By the time Sterling returned to Mayaguana, he found us quite at home in the desolate little isle. Seventeen days in total we spent in the last, south-eastern most island of the Bahamas. The most of any place we had dropped anchor up to that point. Chak’s bottom grew furry. We became comfortable and familiar, resting in the knowledge that we were there for the foreseeable future – until Sterling’s return – and the days passed like a few blinks of an eye.
The island is a removed outpost offering little to tourists further than a protected place to anchor and rest before moving on. It’s one of the jumps, part of the hopscotch pattern between cruising grounds in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, but not somewhere anyone wants to be for any length of time. Supplies like food and fuel (usually) arrive weekly on the mail boat. But scarcity is common and the fuel must be brought over from the other side of the island. Sterling was able to get a few diesel jugs filled with the help of Scully. But if you’re rolling through on a trawler and needing to fill up, forget it.
Despite the isolation and lack of purchasable resources, or likely because of these facts, the island of Mayaguana is my favorite of all the places we’ve been marooned so far. Having spent most of my life in the middle of nowhere, a small community and shortage of places to buy entertainment is a welcome sort of predicament. For me home is a small farm about 6 and a half miles down a 13 mile gravel road.
I explained to the locals that I knew what it was like, I too grew up in a small town! That in my own way I could understand where they were coming from. That I could appreciate this place for what others might find as faults – lack of development for instance.
“Five.. Hundred?? More than 500 people in your town? Please.” Marissa chuckled at me, she was sipping on a rum and coke while serving us drinks at the bar. “That’s no small town, girl. We got 300 people on this whole island, in 3 separate towns!”
For the first time the shoe was on the other foot. Normally I’m the one correcting people when they tell me about the “small town” – of a couple thousand – they grew up in. It was cool. I respected her for taking pride in the smallness of it, the closeness of their community, because I too feel it.
In Georgetown, we heard about Contagious 2 – Erik and Nikki – from their friend Tom, who owns a trimaran of the Newick design. (Sterling tried to swap tri’s with Tom, but no luck) A couple in the 20s-30s age demographic, like us, they are a rarity in the cruising world where the average age must be 60+. Like us, they said “no” to convention, “no” to the idea of waiting for retirement to live the kind of life you might imagine for yourself.
Nikki and I had been exchanging messages and talking about plans for heading south. We had considered traveling together from Georgetown but, as Tom had warned us, Erik is a bit of a devil-may-care sort of guy. His plan for the best way to celebrate his birthday was with an all day, all night sail, heading straight for Mayaguana from Georgetown. We celebrated my birthday a bit different, leaving Georgetown and just making a comfy day sail. Anchors down by nightfall, it was nothing too crazy. People keep asking if I have any trouble with sea sickness and I keep saying no, not once. But the truth is we haven’t been in anything more than 3-4 ft waves and the highest winds were on the day Sterling lost his mast.
With such differing attitudes toward traveling, we couldn’t go together, but ultimately were headed for the same spot: Luperon, DR.
Thanks to the nature of communication facilitated by modern technology – and the contact info provided by Tom – we had never actually met Nikki or Erik in person. But due to an unexpected and unfortunate turn of events, Contagious 2 was still in Abraham’s Bay as we crept in on Tuesday morning, the 20th.
They were sick. Food poisoning, she told me, must’ve been some bad rice. But when we went ashore and spoke to the locals who were fishing at the docks, they were gravely certain it was much more serious.
Technically a food borne illness, ciguatera is not your typical food poisoning. It is carried by fish that feed on dying coral, and it accumulates in predators that feed on these fish. Grouper for instance, and barracuda especially is notorious for being an inedible catch. The viability of reefs are seriously affected by wrecked, sunken boats as they decompose and leech oxidized heavy metals into the water. In bearing witness to Nikki and Erik’s misfortune, we learned how absolutely essential seeking knowledge from the locals will prove. They can tell you where it’s safe to fish and what is or isn’t safe to eat. In Mayaguana, Strawberry Grouper and Blue Runner are not to be messed with.
