Nassau and Elbow Cay
In all my travels to the islands in and around the Caribe Basin over more than thirty years, there has been one group of islands that I had consistently missed visiting -- The Bahamas. And, this was somewhat unusual, in that this group of islands lies just off of the east coast of Florida and thus they are the closest tropical vacation destination to my home in South Carolina.
During the winter of 2001,
following a cold spell even for the sunny South, I decided that it was
high time for Nina, my wife, and I to see for ourselves what The Bahamas
had to offer. But, we decided that it would be folly to go to just
one of the myriad of islands and cays that make up The Bahamas. To
that end, we decided we wanted to first see New Providence Island and Nassau,
the capital and largest city in the group. I had always been somewhat
in awe of Nassau, since it played such an important part in the founding
SHORT BAHAMAS HISTORY
The Bahamas are rich in history, since it was there that Christopher Columbus discovered New World and the Bahamas, on his first voyage in 1492. He spent 12 days there before sailing on to Cuba and Hispaniola. There has been some contention as to exactly where he first landed, but it's fairly well agreed now that he first made landfall at San Salvador (subsequently called Watling Island --but later reverted back to the name San Salvador).
In The Bahamas, Columbus found friendly Arawak Indians, or Lucayans. These were descendants of the same South American tribes that had been the earliest inhabitants of a number of areas in the Caribbean, including Jamaica. These peaceful people had been driven north from South America and later other islands by the warlike Carib Indians.
The word "Bahamas" was derived from the Spanish "Baja Mar" meaning shallow sea. It is hard to know whether the Spanish lost more ships to the shallow banks and reefs or to the English and French freebooters. Nevertheless, neither the freebooters nor the Spanish chose to settle and stay in the Bahamas. Like the Arawak predecessors, the settlers who eventually inhabited the Bahamas would be mostly fishermen and farmers.
The Bahamas consist of an archipelago of more than seven hundred islands and cays covering almost five hundred miles from north to south. Concentrating on the ones we visited, New Providence Island is situated in the center of the group. It is approximately 21 miles long and seven miles wide, one of the smallest major islands, at only 80 square miles, yet two thirds of the population (about 180,000) live here.
The other venue we visited, Great Abaco, is about 100 miles north of New Providence. It's large, but somewhat sparsely settled. However, its primary town, Marsh Harbour, is the third largest town in The Bahamas and was our jumping off place for a week on Elbow Cay.
Elbow Cay, just east of Marsh Harbour, is just six miles long and about 1/4 of a mile wide. Hope Town, it's principal settlement, was settled by British loyalists after the Revolutionary War, mainly from South Carolina -- so it was most appropriate that we made it a major stop during our trip.
NEW PROVIDENCE ISLAND
We flew direct from Charlotte on US Airways in mid February. Our flight path took us across South Carolina and out over the Atlantic at Charleston. The ocean was obscured by clouds until we were about even with Jacksonville, and from there the blue of the ocean was broken only by Grand Bahama Island as we overflew it.
Arriving at Nassau International Airport, it's apparent that The Bahamas are now fully in the twenty-first century. It is a modern airport and is regularly served by a number of major airlines, as well as some small and charter air carriers that provide inter island service. We cleared immigration and customs after a long walk from the arrival gate into the main terminal building. We then checked with Avis and quickly were able to load our bags in the trunk of our rented car and be on our way.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS - NEW PROVIDENCE ISLAND
Driving in from the airport I was struck with the excellent road -- John F. Kennedy Drive. It is smooth, well maintained and well marked. This is in contrast to roads we've observed on many other Caribbean islands. In fact, for the most part, I would rate New Providence's roads to be on a par with those of Grand Cayman and nearly as good as those on Bermuda and around Cancun.
I had reviewed the rates of various resorts on the internet prior to our trip and already knew that Nassau was a pricey place, especially at "high season" and, since we planned to be out and about much of our time on New Providence, we opted to pass on staying at one the many elegant, all inclusive resorts. Instead, we found a small local "resort" that had the basic amenities -- pool, television, restaurant and "across the road from the beach" -- which appeared it would meet our needs. Plus, we were scheduled to be on New Providence Island for only four nights, so we decided that we could take most anything for such a short period.
