Monday, October 08, 2007

French Wells to Church Grove, Crooked Island, Bahamas

6.1 nm
Wind: SE 10 knots, late afternoon thunderstorms

Our slightly longer return row went off without a hitch. We bade farewell to Secret in the morning, waving goodbye as we rowed back north towards civilization. I spoke a few words in an undertone, a prayer of sorts, for her and to her. I couldn’t quite watch as she shrank in our wake, naked without her sails or barbecue or dinghy.

The mangrove swamp stretched before us, though, the water blue and glistening, the trees dense and green. The row to the Turtle Sound outlet itself was at least a mile, most of it in water a foot deep, dotted with little mangrove shrublets, sticking their thin branches out of the sand, bedecked with a forlorn leaf or two. We rowed directly over some of them, and they popped right back up in our wake. I know many people have written about the wonder of mangroves, but I was struck anew by it. They actually grow in salt water, right in the ocean. For some reason, this random plant has evolved in such a way that it doesn’t need salt water. And it creates land! You could see where over decades little groupings of mangrove saplings had become little islands, and how those islands had gradually connected to the mainland. You can see why manking always destroys them, too. They’re utterly inhospitable to human habitation, and completely hospitable to everything else: the water, the fish, the birds.

The sound, when we reached it, was silent and calm, the tide pulling us slowly backwards (with our ridiculous inability to go with current) but a gentle wind from the southeast pushing us forwards. When Karl would stop rowing we would drift sideways at an angle, at about half a knot, allowing us to rest and eat. We never got around to my shift at the oars, yet again, but Karl fell into a rhythm, stopping only every now and again to take a couple of bites out of the big pot of Spanish rice we had brought with us, left over from last night’s farewell dinner. We made tortillas last night too, and those made great beef, cheese, and salsa wraps. Karl began to contemplate doing a serious rowing tour, insisting that he could have rowed the entire distance that we’ve sailed. I’m sure he could have, but I don’t know what my role would have been. I don’t really like the word “dead weight” in my job description. I argued for the tandem kayak, but Karl made the valid point that we couldn’t have an eight-quart pot filled with food sitting around in a kayak, even a touring one.

He rowed for about four miles, the only challenge our worsening sunburn. Sunscreen was one of the things that got left behind. Eventually Karl took off his shirt and used it to cover his legs, right before Pokyman zipped by again. So we got towed in for the second time, validating our existence as rowers and self-sufficient sailors, but still connecting with a local to make things easier. Blackjack and Diamond came in right behind us, and both boats were full to the gills with fish and conch. We amused ourselves for a while talking with the assembled gang and watching them clean their fish. Especially fun for me was watching Diamond down “conch spaghetti,” the protein strip from the conch belly, renowned for its abilities as an aphrodisiac. Karl had eaten some of them when he was out with Robbie, but I didn’t think I’d have the stomach for it. “What’d they taste like?” I asked.

“Like spaghetti,” he shrugged. “Fishy spaghetti.”

We drove back to the house in the beat-up GMC truck and hooked up with Nappy again. He didn’t seem put out by our disappearance, and we made another circuit of the island before dark. A good end to a full day. I’m proud of us. We’ve done everything we can, and we’ve done it right. We leave the day after tomorrow. In 48 hours--back to America.

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