Abaco Life Magazine

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Archive for July, 2003

Little Harbour

07 14th, 2003

By Jim Kerr

“I have been told of a place that sounds like the paradise we have been looking for,” wrote Randolph Johnston in his diary. “It is called Little Harbour, and is in the Abaco area.”
The date of the entry, written by the man who would become an Abaco legend and its most renowned sculptor, was May 30, 1952. Two days later Johnston, his wife Margot, their daughter Marina, and three sons, Bill, Pete and Denny, stepped ashore at Little Harbour for the first time, alighting from the Johnston’s sailing schooner Langosta. For the former teacher turned island pioneer, a man who longed for a tranquil life away from the industrial “megamachine” and the influences of materialism, this was the ultimate fantasy.
“It is beautiful beyond description,” he wrote. “In this landlocked haven there is a perfect semicircle of white beach gently lapped by water so clear you can not tell where dry sand stops and water begins. A high rock-ribbed dune shelters us from from the trade winds Little Harbour Abaco Bahamasand the now invisible surf of the ocean we have just crossed. There is no sign of man except the distant roof of the Little Harbour Light.”
Coconut palms, sheltered by the dune on the ocean side, lined the east rim of the harbour, while to the west were “high, verdant cliffs, pierced by numerous caves.” It was in one of them, a yawning recess measuring 50 feet wide and 10 feet high, that the Johnstons first took up residence. Bats and owls swirled about gothic columns of stalagmites. Crabs the size of grapefruit skittered about, and dark lichen shapes on the walls gave the whole place a gothic and macabre appearance. It gave Margot the creeps, but the kids loved it.
Today the cave is almost a shrine at Little Harbour; a symbol of resilience where one family’s determination and self-reliance built and maintained what now amounts to a residential colony anchored by a foundry, gallery and an open-air beachfront watering hole known as “Pete’s Pub.” Its namesake is Pete Johnston, Rand’s middle son, who at age 60 is the second generation reigning patriach of Little Harbour. A stocky, barrel chested man with a distinctive dark mustache, Pete is almost as recognizable in Abaco as his work, which ranges from bronze belt buckles to elaborate tables featuring sculpted sea life under glass. Today he is assisted by a cadre of talent which includes his two sons, Greg and Tyler, and Richard Appaldo, who studied under Randolph in the early 1980s and came back to live permanently almost 10 years ago.