The place we had reservations turned out to be "somewhat" less than we expected, but it was "all right" -- Nina called it "Motel One!" (Notice that I am purposely not including the name of the establishment here, for obvious reasons.) I won't go into the gory details, except to say that there were problems with the air conditioning (it was located in one room of the two-room suite and only cooled the one room). In addition, the bathroom had some minor problems, and those weren't corrected, even after the manager was notified. However, suffice it to say that next time I will be more attuned to paying whatever the rate is for better digs! Also, though the property is indeed "across the road" from a beautiful beach, it was only after checking in that we discovered there was a wall between the road and that beach!
You can find just about any type of food you want in Nassau from Chinese, Italian, French, English and American to, of course, Bahamian. All of it is relatively expensive -- remember that virtually everything is imported -- so be prepared for entrees costing 25 to 50 percent more than the same meal would back home. Fast food restaurants have also invaded The Bahamas, but the pricing index still holds -- your Whopper and fries will cost you at least 30 percent more than back home.
We only had two meals in the on-premises restaurant at the hotel -- lunch the afternoon we arrived and breakfast the following day. The food was all right but it was as expensive as the other places we dined and not nearly as nice. It's basic saving grace was its location -- being on site, it was convenient. Suffice it to say that next time I will be less attuned to convenience and more to overall ambiance.
We found that our best venue for breakfasts was the Cafe' Johnny Canoe located adjacent to the Nassau Beach Hotel on Cable Beach. It was comparable to most any stateside Shoney's -- Nina called it "Shoney's Bahamas" -- but the two mornings we ate there the food was good, the service excellent and there weren't any surprises.
We took the advice of a long time friend and had lunch one day down at Heritage Village, beside the road to Arawak Cay. He didn't specify exactly which place he recommended, but we picked what looked like the more frequented place and settled in for a lunch --Bahamian style -- of conch salad. Bad choice! It turns out that conch salad contains conch meat, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, all chopped up and covered in a lime juice marinade. I'm sure that there are folks who find conch salad something to adore -- but I'm not one of them! I realize that one should try local dishes when traveling to exotic destinations. But, I once spent time in Scotland -- and I didn't like haggis either! At least the Kalik beer was cold!
After searching for a good place to have lunch, we did go to one that wasn't Bahamian at all -- a plain old Subway -- but it was good! We finally lucked up -- when Nina was searching each street we passed for an ice cream cone -- and found the Lickety Split! It's just a small sandwich and ice cream shop -- but it's clean, run by locals and has delightful sandwiches, soups, and salads, along with super ice cream (according to Nina). I can't provide accurate directions to it, but it's located in Shirley Street Plaza, between Williams Street and Okra Hill, just north of Shirley Street and west of the southbound bridge from Paradise Island.
For dinner, we tried four
places and I can't complain a bit about any of them. The first was
Point Beach Club (see more later), part of the Island Outpost
group. It is located at Gambier Village, way out on West Bay Street.
I had heard a great deal about Compass Point and we decided that it would
be a prime place for our first evening meal on New Providence. And
an excellent choice it was! We dined on the terrace, with the Atlantic
Ocean providing a moon sparkled backdrop. The meal was all
I had expected -- well cooked, well served and pricey. But, after
all a person seldom gets to an such elegantly casual place, so we thoroughly
enjoyed our meal and our evening at Compass Point.
Our second dinner restaurant was at the out-of-the-way Traveler's Rest, out West Bay Street, just before Gambier. The restaurant is situated just across the road from the water's edge -- the full moon was shining down, causing the ocean to put on a light show for us while we had a delightful dinner. I had cracked conch -- it was somewhat bland, but I'm not an expert, so perhaps that's the way it's supposed to be. Again the meal was expensive.
On Valentine's Day evening, we dined at BBQ Beach at SandyPort (NOTE: Now the Beach Club Cafe as of update on 4/24/2012 - picture of interior) and it was as good as you can get! Neale and Troy have created a unique eatery -- the restaurant has the only wood fired oven on the island and specializes in wood-oven cooked dishes -- the food is cooked in an oven fueled by a wood fire, adding a savory smoked flavor to the meats. I went all out and had the Valentines Dinner and a finer meal I can't remember. The lunch menu offers a plethora of delectable dishes, so I'll definitely make a point of having lunch there next trip.
