Friday, October 21, 2016

Rake 'n' Scrape Music Festival, Arthur's Town, Cat Island

We sailed into Arthur's Town after departing from New Bight just after sunset.  We dropped anchor in the dark while an alternating mix of American Hip Hop and local Rake 'n' Scrape music blared from the direction of a few flickering lights on the coast.  In the morning we could see where it was all coming from, a little bar with a hut overlooking the vibrant turquoise water.  The bar has two floor-to-ceiling height speakers sitting just outside the front doors facing the beach. 

Unlike New Bight, Arthur's Town has a rocky coast, so you have to wedge a dinghy anchor somewhere in the rocks, let it float it the shallows, and scramble up to the walkway.

But behind the rocks, calm clear shallows swirl atop soft white sand making it a perfect beach.

We walked the town to inquire about the location of the Rake 'n' Scrape festival that evening. There weren't that many people around, but we were offered a ride out to the site by the first person we asked. Her name was Flora, and she was going to be making crab at the festival!  Crab is my favorite and I had yet to see it on a menu in the Bahamas. 

The Rake 'n' Scrape festival began around sunset.  Rake 'n' Scrape is a form of Goombay music (native to the Bahamas) that originated on Cat Island.  The music requires a Goombay drum and scraping a carpenters saw with a metal file.  Like all saw music (Rip Saw of the Turks and Caicos, Hoedown of Appalachia, etc..) It originated when the people had to make instruments out of whatever they had. Now it has evolved into a full blown genre with the accompaniment of saxophones, harmonics. electric guitars, and any other instrument appropriate for the composition. You will probably hear it sitting at any local establishment in the Bahamas. That evening child and adult groups performed to compete for cash prizes and titles. The musical performances were accompanied by small troops dancing the Bahamian Quadrille or Heel and Toe Polka - dances evolved specifically for the boisterous Rake 'n' Scrape sound.

The picture below sums up the Bahamas pretty well.  It is a very wholesome place. Every festival is an all ages family friendly affair. FYI to any parents out there who want a remote chill beach vacation in a place where all local events are for the whole family (and swearing is prohibited!)- the Bahamas is the place to go. Cat Island in particular has a few small local "resort" hotels.  10-15 rooms/bungelos on a beach in a small community with fresh seafood and no souvenir key chain to even consider.

Around the parameter of the of the festival zone a dozen food booths smoked and sizzled with the aromas of fish, lobster, conch and crab.  I visited Flora and got a container of pan friend crab meat and rice. It was so much crab. Below is a man making the famous Bahamian conch salad. There will always be a man making conch salad. And for good reason, it's delicious.

At this point it was early June and we were planning our route back to Florida. We left Cat Island and raised sail for Nassau (approx 24 hours away) the day after the festival. Nassau was intended to be a quick one night stop en route home, but things didn't exactly go to plan.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mount Alvernia

Mount Alvernia is a small hermitage that sits atop the highest hill in the Bahamas a whopping 207 ft above sea level.  It is located on the hill behind the settlement of New Bight on Cat Island. AJ and I decided to take the two mile "hike" along the empty paved road through the jungly brush to check it out.

The 207 ft incline is done just about all at once.  At the base of the hill  a gate bearing the cross and seals of Rome invite you to begin the climb.

As you get nearer the hermitage you enter a steep rocky path that winds you through the stations of the cross.

At the top an open chapel door beckons, as does Rapunzel's tower.

Inside the room left of the chapel, a tight rounded hall descends into to a couple rooms that lead to a covered walkway that leads to a little bedroom on the end.

From the other side, it looks more like a fairy tale.

The structure is so small that I (at 5'2") could climb onto the roof without assistance. AJ is a head taller than the doorways.

Isn't it just fantastic?  It was built by a lone English priest by the name of Monsignor John Hawes(1876-1956).  Hawes was also a prolific architect. Most of his work (cathedrals) are in Western Australia. He came to the Bahamas to build his retirement home. He lived atop this hill as a hermit for 17 years going by the name Father Jerome.  While residing here, he designed and built five churches in the Bahamas.

We planned to enjoy the sunset from the rooftop overlooking the ocean, but the mosquito hordes appeared in full force at dusk which quickly sent us running back down the hill for one last beachside sunset at the fish fry before heading north up the coast to Arthur's Town.

Monday, October 17, 2016

New Bight, Cat Island

We left Georgetown on the morning of May 30th and arrived at New Bight, Cat Island late that evening. Hoping for an ENE or even an E wind, we sailed all the way down to the eastern tip of Great Exuma before rounding north towards Cat Island.  The eastern tip of Great Exuma wasn't far enough, and we sailed hard on the NE wind, missing the south western tip of Cat Island by 10+ miles.  That meant an extra five hours of slogging to windward late into the night.  Luckily the wind was predictable and at that just-right 15-20 knots with the endless windward protection of the sheltered harbor of Cat Island, so we avoided motoring altogether, and ripped upwind in smooth water, making four tacks over four hours all the way into New Bight sound.  We sailed to a stop, and dropped anchor just off the beach shortly after 1AM.

New Bight is a small town in the middle of the island, home to Mount Alvernia, a hermitage on the highest peak in the Bahamas.  You can barely make out the structure on the hill to the right of the cell tower in the picture below.

The town is built along a long, shallow beach.  No dingy docks, just beach the dinghy and dig in the anchor where ever you want.

We pulled up to the local fish fry, a string of food shacks along a road running parallel to the beach.

The food really can't be anything other than fantastic when the fish and conch are caught fresh that day. We ate at a little place run by a kindly Bahamian woman called Hidden Treasures.  She had sweet potato fries.

It was a bit stormy while we were there, little did we know we were going to be seeing a lot of storms in the coming months.

We rode out a couple days of storms before finally getting a chance to hike in and see Mount Alvernia.  It was spectacular, and well worth the wait. (Next episode!) Between rains we had a couple beers and at the local fish fry, and when we mentioned we were headed back through the Exumas to Nassau, our cook told us we couldn't go before the upcoming rake and scrape music festival happening up north on the island at Arthur's Town. Cat Island is the native home of Rake and Scrape music, so we made the obvious choice to head north up the island to Arthur's Town for the weekend before leaving. With a steady southeast breeze that Thursday evening, we spread sail wing and wing out into the harbor for gentle downwind sleigh ride 10 miles northwest into the sunset and another 15 on a fast running reach back north after rounding the 5 mile long sand spit, once again sailing to a stop right in front of the bar and dropping anchor around 8pm.  This time the bar was blaring local Bahamian music and locals with drinks in hand were lounging all over the rocky shore...  Looking forward to a music festival in Arthur's Town...

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