THE BAHAMAS!

Post #47 – THE BAHAMAS!  March 21, 2015.  On Board:  Jenny K, Chris Hart, Trish K, Jim K.

According to an official count made in 1864 for Governor Rawson, the Bahamas consist of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 rocks. It’s unknown if anyone has attempted a re-count the rocks since then. By the way, by definition, an island has its own source of fresh water, while a cay has no fresh water. (Incidentally, after being corrected several times, I learned that “cay” is pronounced “key”). I don’t know the definition of a “rock” used to make the count.

The first humans are thought to have arrived in the Bahamas in the first millennium AD, migrating in dugout canoes from the Cuba, Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican Republic), and the islands of the Caribbean. Just prior to European contact, the population of what is now the Bahamas rose to about 40,000 people.  Everything changed on October 12, 1492, however, when Columbus landed on one of the islands in the Bahamas, though historians disagree on which island it was.  Over the next 30 years, nearly the entire population was transported by the Spaniards to other islands to work as slaves – when the Spaniards decided to move any remaining people to Hispaniola, they could find only eleven. The islands remained uninhabited for the next 130 years – since they had no gold, Spain had no real interest in them.  Europeans then began to form small settlements in various locations in the mid 1600’s. Life was hard – the sparse population supported itself by living off the sea, farming, and increasingly by wrecking – the practice of salvaging goods from ships which wrecked on the many reefs and shoals surrounding the islands. However, the future of the islands changed dramatically once again when Britain lost the Revolutionary War. Thousands of Loyalists – loyal to Britain – fled the new American nation and settled in the Bahamas, tripling the population within just a few years. The Loyalists brought slaves with them; in addition, thousands of captive Africans who were liberated from foreign slave ships by the British after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 were resettled in the Bahamas as free men. As a result, today, 85% of the population of the Bahamas are descendants of slaves. Many of the others are descendants of the Loyalists from the 1700’s.

So the next leg of our trip started when Trish, our daughter Jenny, and her boyfriend Chris flew to Freeport and arrived in the West End.  Our plan was to work our way to Marsh Harbor in the Abacos by the end of the week, where Jenny & Chris would fly out and our next crew would fly in. First, we spent a day in the West End, where we hired one of the local fisherman to take us out on his skiff to do some spear fishing, some hand-line fishing, and some diving for conch. He goes by the nickname “Magic”, and is a real character. His old outboard motor would only start by hand, so he had to take the cover off every time he needed to start the motor.  Here are some pictures:

Magic promising we're going to catch some fish and some conch...

Magic promising we’re going to catch some fish and some conch…his personality comes across in this picture.

Magic showing us how to hand-line, the old fashion way

Magic showing us how to hand-line, the old fashion way

Magic with a lion fish, which he speared.  Lion fish are an invasive species in the Bahamas, and impart a very painful sting with the barbs on their back.  They are small but, very tasty.

Magic with a lion fish, which he speared. Lion fish are an invasive species in the Bahamas, and impart a very painful sting with the barbs on their back. They are small but, very tasty.

Chris bringing up a Lion Fish which he speared.

Chris bringing up a Lion Fish which he speared.

Our day with Magic yielded a cooler full of fish and about a dozen conch Chris and Jenny cooked up for dinner the next couple of nights.

Our day with Magic yielded a cooler full of fish and about a dozen conch which Chris and Jenny cooked up for dinner the next couple of nights.

What a feast!!!

What a feast!!!

 

Our first stop after the West End was Grand Cay, one of the more remote outer cays in the northern Abacos.  Here are some pictures from the 65 mile run to Grand Cay:

Before we headed to Grand Cay, I hired two divers to clean the marine growth off the bottom of the boat. It grows rapidly in the warm waters of south Florida and the Bahamas, and will significantly reduce fuel economy and slow the boat if left unchecked.  It was last done in January in Fort Myers Beach.

Before we headed to Grand Cay, I hired two divers to clean the marine growth off the bottom of the boat. It grows rapidly in the warm waters of south Florida and the Bahamas, and will significantly reduce fuel economy and slow the boat if left unchecked. It was last done in January in Fort Myers Beach.

