Sunday, May 6, 2018

Tue, 01-May to Sun, 06-May….Hanging at Great Harbour Cay (Berry Islands)

Exploring the Ruins of What Was Once a Thriving Island Getaway
On the morning of Tuesday, 01-May our friends Jerry and Christine guided us on a walking tour of some of the nearby ruins that remain from the glory days of Great Harbour Cay.  Back in the ‘60’s this island had been “discovered” by a large clique of the rich and famous who made it one of their preferred island hangouts during that era.  A mix of Hollywood types and wealthy industrialists comprised the main clientele and drew considerable investments to the island, and a slew of new amenities sprung up:  waterfront townhomes, an expanded and updated marina, an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, and a renovated runway that provided an easy entry / exit for those with access to private aircraft.
It Isn't Hard to Imagine the Luxury This Place Used to Offer

But it didn’t last.  When economies started to crater in the 70’s both the interest and investments in this place dried up.  At the same time drug-running became popular and the proximity of Great Harbour made it a hub for the smugglers.  By the time the various law enforcement agencies had completed their crackdown on the illicit trafficking, the island had completed its total nosedive.  Apart from the cruise ship activity on the northern end (and their private beaches) today this area of the Berry Islands is mostly a stopover for vessels making the transit to other places in the Bahamas.  Its marina, however, remains active, being especially attractive for those needing shelter from the weather.  And the beaches on its eastern shoreline are still some of the most beautiful – although largely empty – strips of sand in the entire island chain.
The Flats Beach....Would Be Great for Shelling if There Were Any Shells There

By the way, Jerry authors an interesting blog of his own, and being something of a history fanatic, there you will find some more intriguing information about this area.  Click HERE to see more of his perspectives.

Following lunch at the marina snack bar – where the hogfish fingers are really good – we rented a car and drove from one end of this seven mile long island to the other.  Apart from a couple of spectacular beaches, along with a handful of fairly new homes and one beach bar perched on their overlooks, there isn’t a lot to see here.  But if you want a gorgeous and deserted beach all to yourself, this is certainly one place you can easily find that.

A View of the "Cave Beach"
Two of the beaches were particularly striking.  The first at the southeastern end of the island is what we called the “flats beach”.  At low tide its sugar white sands reach far out into the ocean waters, and you can literally walk in zero or ankle-deep, gin-clear water for hundreds of meters.  Interestingly the locals call this beach the “shelling beach”….upon which we found absolutely no shells.

Then there is what we called the “cave beach” further north on the island’s eastern shoreline.  Here we found large outcroppings of gnarly looking rock where the pounding surf had carved out concave curves and burrowed out a couple of small caves – which you can access only at a low tide.  Climbing to the top of the rocks provided for some stunning views.
Rick Pausing in Front of One of the Caves

We wrapped up our day back at the marina with some social time among our fellow cruisers, and then a quiet dinner aboard.

The next day, Wed, 02-May, we continued to pester Jerry and Christine by joining them on their dinghy for a spin around the harbor area and a closer inspection of the island’s immediate western shoreline.  It was fairly windy (as forecasted) so we took some occasional spray in some of the open areas, but we enjoyed the company and the tour.  Some of the coves within the harbor area are surprisingly deep – twenty plus feet – especially when compared to the very shallow approach just outside the channel entry.  Using the small, maneuverable dinghy to head back out that channel towards the open waters to the west, and then back in, gave us a chance to take some photos of that narrow waterway without worrying about hitting rocks or going aground.
The Rock-Walled Entry Channel to GHC Marina...the Dinghies Give
You an Idea of How Narrow It Actually Is

