Our time in the Bahamas has come to a close for this year. We’ll be staging to cross back to Florida in the next few days.
Our time in the Bahamas has come to a close for this year. We’ll be staging to cross back to Florida in the next few days.
Paradise doesn’t come cheap. 90% of everything is imported into the Bahamas, mostly from the U.S. Food, building materials, fuel, you name it. While there is some farming, the soil doesn’t really lend itself to high output. There is fishing of course, but boats are expensive, fuel is over $5.00/gallon & some species are in decline (especially their famous conch).
Importing & delivery to the smaller islands is even more expensive as the larger ships from Florida can’t arrive directly – everything has to be off-loaded to Nassau or elsewhere, then re-loaded onto smaller boats/ships which can enter & dock into a smaller harbor & taken off with booms into small trucks, pickups or golf carts.
How expensive? Double is a good rule of thumb, but triple or more is not unusual. Why so much? Tacked onto the cost of goods from Florida is obviously the cost of transport by ship from Florida, freight & custom brokers, plus an average 30% Bahamian government import tariff. The smaller “family” islands have the additional cost of intermediate boats/ships to get to their island along with the increased cost of smaller volume.
As if that isn’t enough, in 2014 the Bahama government instituted a 7 1/2% VAT on everything (even food). Last year the VAT was increased to 12%! Remember – this is 12% on the inflated Bahamas pricing, so effectively over 20% based on U.S. prices. While they’re calling it a “value added tax”, it seems similar to a sales tax on everything at the retail level – many services too. Fortunately, they have lowered or eliminated the import tariffs on some items, but most items still have tariffs from 5% to 50%+. The only food concession they made is making about a dozen foods VAT exempt – not food groups – a dozen basic foods.
Of course, I can’t really complain – we only spend a few months here & have more resources than 95% of Bahamians. But how does the average Bahamian cope? It’s particularly concerning as their economy relies primarily on tourism. Currently the U.S. economy is robust & tourism to the Bahamas is up, but what will happen when the next major U.S./Canadian recession hits?
We had an uneventful 56 mile trip from Royal Island to Little Harbour, Abaco in very calm conditions. The wind forecast of 4 knots, gusting to 5 knots was right on the money. Perfect for our little power boat, but the other dozen boats were “brave” sailboats, most with their sails up flopping uselessly. It was funny listening to them on the VHF radio talking as if the forecast had been way off…
I’m glad I caught those Mahi on the way south, as I’m only hooking & losing on the way north. Again, I hooked something big, this time losing my old, faithful cedar plug when the line snapped. Cedar plugs are sold as unpainted cedar wood with a weight built into the lead end – very simple. Not having any paint aboard, I painted it with Lori’s “mint candy apple” nail polish with some red highlights. Surprising, it’s caught quite a few fish – unfortunately barracudas especially liked it, hence the large tooth scrapes.
A few miles out of Little Harbour I spotted this strange contraption being towed a few miles out. Even with binoculars I couldn’t tell a thing. An hour later, surprise, surprise it was only 100′ away coming right by us!
It took a Google search to figure out what the heck it was. It’s the new Titan Submersible “the only privately-owned 5-person submersible capable of reaching depths as great as 4,000 meters”. That’s over 13,000 feet! It is used for site survey & inspection, research & data collection, film & media production as well as deep sea testing. While it may look as though the sub is being transported on a mini barge, it’s actually a launch & recovery platform – the whole thing is lowered down 30′ below the waves, then the sub detaches, continuing the remaining 12,970′ on it’s own. One aim is to allow the use of a smaller support ship – no large crane is needed. The 13,000′ depth is important as … that’s the depth of the Titanic. Later this year it’s headed there to further explore the Titanic, first with their own personnel, then with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists … then … you can go (for only $100,000!). Not sure what it is doing here, but likely continued testing as the water is over 14,000′ just 12 miles out of Little Harbour. Lots of interesting info, photos, news stories & video on their website http://oceangate.com
Little Harbour is unfortunately being changed forever by developers from nearby high-end properties who thought it would be neat to offer a waterside clubhouse with boat slips. While locals fought it for several years with a “Save Little Harbour” campaign, money usually wins out both here & in the U.S.
The primary reason we always stop in Little Harbour is Pete’s Pub. Lori has featured it with photos many times & it recently won 4th place in (yet another) contest of Best Beach Bars in the Caribbean (even though the Bahamas is not). In addition to being a fun place with good drinks, the food (especially fresh fish) is always really good. There weren’t many cruisers this time, but it was mobbed with crazy spring breakers – we only stayed one night.
