Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Final week in da islands

We are under way across the Tongue of the Ocean from Nassau. We had a pleasant stay of almost two weeks in the harbor, but hurricane season is now three weeks old and our time in the Bahamas is coming to a close.

Just a small part of the enormous water park at Atlantis.

When last I posted here we had just tied up at the Nassau Harbour Club (map), a marina and "resort" toward the west end of the harbor, on the New Providence side. As Nassau marinas go, the rates are reasonable at $1.75 per foot, with one day's discount for a week stay. There's a mandatory $8 per day charge for water, but the water system was inoperative when we arrived, and remained down for the duration of our stay, so we were not charged. Louise managed to get one fill during the week from a long hose.

In the morning I used the Bahamas Ride app to hail a taxi. It's a $40 ride to the airport, which takes about a half hour. Knowing I would have to clear US customs as well as the usual security lines, I arrived, as recommended, three hours before departure. I sailed through security, Customs, and Immigration in less than five minutes and was able to get on an earlier flight to Atlanta, which helped with what would have been a tight connection there. I also avoided the dreaded center seat which had been assigned, in favor of an aisle seat.

I was not so lucky in Atlanta. Flying, as I was, on donated miles, they would not even put me on a standby list for an earlier flight unless I wanted to pay $75. Instead I had a relaxing three hours in Atlanta, where, in hindsight, I should have had an early dinner. My flight was delayed out of the gate and then re-routed around thunderstorms, arriving in Dallas over an hour late. I ended up eating at 9pm in the hotel bar.

I had a really good conference and training symposium over the next five days. I won't bore you with the details, other than to say that there was an overabundance of food and yours truly lacked the willpower to resist it. The hotel had a nice buffet breakfast every morning which included cooked-to-order omelettes, and an open-bar happy hour every afternoon with a huge snack spread. Left to my own devices, that would have been sufficient to feed me the entire week.

Anyone who knows me intimately knows I have a thing for soft pretzels. Add in the deli mustard at left and this afternoon snack spread was deadly.

But, no, the conference also had the hotel provide a buffet lunch and a plated dinner every day, plus morning and afternoon snack breaks. For someone who seldom has dessert at home, I suddenly found myself faced with three a day, between the one at lunch, the one at dinner, and the ice cream or cookies that constituted the afternoon snack. Blork. Louise, on the other hand, ate in and thus more healthily each night, and spent most of the week down below sewing, leaving the boat only twice for errands.

Friday's schedule had the conference ending at noon, which should have been plenty of time for me to make a 1:45 flight, since we were at an airport hotel. But when I went to check in online the day before, Delta's system would not allow me to check in since I had an international ticket with no return flight or date. I guess their system is too stupid to recognize round-trip flights to the US originating abroad.

No matter what I tried, I could not get checked in ahead of time, and the airline was suggesting I needed to be at the terminal again three hours ahead of departure. I decided to split the difference and left the conference an hour early to arrive two hours ahead of time. It took three different Delta agents before one of them was finally able to clear the document hold and check me in, and even to do that I had to give them a date of return to the US.

That again put me in the gate area one full flight ahead of my scheduled departure, but, once again, they would not put me on the earlier flight without a fee. My return flights were otherwise uneventful, other than a late departure on the Nassau leg. I zipped through Bahamian customs with nary a question about the boat parts I was carrying or even having to show my cruising permit; the Nassau airport staff are much more jaded than the often lone staffers on the out islands.

I managed to get one text out to Louise from the airport and then my T-Mobile phone crapped out, showing "No Signal" in places where it had worked fine on my way out. I chalked it up to a BTC glitch and grabbed a cab home.

We were scheduled to depart the next day, Saturday, making it an even week at the Nassau Harbour Club. But Saturday morning my phone was still not working, and I decided to take the T-Mobile SIM out and see if I had better luck with my Bahamian Aliv SIM. That's when the SIM tray broke in half while I was removing it, leaving the SIM stuck inside the phone.

A little Internet sleuthing turned up two cellular repair places nearby, one of whom had replacement SIM trays for my model. I hoofed it the mile or so to the store, and $100 later the broken tray was replaced. That involved heating the case of the phone to pry the back off, working the broken bits out, and gluing the phone back together ($70), plus the cost of the tray ($30) which, of course, is a different color than the rest of the phone.

One way to know you are in the Bahamas. The cell phone store sells guitars.

The phone worked on and off for a few hours after that with the T-Mobile SIM, but still not 100%, so I swapped in the Aliv SIM and it has been working since. I'm not sure if the T-Mobile SIM is bad, or the SIM slot in the phone is marginal and thus may have been responsible for the SIM jamming in the slot and the tray breaking off. I may be shopping for a new phone back in the states. In any event, this one is no longer waterproof (the reason I chose this model) owing to the repair.

After spending all morning at the cell phone joint I was in no mood to move the boat, and so we just extended an extra day. That gave me a chance to swim in the pool, about the only "resort" amenity in this very tired and shop-worn property (although they are apparently going to try to renovate and re-open the long-shuttered restaurant and bar). They have hotel rooms here, too, but I would not recommend the place for that purpose.

We walked over to Montagu Gardens for dinner, which turns out to be the local wedding factory. Several tables were set for Fathers Day celebrations, and out back a giant wedding-like function was set up under awnings, complete with DJ, that we learned was an anniversary party. We were the only non-Bahamians in the whole place, which was packed by the time we left. On our way home we stopped at the very nice grocery store across the street from the marina and stocked up on some essentials like milk and veggies. We remembered this store from last time, when we rode the shuttle over from Atlantis.