Randolph Johnston’s bronze art foundry at Little Harbour flourished. His sculptures became famous and ultimately lucrative. One of his large works, titled “St. Peter: Fisher of Men,” rests in the Vatican’s museum in Rome. He suffered a debilitating stroke in 1989 and died three years later at age 89. Margot died in 1998, also at age 89. They lived long and fruitful lives, and despite disappointing calamities and setbacks, their resolve always brought them back from adversity, a characteristic inherited by Pete. His home at Little Harbour, along with the original Pete’s Pub, was destroyed by fire in 1986. His first wife, Debbie, died of cancer in the early 1990s, and in 1999 Hurricane Floyd virtually wiped out Little Harbour.
“Floyd totaled everything,” says Pete. “The foundry was 80 percent lost, as were 50 percent of the gallery contents. The pub was totaled. Nothing was insured and we’re still recovering, although we’ve been casting for three years since the storm. But we were out of business for 14 months.” Loses were estimated at half a million dollars.Petes Pub Little Harbour Abaco Bahamas
Clients helped the cash flow by paying in advance for sculptures, including 40 special edition sculptures of Man-O-War boat builders, a “symbolic rebuilding” piece.
Today the foundry, gallery, Pete’s home and the pub have all been rebuilt. The Little Harbour team effort is rounded out by Greg’s fiancee, Heather, who works in the gallery and manages the books and marketing chores, and about eight staff members who run Pete’s Pub. The original was constructed in 1968 from the pilot house of the old Langosta. Today’s version, while still retaining its out island ambience, is supported by a new modern kitchen and plumbing. “It’s not a topless bar,” jokes Pete, noting the pub has a roof. “It’s more of a sideless saloon.”
People complained when it rained, he says. And the outdoor “his and hers” palm trees have been replaced by indoor restrooms. Picnic tables and benches are scattered beneath protective palm trees. The bar and picnic area is floorless. The soft sand, cool and relaxing on bare feet under the shaded tables, turns significantly warmer climbing from the pub to the crest of the hill to the east. Beyond the dune is the blue Atlantic crashing ashore, and beyond that there is nothing but horizon.
Humour has always been a trademark for Pete Johnston. So has his affinity for the environment and wildlife. Dolphins, turtles and stingrays which inhabit Little Harbour’s waters have been immortalized in hundreds of sculpures, ranging from three-inch high seahorses to 40-pound table-top pieces. Among the latter, there are currently three in a series, each one depicting a stage in Hemingway’s classic novel “The Old Man and the Sea.” In the first, the old man is seen catching the marlin. In the second, he unsucessfully fends off the attacking shark, and in the third he sails home with the pitiful remains. The variously sized works in the gallery also range in price accordingly, from about $20 up to $10,000. Personalized custom work is also popular, such as coffee tables with assorted marine life.Bronze sculptures by Pete Johnston at Petes Pub and Gallery in Little Harbour Abaco Bahamas
The Johnston dynasty at Little Harbour, from its cave-dwelling early days to its successful establishment as a community and business, is chronicled in “Artist on His Island: A Study in Self Reliance.” First published in 1975 with assistance from Denny Johnston, the book is based on Ran’s log dating from January 17, 1951 when he first came to the Bahamas, to December, 1974. Denny notes that “Little Harbour has changed greatly since that day when we first sailed in so many years ago.” A few cottages have sprung up, he says in his “summing up” at the conclusion of the book, due to Ran’s sale of property to holiday residents. A second edition was published in 2000, with an update from brother Bill, who also lives part time at Little Harbour with his wife, Judy. He also observes dramatic changes at Little Harbour, but this time, a quarter of a century after the book’s first edition, it is largely his own resolve and resources which have fostered it. After the disasterous 1986 fire, Bill bulldozed a rough road from Little Harbour to what was then a rough gravel road leading into the tiny community of Cherokee. And when the Cherokee road was paved in the 90s, connecting it with the new Abaco Highway and Marsh Harbour, Little Harbour was no longer isolated. Several large generators installed by Bill now supply electricity, and there is telephone service.
On any given afternoon, and particularly on weekends, rental cars and motor scooters fill up the little sandy parking area south of Pete’s Pub. Marsh Harbour is now only 20 miles and 45 minutes or so away over good, if somewhat winding, roads. Only the last four miles from the Cherokee Road to Little Harbour is unpaved. The harbour is filled with moored and anchored power and sailboats, and a dozen rental boats are often tied up at the docks. Pete estimates 25,000 visitors a year come to Little Harbour, 80 percent of them by boat. But even though some have lamented the changes here, Little Harbour is still delightfully remote, far from the “megamachine” that Ran Johnston sought so hard to escape. Turtles, stingrays and dolphins inhabit the water, and a fringe reef along the east shore at the mouth of the harbour offers excellent snorkeling. Families with kids frolic in the shallow, protected water off the harbour shore, and the pub, open for lunch and dinner, is filled with patrons. A wild boar roast is held on Saturdays. Directly northwest is Robinson Bight, with its blue holes and bonefishing along the flats, and Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park is minutes away by boat.
The gallery, housed in a solid, hopefully hurricane-proof concrete building, contains a wide variety of artwork, from jewelry to large and small sculptures. The gallery contents are dominated by bronze sealife, but some original works by Ran Johnston are also archived here in a museum setting. His “Nine Ages of Man,” an arch representing the cycle of life, ascended and descended by man at various ages of life, is displayed. Fifty special edition replicas of the work, which will be one-half the original size, are being planned, with a sale price of $10,000 apiece. Greg Johnston’s series of bronze bonefish eating a silver crawfish, sea horses and other small pieces are also on display, along with the “Old Man and the Sea” series, dolphins, turtles and other marine life, some of it encased in furniture.
All of it comes from an elaborate foundry on the premises. The process used is called the lost wax bronze casting method, a practice that goes back 5,000 years. A wax model is encased in a heat-resistant material such as clay or plaster. The product is heated so that the mold hardens and the wax melts. The remaining cavity, a negative image of the model, is then filled with molten metal. The surrounding cover is removed after it cools, revealing a solid metal object in the image of the original model. The artwork can then be polished or painted. It’s a complex and sometimes dangerous process, involving molten metal and several stages, each with ample room for error. A guided trip around the foundry, which can only be arranged when work is not in progress, is impressive. The gallery is supervised by Richard Appaldo, Ran Johnston’s last student in 1983. He helped his mentor with the statue of Sir Milo Butler, which is displayed in Nassau, and with the St. Peter sculpture now in the Vatican. Appaldo stayed here for three years, then visited annually before returning to reside at Little Harbour permanently in 1993.
About 40 homes have been built at Little Harbour since Randolph Johnston sailed in, moved out of a cave and into a house himself. Before that, the only stucture was a small lighthouse, and the only inhabitants its keeper and his family (see sidebar). The remains of the lighthouse, its roof finally blown off by Floyd, can be reached via a path which starts from the shoreline and winds up the hill through seagrapes and bush. The view is the same as it was half a century ago, and beyond. Few people venture up here these days. Most are content to swim in the harbour, tour the gallery and settle into the pub. But it is up here, where the ocean meets the craggy rocks below, and the green Abaco coastline stretches away, that one understands how truly wild and remote life once was at Little Harbour.



