If you ask Anna, Philip and I which place we enjoyed the most out of the 30+ we stopped in through The Bahamas we all agree Harbour Island was one of the best.
Harbour Island lies just east of the Eleutheran main land in what would be described as the Central Bahamas. It''s known as a luxury destination and isn't as regularly frequented by cruising sailboats. It likes to promote it's pink sand beaches, which is a result of the extensive coral that skirts the shore being crushed by the waves. While Harbour Island has some cars the main method of transportation is golf carts. The town is cute with lots of flowers but not too cute where it feels sterile. There are beautiful houses and ones that are barely standing, both adding to the character. We arrived in Harbour Island from Little Harbor, about fifty nautical miles north in the Abacos.
On the sail from Little Harbor to Harbour Island the sea was becalmed but the storm clouds weaved around us. Each time I put on my foul weather gear the clouds would clear out of our way. When stripped back to my bathing suit the clouds reappeared, looking dark and ominous. Again I changed back and the clouds disappeared which made me impressed me and I thought, "Is this what they meant by rain proof?" Along the way we hooked a massive Bull Dolphin upwards of 60lbs. It flashed metallic blues and greens each time it leapt from the water. Once aboard we filled its gills with vodka. It sounds strange but through other sailors we learned that this is the best way to subdue a fish that is thrashing about deck and beating you with its tail. Chris then filleted a weeks worth of fish.
The entrance to Harbour Island from the north is named The Devils Backbone and sounds like something from a Pirate's of the Caribbean. Our charts and guides highly recommended using a pilot to navigate The Backbone as it was a combination of dangerous reef and shoals only navigable by eye and experience. Our pilot, John Roberts met us less than a mile from The Backbone. He tied his boat to our stern, climbed aboard and took the helm. He was from Spanish Wells and sounded half British. He smoked Viceroys and worked as a chef aboard a Lobster boat during the season. In the off-season he worked as a pilot and a fishing guide. True to it's name the backbone was sprinkled with coral patches, at times we were less than 10 yards from the crashing waves at the beach and others, as the backbone zagged we were more than 150 yards from shore. On the way to Harbour Island he pointed out Man Island. He said Man Island had wild goats and was a pleasant anchorage. The possibility of capturing a wild goat filled my mind. I'd place it's horns on the bowsprit, I thought.John deposited us at a nice anchorage in between Valentine's Marina and Ramora Bay Marina.
A few days after leaving Hopetown in the Abacos my back went out. Not out, as in, it was partying and having a good time, out, as in severe pain and completely not working. After a few days it cleared up but I needed to get some muscle relaxers at some point in case it happened again. Aboard a boat, in the middle of the ocean, the pharmaceuticals you carry are important, you can't simply run down to the corner CVS. So in Harbour Island I went to the government clinic to visit the doctor. We'd done this before in the Abacos. The Bahamas has great subsidized medicine. A doctor visit is $30 and a prescription somewhere between two to five dollars. Anna and I made an appointment to come back and see the doctor on our way out to dinner. When we arrived we each had two beers in hand to prevent us from buying them at the restaurant where they were more expensive. The doctor asked me about my back and then wrote me a prescription for fifty muscle relaxers. He then counseled us on abusing alcohol. Afterward he said we owed him $100. I told him he was confused that the cost was written on the wall, right above the price for having a baby (free). Eventually, after a little whining he accepted the $30.
Our anchorage off the Ramora Bay Club was perfect for us because the marina had showers that were unlocked which meant we didn't have to shower in the ocean. It also meant we didn't have to shower in the outdoor shower of stranger's vacation homes as we did in Hopetown. We had free, hot freshwater showers only a short dinghy ride away. Chris and Amber had left to go back to the States for a Jimmy Buffet concert and Philip, Anna and I decided to go snorkeling. The sun was set to broil, the most intense it had been yet and we welcomed the heat. On the way back to the boat we stopped to pickup my prescription. At the food stand next door I asked the young Bahamian behind the counter if he had any old food to give us. He gave us a large tray of french fries and invited us out with him. Shawn had a nice smile and told us he was excited to party. We agreed to meet up with him later that night.