Later that afternoon we decided to “swap ends” in the slip….turning Ghost Rider around so she faced bow out.  While that put our port side on the finger pier, thus positioning our only boarding door on the wrong side, it wasn’t doing us much good anyway given how tall the fixed docks are here.  Additionally, we wanted to be able to launch our own dinghy for use over the next few days (which can only be deployed from our boat deck to the starboard side.)  A big thanks goes to Jerry and Dave for helping us with the dock lines in the breezy conditions.  As it turned out, this move actually made it easier to get on and off the boat from the elevated Portuguese bridge port side deck at low tide, and from the cockpit gunwale at high tide. 
Just Us and Mystic Lady Moored Together at GHC Marina

That evening Jerry and Christine invited us aboard Mystic Lady for dinner, and were joined by their boating buddies and marina neighbors Dave & Michele, whose Viking sport fish, Just Us, was moored next door.  The BBQ pork chops were tender and flavorful, and the ample sides and desserts were delicious.  And Jerry’s frozen rum drink – made with papaya juice and a mango rum, and which he calls the “Mystic Marvel” – rivals the Goombay Ghost for flavor and a punch.  It was another good evening.

The winds on the morning of Thu, 03-May had kicked up to 20+ MPH as predicted, and while the offshore waters were churning like a washing machine, inside the GHC marina we were nicely protected.  We launched the dinghy to our newly accessible starboard side and readied it for use.  We wouldn’t be able to wander too far from the protected harbor or the lee of its western shoreline based on wind velocity, but it served as a distraction for Chelle when she tired of being boat or shore-bound – which was inevitable.  She dinghied around the harbor inlets and then over to “Bardot Beach”, a short strip of sand on the western edge of the island and just south of the marina entrance, supposedly made famous by Bridget Bardot as her favorite spot to hang out back in the glory days of the ‘60’s.  It was a peacefully deserted place good for some sunning, shelling and reading.
There Are Some Nice Homes in the Harbor Inlets

Rick in the meantime enjoyed some quiet time on the boat….which included a blissfully quiet napping interval.  Later in the day Jerry stopped by and he & Rick compared weather forecasting notes – which generally synched up, meaning the next several days would likely be occasionally wet, very windy and generally lousy enough to keep us all in port for a few more days.  That was OK, we were in no particular hurry.

Thursdays at the marina feature pizza night – place your order in the morning with preferred delivery time, and later that evening it shows up at your slip at the designated hour.  We took advantage of that, and the meat lover’s edition was pretty good, although here they don't seem to be great believers in tomato sauce.

View of Ghost Rider Pivoted to Stern-in with Dinghy Launched and
Michelle Working on Cleaning & Waxing the Transom
As expected the morning of Fri, 04-May started out very pleasantly, windy but with comfortable temperatures and scattered clouds passing rapidly overhead.  We had left the boat open overnight to enjoy the Bahamian breezes and remained that at least for the morning hours.  We spent the first part of the day messing about the boat handling various chores.  Rick attacked some standard Wheelhouse preventative maintenance – mainly cleaning out the A/C strainer, as well as updating our navigation computers with the latest GRIB file and Active Captain databases.  Chelle went to work cleaning the transom area, as it had accumulated weeks of generator exhaust film that was turning the gelcoat color from grey to black.

Later in the afternoon the shower activity picked up considerably, pretty much washing out the afternoon as the stiff breezes drove the rain in squally fashion.  The marina announced it was postponing its weekly "Chill and Grill" until the following evening in the hope the weather would be more hospitable by then.

The Tender Taskforce Gathers for the Day's Expedition

We kept the boat closed up overnight until the morning of Sat, 05-May, which dawned partly sunny and dry.  The forecast for today looked mostly benign (except for the winds) so after a quick breakfast we jumped into the dinghy and joined three other tenders (including those from Mystic Lady and Just Us) to take a tour of the western side of the island.  We had a few objectives in mind – find the “blue hole”, explore a couple of beaches, and locate a plane wreck that was supposedly nearby.

