April 11 – 12 — Spanish Wells

View towards the Atlantic between two houses in Spanish Wells.

We almost didn’t go to Spanish Wells. While we were still in Abaco, I studied our charts of Eleuthera and thought about where we might visit. I looked at Spanish Wells. It looked like somewhere we would want to stop, but according to the chart the approach from the south was through 6 feet or less of water, a challenge for the deep draft Blue Wing. The approach from the north went across the Devil’s Backbone. The Chart book has a nice quarter page article about all of the hazards of the Backbone and why we didn’t want to pilot it without a guide. I thought it would be wise to stay far away from this potential minefield of destruction.

Duwan and Greg!
On the second day after our crossing I felt recovered enough to travel again. We needed ice. According to the chart book there is a small town and a store at Current Settlement, about 7 miles away from our anchorage at Royal Island. This seemed like a good option, except that the chart doesn’t say anything about the store specifically having ice.

I looked again at Spanish Wells. It is a much bigger town than Current Settlement and has many more options. The chart book mentions many places to get ice. According to the chart, if we went, we would be aground at low tide, but, I thought, maybe we could make it at high tide. We could always turn around, if the water got too shallow.

We set a course and headed to the island. As we have discovered a few times before, there is actually more water than the chart shows. We easily motored into the town with 4 and 5 feet of water under the keel.

Spanish Wells is gorgeous. As we motored through the narrow harbor, I wanted to grab the camera, but I was busy at the helm and Greg was doing the important task of watching for obstructions and shallow water in the narrow harbor.

Our museum guide, Jean, on the porch of her Spanish Well's cottage.
We planned to drop the hook in a spot off the northeast coast of the island the chart had marked with an image of an anchor. As we motored through the area looking for an appropriate place to anchor, we encountered depths of 12 feet and more, then, suddenly we were aground on a shallow “shelf” that bordered the anchorage area. We wouldn’t be able to get close enough to the shore to feel protected so we aborted the anchorage and headed back through the harbor and out the harbor entrance where we dropped the hook in water we previously thought, according to the chart, would be too shallow for Blue Wing.

Once settled, I found a great wifi connection, sent a few emails, and made a few blog posts, before climbing into the dinghy to get ice.

The next day we explored the town.

Jean's husband, Tom.
Spanish Wells is on an island 2 miles long and ½ mile wide. It is a bustling place with heavy traffic of cars, trucks and golf carts. Unlike the busy city of Marsh Harbor, I didn’t feel like anyone was going to run me over as they zoomed by. The town is clean and organized and the people are very friendly. The views of the ocean are beautiful, the houses are charming and colorful, and the harbor is picturesque. Spanish Wells supports its self through a large fishing trade and doesn’t rely on tourism like so many other places we have visited in the Bahamas. This was a great benefit to us as we could easily walk to the same stores that residents patronize and find supplies that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. We could also eat lunch ashore without blowing the daily budget.

After walking through the streets, taking pictures and visiting the shops looking for anything we might need, we ended up at the museum where we learned the history of the island. The first inhabitants, the Lucayan Indians were taken as slaves to work on other Caribbean islands by the Spanish and wiped out by disease brought by these Europeans. Descendents of current day residents came from England in the mid 1600s via Bermuda. They took up the trade of fishing to support themselves and fished in wind-powered ships with live wells to keep their haul fresh on the way to the market in Nassau until the 1950s when they added motors and refrigeration systems. They have lived through many a hurricane, making their community and buildings stronger after each one. Most of the trades and business in Spanish Wells are cooperatively owned. The industry of the island provides a good life. The children of the island grow up there, work there and stay there.

A colorful Spanish Wells home.

Our tour guide at the museum was an American. We started talking to her and discovered that she and her husband were part time cruisers who had bought and refurbished a home on the island. She mentioned that a few cruisers were dropping by her porch about 5 to “bend an elbow”. We were not sure if this was an invitation or not, but finally asked if we could come by. I also asked if Greg could bring some music, “he loves an audience,” I said.

We left the museum, excited to meet more cruisers, and headed back down the street to eat lunch at the Snack Vault, a building with a sliding window where you place your order and an outside seating area. We toured the island a little more, before making our way back to the boat to get ready for our get together.

At 5 we arrived at our host’s, Jean and Tom, porch. We were the only cruisers to show up, but that was fine. Jean and Tom were full of stories about their cruising life, the Bahamas, Spanish Wells, the rehabbing of their home on the island and of their adventure in their trawler doing the “circle route” through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, across Florida, and up the east coast of the US. We ate my fresh made hummus and cheese and crackers provided by our hosts and drank rum and whiskey. We told them a little bit about ourselves and Greg played a few tunes on the ukulele. Before we left we perused their book swap for cruisers located in their home, Done Reach Cottage.

It was getting late and I was anxious to get back to Blue Wing before it got dark. We packed up our rum, what was left of the hummus and stuffed the uke into the backpack, its neck craning out the top ready for the next performance, which came much sooner than expected.

We were just over a block away from Tom and Jean’s when we heard the sound of a conch horn and the gregarious call for entertainment. Greg took a sharp right up the walkway towards the nearby house, whipped out the uke, and lit into John Prine’s “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” for a duo sitting on the porch and their friends parked in their golf carts. After a few more tunes we met, Hawk, an American resident of the island, his friend Rue, and the two couples in the golf carts. I am sure we could have stayed all night, but the last light was fading and we didn’t have our anchor light on. After Greg chatted with Rue a little about fishing, I finally pulled him away and dinghied home in the dark, glad we decided to visit Spanish Wells.

The harbor at Spanish Wells.

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