Early that evening at the marina, while we waited for Anna to finish showering Philip and I walked up to the bar at Ramora Bay. There we met two older men, Chuck and Brian, both wasted. Brian was nice and strongly resembled Brian Dennehy. He looked like someone who'd been told by his doctor to lay off red meat. Chuck was a bit younger and much louder. Both had Boston accents. Chuck asked us if we liked Jimmy Buffet. We said, yeah of course. Chuck's daughter was the first mate of Buffet's ship, The Continental Drifter, her fiancee the captain. He told us if we got him wasted he'd tell us it was going to be off Andros Island from May 3-10. Philip and I looked at each other confused because he'd just told us exactly where and when to find Jimmy. He then went on to boast about how he'd been fishing with Buffet, got high with him, what a nice guy he was and so forth. He even called him Jim which irritated me. I hate when people try to act like they know celebrities like "oh me and Brad (as in Pitt) were going to meet Angie as in (Angelina)." I find it humiliating to everyone involved.
Chuck and Brian were in Harbour Island to fish on Chuck's 38ft. Bertram. Brian came down yesterday and tomorrow was their first day out but it was clear that tonight was to be spent getting hammered.. Anna who had now found us at the bar asked if we could go fishing with them tomorrow. They happily agreed with Chuck's condition that Philip bring a few joints and then offered to give us a lift into town on the golf cart they'd rented. As we had our dirty clothes, shampoo, soap and loofahs we asked for a few minutes to take everything back to the boat. They assured us they'd be waiting and we agreed to be back in ten minutes.
Ten minutes later the Ramora Bay Marina Bar was empty. We climbed back into the dinghy and tied up about a quarter mile north at Valentine's Marina in the center of town. After two blocks of walking we saw Chuck stumbling towards a restaurant from the other side of the street coughing and hacking heavily.
"Hey Chuck! You left us. Are you okay?" Philip asked.
"Yeah I just had a sneeze attack and had to go outside."
"You mean you just had a vomit attack and had to go puke." Philip retorted as Chuck walked back into the restaurant.
The three of us continued walking in an attempt to find something cheap and fun. We carried with us bottle of vodka stuffed in a sock. On the boat all bottles are stowed in socks so they don't break at sea. Approaching a hill we saw two bicycles coming towards us, as they got closer we saw it was a young couple. I'm unsure if we initiated it or they did but we began chatting with Paige, a blond fair skinned Alabamian and his cheerful new bride Jessica. They lived in California but had just gotten married and were on their honeymoon. We learned they were staying at Ramora Bay and informed them that is where we shower. After a few minutes of discussing what there was two do three golf carts pulled up and Jessica and Paige smiled and said, "Hey Duke!" Two of the men got off the golf carts, took the bikes from Jessica and Paige and insisted they ride in cart. "We're going to Vic-Hums" someone said. Quickly, Anna and I jumped in the back of a cart and Philip in the front seat next to Duke.
"Where are you headed." said Duke as if to say, he didn't know us and certainly didn't invite us to go anywhere with him
"Wherever this carts going, we're going." said Philip
Duke was from Michigan, middle aged, with gray hair and matching stubble. His parents owned a home on Harbour Island and he and his buddies, the guys on the other carts were down for a visit.
"What's in the sock" said Duke
"Vodka." said Philip "You want a pull?"
"Yeah a pull-a -vodka"
"Yes. Want one?"
"What the hell uh a pullavodka?"
"What do you mean? A pull you know like you put it to your lips and take a pull-a-vodka."
"I have no idea what you're talking about"
"You guys, this joker has no idea what a pull-a-vodka is." Philip said to Anna and I as if Duke wasn't there. We laughed but also hoped not to lose our ride.
