Category Archives: Spanish Wells

A Month in Spanish Wells

An early Spanish explorer found fresh water on an island north of Eleuthera, thus it got the name Spanish Wells. We arrived here on April 18 and took a mooring ball for a month. We also rented a golf cart and set up a time to have the boat hauled out and the bottom painted at R&B Boatyard. This is our fourth visit to Spanish Wells and we have always been on a mooring ball for a month. Spanish Wells is a nice transition for us before returning to Florida, after spending most of the cruising season in The Exumas. It’s still in the Bahamas so the town has a relaxed island feeling, but unlike most of the other islands where we stop, we can find almost anything we need here, including a large well stocked grocery store with reasonable prices, every type of marine service we might need, a large hardware store, several nice casual restaurants and a more upscale one, the above mentioned mooring ball and golf cart, Papa Scoops Ice Cream, a bank with a 24 hour ATM, clothing stores and gift shops, hair salons, a dentist, and even dog groomers.

We visit Papa Scoops almost every night and have their soft serve ice cream for dessert. They serve two flavors each night, available from 7:30 pm until 10:00. The evening’s flavors are listed on a posterboard sign on the main street near the shop or on the Papa Scoops Facebook Page, where there is a new photo of their current poster each day.  (Notice the sign from Sunday that says they will be “open after church.” The Sunday night services last until 7:30.) The open air building is next to their house and a young daughter of the owners, who live in the house next door to Papa Scoops, comes to your car, bike, or golf cart, takes your order and makes your soft serve treat. 

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The first residents of Spanish Wells were English Puritans who traveled to  Bermuda in search of religious freedom, but apparently they wanted more and in 1648 a group called the Eleutheran Adventurers left Bermuda, headed for Eleuthera. They were shipwrecked on the dangerous Devil’s Backbone Reef and the survivors lived in a cave, now called  Preacher’s Cave, in north Eleuthera for awhile until some of them started a settlement in Spanish Wells. Most people living on the island are white Bahamians, descendants of those early Puritans and still very religious. They are a simple, hard working group of people with an unusual accent unique to this town. Until 1967 there was no electricity on Spanish Wells, more likely because they didn’t need or want it than they couldn’t have it. Now they have their own power plant on the island.  The commercial fishermen make six figure salaries and there is obviously a lot of money on the island and plenty of opportunities for becoming wealthy but you wouldn’t know it from observing their lifestyles. The lobster industry is the main employer and the docks are lined with large fishing vessels. Young men buy into ownership of the boats when someone retires or dies. The lobster season runs from August 1 to March 31 and the fishermen are gone most of that time. The fishing fleet here provides about 80% of the lobster served at the Red Lobster restaurant chain. In the off season most of the fishermen work other jobs. For example, a chef on one of the fishing vessels caters meals in the off season. You can go to his house and take home a meal or eat it on his front porch. Each week he posts a different menu on the Food Fair Grocery’s bulletin board on Thursday or Friday with four or five choices of entrees and you call his house or stop by to place your order for the Saturday night meals. This past Saturday, Mark and I shared a delicious prime rib dinner. A captain of one of the fishing vessels repairs diesel engines. In addition the fishermen spend time during the off season building new lobster traps and making repairs to their boats.

One of Sailor’s favorite activities here is riding in the golf cart looking for goats. We’ve noticed quite a few goats in Spanish Wells and nearby Russell Island, which is connected to Spanish Wells by a short bridge. At first we thought some enterprising entrepreneur was renting out goats to clear property, but that’s not why they are behind fences on empty lots. Recently we found out they are raised to be eaten! (We won’t tell Sailor.) As we ride down the streets here, Sailor’s nose is constantly sniffing, looking for the goats. I think he’s figured out they are always behind fences so when he sees a fence he gets more excited. All we have to do when we are driving down a steet in the golf cart is say, “Sailor, where are the goats?” and his head starts spinning around looking for them. 

imageSailor also loves to spend time swimming and fetching a ball on the beaches. Since he sometimes likes to take off running down the beach, he has to wear a 20 foot long floating leash so we can catch him while he’s racing past us. 

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Until several years ago, Spanish Wells was dry. However, Eleuthera wasn’t and people regularly took the short water taxi ride there to purchase liquor. Now there are several casual restaurants  that sell drinks and food, Budda’s and The Sandbar. Neither would be considered a “bar.” We had the best cracked conch we’ve ever eaten at The Sandbar. Besides eating and drinking, you can swim, rest in the beach lounge chairs, or swing in a hammock. An upscale restaurant, The Shipyard, also serves drinks and has a very popular “Happy Hour” as does Budda’s.

