Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rock Sound to Spanish Wells

Rock Sound is a great anchorage and we ended up staying a week there (and could have stayed longer). The supermarket is the next best to Nassau. There is now a great bar and restaurant (can't remember the name although 12 Points seems possible but you can't miss it) on the beach on the north side of town, close to where we anchored, just before the supermarket. They have a dinghy dock and a substantial tiki hut on the shore (where many cruiser pot lucks congregate and where we had a Mexican dominos game one day). They host groups from the Princess Cruise ships for a Junkanoo demonstration at lunch on a regular basis. We attended one of these and had a great time.
Junkanoo is a traditional festival held on Boxing Day or New Year's in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos (and occasionally in the U.S. among former Bahamaians. "The word "Junkanoo" came from an African slave master and trader named "John Canoe" in the 17th century. Like the Carnival celebrations around the world, also started among African slaves, it was developed during holiday periods and incorporated tribal music and instruments. The costumes were originally made of native materials but have become increasingly complicated and brilliant.
Making conch salad from the start with fresh ingrediants

Our boats were just off this restaurant in Rock Sound
The food is good with a lunch buffet most days and the staff very friendly. We never made it to Sammy's Restaurant but we heard that was good too. A nice place overall to spend some time. But we had to leave if we wanted to see some more of the islands north of us. It was too far to Spanish Wells so we decided to stop in Hatchet Bay.

Only a few participants but lots of enthusiasm

The audience was encouraged to participate!

The drums are a critical part of Junkadoo
Hatchet Bay is a lake which was opened up to the sound in the 1940's by a narrow cut in the limestone cliffs. It seemed so narrow indeed that when "Anything Goes" saw it, they weren't sure they'd fit! We went ahead and radioed back, no problem. The community of Alice Town is on the south side and construction of a new dock was underway. A small freighter was just leaving the town dock as we arrived.
A few days before we had stopped to check out this harbor and saw a number of new looking moorings, empty except for 1 boat. So we were surprised when we checked them out to find no pennant. Our boats were too high to reach the iron ring on the mooring and thread a line through. So Peter launched his dinghy and helped us tie on. Later Scott swam over to check out the connection to the bottom and found 2 pennants tied to the line under the buoy. They didn't have floats on them so they hung straight down. You would think someone in the town might want to encourage boats to come and tie on some plastic bottles for flotation!
We were now six again as Julie and Peter's friends Kathy and Nigel arrived by plane the day before. That night they came over to our boat for dinner. Cruisers always bring food to share so Julie brought a salad and key lime pie. We had brushetta with sweet hot peppers, fresh mozzerella, tomatoes and basil (I have a herb garden on board)on Scott's coconut bread and pasta with sausage ratatouille sauce. Sitting in your cockpit watching the sun go down with friends is just about the best part of cruising!
Nigel and Kathy, good friends of Julie and Peter joined
us for a week on the boat!

The next morning we sailed northwest through Current Cut. There are 2 routes leading to the Cut and as the seas were calm and the light good we used the alternate cut and had no problem. Our anchorage for this next night hadn't been decided. We tried Week's Patch but found it too rough so ended up in Royal Island. Scott and I were almost out of water so we went into Spanish Wells and filled up one of the tanks at the Marina. It was just after high tide when we went aground entering the western channel. It was incredibly stupid but understandable. The channel markings are confusing and very close to the rocks on the port side. A local boat went through in the middle and added to our confusion. Luckily a local fisherman gave us a quick pull and helped us off.
Our plans were to leave the next morning for the Abacos, but after we talked to Chris Parker, our weather guru, on the SSB that morning, we decided it was too rough for a comfortable passage. Facing several days waiting for a better window we moved into the Marina at Spanish Wells where Scott and I had been the day before.
This sky is a large part of our view on the boat - unlike
at home where we often forget all about it

And sometimes that sky is the star of the show!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Harbor Island

