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by Dan and Jan Ahart
We stayed at West Bay on New Providence Island for six days, while we waited for my mother to arrive in Nassau so we could celebrate her 80th birthday. The days seemed to go by very fast since we had some work to do. We did some clothes washing in our hand crank washer, which works quite well with surprisingly few turns on the crank. It is large enough to hold one sheet or several items of clothing. Actually, we don't dirty very many clothes since we seem to live in our bathing suits; so washing sheets and towels is the biggest job. We also re-bedded one of our windows that had an aggravating leak. Jan also finished and installed the first of two hand-made belaying pin rails and three belaying pins. She had been working on the project for several weeks, without the aid of a lathe. Using hand tools only, she fashioned a pin rail out of oak that is 28 inches long and three inches square. It holds three belaying pins that are each 15 inches long.
I know, you are wondering what in the world is a pin rail and furthermore, what in the world are belaying pins? The pin rail is mounted horizontally between the parallel shrouds on either side of the boat, which are the cables that go from the deck to the top of the mast to hold it upright. The pins are wooden rods that slip vertically into holes in the pin rail. The whole apparatus is designed to allow quick attachment and removal of halyards, which are the ropes used to raise sails. Since the pins can quickly be removed from the pin rail, the halyards will slip off very easily. I know it sounds complicated, but it is really an efficient system for keeping halyards under control. The system has been around for ages. If you recall seeing some old swashbuckling movies, you have seen the pins pulled out of the pin rails and used as clubs during fights with bad guys.
We left West Bay on April 12th at 0800. We had made reservations at the Atlantis hotel and casino marina on Paradise Island, which is across the harbor from Nassau. The Atlantis is the biggest and showiest place in the Bahamas and we wanted to see it. Our slip cost $3.00 per foot length of the boat per day, plus electricity at 35 cents per kilowatt-hour and water at ten cents a gallon. Cable TV was included in the slip cost. We used electricity everyday for power on the boat, including the air-conditioner. The electricity cost $5.00 per day and we used no marina water, so our total cost at the marina was $125.00 per day. This is a high figure as far as marinas are concerned, but considering that three of us stayed on the boat, at a very convenient slip right next to the casino, for less than half the cost of a room at the hotel, we considered it a bargain. We had the boat securely tied up and all the check-in paperwork completed by 2:00 p.m. Mom's plane was due in at 5:35 p.m. The only transportation from Paradise Island to the airport is by taxi, limousine or a tour bus if you are on a tour package. Public buses are not allowed on Paradise Island. The taxi fare from the Atlantis to the airport is $25.00 each way for the first two passengers and an extra $3.00 for each additional passenger. The trip takes about 40 minutes to travel the roughly 12 miles to the airport. Taxi drivers have a very strong union in the Bahamas and apparently are very successful in staving any improvement in public transportation. We read in the paper that the taxi drivers on Grand Bahama were fighting the proposed use of buses by the Disney organization in connection with their developing facilities in Freeport. Disney was referred to as a greedy capitalist organization attempting to take work away from Bahamians. No mention of the hundreds of millions of dollars that Disney is investing in the country.
The roads in Nassau are also very archaic. They were probably designed more than a hundred years ago and are totally inadequate for the amount of traffic clogging them. A highway from the center of Nassau to the airport would be a real blessing. Most taxi drivers ignore stop signs and use their horns liberally to announce their intentions or attract the attention of a friend. I suppose all of this is part of the local ambiance, but it makes for some eye opening and pulse revving trips. While at the airport, we discovered on the TV monitor that mom's plane was not listed. While discussing this state of affairs, we were overheard by another couple, who were waiting for passengers on the same plane. They said not to worry, the Bahamians are very casual about such things and even though the monitor did not list the flight, it would be here on time. Reassured, we went to the observation deck to watch the arrival. It was a Continental flight, so we were sure we would be able to spot it. We never saw it, but we did see some smaller strangely marked planes arrive. Since it was now nearly 6:00 p.m., we decided to go back to the customs area and see what we could learn. There is no way to talk to anyone in customs directly, so we went to the Atlantis Hotel courtesy desk and asked if they could check with Continental and tell us if the plane had arrived or if it was delayed. The woman at the desk said sure and promptly called Continental. She informed us that the plane had been delayed and would be in at 6:30. So, we went back to the observation deck to watch for it. By 7:00 p.m. we had seen no Continental plane so we went back to the Atlantis courtesy desk, which was now closed. Not knowing what else to do, we wandered outside to look around and there sat Mom, waiting for us. Although the flight was Continental, the actual plane was chartered and did not have Continental markings, but it had indeed arrived on time. We apparently just missed her the first time we were at customs and as for being told by the Atlantis courtesy desk that the plane would be an hour late - who knows, welcome to the Bahamas.
