By now, we have all seen the newsreels and photos of the devastation wreaked upon the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian last month... lives, livelihoods, homes, and loved ones lost. Communities wiped out. I wept. In my youth, I spent so many joyful months in the Bahamas, and came to know the out island Bahamians as a kind, gentle, and generous folk, living simple lives amidst tropical beauty. Not easy eking subsistence from rugged limerock isles, but generations of native wisdom passed down allowed a rhythm of life in nature. Hurricanes have always been part of that rhythm, but nothing like ferocious slow-moving Dorian.
My time in the Bahamas was, of course, as a relatively well-off white man being an adventure tourist, so I make little claim to intimately know Bahamians or their culture, but the people and parts I've known, I love. This month I'd like to share a bit of my Bahama Time.
Leonard Moxey, with his Conch Hook
In this post, I'm sharing snapshots from a scant selection of faded images lifted from my old photo albums from the 1970s to add life and form to stories from one of the most wonderful times and places of my life. I've also interspersed some more recent (digital) shots from various equally great sailing, diving and fishing trips. (Full disclosure: some of the underwater photos are of common Bahamian critters, but I made them in other parts of the Caribbean, mostly on diving trips with my brother, Jay. I didn't have an underwater camera for most of my trips in the Bahamas.)
In high school, I fell in love, not only with Antonia Marmesh, but also her whole family - Doc, Sarah, and brothers, Mike and Rob. They had recently bought a remote Bahamian property at the end of a narrow trail a quarter mile beyond the end of the road on a small island in Andros called Mangrove Cay. There was an old house with no electricity or plumbing. Only a hand-pump well. It fronted on Middle Bight, a channel through the islands that gave us boat access to the amazing beauty of reefs, lobstering grounds, blue holes, conching pastures, and adventures beyond our imaginations. There were a couple small villages and scattered residences along the few miles of road (including a widened stretch of road called the airport). The Marmeshs spent every August there - and me too, for many years.
Doc and Sarah
Waterbed Talk - Antonia, me, Sarah
Bahamians, Robert and Mamie Moxey, lived in a small neighboring house. Through our shared experiences with them, and many of the local islanders, I came to learn some bits of native wisdom and lore. (As well as some local cooking. Mamie's conch fritter recipe is still prized in "my cookbook".)
Robert and Mamie Moxey
Robert teaches us how Bahamians clean conchs.
Checking out a net fishing haul.
Bahamian Termite Nest
One day Robert was cooking some goo in an old soup can over a fire. He explained (as I recall) that it was a mixture of termite nest dust and termites (larvae and adults) that made a waterproof epoxy-like resin. He used it to patch cracks, holes and leaks in his skiff.
Robert night-fished for sharks from right there at our Middle Bight shoreline. He taught us to fillet a shark, but also cautioned that once you eat flesh from a shark, you must never swim in the ocean because your scent will forever after attract other sharks to attack. I don't remember whether we ate some of Robert's shark. I suppose we did, because we had a couple of attacks in subsequent years. Luckily no one was injured, but spearfishing on the outer reef along the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean, in retrospect, seems pretty risky. Lots of big sharks cruise that reef. One shark stole Mike's grouper as we rode a breaker through a hole in the reef on our way back to the boat. I remember turning to see that we were clear and instead saw Mike going round and round with a big shark. It was all over quickly, but I felt shaken and can only imagine how Mike felt in that moment. Another time, a shark grabbed Doc's fin as he and Sarah were swimming along the outside of the reef. Thereafter, we spearfished on inner reefs.
Robert fillets a shark.
Robert thatches palm fronds for making floor mats
In the course of years at Mangrove Cay, the Marmeshes made some major improvements to the place. A new house with a "water tower" (that we hand-pumped full every morning) so the kitchen had running water. All the walls were only 4 ft high to allow full cross ventilation. We slept on cool bare waterbed mattresses on concrete floors - as good as air conditioning - with the luxury of mosquito net tents over each bed (since the eaves were not sealed)... That net backfired on me one night... I awoke with a start from what felt like a really bad dream - that a giant crab had crawled across my face. I laid there a minute and then heard a scratching beside my ear. In search of a flashlight across the room, I awoke the whole house. I was already known and teased for being somewhat crab-phobic. There, inside the net by my pillow was a huge land crab that apparently had tried to climb up the inside of the net and fell into my face. Never knew how it got there. A lot of teasing ensued, but I always checked for crabs in the bed after that.