Sandy Point

07 1st, 2003

A quiet village ushers in a new era of
growth, influence and challenges
from the outside world

By Rhonda Claridge

On a warm summer Sunday in Sandy Point, fishermen work on their boats in the mangrove creek that borders the east side of the settlement. Nets are strung under the big almond trees, where a few people congregate to beat the heat. Off the point, bonefishermen stand casting from the flats. On the main road, Queen Street, dominated by the yellow telecommunications tower, girls and boys are dressed for Sunday school at St. Martin’s Anglican Church. Outboard engines and skiffs lie about in backyards or above the beach on the west side, where children swim or fish with hand lines off the government. In the evening, songs and light emanate from the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, distinguished by its royal blue and red stained-glass windows.
All is tranquil in Sandy Point, Abaco’s southernmost settlement. With a population of approximately 500, it’s a quiet, “fishnin’” village, isolated from the rest of Abaco by dint of its remote southwestern location 60 miles from busy Marsh Harbour. Not yet “gussied up,” as many out island settlements have been in recent years, Sandy Point has a charm reminiscent of the old days. Everyone knows everyone, grandparents live with or near their children and grandchildren, visitors are a welcome curiosity, and people volunteer their help.
Apart from the 30-minute bustle created by the thrice a week arrival and departure of the 260-foot fast ferry - a new transportation business linking Nassau and Abaco - or the Sunday evening fish-fry, a fundraiser for the community center and hurricane shelter now under construction, the town is a laid-back and slow-paced haven which some think is perhaps a bit too slow. Having always lived off the land and the sea, in recent years Sandy Point residents have felt the strains of unemployment. Some say this is the fault of a lackluster attitude toward work in today’s youth, or increased competition in the fishing industry combined with a diminishing catch, particularly of scalefish. Many young people move away in search of work. About a dozen residents make the 60-mile one-way commute to jobs in Marsh Harbour, while others have put new sport fishing skills to use, becoming bonefishing guides, with significant success. Still others own or work at Sandy Point’s three restaurants, two take-out kitchens, three lodges, two grocery stores, four bars, variety store, marina, or gas station. There is also optimism among many that the ferry, which began service last May, will be a boon to the local economy. A government subdivision currently under development near the settlement, as well as a golf club and resort planned near Cherokee Sound, about an hour’s drive from Sandy Point, round out the most frequent topics of conversation, as locals debate the socio-economic impacts on their future.

