Cutter Loose is one of about forty boats anchored in Marsh Harbour. The harbor is large, well-protected from prevailing easterlies and the holding ground is good. At the three marinas here in Marsh Harbour, there are another 200 boats docked for the winter. This is an active cruising community. Every morning at 8:15 on the VHF radio, there is an interactive cruiser’s net which features various topics related to the cruising lifestyle. This includes local weather conditions, navigational advice, community events, boat-related services and verbal advertisements from restaurants and bakeries.
The winter weather pattern continues here in the Northern Bahamas with brisk 25 knot winds from the east on Sunday. There is a light chop in the harbor, just enough to become soaked with saltwater on an upwind run in the dinghy. Cruisers anchored in the harbor are easily distinguished ashore. They are the folks with the floppy hats and wet butts.
Marsh Harbour is centrally located in the Sea of Abaco. With some 5,000 residents, it is the largest town in Abaco and the third largest town in the Bahamas. Unlike Green Turtle Cay where golf carts are used for transportation, the narrow streets of Marsh Harbour are filled with cars and trucks that are dated by American standards. It is election season here in the Bahamas and many vehicles are flying banners expressing an affiliation or preference for one of three political parties.
There are two distinct business districts in Marsh Harbour. A handful of restaurants, bars and touristy shops are clustered around the marinas. Few Bahamians, other than employees, visit this area. The majority of commerce is conducted in small shops within the traditional business district, a grid network of paved streets roughly two blocks wide by four blocks long. It is a functional, if not attractive town center. Unlike Green Turtle Cay, there are no Caucasian Loyalists walking these streets or tending the shops…only Bahamians and cruisers.
The Bahamians speak English when conversing with cruisers. But in conversations amongst themselves, the language is indecipherable. It is said that the language of the Bahamians is closely related to Gullah, spoken in the low country of South Carolina. Some shops have signage in both English and Creole.
Once ashore, the first stop of the day is Da Bes Bakery. The friendly proprietors advise us when the whole wheat bread will be hot out of the oven so that we can return before the supply disappears. Da Bes also serves up a delectable sweet pastry stuffed with either coconut or pineapple filling.
Just about anything that a cruiser would need can be found here. Maxwell’s Supermarket, located about six blocks from the dinghy dock, is an amazingly modern facility with a wide variety of provisions. Depending on deliveries, fruits and vegetables can be either abundant or scarce. There are two additional supermarkets in town that specialize in case lot supplies, similar in concept to a Costco but on a smaller scale. Prices here are 20% to 100% higher than in the US, depending on the item purchased. Street vendors sell garden vegetables and there is a farmer’s market every other Saturday. Fresh seafood is a rare commodity, which is surprising in light of our proximity to productive fishing grounds in the ocean canyons east of the Sea of Abaco. Locals advise against the consumption of grouper, which has been known to cause a foodborne illness called ciguatera.
As usual, our visit to the local Laundromat turns out to be an enlightening experience. About two-thirds of the washers and dryers are inoperable. There are two or three cruisers and thirty Bahamians competing for the operable machines. The Bahamians teach us how to queue up for access to the washing machines. While the machine is in the wash cycle, one politely asks the user if this is his/her final load. If the answer is yes, the next person in the queue claims rights to the machine by placing quarters in the change slots. Once one’s quarters are in position, the territory must be guarded carefully. It is not unusual for the entire family to participate in a laundry event. It is a place where acquaintances are renewed and the news of the day is shared. During our visit, a woman wearing an orange vest similar to that of a crossing guard delivers a highly charged and well-rehearsed info-mercial about the health benefits of keeping one’s colon clean. Some of her descriptions are quite graphic and downright frightening. She is waving two small glass bottles of a potion guaranteed to achieve the desired result. After about ten minutes, she has lost the attention of the audience and moves on. Our outlay of quarters for the machines is well worth the price of admission to this entertaining cultural experience.