One other restaurant that was highly recommended to us was the Poop Deck, located just across the waterway from BBQ Beach. We did look in there, but decided to eat at BBQ Beach that night. However, next time I will definitely go to the Poop Deck at least one time.
For our last night in Nassau, we had a super supper surprise, at a super resort -- SuperClubs' Breezes Bahamas! Our dear friend from Jamaica, Gary Williams (formerly general manager at both Hedonism II in Jamaica and the first general manager at Breezes Bahamas and currently SuperClubs' Vice President - Breezes), provided us with a complimentary night pass for two, to Breezes Bahamas! (I think he did it because he thought we looked as though we really needed a good meal!) I must say that it was sumptuous and the fine culinary staff at Breezes put on one heck of a buffet. And, the desert bar was awesome -- and Nina even had her needed nightly ice cream cone! In addition, Breezes -- the largest of the SuperClubs' properties -- is a real class resort of the nth magnitude.
We stayed for the evening's entertainment and, since it was toga night there, I got an opportunity to tie a toga for a fellow! I also took time out to watch the Thursday night episode of "Survivor!" I know one thing, I'll definitely stay at Breezes next time I go to Nassau -- and that won't be all that far in the future. Thanks, Gary!
In most of our Caribbean travels, we tend to simply vegetate on a beach and soak up sun and shade and sea and some sand --unless it's our first time there. If it is, we take on an aura of the eternal tourists and "do" the local area from one end to the other. And, since this was our initial visit to New Providence, we "did" the island from -- stem to stern. Our trusty Avis rental car provided us with good, dependable, albeit expensive transportation -- gas there is about US$3.50 a gallon, and even with it being an imperial gallon, that is pretty pricey stuff.
I had no problems with the fact that everybody there drives on the "wrong" -- or left -- side of the road. Having done left-side driving elsewhere in the Caribbean, such driving doesn't daunt me, particularly with Nina's almost constantly screaming, "Left! Drive on the left -- you're on the wrong side!!"
During our excursions around the island -- and we actually did go all the way around New Providence Island -- we found some interesting things to do and see. I would recommend the following to anybody...
As an aside, I made a point of going to the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, to meet an old friend -- and one I had never actually met! Some year ago, a nice chap was active on The Caribbean Travel Forum on CompuServe, which I manage. His name is Jim Hepple and he works as Deputy Director General for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism in Nassau. He had been a regular contributor to the forum by posting answers to questions about The Bahamas. So, since we were in Nassau, I had made it a point of looking Jim up -- and I did!Government House
Located at the intersection where George Street meets Duke Street, Government House is the official residence of The Bahamas Governor General, the Queen's representative.
Pirates of Nassau
Pub & Museum
TOURING AROUND THE ISLAND
Some later internet investigation revealed that Silver Cay had been Coral Island Bahamas, the third park developed by Coral World International. The park was the biggest park planned and developed by the company. It was originally opened to the public in 1987 and immediately became the No. 1 tourist attraction in Nassau. The Coral Island Marine Park incorporated all the usual features: a marine museum; an underwater observatory (which can still be seen from Cable Beach); aquatic animal pools for sting rays, sharks and sea turtles; a "touch pool"; a snorkel trail; and a somewhat secluded villa hotel. In 1995, in accordance to Coral World International's global strategy, the park was sold to the owners of the Marriott Nassau Beach Hotel. Marriott renamed it Crystal Cay Marine Park & Villas (part of the Crystal Palace and Casino on Cable Beach). Sadly, nothing has been done to date, to open the island back up to the public. A call to the Marriott offices resulted in the writer not being able to confirm what the company plans are for Silver (Crystal) Cay.
The main road passing Cable Beach, from downtown Nassau, is West Bay Street and along the road, the hotels abut each other on the beach proper. Along the other side of the road, there are ancillary facilities -- a golf course, parking lots, shopping areas, etc. The area is well maintained on the divided road, with it's occasional round-about.
