[Cruiser’s note: Throughout the Bight of Acklins from Long Cay to Camel Point the water held 9 to 11 feet. Long Cay has some coral at the south end to avoid, but after that it’s an easy cruising ground. We didn’t go south of Delectable Bay, but the chart says it is possible and we hope to try it in the future. We anchored in 7 feet of water off of Camel Point and there is very little tide difference on that side. Enjoy!]
Easter Sunday in Delectable Bay
The cruising guide for Acklins, like most of the Far Bahamas, is painted with a pretty broad brush, so experiencing these islands requires quite a bit of exploring on your own, which is ok with us. After arriving at the Delectable Bay anchorage, I wanted to see if there was a church service nearby for Easter the following day, so I took off in the dinghy to see what I could find out. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard an engine behind me, so I turned around to meet Beatrijs and At from Mauyva. Within a few minutes of making introductions, Beatrijs asked if I minded if she came to shore with me. So the ladies set off for some shore exploration before sunset, leaving the men happily discussing boat technicalities in the cockpit.
An old concrete government pier in ruins marks the entrance to the tiny Delectable Bay settlement. Beatrijs and I wove our way around rocks and bundles of branches while a few curious children playing nearby gathered around the dock. We secured the dingy to a rusted wrench acting as a cleat and made our way down the dirt road to head into town. This area was hit fairly hard by hurricane Irene (and likely several others before her) and the seven or so buildings along the main road still showed the signs.
We had walked past several buildings with no sign of a church when two American women in an SUV slowed down to talk with us. They told us they were visiting the island for a week, explaining that they had also once sailed the island, together with their husbands, doing research on the native iguanas on Acklins in the 70’s. They generously offered to take us to stores or arrange to pick us up at a later time if there were any errands we needed to run. We thanked them but said there wasn’t much we really needed. They then told us they had spoken to the pastor of a church earlier in the day, and that services would be back up the road at 11:00 tomorrow, so they went on their way with our promises to see them again the following morning.
Beatrijs and I continued up the road just a bit and passed a woman balancing a very large basket of tree branches on her head. She paused to smile and tell us good evening, and we later learned that these were cascarilla branches. The collection of the bark from these trees for sale to Europe for Campari liquor and perfumes is the primary trade of Acklins. The process involves collecting the branches, soaking them (like we had seen at the government dock), and stripping and drying the bark.
We decided to head back to the dinghy as it was getting close to sunset, and as we walked we chatted about where we had been cruising and where we had plans to head next. We passed the building the ladies had told us would host the service, and saw no indication that the building housed a church from the outside, but we peered into a window, and, sure enough, found a pulpit, speakers and chairs lined up for the service. After a wet ride home in the building wind and waves, Beatrijs and At departed for Mauyva with plans to see us again at church the next morning.
Easter morning was still windy, but we dressed for the occasion (Brad even wore socks!) and I put on my foul weather jacket to keep the salt spray from ruining my dress on the way to shore. We arrived at church at 10:55, and there was already a man addressing the congregation of 15 people or so (including the two ladies we met the previous day and the husband of one) from the pulpit. But he smiled and waved us in, so we took chairs near the back. We weren’t late, though, we had walked in on Sunday school, and the church service began about 20 minutes later (island time). A few more people had trickled in during Sunday school to total about 25, including the 7 guests. The people of the congregation seemed genuinely happy to have us there and were extremely gracious. The service was uplifting, lively and LOUD, and I’m certain that those speakers had no trouble reaching all the way to the heavens. We had an opportunity to speak with some of the members after the service and really enjoyed getting to know a little bit about our hosts.
After visiting, we took a quick walk to the house the American women were renting to chat about their time in Acklins, and they presented each of us with an Easter banana. On the walk back to the dinghies, we encountered several other people, a few of whom were just curious about the boats and came out to greet us. (Boats are still a rare occurrence here in Acklins, unlike the rest of the Bahamas.) We chatted with several gentlemen at the government dock where we learned about the process for readying cascarilla for sale and the history of the settlement. They told us of the work involved to prepare cascarilla to be sold: soaking it, stripping the bark, drying it, and selling it dry for about $6 a pound. One man told us about the old cemetery that housed his ancestors and pointed to the stone wall that was his family’s land, but the house had been washed away time and the hurricanes.
Brad and I returned to Joint Venture late afternoon to cook a delicious Easter dinner of pepper gingered pork loin and zucchini casserole. We were able to make a few phone calls to family that afternoon, and Beatrijs and At joined us again later that evening to share conversation and a carrot cake I had made. All in all it was a lovely Easter, and we are thankful to have been able to spend it in this beautiful place with such generous and gracious people.
