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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bahamas’ Long Island -- Road Trip

cruising activities, swimming
Long Island’s Dean’s Blue Hole Wes C. Skiles
photo for National Geographic
While in many places the BAHAMAS’ Long Island coastline is quite pretty, we decided to blitz the island in a day.

Long Island, ironically, is not the Bahamas’ longest island.  At 110 miles long, that honor goes to Eleuthera; Long Island, comparatively, is 80 miles long.  Both are long, relatively skinny islands, often less than a mile across and never more than a few miles wide at their widest, running mostly North to South. 

In any case, taking in large stretches of land isn’t practical at the pace of a walk (about our boat’s pace, at 4-6 knots), all the more so when our boat isn’t or can't anchor anywhere near where we want to explore terra firma.

For a reasonable $56, we rented a car in the island’s capital, Clarencetown, which is at the lower SE side of the island.  Most of these islands sport one main road, so it’s pretty much impossible to get lost.

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Bump-bump-bumpy narrow dirt road to
Columbus Monument.  Took us about
15 minutes to drive in.
When we first visited Long Island last year, we entered further South, where we “surfed” into remote well protected Little Harbour on cresting waves through an excitingly narrow anchorage entrance fringed by rocks.  Thus, having “been there, done that,” we headed North in our rental car. 

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Long Island Columbus Monument Cape Santa Maria viewpoint.
Photos can even begin to do it justice!
Our first scenic stop* was at Dean’s “world famous” Blue Hole.  Per Wikipedia, Dean's Blue Hole is the world's deepest known blue hole (a term for water-filled sinkholes with the entrance below the water level) with an entrance below the sea level. It plunges 663 ft (202 metres).  Aptly, Dean’s Blue Hole is the host venue for an international free diving competition in November.  Though we’ve scuba-dived some cenotes in Mexico before, our interest in Dean’s Blue Hole was far less ambitious – we knew it was really pretty and it struck us as a good spot for a short, intriguing swim.


cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Channel below Columbus Monument joining
the Atlantic to Long Island’s flats.
Unfortunately, the morning was so overcast, after a quick look, I resisted my usual shutter bugging, figuring when later the light would be better, and we’d tuck in there then, on our way back.  Instead, check out this National Geographic photo from photographer Wes C Skiles.  

Many folks may consider living aboard a sailboat romantic,.  Since we do that every day, for us, road trips are a romantic respite.  Our next stop was a deserted beach.  ‘Nuff said.

Wayne was interested in retracing the Calabash Bay Long Island BAHAMAS road trip I took last year with friends Jose and Char of Atlantica, as he didn't join us then.  Considering our Lonely Planet Bahamas Guide was (and is) still missing in action, we’re guessing permanently, it was North, so that seemed as good a plan as any.

cruising activities, swimming, cape santa maria long island
Long Island flats adjacent Cape Santa Maria.  They stretch back
far more than this photo indicates.  Again, the photo
hardly does the view justice.
On a whim, we picked Columbus Monument** at Cape Santa Maria as our Northernmost point.  There is little North of that on Long Island.  We didn’t expect a long, narrow, bumpy dirt road to it.  Thanks to Wayne’s careful driving, we made it, unscathed, despite our decidedly small and definitely un-four-wheel drive transport.  There were rope guides to the trail top as it was a tad steep, but still a short, easy lope. 

The monument 's** Cape Santa Maria ocean overlook was breathtaking!  Sure, going from Little Harbour to Calabash Bay last year we sailed past this area, but this was ridge point provided a fabulous aerial view. Without fear of running aground in these beautiful coral strewn shallows, we could enjoy their beauty safely from afar.  The sun graced us with its presence, highlighting the water in a gem like mosaic of clear-to-the-bottom turquoise, and sapphire to cobalt blues. 

cruising activities, caves, road trip
Thanks to this map, we found
the Stella Maris cave.
From there, a channel connected to a long, wide stretch of brilliant turquoise shallows.  While the catch-and-release sport of bone fishing offers zero appeal to me – I fish to eat, not for fun – I could see the draw simply to travel these gorgeous waters on a flats boat.

It was time to head back toward Clarencetown.

