Ghost Island

Ghost Island

For almost a week now we’ve been holed up in Bimini, the closest Bahamian island to the U.S. Feeling a bit battered from the crossing, we decided to rest instead of sailing east, deeper into the Bahamas – even though we knew that we had two days before heavy winds in the forecast would prevent us from leaving for a while.

When we pulled up into the anchorage that first night, we noticed that all of the boats but one had set two anchors out, Bahamian-style. I’ve anchored with a stern and a bow anchor before in the Channel Islands off California, but here you take two anchors that lead off the bow, drop one and let out more scope (chain and rope) than you need. Next you take the other anchor, walk it back outside the rigging to the stern and drop it off the stern. Then you pull in on the bow anchor until you’re snugly positioned between the two.

None of us had ever anchored this way yet we almost pulled it off seamlessly… except that the boat swung during the anchoring process and the anchor rode (aka., line) became caught on the propeller. Within seconds Greg jumped into the water in order to free it.

“You guys make it look easy,” hollered a man from a neighboring boat. He came over to talk later and we learned that he had also been waiting in No Name Harbor, and had sailed over single-handed in the night. He had been at anchor when the squall had blown through, and he said it was epic. Imagine: it was epic at anchor.

Pretty proud of my biscuits.
Photo credit: Gabe Travis

Since we did not make it in before the custom’s office closed, we were boat-bound that night. The next morning I made biscuits on the grill and Chris made sausage gravy. As we ate breakfast in the sunny cockpit a derelict three-sided boat glided through our anchorage, filled with plastic trash and old coconuts. As if guided by a ghost captain, the current carried it by all the other anchored boats without hitting them, and it continued on up the coast. It felt like a comment on our having survived the storm, but it might have been a harbinger of things to come.

After breakfast we pulled up both anchors and motored over to the closest dock so that customs officers could board us if they so chose. While we waited the dockmaster came to check on us.

“Dee sharks are out,” he told us.

“What sharks?” I asked.

“Dee bull sharks, mon,” he said. “Two of dem. If you dangle dee rope in dee water, dey will come.”

Chris promptly grabbed a dockline and dangled it in the clear blue water. Two eight-foot bull sharks swam out from under the shadow of the docks. Chris and Gabe and I exchanged a look that said: we will not be snorkeling here.

After clearing customs we returned to our anchorage, this time orchestrating the local anchoring technique like pros. Then we spent the rest of the day exploring the island. We hung out for a while at Stuart’s eating conch salad and drinking Bahamian beer. We walked along a stretch of beach bordered by white sand beaches and warm ocean waters on one side – and on the other side by the backyards of dilapidated houses flanked by discarded objects, like an old toilet, trash, construction and fishing debris. Ever the dumpster diver, Greg found two perfect conch shells and a plastic milk crate.

We walked the two long streets of Alice Town, the Queen’s and the King’s Highway, until we found the library where Chris’s 2003 guidebook said we could find Hemingway’s manuscripts. The library looked more like a crypt. Then we found the remains of the Compleat Angler Hotel where Hemingway wrote parts of To Have and Have Not. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 2006.

All of Alice Town actually looks like it’s seen better days, whether because of the hurricane this fall or perhaps a series of stormy years, with lots of boarded up windows and closed shops. Or perhaps it’s just low season, because the place felt like a ghost town with so few tourists that we even ran into the single-handed sailor, Paul, on the far shore.

“You’re the only person I know here and we’ve already bumped into you,” Chris said to him.

Back on the boat I made corned beef with cabbage and potatoes and carrots, to which we added the end of the sour cream and mustard and we tipped back our bowls like sailors of yore to drink up the warm broth.