Erik told us that he and Nikki had a killer day fishing off the reef on the south end. Then they fried up their catch for an awesome supper. But that night they both took a turn for the worse. He said that they’ve been fishing voraciously up and down the islands. Fresh fish was the mainstay to their diet and how they’ve been feeding themselves while cruising on a budget. They knew about ciguatera, but never thought it would happen to them. I never even knew about it, until now.
The symptoms are totally bizarre. In addition to exhaustion and nausea, the body’s perception of temperature changes. Hot registers as cold, and cold feels like burning hot. Nikki noted that drinking water, even at room temperature, was like sipping hot tea. These symptoms can last anywhere from weeks to years, and interestingly enough alcohol only aggravates the situation. Same as the fish, ciguatera also accumulates in the human body. While a person may recover from the symptoms over time, if they were to eat another fish that’s been affected, even in trace amounts, it would be much more severe the second time around, potentially deadly. These two were devastated, like most sailors their days consisted mainly of fishing, drinking, and eating fish. Now, both of these options were totally off the menu.
They waited a week in Mayaguana, resting and waiting to see if their condition improved. But it didn’t.
Sadly, Erik and Nikki were forced to turn around and head back to the states. Next year they will try again to complete the Thorny Path, worst of all they’ll have to do it without eating any fish.
Just a few days after we arrived in Mayaguana, the C-Lover crew showed up, Cary and Mari. We first met in Crooked Island, then all of us left the same day for Acklins and anchored together overnight in Attwood Harbor. But they spent an extra day exploring Plana Cays while we went straight over to Mayaguana on one run. Sterling had been telling us from the beginning that south of Georgetown is where we would be meeting some legends, the real cruisers. So far he’s been spot on.
These guys were for real; fully committed to doing what they loved and loving each other. They had some crazy stories, each one pronounced by truly serendipitous turns of fate. From selling the house just before the market collapse, to the remarkable timing of finding and buying their perfect boat, everything that’s happened since they met and began their adventure seems to have been blessed by the universe. An eerily benevolent affirmation that says, “Yep, nice. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” I’ve heard similar anecdotes from a few others who have “let go” so to speak, succumbed to their destiny and gone with the flow.
We spent a few nights hanging out with the C-Lovers, enjoyed an awesome spaghetti dinner courtesy of Mari, while sharing stories and laughs. Then on their final night in Mayaguana they surprised us with such an incredible gift…
A year subscription to Navionics – the chart plotting application for mobile devices – with full coverage of the entire Caribbean.
After being on the receiving end of their generosity and goodwill, it’s no surprise to me that good karma has been such an active presence in their experiences. If you get what you give, it only makes sense. Cary and Mari moved on after just a few days in Mayaguana. They were bound for the Turks and Caicos Islands, and since have gone even further. To Luperon, then to Samana on the East Coast of DR – the last we’ve heard from them – but by now I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve made it to Puerto Rico or beyond.
If you’re reading this C-Lovers, fair winds and following seas. Who can say when or where, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing you.
Soon after C-Lover headed out, so did Sterling. In total he was gone for 10 days, leaving behind his boat and his baby girl for us to watch over while he was away. His girl Mancha is unlike any dog I’ve ever met. Not only is she smart, but she’s intuitive, she reads intentions better than most people – not unlike her dad. In fact she takes after Sterling in numerous ways. For instance her idea of fun, of “playing,” involves scaring the shit out of you. I’ve mentioned before that her bark is worse than her bite, but her bark sounds like she’s ready to kill. All while she’s snarling in your face and snapping at your hands, her tail will be wagging like its the best game in the world.
Before Sterling left he had us over to see about Mancha’s food and to go over starting the engine and running the bilge pumps – everything we would need to know about with him gone. She knew something was up, something was about to happen that she wasn’t gonna like.
After showing us where he keeps her dog food and having me feed her dinner, Sterling went up to show Joel how to get the boat started. I stayed down below with Mancha. When she finished gobbling down her supper, she started giving me the stink-eye. She looked at me sideways for a few moments before starting the low growl in the back of her throat, which is usually the precursor to playtime, only there was no tail wag going on. With my pulse nice and elevated, I gave her the stink-eye right back, “Mancha.. What’s going on..” Then, she snapped, putting both her front paws up on my stomach and snarling in my face. I put my hand up, instinctively between her teeth and my throat, and she latched on to it. This was a challenge.
