I’m racing over the impossibly blue waters of a very feisty Exuma Sound and to port there’s nothing but fiberglass-hungry rocks as far as I can see. The forecast warned of 25-knot winds, which seems about right, but the waves are sure a lot bigger than the three feet they had forecast. (Later that night I would look closer at the Passageweather website and see that there is an “m” indicating meters, not an “f” indicating feet, next to the wave height number.)
I am heeled over and hopeful that the waypoint on the Explorer Chart will lead me to a narrow inlet at Farmers Cut where I can shelter my Catalina 34, Ukiyo, from the growing tumult. The temperamental autohelm is having a bad day, so it’s been the wheel and me for most of the time.
Depending on the tide stage and wind, Bahamian inlets are subject to severe rips, or “rages,” that are capable of turning boats in circles and causing chaos onboard. So it is with a growing sense of dread (and blood pressure) that I approach the inlet. Fortunately, someone up there really does watch out for fools, drunks and sailors, and after starting the diesel I aim between the two big rocks and shoot through like a kayak on a stretch of Colorado River rapids. Inside, the tranquil turquoise water beckons us to drop an anchor and enjoy the favors of the smallest settlement in the Bahamas: Little Farmers Cay.
Back in 1842 a group of newly liberated slaves paid the British Crown £30 for the small craggy island, where they subsisted on crops and fishing. Years later they willed the land to their descendants with the proviso that it not be sold to off-islanders. Today about 55 people call this place home, and every year they welcome visiting boaters for the Farmer’s Cay First Friday in February Festival—now that’s some serious alliteration.
I arrive in time to grab a prime spot in front of Ty’s Sunset Bar & Grill, which doubles as the airport lounge for the simple reason that the runway is just outside its front door. Incoming mariners briskly fill the empty harbor and come ashore to add more “F’s” to the festival with food, fun and frolic. From the deck at Ty’s we realize, too late, that we have anchored near the noisy flight path of the many private planes flying in for the weekend.
In the village I scout around for fresh vegetables, cheese or eggs, but as in many of the out islands, the pickings are slim. I meet the creators of the festival, Terry and Ernestine Bain, who run the Ocean Cabin Restaurant and conduct many of the festival’s goofy games on their lawn. Ernestine’s famous “guava duff” dessert alone is worth the trip here. Terry proudly tells me all about the island’s history and the story of Little Farmers’s own flag.
The mail boat arrives at the nearby yacht club with a special delivery on its deck that I’ve never seen before: the Class-C sailboats that will race in the festival regatta. As the boats are gently offloaded and the crews begin stepping masts and hanging rudders I wonder aloud: “The anchorage is stuffed with boats, where will the racecourse be?” What a foolish question. This is the Bahamas—as I soon learn, the anchorage is the racecourse!
Much like Formula One racing cars that weave through the streets of Monaco, the Class-C boats begin with a Le Mans-style start and then tear through the anchorage, at times passing perilously closely to the transoms and rodes of the visiting boats, prosecuting the triangular course through the final marker near Ty’s.
Later, as the sun gently dissolves into the pink satin skies of the Exuma Bank, the race revelry carries on, thanks to an abundance of Kalik beer iced down by a nearby generator. I plunge over the side for an evening snorkel and see that the reef near me is actually the landing gear of a plane that didn’t quite make the airstrip; a pair of large triggerfish stare defiantly out from the fuselage. Soon the power boats roar off into the night sans running lights, ferrying the inter-islanders back home. After that Ty kills the lights, and Little Farmers is once again dark and silent.
At dawn, with the ebb tide, we’ll exit this peaceful place and move on to George Town. But tonight I relax on the foredeck with a warm beer and a Tristan Jones book, happy that I’ve stumbled across a place as wonderful as Little Farmers Cay and naively hopeful that it will not change.
Robert Beringer is a marine writer living in Jacksonville, Florida. His first book, Water Power!, a collection of short stories, will be published this year.