Tales of Sweet Ruca and the People We Meet-Eleuthera Bahamas and Mr. Carey

Hello everyone! I plan on writing a little travelogue about our experiences, focusing mostly on the people we meet along the way. These logs will be in no particular order, but I hope you enjoy these short stories on the best part, IMO, of the cruiser experience! Enjoy!


December, 2019, Hatchet Bay Eleuthera, Bahamas

Part 1a

We were making our way south down the western side of Eleuthera. We checked in at Spanish Wells, stayed a night at Meeks and then made it to Hatchet Bay for a few days. It was a well-protected hurricane hole with a few local “clubs”, which are more like hole-in-the-wall bars with music that will certainly ruin your eardrums. But before we knew that we anchored as close as we could to shore near a sign that we could just make out saying ‘convenience store’. Seemed like a place we could dinghy in so we dropped anchor and set it in reverse… oh shit. Our first big oops “we’re idiots” finally came into play. As we reversed I could hear this winding sound that was not usual to the motor. As I look back I notice the fishing reel tugging as though we had caught a fish! For a moment I felt excitement until actual horror set in, realizing we had run over our own line. 

We had sailed a good five hours and trolled the line during the beautiful sunny day, but the entrance to Hatchet Bay had distracted our focus with its narrow-hilly channel and no major signs of good spots to anchor. Keep in mind that we are also seeing places for the first time and are entering with the bare minimum of a road map which is our charts. Our charts show great detail regarding the water, but not lay of the land, so to speak.

As I pointed out to Curt our plunder he held back a bit of frustration and anger and turned off the engine. The anchor was not fully set and we were in about 25 ft of water. It seemed ok with the calm, but we needed to get that fishing line off of the propeller. The water was a bit murky and it did not seem appealing. However, it was hot and a swim seemed nice, and somebody had to do it, so I volunteered to jump in. I’m not so good at holding my breath for a long time, but I managed to get the line free… that is the lines as our line cutter had done its job and sliced the line in two. Only one cut seemed fine and we still had plenty of usable line left.

Just as I finished, I was sitting on the stern trying to make sense of the mess and Curtis had gone down below to set the anchor alarm or check our depth, a colorful handmade dinghy made its way directly towards our boat. Before I continue, I must fill you in with a story from a previous anchorage…

We had anchored in Spanish Wells right near the town dock. For all we knew this was the only place to anchor and probably the only place our draft could fit (although we found out later this was not the case). We had also thought docking was too expensive (also not the case), but the winds were blowing 20-30 and we needed to officially check into the country yet. Not sure where we could dock, we dropped anchor between the narrow channel and a mooring field. We stayed here for a couple days as the wind blew out of the east giving us just enough room to fit into the “anchorage”. A catamaran and ketch were moored and we didn’t think the other balls would be deep enough for our depth or far enough from the other boats. After the ketch left, we decided to take his mooring for the night as the wind was planning on shifting and would blow our stern directly in the way of the channel. It seems not but a half an hour went by before the mooring captain, famously known just as Bandit came and grabbed our davits and knocked on our hull. I came flying out of the cockpit to see him there as he had begun to quickly and somewhat angrily speak to me. Curtis quickly picked his head out of the cockpit as well as Bandit had scolded us for anchoring outside his mooring. He said the space outside his mooring field was not a permitted anchorage. We were unsure if this was true, but if that was actually the case, why did no one ask us to move? We became a little defensive as Curt and I made short choppy sentences explaining our situation of strong winds and areas of little protection to check in, which pretty much fell on deaf ears. Eventually he asked us how many nights we planned to stay and we definitely knew at that point it would be just the one. He collected his payment and asked how our day was going. It was an odd exchange, but we were relieved it was over. The next day, we were off the mooring and onto the next place.

With this story in mind, we were not at Hatchet Bay long before being approached by a couple in a colorful dinghy. Out on deck by myself I yelled quietly for Curt that we were once again being approached. “Another mooring captain out to tell us we could not anchor here!”, I thought. Thankfully I was wrong and it was longtime Hatchet Bay visitors, Sue and Earl, coming to be our official greeters. We soon learned that they had been coming to this same spot for 20 years as it was one of their favorites. They built their own boat from a kit and have sailed it all around the Caribbean and Latin America. They were on a mooring ball that some would say they wouldn’t trust to floss their teeth with, but the protective hills of Hatchet Bay made it fairly safe. An anchored boat next to them ended up floating away and washed ashore so the holding wasn’t too good. Where we were, with our half set anchor, turned out to be good holding for us and besides, the winds had lightened and the bay was well sheltered. They invited us over to see their boat and we were excited to see a boat that had been made by the owners and successfully sailing long distances for many years. Curt and I were amazed when they said they hove-to for 40 hours before entering the Bahamas banks. (There had been a solid week of strong winds and squalls rolling through). They didn’t squeeze into Spanish Wells mooring field as we had. Even though we were interested in checking it out, we thought we’d stay in Hatchet only for a night, so if we didn’t see their boat later that day, it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera Bahamas