“Hey!” I barked at her, my voice sounding convincingly steady and pissed off, despite the oh shit, oh shit, oh shit panic and adrenaline going through my mind. “Mancha that’s ENOUGH.”
Sterling is the alpha in their relationship, no doubt. But on her boat, Mancha is the first mate, the beta, second in command. Joel and I, we were just some extras she would tolerate if we were going to pat her head and call her beautiful. As soon as she realized Sterling was taking off, and I was going to be feeding her, this upset her notion of the balance of power. She had to test me, and I knew this was only going to work if we earned her respect.
After I raised my voice, she submitted. It was actually really sad. Her tail tucked, ears drooped, and she started crying. She crawled into her hidey-hole behind the stairs and stayed there til we left. I knew then she was just confused and scared and acting out.
Just before Sterling flew out, another boat slipped into the Abraham’s Bay anchorage, Weatherly. Onboard was Chris and Linda with their girls, Lucky and Gilly. Thirty-five years and counting on the water, this couple was the most knowledgeable and resourceful team we have encountered. They are living proof of the validity of this lifestyle experiment we’ve been testing. More than that, they are an inspiration to us as we move forward, fully debunking the myth that a person requires a job in order to support themselves in this world. Part of the beauty of living on a sailboat, is that your home can actually work to sustain you equally as much as you might work to sustain it. Most dwellings on land do not generate their own power, make or collect water for the inhabitants, or allow the inhabitants much time for recreation because they must work full time in order to pay for their house to do nothing but sit there and look pretty. Chris and Linda have turned Weatherly into a fully contained life support system, with solar panels, wind generator, rain catching system, and beautiful garden. They have done all of this following the mantra that we too believe in: it’s not about how much money you make, but how little you spend.
Linda introduced us to a variety of edible flora growing in abundance along the shores of Abrahams Bay, and assured us that these plants can be readily found throughout all of the islands.
Purslane: a succulent looking plant with red stems that creep horizontally over the sand and green leaves that are crunchy and a bit salty to taste.
Beach Rocket: a leafy green bush with tiny white flowers, a little spicy like mustard plants, but the flowers and leaves are both edible.
Crab Grass: another horizontal creeper with stiff stems and pointy 3-pronged leaves, best if you have a blender to make green juice, we didn’t find the leaves to be a good texture for salads.
Silver Frond Berries: small palm trees with silver-green frond spreads, they carry tasty berries which turn a juicy black shade when ripe. Just chew around the pit like you might do with a cherry.
We told Linda about the sprouts we’ve been growing and eating. She was excited to show us her own herb and vegetable garden, even gifting us some aloe, mint, and dandelion seeds to grow on our boat!
Chris emailed Joel a PDF document outlining how to build your own generator, a fully renewable and free source of energy.
They are supremely health and impact conscious, taking twice daily walks along the beach with their dogs Lucky and Gilly and burning what little trash they create. These girls love the water and are experts at catching fish in the shallows. Gilly is the lookout, though – bless her heart – Linda says her eyesight isn’t quite what it used to be, and Lucky is the muscle who comes in to make the final take down. The very first time we met with them to take Mancha for a walk, Lucky and Gilly caught one. A good sized Tilley. Mancha, who was a bit nervous to get her paws wet, watched intently from the sidelines. I think she was surprised and excited to see that the water wasn’t always the hot lava she known from the deck of her ship, it could actually be fun! Linda told us that the best thing we could do for her was keep her tired, so she would spend too much time brooding. After just a few days of the twice-daily walk routine, Mancha was loving it. She still didn’t quite know what was going on with Sterling gone and us showing up to feed her, but the walks were something for her to look forward to. On the third morning Mancha was up and barking at us by 8:55 – we had been meeting Linda or Chris at the beach around 9 each day. Quite the impressive internal clock, or maybe Sterling taught her to tell time, either way she’s a smart cookie. She even got over her fear of the water and did some swimming. Before, she would be so excited to go ashore but wouldn’t jump out of the dinghy until she could get her little paws on some solid ground. But now, with our coaxing and encouragement, she was jumping off the nose of the dinghy as soon as we were into the shallows and swimming up to the beach.
