Bahamas Bertram Adventure
The author and his family take advantage of unemployment and embark on an amazing journey.
By John Brownlee
In the spring of 2005, I found myself between jobs, and so my family and I did what many people do when they find themselves unencumbered by the constraints of employment: we planned an extended vacation.
We purchased a 1991 Bertram 37 Convertible two years earlier, and a large part of the plan for the new boat involved exploring the waters of the Bahamas, our favorite fishing and cruising grounds. Previously, we had owned a 35 Bertram, which had taken us to a great many of the top Bahamian destinations. But a shortage of time had always held us back from going farther into the islands and exploring new territories. With the 37, we began planning what, to us, would be a major expedition.
We decided to cruise the Bahamas chain from north to south, starting at Walkers Cay at the extreme northern end of the Abacos and the Little Bahama Bank, then working our way south as far as we could get, hopefully to Crooked Island. With as much cash as we could gather, and with several credit cards we planned to max out, we headed to Walkers from our home in Islamorada, Florida around the first of May.
Walkers had been devastated by the double blows dealt by back-to-back hurricanes Frances and Jeanne only eight months earlier, in September of 2004, and it has been closed ever since. Those of us who spent time at Walkers in its heyday fervently hope it will someday return in some form or fashion.
We anchored out in Wells Bay at the north end of Grand Cay our first night, and so began our two month-plus journey through one of the most wonderful cruising grounds in the world, one which lies only 50 nautical miles from our own shores. It would take too long to describe the entire adventure, so what follows is a list of the places we enjoyed the most and would highly recommend to anyone seeking a Bahamian adventure of their own. We obviously began in the Abacos, an immensely popular cruising ground, well known and heavily traveled, but that doesn’t mean it is spoiled by any means.
1. Green Turtle Cay: This sleepy gem of an island has been a favorite for years. With several world-class resorts and many outstanding restaurants, Green Turtle has a laid-back ambience that must be experienced to be appreciated. The Green Turtle Club and the Bluff House Resort in White Sound both provide exemplary service, and no trip to the island is complete without hearing the local Gully Roosters band perform.
2. Elbow Cay/Hopetown: Elbow Cay has become one of the hippest places in all of the Bahamas to hang out, and on holiday weekends it does get crowded. But this beautiful cay has so many undeniable assets, it’s worth braving the crowd. The island abounds with great places to find food and drink, including the amazing Abaco Inn, Firefly, Hopetown Harbor Lodge, Sea Spray Resort and Marina and much more. To top it off, climb the Hopetown lighthouse and admire the stunning view.
3. Harbour Island: After our extended cruise through the Abacos, we headed southeast past Hole in the Wall lighthouse on the southern tip of Great Abaco, toward Harbour Island off the northeast tip of Eleuthera. Many luxurious resorts and restaurants populate the island, many of them strung out along the pink sand beach on the eastern shore. Highlights from Harbour island include the Romora Bay Club and Marina, The Landing Restaurant, the Coral Sands Beach Club, Sip Sip, Arthur’s Bakery and Angela’s Starfish restaurant.
4. Cat Island: From Harbour Island, we cruised down the eastern shore of Eleuthera and along the west side of Cat Island to the amazing Hawks Nest Resort and Marina. Cat Island is sparsely populated and you won’t find the multitude of dining and lodging options of the Abacos or Harbour Island. But the fishing here is phenomenal, and you can visit the Hermitage on Mt. Alvernia, the highest point in Bahamas. The Hermitage is a replica of a monastery, which was built by Father Jerome, a priest who built several churches in the Bahamas. It’s worth the climb.
5. San Salvador: Riding Rock Marina at San Salvador sits quite close to some of the best fishing and diving grounds in all of the Bahamas. Two underwater seamounts north of the island hold huge wahoo in the winter, and large schools of yellowfin tuna in the summer. And the southwest point of the island, known as Sandy Point, has extremely deep water running right up to the beach. The highlight of our trip was getting to climb the San Sal lighthouse and light it with the lighthouse keeper. It is one of the few kerosene-fueled, hand-cranked lighthouses still in existence in the Bahamas.
6. Rum Cay: How can one explain Rum Cay? Sumner Point Marina on the island’s southern shore was literally dug from the rocks by owner Bobby Little over many years. Only about 60 people call Rum home, and this island is both as beautiful and as laid-back as it gets. It also has what is arguably the best blue-water fishing in the Bahamas. Several companies had big plans in the early 2000’s to turn Rum into a mega-yacht destination complete with polo fields, but those plans evaporated with the 2008 economic downturn, plunging the island and Sumner Point into financial chaos. But we hear these things are being straightened out and hopefully Rum with return to the wonderful, funky place it once was.
7. Crooked Island District: We never quite made it to Crooked island proper, but we did anchor out at Samana Cay just north of Crooked. Samana is the middle of nowhere, an uninhabited island where you’re decidedly on your own. But it is ringed by an incredible reef system bounding with life and under little pressure, and on our trip, we encountered the largest school of yellowfin tuna I’ve ever seen. The sheer amount of life there was astounding.
8. Stella Maris, Long Island: Stella Maris is a huge real estate venture with a lovely hotel and marina, all of which is run by three German families who came to Long Island in the early 1960s and never went home. The tiny marina has a marine railway and a full service repair shop, one of the few in the southern Bahamas. The hotel sits far above the ocean on a high bluff. This is one of the most beautiful islands in the chain in terms of geography, and as a bonus, you can take a swim in Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest ocean blue hole in the world.
9. Staniel Cay, Exuma: We spent the 4th of July, 2005, at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, one of my favorite spots in the world. The stunning geography of the Exumas must be seen to be believed, and if you find the waters of the Abacos beautiful, you need to visit Exuma. The water seems twice as clear and colorful here. While at Staniel, be sure to dive the cave at Thunderball grotto, plus the caves found at the Rocky Dundas inside Conch Cut. Visit the swimming pigs at Big Majors Spot (warning: they bite) and arrange a cruise through Pipe Creek just to the north. It’s shallow draft country, so leave the Bertram tied up and find a small boat, but it’s one of the most visually impressive bodies of water I’ve ever seen. And lots of bonefish live there.
10. Fresh Creek, Andros: This deep creek has an amazing resource in terms of housing at the Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina. Built years ago by the US government to support the nearby AUTEC acoustic sonar military base, the club offers nice rooms and a restaurant that’s sometimes open, sometimes not. But you can walk across the bridge to Hank’s Place for some truly awesome Bahamian food and a Hanky Panky, Hank’s signature libation. Plus, you’re in the middle of the best bonefishing grounds in the Bahamas.
If you’ve never cruised the Bahamas, make plans to do so. It’s close, it’s easy, and the diversity of islands with their own distinct natural beauty and friendly locals make the island nation a destination that’s hard to beat.
John Brownlee is the host of Anglers Journal Television, and the former editor-in-chief of Marlin and Salt Water Sportsman magazines.