"I've heard of a tractor pull, a shot of vodka, but never head of a pull-a-vodka.
"It's just putting it to your lips, it's not that big of deal. I'm just offering you a drink."
"No thanks." mumbled Duke, irritated he'd let us in his cart.
At Vic-Hums we ordered water with lime to go with our sock of vodka. Vic-Hums was a large club and though it wasn't a place tourists would hang out it featured what they claimed was the world's largest coconut behind the bar. At the back was a large dance floor and a basketball court that was fully enclosed except for the roof and surrounded by tables. Philip came out of the bathroom looking startled.
"You okay Philip?" I asked
"Some guy just closed the door on me and put an eight ball in my hand. When I tried to hand it back to him he didn't want to take it."
"What'd you say?"
"Well, I said, it's cool man but I don't really need any of this and then handed it back to him."
Outside we ran into the skinny Bahamian with little teeth who sold Philip pot the day before. He gave us half his blunt and left. Back inside for more water someone said "everybody come outside, quick."
What we couldn't hear from inside was a marching Junkannoo band. Twenty or so Bahamians dressed in yellow feathers and white t-shirts marched down the street with tubas, trombones, cow bells, maracas and every drum you could imagine, even giant oil drums converted to drums. They danced and shook violently, to the beat of Junkannoo, a mixture of Caribbean and African rhythms. Philip, Anna and I joined the band. We spilled our drinks as we danced with them in the street and played on their drums. When the band moved on down the road everyone climbed back on the carts and headed to Gusty's.
Gusty's was a small bar but what was unique about it was the floor inside was entirely sand. The bar was on a hill which allowed the patio off the back some elevation and a nice clear view of the sea. I drank and talked to Paige and Duke's friends. There we met up with Shawn who was happy to see us. Anna danced with Shawn and Jessica until Philip started dancing with Jessica. What was initially innocent hey we're having fun dancing quickly morphed into Philip and Jessica having sex with their clothes on. Anna grabbed my arm and asked me if i saw what was happening. She then asked if Paige had seen and told me to distract him so he wouldn't get upset. However conversation with Paige was quite dull and since I really didn't enjoy talking to him I suggested he go find his wife. Philip and Jessica had finished and Philip was now playing pool, barefoot with an old Bahamian.
Shawn then encouraged us to go with him to Daddy-D's, a regular club packed with large black women. Philip quickly found the comfort of three giant black women that ate more for lunch that day than his entire body weight. He danced and sweated all over them, which means a lot when you consider how much of them there was. Anna and I argued about something stupid outside on the patio. When I went to get Philip to see if he was ready to leave, which he clearly was not Anna had taken off. From the patio I could see her far down the street. I grabbed Philip and we went chasing her. The roads on Harbour Island are somewhat confusing, especially at night. Everything looked the same. We yelled "Anna." repeatedly which only scared the stray chickens. I found a golf cart in someone's driveway and decided to borrow it. It started immediately and Philip jumped in.
"Do you see her?"
"I can't see anything." said Philip
"This stupid windshield." as Philip started to push on the windshield trying to force it open.
"Yes but it's clear."
"It's very hazy to me."
I stopped the cart and opened the windshield for Philip.
We drove to Valentine's the most logical place to meet since that was where our dinghy was tied. While Philip was in the bathroom Anna wandered up the dock. I left the golf cart in front of Valentine's and we returned to the boat.
The next morning at 8:00, all of us severely hungover, Philip said, "Hey Jeff, let's go see if those guys are going fishing." We dinghied over to Ramora Bay and found Brian drinking a Gatorade and smoking a cigarette on the stern of their boat. He looked at us strangely as if seeing someone he couldn't quite place. When we asked him about going fishing his memory jogged he invited us aboard. He told us Chuck was still sleeping. We sat and he offered us Gatorade and told us he was living in Boca Raton. When him and Chuck lived in Boston they started a big tuna fishing club and they used to bring in giants and sell them and split the earnings. Chuck then stumbled out of the sliding glass door of the Bertram, a large gash ran the length of his femur. He looked at us like he'd never seen us. Philip started laughing and said, "Chuck what the hell, you're bleeding all over the place, dude you need to do something about that. What did you do to yourself?"
