- Katharine Hesmer
Bahamas | Take 2 | December 18, 2022
RDU to Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, Bahamas
Please bear with me as I'm continuing to play "catch up" on my blog from KORKZcrew's adventures in the Exuma Cays from last spring, and the cross-posting might get confusing.
This is the first in a series of posts about our current KORKZcrew adventures, beginning in the Abaco Islands. For more "real time" updates, follow me on Instagram here. I typically post current news about KORKZcrew in my Stories.
KORKZcrew is the blue dot on the map
The day is finally here, and Greta, Skeet and I are headed south to meet Ron and Steve in the Abacos. We spent the night (or some of it anyway) at my mom's house, waking up at 4:00 a.m. for the 4:25 ride to the airport. Once we arrived at RDU, there was a bit of a stressful, unexpected glitch during check in. Welcome to the world of travel. The agent informed us that the Bahamas require you to have either a return flight or a Bahamian visa to enter the country, and Skeet and I had neither. Greta's arrangement was fine since she's returning home at the end of December, but since Skeet and I will eventually be coming back to the states with Ron on KORKZcrew, we had open-ended tickets. The agent can suffer a fine if they issue boarding passes without meeting these requirements, so we were in a pickle and didn’t want to risk getting him in trouble. He had to make several phone calls and confer with his coworkers, and just as things were looking rather bleak, an agent told him that since we’d already been issued boarding passes online the night before, the "transaction" couldn’t be attributed to this particular agent at RDU. Works for me. But then my mind shifted gears to what we'd encounter once we entered the Bahamas. It wasn't a stretch to anticipate getting stuck for this same reason as we checked into customs in Marsh Harbour, so I contacted Ron to see what he could do from his end to help us. He worked with a customs broker and learned that we indeed needed to provide a return date when we checked into the country, so during our layover in Miami, Skeet booked us return flights and made sure they were refundable. Fortunately, we had no trouble entering the Abacos. When we first arrived at the airport in Marsh Harbour, the customs official asked where we were staying and for how long, and stamped our passports. Then we claimed our bags and had to talk to another customs agent before exiting the airport. They asked our purpose for being in the country (vacation), where we were staying (boat), and did we have any boat parts in our suitcases (no). That was it.
Ron had arranged for a taxi to pick us up, and told us to look for a woman holding a red flower and a sign. Sure enough, just beyond customs we found Tricia waiting for us, sporting the flower as promised, a big smile, and a sign that said "KORKZcrew". How cute is that. And in my excitement (and relief) to be there, I failed to take a picture. But it's forever etched in my mind. She was amazing - so friendly and with the best attitude. The first thing we did was ask her about Hurricane Dorian, a massive category 5 storm that hit the Abaco Islands in September of 2019. She said she'd had to ride out Dorian for 3 days, with winds gusting to over 200 mph. With winds of that speed, I'm shocked there's no category 10. That is INSANE. She said the experience was absolutely terrifying and that the storm included lots of tornadoes. She pointed to one building along our route and indicated where the water had risen up to the second floor, remaining there for days, with people having to be evacuated by boat, jet ski, or whatever was available. We saw a lot of ravaged buildings that looked like they’d exploded or been through a war, and told her we’d especially noticed the trees as our plane made its final approach before landing, because they looked like giant sticks, completely stripped of branches and greenery. While the storm's fury is still very evident, the island is clearly bouncing back, and that gave me hope for their full recovery. Here's a reminder of just how horrific that storm was:
On 1 September 2019, Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands at 16:40 UTC with winds of 185 mph (300 km/h) and wind gusts up to 225 mph (360 km/h), tying Dorian with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane as the strongest landfalling Atlantic hurricane on record. There are reports of major damage throughout the islands which has been described as "catastrophic damage" and "pure hell".
Hurricane Dorian caused 87 percent of the damage in the Abaco Islands. 75 percent of the island's homes were damaged or destroyed.The total cost of Hurricane Dorian's impacts and effects on the Bahamas was $3.4 billion. As of October 18, 2019, there were 67 confirmed deaths as a result of Hurricane Dorian, with 282 people still missing. The damage also impacted the homes and assets of another 29,472 people. Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on Grand Bahama and Abaco, with damaging winds and storm surges, as well as the island of New Providence. The $3.4 billion in damages, losses, and additional costs were split as follows: 72 percent damage, 21 percent losses, and 7% additional costs, with the private sector absorbing nearly 90 percent of total losses. Abaco was responsible for 87% of the losses and 76% of the damage.
On a much happier note, Tricia took us to the landing for Snappas restaurant where Ron planned to meet us, and the first “person” we saw was KORKZcrew anchored in the distance as we pulled up. Once the taxi stopped, we saw Steve, followed shortly by Ron. Happy.. NESS!! It was a great reunion, and hard to believe we hadn't seen them since November 5th. It just so happened that the World Cup finals were taking place as we arrived, and the Snappas bar had a big tv so we could watch all the excitement unfold, while celebrating our own. We toasted our reunion with drinks, conch fritters, ahi tuna, and of course french fries!! All is right with the world!
You can see KORKZcrew behind Ron and me, and that teeny speck behind it is Greta in the dinghy, taking all of our luggage to the boat.