A ship comes in

Around sunset, the fast ferry SeaWind reverses into its make-shift ramp beside the government dock and off-loads passengers, freight and vehicles. A $42-million space-age-designed catamaran, painted the colors of the Bahamian flag, the ferry is capable of carrying between 300 and 600 passengers. The SeaWind’s owner, Bahamas Ferries Ltd., markets packages to visitors that include transportation aboard the ferry between Abaco and New Providence. Mr. Khallis Rolle, chief marketing officer for Bahamas Ferries, has told Abaconians that his company partners with local communities, encouraging them to put in services, such as rental car agencies, taxis, bus and trucking services, restaurants and gift shops to compliment the ferry.
Captain Ernest Dean, Sandy Point’s patriach and former mail boat skipper, believes the ferry will give residents more options than the once-a-week mailboat from Nassau. He points out that dredging required for the six-and-a-half-foot-draught ferry, which is necessary for it to pull up to a new loading ramp, will also allow the mailboat and other large boats access to Sandy Point at low tide.
Everyone in Sandy Point has a justifiable interest and point of view on the new ferry, as well as other recent developments in the community. Edward Pinder, a lifelong captain and fisherman, says he hopes to ride on the new ferry himself, but is not sure he can convince his wife, Isadora. She once survived a night at sea with Captain Dean when his mailboat caught fire, and another deep-water passage for her may be out of the question. Edward and Isidora and their delightful grandchildren usher me into their living room like a long lost friend, and Isidora gives me her homemade bread and a banana cake when I leave.
Leslie Adderley and his daughters own and operate Nancy’s Sea Side Inn Restaurant & Bar. Famous for its Sandy Point Smash and grilled conch on Friday evenings and stewed fish on Sunday mornings, Nancy’s Sea Side is situated above the beach near the ramp where the SeaWind disembarks passengers. “It’s a good thing,” Les says about the ferry service. “That’s prosperity.”
“I think we’re going to have a lot of spin off from it, both good and bad, but I think it’s the way to go,” adds local Rizpa Edgecombe. “There will be more revenues, but wherever there’s success, there are little setbacks.” One setback may be erosion along the north side of the beach. A solid mass of boulders and quarry, the ramp does not allow the sea to flow through, but instead creates a seawall. Shoreline engineers caution that any obstruction will cause erosion, and a hurricane could wreak havoc. Situated on a low-lying peninsula and built close to the shore, Sandy Point suffered severe damage in Hurricane Floyd.
Walter Lightbourne, owner of a marina and fuel dock just south of the ferry ramp, says he doesn’t think the ramp was well planned. He explains that the ramp, which was built alongside the government dock, now blocks one side of the dock from use. Because his facility is south of the ramp, deposition has already begun to occur under his dock, and constant dredging will be needed to allow boats to access his business.
Benjamin Pinder, former administrator for the South Abaco district, says, “I see the fast ferry as beneficial for Abaco as a whole, because it offers transportation of goods and vehicles at a cheaper rate than the mailboat, but I don’t see it as a great asset for Sandy Point.” He points out that the ferry currently employs only one resident.
That would be Stanley White, a soft-spoken man who operates the 36-guest capacity Pete & Gay Guesthouse Restaurant & Sportsbar, built by his mother and father and named after them. He is a councilor for South Abaco and the ferry service’s booking agent. “The fast ferry will bring more growth to the area,” he says. “The concern is who does it bring to our community? Right now people still feel safe leaving their doors unlocked, but anyone can drive on and drive off the ferry.”
It’s the inevitable dilemma faced by many small, insulated towns on the verge of suddenly becoming a destination for strangers. Nonetheless, Mr. White hopes the ferry will bring visitors who want to stay in the settlement. “It’s difficult for qualified people to find jobs even in Marsh Harbour. I hope if things open up, maybe we can keep more of our young people at home.”
Deputy Administrator for the South Abaco District Jolton Johnson says the ferry has already brought some economic benefit to Sandy Point, offering as example the homecoming weekend last June when the ferry transported 270 passengers and 25 vehicles to the town, filling the town’s hotels and guest houses and illustrating the potential for a car rental business in Sandy Point.

