Spanish Wells

We departed the hustle & bustle of Nassau on Good Friday morning, headed for Spanish Wells. We considered making a run for Lynyard Cay in the Abacos, but winds were predicted out of the ENE and building, and would have put 3-4 ft seas on our bow, not a ride we wanted to do for 14 hours. Breaking the trip up would give us a day or so in Spanish Wells, as good a place as any to spend a day or more if the winds piped up. Although it would entail a marina stay, we’d sooner spend it there than anywhere else. As it turns out, four days later we’re still enjoying our stay and the protection from the winds that have been blowing about 20 kts since we arrived.

We arrived at low tide, the approach to the marina is over a flat but we saw no less than 2 ft under the keel. Comfortable enough when no coral heads are in the mix! Since we were here in ’09, we had a reliable track to follow, not always perfect but we know we traveled the path before without problem. We were greeted by Treadway at Yacht Haven, who remembered us from our last visit. Spanish Wells remains one of our favorite places. The town is prosperous, neat as a pin, and the people friendly. The marina provides good protection for sitting out weather, and the proximity to the town either on foot or by bike is a plus. Evening walks through the quiet town are always pleasant here. We decided we would visit nearby Harbor Island via the fast ferry that makes a stopover here on the run from Nassau. $40 each round trip to Dunmore Town, a good day trip that gives us an opportunity to see some sights yet gets us back before suppertime. Bo Hengy II provides a local link between the big city and international travel at Nassau, the out islands and Eleuthera. There is always a flurry of activity surrounding its arrival with folks greeting or bidding farewell to family and friends. Another similar ferry makes the run to Governor’s Harbor from Nassau.

The fast ferry is indeed, fast. The daily run from Nassau to Harbor Island takes about 3 hours including a stopover in Spanish Wells. The stop takes all of 20 minutes, just enough time to transfer freight on and off via fork truck, while some passengers debark and others board for the last leg to Harbor Island. With all aboard, the lines are cast off and the big catamaran moves off the pier and out the narrow channel. The ride from Spanish Wells is the best part of the run since it transits the “Devil’s Backbone”, a notorious reef that girds the northern end of Eleuthera. There is a navigable channel through the reef and numerous coral heads; it is not marked except for a few hunks of rusty steel sticking out of the reef here and there, it is a maze of reefs, beachfront, and coral heads that make the ride quite a thrill, especially clipping along at 25 kts! Cruisers frequently travel the route, but typically with the help of a local pilot who will either lead the way through the treacherous channel or actually come aboard and pilot the boat. Several locals supplement their income by providing pilot services for cruisers. It’s not unusual to see a small boat heading to the dock with a larger yacht right behind.

Harbor Island is a bit more “touristy” a location, with a marina catering to large yachts of the rich and famous. Several restaurants cater to the more refined palate, and the fatter wallet with $40 entrees and a $10 side of fries. We opted for the local snack shack with burgers, fries and a drink for $20 for the both of us. Adequate for our unrefined palates! We missed our chance for a golf cart rental. Going on the advice of a dock neighbor, we held off on finding a rental, the game being that the rates drop an hour after the ferry arrives. The flaw in the plan was that the Easter holiday had carts in high demand, so the price didn’t matter since all the carts were taken. Rule #2 of cruising– opportunity knocks once. We enjoyed our walking tour of the area, although it was pretty hot. We were offered a ride to the beach so we saw the famous pink sand beach and walked along the beach by the beautiful resorts remarkable in the number of people we passed on the beach. A pricey destination for a Caribbean vacation, but nice. We still prefer the solitude and quiet of the uninhabited beaches on the less-accessible Cays. There are numerous beautiful well-kept properties on the island as well as some local homes that are clearly not vacation villas! Some of the construction dates back to the late 1700’s and loyalist emigration at the time of our revolution. The influence is clearly New England, as many of the loyalist settlements are. Very interesting, quaint, both old and present-day Bahamas in the mix. We can say we visited, however unlikely it is that we’ll return. As the time for our departure closed in, we stopped at some of the local shops, a quick visit to the Pigly Wigly (sic) just for the experience, and then made our way back to the ferry which remained at the pier for the afternoon.

The horn sounded and lines were brought aboard promptly and departure was on time. We’re told that the fast ferry is about the only thing in the Bahamas that is on schedule, as our ticket agent forewarned in her Scottish-Bahamian accent: “they don’t wait for no one, don’t be late!” Bo Hengy II slid away from the dock, made a 180 degree turn and in moments was sprinting across the harbor at 25 knots, headed straight at the reef. Without slowing, the Bahamian skipper put the big cat through a series of “S”-turns to keep in the deeper water, the reef passing within a few hundred feet off the beam. After having negotiated some of the reef passages with our boat at six knots in good visibility, the fast ride through the Backbone was quite impressive. We made the return trip on the upper deck outside, our previous trip was inside the cabin, where it’s air conditioned, very quiet, and very smooth. The ride on deck was equally smooth, but the view is much better! A not-to-miss experience for cruisers visiting Spanish Wells! We returned to the dock and learned from our dock neighbor Jody, who had come in her golf cart and was waiting to pick us up- that there was talk of a pot luck at the marina. So Barb had enough time to whip up a quick pizza as our contribution. We enjoyed meeting and greeting some of the other cruisers who, like us, were staying a few days while the winds passed. Same as our previous visit! There are certainly worse places one could be holed up waiting for winds to lay!

Easter Sunday we walked to the Methodist church for services at 11. The church is a beautiful, well kept facility, there were about 120 in the congregation for the second of three services held on Easter. We passed on the sunrise service. The service included a guest speaker who delivered a thoughtful message, a very good speaker and a most appropriate and interesting message. We were happy to have been part of the congregation. We were offered a ride back as we walked to the marina and were happy to hop on the back seat of the cart of an older couple. They pointed out their home along the way, neat as a pin and painted in a brilliant green, typical of the homes on the island. Paint jobs usually include the parged cement block wall in front of the house, the vertical concrete surfaces of the concrete steps and walks, and often the sidewalks and driveways. Many are decorated with hand painted scenes on the walls, downtown buildings sport hand painted signage on the front walls. The paint store here must do a brisk business!

Winds continued. Monday, being a local holiday, there was no ferry service, and the activity around town was notably muted, but still lots of cart traffic with the occasional car. The teens here unsurprisingly, drive the carts fast and loud. Some are tricked out with special rims and some are complete with loud exhaust and louder yet sound systems! There is the sometime passing of a car with squealing tires, booming bass and rattling trunk lid. Some of civilization is simply inescapable! We launched our folding bikes in the afternoon, and rode around the main road of the island, crossed the bridge to Russel Cay, and rode the length of that island as well. All in the span of about two hours at a leisurely pace. We still are trying to figure why one of the residents of Spanish Wells has need of an Escalade to travel the narrow roads here. One trip in a golf cart of all the roads can’t take much more than a full hour. We’re thinking there’s a statement being made there!

The plan at this point is to bike around a bit Tuesday, hit some of the shops and the grocery for last minute needs, and head to the Abacos Wednesday or Thursday depending on the weather. Winds are predicted to subside over the next few days, we’ll probably get a local pilot to lead us out through the Ridley Head Reef to the north, cutting almost two hours from our travel.

One Response to “Spanish Wells”

  1. Mother on 26 Apr 2011 at 8:30 PM #

    Sounds like a pretty neat stop over. If you had to stop because of the wind, you sound like you got exercise too!!
    Love and miss you both,