When we started our boating travels two-plus years ago, every day was an adventure. We hadn’t been anyplace on our boat and everything we did was new. Once we had been somewhere, though, while we could still have a great time there, returning wasn’t exactly an adventure. For the past year or so, we have been having a great time but we haven’t really adventured. Yes, we went new places and did new things on the ICW – but we had been down the ICW before; yes, we loved taking the kids to see some of our favorite places in the Abacos but we had also been there before. Well, on 18 January of this year we started adventuring again. After visiting Little Harbor and Spanish Wells, we began exploring, we started, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before. And we started with Eleuthera.
Eleuthera is an odd little island. It is 110 miles long and, except for its northwestern corner which resembles a hummingbird’s head and its southern tip which looks like a whale’s tail, it is 2.5 miles at its widest point. The island is very hilly with steep cliffs rising out of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Exuma Sound on the other. Its highest point is 168 feet and it has a population of 11,165. That population, however, must grow in the spring and summer when vacationers occupy some of the magnificent mansions along the coast and fill some of the many mini-resorts (that consist of maybe a half-dozen cabins and a possibly a restaurant) along the beaches and in the towns.
Eleuthera’s modern history began in 1648 when a group of Englishmen, seeking an end to religious oppression in Bermuda (of all places) left one island paradise for another. They called themselves the “Eleutheran Adventurers” (“Eleuthera” being ancient Greek for “freedom”) and originally settled close to Harbour Island, near current day Spanish Wells, where their ship had wrecked and all their provisions were lost. Later, after a division occurred among the Adventurers, a group of them departed and went to a location half-way down the island which is now called Governor’s Harbour (about which, more later).
[A little side note: After they had lost all their provisions, the leader of the Adventurers, one William Sayle, went to Boston to ask the churches there for assistance. They responded affirmatively and sent over 700 British pounds worth of provisions. The assistance was a godsend for the Adventurers who later repaid the debt by sending a load of brazilwood to a new school just getting underway in Massachusetts – a school called Harvard. At the time it was received, the contribution by the adventurers was the third largest in the school’s history. Even today, Eleutherans are proud of the contribution they made to Harvard.]
Though we weren’t among the original 100 hardy souls, our particular Eleutheran adventure began at a place called “Current Cut.” The Cut is a narrow waterway that separates the Northeast Providence Chanel from the Exuma Sound. Based on the tidal currents, water can flow through the cut at amazing speeds – potentially up to 6-8 MPH. Now if you have a medium-sized engine on your sailboat and are normally capable of moving at only five or six miles per hour, you can see the challenge of moving against 6-8 MPH current – you don’t. It could be even more dangerous, however, if you had following seas and the flow pushed you through the Cut. About halfway through you have to make a sharp turn. If the water is behind your boat and pushing hard, you can imagine what might happen when your boat turns broadside to the moving water – it could push you past the turn and into the shallows where you don’t want to be. The trick, therefore, is to traverse the Cut when the tide has slowed and is between moving in and out – it is called “slack tide.”
Technically, slack tide does not necessarily occur at moments of the highest and the lowest tide, but most of the time it is very close. We planned on moving thorough at 1030, just minutes after high tide. As we were on our way we saw a sailboat that would probably arrive at the Cut about the same time we would. Because I am so courteous (and because on my first time through, I would prefer to follow than lead) I told him we would fall in right behind him. In the event, we passed through the Cut just a little after high tide and, though there was a little more current than I thought there would be, it wasn’t that bad – maybe 2-3 MPH.
|Homer Winslow's 1895 painting of the GlassWindow -- before a hurricane took it out.|
After Current Cut we headed to a place only a few miles away called “Glass Window.” As late as 1885 Glass Window was a natural bridge connecting Eleuthera’s “head” to its “body. The structure was exactly like the natural bridges you see in National Parks where you can look through the arch (hence the term “window”) from one side to the other. At the Glass Window you can see from the Exuma Sound on one side to the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Winslow Homer, a well-known 19th Century American artist painted a famous picture of the Window in 1895. Sometime afterwards (we don’t know the exact date) Eleuthera suffered a hurricane that brought down the arch. As a result, the government re-connected the two parts of the island with a man-made bridge. In 1991, a rogue wave slammed into THAT bridge – which looks to have been about 100 feet above sea level – shifting it eleven feet to the west – and making the road impassable. The government rebuilt the bridge, which is the structure we saw when we visited. It is part of the Queen’s Highway which runs down the 110 mile backbone of the island. Man that must have been a large and powerful wave!