Monday the 9th brought calmer weather, and Brad was itching to explore the mangrove swamps near the boat. We had passed several fishermen the previous day, wading with their fly rods in hopes of catching a bonefish. The shallow waters of the Bight of Acklins are apparently excellent for bonefishing, and this tourist trade is also a source of revenue for the islands. After several failed attempts to navigate the dinghy through the shallow waters of the entrance to the mangrove swamps, we anchored the dinghy and waded through the water, searching for signs of the elusive, silver fish. We spotted a few, along with a lot of sea turtles who were surprised to see us. We didn’t want to disturb the fishermen, so we did not venture too far. We’d heard the bonefish lodge can cost upwards of $500 a night, and certainly didn’t want anyone’s expensive fishing vacation to be spoiled by a few curious sailors. Later that morning, though, we were able to find the deep water channel with the dinghy and take a tour of the mangroves. We followed this up with a short coconut hunt to nearby Camel Point that proved fruitless, except for spotting some tasty looking fish near the dilapidated piers of the government dock.
Monday afternoon, we busied ourselves with some boat projects, Brad fixing some issues with the whisker pole rigging while I did some cleaning and waxed the stainless on deck. We enjoyed one more evening with Mauyva before they departed for Mayaguana and parts farther south, thankful to have met this interesting couple and hoping we will cross paths again.
Spring Point and Snug Corner
Tuesday was overcast and cloudy, and after a few more boat chores we decided to head back to the government dock at Camel Point. I wanted to go for a run into the Spring Point settlement so Brad took some fishing poles to see if he could get a closer look at the fish off the pier. The run was a little longer than I expected, and caused me to break into our well-provisioned, but thankfully seldom-used medicine cabinet that evening for some ibuprofen. Still, it was fun to get out for a run and a great way to see some of the island. Brad faired slightly better in his quest and caught a Mutton Snapper and a Horse-Eye Jack that I later filleted. We hadn’t tried either, but our fish guide said that both are good, and we have heard other cruisers rave about Mutton Snapper. We never worry about wasting a fish, though, if we don’t like it, Nermal certainly will! (Update: Sadly for Nermal, I found both fish to be delicious, and he got only a few bites of each.)
Wednesday we decided it was time to do a little more exploring ashore. We took the dingy to a dock several miles north at Spring Point. There are only about 10 buildings in Spring Point, so it didn’t take us too long to make the rounds. We stopped into Nai’s gas station, and then into Nai’s Restaurant across the street. It definitely looked like it was the happening place to be after work and even had the first pool table we’ve seen in the Bahamas. At 11:00 am, however, there were just two men chatting with the woman behind the bar. We asked if they were serving lunch, but they said they were open for drinks only today. We continued on our way, and decided walk north toward the store that was supposed to be on the northern limit of the settlement.
Hitchhiking is very common in the outer islands of the Bahamas, and we have met many cruisers who travelled much of Long Island this way, meeting lots of interesting people along the way. As Brad and I were debating whether or not to try to hitch a ride, a van pulled up beside us. The two men we’d seen at Nai’s Restaurant were on their way north and asked if we wanted a ride. They said they’d be happy to drop us off at a restaurant and store in Snug Corner, and informed us the store we were heading for was closed. We hadn’t reached a decision about hitching a ride, but it seemed to be made for us, so we hopped in. We made some small talk, but then the men engaged in a lively discussion of politics among themselves so Brad and I just enjoyed the scenery until we saw a little town. They pointed out the “restaurant” we should go to, it was the first door of a small purple and white apartment complex. “Number 6 – that’s where you want to go,” they said. Then they dropped us off up the street at a small store. When we found the door locked, they began yelling loudly to the little house next door for a woman to open it up. We told them we’d just stop back later, and thanked them for the ride.
We decided to explore the town a bit before heading back to apartment “Number 6.” We walked past some homes and what looked like an abandoned school before we came to the R/O water facility, with a small office building, a half size container, and 5 water tanks. We impulsively decided to go inside. There were three men inside, busy discussing and sending a fax. They asked if they could help us, and not knowing why we were there, really, we said we were just walking by and were curious about the facility and stopped in to say ‘hi.’ One of the men started to warm up at that and smiled and said if we were interested he’d be happy to give us a tour.
So, Kendrick led us outside and showed us the half size container that housed the whole R/O operation. He explained the process and said it made 1200 gallons of water an hour that supplied Snug Corner and was trucked to several other nearby settlements. We chatted for a while and he told us we should head back to town for lunch. “Number 6?” we asked and he laughed and said yes. He explained that Club Rollex (which was listed in the guidebook) was damaged during hurricane Irene, so the owner had moved the restaurant into a vacant apartment that he owned. Ahhh… it all makes sense now, sort of…
Well, of course we had to eat at “Number 6” after several recommendations, so we headed back and enjoyed a delicious lunch of grouper fingers, fried chicken and French fries along with quite a few regulars. Imagine a two-bedroom apartment with a retro-fit fryer and exhaust hood and a four stool bar at a breakfast nook. The rest of the living room was filled with tables where you could play backgammon over lunch, or play dominos outside on the picnic table. Over this tiny space loomed the massive sound equipment that no doubt used to be housed in Club Rollex. After lunch, we stopped back into the store, which was now open, for a bottle of water before beginning the long walk home.