In order from east to west, one encounters SuperClubs' Breezes Bahamas (formerly the Wyndham), Nassau Beach Hotel, Nassau Marriott Resort, Radiisson Cable Beach, Westwind Club, Guanahani Village, Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort & Spa, and Casuarinas on Cable Beach. And, located directly between and accessible from the Marriott and the Radiisson is the Crystal Palace Casino.
As an aside, I had the pleasure of meeting, for the first time, a young man who has been active on The Caribbean Travel Forum of CompuServe, Gavin Knowles. Gavin has posted some excellent information about the Bahamas, much of it the work of his mother, Fay Knowles. I made it a point of contacting Gavin by e-mail prior to our trip, in order to set up a meeting with him. We went to the offices of Knowles Realty on West Bay Street, located at one of the round-abouts. There we met Fay and her husband, Erskine, along with Gavin. Knowles Realty is a very up scale agency specializing in real estate expertise in the specific areas of Nassau/ New Providence Island, Paradise Island and Long Island. It also provides valuable information and support for investors seeking real estate opportunities in the Bahamas. While touring around New Providence, we frequently saw for Knowles Reality's for sale signs, but only on the most desirable properties.
As an aside, we did drive through the gate, with nobody asking us anything. The homes there are huge, well maintained and show easily how the "Rich and Famous" of New Providence live!)Clifton Point
This is the western most location on New Providence and the location of the power plant that provides electricity to Nassau and the island. There is a tanker dock where oil tankers tie up to offload the oil that fuels the power plant.
Bacardi Rum Distillery
SIGHTSEEING ON PARADISE ISLAND
Paradise Island was once a scrubby feed lot called Hog Island. This spit of land just off New Providence has been transformed into the high rise gambling and leisure haven connected to Nassau by a bridge. The center of everything is the Atlantis Resort, which was developed by a South African, Sol Kerzner, and it has turned into one of the most complete resort - casino - mega - hotels complexes in the western world.
The large property includes a 14 acre water-scape with waterfalls, a river for tubing and -- the highlight -- a giant outdoor saltwater aquarium filled with sharks -- you can walk through a glass tunnel right in the middle of them. There is also a lagoon for snorkeling just off a wonderful white sand beach.
Both the Atlantis Casino and the water-scape are public areas, open to non guests, though I believe there is now an entrance fee. The tunnel through the aquarium may be free but I'm told that you pay fees to rent tubes or mats for the attractions that require them. There is so much to do that you could easily spend the day there going from one activity to another. The complex also includes two resort hotels, as well as a number of restaurants.
We didn't had a lot of time to do all I wanted to do, nor to do everything that is available to a visitor to Nassau and New Providence Island. The Atlantis Aquarium on Paradise Island is one attraction that I will definitely visit on my next trip to Nassau. Another is the Dolphin Encounter at Blue Lagoon Island, based on Paradise Island, beneath the main bridge to Nassau. Both are well regarded and lack of time was the sole reason that these were passed on for this trip.
There are beaches other than Cable Beach and those on Paradise Island, but most tourists end up at one of these two wide, white hot spots. The others tend to be slivers by comparison, and transportation to and from them is difficult and undependable.
There are two casinos on Nassau and both are extremely large. There is the afore mentioned Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island and the Nassau Marriott Resort and Crystal Palace Casino on Cable Beach. You can play the slots 24 hours a day, and the gaming tables are open from 10:00 o'clock each morning until 4:00 o'clock the following morning. If you're an inexperienced gambler, the casinos will teach you the basics and attempt to put you at tables with other novices.
I decided that I wanted to try and see some of the resorts that have made The Bahamas one of the prime vacation destinations for visitors from the United States, Canada and Europe. That would enable me to better provide answers to the countless e-mail questions I regularly receive asking about the islands and the resorts. While we didn't visit all of the resorts on New Providence I would have liked to see, we did get to the ones I wanted to visit most. Below are some thoughts about those we did see.
(NOTE,dated April 24, 2012: Compass Point Studios ceased operations in Nassau as of the end of September, 2010 because of a series of incidents, socio-political based happenings which made it untenable to continue business in The Bahamas.)