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Last week we had the boat hauled out and the bottom painted. Due to rain, a three day job lasted a week. There is a unique lift system at the R&B Boatyard. We pulled into a slip that has a platform under it, a diver (the owner of R&B) dove under the boat and placed jack stands under the hulls to hold the boat upright and steady, the lift went up and the boat was above water resting on the keels and jack stands on the platform, ready to have the workers powerwash and paint the bottom then wax the hulls. (The photos below were taken right after we were hauled out. Seas the Day looks much better now.) We could have stayed on the boat, but since we couldn’t let water drain from the sinks and showers while they were painting, we decided to rent an apartment for the week. While it was an unplanned expense, having the following for the past week has been wonderful: long showers, unlimited electricity, air conditioning, cable TV with premium channels, fast free wifi, a bed you can walk around, a washer/dryer, and  a full size refrigerator and stove. 

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We stayed in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor of the Harbourside Gift Shop.

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Although there are a few apartments, cottages, and homes for rent in Spanish Wells, the tourist business is not the most important feature of their economy. They are very industrious, hard workers and their businesses seem to be successful. Unlike other Bahamian islands we have visited, there doesn’t appear to be an unemployment problem here. Everything in Spanish Wells is geared to the residents, not the transients like us. While quite a few cruisers pass through Spanish Wells on their way to or from Abaco, or on their way back to the States, most don’t stay too long. Without a bike or golf cart (which is the main vehicle on the streets) it is a long walk to the grocery store or some of the restaurants and beaches. I recently read a blog where someone said they thought the residents of Spanish Wells were not very friendly. We have found just the opposite. Everyone waves at us when we pass them in our golf cart. In stores or on the streets, they are very friendly and helpful. Two CLODs (Cruisers Living On Dirt) host a happy hour on their front porch every night at 5:00. Anyone can show up and join them. They also have a lending library in their living room. At restaurants, the owners stop by tables to visit customers. (That’s how we discovered the owner of Budda has a large belly, much like Buddha.) Our friend Tom on Interlude left his Crocs on the bottom step of our sugar scoop while visiting. When he was ready to leave, they were gone. We found one floating away, but the other was lost. I went on the VHF radio and asked if anyone saw a brown clog floating in the harbor could they come back to Seas the Day. Immediately we got a reply that one of the water taxis had it and would drop it off on our boat.  The taxi driver told Tom he looked for the other one but couldn’t find it. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we think the Spanish Wells residents are very friendly and welcoming.

The citizens of Spanish Wells seem to live comfortable lives, and many are well off, however their homes are simple and nicely maintained. We haven’t seen a single large mansion, but we also haven’t seen any partially completed abandoned houses or tiny shacks found on many other Bahamian islands. Below are a few of some of the lovely homes in Spanish Wells. The majority of them are modest ranch style houses or two story Cape Cods. Looking at real estate listings, however, these houses are not bargains. Simple cottages are $200,000 and up. Ranches start at $300,000. One large home listed with 2700 sq ft and a dock was 1.1 million. A two bedroom, two bath cottage on a 115 ft of beach is $2.2 million. 

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Finally, we have always been very impressed with the lack of crime in the Bahamas. (This does not include large cities like Nassau and Freeport which are dangerous.) A picture can be worth a thousand words, and the photo below is a good example. It was taken on a Saturday night after the local dive shop was closed, not to be reopened until Monday morning. Can you imagine what would happen if stores in most parts of the world left all of these “for sale” items outside for an entire day and two nights? 

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There isn’t exactly a big police force here. In fact, their police car is a golf cart. No high speed chases in Spanish Wells. 

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Last year I wrote an extensive description of our visit to Spanish Wells, which can be found here.

Rain Rain Go Away and Thunder Too

imageWe’ve been in Spanish Wells, Bahamas for three weeks and until a few days ago the weather has been great, very windy but mostly sunny and always right around 82 degrees in the day dropping to the high 70’s at night. The mooring field is protected on all sides and the water is almost always calm even with high wind speeds. We haven’t experienced thunderstorms or even much rain since we arrived in the Bahamas in early March, but this week has made up for it. The photo above was taken this morning at about 0700 when Sailor went up on the forward deck as he does every morning, checking to see if anything happened while he was sleeping.  Being the smart dog he is, I suspect the gray skies did not make him happy, realizing he might not get to fetch his Kong Wubba on the beach today. An hour later, he was inside and this was the view out of the same salon window.

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The lightning accompanying thunderstorms is usually a concern when you have a mast sticking up over 60 feet from the water.  However, we are hopeful that there are more inviting targets in the harbor, especially the many large lobster and shrimp fishing vessels on the docks with their tall metal outriggers. After awhile you just can’t worry about lightning because it’s out of your control.