We had anchored about half of a mile away and dinghied over to the Window. We debarked, climbed the hillside and took all sorts of pictures.
Our next stop was Hatchett Pond, which was right next to Hatchett Bay. The Pond has a small man-made opening – maybe 60 feet across – that opens into a huge pond-like anchorage that has a diameter of around ½ mile. Most of the pond is about ten feet deep and, although it has 10-15 mooring balls, it could easily hold 100+ boats. It is termed “the safest harbor in the Bahamas.” I am certain it would protect you from just about any weather you might find. Although we didn’t need it, we entered it as a waypoint in our GPS – just in case.
We stayed on one of the mooring balls for two days. The local settlement is called Alicetown and we visited it a couple of times. A few things struck us about the town. Most importantly, we were reminded that the Bahamas is definitely a Third World country. Although there were a few large vacation homes, most of the houses were run-down cinderblock structures with plywood covering the windows. There is no such thing as a zoning law in the Out Islands and most of the shops and “variety stores” are one room of a house that has been dedicated to commerce. Typically, the shops carry a few canned goods, a few touristy mementoes and hair products for the locals. Yep, that’s what I said, hair products. Lots of hair products.
We never did find a decent sized grocery store, but we did find a great restaurant called the Front Porch. Other cruisers had praised it in Active Captain and/or some of the other cruising guides we had read so we decided we had to give it a try. We had a pretty expensive lunch of fresh fish fingers (me) and cracked conch (Ann) that was very, very good. In addition, the Front Porch had a great internet connection. In fact, everything about the place was so good that we decided we would have dinner ashore the following day. Then, we made a mistake. Dinner at the Front Porch was very expensive, so, after checking out menus, we decided to eat at one of the newer restaurants in town. It was Twin Brothers, which is kind of a local chain out of Nassau that has been featured in the New York Times, on CBS, NBC and on Top Chef (or so the signs outside tell you – ad nauseum). In case you were wondering, the music was too loud, there were too many no-see-ums, the drinks were bad and the food was terrible. Oh, and the internet was out all evening. In short, we won’t be back to Twin Brothers in either Alicetown or Nassau. And I hope they lost on Top Chef!
The next day we made up for our disappointment of the night before. We went to Alabaster Bay, a beautiful, nearly deserted beach a few miles south of Alicetown. I am guessing the beach was a mile long with twenty or thirty yards of fresh, white sand between the low tide mark and the tree line. There was a mini-resort on the south side of the beach, Casa di Mama, that looked like a very nice place (and is rumored to be very kind to cruisers), but it was closed for the season. There was one vacation home in the middle of the beach, but other than that, it was pretty deserted. We saw a total of three couples there the entire time we were anchored. We went ashore, strolled the beach, and picked up all sorts of seashells.
We knew that the next day a cold front was coming through that would have some pretty strong westerly winds. (See our previous entry on the impact of cold fronts on cruisers in the Bahamas.) Eleuthera is a very long island running north-south, that has very few places that offer protection from westerly winds. We studied the charts and saw three places near Governor’s Harbor that might offer blocking at least some of the wind. The problem was that the charts said all three have “Poor Holding.” I had noticed, however, that some of the other locations where we had stuck our anchor up to its shank had also been listed as having poor holding. Besides, other than going back to Hatchett Pond we didn’t have much of a choice. As we passed the first location we had identified as a possible anchorage we got a radio call from a boat called Lutra. Its captain pointed out that she was in a pretty good location and that there was room for several more boats in the anchorage. We went on forward to check out the other two locations we had identified as possibilities before turning around and heading back to join Lutra behind Levi Island.
