american history in eleuthera

A little-known yet fascinating bit of 20th century United States history lies partially hidden in the steadily encroaching forest behind a beautiful Atlantic beach in central Eleuthera. Beginning in 1950, the U.S. Navy established a base here to house an experimental “Sound Surveillance System” (SOSUS) station. This technology used a set of hydrophones on the Atlantic Ocean floor east of the island, which were hardwired back to the base where any sounds could be profiled and matched in an effort to identify and track Soviet submarines. In those early days, the base was little more than a few small, wooden buildings and tents but would grow rapidly through the middle part of the decade.

By 1957, the base had grown into an official naval facility with a complement of 150 Navy personnel and several dozen civilian employees from RCA and Western Electric. At approximately the same time, the U.S. Air Force established an Auxiliary Air Base at the site. Their mission was to serve as one of several tracking stations for the USAF Atlantic Missile Range and track missiles and satellites launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Civilian Pan Am employees managed the Air Force side of the facility. At its peak, the facility also employed 45 Bahamians. The SOSUS system was fully operational in time to play a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets attempted to use submarines to break the U.S. blockade of the island. But the SOSUS system enabled the American Navy to locate nearly all of the subs, force them to the surface and send them home. This effectively ended the crisis as Nikita Khrushchev abandoned his plan. The base was ultimately closed in 1980, and much of the equipment was abandoned in place and left to the ravages of the tropical climate. Today, it is a fascinating experience to wander through the ruins and ponder the history. Walking up the entrance road, a guard shack greets you with peeling blue and white paint. Just beyond is the base gas station, complete with the still visible 17¢ price! The left fork ultimately leads to a huge, sloping concrete pad, which was part of the system used to collect rainfall—the primary fresh water source for the base. Hidden in the surrounding trees you will find several huge water storage tanks and a pump house. Downhill from the base a gorgeous beach runs seemingly forever in both directions, and the offshore barrier reef provides great snorkeling. Back at the top of the hill, the remains of the main administration building still contain the office safe and the brig. There are barracks, maintenance areas and much more to explore. An excellent resource is projecteleuthera.org/ruins. The website includes an interactive Google map of the entire base and identifies many of the facilities you will see.

Alabaster Bay, just south of the Governor’s Harbour Airport, is an excellent anchorage in its own right and makes a perfect spot to visit the Navy base by boat. Anchor in a clean sand bottom just off the beach at Cocodimama Resort. Land your dinghy just south of the resort and walk past the resort to Queen’s Highway; turn right and then take a left on the first road and walk across the narrow island until you see the guard shack at the entrance to the base. Use caution when exploring since many of the remaining buildings may be unstable, and the forest contains poisonwood and thorn trees. Please take nothing but pictures from this haunting reminder of our past.

Kayak Fishing Tournament

The annual Extreme Kayak Fishing Battle in The Bahamas will be held at Flamingo Bay Resort on Grand Bahama Island April 20-23. With two days of fishing and a variety of entertainment through the weekend, this should be a fun event for serious kayak fishermen and their families. This is not flat, protected-water fishing. The competitors are after big game fish in open water, including wahoo, mahi, grouper, tuna, and even marlin. Packages are available with round-trip ferry transportation from Florida, including transport for your kayak and gear, Bahamian fishing license, accommodations, and much more. For more information and entry forms visit extremekayakfishingtournament.org/bahamas.

News Update

Chub Cay Marina in The Berry Islands remained closed at press time due to damage from Hurricane Matthew. Reopening is expected in 2017, but the timing has yet to be publicly announced.

The Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality recently reported that as many as half of all the gasoline pumps they surveyed dispensed inaccurate quantities of fuel. This wasn’t specifically or even primarily at marinas, but you may want to take steps to ensure you are getting what you pay for when buying fuel in the islands.

Words & photos by Rex Noel, Southern Boating Magazine March 2017

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