Sandals is a huge resort and the rates are in line with it's size, location and the general high season in Nassau. When we visited it, the resort appeared to be close to full capacity -- that is if the number of guests congregated around the pools and along the beach was any indication. However, since the resort limits it's guests to couples only, I noticed, as I have at one other Sandals property, the tendency of guests to pretty much stick with their partner and not mix with other couples. I did make it a point to speak to a few guests and all commented on what a wonderful resort the Royal Bahamian was. (But, in line with my above comment that guests appeared to stay to themselves, it was apparent that I surprised the ones I spoke to -- obviously nobody else had spoken to them there!)
First, the complex consists of two separate parts -- the area on the west side of the Sandyport canal is the Sandyport Marina Village, consisting of a group of permanent homes within a private, gated community. The canal opens directly to the Caribbean, affording guests and homeowners access to the sea for boats.
On the east side of the canal is the beautiful low rise hotel, the Sandyport Beaches Resort consisting of a reception building, ocean front restaurant (BBQ Beach Restaurant -- see above for more under DINING), ocean beach, lagoon beach, three swimming pools and the most beautiful suites on the island. SandyPort has three bedroom deluxe, two bedroom deluxe and one bedroom deluxe suites, also one bedroom standard suites, studios and hotel rooms. In addition, the resort is an RCI Gold Crown Vacation Club participant for folks interested in time share interval ownership. (http://www.sandyport.com/)
As an aside, I had the opportunity to meet the Marketing Coordinator for SandyPort, Leslie O. Pindling -- the son of the late former Prime Minister, Lynden Pindling, leader of the Bahamas for 25 years, died in August, 2000, of prostate cancer at age 70. Pindling became prime minister in 1967, when the islands were still a British colony, and led the Bahamas to independence in 1973. His son Leslie was most courteous and invited us to return to sample all that SandyPort has to offer.Breezes Bahamas
Under the leadership of Chairman John Issa, SuperClubs originally created what has now become known as the "Caribbean all-inclusive concept." Based in Jamaica, one of SuperClubs first forays outside of that island was Breezes Bahamas. Taking over the original Wyndham Resort on Cable Beach, SuperClubs completed a major renovation of the property and launched it under the Breezes name. The property is the first resort site one encounters upon driving out West Bay road from Nassau proper.
Breezes is the largest of the SuperClubs properties, with it's four hundred rooms, including suites and oceanfront deluxe rooms. Each room has either two double beds or one king size bed. All rooms are air conditioned, equipped with satellite TV, direct dial telephone, hair dryer, safe deposit box, coffee maker, soap and shampoo dispensers, CD player, AM / FM radio and iron and ironing board. The accommodations are situated in two towers -- the eight story high west wing and the four story east wing. Between the two towers is the lobby building with the dining, entertainment and lobby areas on the south side, and the pool complex and beach on the north side.
Dining options encompass the Main Dining Room, which is air conditioned and offers casual buffet dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The resort also has a sit down restaurant, Pastafari, which is an air conditioned pasta bar where long pants required -- it is open for dinner only. There is also a Pool Grill, where guests can obtain snacks from midday to early evening.
Breezes offers complimentary weddings and renewal of vows for its guests. These include a wedding cake, champagne, flowers, marriage license and non-denominational marriage officer. Witnesses can be provided upon request. All the necessary paperwork is handled by the couple, but the resort staff requires three working week's notice to complete all formalities. A guest is required to be in Nassau 15 days before the ceremony can be performed. However, a three day waiver can easily be obtained.
A super aspect of Breezes Bahamas is it's meeting facilities, one of the best I have seen at any Caribbean resort. The facility is located above the lobby in a quiet, out-of-the-way area. It can accommodate groups of up to 500 people, theater style, in the Grand Salon. Breezes Bahamas provides TV monitor, VCR, overhead & slide projectors, screen, public address system, microphone and podium. Banquets and private receptions can also be arranged for large groups.
