Thursday, February 24, 2011

No Place for Old Men

2011 02 23
Emerald Bay Marina, Great Exuma Island

Night before last  we dropped anchor off monument beach in Chicken Harbour,  the not entirely approving nickname of Georgetown, terminus of the sailing aspirations of most of the North American - Caribbean sailing crew.  

Only a small percentage of the boats in Bahamas ever get beyond what they perceive to be the "end of the earth".  Georgetown is safe, comfortable and full of boats.  (Three hundred and sixty five boats on the day we arrived.  We know this because some idiot dinghies around the anchorage every day and counts the boats.   This gives you some measure of the place in more ways than one.)

In Georgetown there is a tolerable grocery, a laundromat, free water and total control of your social life.  It is amazing how many people seem to want the latter. 

Each year the cruisers here stage a "Regadda". It takes place next week.  Tension is building amongst the group of sailors who organize its events.  Frequent emergency meetings are being called on the VHF net.  

This is gripping stuff.  I mean, if an event fails it could signify the end of someone's years long climb up the local social ladder. Stakes are high.  The "suburbanites on boats" circle one another seeking advantage in the evidently Darwinian battle for social dominance. 

Chickentown is also a good place to meet old friends.  Most cruisers who are proceeding beyond the ends of the earth make it to Georgetown to await favourable winds to make further southing.  Until we found Emerald Bay this was our intent in coming here.  At $1 a foot, free laundry, good internet  and floating docks we are hooked here.  

It will be a couple of days before winds turn in our favour which means we will be leaving the area just as regadda begins.  Oh dear.  That means we will miss the regadda. 

We have hooked up with Suncast, Sea Sharp, Star of the Sea and Oz for a good deal of healthful healing talk.  New and hopefully recurrent friends include the crews aboard Endorphins and Sheet Music.

However this is supposed to be about the trip to Chickentown.

After a delightful dinner and evening with Gord and Lorrie on Mystic anchored just off Big Majors Cay outside of Staniel we were up and off at the crack of dawn.  By 6:30 am winds were substantial and just far enough off the bow to grant us a day of heady sailing.  We flew to Gtown and made the 60 mile trip by sundown, dropping our anchor off the monument just as the upper limb of the sun dropped below the horizon.

Enroute we were entertained by the antics surrounding the rescue of At Ease, a Bahamian fising boat, 28 feet in length bearing five men.  Its diesel had quit the night before and they had been drifting for hours.  By noon they were calling their distress on channel 16. 

It is a good lesson to learn vicariously but in Bahamas there is no one listening.  No Bahamian anyway whether official or individual will respond to any call for assistance or at least they did not do so that day.

When the first call came in we were about 28 miles away from the stricken boat.  For us to rendezvous with the rub a dub dubs meant a long unpleasant beat into lively wind and choppy seas.  We turned none the less but our boat speed fell to under four knots and then only if we sailed well off the rhum line to their position.  It would mean an 8 hour ordeal and if we got to them we could offer no tow.  Conditions were not threatening and it did not seem necessary to provide an escort.

We reported our aborted attempt to the Bahamians aboard At Ease and turned back on course. 

By midafternoon the unending calls for help were having their effect.  Several cruisers took information from the vessel in need and everyone pledged immediate action in aid of the fisherguys.  Several cruisers.  Not a single Bahamian despite the fishing boat being physically no more than 8 miles from one prominent marina.

For our part we located a phone number for BASRA, the Bahamian Search and Rescue network, a volunteer organization providing assistance to boaters in need.  It being Sunday no one answered the BASRA phone.

In a stroke of brilliance we contacted the Bahamian Defence Force, which I think is their navy.  The phone was answered immediately by a professional voice.  Hearing the information the voice informed me that there was no BASRA office in the Exumas.  We pressed upon him the case for the drifting quintet, pointing out that five of his citizens were at risk.  The deep resonant voice promised to do something.   

Any motion on the part of the Defence Force leapt it must have been  Brownian in nature. 

Meanwhile Adrenaline 1, a monohull boat out of Quebec passing within a few miles of the five men in a tub did divert and offered assistance - water, food, escort.  Short of a tow, which Adenaline 1 was unable to provide there was nothing the Bahamians needed and in the end the Quebecois set course for their original destination. 

Several other boats made substantial efforts trying to raise someone at a marina local to the fishermen who could provide assistance.  It was amazing.  Marinas that would be on the air one minute would be mysteriously unavailable as soon as Minis or the stricken vessel tried to raise them.

By day's end BASRA had found someone in the area to provide assistance. 

Or so we think.

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