Chris put out a fishing line as we cruised at about 8 knots toward Grand Cay.  After catching a small tuna, we hooked onto a couple a barracuda, both of which we brought to the boat then released. Here is one of them as it was being brought to the boat.

Chris put out a fishing line as we cruised at about 8 knots toward Grand Cay. After catching a small tuna, we hooked onto a couple a barracuda, both of which we brought to the boat then released. Here is one of them as it was being brought to the boat.

Jenny trying to reel it in...

Jenny trying to reel it in…

Chris trying to figure out how to get the hook out of the barracuda - I'm glad it was his job...

Chris trying to figure out how to get the hook out of the barracuda – I’m glad it was his job…

Notwithstanding the barracudas which are obviously present, a swim to cool off was too tempting for Chris

Notwithstanding the presence of the barracudas, a swim to cool off was too tempting for Chris….

...and Jenny.

…and Jenny.

Grand Cay is “off the beaten path” – it’s a small, rather remote cay with a population of about 600 Bahamians.  It is a small fishing settlement, and ninety percent of the people make their living by fishing or diving for conch and spiney lobsters. Scores of small skiffs go out every morning with two or three men to a boat. Divers wear wet suits for protection more than warmth, and spend the day mostly under water. There are no tanks – a small compressor in the boat continuously pumps air to the diver through a hose while the diver scours the bottom for conch and lobster in 10-15 feet of water.  At the end of the day, the skiffs start returning in the late afternoon and into the evening, and the catch is cleaned and frozen for shipment to Marsh Harbor or Freeport. It is hard work and a sparse living, but the people take pride in what they do and most that I spoke with wouldn’t want any other lifestyle.  It seems that anyone who wants to fish and dive can do so and have an outlet for their catch, so there seems to be less poverty and less joblessness than in the West End, where the fishing is primarily subsistence fishing.

We docked at Rosie’s Place (Rosie is an older gentleman – Roosevelt is his name), which is the only marina on the island and one of the two operations which collect and ship the catch to Marsh Harbor & Freeport. The dock where we tied up is right in the middle of the fishing operation and is quite rustic – no resort here.

Here are some images:

Rosie's Place in the harbor on Grand Cay, where the skiffs depart in the morning and return with their catch in the evening.

Rosie’s Place in the harbor on Grand Cay, where the skiffs depart in the morning and return with their catch in the evening.

A skiff coming in to Rosie's Place at dusk

A skiff coming in to Rosie’s Place at dusk

The dock where fishermen bring their catch to the other operation on the island that ships it out - Doug, did you build this?

The dock where fishermen bring their catch to the other operation on the island that ships the catch to market – Doug, did you build this?

The settlement consists of small houses, some well kept and others in disrepair. A few "commercial" establishments provide services to the local people - baking bread, small stores, and the like.

The settlement consists of small houses, some well kept and others in disrepair. A few “commercial” establishments provide services to the local people – baking bread, small stores, and the like.

All the streets are of concrete and are narrow - there are no cars on the island, only golf carts.

All the streets are of concrete and are narrow – there are no cars on the island, only golf carts.

 

Many of the colors are quite vibrant

Many of the colors are quite vibrant

From Grand Cay, we took the dinghy about 3 miles to Double Breasted and Sandy Cays, which are small, remote, uninhabited cays with incredible beauty – acre upon acre of sandy beach which is exposed at low tide and a foot under water at high tide, and rock/coral islands which are teeming with fish and aquatic plants. Here are some pictures from our visit:

Acres of white sand, a foot under water at high tide

Acres of white sand, a foot under water at high tide

Sandy Cay, with some rock/coral islands in the background

Sandy Cay, with some rock/coral islands in the background

Jenny on one of the rock/coral islands at Double Breasted Cay

Jenny on one of the rock/coral islands at Double Breasted Cay

Jenny & Chris getting ready to spear fish at Double Breasted Cay

Jenny & Chris getting ready to spear fish at Double Breasted Cay

On the hunt....