And this was a fairly calm day!
The bridge over the famous Glass Window, an amazing
place. The pounding waves of the Atlantic on one side
and the calm turquoise waters of the Gulf on the other
View of Harbor island from the ferry
We went to Harbor Island twice. The first time we drove from Rock Sound and the second time went from Spanish Wells. Eleuthera is 110 miles long but very narrow, 3 miles across max. The narrowest part is the bridge across the "glass window", a deep chasm separating the island. Once a huge rouge wave came across the Atlantic and unexpectedly hit the bridge, pushing it several feet! Hopefully no one was on it at the time. It has been rebuilt.
We caught a water taxi from the north end of Eleuthera to Harbor Island. They leave constantly, take 10 minutes and cost $5 per person. Walking around the island is a delight but we didn't get very far in the heat. The next time we rented a six person golf cart and were able to see pretty much the whole public portion of the island (a lot of the island is private gated communities). The narrow streets are lined with lovely cottages in all pastel colors - everything pristine. It reminded me very much of Cape Cod but in color (Cape homes are generally natural gray with white trim).
Another look  at the lovely homes along the shore

Check out the painted flowers on the shutters, 

Methodist Church

Shell decorated signs
The beach is so beautiful, wide, pink soft sand and stretches out it seems forever. We swam in the warm water, only fun sized waves as there is a reef off shore (it's hard to believe that ocean we saw at the Glass Window bridge was the same one). The first visit we ate at the dockside Harbor Lounge Restaurant and had a very nice meal overlooking the harbor. We were really sorry we hadn't seen Sip Sip before we ate as it looked wonderful when we got to the beach. The next time we headed there right away but it was closed for a week's vacation. However we didn't miss out really as we ended up at the Coral Sands Hotel's Terrace Restaurant and had a wonderful meal overlooking the beach.
Walkway to the amazing beach

Hobbits would be comfortable here

Wisteria like vines on Cape Cod looking homes

The details, the flowers - this is a pretty place!

We had a nice lunch here overlooking the dock

The local ferry to Eleuthera from Spanish
Wells - it was packed!

Valentines's Marina, hotel, restaurant, all very attractive
but we imagine, expensive - no sailboats

This marina was really nice with a charming wine bar and
restaurant which looked good
This is a place I could see returning to for a vacation by plane. It has everything for a winter get away (or even summer); great low rise hotels or cottages and restaurants in a charming town on an amazing beach. I've already recommended it to friends. Only caveat, it's expensive.
The second time we came we left from Spanish Wells, we took a local ferry over to the north end of Eleuthera (departing frequently $4 per person), then taking a taxi over to the other side of the island and getting the water taxi from there. This was slightly cheaper than the high speed ferry and was fun since we took the high speed ferry back.
We really enjoyed the high speed ferry as it took the Devils Backbone route back inside the reefs. We came really close to the beaches at times and there are a lot of them on this route. This route is very difficult for a normal boat and a local guide is recommended. Several are available in Spanish Wells or on Harbor Island. In fact getting into Harbor Island Harbor directly requires a pilot for deep draft boats (like ours at 6.5 feet). The route into Spanish Harbor from the north is recommended as well. More about that location in our next entry.
This "Haunted House" next door was very evocative
and beautiful. Must have been something once!

This doesn't do the beach here justice. The cloud came over
while I took it, but take my word for it - gorgeous! and pink!

Peter's shot shows the other direction on the beach

Heather, Scott, Kathy, Julie and Nigel at lunch overlooking
the beach at the Coral Sands Beach Bar

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Northern Eleuthera

The former home and studio of the late artist
Lord Gordon MacMillan Hughes in Tarpum
Bay, Eleuthera

Even when neglected, many of these old homes retain their
grace. This one is in Tarpum Bay

Eleuthera is a variation on the Greek word for freedom.  Discovered by the Spanish in the late 1400's, they soon decimated the Arawak Indian population and left. The English established the first colony in 1658 and made Governor's Harbor the capitol. It was later moved to Nassau, and now Governor's Harbor is a sleepy village with a lot of expensive second homes.
You can probably pick up this place cheap. That is a For
Sale sign next to the door!
We smelled these cooking and followed our
noses to these hot cinnamon buns, which
were as good as they look!

Many of the beach places were closed - not sure when the
"season" is here. Kalik is the national beer, a bit like Corona.