First we found the blue hole tucked back into a cove just to the north of GHC Marina.  A blue hole is a small, somewhat circular, sudden and deep drop-off in the ocean floor, likely formed during the ice age when sea levels were considerably lower.  The Bahamas boasts several.  Because they are so (relatively) deep, the water appears to be a dark blue color, whereas the shallower waters surrounding it – in this case four to five feet at a mid tide – appear to be light green in color.  We measured 175 feet of depth, and the diameter of the hole couldn’t have been much more than 60 feet across.  It was basically a small vertical cave in the ocean floor.
One of the Two Beaches We Invaded

On the two strip of beaches we found we got the opportunity to try out our “anchor buddy”, which is a second anchor with a bungee-like rode attached to the stern of the tender….shortly before the bow reaches the beach you toss it in the water to get it set, then stretch it a bit while motoring to the beach.  Once close enough to the beach we deploy the bow anchor on the beach; the rubber-band like stretch in the stern anchor’s line keeps the tender sprung off the beach’s shallows.  It’s ideal in outgoing tides, and while it takes some practice it seems to work well.

The beaches were small – perhaps a hundred meters of fine, clean sand bordered on either side by rock outcroppings.  But the gin clear water allowed a good viewing of numerous manta rays that were cruising just above the sandy bottom in less than a foot of water as they strafed for zooplankton meals.  The largest we saw had about a three foot wingspan (although they are reputed to go up to 20 feet.)  Upon departure we also found the location of the small plane wreck just about 100 meters off the of the aircraft were just visible a few feet below the surface, but about all you could discern was that it was likely a small, single engine craft.
The Outlines of a Small Aircraft Visible Just Below the Surface

To close out the day, later that evening the marina’s weekly “Grill and Chill” event provided another fun social event with the other cruising couples at the nearby picnic pavilion.  The menu choices were BBQ chicken, ribs and steak.  (Hint: avoid the steak, the other dishes were very good.)

On Sun, 06-May the winds finally started to subside and bright sunshine dominated the day’s weather.  Rick and Jerry spent a good portion of the morning checking various weather and forecast sources, and agreed that the conditions would be good enough to support an early Monday departure for the long leg to the Bimini Islands.  So a portion of the day was also used to perform preflights and boat preps to allow a quicker get away the next morning.

Chelle had enjoyed the previous day at “Bardot Beach” so much that she decided to return there today in the dinghy and take advantage of such good weather.  When she returned to Ghost Rider later in the afternoon we gave the tender a quick bath and hoisted it back on the boat deck, latching it down in preparation for a long day of cruising tomorrow.  We got as many other boat preps done so we wouldn't get rushed in the morning.

Our Rental on GHC....a Motorized Roller Skate.  The Wheel is on the Right
Side, You Drive on the Left Side.  Except When Dodging Pot Holes.
Another Relic From the 1960's

But You Find Isolated New Construction on the Eastern Shoreline.
The Airport Consists of a Strip of Concrete and One Building
Another View of the "Flats Beach"
Another View of the "Cave Beach"
There's Always Seems to be a Beach Bar on Each (Inhabited) Island
The Marina's Snack Bar Menu...It's All Good.  The Caribbean Conch Salad is Fabulous.
Another Nordhavn -- N60 My Harley -- at the Marina
A View of Ghost Rider From the Other Shore Before We Turned Her Around
A View of Ghost Rider (from the Dinghy) After We Turned Her Around
The "Chill & Grill" Picnic Pavilion
The Bar at the Chill & Grill....Rum Anyone?


  1. Nice post, always interesting. Have fun, Harry

  2. Very nice. GLad you are enjoying your dream. I asked earlier, are you going to the NE this summer. Assume you have to get out of islands when a big blow heads your way. LOL. D & C

    1. Hey there,

      Thought I had replied concerning the NE, but maybe it got lost in the BTC ether. Anyway, yes, heading north after a side trip to OKC & STL for some family fun Late May / early June. Hope to end up in the Chesapeake again after visiting friends along the way in Edisto, Charleston, Oriental and Great Bridge.

      Would love to avoid the big tropical storms this year; we’ve got a hurricane hole reservation at AYB just in case.

      Just dropped the hook off of North Bimini.