Our next stop was Stella Maris Resort’s party cave, bats and all.  It was a bit of a wild goose chase.  We had to stop a couple times for directions, though along the way stumbled over some some lovely Atlantic seaside properties through the sprawling Stella Maris Resort.  Eventually we found the caves.  Ultimately with no party in situ, Wayne was a bit underwhelmed, and is far less tolerant of bats.  I find them fascinating.  He views them as flying rodents, and of course is not too keen on the dank accompanying stink of bat guano.

cruising activities, stella maris hiking
Long Island’s party cave on Stella Maris Resort.
At this stage, we were pretty hungry.  We stopped at the seaside beach restaurant  Jose, Char and I ate at (@ Deal’s Beach?).  I ordered what I thought was a $5 cheeseburger with (~ 1/3 cup) canned mixed veg, and Wayne settled for a “completely forgettable” flour-less chicken and fries, as the chicken Caesar on the menu was unavailable.  Wayne paid the check and we left, a long 45 minutes later, nearly all of which was spent waiting for the food, though we were the only customers at the time.  I later found out my “$5 special” (per the restaurant’s white board) >1/4 lb burger was at least $12, and our total bill for this profoundly unsatisfying meal was $35.  We could come up with far better ways to spend our time and money!  “You’ve spoiled me,” Wayne complained.  “Your cooking is so much better as well as a heckuva lot cheaper!” 

cruising activities, stella maris hiking
This jaunty pirate astride his mock boat
looks ready to party in the Stella Maris Cave.
The lunch reinforced our “Aha!”  regarding this year’s cruising cuisine.  Overall we are not that impressed with Bahamian fare.  With a few exceptions, like Nassau’s Potter’s Cay conch salad (click here for more about that) and meat patties (click here for more about that but I consider them more Jamaican), we find most Bahamian food to be fatty, bland and overpriced.

We stopped off at a museum, but decided it wasn’t worth paying an entry fee after our overpriced lunch.  We moved on.

A local touted Lochabar, an alternative blue hole to Dean’s.  Foolishly, we sought it out…. After much searching, we couldn’t find it.  We regretted not returning to Dean’s for a refreshing dip after a hot afternoon drive, but there wasn’t enough time to do that and return our rental car on time.

If we had it to do over, we’d pick up some food at a local supermarket, enjoy it more, pay less, get it quicker and swim Dean’s Blue Hole, whether we were lucky enough to catch some more sunshine there or not.  Or if we were to eat out, stop at Sea Breeze in Salt Pond.

cruising activities, cruising destination, beachside restaurant road trip
The view was pleasant, the food disappointing, slow
 and expensive at this Long Island seaside stop.
Our take?  Long Island has some charming historic churches (watch for a future post on them) and scenery. It’s an okay place to do some light reprovisioning and laundry, and offers some intriguing places to get wet.  Columbus Monument is a pain to get to, but worth every bumpy minute for the viewpoint.  Still, if not for its convenient stopover location for otherwise long passages (from Georgetown to the Jumentos and from the Raggeds to Rum Cay), we’d be just as happy to give Long Island a miss.  If we were exploring it with fellow cruising friends or befriended some locals, or loved sport fishing, maybe we’d feel differently.

On the other hand, after places like the BAHAMAS Exumas, Jumentos, Ragged Islands and last year’s Caribbean leeward and windward islands (especially Guadeloupe, St. Barts, Barbuda, Saba, British Virgin Islands (BVI), St. Martin, Puerto Rico especially including the Spanish Virgins, we’re pretty spoiled. 

Long island BAHAMAS, Dean’s Blue Hole, blue holes, sinkholes, cenote, cruiser destinations, cruiser activities, provisioning, road trip, local food

*We also always get in some provisioning when we rent a car, but nothing interesting enough to note in this post.
**It's believed Long Island was Columbus' 3rd "new World" stop.

Location Location
April 24, 2014 BAHAMAS.  We’re in Eleuthera, Rock Sound (N24.44.044 W76.14.451) though this blog is a recent retrospective to our road trip on Long Island, two weeks prior.  We're ready to take advantage of tomorrow's prevailing winds to sail rather than motor (aka "burn dinosaurs") to Governor Harbour, Eleuthera.  Our goal is to return to the States late May or early June to work and replenish our cruising kitty over hurricane season.