Mike pumps while I shower. Pretty wonderfully basic.
Sally Lightfoot Crab. (Land Crabs are bigger and creepier.)
My brother, Steve, and I enjoy the comfort of a tented waterbed.
Middle Bight. Mangrove Cay, 1970. Doc, the Kid, and Robert Moxey
Mike Marmesh with his high school sweetheart, Nancy Spahn... (still together, 50 years later).
In 1974, the Marmeshes bought a new boat, a 21' open Boston Whaler with twin engines called The Outrage. Perhaps our plan seemed outrageous to some, but young Rob ("the Kid") was, by then, a master mechanic. Mike, Rob, and I set off one calm evening from Miami for a four day journey to Mangrove Cay. That first year, we stayed in little hotels in Bimini, Chub Cay, and Nicholl's Town (N. Andros), but by the next year, we were snorkeling and camping along our way. We camped on the old concrete ship wreck off Bimini at least once. I remember crossing the very deep Tongue of the Ocean between Chub and N. Andros one year -- as being pretty hairy -- when the waves towered over our little craft. And another time, an engine failed, but we made it on one, and Rob had the dead engine torn down, figured out, and new parts on the way (with family arriving by plane) in no time.
Me, Rob, and Mike, ready for first voyage of the Outrage
Back in those days, I was an avid saltwater aquarist... built my own aquariums, innovated filtration systems, and collected my own specimens. When fish didn't get along or outgrew the tank, I even returned some to the reef. Years later, I only captured my specimens with my camera.
Young Rock Hind
Fairy Basslets. Among the most challenging to catch.
Christmas Tree Worms
Reef Candy (to an aquarist’s eye)
Among the many adventures we had on Mangrove Cay, a daily "task" was catching dinner. That usually meant spearfishing (snorkels only) on a reef for grouper or hogfish, or sometimes lobstering and conching in the Bight. We had delicious fresh seafood every day.
That’s me, back in the day, with a prize grouper.
My brother, Steve, spearfishing.
Robert cleaning a Queen Triggerfish he caught.
Doc and Sarah during a Moxey granddaughter visit... so very SHY.
Visiting Samuel Rolle's farm... always fun, and bountiful.
Years (and many Bahama trips) later...
In 2008, with our friends Sue and Jeff, Crystal and I visited Forfar Field Station in North Andros, where friend Pete Davidson, artist and teacher, lived. Our daughter, Lumin, had been there many times, and encouraged us to see this beautiful remote spot in the Bahamas. Here are a few of my photos.
Red Mangrove Stilt with Barnacles
(Crystal, Sue, and...) Pete opening a coconut while Mullet keeps watch.
Sailing into Sunset
Over the years, we've made several sailing voyages to the Bahamas as well. Here are photos from a trip to the picturesque Abacos (hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian) with our family adventure travel pals, the Chancanteruleans.
David Canter and our daughter Marley dinghying to shore from our sailboat.
Dining on Conch Fritter Sandwiches...
Lumin cleaning and tenderizing conch astern
Queen Conch Shell...
... and me, with my "Queen", Crystal.
Sandy coves waiting to be explored...
... as well as sharp rock shorelines.
Sea Grape with a rainbow of leaves
Octopus peeks from its lair. Lumin is a master at finding octopi.
My younger brother, Steve, has been a lifelong adventure companion too. He often joined us in Mangrove Cay, and in fact, has been with me for most of my travels in the Bahamas - Andros, Abacos, Exumas, Berrys, and Bimini. We had some especially amazing times in Great Exuma... all pre-digital days and very few snapshots. Steve is a fisherman (and sailor) extraordinaire. A few years ago, he invited me to join him (and his buddy Rob) on his boat for a fishing trip from Miami to the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. Here are a few shots from that recent trip.
Brother Steve in his element
Great Harbour Cay nightfall
So many more tales of yore I could tell. I look forward to more Bahama Time in years to come. But today, the Bahamas and Bahamians are suffering. Those of you so inclined, I encourage you to reach out and help in any way you can. A donation of money, goods, and/or time. Even a Bahamas Time visit to the islands -- many parts of the islands were not so hard-hit and are open for business. Tourism is still the economic lifeblood of these Caribbean jewels.
Child at Rolle Farm
Thank you for joining me all the way to the end of this marathon blog post. Hope you enjoyed it. Please share this link, and I love reading your comments below (no matter how brief).