Long Island, Far Bahamas

When I returned from my trip to the States to George Town on April 13, we had a big reunion that night on Pipe muh Bligh.  Terri and Ken, Stacy's mom and step dad, had flown in the same day for a nice visit. Stacy fixed her killer chicken enchiladas, the margaritas were flowing, and we all had a wonderful time.  The following day, we traveled with Pipe muh Bligh to Long Island, Far Bahamas.  The wind was not in our favor, so we motor sailed the 40 mile trip, arriving six and one-half hours later.  We anchored in near the center of the island at Thompson Bay, near Salt Pond.  

Long Island was christened 'Fernandina' by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the New World in 1492. The island earned its current name because a seafarer felt that it took too long to pass the island when he was sailing by.  Although Long Island is 80 miles long, it is very narrow-no more than four miles at its widest point. The island is divided by the Tropic of Cancer and bordered by two very different coasts, one with rocky cliffs and caves that dip suddenly into the sea and the other with broad beaches. The terrain varies from sloping hills in the northeast to low hillsides in the south fading into stark white flatlands where salt is produced. Long Island is famous for its vegetables and cattle and supplies much of the farm goods to the other islands.

Our friends Deana and Troy from Storyville were already anchored in Thompson Bay. We rented a van together and explored the island. We had to stop every day at a local grocery to get traditional Bahamian meat pies for breakfast. We visited several of the settlements in Long Island.  Clarence Town is the capital of the island.  Hamilton is famous for its cave tours, Buckley's is the home of the Long Island Library and Museum, and Salt Pond, the home of the annual Long Island Regatta.

Historical church architecture is the focus of the sightseeing. Here are the ruins of St. Mary's Church.  Built by the Spanish in the 17th century, it is the oldest church on Long Island.

We visited Catholic Parish Church in Clarence Town, the work of Monsignor Hawes, also known as "Father Jerome".  

I climbed the NARROW steps of the tower inside the church on the left and was rewarded with a spectacular view of Clarence Town harbor and the surrounding countryside. The steps were so narrow, (or, I was so wide!) I had to shimmy back down!  

Monsignor Hawes also did work in Cat Island, and had the unusual distinction of being both a priest and architect. He was known as "The Hermit of Cat Island". . But his architectural talents were soon sought and he spent much time designing churches and supervising building on Cat Island, Long Island, and in Nassau where a convent, a boys' college, and the Benedictine Monastery of St Augustine brought him fame. Worn out through hard work and a severe regimen, he died in St Francis Hospital, Miami, Florida, on June 26, 1956. He was buried in the cave he had prepared for himself below his hermitage on the hilltop of nearby Cat Island.

Cartwright's Cave

Cartwright's Cave (also known as Hamilton's Cave) is located just south of Deadman's Cay, the main settlement on Long Island.  For $10, Leonard Cartwright gave us a great tour.  The caves are on private property, and have been owned by Leonard's family since 1892.  Leonard's family purchased 90 acres for 27 pounds. Discovered in 1935, the cave is full of stalactites, stalagmites and five different species of bats. (Yes, Anne Whitehurst, LA and I did have our rabies vaccines before leaving the States!).  The caverns were once used by the original settlers of the island, the Lucayan Indians. Careful examination of the walls will reveal carvings and writings left by the now extinct civilization. It is also rumored that pirates of the 17th century used the caves as a base and hiding place for their booty, but we didn't find any treasure chests!

Dean's Blue Hole: Vertical Blue 2011

There may be bigger and more impressive blue holes, but Dean's Blue Hole on Long Island in the Bahamas is the world's deepest at more than 660 feet deep. Blue holes, named for their vibrant color as seen from above, are subsurface voids that contain fresh, marine or mixed waters that extend below sea level. They are open to the surface and may provide access to submerged caves.  We had the pleasure of attending Vertical Blue 2011, an annual invitational freediving competition at Dean's Blue Hole. 

 

A diverse cast of characters descended on Dean’s Blue Hole for Vertical Blue 2011. There is a 42-year-old Japanese diver and former account manager who had brain surgery only six months ago; a 48-year-old grandmother with five world records; a 30-year-old professional mermaid who owns her own silicone tail and serves as a diving judge; and a standup comedian and actress who is also a freediving underwater photographer. And that’s just the women.