The island was for a long time a pirate's lair and then received a group of settlers from England, and loyalists from the Revolution and Civil Wars in the U.S. Pineapples and Angus cattle both had their brief hey days but failed quickly. During the 70's it became a way station for the drug trade but increased Bahamas police presence with U.S. assistance has reduced that business considerably. Real estate and tourism in general supply the main income now.

We rented a car from Mr. Cates at Dingle Motors in Rock Sound. He, his son and daughter-in-law seem to run a good deal of the businesses in town. It was a very basic compact car for $75 a day and he asked that we keep it at night behind his store for security.
I am nuts about these old weathered walls, if you click on
it and see the soft faded colors you might see why. It
reminds me of the walls in Venice (in a small way of course)

The Haynes Library, a beautifully restored building, still
a busy community library 
A little of the gracious interior of the library. It had a
charming children's room

The park across from the library looks over the bay to the
rest of Governor's Harbor on a narrow penninsula
The beautiful Anglican church in Governor's Harbor

We spent one day driving north and taking the boat taxi to Harbor Island, another touring the south of the island (both days in seperate entries) and last exploring the northern end of Eleuthera. The main road goes up the west side of the island along the beach. We stopped first in Tarpum Bay, a small community known once as a artist's colony due to the presence of the late Lord Gordon MacMillan Hughes. Another well known local artist, Mal Flanders, also passed away a few years ago. It is now the main fishing village on the island. Lord MacMillan built a small castle by hand and lived there for many years. I tried to find information about his life and work but googling him produced little but a few other people seeking the same. There was some info on the auction of one of his paintings too. He was an official artist during WWII in England and was himself Irish. Anyone knowing more, please let me know!
The next two towns going north are North and South Palmetto Points. We saw a very intriguing French restaurant , Cafe Pierre, at the now closed marina on the gulf side, but it was temporarily closed. - very nice menu. We followed the signs to Windermere on the Atlantic side but were turned away at the guard post. This old resort was a favorite of Lord Montbatten and Prince Charles has been there 9 times, originally of course with Princess Diana.
The pink beaches of Eleuthera are not fiction! We loved the Keys in Florida, but the beaches don't look like this, or the water.

Next was Governor's Harbor, a fascinating combination of ramshackle and restored homes, local people and wealthy second home owners. The library and church were imaculate but many of the other old homes in the center of the town were derelict. The harbor itself was empty of boats other than an houseboat used as a bar and our charts said it had poor holding. The two moorings didn't look like they had been maintained. Nevertheless it's a beautiful spot and I suspect will gradually be gentrified.
Scott, Peter, Julie and I posing at Tippi's

The beach at Tippi's Restaurant, Governor's Harbor, but
on the Atlantic side

Our stomachs were signaling lunchtime and on the recommendation of Mr. Cates, we headed for Tippi's Restaurant on the Atlantic side. Thank you Mr. Cates! What a lovely out of the way spot with a much more ambitious menu than usual. Everything was delicious and what a view. A long walk down the beach helped our digestion before heading back to Rock Sound.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Island School and Southern Eleuthera

Heather, Scott, Peter, Julie and our charming guide, Vanessa

The dining room at lunch
Classrooms at the Island School - notice the solar panels
on the roof
This detail shows the wall's construction. Notice the various
colored bottles and mosaic mask embedded
Julie marvels at the beautiful hand built walls in the
carpentry shop

Mr. Cates at Dingle Motors had strongly suggested we visit the Island School at the south end of Eleuthera and we are SO glad we did. He called to let them know we were coming and even though it was Easter weekend, they were very happy to show us over the complex. Chris and Pam Maxey founded this school in 1998 in conjunction with the Lawrenceville School in N.J. Now students from all over the U.S., Canada and the Bahamas attend, usually for one semester. The mission of the school is:
"Developing an intimate sense of place in students through immersion experiences in the natural and cultural environment;
Modeling sustainability of individual lifestyles, larger communities, and the systems that support them;
Creating an intentional community whose members are cognizant of their abilities, limitations, and effect on others." (check out all the details of this fascinating organization at
In addition to the semester school they also run a middle school for Bahamian students and the Cape Eleuthera Institute, a research center. Good students from the middle school often receive scholarships to private schools in the U.S. Mr. Cates' children and grandchildren have benefited from this opportunity.
Hydroponic lettuce beds fertilized by the
water from the fish tanks
The handsome open air school buildings are surrounded by the sea. There are many solar panels and they process fry oil and make bio diesel fuel for their vehicles. They have a fish farm and grow vegetables. A sustainable life style is their goal. The research institute next door is growing fast and they are now offering summer programs as well.
Fish tanks for growing both fresh and salt water fish
A local family posed for us in front of their
small market in Freetown

