A favorable weather window cemented plans to move north out of the Exumas and begin the inevitable movement northward through the Abacos. Always a bittersweet decision, it marks the beginning of the end of our stay in the Bahamas. For insurance reasons, we must be north of Florida by 1 June, so that deadline shapes our cruise plans.
We cruised from Highborne Cay northward through the easternmost fringes of “Middle Ground”, an area of the bank that is populated with many coral heads, some of which lie less than 5 feet from the surface. The depth varies from about 9 feet to 20, so depth is not the issue. Our transit took us through this area during low tide, so extra care must be taken in negotiating this area. In good sunlight, it’s easy: the coral heads show up as vivid black blotches in the water ahead, simply avoid those black spots and the trip is safe. In cloud cover, the water takes on a greenish cast and the heads lose their definition, melding into the green. Not good. Going 6 knots, contact with a coral head can result in a very bad day. Fortunately, despite having some cloud cover in the early part of the trip, the passage through the most densely populated coral heads was aided with full sunlight. We arrived in good time at Royal Island for our overnight stay before making the hop across the Northeast Providence Channel to the Abacos.
Royal Island is owned by a development group, it’s purported that Roger Staubach is one of the owners. The development launched with grandiose plans of an elite enclave of luxury homes, a mega-yacht marina, golf course and resort with amenities to rival the most exclusive destinations in the Caribbean. The reality is an island that has been denuded and left to languish, with all development halted, typical of most developments in the Bahamas. Half-started developments outnumber completions probably ten to one, hands down. They are a blight on the beauty of the islands, and a testament to bureaucratic mismanagement. The upside is that Royal Island has reverted back to open access for cruisers after a period where developers were hinting at prohibiting cruisers from anchoring in the natural harbor. Anchoring in Bahamian waters cannot be restricted, and there have been other developments that have attempted to restrict access to the waters adjacent to their properties with some degree of success. Money talks, big money talks loudly. But for now, Royal remains a popular destination for cruisers as a protected stopover while making the jump between the Abacos and Exumas.