Breezes Bahamas has plenty of activities. In addition to having one of the best beaches in the Bahamas, the powder white sands of Cable Beach, the resort offers guests a variety of other water related venues -- a Jacuzzi, a Sip & Dip pool, a Play pool, the Main pool and a Misting Pool. Breezes' water sports include -- at no additional cost to guests -- wind surfing, salt water kayaking, water skiing, sailing, pool volleyball and scuba diving lessons in swimming pool and all with instructions and equipment are included. Motorized water sorts are also available nearby at an additional cost.
Land sports include three lighted tennis courts with free instruction, basketball, beach volleyball, bicycles, table tennis, an indoor games room and a jogging trail. Tennis is available on three tennis courts, lit for night play. Free tennis instruction is also included. Golf is available at the nearby Cable Beach Golf Course (not included). There is a fully equipped Fitness Center, with stationary bicycles, Stairclimbers, Nautilus-type equipment, free weights, rowing equipment, Aerobic classes, Aquacise classes, and the direction of the staff Fitness Instructor.
As with all of it's sibling resorts, a guest's stay at Breezes Bahamas includes the resort's own brand of "Super Inclusive" items which are all available without any additional charge -- all accommodations, all meals and snacks, wine, unlimited premium bar drinks, sports and entertainment included in the rates.
In touring the facility with SuperClubs Vice President Gary Williams, I was most impressed with both the resort's location at the east end of Cable Beach and the, as yet, undeveloped area of the property between the resort and its tennis courts, beside the public park area fronting on Goodman Bay. Gary indicated that there are already plans to extend the resort to the east, and this will no doubt make for the resort further becoming a prime property on New Providence.
For our final night in Nassau, we had the pleasure (as noted in the DINING section above) to spend an evening at Breezes, courtesy of Gary Williams. The facilities, including the dining areas, the bars, the pool complex, the entertainment area, the shops and the lobby are all intended to impart a feeling of casual elegance, and the goal is fully met.
I made a concerted effort to speak to a number of the guests, to get a flavor of how they liked the resort. All comments were highly laudatory, with no exceptions! That certainly speaks well of the effort that Gary and the staff of Breezes Bahamas have made to create excellent value for the price. The resort is expensive, though well in line with other properties in and around Nassau. I was most impressed that the guests at Breezes appeared to be more into mingling with other guests -- this is something that I've seen at other SuperClubs' resorts and to this Caribbean traveler, it is something that tends to make for a more memorable vacation.
DEPARTING NEW PROVIDENCE
All too soon, our short stay on this island was nearly over and it was time to head for our next port of call -- Elbow Cay. To reach there meant that we were required to return our Avis rental car, get our prearranged tickets on Bahamasair and fly to Great Abaco. The above was done quickly -- all except the actual flight. Oh, it wasn't actually the flight that was slow, it was the waiting for the flight that seemed to take an eternity! Luckily, we met up with a delightful couple -- a retired army colonel and his wife -- and conversation with them helped the time to pass pleasantly. Finally, our plane was on the tarmac and we were able to board, and we were quickly winging our way north to our next destination.
The geography of the Abacos is unique in the Bahamas, because the Abaco Sound offers so much protected water. The Abaco Sound lies between Great Abaco Island and a string of barrier islands -- or cays (pronounced "keys") -- which arch from Little Harbour northwest over a hundred miles to Walker's Cay. The west coast of Great Abaco, known as the Bight of Abaco, is very shallow and is rarely visited by cruising boats.
History of the
A total of 2,500 Loyalists and their 4,000 slaves fled to the Bahamas after the war. Most of them came from Florida and settled in the Abacos. Those who came from east Florida had been exiled from Georgia and the Carolinas. From west Florida Loyalists whose original homes had been farther north relocated to the islands.
Since the other couple was headed to meet a yacht at the marina and we needed to stock up on some items at the grocery store, the van driver dropped us first and then took the couple to meet their friends. We shopped and quickly found that many of inexpensive items at home were highly expensive here/ Once we had our staples for the next few days, the driver arrived back to pick us up. Passing the whisky store, he inquired if we needed anything in the liquid libation department. Nina spoke up and said she sure would like to at least check the prices. And, she found a real bargain -- a two-pack of canned Cokes bundled with a pint of Bacardi rum for US$2.00! She bought four -- she said the rum bottles were "cute"! Then it was on to the ferry dock and our waterborne way to Elbow Cay.
