As has become my habit, whenever we are in a location with a store, I pop in and try to buy whatever I can find that is on my ongoing wish list (or, frankly, anything I might be able to find a use for). So when we were in Staniel Cay a week ago, I stuck my head in the chest freezer at Isles General Store and tried to make out what was lurking in there – the meat is usually re-packaged, and frozen so solid that I can’t always recognize it. The proprietress was business-as-usual as I was checking out, and asked me if I realized that one of my bags of frozen mystery meat was turkey parts. I thought for a second, and told her, “No problem; I’ll just make souse.” That broke the ice. She immediately warmed up to me, and my entire shopping experience became much friendlier.
Souse is a traditional Bahamian dish. It starts out much like chicken soup, with chicken (or, in my case, turkey) broth. But then you add potatoes, bay leaves, allspice berries, hot peppers and lime juice. It can also be made to showcase pig’s feet or mutton or even fish – in which case it’s called “boiled fish.” I’d eaten plenty during my Out Island travels, but never made it myself. In a moment of inspiration at the 5Fs, I walked barefoot across the airport runway on Little Farmer’s Cay and invited our friends Ed and Tina of Merlin and Joe of Onward over for a souse dinner aboard Calypso.
As it turned out, those turkey parts were mostly turkey knuckles – if there is such a thing; long on bones and cartilage, short on meat. The broth was fine, and luckily I had some chicken I could add to the mix to make a decent meal. We didn’t need much, as there had been plenty of food at the 5Fs, and with Tina’s contribution of artichoke/shrimp dip and Joe’s biscotti, we had a great dinner.
We’d all found ourselves at Little Farmer’s Cay. Ours and about 100 other boats in the general vicinity – the largest collection of boats I’ve seen since we got to the Bahamas, and one which dispersed shortly after the festival. The 5Fs is the First Friday in February Farmer’s Cay Festival. It’s referred to as Farmer’s Cay, but the festival is held on Little Farmer’s Cay, not the neighboring Farmer’s Cay. And the “yacht club” here is also called the Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club.
Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club; we were anchored right across from it.
I don’t know why, and it hardly matters; it’s not like there are confusingly many alternatives. This area of the Exumas is sparsely populated, with even fewer amenities. But the welcome they roll out here is a big one.
We arrived here on Wednesday in order to scope out a good spot to anchor, as well as a chance to explore before the “crowds” arrived. Rick and I had dinner that night at the FCYC, making reservations and selecting our meals over the VHF. Before eating, I discussed the finer points of souse with owner Roosevelt Nixon, and then we moved on to grilled whole snapper. Yum – the first whole fish I’d gotten since we’ve been in the Bahamas, though I’d neglected to ask them to leave the head on.
Exploration of the cay didn’t take long, especially since none of the tiny shops were open and Hallan Rolle, who does many things on the cay, was out of propane (and we’d hoped to fill one of our tanks).
These signs point to EVERY possible site of interest on the cay.
As is often the case, the “airport” here is nothing more than a paved landing strip with no tower and no buildings. The sign is made of the same kind of letters we used to put the numbers on our dinghy; ours lasted about 20 minutes.
The centerpiece of the 5Fs is the regatta, here a race among Bahamian C-class sailboats. Some of the boats are local, but many arrive on the mailboat the day of the race. Since we were anchored in front of the yacht club where the boats arrived, we got a front seat view of how they are unloaded.
First the mailboat — the Captain C — offloads higher priority cargo. Like a minivan.
Then, one of the race boats is hoisted off the mailboat and into the water.
The boats are crafted mostly of wood, and have a full but shallow keel. The mast is stepped nearly at the bow of the boat, and the boom extends well past the stern. There is a single sail. With such shallow draft and so much sail, some of the crew sit on boards called “pries” to keep the boat from heeling too far. Unlike the racing we are accustomed to, these boats start anchored, and when the starting flag waves, they simultaneously raise anchors and raise sails.
The starting line, with all the race boats at anchor.
In the meantime, festival-goers line the beach with dinghies, and fill Ty’s Sunset Bar & Grill (located on the beach, next to the runway). Bahamian music pumps from the DJ’s speakers, Kalik flows, conch salad is crafted, and fish grilled. The mood is part beach party, part Jimmy Buffett concert, but there is a much more diverse crowd – Bahamians and cruisers – that mixes easily.
At left, the view of the beach, from Sunset’s, before the regatta. On the right, early Friday, with dinghies and anchored boats and race boats. Good weather ensured a good turnout.
For the Out Islands, this is a big crowd. On Saturday, the second day of the festival, Rick and I hoofed it to Ocean Cabin for lunch, instead of negotiating the line at Sunset.
At Ocean Cabin, we found the burgee of Moondance’s sailing club, the CSC. And I got to have one of my favorite island meals, goat curry.
We also skipped the third race, instead watching the distinctive C-class boats race while we had paddled to the beach across from Little Farmer’s on Great Guana Cay, and beach-combed through shoals of tiny shells and sand that looks like white candy sprinkles.
White sprinkles interspersed among shells.
And the party went on, well into the night, without us.
Perhaps this is good preparation for our next stop. We have a good weather window that should allow us to get to Georgetown, where 100 anchored boats is not many….