Hello from the Abacos! Ed and I were hoping to be making our way back to the U.S. by now, but the weather has other ideas. Looking at the forecast, we have at least one more week to wait before a window opens up. Typically, May brings milder weather, lighter wind, and flatter seas, but we have to wait out yet another cold front before we set sail back across the Gulf Stream. We might have been able to jump across had we left about five days ago, but we just didn’t feel like chancing a situation of racing bad weather again. The previous window also had a high chance of thunderstorms and squalls…mostly at night…another bit of weather we weren’t interested in dealing with on the open ocean. We are eager to return to the U.S., get our vaccines, and start in on our next boat projects, but sailing is often a waiting game. At least we get to hang around somewhere amazing!
Hope Town was our second stop as we work our way up the Abaco chain in preparation to return to the U.S. We will likely make the final jump from Grand Cay, which is on the northwest end of the Abaco chain, but we are enjoying hopping our way through the islands as we meander north. Ed and I were not entirely sure what state we would find Hope Town in. We had reports from other cruisers that some businesses were open, including some restaurants, but we really had no idea what state we would find Elbow Cay in otherwise. Hurricane Dorian utterly wiped out this section of the Abacos in September of 2019. Seventy people died in the Bahamas including 60 in the Abacos. Amazingly, there was not one death in Hope Town even though Dorian was one of the worst hurricanes to hit the Caribbean since record keeping began. The stories of survival are horrendous. Given the level of destruction, we were surprised to see just how much of the island had been rebuilt. However, Hope Town also had plenty of reminders at just how devastating Dorian was.
Although many buildings have been abandoned or razed, many more have been, and are being, rebuilt. We happened to arrive just prior to the Hope Town School finishing construction, and Ed and I, along with some cruiser friends, lent our hands with installing the final touches for the school.
We were so happy we could help (and also enjoy air conditioning for a day)! The following morning we were treated to an open ceremony that included a junkanoo-like parade put on by the students. I took some video but unfortunately cannot post it here. Keep your eyes out on my social media accounts!
The rebuilding of the school was largely funded by very gracious donors, and the island still has a long way to go to recover. Check out http://www.hopetownunited.org for more info. Hope Town United also happened to have a fundraiser fishing tournament while we were there, so a bunch of us cruisers bought tickets to the Cinco de Mayo charity dinner the next day. I kind of suspect we all collectively were happy to have a night off from galley duty! It was a really fun party (and rumor has it that Michael Jordan was a participant in this fishing tournament), and I think it marked the first time any of us had attended an event like this since before Covid hit. We were careful not to get too peoply, and the event was outdoors with plenty of space.
Of course, no visit to Hope Town is complete without visits to the Hope Town Lighthouse and Vernon’s grocery. I know, it sounds weird that a grocery store is on the “must see” list…. Vernon Malone is a mainstay of the island. The Malones were some of the first settlers on Elbow Cay. More importantly, Vernon bakes bread and key lime pie (sometimes a few other selections), and these recipes have been in his family for generations. They are DELICIOUS. I spent waaaay too much money on bread and pie, and also ate too much. Actually, calories from Vernon’s baked goods don’t count–I regret nothing. I have also discovered Vernon’s bread makes the best grilled cheese I’ve ever made. I also had to laugh when Ed and I made our first errand to Vernon’s. WARNING–tangent story! Before Ed and I met, he was a regular visitor to Hope Town, and the Abacos in general. This also means he was a fairly regular patron of Vernon’s grocery. Ed also really likes the bread, and apparently used to buy it in bulk to bring home with him. We walked in, and Ed greeted Vernon, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I and my family used to visit here a lot many years ago. It’s good to see you again!”
We were wearing masks (Covid…) and Vernon said, “I can’t tell who you are.” Ed briefly pulled down his mask to show his face, and Vernon exclaimed, “oh yes, I remember you, you’re the bread man!” Apparently, because of Ed’s bread buying habit, Vernon had bestowed that nickname upon Ed. Vernon also told us that another regular visitor was known as the turkey man, because he’d always order a turkey, and not at Thanksgiving, which Vernon found particularly odd. I must say, that if I become a regular visitor, I will be known as the pie woman. If I had the freezer space, I would have loaded up on key lime pie.
We worked off some of the pie calories with a trip to the Hope Town Lighthouse. As far as I am aware, it is the last kerosene operated lighthouse in the world. Yes, they still use kerosene. The lighthouse received quite the wind-blasting from Dorian, but other than needing a refresh on paint (and a few other maintenance items), it largely survived intact.
We had so many highlights on our week-long stay in Hope Town, but I think the best day we had was our trip to Pelican Cay Land and Sea Park. It was a bit far for us to take the dinghy, so we rented a small motorboat with our buddies on Santosha to make the trip. The reef there is beautiful and full of fish and other sea creatures. I, once again, found myself lamenting at my lack of underwater camera. The reef was full of various kinds of parrot fish, anglefish, grunts, and blue tang (among other reef fish). The parrot fish have very developed teeth that look human. The sound of all the fish munching on the coral is just incredible to listen to. We also saw many spotted eagle rays. Typically, rays are lone hunters, but we happened to find a group of four that swam in a diamond formation. I had loads of fun just following them in the water (which is quite a workout…they are fast swimmers). We also saw many loggerhead turtles. One was quite friendly and let me swim right next to it. While it was super cool to be just inches away from a sea creature, I’m quite certain it has developed this behavior because other visitors feed the sea creatures in the park (even though they shouldn’t). I think the funniest thing I got to observe was a parrot fish chasing some other reef fish (I couldn’t tell what it was), except that the parrot fish stopped literally every foot to take a bite of coral before continuing the chase. It really is fun to just float and watch all the reef creatures go about their business.
We made a quick stop a Tahiti Beach, on the south end of Elbow Cay, on our way back, and we were treated to a floating bar!! It’s like a food cart, except on a boat!
We so enjoyed our visit to Hope Town. We were bummed to move on, but we know we will be back again soon, and we can’t wait to see all the progress they’ll make at rebuilding!