For the remainder of our Bahamian excursion, we had rented a delightful little house -- it was more of a cottage to my mind -- from Elbow Cay Properties. However, though we had never been there, I already knew that we were going to enjoy our stay in it. The house belongs to a friend, Marjorie Colley of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Marjorie had been an active member on former Caribbean Travel Forumon CompuServe at one time and at her request, I had scanned some pictures of her house on Elbow Cay, in order that she could have them as graphic images. Therefore, I knew that the house would be imminently suitable for our purposes -- right down to the Pawley's Island hammocks strung between the casuarina trees in the front yard!
History of Elbow
"Wrecking" (salvaging the contents of wrecked ships) had mainly been a part time "occupation" in the Out Islands from the time of the earliest settlers. But it became a way of life after emancipation. Sea charts of the waters in and around The Bahamas were at first nonexistent, then later only slightly better than somewhat unreliable. There were no lighthouses until 1836 to provide aid to ships. The Out Islander wreckers didn't always depend on storms or navigational errors to cause ships to founder on the reefs. Sometimes they actually lured ships onto the reefs. Often, a lighted tree was placed on the beach to simulate a beacon.
The British Imperial Board
of Trade dealt a blow to Bahamian wreckers by ordering erection of lighthouses.
Hope Town residents on Elbow Cay blockaded workers building their famous
candy stripe lighthouse, which today is the most photographed sight in
The Bahamas. They refused them food and water, and sank a barge bringing
in building materials. Elbow Cay averaged a wreck a month before
the lighthouse was built. In 1860 it was estimated that property
valued at more than a hundred thousand pounds sterling had been picked
from wrecks in the waters off the island in just over a year. Hope
Town's population was by then about five hundred and fifty. Although
they often risked their lives to save shipwrecked sailors, they lived almost
entirely from the profits reaped from salvaging the cargo and equipment
from the distressed vessels.
The first ferry was the "Junonia", a 40 foot lobster boat built in Maine. As Albury's service grew, additional boats were built of wood at the yards of Edwin Albury on Man-O-War Cay. The conversion from wood construction to fiberglass began 21 years ago. Today the entire fleet is made up of nine boats -- "Donnie I" through "Donnie IX" -- wide body fiberglass, diesel powered boats built to Albury's Ferry own specifications in Florida. The boats fall into four size categories; 34 feet, 39 feet, 45 feet and 51 feet. The "Donnie IX", the latest, joined Albury's Ferry fleet in the fall of 2000.
Today, the ferry serves Elbow Cay and Man-O-War Cay from Albury's Ferry Dock. Great Guana Cay and Scotland Cay are served by boats out of the Conch Inn dock and the Union Jack dock. Ferry times to and from Elbow Cay and Man-O-War Cay take twenty minutes each way, while times to and from Great Guana Cay and Scotland Cay take thirty minutes each way. (Note: Scotland Cay service requires prior notification to Albury's Ferry Office.)
All of Albury's ferries are partially enclosed, fully licensed and inspected, and operated by experienced and licensed captains. Equipment includes fire extinguishers, life jackets, VHF radio, and first aid supplies
Arrival at Elbow
Elbow Cay Properties
I can't say enough about Don and Cary Cash, the owners of Elbow Cay Properties. As I said above, Don met us and drove us to Leeside. He helped unload our bags, gave us a complete tour of the house, pointing out things that we would need to know during our stay and generally gave us a good feeling that we had picked the right property on the right island through the right property management company. Don also returned on our last day and drove us -- and all out stuff -- back to the North Dock, to catch the ferry back to Marsh Harbour. Don is also a descendant of one of the original families on the island -- I believe he said he was a sixth generation Elbow Cay descendant.
The location is about a mile from Hope Town and just a five minute walk to community North Point dock. (Click here for a map of the Elbow Cay properties -- you can see where "Leeside" is situated on the bay side of the North Point.) The rental rate is $995 per week. The cottage accommodates 4 people and no chided under age six are permitted.
