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by Dan and Jan Ahart
Like North Cat Cay, Chub Cay is privately owned and contains a private club, marina and airstrip. Being about 90 miles further East from Florida, it is not as popular as Bimini among sport fishermen, and therefore not as crowded, but it is a charming little island. There is a nice marina, large enough for about six or so mega-yachts, of which there were four during our sojourn. The largest was well in excess of 120 feet with upper and lower open decks on the stern, a huge main salon and who knows what other luxuries inside. Yachts of this size and larger have a full time crew consisting of at least a captain, a cook and a cleaning person. Having observed several crews of large yachts, we have noted that they are mostly very young, which bespeaks of romance and adventure as opposed to remunerative goals. We met a young couple at the Bahia del Sol marina on Tampa Bay, who had served as captain and cook on such vessels for several years. They said if the owner was reasonable, it was a good life in that the food was excellent, the ports of call and guests were interesting, but they had very little time off. A large yacht usually has a plethora of electronic gadgetry, which makes the captain's job easier and more interesting, but big yachts are extremely complex machines that require endless routine maintenance. The pinnacle of the mega-yacht fraternity often includes small helicopters for transportation to and from appointments on shore. The last time we saw one of those was in Key West.
Chub Cay, like most Bahamas islands is low lying. The highest point was less than 25 feet above sea level and at least one third of the island was salt marsh. Topsoil is almost non-existent since the Bahamas are essentially limestone outcroppings. But a great deal of effort had obviously been made to create gardens and plant coconut palms as well as oleander, buttonwood, crown of thorns, bougainvillea and other flowering plants of various types to add color to the surroundings. Like Southern Florida, rainfall disappears into the limestone very quickly leaving the ground essentially arid, so irrigation is needed to keep any thirsty plants alive. As one would expect, the ground cover was a type of coastal Bermuda grass that tolerates bright sun and dry conditions. Besides the marina, which had to have been blasted out of the limestone, there was a beautiful crescent shaped swimming beach that also looked as if the limestone had been removed since both ends of the beach were still jagged rock. Most of the buildings were clustered around the beach or the marina. Some were large private homes and some looked like rental cottages. There was also a very nice restaurant, pool and patio. The marina itself included a fuel dock and a scuba charter business as well as sport fishing charter boats and some commercial fishing boats.
Visitors are welcome and have access to all the facilities including washers and driers at $3.75 for wash or dry. A very small grocery store was also available and of course telephones were available. Local (on the island) calls were 75 cents, but any long distance call, i.e. off island was $1.00 per minute, including 800 calls. It is expensive operating any kind of enterprise on these small islands because there is no natural fresh water, which necessitates desalination facilities. And virtually all activities require electricity, so the ubiquitous diesel power plant is always hidden away on some corner of the island.
We anchored off the beach in eight feet of clear water for three days. We took the dinghy ashore three times to walk around and explore, but most of the time, we lounged on the boat or talked to our fellow cruisers. Since Chub Cay is a natural waypoint on route to Nassau, many cruisers stopped for at least one night. Some nights there were as many as two-dozen boats anchored around us and other nights there were only three or four. We also did some swimming. The water included lots of small conch, which were too small to harvest, as well as lots of starfish and urchins and the usual crowd of small fish that seem to gather under boats. Starfish feed on urchins, but since neither can move very fast, it is an attack in slow motion. I floated above one encounter for about fifteen minutes and watched a starfish sneak up on an urchin. The starfish moved about three inches during the attack. As soon as the urchin was touched, it moved about three inches away, which took it another five minutes. Not to be discouraged, the starfish renewed its pursuit. Having grasped the gist of the game, I moved on.