Land use brings change

The Sands Subdivision, named after Reverend Samuel Sands who died last year at 102, is another new addition to the village. Instigated by a shortage of available land in the settlement, the subdivision was formerly Crown Land that the government has conveyed to housing. Located on high ground beside the Great Abaco Highway just a few miles inland from Sandy Point, it is being developed in two phases, the first of which is near completion and includes 96 lots, five for commercial use, and a public park.
Lots are being offered at $12,000, including electricity, telephone and water services to the property. All Abaconians are eligible to buy lots but Sandy Point residents are being given first preference, according to Richard Gibbs, Project Officer for the Department of Housing in Abaco. Gibbs says 16 lots have sold outright to Sandy Point locals and 20 others have been secured with down payments. The value of the land is 80 cents a square foot, compared to property at a new government subdivision in Marsh Harbour which costs $1.15 a square foot.
Phase II is to include more than 100 lots, some for commercial use, as well as a school, public park and churches. At present Sandy Point has only one primary school that enrolls 60 children. Older students are bused to Marsh Harbour to attend secondary school, a round trip of about 120 miles. “Phase II would not come on until Phase I is completely sold out,” Mr. Gibbs explains.
Mr. Johnson sees the new subdivision as an opportunity for growth, and for Sandy Point residents and other Abaconians to invest in their own island. He is also confident that Winding Bay, an upscale golf community and largely private resort currently under development near Cherokee, will provide opportunities for the Sandy Point community. “The future of Abaco is in the South,” he says, referring to the underpopulated regions of Great Abaco Island south of Marsh Harbour. “The majority of the land is here and there are more choices as far as development is concerned.” Peter de Savary, developer of Winding Bay, has promised employment and employee training to Abaconians. Mr. Johnson says the Winding Bay project “opens a future, in some instances, and careers for young persons.”
Since the commute to Winding Bay from Sandy Point takes approximately the same amount of time as driving to Marsh Harbour, some residents are more skeptical about the benefits the new golf club and resort will offer them. Phase I is expected to be completed by November 2004 and is to include an 18-hole “tropical links” golf course and a clubhouse. Eventually, 55 houses and 75 cottages are to be added, with amenities such as equestrian facilities, a spa, tennis courts, a swimming pool, shops and other activities, including guided bonefishing.

Outside influences arrive

The concept of wealthy foreigners at leisure, playing golf and enjoying spas, is not new to Abaco communities in the north, where Treasure Cay has been operating since the 1950s. But in south Abaco, with its modest settlements, Abaco’s upscale tourism product is just now catching up. Five years ago, Walt Disney Co. bought the privately-owned portion of Gorda Cay, an island nine miles northwest of Sandy Point, and the Bahamas government agreed to lease its share of the island to Disney for 99 years. Two Disney cruise ships call weekly at the island, where many millions of dollars were spent on facilities and island amenities. The island’s name was changed from Gorda Cay to Castaway Cay.
More than a dozen Sandy Cay residents work on Castaway Cay, and many speak highly of the Disney operation, but, in general, the words “Castaway Cay” elicit grumbles of dissent from the community. The island, still referred to by its less dramatic Spanish name, Gorda Cay, has for more than a century been home, farmland, and fishing grounds for the people of Sandy Point. “That cay is history,” says Les Adderley. “People lived on Gorda year-round. They built houses there.” Years ago, when once-ubiquitous wild hogs plagued Sandy Point farmers, rooting up and consuming their crops, hogless Gorda Cay was the solution. Les remembers “rubbin’ the yellow pine,” as they called sculling, whenever he was becalmed sailing to or from Gorda. It is a place embedded in local memories, where in their youth they picked coco plums and captured land crabs.
Les feels that the Sandy Point community should have at least squatters’ rights to the island. Since its takeover, Disney has closed all but the north end of the cay to outsiders. Sandy Point fishermen have been told to stay out of some mangrove areas, which are prime and traditional bonefishing grounds. Trapping crawfish as they march in the waters off the cay’s shore has also been curtailed.
Like Les, Reverend Napoleon Roberts of the Baptist Church spent the summers of his youth on Gorda Cay. He says that while the Disney corporation recently gave $1,500 to Sandy Point’s primary school, and contributed to reparations after Hurricane Floyd, these have not added up to much. According to Benjamin Pinder, Disney spent $30 million on its dock facility alone at the cay.
Most people concur with Mr. Pinder, who says, “the government was too open in their agreement with Disney.” A serious and articulate man, he points out that while the government benefits from a $15 departure tax collected on every passenger when the ship exits the country, the Castaway Cay project has effectively cut people from Sandy Point off from their heritage, with negligible economic return. Nor do passengers come ashore at Sandy Point, allegedly because the company’s insurance doesn’t cover bringing guests to the mainland of Abaco. It irks Mr. Pinder and others that folks who were born or grew up on Gorda Cay can no longer visit there, and that most who visit the island today have little idea where they are. “You have to tell them, ‘you’re in Abaco,” says Mr. Pinder. “The Disney staff has built a fictitious history about a ‘castaway’ family that survived on Gorda.”