Part 2

After our debacle with the fishing line and hot midday chat with the crew of  My Bonnie, Curt and I were very desperate for some cold, local beer. The two convenience stores we found did not carry any alcohol and we were pointed in the direction of the liquor store. Curt and I ventured mapless into the abyss of neighborhood/boarded up houses/clubs/small shops. If we had been in the United States, this neighborhood might have been home to a few restless and reckless souls, but this was the Bahamas. Still, we had both never been and this was not exactly a strong tourist spot. The liquor store had a loud gangly bunch hanging out in front, of what appeared more like someone’s house. We decided to bypass it and head to the beach. 

Our thirst continued however and right next to the beach was a white concrete building with two guys at the bar and music so loud a conversation was really inconceivable. We looked at each other for a bit before my adventurous side grabbed Curt’s hand and said: “Let’s go inside”. Da club had been painted above the door of the one-room, white, concrete building. As we approached, one man got up from his seat at the bar and went behind the bar and started fiddling with a few things. The room was nearly square-like with a long bar that opened up right at the front entrance and extended to the back wall. There were no other tables or chairs and the walls were covered with posters for calendars clad with women or rapper type musicians or advertisements of liquor from four or five years ago. Against the back wall were four large black speakers, two stacked on top of two, nearly as tall as the ceiling. A TV hung in the back corner behind the bar along with a top opening refrigerator. Youtube on the TV was connected to the speakers and playing the loud music. 

The speakers blared and Curt tried to order our beers. The man and Curt had to lean in towards each other to make out what was being said. Eventually, we learned it was 3 Khaliks for $10 so we agreed to that and began to enjoy the cold refreshing beer to the loud local music. A few more local men came in and sat near the other man at the open end of the bar by the door. The bartender changed the screen to a festival where bands played and men and women in hand-made sequins and feathered costumes danced the streets. After some discussion and watching, we asked the bartender about the festival. It had taken place Christmas night and into the morning. It was Boxing Day in the Bahamas and this festival was called Junkanoo. (We later googled the significance of Boxing Day and Junkanoo in the Bahamas). To find out more about Junkanoo click here.

Being the social butterfly that he is, Curt noticed the other “original” man sitting at the bar was nearly done with a fifth of Fireball. We had partaken in this popular college type drink of cinnamon whiskey at a few parties back home and thus Curt had complimented him on his drink of choice. He responded by offering us two of the three final shots in the bottle. We reciprocated with buying him another Khalik. Next he pulled out a few cigars, and having been to Cuba, Curt was quick to compliment him on those as well. Next thing we knew we were nearly best friends with the guy. Carey was the name he offered to us, as we later found out this was his last name as is custom to offer up when meeting a new person not from the islands. Carey and his younger brother and best friend Jack asked if we wanted to join them at the next bar. We were already in an adventurous mood and accepted. 

Before we left, Carey had mentioned an older couple that frequents they bay. He knew them well (as they had been coming here for 20 years). We shared that we had just met a couple in similar detail. Carey’s face filled with excitement as he said, “let’s make a stop at me mom’s”. As it turns out, Sue and Earl were just visiting there as they became near family to the locals. The house was just around the corner from Da club and we entered in Carey’s mom’s house where many women were sitting around sharing in talk. We had just missed Sue and Earl, so we decided to be off on our way. It was a holiday and it was midafternoon and there was still a lot of bar hopping to be had, little to our knowledge. Carey, Jack, and Carey’s brother took us to the next bar a few blocks down in the little brother’s car. Another concrete building that was more of a house with a second story on top. Just like the bartender at “Da Club”, RJ was another friend of Carey’s and as Carey explained, he tries to split his time equally between the two bars. 

As you walked into RJ’s Sports bar, there were two high top circular tables directly in front of you with a small bar directly behind them. A few TV’s hung above the bar and played basketball and other sports. To our right was a worn pool table with two large paper posters on the wall behind it. One of Lebron James and the other of Steph Curry. Carey quickly brought us over more Khaliks and Curt and I gave each other a look of trying to slow down. We are both lightweights and the night was young. It was still daytime! Carey offered to play Curt in a game of pool and warned Curt that he and RJ played in tournaments together. What Carey didn’t know, was that Curt’s parents’ had a pool table in their basement. Without too many details Curt won a close game and went on to play RJ. The table was fun like any other table in a small-town bar where there is not quite enough space on one side of the table and thus a short stick is needed at times to hit from that side. Even so, Curt went on to win the second game and then retired to yet another beer. I claimed Curt’s wins were beginner’s luck and RJ and Carey played a round as Jack made conversation with a man at the bar. After billiards was done and about three rounds of beer and another round of shots, Carey took us to another friend’s house. 

