Besides going on an overnighter to Man-O-War Island, which Jim talked about in the last BoatU.S. Log, we were able to visit three other island harbors that we hadn’t been before. We’d heard rave reviews of all of these locations from other boaters so this time we had to see what all the fuss was about first hand. We also revisited a few places and experienced a harrowing Whale Pass crossing as we started the trek north out of the Sea of Abaco, towards the West End.
We decided to travel to the southernmost inhabited spot, at the bottom of the Sea of Abaco, a little hamlet called Little Harbour. This is a bit of a jaunt from our homeport on Elbow Cay so proper planning is a must. Just before you reach the harbor you have to travel through a shallow pass, so you need to have a relatively calm day and plan to arrive at high tide to avoid running aground in the entrance of the shallow, turbulent, and narrow channel making up the entrance into this quaint Little Harbor.
We debated back and forth about taking this trip but, in hindsight, we’re happy we talked ourselves into it. At one point I think Jim vetoed it completely but thought better of it as he reconsidered my enthusiasm to visit an island that’s history is based on artist and sculptor, Randolph Johnston. As it is with all the out islands that make up the Abacos, Little Harbour has a uniqueness and charm all its own. The history alone would tempt a visit and if you were also an appreciator of art as we are, the draw would be magnetic.
In my former life, pre-Jim, I was a part owner of a bronze foundry and studio in northern Michigan, so I had a special interest in this particular artist and the history that surrounds the Johnston family, the gallery, Pete’s Pub, and Little Harbour. The family has achieved international fame using the 5,000-year-old “lost wax” method in the casting of their bronze sculptures. Pete has followed in his famous father’s footsteps as an artist and his son Greg also has the family gift and has apprenticed under his father for the past five years.
|We met Pete in his studio. He showed us this wax bust of a local’s ancestor which he is just completing.|
Once we arrived at the island and secured Kismet to a mooring ball we hopped into our dinghy, ran ashore, and tied up at one of the rustic town docks. We then meandered over to the foundry in hopes of finding someone to whom we could pay our mooring fee. As we rounded the corner of the open-air studio we ran right into Pete himself as he was gluing together a viewing bucket. He let us poke around the studio and we had a look at the wax bust of one of the local’s ancestors that was nearing completion. We were there long enough to gather that Pete is a one unique personality but then you’d have to be to have had your family relocate to this uninhabited cove in the 1950s, after discovering it while sailing in their schooner, the Langosta. They lived in a cave overlooking the harbor while building the family home and eventually the foundry. Pete added the Gallery and the Pub some time later.
|We found this delightful sculpture, by Randolph Johnston, outside not far from the studio.|
Finding that we were a little early for the studio to be open, we headed for Pete’s Pub only to find it also closed for another 45 minutes. This pub is more like a fancy fort a little kid might’ve built on the beach. There are no walls and it’s a haphazard construction of found items. The old hull of the Langosta, the family’s schooner, serves as the bar in this beach establishment that will make you feel like a kid again.
With time before the pub opened, we walked up the stairs at the back of the pub, went up and over the bluff. What we found was in stark contrast to the harbor side with its noisy, roaring waves, high winds, and a salty sea spray that greeted us as soon as we got to the top of the hill. We were totally mesmerized by the rhythm of the waves and by the time we returned to the quiet, calm harbor side and Pete’s Pub they were open. We stayed for the best lunch we’ve had while in the Abacos. Seared tuna sandwich with rice and peas and coleslaw.
After lunch we visited the gallery, which was now open. It’s a large building with three big rooms full of all kinds of art but what intrigued us most were the sculptures outside that were scattered around the harbor that included beautiful turtles, sting rays, birds and more.
On our way back to Sea Spray, on Elbow Cay, we made an afternoon side-trip to Snake Cay on Great Abaco Island. We anchored in the little cove on the north side and dinghied over to the south side and through the windy inlet where below the water there is a cavernous depth full of colorful fish and rays. This was the first time we’d seen a grouping of rays swimming together. Some of them were the beautiful spotted ones we kept hearing about but had remained elusive to us until now. Further into the inlet it got quite shallow as we entered the huge pond that was hidden beyond the shrubbery.
When back at the boat, before we lifted the anchor, Jim got his goggles and swim gear on to go below to change zincs and check the prop. The water is still a little chilly here, so, getting wet was a painful process.
Before we knew it our time at Sea Spray was quickly coming to an end. We planned a few more trips back into Hope Town, one for an Internet connection and the last one to walk the streets and say goodbye to a place we’ve grown to love.