The rules of the competition, called the surface protocol, require divers to take three seemingly inconsequential actions to claim their records: remove goggles and nose clip, give an O.K. sign and say, “I am O.K.” — all in the first 15 seconds of surfacing.  It is an electrifying moment, even more so on a world-record attempt, when a diver careens out of the water, clinging to the guide rope, clearly struggling to shake off narcosis and a lack of oxygen, sometimes gulping in air, sometimes not, fighting to retain consciousness, trying to gather the fortitude to complete the simple surface protocol that stands between the diver and the record. 

We wore wetsuits to watch the competition, at the edge of the deepest blue hole in the world, only 20 yards away from the diving platform, where world-class freedivers competitors saw how deep they could go on a single breath.  Divers must resist the overwhelming instinct to breathe, then once they make it to the surface, they must be prodded to start breathing again.  Observers shout "breathe... breathe... breathe".  

The dangers and potential hazards from the extreme pressure of a deep dive are many.  Breath holding fills the body with a toxic mixture of gases that is then compressed and then forced into the bloodstream and nervous system with increasing pressure as a freediver descends.  At great depths, divers can experience severe narcosis, limiting motor skills and make the diver feel and act if he were drunk.  99% of the problems happen at or near the surface.  When the diver is resurfacing between 15 and 30 feet, the oxygen in the blood drops quickly and can cause a diver to black out, which is grounds for disqualification in freediving events. Safety divers had to rescue Natalia Molchanova of Russia, who was attempting a 103-meter (338 foot) world record on the first day of competition.  She blacked out at about 50 feet and had to be brought to the surface.  Natalia was vindicated two days later... and we got to see her break the world's record!   Safety divers soon went under to meet her, and everyone held their breath as she surfaced. Screams of “breathe, breathe” and “mask, mask” were followed by, “Okay? Okay?”, as she removed her goggles and gave an okay sign. Thirty seconds later, a very happy judge held up the white card (showing a completed dive) to an even happier diver. It was official: Natalia Molchanova successfully made a new world record of 100 meters for the "deepest female" title. She was all smiles after the competition!



On the third day of the competition, William Trubridge descended almost 400 feet into the abyss-the equivalent of a 40 story building.  He then had to turn and hoist himself back to the surface, emerging 4 minutes and 13 seconds with a world record, measured at 121 meters. Although we didn't get to see William break his record, we did see him on the another day, along with the other men of the competition.  Eye candy!

(Reference for Dean's Blue Hole Section "Freedivers are Testing the Bounds of Human Endurance", Tammy Kennon, New York Times, April 16, 2011).

One of our last nights at Long Island was a traditional Bahamian buffet.  Pipe muh Bligh was leaving the next day to take Terri and Ken back to George Town for their flight back to Phoenix.  We joined Stacy and Rene, Stacy's mom, Terri, and step dad, Ken, and dinghied to the north side of Thompson Bay for a quick walk to Triphena's Restaurant.  About 25 cruisers attended.  The menu was BBQ ribs, fried chicken and fish, crab coleslaw, Bahamian mac and cheese, curry chicken, and peas and rice. We visited cruisers from Gigi’s Island and Pretty Penny, and got  information from them about the upcoming regatta in George Town.  When we got back to the beach, Stacy and Rene's dinghy was still close to shore, but our dinghy was WAY off the beach in about 4 feet of water. LA began wading out towards it and gave up.  Rene came to the rescue and pushed the dinghy back to shore.  LA, Stacy, and I waded back to the dinghy.  We were glad to make it back to our boats that night!

The next day, LA and I decided to take a bicycle ride and tour the other side of the island.  We learned one thing.... Long Island is hilly!  We took our bicycles in our dinghy to a nearby dock, then rode them UP the hill to a nearby grocery store.  We found out where the closest beach was located.  Rode DOWN  a hill, then took a left down a dirt road to the beach.... You guessed it.. more hills!  We finally gave it up and parked our bicycles on the side of the road and walked down a big hill to the beach. We didn't think we'd make it back up the hill again if we rode down it... We were rewarded with a beautiful, deserted beach.  We beach combed, then finally made the walk back up the hill.  We went to a nearby restaurant for a great pizza, and returned to Genesis for a big nap!

Long Island was a nice place to visit.  The people were helpful and friendly, and we had a great time touring the island with our friends.  We left Long Island and sailed back to George Town just in time for the annual Family Island Regatta.  If you are interested, here is a video of us sailing from Long Island Back to the Bahamas.  Click this link.

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