Thursday, July 11, 2013
A Sigh Of Relief In Stella Maris
We have free WiFi! So I'm backing up for a week and showing you this picture of the beach at Chat 'N' Chill on Stocking Island across from Georgetown, Exuma.
The Chat 'N' Chill is such a fun place to go to, we found it hard to leave Georgetown because of it. We have been told that, "in season", the place is hopping with customers, and three to four hundred boats line the shores of Elizabeth Harbour. We cannot wait to visit in the winter months. We think this place would be a great place to visit on vacation.
Meanwhile, any reservations about our decision to travel to Long Island, with our initial disappointment in Salt Pond, plus the threat of Chantal hanging over our heads, has disappeared like Baptists at a raid on a strip club.
Yesterday morning we left our anchorage in Thompson Bay in Salt Pond. The morning was sunny and calm, but we were in good moods because the threat of tropical storm Chantal was diminishing.
The storm was taking a track that I had initially hoped it would, and was staying south of Cuba, but was weakening. Wind was still going to be an issue, but not too much of one. I'd rather be lucky than good. This time we were lucky.
On our approach to Stella Maris Marina I still wasn't sure if I wanted to go the additional miles to get into the harbor. The marina is located on the very inside corner of a large bay, off of our route somewhat, and the path is not a very deep one. It was early, we had the time, and we both figured we ought to see if the guidebooks and reviews we had been reading were anything close to reality. We could always change our minds and travel the extra few miles up the coast to Joe Sound if we didn't like what we encountered at Stella Maris.
On our approach on the largely unmarked channel, we saw a dive boat coming out from the marina entrance. This was good news, the first boat we saw actually underway in days. There might be life at Stella Maris!
We entered the small marina basin through a narrow but adequate cut and quickly saw the fuel dock. It was a neat affair and there was plenty of room to maneuver Swing Set alongside. I called the marina on the VHF and didn't get a response. It was Independence Day in The Bahamas, a holiday, and perhaps they weren't open. But instead of leaving, I went in search of somebody.
I was wandering around the boatyard and a fella came out. "I guess you're looking for me", he said, and I replied that if he could sell me some fuel, that he was indeed the guy I was looking for.
Ian, with a proper British accent, introduced himself as the manager of the Stella Maris Marina, having just taken over the job after purchasing the dive operation here recently and eventually making an arrangement with the owners to operate the marina and the restaurant. He and his wife are from the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, and have been trying to purchase the dive operation at Stella Maris for a couple of years. After spending about twenty months waiting around and dealing with the unbelievably slow bureaucracy of the Bahamian government, they gave up hope and went back to Europe, only to get a call from their lawyer a few months later saying that the deal was done. Back to Long Island they came.
After getting our fuel, and asking a few questions that Ian had the right answers to, I asked about getting a slip for a night our two. The price is fair, and we were able to secure an alongside pier instead of the usual med style dock that prevails in the marina. The slip we took was that of the large marina dive boat that was currently moored in the adjacent canal, a true "hurricane hole". The boat would be there until the end of hurricane season, so we'd be able to stay as long as we would want to. I began thinking of a three day arrangement.
We got Swing Set tucked in and plugged in our shore power. We hadn't used our air conditioning since Nassau, but within the close confines of the protected marina, we were happy to have it chugging away.
Rosie and I went exploring a little. We wanted to see the hurricane hole, so we hiked over to see it. There were several boats lined up in the deep basin. Lines running from the sides of each vessel were tied securely to bollards that line the bank on each side. I'd feel safe keeping Swing Set here if we need to.
The marina is part of the larger Stella Maris Inn and Resort, on the other side of the island. The complex is owned by an older German family, and interest in running the marina has declined over the years, and so has the marina. But a resurgence is obvious, and Ian is working hard to improve the property. This is not a resort; you go over to the Stella Maris Inn and Resort for that, but there is a dive training tank, accessible from the second floor deck just off from the entrance to the Driftwood Cafe. The tank is big enough for lounging around, and Rosie and I decided to do just that if the promised rain would hold off.