Here's a little geography lesson you didn't ask for to help give you a sense of the scope of The Bahamas. The website for The Bahamas has a really helpful interactive map you can find here, where I grabbed the graphic below. You can click on any of its 16 major districts and learn more about each. Keep in mind that some of these districts are comprised of hundreds of islands. As just one example, there are over 365 islands in the Exuma Cays alone, where we traveled last spring. KORKZcrew made her way as far south as Long Island before returning home to Wilmington NC in May.
As I mentioned earlier, Greta, Skeet and I flew into Marsh Harbour, which is the Abacos' commercial hub and the Bahamas' third largest city. When we returned to the boat after lunch, we made our way to Elbow Cay along the northeast side of the Abacos, where we'll stay through Christmas. Several months ago Ron reserved a slip at the Hope Town Inn and Marina, which is a super special treat. Even though we are not hotel guests, we have access to the same amenities, including the pool, restaurant, and showers. KORKZcrew typically anchors everywhere she goes, so it's quite a luxury to be parked somewhere with shore power, plenty of fresh water, and nice bathrooms. I might actually take more than two showers a week while I'm here, but don't hold your breath. Then again . . ., maybe you should. 😂
On our short one-hour boat ride to Hope Town, we watched as some sketchy weather inevitably caught up to us, and stopped us in our tracks while we waited out a downpour. For some reason I loved just floating there, stuck in the crummy weather. Ron drove from inside the pilot house and I sat there with a sloppy grin on my face as the squall went by.
As we approached Hope Town you could see its most notable landmark, the Elbow Reef Lighthouse.
Elbow Reef is one of the last operational kerosene-fueled lighthouses in the world. This lighthouse was built in 1862 and became operational two years later, it is striped horizontally red and white. Its light can be seen from 23 nautical miles away. The Elbow Reef Lighthouse is one of only three manual lighthouses left in the world. It has a weight mechanism that has to be hand cranked every several hours to maintain the sequence of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The lamp burns kerosene oil with a wick and mantle, at the rate of one gallon per night. The light is then focused as it passes through the optics of a first order Fresnel lens which floats on a bed of mercury.
Ron had checked out our slip via dinghy yesterday so he'd know what we would be dealing with as far as our approach to the marina and the maneuvering we'd need to do to get into our reserved spot. Much to his dismay, our particular entrance is flanked by two of the most gorgeous (slang for expensive as hell) yachts out there: a 60+ foot Nordhavn on our left, and a similarly sized Fleming on our right. No pressure, captain! We tried to get all of our ducks in a row leading up to docking so everyone knew their respective duties and what to expect, and in this case, we are parking bow-first rather than stern-first as we’re more accustomed to. We haven’t stayed at that many marinas, but in the few we have, we usually back into the slip. Ron contacted the marina on our VHF radio and learned that there’ll be a dockhand to help us tie up, which is always welcome news.
Ron maneuvered between those two gorgeous boats and into our slip in a way that, well, let’s just say in a way I could never duplicate. He’s got such a great “feel” for this boat and what she can do and how to handle her, which might sound ridiculous, but to steer a 16’ wide / 37' long bathtub into a fixed spot with variables affecting you like wind and the moving “pavement” underneath you is a feat I’ll never take for granted. And hopefully will never have to attempt myself.
360 degree view of our parking spot for the next week. You can hear the band playing in the background, performing to raise money for the restoration of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse
We unpacked a bit and then headed to the hotel which is just a short walk from our slip. There are charming villas along the water you can rent, an outdoor pool, and a bar area where a fundraiser with a live band was in progress. They are raising money to save the lighthouse, which was pummeled during Hurricane Dorian. Ron actually saw them sandblasting and repainting the lighthouse a little over a week ago for the first time since the 2019 storm. Here's his picture from December 9th:
The band was quite good, even though Ron likened them to a high school band which I didn't think was fair, but maybe it was because I was just happy to be there, and loved the music they were playing. They played songs by The Rolling Stones, Beatles, and other great 80’s bands. At one point they got a request for an Eagles song and while they knew how to play their music, they didn’t have a singer who could hit the Don Henley notes. They asked around and sure enough found a guest sitting near us who sang the lead to Hotel California, and blew everyone’s minds with her stage presence and vocals. So fun, and she was met with thunderous applause when she finished. Wish I'd taken a video of THAT, but here's a sampling of a different tune:
Hope Town Inn and Marina Bar / Restaurant — Ron is in the center of the picture
The restaurant was offering freshly made conch salad nearby!
The lighthouse fundraiser was cute because they had people enthusiastically stopping by the restaurant's tables with a small hollow replica of the lighthouse you could stuff dollar bills into. One of the ladies making the rounds was having a bit too much fun with all the festivities - and drinks - and came by our table multiple times within a few minutes, forgetting she’d already made a few laps. There was a guy nearby making conch salad, and a table of all kinds of lighthouse merchandise for sale with 100% of the proceeds going to help the rebuilding fund. Yes, I supported the cause as well. Twist my arm.
After enjoying the band for awhile, we decided to take the free marina boat taxi over to Captain Jack’s which is a restaurant just across the bay, only to find that it was closed on Sundays. We just stayed on the taxi which does a big loop and enjoyed riding it back to the marina. Ended up eating dinner right where we’d started, at the hotel bar, and it was absolutely delicious. Maybe because we were starving but still - everyone devoured their meal.
Came back to the boat and watched tv for the rest of the night. That pilot house is so cozy, and while it’s small, it’s just right for our family, and it’s so great to be back together again. Just wish Whitney was here to make the picture complete!
1.25 hours underway; 8 nautical miles traveled
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