She never got to catch a fish herself, but there’s still time.
Between taking Mancha for walks twice a day and socializing with all of our new friends, we stayed surprisingly busy while Sterling was away. There’s no better way to speed up time than by slipping yourself into a regular routine. Traveling, exploring, and experiencing new places has the opposite effect where the hours in a day seem to drag on. But staying in one place and doing the same things day after day causes time to gradually creep faster and faster.
On one of the days though, we broke out and mixed things up. Scully is the go-to guy of Mayaguana. He’s the main contact for cruisers anchored in Abraham’s Bay and he makes up for the lack of infrastructure by offering rides and making fuel runs. We got in touch with him on channel 16 of the VHF to schedule a tour of the rest of the Island. Joel was looking to do some filming and Scully was more than willing to work with us to get some publicity for his island.
The weather wasn’t the best, a bit windy and overcast, but the day spent with Scully turned out to be an awesome one. He is a bit of legend himself. The name “Scully” came to him as a young kid, while he and his dad were out fishing. To scull a boat is to use an oar off the stern, moving it in a sidewinding motion in order to propel the boat forward. Named Vincent at birth, Scully was so proficient at sculling the boat while his dad fished that the nickname stuck. He said he never liked being called that at first, but being small for his age there wasn’t much he could do when the big kids decided his nickname.
“And now, if somebody call to me, ‘Vincent!’ I gon take a looong time to answer.” He chuckled.
Scully took us from Abrahams Bay, up to the north shore into Pirates Well which is his home town. We stopped there for a couple of beers and a ginger ale, his treat. He brought us to the abandoned Naval Base that the U.S. military left in the late 70s – after the panic over communist invasion had receded a bit. We could see the ruins from the beach where we were taking Mancha for walks, two identical concrete structures that were eerily reminiscent of the Twin Towers.
After our day with Scully, I felt that we had made a true friend. He’s another one who I can tell receives his fair share of good karma. Scully is honest and fair in his business dealings, and I knew that he genuinely wanted us to have the best day possible. He made us feel welcome and wanted us to experience and appreciate the unique beauty of his home.
The day with Scully set the tone for the rest of our interactions on the island. In a word, Mayaguana made me feel welcome. Not like a tourist with a dollar sign above my head – as if I was a begrudgingly necessary part of the economy. Instead, a welcome visitor. A person, not a wallet.
This might be part of my hesitation toward globalization and capitalist development. It seems to turn humans into quantifiable units of production, it creates a division between the producers and the purchasers. Each can be broken down into a number, one as a potential for output and the other as a bank account balance. Both dependent on one another, but the relationship is more like master and servant.
In school I studied business, I have a degree in Finance and Management. As part of my senior research project I wrote a paper on the impact of capitalist development. I found irrefutable evidence for the improvement of the world by the invisible hand of free market economies. People across the globe are living longer than they ever have, and they have more money than ever before. The trajectory is clear if we continue on the path laid by the industrial revolution, countries will continue to elevate and converge in a pattern of longer lives and more money – sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?
Now I’m not so sure. These metrics say nothing about quality of life or relationships, or of general contentment. So what if we’re all millionaires living to be 100, if we’re miserable, anxious, depressed, and incapable of genuine connection, long life is more like a cruel punishment than an achievement.
I worry that some unintended consequences of development are human costs. That the crusading emphasis on materialism, and “improvement” as synonymous with supermarket, could be having a real degenerative impact on interpersonal relations, a critical shortage of empathy.
Forgive the tangent and the doomy gloom, I swear I’m actually an optimist when it comes to considering human nature.
Wrapping it up for now –
We have been in Provo (Turks and Caicos Islands) for just over a week, checking out this afternoon actually, and plan on scooting down to the south end of the bank in this little window that’s opening up tomorrow.
Observations, anecdotes, and amateur opinionated economic appraisals regarding TCI coming atcha in the next blog 😉
Cheers, Mates. Thanks for reading.