Vector docked in the cheap seats at Atlantis, as seen from the Harbourside Resort.

Sunday morning we dropped lines for the very short ten-minute trip along Potter's Cay and under the bridge to Atlantis on Paradise Island (map). We remembered enjoying ourselves there on our last visit and so decided to spend three nights and take in the water park and well-kept grounds and aquariums.

The price has increased since our last visit, to $4.50 per foot, but day passes to the water park are $165 apiece, making the $230 or so to dock the boat a relative bargain. Dockage includes four passes per day, and we had hoped my cousins might have been able to join us here, but their schedule did not permit it.

Louise enjoying the rapids river ride.

We enjoyed our three days in the park. We scheduled our visits around the cruise ship arrivals; a day at Atlantis is available as a shore excursion on every ship that calls here. The cruise passengers swell the park attendance mid-day, but they're all gone by 3pm if they don't want to miss their ship, and the park is open to 7.

As we remembered from last time, the shortcoming of Atlantis is dining. They are trying to emulate the big Vegas casino resorts, with no fewer than four "celebrity chef" venues and a number of casual choices, but all fall short of the mark. Between the Bahamian prices and standards of service, and the general disconnect between western and Bahamian tastes, none of the on-property restaurants is appealing.

We ended up eating at the Pirate Republic Tap Room in the Marina Village two nights, one of which we carried in a pizza from the Marina Pizzeria across the square just so we could have draft beers with it. And one night we just shared a salad and two apps at the frou-frou Todd English joint, Olives. Better options are available at lunch time, when another half dozen outdoor venues are open in the water park area.

A view over the Northwest Providence Channel and a pair of water slides.

The $4.50 docks are actually the cheap seats at the Altantis Marina; it's a quarter mile to the marina office from these slips and again as far from the office to the main hotel. The marina is happy to run you around in their golf carts, but we remembered from last visit the secret to happiness here: we instead walked through the Harbourside Resort to their lobby and got on the shuttle buses that will take you to any of the three major tower lobbies (Royal, The Cove, or Coral). There is also a shuttle that will take you to the grocery store for $10 round trip, the same one across the street from our last marina.

Three days was plenty for Atlantis, which might best be described as a Bahamian version of Disney trying to re-create the Bellagio. It's a bit sad to think that the closest many resort guests will get to the real Bahamas is the fake Bahamian "Marina Village," and the clearest water they will see is off the beach at the resort. Still, it was a nice diversion.

Lots of megayachts here. "Misunderstood" is a familiar 165-footer that we often see at her home dock in Fort Lauderdale.

This morning I walked across the street to grab some bagels at Dunkin' Donuts (really), we took one last dip in the pool closest to the boat, and shoved off. The Atlantis Marina is megayacht central, and we had to let one pass before we could even back out of the slip. It is essential here to coordinate arrival and departure with the marina office to avoid any unpleasant surprises in the channel.

We received permission from Nassau Harbor Control for an immediate departure, cleared out of the harbor, and turned west towards Andros. Our planned next stop was Morgan's Bluff at the north end of Andros Island. Shortly after leaving the harbor, though, we spent some more time reading the latest reviews and information about the harbor there, and started to have second thoughts.

Nassau receding behind us. A Carnival ship is in port.

The harbor there is apparently littered with wrecks, and there is one bar and one restaurant that are seldom open and have no phone numbers to even call and ask. We could offload scooters onto the abandoned water barge dock there and maybe explore the island, but we'll save that for another visit when we are not feeling the pressure to use this very settled weather window to get back to the States.

Instead we turned northwest to Chub Cay, where we stayed on our way our of Nassau last time, too. I wrote back then about the unfinished nature of the place and the dilapidated condition of some of the facilities, but apparently the main clubhouse has since been completed and is reportedly very nice. We made dinner reservations for tonight which ought to let us land the tender on this otherwise private island.

From here we will proceed across the bank to the northwest end of Bimini, a two-day trip. We'll anchor mid-bank tomorrow night without Internet access (but satellite TV is working again), and be back on-line off Bimini, anchored near the resort. From there it is a long one-day run to Palm Beach inlet.

A cruise ship passes an anchored Canadian warship, as seen from the Atlantis beach. The warship docked at the cruise docks when they were not full, starting right after I left. He was back at the dock the day after I shot this.

We had hoped to leave the Bahamas and head directly north in the Gulf Stream, making a landfall at least as far north as Beaufort, NC, if not further. But we're down to our last 200 gallons of diesel, not counting the 200 gallon reserve that also trims the boat. By the time we reach Bimini that will be down to 150 gallons, which is not enough to make North Carolina.

We briefly contemplated fueling up in Nassau. But with the cheapest diesel in the Bahamas at $4.30 per gallon, it's much cheaper to just add the few dozen extra miles to stop in Palm Beach before heading north. Fuel in that part of Florida is around $3.00 per gallon right now. This will also let us clear in to the US using the whizzy new ROAM app from Customs and Border Protection, which eliminates the in-person appearance in favor of video chat. It's being rolled out slowly and is not available north of Florida yet.

Once we've cleared in and fueled up we will go right back out to catch the Gulf Stream push northward. With a full load of fuel we will have our pick of places to come back in, limited only by weather. A six-day window could take us all the way to New York Harbor, whereas a three-day tip would bring us to Beaufort.

Update: We are anchored off the beach at Chub Cay (map), not far from where we were last time. Heading ashore for dinner shortly. Next post will be from Bimini in a couple of days.

1 comment:

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