Once back at the boat, we settled into a routine of sightseeing the many attractions at the hotel, visiting the casino, trying lots of different restaurants and of course shopping in Nassau. There is a water taxi available from the hotel across the harbor to Nassau for $3 per person each way. Sights at the hotel are many. The Atlantis has to be one of the most beautiful hotels with more to see within its grounds than any other hotel any of us had visited. The closest comparison would be some of the extravagant new facilities in Las Vegas. There are over a thousand rooms in the complex with prices varying from $295 to $25,000 per night for the bridge suite, which we were told is frequented by Michael Jackson and his entourage. That may sound like a lot of money, but remember it includes a butler. George Bush senior visited while we were there. He was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of a Canadian insurance company. We didn't get to see him, but the other features of the hotel were enough for us to observe.
Traveling to and from the Atlantis Hotel by taxi is via a tunnel that goes under the marina channel. One then traverses a very impressive entrance over water and through two enormous doors. The grand lobby is four stories high and is decorated with murals. The lobby is full of sculptures and beautiful furniture. Crossing the lobby, one comes to a huge glass wall that overlooks a water playground including beaches, a 60 foot high water slide, fountains, flower gardens, bars, kayak rentals and of course the ocean beach way off in the distance. The entire complex must cover close to 100 acres. Descending a magnificent staircase from the main lobby one encounters the aquarium, which consists of floor to ceiling glass walls enabling the viewer to see out into an enclosure containing literally thousands of fish, including some very large sharks. The aquarium walls extend in a serpentine fashion for several hundred yards. As the hotel name implies, the entire motive is the mythical Atlantis and it is extremely well done. Even if you don't stay at the Atlantis, a trip to Nassau should include a visit to this incredible hotel.
The marina is also very impressive. Sojourner is almost 41 feet long and nearly 20 feet wide, but she looked like a rowboat compared to the mega-yachts in the marina. The yacht in the slip next to us was 165 feet long and was staffed with a crew of nine. It was owned by a South African family and believe it or not, when they found out it was mother's 80th birthday, they came over with a large pina colada and a big red balloon for her and sang happy birthday to her. She couldn't have been more surprised or pleased.
The prices were also very high in Nassau. We always had breakfast on the boat and sometimes other meals, but most of the time we ate out. Lunches can cost anywhere from $15 and up per person and dinners can cost from $25 and up per person. The hotel has a delicatessen where sandwich meat, cheese, bread and other items can be purchased, but it is all very expensive. One can of beer at the deli was $4.75. It's cheaper to go play a slot machine and get a free drink. Grocery stores off the Atlantis property were much more reasonable, but still about 25% higher than in the states. The straw market in Nassau was interesting. It consists of about one square block of semi-covered stalls that sell native craft and the usual tourist stuff like jewelry and t-shirts with Bahamas scenes on them. It's quite a sight and worth a visit. Downtown Nassau can be elbow to elbow if more than two cruise ships are in harbor at the same time. Each ship disgorges about a thousand tourists right into the center of Nassau. The merchants love it, but it sure gets crowded. Fortunately, we found refuge in an upstairs cyber café called Chippies that also had an outdoor balcony. We had a leisurely lunch, while looking down on the crowded streets and got on the internet for $5 for 30 minutes. That, at least, seemed like a bargain.
Mom stayed with us for six days. The day after she flew back to
Houston, we headed for the Exumas. Stay tuned.