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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Our next stop was Great Guana Cay – in addition to a spectacular beach, it is home to Nippers:
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:
From Hopetown, we went to Marsh Harbor where we picked up our crew for the next week – more on that in the next installment.