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First Impressions of Eleuthera Past (Tom Baldwin)
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Posted by:Jan 2nd 2008, 03:22:16 pm
Fig Tree News TeamTrouble loomed large when I got off the plane at North Eleuthera Airport and realized BahamasAir had left my surfboard somewheres back at Nassau International.


Trouble eased when a smiling Bahamian fellow at the terminal assured me BahamasAir would send my board out on the next flight.

"Go on into Gregorytown," he advised. "Your board will catch up with you."

Was he loony? My board, in my mind, was history. I was fresh in from the fast-paced US Northeast, where it would be unheard of to merely walk away from the airport having lost a critical piece of baggage. What? No paper work? No claim forms? No documentation? Go into Gregorytown and wait? Right...

Well, the 'Lutra lad was right. The board arrived that afternoon, in time to catch the sundown rise at Surfers' Beach. Welcome to Eleuthera.

That was February of 1971. Nixon was President. The Bahamas was a British colony, independence being two years off. George Thompson was an influential MP, with campaign posters identifying big George as "The Friend of the Farmer." Ramone was a legendary 'Lutra diver. A good Dewey Webber cost $130.

Fresh out of college and the US Merchant Marines, I was a year into my first real job and had some vacation time to burn. Where to locate some mid-winter waves at not too great a cost?

A pal who owned a surf shop in Ocean City, NJ, advised, "Go down to this place called Gregorytown on Eleuthera Island, in The Bahamas. Ask for Bruno Thompson, or any of the Thompsons. They will fix you up."

And how.

It's been that way ever since, though not without an errant step or two on my part.

The first misqueue took place as I awaited my flight that morning from Philadelphia. How dumb was I to pluck from the paperback sales racks, for a bit of reading on my flight south, a copy of "Jaws?"

Eye-eye-eye. I saw fins in every wave. Every shadow on the reef became a man-eater. Every time I paddled out, the ****ed "Dun-dun-dun...Dun-dun-dun" music pounded between my ears. Not smart, Tom.

But the waves were good. They improved by the day. The swell kept pumping. It made for easy takeoffs and long-breaking lefts, the hallmark of a good 'Lutra session.

The crew lodging at Bruno's now-gone bunkhouse hailed from all over -- from Massachusetts, France, Wales, Delaware, and from the South County region of Rhode Island, with a few F-L-A surfers, as always, in the mix. Rumor had it that a group of Carolina surfers was camping in the bush somewhere south of the break.

I even learned some geography that trip -- that in fact there is no such county as "South County" in Rhode Island. The term is local patois for a region instead of a legally incorporated county, kinda' like "up north" or "out on the Cape."

Those Rhode Islanders could really master 'Lutra's waves. I learned this quite vividly some years later, after relocating to Massachusetts and joining the wintry surf action at spots like Peggotty, Newport and 'Ganset Pier.

Two Yanks, John and Gary, owned another now-gone establishment, a one-room saloon that sat perched on the hill overloking Gregorytown Harbour. They served up a showstopper of a libation, concocted from Thompson 's Pineapple Rum. A hand-srawled sign on a timber announced, "We do not accept NYC Subway tokens." How apropo.

Somebody had a reel-to-reel home-movie projector. Somebody else had a few old films -- shoot-'em-up westerns mostly. We set up in the wooden community center across from St. Gregory's RC Church. The kids -- joined by elders if not the entire settlement, it seemed -- filled the benches and chairs. Images flicked onto a bed sheet strewn across a wall. The cheers went up -- Opening night, Gregorytown style.

Saturday rolled around. A Junkanoo band did its best work at the yacht club down by Hatchet Bay, which is another goner from the 'Lutra landscape. Blame a fire. Sailboat burgees had hung from the ceiling around the bar. They hailed from as far away as Cape Town.

Now, some decades later, and after a couple of land deals, Eleuthera is a mainstay in my and my kids' lives, and in those of their pals. One daughter attended and later taught at The Island School, which is fast becoming one of the region's great institutions.

I must say, though, in drawing up my annual list of "People I Am Not Talking To" this past week, I included in my 2008 edition any and all staffers from the New York Times Travel Desk.

Those oafs are offering just too much pap prose and other needless publicity for the island.

Why can't those rustics stay focused on their core mission -- Gatlinburg, South Beach, the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, Kennebunkport and the Poconos?

Be well for '08. See you on-island.

Tom Baldwin

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