Levi is a small island, about 400 meters long and about ¼ mile due west of Eleuthera proper. We hoped Levi would block the worst winds from the west and that Eleuthera would block as they clocked around to come from the east. Together the two islands formed a north-south channel that allowed some swells from the south, but because of a sandbar to the north, the swells were diminished (though not stopped) from that direction. We checked our anchor with our glass-bottomed bucket and decided it was as good as were going to get it. Then we went to visit our anchorage-mate, the captain of Lutra.
Patti is the captain of Lutra and her first mate is her dog, Myriah. She invited us aboard and, like all good captains, offered us a beer! As we talked we learned that she has been single-handling her boat for the past seven years working during the summer as a marine biologist and spending winters in the Caribbean. She is a very nice, very sweet young lady but if I were a novelist I know exactly what I would do … Patti would be a pirate … AARGH! Eh Patti? And Myria could be her vicious eye-patched mate. It would really be a good story.
Later in the afternoon winds started coming from the southwest. We knew they were going to clock around to the west so we hunkered down. All night the winds were constant at 20-25 MPH except when they gusted to the mid-30’s. The winds weren’t as much of an issue as were the swells; they rolled the boat back and forth all night and part of the following day. Ann slept through it, but with the sound of the winds and the roll of the boat, I spent most of the time from 0300 forwards on anchor watch. I know, I know, we could have split the watch. But, to be honest, I am not going to sleep until and unless I know the anchor is doing what it is supposed to do, so why should Ann have to stay awake too?
After “The Blow,” we went to Governor’s Harbor. It was only a mile or so away from Levi Island and, once again the Charts indicated “poor holding.” I will only point out that ships have been anchoring in this harbor for nearly 400 years and I am not sure they would have done so had holding really been THAT poor. Governor’s Harbor was the first capital of the Bahamas in the 1700’s and is now the best developed city in the interior of Eleuthera. It has a substantial government presence and a wonderful library. It only has a few hundred residents and was the center of the island’s pineapple trade until the US started subsidizing Hawaiian and Cuban pineapples. We visited Governor’s Harbor a couple of times and even walked across the island to see the Atlantic Coast’s pink sand beaches.
Two days later we headed out to Powell Point and Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina. We kind of wish we had moved a little more slowly down the island and stopped at a couple other settlements. We also bought a book that discusses Eleuthera’s history that it would have been nice to have read before we embarked. Oh well. Now we have an excuse to come back next year! But for now, we move on from our Eleutheran Adventure to our Exuman Adventure!!
|Sunset from Point Eleuthera|
Meeting Patti was so good for me. There are times when I miss the sound of a female voice. Patti really is a free spirit and I admire her in many ways. She is one of those physically strong women who is also very female. When the wind was blowing at 20 to 30 miles per hour she was in her dinghy ROWING ashore to walk her dog. I am not sure I could do that…first of all I row in circles…never did get the hang of rowing even at Girl Scout camp. In my own defense I do handle Big Bertha…all 110 pounds of her…yes…I do have the windlass but I need to strong arm her on deck since she won’t fit through the bowsprit hole. Patti does everything the old fashion way and I love that about her. We had her and her puppy over for dinner on the boat and just really enjoyed her company. If you read this Patti…please keep in touch.
Eleuthera is really a beautiful island, we have done a lot of walking…almost hiking up and down hills. I wish I could say the beaches are pristine but, sadly, they show signs of civilization. “Take out” boxes, plastic bottles, glass containers and such. In my utopian island there would be no bugs or trash…just FYI.
I am amazed at seeing the contrast of colors difference between the blue of the Atlantic Ocean and the calm blue/azure water of the Exuma Sound … and at the Glass Window only a few feet separated the two.
So…dear readers…I need to go start dinner…
Thanks for keeping track of us…
Wild Life Count… we have seen a few turtles, a very large sting ray, a small pod of dolphins, small fish with larger fish trying to get them. Today I saw a small wren-type bird with a bright yellow chest.