When we started walking, we could barely see the BTC tower in Spring Point where we’d left the dinghy. There was a bonefishing lodge on the chart only a few miles from Snug corner, and we thought we had passed it in the van. Brad wanted to see if he could get some new flies to make an attempt at the bonefish, so we decided to walk that far before we started looking for a ride. When we arrived, we realized the building we’d seen was not the fishing lodge, and the sign said IVel’s Bed and Breakfast. We walked a little closer, and the owner ldell came out and asked where we were headed. She asked if she could show us around and gave us a tour of the whole facility. If you ever need a place to stay on Acklins, remember IVel’s Bed and Breakfast! It is immaculately clean and beautifully decorated. After the tour and some lovely conversation, she insisted on providing a ride back to Spring Point and gave a set of keys to a woman who worked for her.
We had a fun ride back – she thought we were crazy to have thought of walking the whole way, and spent several miles telling us so. She told us a little more about the island and the regatta and homecoming they have every year and asked us if we were the ones who went to church in Delectable Bay on Easter. Apparently, one of the men we talked with after the service is also the cook at IVel’s. It is a very small island, and we definitely stood out as ‘the visitors from Maryland!’ She dropped us off near the dinghy, and we headed back to the boat, tired, and incredibly thankful we didn’t have to walk the whole 14 miles back!
Flamingos, Long Cay and Albert Town
The following morning, we sailed off the anchor to head back to Long Cay to do some flamingo watching. With much more wind than we had on the way over, we made quick time and anchored with plenty of time to go ashore. A small group of flamingos was in the same place we had left them several days earlier, so we took the dinghy over to see if we could get a closer look. We landed the dinghy on a beach near some mangroves around the corner from where the flamingos were gathered. We were able to slowly move around to the other side of the bank and get some pictures.
After the flamingos, we made our way to the dock by the road that leads to Albert Town. There were several fishermen and boats already there, and they waved us around to dock in front of their larger boats. They had been conching and were cleaning their catch. They each had the largest pile of conch in front of them we have ever seen. It would have taken us days to clean half that many conch, but we knew they hadn’t been there that long, since we’d seen them still out on the boats when we were anchoring only a few hours earlier. We stopped to talk to them, but they had already attracted quite a crowd. There were hundreds of crabs in the shallow water surrounding the dock, and lots of sea birds flying around waiting for a chance to get an easy meal.
After marveling at the huge quantities of conch, we walked up the road to Albert Town. We passed an abandoned salt pond that used to be a prosperous source of income for the town, which has dwindled to 25 residents, according to the guidebook. It seemed pretty deserted when we got there, except for a bunch of playful goats that pretty much had the run of the town. We took some stairs down to one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen yet. We saw that the BTC office was open and walked in to say ‘hi’ to the woman working, thinking she might very well be the only person in town. She came out from behind her window and chatted with us for quite a while. She gave use some tips on cooking conch and suggested we stop by the church ruins across town. We later saw her walking home, and she introduced us to her little pet goat, Mary. (We find it crazy that if you want to chat with friendly folks, try stopping by the water plant or the phone office, think about trying that in the States!)
The church was only a short walk away and the early evening sun lit the interior beautifully for our tour. The church dates back to the early 1600’s and was designed and built by a 19-year-old architect who built it without a plan. Some of the interior structure was still intact, and we even found some original, forged nails. The church has the distinction of being the oldest, largest church in the Bahamas, there are older ones that were expanded over the years, but this one is all original.
We passed the fishermen on the walk back. They were hauling that conch back to town in a pickup truck when we made our way back to the dinghy. The crabs and the birds were still at the dock, and we left them behind enjoying dinner as we headed back to Joint Venture to prepare for our passage back north the following day.
A Different Place
For a while, it had looked like we might not be able to make it to the Bight of Acklins this year, but we are so happy that it worked out. Brad and I often discuss what our favorite island might be so far, and as our readers probably know by now, Brad is forever in search of his “One Particular Harbor.” The truth is that we don’t have a good answer yet. Each of the islands we’ve visited, while similar in a lot of ways, has something unique and wonderful to offer. And this is more than true of Long Cay and Acklins Island.
Being blessed with so much breathtaking natural beauty and fantastic weather, tourism will always be the backbone of the Bahamian economy, and it is evident in some places. We have longed to get away from the conch bars, gift shops, and other cruisers to experience life in the Bahamas outside of the tourism machine. We are not on vacation. We embarked on this adventure to experience new places and new people. We wanted to see how other people live in an authentic atmosphere not catering to our entertainment. Though we were only able to stay for a brief time, the extremely welcoming and generous people of the Long Cay and Acklins Island helped us do that. We very much enjoyed seeing the centuries old process of harvesting cascarilla, being welcomed on Easter Sunday, talking with friendly folks at the telephone office or water plant, and watching local fishermen do what they do best. They allowed us a glimpse into another world full of genuine love and respect for community and family, hard work, rest, and peace, thereby adding a little more color and light to our picture of the Bahamas.