Our departure plan included a visit to few places on our way up to the West End where we’d wait for the perfect day to cross over to Florida. So our itinerary included a one-night stop at Great Guana Cay, a two-night stop at Treasure Cay, a one-night stop back in Green Turtle Cay, and one night anchored out at Great Sale Cay, this time on the north side of the island to get the best wind protection.
We’d been to Great Guana Cay on our last trip by a small boat that a friend had rented for the day. Just a short hop over from Elbow Cay this is a popular island because it has the famous Nippers Bar on the bluff a short walk up from town. This is the site where the Barefoot Man makes regular appearances and people come from all the islands to hear his band play. They also have a famous pig roast every Sunday. We were there on a Tuesday and nothing special was going on but we walked up the hill to Nippers to take photos and watch the waves roll in. We also walked over to Fisherman’s Bay where there’s another popular resort and poolside bar called Grabbers.
|Nippers is a favorite party place in the Abaco Islands. The Barefoot Man has made this bar famous with his lyrics which often mentions this bar.|
Next it was on to Treasure Cay. This was on our must-do list as we missed it in 2006 and people have raved about the beautiful beach there. It’s a more developed part of Great Abaco Island and in fact you may think you were in Florida. The marina is situated in a resort area and has a shopping center with everything you might need as a boater, short term, including grocery and hardware stores, a bakery, canvas shop, bar, and restaurant.
|Certainly one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever been to. It seems like even the air is different here.|
We spent parts of both days there walking the beach, taking photos, and looking for seashells. The color of the water there and the sky were stunning. I don’t know why it seemed ever more brilliant than all the other parts of the islands we’ve visited but the sky was almost a violet blue and the water a milky, greenish turquoise. We were transported. While visiting the beach it was almost like being in some kind of beauty bubble. Jim, the romantic soul that he is, waded out into the water and looked for shells he knew I’d like to take home while I took photos trying to capture the vibrant colors surrounding the beach. Sometimes you just have to pause, look around, close your eyes, listen and inhale, this is what you hope to remember.
|This was the first whole sand dollar we found. But there were bigger ones to come later in the day.|
Leaving Treasure Cay brings us right to the obstacle called the Whale Pass, and if you go through on the inside, as we choose to do this time, you pass by Don’t Rock. This route takes you over shallow water exposed to the huge breaking waves coming directly from the ocean between Great Guana Cay Island and Green Turtle Island. It is shorter going inside than on the outside but it is shallow and those huge waves tend to grow and break rather ruthlessly making our 40-foot Fathom feel more like a toy boat being tossed around by the crest of these rollers. If you go on the outside you may encounter bigger waves but over deeper water and spaced more apart. Either way it can be treacherous. Checking the weather sources available to us the night before, all looked good. When we left the dock in the early morning, it still looked good, fairly calm, and as we commented to each other, very innocent looking. We followed our buddy boat, Freedom’s Turn, which was headed on a narrow course right toward Don’t Rock where we each took a sharp turn just short of the rock into the shallow waters inside of the Whale passage. Up to that point it all looked good and Charlie was well in when we heard over the radio that other boaters had aborted their plans to cross the Whale that day because it was in a “rage.” Well, it took a few minutes to sink in but by that time we were too far in to change course. I have to tell you this was one heck of a ride. These waves would have been a surfer’s dream.
When you feel your boat lifted up on a 10 to 12-foot peaking wave that’s just about to break big time and you can almost see the sunlight through it because it has stretched so tall, it really takes your breath away. It was slow going and the four-mile passage seemed to take forever because it was hard to make headway, especially since we were only going six knots. Because this passage is so shallow, hence the breakers, you have to make sure that you go at high tide so that those rolling waves don’t pick you up and set you back down on the bottom. We commented that this was kind of like a reality amusement park ride. But truthfully, I was not very amused.
The first thing I did as soon as we got through that mess and were tied up at a dock at Green Turtle Cay, was jump off the boat, kiss the dock then I hugged and thanked my captain for getting us through a really tough situation safe and sound. I am truly amazed at how Jim skillfully steered that boat and managed to keep it upright through conditions, in my opinion, that were not meant for boat passage at all. The Fathom handled well and we were more than pleased with its performance under these less than favorable conditions.
After kissing the dock at Green Turtle Cay and getting cleaned up and taking a few deep breaths, we went for a last walk through New Plymouth. These islands are such a treat that it seems like we just said “Hello” yet we have been here for six weeks. Tomorrow we head out to anchor at the remote Great Sale Cay then on to Old Bahama Bay at the West End. So, goodbye Hope Town, Green Turtle Cay, Little Harbour, Marsh Harbour, Man-O-War, Treasure Cay, and Great Guana Cay. Goodbye Abacos. We’ll really miss you and we had a lot fun.