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Phantom Vacation

January 15, 2004

Anchored off the dock in Baker's Bay; not a cruise ship in sight

Last week Eileen's brother Dennis and his wife Darcy visited us in Green Turtle Cay in the northern Bahamas. During their visit they enjoyed the shore side facilities at a local resort: swimming pool, bar, gourmet restaurant. When they left on Friday, we felt a little deprived; maybe we deserved a vacation, too. Fortuitously, we just happened to be a dozen miles from Baker's Bay on Great Guana Cay -- a perfect holiday opportunity.

Great Guana is southeast of Green Turtle in the Sea of Abaco. In the 1980's an extensive resort complex was built at Baker's Bay, on the northwestern end of the island, to serve as a cruise ship stop for Premier Cruise Lines. World wide, cruise ships seem to be a growth sector within a generally moribund tourism economy. While airlines are going broke for a lack of passengers and hotel vacancy rates are soaring at many fun-in-the-sun vacation spots, the big cruise lines are adding to their fleets -- witness the recent launching of the "Queen Mary II", the largest cruise ship ever built. We're not talking travelling on a shoestring here. For the price of a berth on the maiden voyage of "Queen Mary II" we could keep cruising on "Little Gidding" for several years to come.

A shoal bisects the Sea of Abaco a couple of miles northwest of Great Guana, necessitating a brief jog out into the open ocean. The two passes that provide access to deep water -- Whale Cay Channel and Loggerhead Channel -- face the prevailing wind and seas; they're only navigable in reasonably settled conditions. A cold front passed through last weekend and it wasn't until Monday that the waves had acquiesced enough for us to attempt the passes.

We had a comfortable beam reach down to Whale Cay Channel. A playful dolphin accompanied us for part of the way. Our three mile jaunt into the open Atlantic was lumpy, but manageable. We ducked back into Loggerhead Channel, followed the navigational markers leading into Baker's Bay, and joined the handful of sailboats at anchor off the resort dock. The dock and beach were empty; there wasn't a cruise ship in sight. This didn't surprise us. It's been over a decade since a cruise ship has visited Baker's Bay.

Premier struck Baker's Bay off its list of stops back in 1993. We've read that this was due to the fact that too many visits had to be cancelled because of rough conditions in Loggerhead Channel. A few years ago our friend Frank gave us a different explanation. For a number of years Frank lived alone at Baker's Bay on his ageing power boat "Some R Magic". (He was known as the Mayor of Baker's Bay until one day he fell in love, moved off the island, and his unattended boat was blown away in a storm -- but that's another story.) According to Frank, Premier had a dispute with the developer of the Baker's Bay resort and decided to construct its own island retreat elsewhere, thus gaining total control over the stopover (and retaining all of the income it generated). Whatever the reason, the facilities at Baker's Bay languished for a time while the developer sought another cruise line client. Without proper maintenance the structures slowly deteriorated. There were no takers and everything was finally abandoned.

We began our resort holiday on Tuesday morning by taking the dinghy across to the small island facing Baker's Bay. Aptly named "Spoil Bank Cay", it was created when the channel into Baker's Bay was dredged to accommodate large vessels. Now it makes for perfect shelling. David, who's not the world's most patient or observant beachcomber, stumbled upon an unusually colourful, fully intact, sunrise tellin. The rising tide cut short our shelling expedition and we headed back to the abandoned dock near the north end of Baker's Bay.

All the performances at the open air stage were cancelled

Next to the dock were numerous pilings, the remains of underwater pounds that once held dolphins captive for the viewing pleasure of visiting passengers. "We had our dolphin show yesterday," David remarked. We followed the path leading inland from the dock. Casuarina trees were crowding the resort's walkways and obscuring many of the buildings. The first large structure we encountered was an open air theatre. The broken, rusted remains of lighting and sound equipment were still in place. Eileen climbed on stage and surveyed the tiers of empty benches. "Today's performance is cancelled," she announced to the silent audience.

Casuarina and palm trees mostly obscured the main dining hall; we couldn't recommend its meals

Continuing towards the centre of the resort complex, we stopped at a thatched roof tiki bar. "The service here is pretty slow," Eileen complained. The display counters at the gift boutiques were trashed. "If you'd like a souvenir, I'll give you the shell I found," David offered. Further along, in the water sports area, bushes were sprouting among the wrecks of several jet skis. "Never cared for them," David said, "too noisy. Our dinghy is much more practical."

The first time we visited Baker's Bay a half dozen years ago the ceiling fans, stoves, refrigerators, and sinks were still in place in the main dining hall. Now everything was gone; even the ceramic tiles on the counters had been lifted. A full course meal seemed out of the question. "We'll grill some of that pork tenderloin we bought in Florida when we get back to the boat," Eileen promised.

A solitary bird was our only company on the beach

We retraced our steps to the dock and headed down the beach. There was no one else on the mile long crescent of sand. A nervous shore bird darted along a few paces ahead of us. "I guess we beat the crowd," David remarked.

When we got back to the boat David poured a couple of rum drinks and fired up the grill. Eileen played her guitar as dinner cooked. Afterwards, we watched the stars come out one by one in the darkening sky. The wind had died and a quarter moon glimmered on the gently undulating sea. We congratulated each other on a successful vacation: Great weather, lots of healthy exercise, a few souvenirs, good food and drink, fine entertainment. And it hadn't cost us a cent.

David & Eileen