A huge high-pressure weather system and corresponding cold front was forecast, which meant winds from the Northwest within 48 hours. Our anchorage on Chub Cay would leave us exposed to higher waves than would be comfortable for sleeping, so we headed for New Providence Island, 35 miles to the Southeast. Why it's called an island instead of a Cay remains a mystery. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas and the main tourist area is located on New Providence Island. Leaving Chub Cay, we again experienced the rapidly increasing depth as we left the bay and crossed the tongue of the ocean canyon. We went from eight feet of water to over 3,500 feet in about three miles. The change in the color of the water is dramatic. In shallow water it is clear and one can easily see the color and type of bottom, which is sand, grass or coral. The deeper water takes on a turquoise color and then as if someone had drawn a line on the sea itself, the color changes to a deep navy blue, where the depth plunges at an alarming rate. Even at our relatively slow speed of about 5 knots, the depth finder was a blur of ever increasing numbers until it just gave up at 550 feet and reverted to its standby position until we reached shallower water.
The harbor has several marinas, but they can be very busy, so we chose to tie up at the Lyford Cay Club Marina, which is on the West end of the island. Although it is a private club, Lyford Cay welcomes guests if they have room. We radioed ahead and secured a berth for a couple of days, during which we knew it would be very windy outside, but sheltered and calm in the marina. The marina is very large by Bahamian standards and is home to several mega-yachts and mega-homes. The surroundings were absolutely first class, as was the staff. We rode our bicycles around and looked at all the boats and did a little shopping at a very nice shopping center just outside the marina compound. The marina is not just a basin, but also a series of canals so residents can keep their yachts in their backyards. We saw one sloop (one mast) that was 105 feet long. This is no ordinary neighborhood. The roadway entrance and exit have separate uniformed guards to insure seclusion for the residents. It was a very nice place to visit, but very expensive also. Slip charges were $2.50 per foot per night plus $5.00 per day for water and $0.40 per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Cheap compared to a hotel room, but high for the type marinas to which we are accustomed.
In addition to our weather FAX receiver, NOAA weather broadcasts, Coast Guard weather broadcasts, HAM radio net weather broadcasts, the weather channel on TV (via satellite receiver onboard), as well as local radio station weather reports, we also take advantage of an incredible individual, who broadcasts weather forecasts to cruisers in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The individual is Herb Hilgenberg of Toronto, Canada. Herb works seven days a week to provide FREE weather forecasts to boaters. He is a former cruiser who knows the value of good weather forecasts for safety at sea. His reports are the absolute best available bar none. He receives his weather information from a variety of sources including direct satellite links. He accepts "log ons" for thirty minutes beginning at 1930 UTC (universal coordinated time), better known as Greenwich Mean Time or Zulu time. A "log on" consists of giving Herb your vessel name and location. He then talks to cruisers from 2000 UTC for about two hours. It is absolutely amazing after logging on to have Herb call the name of your boat and talk to you individually about your present position, intended course and the weather you can expect for the next 24 to 48 hours. He only asks that boaters report their exact location and current weather conditions when he calls their vessel name. Listening to the weather reports of the other 50 or 60 boats he communicates with in the Atlantic and Caribbean is incredibly interesting. It is absolutely amazing that he does it all from Toronto, which means he has a lot of money invested in the best radio equipment, and that he does it for free. He should receive some kind of international award for his services. He has no doubt saved countless lives and property simply by advising boaters that they should steer a certain direction to avoid a storm or stay in port until it is safer to leave.
When I hear about people like Herb who give so selflessly, I am reminded of the comment made by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian, who toured America in the early 1830s. He wrote a book about his visit entitled "Democracy in America." In it, he noted that one unique characteristic of Americans was their voluntarism. Granted, Herb lives in Canada, but our neighbors to the North are not unlike us in that they too encourage voluntarism. I dare say that the United States, with its hundreds of thousands of civic clubs, and benevolent trusts, not to mention millions of church groups is still number one among the nations of the world in terms of voluntarism, giving and sharing with others.
After two days at Lyford Cay, we moved to a beautiful and protected bay on the West
end of New Providence Island to do some swimming and plan our next
move. Stay tuned.