There's no television set, but Marjorie has a fine selection of music and a player. Also, there is a regular two way VHF radio, with its own 12 volt power supply and a tall antenna on the roof. Each morning, I tuned into the Abaco "Cruiser's Net" on VHF Channel 68. It's like a party line, with each separate island checking in with what's happening on the islands that day, weather reports, various sail boats checking in for e-mail, etc. It's a folksy "program" and I heartily encourage anybody with access to a VHF radio to listen in each and every day. (See below.) There is also a nightly weather report on VHF channel 9, by "Deja Vu" -- a local on-island weatherman.
"On this 'Net you'll find the Weather forecast, reports on conditions around the Whale Cay Passage, announcements covering everything from e-mail for cruisers to Happy Hour Specials - Arriving and Departing Boats, a Swap Shop, Navigation Tips, and even 'Open Mike'." (Copied from the Cruising Abaco in the Bahamas web page.)
Since there isn't much else to do -- which was exactly what we had been looking for -- our stay in "Leeside" afforded us plenty of time to catch up on reading -- I finished four novels while we were there!
Out and About
All of Island Marine's boats are fully equipped with life jackets, anchor, lines, a swim ladder, flares, flashlight, first aid kit, compass, rod holders, large built-in gas tank, and large fold down Bimini top for maximum sun protection. In addition, when a person rents from Island Marine, he is provided with a chart of Abaco Sound and a hand held VHF radio to use if needed in an emergency or to provide the marina with information about return times, etc. The boat had a 70 hp Evinrude engine and electric trim and tilt. We were able to use the North Dock, which is shared by all of the houses in the community on the North Point.
I had contacted Island Marine by phone prior to our arrival on Elbow Cay and reserved the boat. Upon arrival at "Leeside" I called and arranged for the boat to be delivered the following morning. Bright and early the next day, we were picked up at North Dock and went back over to Parrot Cay, to sign for the boat. Then, we were off on our own, to explore.
We headed toward Matt Lowe's Cay to miss the shallows to the east of Johnny's Cay, then turned north past Sandy Cay to enter the cut into the harbor. The docks were packed solid -- we finally found one where we could tie up, and walked "downtown" to the Pavilion. There we found the festivities were in full swing. We ran into our friends from the plane and exchanged pleasantries with them and the yacht owner and his wife. We decided to buy hamburgers at the flea market, since the proceeds were for a worthy cause. After getting our burgers, we retired back to our boat and headed across the channel, to the lee of Matt Lowe's Cay for a floating picnic lunch.
As an aside, be sure to check out Vernon's Grocery. While we were shopping there, Mr. Vernon came into the store with a batch of fresh baked bread! It was fantastic!
We also went into town one time, just to explore the lighthouse. The Hope Town Lighthouse, as noted above, was built in 1863 and it still uses the original wind up brass mechanism to turn the reflector, sending the beam out as far as twenty miles. This lighthouse is also the most photographed attraction in The Bahamas.
Another time, we took the boat and cruised south, putting in at White Sound south of Hope Town and then on down the island to Tilloo Cut, opposite Lubbers Quarters Cay. Not being thoroughly familiar with either the boat or the local area and being aware that Abaco Sound has numerous shallow areas that can severely damage a prop or motor, we decided that we had explored far enough afield for our first visit to the island. However, I do plan to return someday and see more of the beautiful islands that make up the outline of Abaco Sound.
THE END OF THE TRIP
As always happens, this trip to The Bahamas ended far too soon. We returned the boat to Island Marine and the next morning Don Cash came to Leeside and helped us back to North Sound. We bade him good-bye, with the promise that we would be back. The ferry picked us up and too quickly we were back at the dock at Marsh Harbour. A short van ride and we were at the Marsh Harbour Airport. We checked in, boarded our US Airways plane to Ft. Lauderdale and we were homeward bound.
I can't say enough how much this trip meant to both of us. It was busy and laid back. It included exploring and doing noting at all. It was a great equalizer to our usual trips to other Caribbean locations. But, we will return, because the Baja Mar of The Bahamas will definitely be calling to us!
Jamaica Jim Jordan
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