresh loaf of cinnamon swirl bread. Since the grocery is a mile down the road, we run down the beach in the dinghy. We make a guess on where to land, but end up guessing right. A short walk inland takes us to the well stocked New Bight grocery store. We pick up a few items, including more soda pop, a cake mix, a bag of ice, and a bottle of coconut flavored rum (from the adjacent liquor store). We walk quickly back to the dinghy, so we can get the ice into the cooler before it completely melts.

We raise anchors and sails, with intent of sailing around to Smith Bay, where Maciek and Christina have learned from other cruisers about an abandoned field where we can pick free tomatoes. We just have a light breeze to work with, but decide to try and sail the 8 miles to Smith Bay. We have to swing wide, around a shallow reef which extends well out from shore. The wind is almost directly astern, which makes sailing difficult. I try going wing on wing, and manage ok, with lots of fussing with the jib. Near the point I’m startled to see a depth reading of 2.5 feet. The water looks deeper, and I conclude that I’m getting bogus readings from the depth sounder. This is very disturbing, since the unit is quite new. I rely on visual feedback and continue the sail, which turns into something of a race. I have the early lead over the faster Calypso, which is sailing downwind on just the jib. After we round the point, however, Maciek raises his main and steadily closes the gap. As we near our destination of Smith Bay he moves past us. It’s been a fun sail.

We fix a late dinner, and with conditions nealy ideal, see a distinct green flash as it dips below the horizon. We wrap up our busy day with an evening dinghy visit to Calypso. Christina has made a tub of popcorn, and Maciek pours drinks for everyone. We exchange pictures we’ve taken of each others’ boats while sailing, and I show Maciek places we enjoyed while cruising the Abacos in 2004. They will ge going through that area in a few weeks. It’s quite late by the time we return to our boat and turn in for the night.

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