The concern for us with these storms is that Sailor has suddenly become afraid of thunder. Never having a dog with this fear before, I looked to Google for answers and it didn’t disappoint me with lots of links for this subject.  Of course, one’s first reaction is to comfort a frightened dog, but I read this is not a good idea.  Apparently it simply reinforces the fear, so instead we should continue whatever we are doing and not make a big deal out of Sailor’s reaction. When Sailor hears the first “boom” he runs down the four steps to the master companionway, sometimes going into the bathroom or jumping on the bed to get as far away from the thunder as possible. He’s worried, but not shaking, panting, or in distress, therefore it’s not too difficult to ignore the behavior.  I read on a site that one theory is the static electricity in the air from lightning might affect some dogs and they go to a bathroom where the pipes disperse the charge. I also know that dogs can hear or sense thunder long before humans do, although Sailor doesn’t panic until the noise starts.  I found two items in his first aid kit designed to calm pets, Rescue Remedy and Dog Appeasing Pheromone. These were purchased for our last dog Daisy to help her relax on long car rides, but unfortunately they have expired.  A definite purchase when we get back to the States will be a Thundershirt although our hope is to work on getting Sailor to ignore the thunder, since it appears the longer the fear persists, the harder it will be to eliminate.

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The high winds and now the thunderstorms have delayed many cruisers who planned to be back in the States by now, or perhaps wanted to move on to the next island. Spanish Wells is a jumping off point to go to the Abacos, which is about 60 miles away.  Many cruisers spend the first part of their Bahamas trip in the Exumas and points south, come back north through Eleuthera to Spanish Wells and go to the Abacos before heading back to the US East Coast.

As we get closer to June 1 when we have to be back in Florida for hurricane season, we have started listening to Chris Parker’s Bahamas weather forecast webcast at 0630 again. (We can also listen to him on our SSB receiver, but the iPad and computer reception is much clearer.) As of now, the weather appears to be favorable for motorsailing back to Florida next weekend.  There will be little wind, so true sailors won’t like it, but we will because that also means calmer seas.  From here we’ll go to Chub Cay in the Berries, then on to Bimini, and the following day back to Lake Worth/Palm Beach. We’ll be getting the mast taken down there, part of our “hurricane plan,” and then we’ll return to Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, FL for the summer and fall. Unfortunately, this time table corresponds with Memorial Day Weekend, so it might be dificult to get a marina slip in Bimini where anchoring isn’t good and powerboats could be coming from Florida for the holiday. Once in Florida I’m sure the waterways will be busy.  “Busy” translates to lots of motorboats speeding around with their wake wildly rocking the anchored or moving cruising boats, i.e. rude South Florida boaters. Lake Worth, however, is less crazy on the water than Miami and Ft. Lauderdale so it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. We will probably have to anchor there a few days waiting to get into Cracker Boy Boatyard for the mast unstepping.

In the meantime, today looks like a good day to read and relax on the boat. If things get boring we can always watch what is motoring past us in the harbor. This morning before the rain started, MV Legend II, a 200+ ft long commercial vessel, used the mooring field for her turning basin.  Looking at the photo at the beginning of this blog entry of Sailor gazing across the narrow harbor, this is exactly where Legend stopped while moving east, then rotated until perpendicular with her aft close to the dock where the pink house is and her bow between us and a St. Francis catamaran on ball 8. Then she continued to spin around to face west and pulled up to a dock to unload supplies. When ready to leave, Legend was pointed in the right direction to go through the same channel she entered from earlier. These large vessels do this regularly when they bring shipments into the Spanish Wells port. It’s amazing how expertly they are maneuvered  to turn around in such a small space.

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Later today, the rain did stop and we were able to go ashore.  Sailor got to go to the beach where he fetched his Wubba in the water and then ran and ran,  expending lots of saved up energy.  We shopped at Kathy’s Bakery for homemade bread and, of course, made our regular stop for a frappuccino, aka iced coffee.

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Creature Comforts in Spanish Wells

While we love the simple life of being anchored next to a small Bahamian island with deserted sandy beaches, after awhile we do miss some of the creature comforts and conveniences we enjoy in the States. That’s just one reason we are in Spanish Wells for at least three weeks before we return to Florida.

Located northwest of Eleuthera and south of the Abacos, Spanish Wells, the only town on St. George’s Cay, and its neighbor Russell Island have a combined population of about 1600. They are connected by a short narrow bridge. The people are mostly white native Bahamians, descendants of British who came in the 1600’s and Loyalists from the 1700’s. Spanish Wells is very different from the towns we visit in the Exumas.  Most of the islands in the Exumas are sparsely populated and have very few onshore facilities.  Spanish Wells is a much more developed town. The main business is fishing and the large fleet of fishing boats here provide shrimp and lobster for Red Lobster as well as many other outlets. In fact, Spanish Wells exports more lobster than all of the other Bahamian islands combined. Lobster and shrimp seasons are over in the Bahamas so during the coming months the fishing vessels will be painted and repaired.

