Normally when we leave Georgetown, we go out to the deep water of the Exuma Sound and follow the shore of Great Exuma north to a cut into the shallow water of the Banks on the west side of the islands. We try to avoid sailing on the Sound except for this one leg since there are generally higher waves and rougher water than on the Banks. Once in shallow water, we continue north to stop at islands we didn’t visit on the way south a few months earlier. We take more time to swim, snorkel, kayak, and hike at some of our favorite destinations in the Exumas. Then we cross from Warderick Wells to Eleuthera. This year we decided to take a different route. We left Georgetown and crossed the Exuma Sound sailing northeast to Cat Island. From there we went to Little San Salvador and on to Eleuthera.
Cat Island was settled in 1783 by the Loyalists. It was named after pirate Arthur Catt who made many stops on the island. Another claim to fame for the residents of Cat Island is that actor Sidney Poitier was born here. It is 48 miles long and 1 1/4 miles wide. We made three stops on Cat Island: New Bight, Fernandez Bay, and Bennett’s Harbor.
New Bight was chosen so we could visit a monastery called The Hermitage which was built by Monsignor Jerome Hawkes, also known as Father Jerome. He came to the Bahamas as an architect and an Anglican priest to repair Long Island Anglican churches and later was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest. In 1930, at age 62, he built the Hermitage on Mt. Alvernia in Cat Island. He named the high hill after one in Tuscany where St. Francis received the wounds of the cross. From a distance the monastery looks huge, but once we climbed the steep hill to the top, 206 ft above sea level, we realized it is a scaled down model with four small enclosed rooms: a bedroom, living area, chapel and kitchen. There is also an open air bathroom and a bell tower. Father Jerome’s monastery includes a guest building and the grave where the priest is buried. Below are photos of the Hermitage beginning with the sign on the main road near our anchored boats.
Mark, Cathie, Tom, Sailor and I walked up the road to the Hermitage. In the distance is the monastery at the top of the hill.
Next we left the road to walk up a path. This is the entrance to the steep, rocky path.
At a fork, we chose a path that went past the Stations of the Cross, hand carved by Father Jerome.
The path continued and became much steeper. I stopped and waited by the stations of the cross because I knew it wasn’t safe to go any further with my recent total knee replacements. The path ended and there were very steep hand carved stone steps leading to the monastery.
This is the view approaching the Hermitage.
Tom, Cathie, Sailor and Mark came back down the hill by a more gradual path. Mark and I went back up choosing the safer way at the fork in the path to the Hermitage. Here we are in front of the monastery’s bell tower. This demonstrates the small size of Father Jerome’s rooms. The Atlantic Ocean is visible on the other side of Cat Island. He had a 360 degree view of the area from his monastery.
It’s hard to image how he was able to construct the intricately designed monastery, but recalling that he was also an architect it is understandable that each room was built for a specific purpose no larger than he needed them to be. He built this monastery to live in for the rest of his life and he was looking for solitude.
His chapel has a chair and desk to sit at as well as an altar.
Sailor enjoyed the cool shade of the bell tower.
A ladder leads up to the top of the bell tower. As I was waiting for the group to return to me, I heard the working bell ringing.
This window looks down at the road we walked on to get to the Hermitage. You can’t see the steep path because it is under the window.
Father Jerome built his personal monastery stone by stone. From left to right, the rooms are the bell tower, his chapel, the living area and the kitchen, an open area with pillars and carved quotes and at the far right his bedroom. The words “Beata Solitudo” mean “blessed solitude” and he carved this into the area with pillars. Amazing and well worth the long hike to the top of the hill.
He even built a guest house. It contains two fireplaces, one outside and one inside the building. There are also fireplaces in each of the monastery’s rooms.
Father Jerome died in 1956. He is buried on the property of The Hermitage.
Our next stop was a short sail away in Fernandez Bay, where there is a beautiful beach and lovely resort. We had dinner at the resort with our boat buddies Cathie and Tom (Interlude).
Before dinner we watched a stunning sunset over the bay where our two boats and one more were anchored.
We were the only dinner guests who weren’t staying at the resort. The dinner was a delicious buffet but the best part was the ambiance of the resort and of course the company of our good friends Cathie and Tom. By the way, Cathie and I did not plan to dress alike! We sat inside because when we arrived it was much cooler than the patio seating and our table was open to the water just like those on the patio.
The dining room was in a stunning thatched roof building with intricate designs in the ceiling.
Another short sail the next day brought us to Bennett’s Harbor. This destination was chosen mainly as a place to anchor where we could leave Cat Island the following day and reach Little San Salvador. There were houses on the beach by our anchorage, so we took the dinghy for a ride in a channel running though nearby mangroves. Returning to Bennett’s Harbor, we found another beach, totally deserted with powdery white sand. Sailor was free to fetch his ball and we could swim in the shallow warm water.
After all this fun, we returned to our anchored boat to get ready to leave in the morning.
Little San Salvador is a private island for several lines of cruise ships. When we arrived in the early afternoon, a Carnival ship was anchored and the next morning a Holland America cruise ship arrived. After the ships leave at 4 pm, cruisers anchored nearby are allowed to go ashore.
Sailor could have had “boat envy” as we anchored near the cruise ship when he seemed to stare longingly at the huge vessel. He would love racing down the decks on that ship. The passengers were brought back and forth from the ship to the shore all day in small ferries seen next to the big ship.
One of many onshore activities for the ship passengers was horseback riding on the beach and nearby trails. Others snorkeled, walked on the beach, visited the various buildings built for their use, ate food, swam, and sunbathed.
After the cruise ship left the private island, we re-anchored closer to the beach and went ashore in our dinghies. There was only one other boat there besides Seas the Day and Interlude. Sailor loved running on the deserted beach. We had to watch out for the big tractor smoothing the sand on the beach. We also kept him away from the stalls where the horses live.
To cool off we all went swimming in the crystal clear water. Behind us on the shore you can see the buildings used for the visitors from the cruise ships.
Naturally the water and sandy beaches are beautiful, a big consideration when cruise ships buy their private islands. Of course, before it was purchased this was no doubt a fantastic place for cruisers to stop and spend a few days when crossing from Cat Island to Eleuthera. Now, visitors on private boats have to wait until 1600 to come ashore and leave by 0800 the next morning if another ship is arriving or at least move out of the way. In the Bahamas, all beaches are public up to the high tide water line and no one can stop you from anchoring anywhere, except in the Land and Sea Park in The Exumas. Permanent workers stay on the island, and they were very welcoming when we came to their beach. The only consideration in anchoring on Little San Salvador is to stay out of the way of the ferries delivering people to and from the islands.
We left at 0730 the next morning and passed a Holland America cruise ship pulling into the anchorage as we sailed towards Eleuthera.