Elbow Cay & Hopetown, Abaco


The lighthouse at Hopetown on Elbow Cay greeted us as we headed in from the Sea of Abaco, more a bight than a sea, but that’s what it’s named. We had a very pleasant cruise from Lynyard Cay, with light breezes and calm seas.


Hopetown dates from Colonial days. It was established by Loyalists who didn’t agree with the Colonists waging the “War for Independence” as it is called here. Many came here, some to New Providence, and others to Spanish Wells, a bit to the east on the Eleuthera chain. That European influence can be seen in the architecture, the lilt of the dialect, clearly different from what is heard in the other islands, and the industriousness of the descendants. Early settlers were compelled to find new ways to make a living, and most chose to make their living from the sea in some way. Pretty good choice, considering the inhabitants of Hopetown could practically stand on the sound shore and pee into the ocean. Fishermen, boat builders, pirates, and even some lumberjacks evolved from the early settlers. At one time, Abaco was a major lumber producer, the large stands of pine were all but wiped out by logging operations that continued into the 1950’s. Well, many of the settlers returned to the states after their side lost, deciding it would be better to be prosperous than principled (politicians all, no doubt)!

I digress….


The area has an interesting and varied history, lots of characters. At one period in its history, as with most of the Bahamas, the business of salvaging the contents of ships or “wracking” was big business. Ships would frequently come onto the treacherous banks just off shore, be grounded and wrecked. The “wrackers’ salvaged the contents as well as the ships themselves. When the lighthouse was erected in 1838, the locals were up in arms. They knew that the lighthouse meant the end to their lucrative salvage business, it’s beacon warning ships away from the dangers of the reef. Today, the lighthouse is one of only three hand wound kerosene lights still in service in the world. It is a marvel of engineering considering when it was constructed and what was involved in simply getting the material on site. It’s beacon now is a reminder of the heritage of the people inhabiting the island.


Elbow Cay is home to many vacation homes. The old buildings in the town that once were home to Loyalists, now serve as vacation cottages. Brightly painted, and wonderfully maintained, A striking departure from the run-down derelict structures we have come to expect wherever we go ashore, and a radical difference from the filth and squalor of Nassau, only a hundred miles to the south. A walk down the streets of Hopetown is like no other we’ve seen here, with the tidy homes, flowers and gardens, and absence of trash on the streets. The local Methodist church carrilon can be heard a couple times a day, as old hymns drift across the harbor, accompanied by the sound of the ocean surf meeting the beach just across the low ridge behind town. As we sit in the harbor, we can hear the sounds of the ocean, yet we’re in perfectly calm water, with just a breeze blowing. It will be on our “top ten” list for the Bahamas, for certain!


Dottie & Ken on Dreamweaver joined us for our tour of the lighthouse.


Ken is a “retired” plumber like myself, so our conversation gravitated toward things “shop” and we both took a keen interest in the mechanical workings of the light and the drive. It is just amazing that such technology was developed in the early 1800’s, and the fact that it still functions some 180 years later is quite remarkable. The lens housing pictured here rotates around the lamp, and is so well balanced that a touch of a finger on the housing will set it into motion. The housing is cast iron, and we judged it to weigh in the thousands of pounds! I imagine getting spare parts can be a problem, but the light still functions as it has for all those years, and has withstood many severe hurricanes in addition to the test of time. Just amazing!!


After our tour, the gals & guys headed across the harbor in respective dinghies, the girls for shopping, and the guys in search of, well, guy stuff. Cigars. Well, Ken doesn’t do cigars, but he went along for the hunt. One overpriced Partagas Cubano cigarillo, I just can’t bring myself to pay $18 for a cigar that may or may not be a genuine Cuban. Many are counterfeit, the lure of buying a cheap Dominican, dressing it up in a knockoff Cuban band, and selling it for double the price to unsuspecting and unknowledgeable tourists is irresistable. It is nearly impossible to tell the difference unless you’re an expert.

Dreamweaver headed out in the afternoon, toward Marsh Harbor, and will likely preceed us on their leg back stateside. They plan to leave the boat on the hard for a period while they return to California to work for a while and take care of some business. We wish them well, and hope to meet up again before we head north.


Fortunately for our pups, we’ll spend two days here, with lots of shore time. Poor Sammy is moving very slowly, payback for the past 4 days of acting like a puppy! Hopetown is a delightful spot for an evening walk down the quiet streets of the settlement, the lighthouse overlooking the quiet evening calm, the sound of the surf in the background and the silent sentinal of the old kerosene light blinking through the night. Life is good in the Abacos!

2 Responses to “Elbow Cay & Hopetown, Abaco”

  1. the eichers on 06 May 2009 at 5:22 PM #

    Hi Barb and Steve – Happy Birthday Steve!! What a way to spend your birthday – in Abaco – nice! Hope all is well with you both – will try to touch base on Skype soon. Eleanor & Bill

  2. Leanne on 30 Jun 2009 at 6:21 PM #

    Hi guys,
    It was fantastic meeting you of all places Hope Town, in the Bahamas. We enjoyed cruising the Bahamas and look forward to cruising to La Paz, Mexico in November on a Selene 48′. My husband and I will be joining the FUBAR rally so we will be going along with 55 other motor yachts (6 Selenes signed up so far). Enjoy your travels.


    Leanne McNally