Chuck looked down, clearly unaware of the large gash and blew it off as if it was nothing.
Brian told Chuck we came over to see if they were going and that we wanted to join them. Philip and I looked at each other confused, we knew we discussed this last night. Chuck grabbed a Gatorade and said yeah we'll leave in a bit. It was clear neither of them intended to go fishing, that they didn't really care for us but we'd pinned them into going anyways.
Philip and I dinghied back to get Anna and a couple joints. We quickly made breakfast and arrived back at the Bertram. Aboard the fishing boat Chuck handled all the fishing lines. He carefully baited the ballyhoo and selected lures to ride in front of each one. He placed two lines on each outrigger and ran four lines off the back. Anna, Philip and I drank Budweiser from their cooler as Chuck worked. We offered to help but only half meaning it because he seemed to know how he wanted things done more than he wanted to explain anything. Chuck and Brian barely spoke to each other the entire day. Philip passed around the joints and everyone smoked except Brian. Chuck talked a lot about Jimmy Buffet. He'd forgotten everything he told us the night before and went through the same old "me and Jim stories." He also talked about his daughter and working for the Buffet's. He seemed happier with the life his daughter had made than his own. Philip caught a Barracuda and Anna a medium sized mahi mahi. Up on the fly bridge I told Brian about plans Philip, Anna and I had made to sail over to Man Island and catch a wild goat. He became instantly appalled. "Why would you want to kill a goat." he asked disgusted.
"To eat it. Why do you fish?"
"Hey Chuck, these guys are planning to kill a goat." he hollered to Chuck.
"What? Is that true? Why would you want to kill a goat" echoed Chuck with the same disgust of Brian.
"For goat meat." answered Philip
Brian shook his head with irritation. It amazed me that men who flew from Boca to Harbour Island, who invested thousands in gasoline, bait, lures, rods and reels and boat to load up a freezer full fish couldn't understand capturing one wild goat. Back at the dock Chuck filleted the mahi and bagged it for us. We thanked the two of them for taking us out and they hoped to never see us again.
That evening Jessica and Paige came over for fish tacos. After dinner we put on a clothes one step up from a bathing suit in hopes of crashing a wedding at the Pink Sands. Earlier in the week we discovered it was "The Cohen" wedding. We stopped with Jessica and Paige in their room and smoked a joint which made Anna and I giddy. Like two teenagers we couldn't stop laughing. At the Pink Sands we were approached by the concierge and never stopped walking but said, "Cohen wedding" as we passed, He directed us to the beach restaurant where the reception was being held. Approaching the wedding we heard the familiar sound of Hava-Nagila. The five of us stood there and watched men in suits and women in evening gowns celebrate. The couple was older, probably in their mid forties. We clearly did not fit in both because of our attire and age. After the song someone announced for everyone to take their seats. Everyone scrambled like a game of musical chairs except for us. We stood their clearly out of place, with every seat occupied until one of the waiters said, "You cannot be here. This is not for you." We quietly left through the back. Outside the Junkanoo band from the night before was waiting to perform. Some of the guys from last night remembered us with their smiles.
Walking the streets of Harbour Island looking for somewhere to party we heard music and saw lights from a large building. As we approached it appeared to be a house. Through the door I saw people dancing. When the five of us approached the doorway a woman came running, probably to invite us inside I thought. Instead, she closed the door after saying "private party."
A few days later, after we did our laundry in the showers at the Ramora Bay Marina the dockmaster locked the showers and gave each registered boat a key. I imagine him going to Chuck and Brian handing them a key and saying, "Sorry to do this but it's because of those kids on the sailboat anchored just over there." Brian and Chuck would nod, knowing exactly what he meant by "those kids."