It’s been 5 years since we visited Eleuthera, so time to head back & walk on their famous pink sand beaches.Crossing over from Staniel Cay is an easy 46 miles to Rock Sound near the southern end of Eleuthera. Almost caught a fish on the way – it was so big, that attempting to clutch down the screaming of the line caused my 80 lb. fishing line to snap, fly back & wrap around our solar panels – darn! Rock Sound is approximately 1 1/2 miles around, but shallow & protected on 3 sides so you just anchor in the quadrant you need wind protection from.
Eleuthera Island was founded in 1648 & is the official birthplace of the Bahamas. Captain William Sayles & a group of Puritans (known as the Eleutherian Adventurers) sailed from Bermuda in search of religious freedom. The difficulties of settlement ultimately left only a few of the settlers on the island, thwarting their aim of creating the first democracy in the Western Hemisphere (almost 130 years prior to the American Revolution).
Prior to that, Eleuthera had been occupied by the Lucayan Indians. Unfortunately, Christopher Columbus & other Spanish “visitors” caused the deaths of many from disease & those remaining alive were enslaved by the Spanish in the 1500s & shipped to South America to work in the gold & silver mines.
Once the winds died down, we bravely continued north to Governors Harbour. I say bravely, as when we stopped there last 5 years ago in Ortolan, the weather forecast had been completely wrong & we ended up anchored stern-to barely off the beach in high winds with large waves until the wind finally shifted to it’s forecasted direction the next day.
Just so you know – it’s not always about the donuts
(actually they had donuts which were good – these danish were excellent!). We remembered from last time this tiny, but good bakery tucked behind a row of houses. We had planned on having lunch from a “take-away” restaurant, but it was closed. We exchanged some books at their library – probably the nicest we have seen in the Bahamas.
Our 3rd stop was Spanish Wells. A busy & industrious little town. In addition to boat repair yards, they are most well known for their lobstering industry. During the 8-month lobstering season, their fleet of 10+ large fishing boats, each towing several smaller fishing boats, travel 150 – 200 miles south to the far southern Bahamas where they don’t spear or trap the lobsters – they “accommodate” them with “lobster condos”. They place thousands of these large, flat structures which the lobsters seek shelter under. Divers come along, tip up the structures, grab & harvest the dozens of surprised lobsters. Spanish Wells provides all of the lobster tails served at all of the Red Lobster restaurants in the U.S.
The Spanish Wells lobstermen are indeed extremely industrious. They have formed cooperatives for their power, water & most importantly their large fishing fleet. To remain focused on work, up until a few years ago, the island was dry – no alcohol – now that’s serious.
We treated ourselves to an actual dock at an actual marina – the first one in months!
With the weather looking calm for a few days, we’re heading off to anchor at nearby Royal Island to head north to the Abacos for our last few weeks in the Bahamas.
Having escaped George Town we headed north up the Exuma chain stopping at some usual haunts. Our first night we anchored at Rudder Cay (which along with neighboring Musha Cay) is the location of David Copperfield’s very exclusive resort. For lunch the next day we stopped at Ty’s Sunset Bar & Grill on Little Farmers Cay located next to their very cute airport terminal.
We anchored a little further along at Jack’s Bay for the night & then in the morning continued on to Black Point. Black Point is a favorite stop for laundry, restaurants & most importantly, Lorraine’s Mom’s coconut bread. Lori has previously written & shown of photo of Mom in her home kitchen baking up this wonderful bread – the best in all the Bahamas! Black Point is booming as most of the 12+ daily tour boats from Sandals Resort stop here for lunch on their way from Staniel Cay & other touristy stops. Another restaurant has opened up & most restaurants have built their own docks just for these tour boats.
The tour boats arrive in droves to the nearby “Pig Beach” on Big Major Cay. When we first visited in 2011, there was perhaps one tour boat & a few cruiser dinghies which would stop by to see & feed the pigs.
It is now way out of control – two years several pigs died from stress & ingesting too much sand (when eating food people would throw). And then there are the guys who think its cool to share their beer with the pigs. The government has attempted to control the madness with a feeding station, but stupid tourists just wanna have fun…
Rather than continuing further north up the Exumas, we will be next crossing over to Eleuthera, as we haven’t been in several years.
While we often hitch a ride with our friend Cort for errands, propane refill & lunch at one of the nicer restaurants north of George Town up near the Sandals Resort, we had yet to bug him sufficiently to head south. Santanna’s, we heard, was a “real” beach bar. Johnny Depp ate there while filming one of the Pirates Movies … maybe.
So off we went. Santannas’s was indeed a treat. Great food & a fantastic beach view. As with much of the Exumas, the seafood is mostly fried but they did a great job preparing fresh grouper & lobster.
