PAST NAMES: not known
DIMENSIONS: 214 gross tons, IMO # 8428533, Bahamas # NP 1345
CONSTRUCTION: built by San Sebastian Marine in St. Augustine Florida, USA
YEAR BUILT: 1983
EARLY CAREER: so far as is known she has been serving the Bahamas her entire career
BAHAMAS CAREER: serves George Town, Great Exuma from Nassau. Leaves Potters Cay Dock Tuesdays at 4 PM. The trip is said to take 12 hours and cost $40 each way (Source: http://www.bahamasguru.com/travel/mailboat.php)
Another view of M/V “Grand Master” from the starboard bow showing deck crane, radio mast. Photo taken March 2014. It is possible that “Lenny” and “Lance” are the same captain.
Stern view of M/V “Grand Master” which leaves Nassau Tuesdays at 4 PM.
Below is a lively and entertaining account of a voyage on the Grand Master from December 1991:
No Mere Cruise Ship; Mail Boat Is One Way To See The Bahamas
The Rentokil man had muscled his 52-pound boxes of herbicide to positions near the railing. Baby chicks poked their heads through ventilation holes of their cartons, tucked away in the shade at the stern. Two tanks of oxygen lay on the deck, starboard side. A bathtub was way up front, beyond the crane that had easily swung a compact car, a small pickup and then a 1982 Pontiac Bonneville onto the foredeck.
Lumber, construction pipe, 30 molded plastic chairs (the only address: School Principal L.N. Coakley), potted citrus trees, boxes of electronic items, two truckloads of tires-all had been positioned on the main deck before the gray bags of mail came aboard.
The bags were piled atop one another against the back wall of the narrow bridge, just behind where Capt. Rolly Gray stands when he steers the M.V. Grand Master to and from this island suburb of Nassau.
As much money as all the cargo brought in, as much money as the passengers paid ($35 one way buys a cabin bunk), it is the mail upon which we had been waiting.
Just 49 minutes after its scheduled 2 p.m. departure, the freighter`s hawsers were pulled aboard. Sliding the 110-foot-long vessel deftly from its stern-to-aft docking space, Rolly Gray showed why some insist the Grand Master is named for its captain.
It`s young, but looks old
It`s rusty in spots and looks worn, but the Grand Master doesn`t have that sense of history. It was built in the mid-`80s in St. Augustine, Fla. But every Tuesday it sets off on a 14-hour trip that calls to mind the days before airplanes made the world small.
Under a contract with the government, Gray`s 10-man crew will put aboard the vessel all manner of freight-livestock, motor vehicles, construction supplies, groceries, furniture. Up to 70 passengers can book passage.
And then there`s the mail.
It is sent by people and institutions who feel no need for instantaneous telephone communication or same-day air mail service. Because the Bahamas encompass roughly 700 islands-the 40 largest are populated-the government maintains surface mail and cargo delivery via several freighters similar to the Grand Master. Each is loaded at the small wharf under the bridge linking the national capital of Nassau to resort-and-casino dominated Paradise Island. Each ship is the mail boat.
Roughly 30 hours after its arrival in Exuma, the Grand Master departs on its return, so recipients of its mail seldom can send a response on that sailing. They must decide whether to grab a phone, find an air mail stamp, or leisurely get an answer in the post in time to make the Grand Master`s next trip northwest.
It is such a casual form of communication that you could let yourself get romantic about the mail boat.
But romance isn`t what it`s about. It`s about bringing manufactured goods and other necessities to the scattered Bahamian archipelago. The $70 round trip fare to and from Nassau is cheaper than the $119 plane fare, reason enough for many islanders to ride the Grand Master. But that isn`t everyone`s reason to book passage.
“I love the boat,“ proclaims John Rhodriquez in a melodic accent. “I could be home in half an hour (by plane), but I have the time.“
He pauses, then adds, “If you have a boat and go through these cays-it is like no other place on Earth, some of the beautifulest places.“
Rhodriquez is shipping the 1982 Bonneville to his mother in tiny Harts, the family settlement about 15 miles north of Georgetown. It cost him $150 to get the car from Nassau to Exuma, which is itself a chain of 365 islands. It cost just a few dollars to ship the potted citrus trees, for one of his brothers to plant.
Vera Ferguson enjoys the trip for its lazy pace. For 22 years the housekeeper on Exuma for Franklin D. Roosevelt III, Mrs. Ferguson takes the ship to visit her children and grandchildren in Nassau.
Everything aboard the vessel is simple.
No mess steward announces the single meal that is served in each direction. I was sitting in the galley, chatting with some passengers who weren`t slapping down dominoes, when paper plates of beef stew and rice were passed down the two tables.
Our silverware, forks and spoons, stood upright in the coffee cans placed on each of the eight-person tables. No one volunteered napkins, although there was a roll of paper towels in the small kitchen; soft drinks were 50 cents. No rolls, no salad, no dessert.
Similarly basic were the two restrooms. Each had one toilet, a sink and shower. Both smelled; the flush mechanism of one toilet was broken.
I had paid for first-class passage-“with a cabin.“ That turned out to be a choice of six plain bunks in any of the eight “staterooms“ on the Grand Master. The cabins were similar-one door, one window, one overhead light.
I went back to the bench on the top deck, chatted and let the soft swells of the Atlantic make me drowsy. At 10:30 I walked a few feet into “my“ cabin and took a lower bunk next to the door. A free-lance lobster fisherman/office- machine repairman had the bunk by the window.
“We are not at land yet-we don`t pull into Georgetown for an hour,“ Rhodriquez said cheerily, “but I want you to see us come in.“
He pointed to our left-the direction we were heading-and explained the blinking red light was a radio communications tower at Georgetown. The blinking white lights much higher up are warning lights on a tethered blimp; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency tracks possible smuggling planes with equipment on the blimp.
For every clump of three or four lights on shore, Rhodriquez applies a name-Rolleville, Steventon, Farmer`s Hill.
Capt. Gray, who had gone into his cabin just behind the bridge after dinner, is back at the wheel. There are no channel markers, it is three hours to sunrise, yet he zigs and zags the Grand Master through the smooth waters. As we approach the small dock in Georgetown, I can count 15 sailboats moored in the harbor.
On the wharf are six adults and a child. Many jovial “hallos“ are called from ship to shore and back. Suitcases are handed over the side, the immigration officer casually eyes the passengers, someone gives Mrs. Ferguson a steadying hand down the narrow gangplank, and the crew of the Grand Master places canvas straps under Rhodriquez`s Bonneville, to swing it ashore.
It is 4:33 a.m., and the mail boat has arrived.