Eleutheran and Other Adventures
Updated: Mar 28, 2019
A group of English Puritans know as the Eleutheran Adventurers sailed from Bermuda in search of religious freedom in 1649. They named the island they settled Eleuthera, from the Greek word for freedom, "eleuther." Spanish enslavement had eliminated the entire Lucayan Indian population by 1550, and the island had been uninhabited for about 100 years. Descendants of these Puritan settlers comprise the local white population, many of whom still earn their living through fishing, and who operate many local businesses.
The first notable difference between Eleuthera and the other Far Bahama islands is the racial composition of the local population, which has many more white Bahamians ( 85% of the total Bahamian population is black). The island is a study in contrasts: local black settlements of brightly painted stucco and wood; charming, victorian homes surrounded by hibiscus and bougainvillea; many caves, gracious resorts, and stunning ocean beaches of powdery, shimmering sand, streaked with pink coral.
Rock Sound offers a four mile long harbor in a well-protected anchorage. We were delighted to meet up again with our friends Tim and Karen from Grace V, out of Toronto. Karen is a casting director who manages to work part-time while sailing. Although we have met other sailors who work while sailing, they seem to be a rarity. Most of the live-aboard sailors we have met are retirees (of all ages), and Bahamas repeaters, who come down to sail every winter, while they can. We have met the occasional cruising family, whose kids are home-schooled on board. Even though there are cell towers on almost all the populated islands, cell coverage can be spotty and is non-existent on passages, which makes work and school challenging. Theoretically, one can plan to be in a particular place at a particular time; however, the incessant fronts that come through all winter have the final say on where we need to go to duck the strong clocking winds that follow them.
We hiked together as the sun rose high, warming the inland road, a mile and a half across the island to the gorgeous ocean beach, graced with limestone cliffs. There were a few upscale homes to the north, and one well-known restaurant, Rosie's Nort' Side. We were surprised and happy that this ocean shore was not strewn with plastic, as so many are. On the return trip, we hiked to an ocean blue hole just past the elementary school, where we heard the happy shouts of local kids on recess. Fish swim the perimeter of the ocean hole, and approach human visitors, because they are fed. This amusement, delightful to many visitors, is particularly disruptive to the natural ecosystem. Nearby, a lovely Bahamian woman named Gigi sold locally-made gifts (and fish food) including straw work, shell and beaded jewelry, and locally made hot sauce.
We spent a day on the boat, waiting out strong Northeast winds. The following day, Christoph and I explored the blue hole south of town known as "The Boiling Hole" across Queens Highway from the Allen Chapel AME Church. There are many churches on all the inhabited islands we visited, of various Christian denominations. Their physical condition is extremely variable. This church was well-maintained and immaculate. We followed a shady footpath through the woods to the Boiling Hole, and found that it wasn't boiling ––an effect caused by gas bubbling to the surface. Just behind the blue hole lies "The Cathedral, "a series of caves where enormous banyan roots cascade into the karst, limestone formations eroded over millennia by the ocean.
We left Rock Sound for Governor's Harbour, a four-hour sail north in strong east winds and occasional squalls. We traveled with our with friends from Montreal––Daniel and Lynn on Asana, and Jacques and Diane on Brin de Folie. We were anchored in the harbor, reputed to have poor holding, by noon, but our buddy- boats picked up moorings from French Leave resort. This allowed us to use the resort's convenient dinghy dock to bring our folding bikes ashore. The afternoon weather settled and the six of us explored the island by bike, crossing the spit onto Cupid's Cay, where the Puritans first established their seat of government. The homes and businesses in the settlement were diverse, including a local bakery, gift shops, and a dive shop, where Christoph bought much-needed diving weights.
We ended the day with a drink at the poolside bar overlooking the harbor. I enjoyed making such fun use of my high school French, even though our friends' English is far superior!
The next day, Christoph and I rode our bikes to the magnificent Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, part of the Bahamas National Trust. The Preserve protects 25 acres of native coppice for conservation, research and education on endemic Bahamian species of flora and fauna, including butterflies, bats, bees, crabs, turtles, and birds. The preserve currently contains more than 85% of the endemic plant species found in the Bahamas. All this glory is displayed throughout the preserve's lush and winding nature paths and natural habitats, and illuminated through informative exhibits on medicinal plants, edible history, poisonous plants, ephiphytes, mangroves and more. We caught glimpses of bananaquits flitting about and were serenaded by warblers. We were so heartened to see the ongoing efforts made to maintain, restore and provide education about the natural environment. I also learned that the ubiquitous casuarina, or Australian pine, introduced in the 1930's and now seen on virtually every shore, is actually an uncontrollable invasive species that is contributing to the loss of biodiversity and native flora.
We had local grouper and tuna for lunch at nearby Tippy's, a famed beach restaurant, brightly decorated with colorful sculpted heads and intriguing paintings by local artists.
Our last Eleutheran anchorage was at Goulding Cay, near the famous Glass Window, a bridged breach at the narrowest part of the island. A natural bridge between the ocean side and the bay side was destroyed by the ocean's incessant pounding, and the manmade bridge was knocked 7 feet west by a rogue wave in 1991. The bridge has been repaired, offering a stunning view of the pounding Atlantic ocean to the east, and the tranquil turquoise bay to the west.
The island of Spanish Wells lies just north of Eleuthera. We weighed anchor at noon on March 11, (Happy Birthday Sam and Nina!) and motor-sailed in Southeast winds, arriving at Meeks Patch, a series of small limestone cays across from the settlement, at 3 p.m. We were joined at the anchorage by sailboats Asana and Brin de Folie. Once again, we took our bikes ashore at the settlement, dotted with locally owned businesses owned by white Bahamians, including a grocery, hardware store and marine store. Eventually, we found our way to Wreckers , an outdoor restaurant overlooking the harbor. The afternoon was hot and sunny, perfect for a harbor- side lunch.
There was still time to snorkel in the afternoon, so Christoph and I headed across the anchorage to the North point. Both coral and fish seemed sparse here, but a long swim was the perfect end to a hot day.
Following a day on board riding out strong clocking winds, the six of us braved the long dinghy ride in East head winds and choppy seas to the shore of Spanish Wells with our bikes. We arrived soaked! Lynn had arranged for Pinder's, one of the local businesses, to carry us by water and land taxi to the Harbor Island ferry, so we could explore this "upscale" island.
The ferry was a brilliant alternative to attempting the highly dangerous approach through shoals to Harbor Island, through the part of Eleuthera known as the Devil's Backbone. (In fact, it is essential that entering boats hire a local pilot). Our taxi driver was an older Pinder, who regaled us with stories about his past life as a cargo ship captain, loading boats with produce and transporting the goods to Nassau. He said that farming on Eleuthera was totally wiped out by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Another major source of income for generations was sponging. Pinder family businesses are found throughout the Bahamian islands. Our driver informed us that he and his family are descendants of the original Puritan settlers.
Once at Harbor Island, we rode past flower gardens and charming Victorian homes to the beach to dig our toes into the gorgeous pink sand. We had amazing tuna burgers at Sip Sip, another wonderful beachfront restaurant, and took the ferry back to Eleuthera, where Mr. Pinder was waiting to meet us and transport us back to Spanish Wells.