The “real” reason to visit the “real” beach bar was to visit the only “real” bakery on Great Exuma (actually Little Exuma), Mom’s Bakery! For many years Mom had loaded up her van with goodies & would drive to George Town, parking under the same shade tree for the cruisers to stop by. Unfortunately, she became ill & stopped the year before we started cruising. Her daughter(?) kept the bakery going, but didn’t continue the Mom’s van tradition. Mom’s Bakery is still in business & conveniently located right next to Santanna’s.
Onward to several other points of interest, we stopped at the Tropic of Cancer Beach, where the Tropic of Cancer crosses Great Exuma. On our prior sail catamaran we sailed south of this “most northerly circle of latitude at which the sun can be directly overhead”.
Next stop was the “famous” Salt Beacon. This Roman Tuscan Column was erected during the vibrant salt trade in the 1600’s to guide ships from various parts of the world to anchor & load up with salt. Actually, the Spanish arrived even further back, in the 1500’s to establish a salt colony. The topography was perfect as many Bahamian islands had huge, natural “ponds” near sea level which would flood & drain every tide cycle. Back then salt was good – not bad – as it was the most reliable way to preserve food. It was so valuable that departing ships would be escorted by gun ships to protect their cargo from those nasty pirates hangin’ about. If you look very carefully at the photo of the old salt flats, you can make out faint lines in the water – those are the remnants of the walls between the rows of the old salt flats. It was quite the process to dry & rake & dry & rake again & process the drying salt.
Lastly, we stopped at a “Bahamas Heritage Site” – we think – no signs or preservation. This was an old plantation of Loyalists. After the American Revolution, Loyalists (faithful to the British Crown) weren’t too popular back in the new United States of America so many went into exile in the Bahamas, where the Crown granted them land (England owned the Bahamas back then). Among them were some wealthy plantation owners who escaped to the Bahamas bringing their slaves. They foolishly thought they could continue on, growing cotton in a new world. Unfortunately, the soil sucked & while some tried other farming, nothing was very successful. Eventually the owners gave up & their land was divided up & deeded to their former slaves, however they had no sailing sloops to provision in Nassau (as their plantation owners had done) or money to pay for supplies even if they could. It must have been a tough existence until sponging, working the salt flats, fishing & other endeavors allowed them to push towards their future.
We’re finally leaving George Town, Great Exuma, heading toward Eleuthera.
Still hangin’ out in George Town, doin’ the George Town Shuffle, as it’s called. Elizabeth Harbour is large – about 1 mile wide by over 5 miles long. Who the heck decided that this was the ideal spot for hundreds of boats at anchor out in for weeks, with cold fronts, squalls & generally breezy weather? As the wind builds and/or clocks around, many boats shuffle about the harbour looking for protection, while some don’t want to give up “their spot” so they just stay & take it. Of course, high winds or squalls cause boats to drag anchor, which only adds to the fun!
For a few mild days we had a great spot up very close to Monument Beach in shallow water, no one in front of us, with the 40 or so other boats well-spaced on each side & behind us. Another boat even stopped over in their dinghy & joked that we were the envy of the anchorage with such a great spot. That soon changed! This 50′ sailing cat anchored very close to the beach, off our forward bow – not great, but clear of us. 20 minutes later they suddenly began dragging about 75′ to alongside of us. We yelled over “You’re dragging!” The captain stuck his head up & said “Don’t worry – I didn’t set my anchor – it will set itself”. WONDERFUL! While his anchor did seem to have now caught, we’re both swinging at different intervals & sometimes only 15′ apart. Twice I told him (no need to yell anymore) “I don’t think this is going to work”. Finally after a few close swings he agreed & retrieved his anchor – Yeah!! Wait … what … now he’s re-anchoring about 75′ directly in front of us! Oh yeah, the guy who thinks it’s fine to let his anchor drag to “set itself”! With the wind remaining in the same direction & increasing during the night, we gave up & just moved.
Our next anchorage: That little speck in the middle is us. In a harbour of 300+ boats, we found a spot with no other boats for 1/2 mile – probably because this entire side of Crab Cay is very shallow. We draw 34″ & our rudder was brushing & smoothing off the nice, sandy bottom at low tide.
In between shuffling around the harbour & waiting for winds to lie down, we’ve been enjoying friends, happy hours, lunches, dinners, paddleboarding, kayaking & some of the annual Cruising Regatta activities on the calmer days. This year, we joined our friends Chris & Erin on the Poker Run. Poker Runs are often high-speed boats racing around to collect cards at different stops. As Erin pointed out, this is more of a pub crawl – we just dinghy around the harbour stopping off at different restaurants & beach bars, picking up a card at each venue. The winning poker hand wins a bottle of rum. We didn’t win, but had a fun time!
Our time here is coming to an end. We’ll be soon looking for a weather window to slowly begin our trek north once again.