Most of our second month in the Bahamas was spent on Eleuthera. We hadn’t really planned to go there after the Berries, but with west winds blowing, Spanish Wells was the ideal destination. It’s at the north end of Eleuthera . . . technically not on Eleuthera but part of the chain.
Eleuthera is world famous for its pink sand beaches, but cruisers know it as a great place to provision with generally calm anchorages and exceptionally friendly people ashore. We had a wonderful time here and would recommend it as a mid-Bahamas cruise spot, perhaps after being in other places for a month or more, to top up provisions as well as see the sights.
First, a map to provide some context:
PROVISIONING AND SERVICES
Spanish Wells, Governor’s Harbour and Rock Sound all boast well stocked supermarkets – not huge, but with pretty much anything you’d need and some luxury items as well. Prices tend to be about double Florida Keys prices although we did find some local brands of crackers, soap and tuna that were far less expensive.
There are also some good marine stores (especially in Spanish Wells), auto parts stores (where you can often get diesel or outboard parts and supplies), hardwares and liquor stores.Since stores, locations and reputations tend to change over time, I won’t go into details of each – check current reports on Active Captain.
Gas and diesel fuel are readily available but require jerry canning it (Spanish Wells does have fuel docks). Gas/diesel station is just a block from a dinghy ramp in Governor’s Harbour. Propane available in Rock Sound and possibly other places.
There are good laundry facilities in Spanish Wells, Governor’s Harbour and Rock Sound. Instead of doing it ourselves, we opted to have it done in Rock Sound through Dingle’s . . . $14 for two loads, picked up, washed, dried, folded and returned (all very nicely done I might add). I paid $10 a load to do it myself in the Berries!
One note is that while beer was $44 to $50 a case (a good deal compared to the $65 a case or more that friends reported from the Exumas), it can be hard to get in cans if that’s what you prefer (we do: lighter and less trash, not to mention non-breakable). The 700 Liquors store in Governor’s Harbour was the only place that had more than a couple cases of canned beer . . . some stores had none! We didn’t buy wine at 700, but friends reported that the selection was good and the prices weren’t bad.
Many, but not all, stores on Eleuthera accepted credit cards with NO surcharge – a pleasant surprise after Bimini and the Berries, where there had been a 3 to 5% surcharge. Most stores did have a minimum purchase for using a credit card, but this can be a great way to stretch your cash.
And speaking of cash, banks in the larger towns generally had ATM machines – we saw them in Spanish Wells, Governor’s Harbour and Rock Sound.
Eleuthera sports three anchorages with great protection from all or nearly all wind directions. Since it can be a challenge to find westerly or northern protection, or a suitable place for clocking winds with a frontal passage, these are worth noting:
- Royal Island, just outside Spanish Wells. Not a lot to do in the anchorage, limited shore access but good holding and 2 bars of BTC cell phone coverage.
- Hatchet Bay. The entrance channel looks extremely tight as you approach, but does have plenty of water and width for most boats (check charts). We anchored in the area to the left with good holding; there are also some moorings. Two dinghy docks in town but both require a scramble up a ladder – if you use a stern anchor on the dinghy to keep it off the pilings, watch out for catching it on debris (we had two bad incidents with getting it stuck). Can take a taxi up to the Glass Window. Great BTC service all over the harbor, plenty of places to walk around ashore.
- Rock Sound. It’s big, but there are places to get protection from just about any wind although you’ll have to move as a front passes. In other words, there’s no ONE spot to anchor for full protection, but protection from a new direction is no more than a few miles away. Several nice dinghy docks, a beach and plenty to do ashore with several restaurants, good stores and great BTC coverage.
CUTS and CHANNELS
We opted NOT to go to Harbour Island from Spanish Wells as we had no desire to transit the Devil’s Backbone and didn’t have the weather for it in any case. The Devil’s Backbone is a narrow cut where most cruising guides urge you to hire a pilot. One major attraction of Harbour Island (outside of several luxury marinas/resorts) is the pink sand beach. But there are several other pink sand beaches that are easier to get to!
There are two primary cuts or channels from the deep water of the NorthEast Providence Channel into the Eleuthera Banks: Current Cut and Fleeming Channel. After reading about them, we opted for the “relatively easy passage” of Fleeming Cut.
