Benedict Thielen "The Bahamas-Golden Archipelago"

Holiday December 1964, pp. 62- 73, 135-140

the tyranny of time and the need to keep track of the sequence of events.

At Big Major's Spot, a day's sail south from Highbourne in the Pipe Creek area, we were alone with the moonlight and the shining white crescent of the beach.

A few miles farther on, the little thatched-roof houses of Staniel Cay were scattered across stony ground. Staniel is famous for its seamen and one of them, Capt. Rolly Gray, once took the Duke of Edinburgh for a sail. We stopped for a beer in his bar. Its name is The Royal Entertainer's Lounge and on the wall above the bar is the tiller which the duke handled. We decided to follow the advice painted outside the door: Rest a WhileLive Longer.

The shore at Great Guana was wild, hot and volcanic-looking. It was pre-historic and cruel, a place where the big lizards it was named for belong.

Some men rowed out from Black Point which the Yachtsman's Guide describes as one of the poorest settlements in the Bahamas.

"We just came out to spoke you," one of them said. "We're not as bad off as they say in that book." Their pride made them refuse Cokes but finally a man asked if we had anything that was a good for a misery in the back.

At Little Farmer's Cay a young girls ran barefoot over the rocks and broken glass to announce our coming. Her face was the simplified and polished dark mahogany of an African mask. Children stared out at us from Maycock's School, a wooden shack painted pink and chartreuse. The wind had freshened and beyond the sheltered harbor the waves were breaking high on the rocks. Soon, if it grew rougher, the people would say that the sea was "raging" and if a harbor entrance became impassable they would say that there was "a rage on the bar."

Near Cave Cay we dove for crawfish or simply hung motionless over the sulphur-yellow coral heads, watching the black-and-gold angel fish, the parrot fish and the tangs that are the color of the morning glories they call Heavenly Blues.

Ever since Highborne Cay, we had been in the calm lee of the Exumas, but now the waters were too shallow, and we sailed through Galliot Cut back to the deep water of Exuma Sound. At the end of the day we reached our last port, George Town on Great Exuma.

Even if you did not know that George Town sits almost astride the Tropic of Cancer you would feel the tropics around you. The growth of plants is thicker and richer. The flowers are bigger, The air is damper and softer. For three hundred and sixty-two days of the year, the tempo of George Town is throttled down to a single speed: Dead Slow. For three days at the end of April, during the annual Out Island Regatta, George Town bursts into frantic activity. We arrived on the first of these days and for a short time the contrast with the peace that had been ours for the past week made us wonder if this was really a good idea. Apparently no one of consequence in Nassau had any such doubts.

A bomb dropped at random in the courtyard of the Club Peace and Plenty would have temporarily paralyzed the entire economy of the Bahamas. In one disastrous flash it would have eliminated not only Sir Roland Symonette (the Premier), but also his son Bobby (the Speaker of the House of Assembly), Sir Harold Christie (probably the largest single landholder in the islands), and a few dozen other key figures of the ruling caste generally known as the Bay Street Boys.

Fortunately no such incident occurred. The Bahamas Police Band, its drums beaten by giants wearing leopard skins over their red-white-and-black uniforms, marched and played in the dusty square which is still stubbornly called The Green. School children ran races. The freight boat Lady Baillou made a special trip from Nassau, loaded to the Plimsoll mark with ice and beer. The Ministry for Tourism gave a small cocktail party for the press. In Government Yard the Commissioner for Great Exuma gave an enormous cocktail party for apparently anyone, black or white, who wanted to come. Across the harbor on Stocking Island there was an Out Island Squadron party, followed the next day by a Squadron luncheon down the road at Great Cay. At the Silver Dollar, the Pieces of Eight and the Two Turtles Inn there were spontaneous outbursts of singing and dancing, There were, finally, speeches and a presentation of trophies and cash prizes on The Green.

The Out Island Regatta is a contest between native work boats. They are the same boats that you see tied up at the Prince George Wharf in Nassau and the races are marked by the same jovial fury that vibrates over the wharves and bulges the walls of the waterfront saloons. As far as I could discover there are only two rules: if you collide or if you cross the finish line with fewer hands aboard than you started out with you are disqualified. This last rule, I understand, was made to discourage the practice of lightening ship when the breeze died down by heaving crew members overboard. Since sailors are often poor swimmers this sometimes resulted in narrow escapes from drowning and detracted from the gaiety of the proceedings. Aside from these restrictions, no holds are barred. The competition is fierce and highly vocal. The skill with which the boats are handled so that their big, loose-footed sails catch every breath of wind is the skill of the true professional.

The life of the Out Islands depends on sail. It is one of the few regions in the world where this is still so, and one of few where boatbuilding survives as a fine art. By current standards of glass fiber and chrome there are details in the native boats which may seem /

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