This is not the view from the deck and "pool", but you can see the fuel dock and the bay beyond. The view is naturally better from the deck, but I didn't have my camera and now it's raining. Use your imagination. Also, take note of the center console fishing boat with the four outboard motors.
The Driftwood Cafe is open from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. for lunch everyday. They close for two hours and then reopen from 5 to 9. The two hour break is necessary at the moment because the Ian's bartender has gone on an extended vacation, and his wife has gone back to Europe to visit their grown daughters and for some much needed R & R after training new kitchen staff and opening the restaurant just three weeks ago.
We didn't visit the cafe for lunch, but had lunch on the boat. I checked on Chantal, and she was history. NOAA discontinued tracking her. Some wind and rain is to be expected for the next couple of days, but the storm threat is gone. Our moods improved considerably.
We spent a couple of hours "at the pool". Ian came by numerous times and at once remarked how he liked to see the guests "enjoying it". We were very happy to be enjoying it. Quite a few patrons came by and took lunch orders out with them. The cafe seems to be catching on.
We took showers in the bathroom just off of the deck and retired to the boat to relax in the air conditioning. I took a nap with my buddy Holly, and Rosie read. At 5 P.M. we put some clean duds on and made our way to the cafe.
There were a few locals having a beer and waiting on "to go" orders. We wished them a happy Independence Day and took a seat near the bar where Ian was freshened up. We took possession of the first of two ice cold Kalik beers, enjoying some sporadic conversation with the locals and with Ian, held captive by our close proximity with no escape from my many questions.
We were joined by the guys on the center console fishing boat with the four outboard motors. Lightening had destroyed the electronics on all four motors, and they had replaced the control boards at considerable cost. The test run that they had taken that afternoon had checked out, and they were headed back to Jupiter on Friday. I told them that Saturday might be a better day. After a couple more beers, they tended to agree with my weather prediction for the rest of the week.
The fishermen ordered off the small, but delightfully different menu, and we did the same. We largely enjoyed our conversation with the three of them while we waited a short time for our food to arrive from the kitchen. Rosie and I ordered a large beef nacho plate, and a beef burrito to share. The prices are very fair, and we stuffed ourselves, plus brought half of the large burrito back to the boat when we finally left at 9 P.M.
We had an early wake up call after sleeping like babies. A nice cooled down cabin and the calm sanctuary of a protected harbor makes for great sleeping conditions, something that is somewhat of a luxury for us.
This morning I wanted to be up early to meet "Joe", the boatyard manager, I guess. He's reported to have been working here for 43 years. A person can get set in his ways after working at a place for 43 years, and Ian apparently recognizes the dynamics of dealing with Joe, with Ian being the "new guy" and all.
Joe and I are currently undergoing negotiations to have the crack on our dinghy davit welded. Our initial meeting was less than productive, but he's been to the boat three times now and I think he's warming up to me. The issue is having enough power at the dock to use a welder, plus the availability of the stainless material is an issue too. He does have some plastic board material that I'll use to fabricate a brace to allow us to continue on without the davit failing. After discussing my plan at length, he told me to hold off making anything just yet. He's going to see if he can get what we need to do the job right. I think he sees my desire to not do a cheesy job, and he appreciates such things it seems. Some people just like to help you do the right thing.
The owner of a new Boston Whaler Conquest came over and asked to borrow my drill. When I took it over to him, I saw this friendly manatee laying on his back and getting a drink from the air conditioning cooling water on his boat. I went back to get my camera and he was still at it. Naturally, the picture doesn't do the scene justice.
Rosie is busy defrosting the freezer and waiting for the rain to stop to take laundry across the Queen's Highway to the laundromat. Before starting the blog I polished some rust from our air generator towers and our anchor light pole. I like writing the blog better, and I started when the rain did.
I suspect some more conversations with Joe are in my future, but mostly this afternoon will be spent reading. I'll hit the ground running tomorrow if I have to fabricate some braces for the davit. We originally had designs of renting a car and seeing the island, but it's supposed to rain again tomorrow anyway. Tonight we'll visit the Driftwood Cafe again. I have designs on one of their delicious looking cheeseburgers tonight.