Despite it perhaps being relatively easy, you still need to plan a transit of Fleeming Channel carefully. We were not as careful as we should have been. Wind against current – even a fairly light wind of 10 knots as we had and an hour after the tide change – make for short period 4 foot waves, including one that swept the deck. It took us 2 hours to get through the area and into reasonably flat seas again – and we still had larger than expected waves all the way to Hatchet Bay. We were never in any danger and nothing broke but we certainly didn’t expect the conditions we got.
We later talked with some other cruisers who also experienced far rougher than expected conditions in Fleeming Channel. They had also gone through Current Cut and said it was actually better for them. We all came to the same conclusion: cruising guides and Active Captain do a good job of preparing you for Current Cut so that you know to time it just right. They sort of gloss over Fleeming Cut and unless you know how rough even “easy” cuts in the Bahamas can be, you don’t think you have to time it as carefully. We learned our lesson and now carefully plan any passages through cuts to have the current and tide running together.
We’re continuing to learn about cuts. The tide and wind are important, yes, and thus we have to plan our leave time and monitor our speed along the way so that we hit cuts at the right time. Sometimes, if there are two cuts in a day (say when we left Eleuthera and went to the Exumas), we may have to just wait at the second one until conditions become better.
We’ve also learned to think about what I call “sailability” (we are a sailboat) – if we had a problem with the engine as we went through, could we sail through a particular cut? “Bouncy” cuts are the most likely place for an engine to die from stirred up fuel. Power boaters might want to think of whether they’d have a bail out option or even be able to put down an anchor in a cut.
Spanish Wells is a prosperous fishing town with a reputation for being dry . . . as in no alcohol. That has changed in the past two years. Budda’s is the place to go whether you want a beer or other drink with your meal or want to pick up a few bottles or cases to take with you. We had lunch there and got two cases of canned beer. Cash only, and Budda will give you a golf cart ride back to the dinghy dock. You’ll see signs on telephone poles pointing the way to Budda’s.
We only spent a half day in town as squalls were training through the area. There are several marine mechanics in town, a dry dock facillity for bottom painting (and probably other “quick” work — there’s no storage yard or long term work area), several marine stores, fuel docks and a new marina. The town museum sounded interesting but was closed for the summer when we were there.
The entrance to the harbor is very tight — study the route in closely to know the channel markings, which are mainly white buoys which you need to leave to starboard on your way into town from the west along with a couple of poles. Once in town, the channel is still pretty narrow and you have to watch for other boats. We used a mooring just for the day; there is NO room to anchor in town. The moorings are a tad on the tight side, but do-able.
The town here was having a mini-festival while we were here and so we joined in one evening – great food from a stall and Dave got roped into the dance contest . . . which he won! Going to town festivals is a great way of getting to know a town and also a way of making a small donation to the town in the form of the food and drinks you buy (which are generally great and don’t cost nearly as much as going out to a restaurant).
We had hoped to sail up to the Glass Window, where the Atlantic Ocean is separated from the Eleuthera Banks by only a narrow strip of land. But the winds would have made anchoring there dangerous, so we took a taxi from Hatchet Bay – $60 round trip for the two of us and a small dog. We got to spend an hour at the Glass Window, which was about right.
- Wear protective shoes (our Keens were good) and be careful are you walk around as the terrain is very rough – a fall would likely get you pretty cut up and maybe a broken bone. There are no trails. You have to climb up the rocks to view the two sides at the same time.
- Take water, hats, sunscreen – there is no shade.
- Don’t take stuff you don’t need – I had a tote bag of “stuff” with me as well as my camera and scrambling over the rock would have been easier without the tote bag.
We deliberately timed our stay at Governor’s Harbour to coincide with their summer regatta. Both Dave and I have raced small sailboats for years (he for 60 years and I for 35) so it was fascinating to watch. But even if you know nothing of sailboat racing, it’s a spectacle to see. As with the town festivals, there will be food and drinks sold at reasonable prices . . . and lots of fun to be had.
There are regattas through the islands year around, some bigger than others. You can find them by Googling and then plan a stop at one . . . or you may be like us and just happen to see a poster for one nearby.
