Thursday, March 5, 2015

Long Island Discoveries

Long Island, Bahamas
February 23 – March 6, 2015

On October 17, 1492, Columbus made landfall at Long Island. Cape Santa Maria, the northern point of the island, is so named because Columbus’s flagship vessel, the Santa Maria, purportedly sank on the dangerous reefs off the cape. A bay at the northeast tip is called Columbus Bay because he himself rowed in there.

We made landfall near Cape Santa Maria on February 23, 2015 and anchored in Calabash Bay on the doorstep of Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort. The resort is set on a long arc of powdered sugar beach that a travel magazine placed among the ten best beaches in the Caribbean.
Award-winning Cape Santa Maria beach
Our second stop on the western shore took us south of the Tropic of Cancer. It feels like it! Temperatures have pushed 90 every day. (Not complaining.) From there, we made our way to the centrally located Thompson Bay, a roomy double bay which quite a few cruisers make their home base for a month or two.
Sign on Thompson Bay waterfront
In January at Great Harbour Cay, our first landfall in The Bahamas this year, we met and hit it off with a delightful couple, Bruce and Gayle, who have come to Long Island for eight years and recently built a beach cottage in Thompson Bay. The first night there, they welcomed us, and during our stay introduced us to many locals and cruisers. The community of Salt Pond at Thompson Bay is full of friendly, warm people, whether locals, winter residents, or other boaters.
At "Souse Out" - Bruce and Gayle on either side of post
We’ve attended events such as happy hours at restaurants, a cruiser’s appetizer party on the beach, and a “Souse Out” to raise funds for the annual sailing regatta. Souse is a breakfast food: meat simmered long in a broth of lime juice and water with onions and potatoes. Keith and I both went for the pig’s feet souse, a Bahamian favorite. We can attest that it’s mighty tasty!
Pigs feet souse - yum!
You can’t see an 80-mile-long island from a boat, though, so we rented a car for two days. Each day we were gone for twelve hours. On the first, we explored the southern half of the island; the second day we ventured north. Up and down the island, settlements are named for plantations owned by British Loyalist families in the late 1700s. Family names like Cartwright, Fox, Adderly, and Knowles are still the main surnames. These families built homes, stone walls (margins), and paths through the brush with slave labor. The slaves cleared fields and planted cotton. But, tragically, there was only one growing season. The cotton depleted the poor soil of its minimal nutrients, and without livestock to fertilize and replenish the earth, a second crop failed. The people resorted to fishing, sponging, boat-building, and subsistence farming. Long Island, however, is now the leading provider of produce to the rest of The Bahamas.
Old French church south of Salt Pond
Tree about to burst into a riot of color
The southern half of Long Island is home to one of the wonders of the world. Just off the beach at Turtle Cove lies Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest of its kind with a recorded depth of 663 feet. Adjacent turquoise shallows only accentuate the midnight depths. We swam across the hole, and thanks to a sweet young couple who loaned us masks and snorkels, snorkeled at the edge. But that wasn’t the exciting part. A dive platform is moored in the middle of the blue hole. This is where a world championship free dive competition is held each year. Two divers were on the platform training when we arrived. During our time there, one of them did a practice free dive. First he put himself in a relaxed state, lowering his heart and breathing rates. His partner gave a countdown, and he disappeared underwater. For over four minutes! Keith and I were both on the platform when he resurfaced. His partner reminded him to “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” He had plummeted to a depth of over 300 feet (no fins) and it took him a good while to recover. Come to find out, this was the current world record holder, William Trubridge. He has set world records fifteen times and, when stationary, can hold his breath for seven and a half minutes! Trubridge lives nearby in order to do one or two training dives three times a week. Pretty routine for him, pretty exceptional for us!
Dean's Blue Hole
William Trubridge preparing for a free dive
Resurfaced after four-plus minutes in the depths (with training partner)
Keith chatting up the divers
Another stop on our southern tour of discovery was Clarence Town. The main attractions in town are two twin-towered churches built by Father Jerome. He had been trained in England as an architect before entering the Anglican priesthood. After a 1908 hurricane destroyed parts of The Bahamas, the Anglican Church sent the priest -architect to help rebuild. He designed seven sturdy churches on Long Island, more on other cays. Their hurricane-proof thick walls have stood the test of more than a century. One of those two churches in Clarence Town is the Anglican Church of St. Paul situated on a hilltop above the harbor. At some point, Father Jerome converted to Catholicism and built a second church on a second hilltop in Clarence Town, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Visitors to this church can climb wooden ladders through narrow openings to the towers for a view of the harbor’s curving bands of azure and aquamarine.
St. Paul's Anglican Church (note towers of other church just to right of this church)
St. Peter and St. Paul's Catholic Church
Our south Long Island sightseeing included walks on spectacular beaches and a delicious dinner at Seaside, a very cool open-air beachfront restaurant. We chatted with the other diners and found out that one of them had lived in an apartment at the very home in Nassau where Keith lived as a teenager!
Silted in tugboat at abandoned salt flats on south Long Island 
The next day we headed to the northern end of the island. There, the scenery is spectacular beyond description, beyond the abilities of our camera to capture it. Bluewater waves crash against the rocky shore at the base of Cape Santa Maria’s dramatic white cliffs, then flow into two exquisitely calm jade-colored lagoons. A monument to Columbus and, ironically, the Lucayan Indians (who all died within fifty years of his landfall) stands over the cape.
The white cliffs at Cape Santa Maria
Blue Lagoon at Cape Santa Maria
Columbus Monument
On our way to the cape, we tracked down Elsie Knowles, an endearing woman who does straw crafts and whose handiwork has been documented at the Smithsonian Institute. We bought a few items at a price that seemed too low for all the time she must have spent on them.
With Elsie the straw lady
Then it was lunch at Stella Maris, a shore-to-shore resort situated above stunning beaches and rocky headlands, that has been run by the same family for fifty years—probably the longest continually operating, privately owned resort in The Bahamas. We picked up a map of the property, which includes the Adderly Plantation ruins. We’d heard they were impossible to find, but not with a map! The buildings, dating back to 1820, are nearly intact, excluding roofs. More impressive were the walls and several hundred yards of stone paths built up several feet above the surrounding mangrove swamp.
Adderly Plantation ruin with tree in place of roof
Untold man hours to build this 5' high stone path
We closed our Long Island tour of discovery with dinner at Chez Pierre, a simple resort with a gourmet restaurant overlooking the beach. Early in the day, we made reservations. During the day, his children arrived after being away for ten months, and the mail boat was late, so he didn’t have time to go buy fresh produce. He turned down all other reservations and we had the place to ourselves. A private table, romantic music, delectable French food—a lovely end to any day!
Beach in Millers Bay at Chez Pierre
The view from our table at Chez Pierre
How to adequately describe these breathtaking Bahamian islands, each at least as amazing as the last? The morning after our two days of expedition, I sat in the cockpit enjoying the view and thanking God for the opportunity to be here, to enjoy His wonders. Then I opened my Bible and this is the first thing I read:
I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart, 
I’m writing the book [blog?] on your wonders…. 
I’m singing your song, High God. 
Psalm 9:1-2 MSG


  1. Beautiful...
    I'm enjoying your travels "with" you!
    Sue R.

  2. My goodness! Your adventures continue to blow me away. Have you no "ordinary" days?

    Years from now you will be so pleased to have captured these great memories! Thank you for sharing them.

    1. Oh, Donna, we do have ordinary days. Those are not the ones I write home about, though. Wouldn't that be boring? Thank you for the reminder that we will value these posts in future years. We've already looked back at old entries when our memories are unclear.