March 25 – April 1.
When we came to Cat Island we knew that we would have no westerly protection from the impending front. We figured we could hold on one more time and suffer through it. The day of the expected weather we left McQueen’s, sailed north, and tucked up behind a sandbar southeast of Bonefish Point, west of the town of New Bight. We hoped that the sandbar would break some of the waves once the wind turned west. Greg put a bridle on the anchor to point us into the swells. Despite our attempts to lesson the impact of the building waves, we spent a restless night as the boat rocked jarringly from side to side and with Greg jumping up to fine tune the bridle whenever the surging water became unbearable.
The next day the wind clocked around to the northeast and we moved closer to New Bight so we could do some exploring in town. Now, in the lee of this island, we looked forward to a pleasant anchorage. But the surge persisted, coming out of the northwest, making for uncomfortable days and more sleepless nights. After a few days of the northwest swells, the wind finally turned east and the gentle idyllic roll of the water returned. We made plans to do some more exploring up the coast, but our comfort only lasted briefly before the surge returned, this time from the southwest as the wind fell off to the southeast. We scrapped our plans to see any more of the island and made a plan to escape the uninviting waters of Cat Island.
In between our days of misery and of doing civilization type chores (buying fresh food, laundry, replenishing water, and discarding trash), we did manage to see and experience some of the island.
Cat Island is one of the poorer Bahamian islands. We saw many middle class homes, but also many people living in ramshackle structures. The island is littered with ruins. According to my guidebooks many of these deteriorating buildings are from loyalist days. But the history is lost, mingled in with the decline of more current structures. These buildings give a feeling of decay to the island, but the spirit of the people of Cat Island more than make up for the crumbling landscape.
Cat Islanders rival Long Islanders in friendliness and helpfulness. While visiting the town of Old Bight we inquired of a young man as to the location of a historical church. He didn’t know what we were talking about, but as we were conversing with him, his grandfather happened to be driving by down the main highway. “He’ll know where it is,” the young man told us as he ran out into the street and flagged down the passing car. The grandfather knew exactly what we were talking about and ended up giving us a ride to the location, as well as telling us a little history about the church.
We had the opportunity to engage with many friendly Cat Islanders, including Lula who gave us a ride to the grocery store; Pamela who served us beers and told us all about her five children; Pompey who told us about growing up in Cat Island, working on the mail boat, and about Father Jerome, the Catholic priest and architect who retired at the Hermitage in New Bight; Reverend Johnson who gave Greg directions to the Laundromat and sold us fresh produce out of his living room; and Rose who greeted us with a glowing smile and served us at the Good Friday fish fry and who we would later run into at the Laundromat.
We only spent time touring two of Cat Island’s many towns. In New Bight we visited the Hermitage (look for the story and pictures of the Hermitage in tomorrow’s post), the ruins of a plantation and had a beer at the regatta grounds. In Old Bight we attended a Good Friday fish fry, toured a couple of Father Jerome’s churches (pictures in tomorrow’s post) and had a beer at the Pass Me Not bar.
We would have liked to have spent more time on the island exploring its caves, rowing Fever through its creeks, and visiting Sidney Poitier’s boyhood home, but lack of sleep and the unpleasantness of being hurled from side to side day after day unfortunately forced us to move on.