Princess cruise ship off their "private island facility",
on Eleuthera but gated off from the rest of us

We also visited the two marinas at this far end of the island - the simple but well protected Davis Harbor Marina ($1 a foot) and the very fancy Cape Eleuthera Marina ($2.50 a foot), also well protected but with rental homes, condos, restaurant and a hotel. The small villages here seem to have more churches than homes and stores, but there is some employment at the Princess Cruise line "private island" facility. A small village of shops sell tourist souvenirs outside the gated "resort". The beaches at this end of the island are nice, not great, but deserted.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter and Homecoming Weekend at Rock Sound, Eleutera

Dancing knee to knee!

Julie and I with a handsome policeman

Rock Sound is a large bay providing protection from most directions, although it would be necessary to move to the far side if the wind came out of the west. Although the charts showed large areas of 6 and 5 feet, we saw at least 2 additional feet above that at all times in the area off the town. The first night we anchored in a 7 foot spot just south of the town beach, but then on the advice of George and Nancy on "Trumpeter" we moved the next morning to a nice spot further north, just off a rusty old tank on the shore and slightly north of the town and customs dock. We never saw less than 8 feet here.

This fellow did a solo dance with beer can
in front of the stage before the general crowd
started dancing

Couldn't resist several pictures of the carefully dressed
local beauties
Style knows no age limit!

We had lucked out once more and arrived on the first day of the Easter weekend, and the annual Rock Sound Homecoming Weekend. Regardless of the strong religious orientation of the Bahamas people, this meant drinking and loud music at night so we were glad to have moved further away from the festivities on the town beach. That doesn't mean we weren't delighted to go - quite the opposite. It was a lot of fun, although most of the scheduled programs started after midnight! That included the fashion show (with kids!) that we really wanted to see.
The festivities lasted from Thursday to Monday. A schedule was posted but they started on Bahamas time. Booths with food and beverages lined the beach and there was live music every night. We had lunch there one day and stayed till midnight another.
Arriving at the Rock Sound Methodist Church for Easter

Cruisers dressed in their Sunday best. Julie even had a hat!

We celebrated Easter as well. On Sunday Julie and I attended the Methodist Church along with 8 other cruisers. It was a lovely service with lots of hymns accompanied by the organ, guitar and drummer. The church was beautifully decorated with (artifical) flowers but real palm leaves. The congregation was very welcoming and is clearly a strong loving community.
The morning started in a non religious Easter tradition. I had thought to buy Easter candies and made Easter baskets (with green plastic grass) to deliver to Trumpeter, Alex and Carol on "Nepenthe", and Julie and Peter.
Scott and I in front of the Ocean Hole at Rock Sound

Peer down in to the clear depths and you'll see a few fish
waiting to be fed

Rock Sound itself is a prosperous looking small village of mostly Bahamians with a few small cottages for rent right in town. A big attraction is Ocean Hole Park - this is a sink hole in the limestone, very deep but with underground connection to the ocean somehow (it's .25 miles from the sound). We didn't have a swim but we brought fish food.
Scott and I walked over to the Atlantic side and the long white beach there. Earlier with the car we had stopped at the small cottage inn and the North Side restaurant run by a lovely Bahamian woman, Rosy. We had really hoped to eat there but it didn't work out. She picks up and returns folk who need a ride from Rock Sound. Call her (334-2573) or arrange with Mr. Cates at Dingle Motors.
The lined ditch going from left to right is a dingle. Mr Cates
of Dingle Motors told us so!
By now you realize how fascinated I am by these soft color
dappled walls here (and elsewhere)

A quiet well kept street in Rock Sound

Purple mangoes, unfortunately not ripe, but beautiful