In addition to the regatta, we walked over to a gorgeous pink sand beach on the Atlantic side. Some call it the French Leave beach and others call it the Club Med beach – there used to be a Club Med there but it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew and not rebuilt. This is a truly beautiful, almost deserted beach. There are a few very upscale rental homes on the beach – only one was occupied when we were there and the people were very friendly.
There’s no signs or directions to the beach – here is a website with the basic route (but note that Pyfrom’s Liquors and Cigatoo’s Quality Inn are both no longer there but the other info and the picture of the house at the turn into the beach path is good) and I have marked it on a Google map with landmarks.
If you are lucky, someone may offer you a ride on the uphill sections – but it really isn’t a bad walk! We were not in a hurry – Paz walked about three blocks then Dave had her in a backpack – and it took us 35 minutes each way. Take water – there are no stores after the first couple blocks – and sunscreen. Wear your swimsuit and good walking sandals (there are no changing facilities or showers). We didn’t see any areas that looked promising for snorkeling.
Dogs are allowed on the beach and Paz had the time of her life there. Watch out along the road to and from, though: there are lots of sand spurs to get in the fur of a long-haired dog.
One thing to know about Governor’s Harbour: there’s no dinghy dock. You have to wade ashore and it tends to be relatively deep until you’re just a few feet off the beach or ramp area. The accepted practice is to wear a swim suit with a t-shirt and then throw shorts or a skirt on once ashore (men just wear swim trunks in town).
We were anchored just off the beach and had fun one day when several of the town boys aged 10 to 12 swam out to the boat and asked to jump off her. Of course, we gave the boys a tour and were surprised when one knew about watermakers and solar power!
A couple of good but basic grocery stores in Governor’s Harbour and two liquor stores with good-for-the-Bahamas prices. The 700 Liquor store (just behind the park, around the corner from the bank) was particularly notable for good selection, plenty of stock, great prices and accepting credit cards with no surcharge. They’re also close enough to the beach that it’s not hard to carry your purchases!
Good BTC signal in the harbor.
Rock Sound is a wonderful friendly settlement with a great selection of stores and services. Particularly noteworthy are:
- The Market grocery – like a small town IGA in the US, with a good selection of basics and “luxury” items. Accepts credit cards with no surcharge if the purchase is over $20. If you buy more than you can reasonably carry, will give you a ride back to the dinghy dock at Wild Orchid’s (this restaurant goes through frequent name changes; it’s about 1/4 mile from it to the strip mall).
- Hardware next to The Market and NAPA Auto Parts on the other end of the strip mall – both have excellent selection of items. Hardware normally has propane fills and will deliver filled tank to Wild Orchid’s.
- Laundry service at Dingle’s (there is also a laundromat in town)
- Numerous little restaurants and take aways (carry out)
- Office supply store between the “church” dinghy dock and Dingle’s – printer cartridges, paper and everything else. You can even buy a computer there!
People were friendly everywhere on Eleuthera and in the Bahamas in general, but the folks in Rock Sound took it to a whole new level. Not just people saying “hi” but wanting to have real conversations and get to know us. People striking up conversations in the grocery store. The clerk at Dingle’s honking and waving when she saw us as she was driving. Every store offering to drive us and our purchases to the dinghy dock.
There are two nice free dinghy docks in town – one at Wild Orchid’s and one near the very prominent church. There is also a large beach near the church.
The one attraction in town is the Ocean Hole, about a half mile from the dinghy dock nearer the church. There are large signs directing you to it. It’s a blue hole right in the middle of town with a nice park on one side.
Sammy’s Restaurant is notable for just plain good food. It’s a local institution; burgers for both of us, a split order of fries, a beer for Dave and Coke for me cost $25 including VAT and tip. From the intersection at the BTC tower, follow the signs away from the waterfront. It is less than a 10-minute walk from the BTC tower. There were several other restaurants that looked interesting in town.
Great BTC signal anchored just off the prominent church – I think there would be a good signal even across the sound as the tower is right on the water.NOTE that getting into and out of Rock Sound looks really treacherous on the charts, with apparent shallows and reefs all around. We used Garmin and Explorer charts coming in from Governor’s Harbour and leaving via Powell Point to the Exumas and did not have a lick of trouble. Check tide times and wind direction for rounding Powell Point – it’s a wide cut but I think it could still get rough if wind and current opposed.