This time, it was not a bar, but a house. We drove miles and miles and Curt and I knew that if we weren’t getting a ride back, it was going to be a long walk back to the boat. A homemade barbeque had been slow-roasting some meat and vegetables all day as Carey introduced us to his old chums that were having a bit of a party. We got to meet one of the Bahama’s best softball players and a few others that told us about how they know Carey. Everyone assured us we were going to get to partake in the barbeque and we could not be more excited. More beers were brought to us and we stood alongside the house along the edge of the woods (which would later end up being some of the worst mosquito bites we’ve ever had to date). It was time to eat and the first dishes were given to Curtis and I. We were strangers showing up randomly to this party! We could not accept being given the first bits of food, but alas our cries were unheard and we were given chicken and pork and corn and a shrimp alfredo pasta from inside. It was one of the best meals we’d had and the smiles on everyone’s faces added to the enjoyment of the meal. We all finished eating and Carey loaded the five us up and headed to the house of his next friend. We had passed it on the way there and were technically on our way back now. 

This house was connected to a convenience store and auto shop. It was actually very well-to-do as we could tell this was one of the wealthier families on the island. The woman of the family, whose husband had passed, had a banner made with the family’s surname in the middle surrounded by the first names of everyone in the family. When introducing herself, she pointed to her name on the banner and asked if we could read what it said. She had chosen a strong cursive font and clearly and been given some criticisms earlier. Fortunately, as a teacher with skills in reading all sorts of handwriting, I could make out that her name was Sylvia. We were offered more beer to which I successfully declined, however, Curt was not so lucky. 

As it was night now and dinner was done, we were offered leftovers and desserts. We turned down the main meal, but Carey insisted we try the guava duff. Essentially, Curt and I had no idea what we were eating but knew it was to be sweet. A piece of cake was covered in a creamy colored sauce so much so we couldn’t make out what it was. We both gobbled it right up and later I googled that it’s made of pound cake with a guava swirl topped with a rum cream sauce. I can’t wait to try and make this myself someday. Curt and I listened to Sylvia and Carey catch up on gossip and reminisce in days of yore. Behind our round table was another round table in which children and young adults of all ages playing a rather heated game of Monopoly. You could tell that a few were more into it than others. Curt and I enjoyed watching the young banker excitedly take and hand out money. We learned that Carey lived in Ft. Lauderdale now with his wife, who was back there with her family for the holidays. A few family members of Sylvia also did not live in Eleuthera. Sylvia herself lived in Florida now and her daughter lived in Nassau. Her son ran the auto parts and convenience store here in Eleuthera, where they were all from. It was a family reunion of sorts. We hugged everyone we met and said our goodbyes before getting back in the car with Carey, Jack, and the little brother. They asked if we wanted a ride back which we surely accepted. We explained the best we could which dock we were anchored near, not knowing any street names. 

Of course, connected to the convenience store at the end of that dock was another little bar. Although Curt and I were already at the end of our energy ropes, we offered to buy them some final drinks for the night as a thank you. So after a couple of beers and a last round of shots we exchanged some info, took a group photo, and parted ways. Carey would be returning to Ft. Lauderdale and Jack would return to work. After they left, the bartender, son of the bar owner, seemed a bit lonely and engaged us in conversation. We sat with him for a while, although I could barely keep my eyes open at this point. Somehow Curt managed to pull through and we chatted for an extra five minutes before stumbling back to our dinghy and to Sweet Ruca. Roxy was happy with our return and I chugged a bottle of water before falling into bed on that calm starry night. 

Hatchet Bay

Part 1b

Earl and Sue

The calmness of the bay did attract us to do a little boat work and one night planned turned into three. Two days after our day with Carey, we motored our dinghy over to the handmade boat My Bonnie where Earl and Sue accepted our somewhat surprise visit. Sue did most of the talking, which was fine as she had plenty of stories to tell of their different adventures. They shared stories about the building of the boat and people they’ve met and places they’ve gone. Curt and I discussed interviewing them for a video, but time fell short and I only managed to see them off in the morning before they went to church. Sue explained to me that they were basically honorary members at this particular church as they made it a point to go whenever they were in Hatchet Bay, and they often stayed for weeks at a time. A snagged a quick picture with the couple before heading back to the boat with Curt to leave Hatchet Bay, and all it’s little clubs and houses.

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