Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dave's Turn

I am excited to be your guest blogger during this 3 part series of our adventure on the mail boat LEGEND. Carol really enjoys writing these blogs, and has given me the opportunity to share this particular experience from my perspective. I am going to make these 3 different reports because I find this subject incredibly interesting, and this trip has been seldom experienced or reported.

In the first blog, I will explain the geography of the Bahamas, the population disbursement, and the importance of the mail boats in Bahamian culture. The second blog in this series will be for the gearheads, and explain the workings and mechanics of the LEGEND, and some of her sisters. I will also try to explain the evolution of these freight boats. The final blog of this series will tell of our experience and how to do it, if you are so inclined for this type of adventure travel.

The Bahamas are an island chain spread out over 700 miles, mostly oriented north to south. They gained independence from Great Britain in 1973, and are an emerging 3rd world country, hampered by a small population spread out over considerable distance. The current population is just over 350,000 people, with over 300,000 settled on New Providence Island, where the capital of Nassau hosts a majority of the cruise ships that call on the Bahamas as a destination. The uninitiated will think that Nassau IS the Bahamas, but the true island character is spread out through the ‘family islands’. There are small settlements spread throughout the entire island chain and freight boats are essential for their sustenance.
At Potter’s Cay in Nassau, there is a Hub of this mail boat activity for all commerce within the Bahamas. Then there are the U.S ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach, where goods are exported to the bigger ports in the Bahamas.
Where we winter, in Abaco, it is approximately 200 miles due east of Palm Beach. The LEGEND makes a weekly run from the Port of Palm Beach to Green Turtle Cay and Marsh Harbour, both in Abaco, then on to Spanish Wells in Eleuthera, and ending up in Nassau, then retracing her steps back.
This happens every week weather permitting. Dean’s Shipping has a sistership to the LEGEND, called the LEGACY, which does a weekly run within the Bahamas starting and ending in Nassau. These boats, and there are many others, are the lifeline of the islands, and EVERY form of goods imaginable travels by them. There are at least 5 shipping companies offering service from U.S. ports and countless freight boats within the island chain, servicing from Nassau. Some are rogues doing runs off the beaten track, and others are fleets of shoal draft vessels and fuel tankers servicing every settlement and district. Weather is a huge concern, and service is often rescheduled around the storms. So the mail boats reach when they reach. But eventually they always get there. Service is very competitive and consignments are unpredictable. With our down turned U.S economy, the freight boats are struggling to survive. Somehow, they do get by and goods get delivered. This is where the term ISLAND TIME comes from. As you might imagine, the boats themselves vary hugely, in various states of disrepair, and of various ages and configurations. Freight does come in by air also, but this is hugely expensive and the loads are only a fraction of the capacity of the mail boats.

Our trip was on the LEGEND; the run was Palm Beach to Green Turtle Cay. The departure date was supposed to be November 8th, and storms pushed it back 2 days. The run took 15 hours and had to cross the Gulf Stream and the Little Bahama Bank. We made it just fine and are anxious to share our adventures and pictures in the next installment.

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