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Cruis­ing the south­ern Ba­hamas The LeShaw Fam­ily

SOwhy should you cruise to the south­ern Ba­hamas? Our fam­ily–Jim (old), Cuqui (??), Nico (18), Andy (16), and our dog, Flecha (19 lbs.)—de­cided to find out on a sixweek sum­mer cruise aboard Thing 1 Thing 2, our 34-foot PDQ pow­er­cat. The an­swer: the friendly, wel­com­ing peo­ple, beau­ti­ful de­serted beaches, crys­tal clear wa­ter, and ab­sence of other cruis­ers in the least trav­eled, most re­mote part of The Ba­hamas.

The “south­ern Ba­hamas” is more a con­cept than a strict geo­graph­i­cal des­ig­na­tion–many of the is­lands gen­er­ally con­sid­ered part of the re­gion are ac­tu­ally lo­cated in what is, ge­o­graph­i­cally speak­ing, the cen­tral Ba­hamas. Th­ese is­lands— the Ragged Is­lands, Long Is­land, Crooked Is­land, Ack­lins, Con­cep­tion, Cat Is­land, Mayaguana, Rum Cay, San Sal­vador, Lit­tle Inagua, Great Inagua, and oth­ers—have names that are of­ten un­known to all but the most sea­soned Ba­hamian cruis­ers. His­tor­i­cally th­ese is­lands have de­pended on farm­ing and salt pro­duc­tion rather than fish­ing and tourism.

One rea­son for this is that the south­ern Ba­hamas are re­mote. Lo­cated on Great Ex­uma Is­land, Ge­orge Town is of­ten con­sid­ered to be the jump­ing-off point for cruis­ing the south­ern Ba­hamas. Be­cause this “start­ing point” is about 275 nautical miles south­east of Mi­ami, as the crow flies (and far more as the boat floats), few cruis­ers plan a trip to this part of the Ba­hamas. An­other rea­son is that once you are in the south­ern Ba­hamas, the dis­tances are vast. The is­lands, which stretch south to­ward Cuba and Haiti, east, al­most to the Turks and Caicos, and even a bit north from Ge­orge Town, cover an area of more than 20,000 square nautical miles. In ad­di­tion, much of the coastal area is lit­tered with flats, shoals, and coral heads, some­times caus­ing dis­tance trav­eled to far ex­ceed the “map dis­tance.” the south­ern Ba­hamas, is a study in con­trasts. On the one hand, it is a port fre­quented by cruis­ers. The cap­i­tal of The Ex­u­mas, Ge­orge Town is also the most pop­u­lous set­tle­ment in the is­land chain with a pop­u­la­tion of about 1,500. Yet, there is not a sin­gle op­er­at­ing ma­rina or ma­rine fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity—fuel and drink­ing wa­ter must be jerry-jugged to the boat from the town’s only fuel sta­tion. There is a dearth of ma­rine me­chan­ics and re­pair fa­cil­i­ties, and not a sin­gle op­er­at­ing haul-out fa­cil­ity. There is a large (by Ba­hamian stan­dards) gro­cery store, sev­eral liquor stores, a few res­tau­rants, small ho­tels, and a ma­rine hard­ware store that re­sem­bles a thrift shop that dou­bles as a gift shop.

The har­bor is large—about five miles long and one mile wide. Most cruis­ers an­chor across from the “main­land,” as Great Ex­uma is known, in the lee of ei­ther Stock­ing Is­land or Elizabeth Is­land. The Ge­orge Town town cen­ter is based around “Lake Victoria,” a fully en­closed lake with a nar­row cut to al­low dinghy ac­cess un­der a low bridge. Vis­it­ing cruis­ers may tie their ten­ders at the dinghy dock be­hind the gro­cery store or the dinghy dock be­hind the gas sta­tion.

2015, a large por­tion of the work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion has since left the is­land in search of work, leav­ing aban­doned homes and busi­nesses. For this rea­son, it is im­por­tant to take care in re­ly­ing on any cruis­ing guide writ­ten be­fore 2015. Long Is­land is, how­ever, still an en­chant­ing is­land that is well worth a visit.

At the north end of Long Is­land is Cape Santa Maria, which boasts one of the most beau­ti­ful white beaches I have ever seen—it goes on for more than a mile and is home to a small re­sort with a restau­rant and bar. The wa­ter is crys­tal clear and deep enough that you can an­chor in pro­tected wa­ters within yards of the beach.

Af­ter sev­eral days at Cape Santa Maria, we headed south to Salt Pond, a small set­tle­ment with a fairly pro­tected har­bor about mid­way through the is­land. We set our an­chor and took the dinghy to shore, where we found a small but well-stocked food mar­ket with fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, a fuel sta­tion with a fuel dock but no drink­ing wa­ter, and a Ba­hamas Tourist As­so­ci­a­tion of­fice run by a friendly, knowl­edge­able, and bare­foot woman named Stephanie. Be­cause of the shoals and other ob­sta­cles pre­vent­ing ma­rine travel in a straight line on the west­ern shore of Long Is­land, we con­cluded it was more prac­ti­cal to see the is­land by land. With help from Stephanie, we lo­cated the lo­cal car rental of­fice–ac­tu­ally a woman’s home, with a few ex­tra cars that she rents out, lo­cated just a short dinghy ride from our an­chor­age. There, we rented a small car with an odome­ter show­ing more than 165,000 miles. The ex­pe­ri­ence was some­what dif­fer­ent than the typ­i­cal rental car agency as we were not asked for a driver li­cense or other iden­ti­fi­ca­tion nor for a credit card or any other form of de­posit. In fact, she didn’t even ask when we planned to re­turn the car. But the well-worn car ran with­out a prob­lem.

A road map was not nec­es­sary as Long Is­land has a sin­gle main road, Queen’s High­way, that runs the length of the is­land. But what the is­land lacks in roads it makes up for in sheer vol­ume of churches. On our drive from Salt Pond to Clarence Town, a large set­tle­ment with a scenic pro­tected har­bor on Long Is­land’s eastern shore, we counted more churches than cars and peo­ple com­bined!

The epi­cen­ter of Long Is­land is Dead­man’s Cay, which in­cludes many of the govern­ment of­fices as well as a few res­tau­rants, a gas sta­tion, and the pri­mary air­port on the is­land. Max’s Conch House, a fun tiki-style restau­rant and bar, ap­pears to also be the so­cial cen­ter of the is­land, both among lo­cals and vis­i­tors.

The ab­so­lute high­light of our Long Is­land road trip, though, was Dean’s Blue Hole. Lo­cated just south of Dead­man’s Cay, and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble down a dirt road, this in­land sink­hole was filled with beau­ti­ful blue wa­ter as clear as any body of wa­ter I have ever seen. At 662 feet deep, it is pur­port­edly the deep­est blue hole in the world, and we were for­tu­nate to be the only vis­i­tors

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