The Bahamian government is currently drafting new regulations—that include severe penalties—to protect coral throughout the islands. All vessels, from yachts to cruise ships, will be liable for any damage they cause to sea grass beds when they anchor, run aground or discharge pollutants. Sea grass beds are more fragile than most people realize and are very important to benthic ecosystems. Turtle grass is the principal food for green turtles, and queen conch graze on algae that grow in the sea grass beds. Use moorings when available and anchor only in clear sand. Many national parks have moorings with more planned. The Elizabeth Harbour Conservation Partnership in Great Exuma is in the process of installing a number of snorkeling moorings in Elizabeth Harbour, and a few yacht owners have committed to installing large moorings in West Bay, Conception Island. elizabethharbourpartnership.org
Cruisers in the Bahamas are allowed to retain firearms on board for their entire cruise, although Bahamas Customs insists that all firearms and ammunition be declared upon entry and listed on the vessel’s Cruising Permit. Failure to declare firearms is a serious breach of Bahamian law.
If cruisers plan to leave their boats unattended for more than a few days, it is a good idea to contact the local Customs or Police who can secure the firearms ashore in a locked government facility—a sensible precaution to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands. Cruisers can recover their firearms when they return.
Fuel in the Central Exumas
The increased number of boats and the closure of the fuel facilities in Samson Cay have made it difficult for the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to keep up with demand. This summer the club occasionally ran out of gas. As fuel shortages are not uncommon in the out-islands, it is prudent to stay topped off and call ahead to your next destination.
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Spanish Wells is becoming even more cruiser friendly. A new restaurant, The Shipyard, has one of the prime locations in The Bahamas—the very east end of Spanish Wells overlooking the water to Gun Point. The restaurant has a full-service bar and excellent food at fair prices. There is also a two-for-one drink special at Happy Hour. The restaurant is usually closed Monday and Tuesday.
Spanish Wells Yacht Haven marina is being completely rebuilt with a new restaurant and bar, and guesthouses scheduled to open in December. The marina remains open with good electrical power, water and Internet access at all slips. The docks are scheduled to be rebuilt in early 2015. Call Dockmaster Leroy Kelly on 16 VHF or (242) 333-4255.
These improvements make North Eleuthera even better as a cruising destination with a variety of places to visit, the peace and quiet of Royal Island, Meek’s Patch, and the anchorage off The Bluff, for example. Spanish Wells offers friendly citizens and full services and supplies, including mechanics, welders and R&B Boatyard (rbboatyard.com). Harbour Island is an easy run—a pilot is still very much advised—and is rightfully called the Nantucket of The Bahamas.
The queen conch (Strombus gigas) stocks in The Bahamas are in a dramatic decline. The Bahamas government, the Bahamas National Trust, commercial fishermen, and others are working hard to draft new regulations that will help rebuild the stocks throughout The Bahamas. Foreign cruisers are still allowed to take conch, but in respect of the conch’s decline cruisers might consider leaving the conch for the local fishermen and eating their conch at restaurants ashore. It’s a good way to support the local economy. (To learn more about this culturally important species, see Dee Carstarphen’s The Conch Book.)
It’s not too late to consider celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in The Bahamas. Skip the usual presents and buy plane tickets for the family to join you. The beauty of The Bahamas, the friendship of the Bahamian people and the intimacy of your own boat will draw everyone in. Children from up north will be glad to know that Santa Claus puts pontoons on his sled when he heads for southern waters.
By Stephen Connett Southern Boating November 2014
Stevie Connett has been sailing in The Bahamas for several decades. For the last ten years Stevie and Barbara Crouchley have been cruising throughout the islands aboard FOXY LADY tagging sea turtles and working with the Education Department of the Bahamas National Trust.