On the hunt….

Even Trish got into the swing of things - but from the boat....

Even Trish got into the swing of things – but from the boat….

Coming back in the dingy from Sandy & Double Breasted Cays

Coming back in the dingy from Sandy & Double Breasted Cays

Our next stop was Spanish Cay, 65 miles southeast of Grand Cay. Spanish Cay is privately owned, and most of the development was built by a former owner of the Dallas Cowboys. There is an enormous marina, a large, quaint restaurant/pub, and no people.  When we arrived, we were the ONLY boat in the marina, which has perhaps a hundred slips. The couple who manages the island and runs the restaurant and a staff of about 5 were the only people on the island until two sportfishing boats arrived late in the day. Here are some pictures:

One of three sets of empty docks at Spanish Cay...

One of three sets of empty docks at Spanish Cay…

The restaurant at Spanish Cay, with the Joint Adventure docked in front

The restaurant at Spanish Cay, with the Joint Adventure docked in front

A huge assortment of fish swam in the clear water at the docks, including half a dozen sharks - including this one. When one of the men on the sportfisher cleaned a mahi-mahi they had caught and threw the guts & carcuss in the water, the sharks put on a feeding-frenzy show.

A huge assortment of fish swam in the clear water at the docks, including half a dozen sharks, like this one. When one of the men on the sportfisher cleaned a mahi-mahi they had caught and threw the guts & carcuss into the water, the sharks put on a feeding-frenzy show.

We biked throughout the island, and came upon this enormous airstrip - the past & present owner of the island and a handful of private homeowners  apparently fly in occasionally

We biked throughout the island, and came upon this enormous airstrip – the past & present owner of the island and a handful of private homeowners apparently fly in occasionally.  However, no one was there during our visit.

Despite the lack of people, the managers of the island cooked up a great meal for us in the restaurant.  Before dinner, we had a drink at the bar. We've been married for 35 years, and I can't remember Trish having a shot of anything during that period. However, she got into the spirit of the Bahamas that evening...

Despite the lack of people, the managers of the island cooked up a great meal for us in the restaurant. Before dinner, we had a drink at the bar. Trish and I have been married for 35 years, and I can’t remember Trish having a shot of anything during that period. However, she got into the spirit of the Bahamas that evening…

Our next stop was Great Guana Cay – in addition to a spectacular beach, it is home to Nippers:

The famous bar high on the dunes overlooking the reefs and the ocean is named Nippers - the local name for bugs that we call "no-see=ums".  The view is spectacular, as is the beach below

The famous bar high on the dunes overlooking the reefs and the ocean is named Nippers – the local name for bugs that we call “no-see-ums”. The view is spectacular, as is the beach below

After another stop at Man Of War Cay (more on that later, as we made a return trip), we went on to Hopetown, perhaps the most iconic tourist magnet in the Abacos:

Hopetown is best known for its iconic lighthouse which dominates the harbor.  More on the lighthouse later...

Hopetown is best known for its iconic lighthouse which dominates the harbor. More on the lighthouse later…

The lighthouse is open to the public to climb and enjoy the view, such as this one -

The lighthouse is open to the public to climb and enjoy the view, such as this one from the top of the lighthouse

Hopetown is pretty and quaint, with well-kept homes, many small shops, and several quaint restaurants

Hopetown is pretty and quaint, with well-kept homes, many small shops, and several quaint restaurants

A typical home in Hopetown

A typical home in Hopetown

While docked in Hopetown, we heard a live band after dinner from across the water, so we piled into the dingy, crossed the harbor, and went dancing - Jenny & Chris, putting on a show (Janet & Doug, you would have been proud of us, though we did not close the place like we did when you were on board...)

While docked in Hopetown, we heard a live band after dinner from across the water, so we piled into the dingy, crossed the harbor, and went dancing – Jenny & Chris, putting on a show (Janet & Doug, you would have been proud of us, though we did not close the place like we did when you were on board…)

From Hopetown, we went to Marsh Harbor where we picked up our crew for the next week – more on that in the next installment.

 

 

 

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