On October 6th and 7th, 2016, Hurricane Matthew roared northward through the central Bahamas leaving a trail of damage behind.
The storm was at Category 4 strength for much of that time, with wind speeds upwards of 150 mph near the eye. Thankfully, no lives were lost, although some areas suffered extreme damage to homes and businesses. Recovery and rebuilding efforts began immediately as relief poured in from local and U.S. sources. The worst impacts were in Nassau and New Providence Island, Andros, and Grand Bahama’s West End southern shore. We surveyed a number of sources within the Bahamian boating community to get an idea of the impact on marine infrastructure, particularly the marinas. Fortunately, damage on the water side was generally modest and repairs are moving quickly at press time. Bimini, Great Abaco and the Sea of Abaco, Exumas, and the Out Islands of Long, Cat and Eleuthera are in great shape and should not present any problems. The southeast Bahamas took a close brush from Matthew early but are ready for transients.
Nassau and the rest of New Providence was hit hard, but the marinas are all back in operation and receiving transient boats. The small communities on Andros and West End, Grand Bahama, took the brunt of the storm and will likely be the last to come fully online. At this writing, nearly all of the marinas in these areas are up and running, with a few limitations. But even where the marinas escaped relatively unharmed, nearby businesses and the residences of employees may have sustained damage, so supplies and services may still be limited. We suggest you call ahead to ensure you will find what you need. Bahamians are tough, resourceful and are working hard to restore their own lives. More than likely, by the time you read this they will be ready and anxious to welcome you to their beautiful country.
In the highly developed area around the Sea of Abaco, there is an oasis of natural quiet that is easily accessible but still seems an ocean away from the resorts of the nearby cays. Snake Cay, about six nautical miles south of Marsh Harbor and Elbow Cay in the Sea of Abaco, is just off the eastern shore of Great Abaco Island. It is uninhabited except for the ruins of development long since abandoned. Exploring ashore is an eerie experience. A major paper company once centered their Abaco lumbering operation here, and you can see the decaying commercial dock and remains of the land-side facilities.
In settled weather, you can anchor on the north side of the easternmost hook of the cay. Holding is a bit suspect, with a thin layer of sand over marl. Set your anchor well and check the set by swimming the anchor. If strong winds are forecast, it is best to move on.
The real reason to visit here is the wonderful dinghy expedition possible from here to the south. Rounding the easterly hook of Snake Cay, turn west and proceed westerly in the deep water channel between Snake and Deep Sea Cays, then turn south on the west side of Deep Sea Cay. From here, you can run south for miles, with a line of small, uninhabited cays to your east and Great Abaco to the west. Depths are generally 1 to 3 feet. Proceed slowly and you are sure to see many turtles, starfish and other marine life in the shallows. The main island is largely free of development, although you will see some intriguing ruins here, too. This is beautiful, unspoiled Bahamas, much as it “used to be”, yet close to some of the most developed parts of the islands.
Island Roots Heritage Festival
Green Turtle Cay hosts the Annual Island Roots Heritage Festival in early May in the village of New Plymouth. Founded in the late 1700s, New Plymouth was originally rooted in the traditions of American Loyalists who fled the newly independent United States after the revolution. But the hardships of agriculture in the islands eventually led many to flee back to the U.S., particularly to Key West, where they were instrumental in the early development of that community. These ties continue today between the sister cities.
The Roots Festival was first held in 1977 on both islands to celebrate their ties and revived on Green Turtle in 2004. Now held annually, the festival runs this year from May 19-21. The festivities include local foods served on the festival site, a Junkanoo Rush, children’s activities including a Maypole, and performances by the Royal Bahamian Defense Force Marching Band and local bands. This is an authentic Bahamian experience well worth a visit.
Little is yet reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, but it is safe to assume that some navigation aids and channels have been affected by the storm. Palm Cay reports some marks off station, but repairs will be quickly completed. Other marina channels will likely be similar. The few government marks will probably receive little attention from the authorities in the short term as the focus remains on land-side recovery efforts. As always in The Bahamas, stay vigilant and travel slowly, carefully and in good conditions.
By Rex Noel, Southern Boating Magazine January 2017