There is very little tourism here, although it is a short water taxi ride to trendy Harbour Island. There are plans to build a Jack Nicholas designed golf course with luxury estates, a spa and resort, a marina, and upscale restaurants on nearby Royal Island, which is a popular place for cruisers to anchor in  the protected bay before heading to the Abacos. The project has already begun and when completed will certainly give Harbour Island some competition but probably won’t affect Spanish Wells, which is a five minute boat ride away. A number of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans own homes in Spanish Wells and spend the winters here with some becoming permanent residents. The homes range from small cottages to large estates and all are very well kept, most with beautifully landscaped yards. The roads are paved and the town is very clean. It’s obvious that the town is prosperous and there seems to be plenty of work for the residents. Unlike many of the Exuma islands, it is rare to find buildings that have been started and abandoned when the money ran out. There are construction crews working around the town building new homes and the craftsmanship is outstanding. In between many of the houses in Spanish Wells there are sandy paths to the 2 1/2 mile long ocean beach and there are also several parks on the beach. At low tide it is a long walk out to water and then it remains shallow, a perfect beach for fetching a wubba.

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Along the mostly commercial road by the harbor, called South Street, there are marine and hardware supply stores, golf cart and car rentals, gift shops, an excellent seafood market, restaurants and take-aways (takeouts), a customs and immigration office,  a small grocery store and even a boat lift where the commercial fishing vessels and pleasure boats are cleaned, painted and repaired. In 2010 we had our boat hauled out and the bottom painted here. It’s not unusual to see boats on the lift from Florida and other US cities.

In other parts of town there are more businesses, most located on Main Street which runs parallel to South Street, including a dive shop, several clothing stores, restaurants, churches, coffee shops, a Batelco office, a bank, an auto shop, a government clinic, a computer store, bakeries, a dentist, a canvas shop, hair salons, a homemade ice cream shop, a law office, an appliance store, a realtor, a cemetery, a small museum, and a large IGA type grocery store.

There are small ferry boats that take passengers to Eleuthera and Harbour Island and also a large “fast ferry” catamaran that makes the trip back and forth to Harbour Island once a day from Nassau with a stop in Spanish Wells.  There are nearby reefs for diving and snorkeling and the harbor is perfect for kayaking.  While we don’t fish, this is an excellent area for sports fishing on the ocean with world class bone fishing on the flats around Spanish Wells. The well protected mooring field where we are staying is a few boat lengths away from the docks along the harbor road and only has eight balls. There is also a marina, Spanish Wells Yacht Haven, that is currently doing major renovations with several brand new buildings. Below are photos of the mooring field and a small section of South Street across from us where the fishing boats dock and some of the commercial stores are located.

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The mooring field is home to a family of dolphins who come by frequently to entertain us.  As always, it’s impossible not to run out on deck when we hear them splashing in the water.

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It might sound like I have just described a large thriving metropolis, but Spanish Wells is a small town with very friendly people. Most houses have a golf cart in the driveway as well as a car and the golf carts probably get more use. The grocery store is the largest we have seen since Nassau and it is well stocked with everything we need. Most of the other stores are small although very well supplied. There is a liquor store here but no bars. We have heard that the residents do not lock their doors and that crime is nonexistent. Perhaps that is the reason the police car is a golf cart.

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In the past we rode our bikes around Spanish Wells, but this year we are hesitant to leave Sailor alone on the boat while not at a dock, so he comes everywhere with us. We decided to rent a golf cart for the time we are here and are finding it very useful for getting around town. The nicest beach area  is too far to walk with Sailor, and he has discovered that while he doesn’t like riding in cars very much, he LOVES golf carts.  After racing up and down the beach fetching his wubba, Sailor is ready to relax for awhile while we read in the shade of our beach umbrella. Another advantage of having the golf cart is we can bring chairs, an umbrella and other items to the beach. Driving on the paved streets is very easy and we return friendly waves to all of the cars and golf carts we meet.

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We were pleasantly surprised to find that there are three dog groomers in Spanish Wells.  Sailor desperately needed a haircut,  as can be seen in the two photos above, so a few days ago we took him to one of them and he got a nice summer cut.

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Of course one creature comfort I have been missing is Starbucks.  Several coffee shops here sell their version of frappuccinos, and I must admit they are very close to what I’ve had at Starbucks.

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Spanish Wells seems to be a perfect blend of tropical living without giving up too many creature comforts. It is a great transition to ease us back into life in Florida. In good weather it is a three day sail from here to Lake Worth.  However, we still have the rest of May to enjoy the Bahamas.