• close family • small boat • big world •

Rum Cay

August 17, 2014

by Greg
At anchor, Rum Cay, Bahamas

(Written August 11th)

Coral carving foreground, anchorage background
I have been fascinated by Rum Cay ever since my brother did a dive trip in the 80s with the Rum Cay Dive Club (long ago wiped out by a hurricane). This place is pretty far out.  It's certainly not a place you'll see weekenders from Miami. To the east are no more banks, no more cays, no more Bahamas - just the deep blue of the Atlantic. (Go straight east far enough and you'll hit Western Sahara). We're about 12 nautical miles north of the Tropic of Cancer. There is very little going on here, and that is part of its appeal. The harbor is large with the curve of the island to the north and a long, protective, breaking reef to the south. There are only two other sailboats anchored here, and there is only one other local boat that "regularly" (sometimes) goes in or out, making this anchorage quieter than any we've seen near an inhabited island.

Sunken boat at Sumner Pt Marina
Carving and cottages
The marina here is a ghost town, and the beach houses near it are abandoned as well. In 2013, the marina was in such disrepair that it was free for use. Some of the docks have since been repaired, and there is now electrical power dockside, but there are no other services - not only no showers, laundry, ice or supplies of any kind, but not even any potable water. Ben runs the place now, and it looks like he may get things going, but he has his work cut out for him.  The previous owner/proprietor Bobby seemed to have an large amount of energy, because in addition to keeping the docks, charter service, and bar and restaurant running, he did some amazing carvings out of coral.

When Paula and I sailed through in '98 in Nora, the marina was open and operating, and we were almost out of water. Since we needed something close to 80 gallons, we decided to take the big boat into the marina.  The "channel" leading in was very tight, surrounded by coral and shoals, and very poorly marked, so it was a nail-biter. We made it in without touching but then in a moment of stupidity filled our tanks with without tasting the water.  We were rudely surprised when we finally did taste it after moving back out to anchor:  absolutely undrinkable. We had to empty
our full supply of 110 gallons into the ocean.  Aside from the marina, the only source of water was the town well, so we loaded up the dinghy with our 6 gallon jug and our many collapsible 5 gallon jugs and headed to the town dock.  We dipped our water from the well to fill our jugs, throwing back the occasional tadpole. We hand-carried it back down the dirt streets to the dock and dinghied them out to the boat. We repeated this several times.

Port Nelson government dock
Looking N from S coast
When I say the town - and  there is only one - I mean Port Nelson. Though the streets have been paved, and the well has been replaced with a spigot, it hasn't changed that much since '98.  It had about 65 people then and has between 30 and 70 now depending on whom you ask.  To get gas, go to the house set far back from the road along the ocean. Knock if nobody's out front. We went by twice and there was nobody home, so no dinghy gas for us. Kaye's Last Chance store has fairly meager supplies but great homemade vanilla ice cream. Kaye's Bar and Restaurant has beer, rum, and a small pool table. Toby's bar has "wholesale" liquor, meaning they'll sell you the whole bottle if you wish. The rest of the island is basically wilderness at this point, with thick growth and the ruins of previous plantations and settlements that tried to make a go at growing pineapple or sisal, or harvesting salt.

"You will get an outboard stolen."

Road across salt pans near Pt Nelson
Pt. Nelson Anglican church
This was the prediction of a cruising friend back in '98 when we left for the Bahamas.  He was pretty sure of himself.  And he was right. We had gotten sloppy by the time we got to Rum Cay. The motor was locked to the dinghy, but one night we didn't chain the dinghy to the boat. The next morning, the line had been cut. Most thieves want only the outboard, so we headed downwind to see if we could find the dinghy. Sure enough, we found it washed up one the last possible point on the SW corner of Rum Cay.  Had it missed this point, it might have continued 20 NM W to Long Island or 80 NM W to the Exumas. We retrieved it by anchoring the yacht on an unprotected, coral-infested, lee shore and rowing our remaining dinghy in for the rescue. The thief had chopped the transom out of the dinghy in order to release the motor. Most of the cruisers in the harbor suspected not any local but another sailboat that had left early that morning.

Ocean triggerfish
Ocean triggerfish teeth
There is excellent fishing here, lots of lobster, and great diving and snorkeling. The island is almost completely surrounded by reefs. There are 60' coral walls that almost reach the surface. There are drop-offs for wall dives, and there's the wreck of an 1850s British warship. We caught among other other things a very nice ocean triggerfish. We never found the lobsters though. Fellow cruisers speared some of the biggest spiny lobsters I've ever seen, and they gave us a rough description of where this lobster hole was, but we never found it. (Hmmmm....)

Cleaning triggerfish
Rum Cay's location on the Atlantic (vs on a bank) causes there to be a fair number of sharks around here - nurse sharks of course, which are like really big catfish, but also more serious ones like lemon sharks and bull sharks. Luckily we haven't encountered too many while diving, but the sharks have made it their daily habit to visit the marina fish cleaning station every evening. This is right up near a shallow spot on the shore, so the sharks are partially exposed as they go for the fish parts. Naturally I couldn't resist grabbing their tails.  After a few half-hearted efforts, I grabbed a 5' bull shark by the tail, gripping as hard as I could, and heaved him backwards out of the water.  I was amazed at how strong he was, but - not being completely insane - I decided to let him go before he could curl around and bite my leg. I guess I was feeling adventurous, because I also ate the eyeball of a freshly caught pompano.  I figured if Steven Callahan could do it, so could I. It was pretty good, actually.

Investors attempted to develop a new mega-resort on Rum Cay near Cottonwood Point, but this development failed more than a decade ago. They did a huge amount of excavation for the harbor before the project collapsed. This is a story repeated throughout the Bahamas, the land of broken dreams. Large-scale development that all expected to deliver economic salvation collapses leaving big mess. In this case, the developers model standing alone in the abandoned office (shown below) represents a story that has played out again and again in these islands..

The vision
Harbor excavation shown below.  Leftmost pic is where the harbor would have connected to the ocean when completed.

More pictures of the "development":

More shots of the Sumner Point Marina:

And a couple of flower shots

Lisa said...

All fascinating. Those flowers are beautiful; I really, really like them. Do you think they'd grow in MA? So what happens to all the planned developments? Is it more expensive than people realize? Is there some natural land or water feature or weather that causes unanticipated problems? You should keep the triggerfish jaws.