History or legend

While Disney may be embellishing or simply fabricating a history for their island, an intriguing aspect of Sandy Point is that no one, from the town’s elders to professional historians, can actually confirm the settlement’s origins. Captain Dean believes that his great-grandparents were born here, which would pre-date the 19th century. Most people suggest the early-to-mid 1800s as Sandy Point’s founding. All confirm that the oldest surnames are Lightbourne, Dames, and McKinney.
Seventy-two-year-old Walter Lightbourne says he was told that his great-grandfather, James Lightbourne, came from England to Cherokee, Abaco, and settled Sandy Point, along with Tom Dames from Andros. James Lightbourne married Caroline Dames, who was of “Indian nature,” as was Walter’s grandmother, Louise Dames.
An early edition of Michael Craton’s A History of the Bahamas mentions “tantalizing rumors that the interior parts of Andros were inhabited by a lingering tribe of primitives,” which Craton dismisses as “a myth.” But Craton’s revised 1990 book states that the willingness of “Red Indian chiefs” to fight the United States in the Seminole Wars, led to their “good relations” with the British and the subsequent settlement of a small band of Native Americans in northwest Andros. Sandra Riley, author of Homeward Bound, writes that in the first half of the 19th century, Seminole Indians paddled dugout canoes to Red Bays, Andros, to escape slave catchers. Most likely, the Dames family was from, or mixed with, the Red Bays community. For certain, Native American features, like straight black hair and high cheekbones, are evident among Sandy Point residents, along with Anglo features, such as green eyes, and African ones.
Another, not necessarily conflicting, account of the settlement’s origins is offered by historian Steve Dodge in Abaco: The History of An Out Island and its Cays “It is not possible to provide details regarding the founding of the black settlements,” writes Dodge, “ but some [including Sandy Point] may have been founded shortly after emancipation [1838]. All were exclusively black settlements except Sandy Point, which included some mulattos. They purposely isolated themselves from the whites and, therefore, had little access to other markets. They lived outside the market economy through much of the 20th century.” Dodge also writes that a sisal mill may have been established at Sandy Point sometime after 1889.
Verification of who first settled at Sandy Point and when may yet be possible. In an endnote, Dodge explains that records of Abaco’s black settlements are in the Colonial Secretary’s files at the Archives in Nassau, but these were not available at the time he researched his book, the second edition of which was published in 1995.
Nevertheless, Sandy Point’s recent century has been colorful enough. Between the ’30s and ’40s, people from Sandy Point were employed at “Millville,” Cross Harbour, some miles southeast of town, where they milled and shipped timber for the Abaco Lumber Company. There was the wealthy J.W. Roberts, who owned shorefront property south of town. A notorious carouser, Mr. Roberts brought an African lion to Sandy Point and let it stroll around the settlement, much to locals’ dismay. He also, as a practical joke, replaced a dead body inside a coffin at an open-casket funeral.

Work and remembrance

Peggy Adderley, affectionately known as Miss Peggy, moved to Sandy Point from Cornish Town, North Abaco, in 1936 with her Long Island husband, a crawfisherman. Sitting in the tidy, wood-paneled living room of a house built by one of her 11 children, she talks shyly at first about the early lifestyle. “Things was kind of hard,” she says, describing how she used to dig up cassava root in October to make bread and pap. Everyone did his or her share of catching fish, drying conch, patching nets with silvertop palm leaves, and guarding the live fish kept in nets on the beach side that would otherwise be taken by sharks.
Since doctors were a day’s sail away, Miss Peggy, like many residents, became adept at administering bush medicine. The leaves of the beach vine they call Badger Ranger are effective worm medicine. Gale-o-wind, which Miss Peggy pulls up from her garden of medicinal plants to show me, cures a fever when dried and boiled. “Mistletoe,” a growth on the madeira tree, brewed into a tea, cleanses the body and stimulates an appetite, but, she adds, “don’t drop it on the ground or it loses its strength.”
Her youngest child, Shawan, now a gracious woman in her 30s and a mother of two, listens in while ironing clothes, and offers addenda to her mother’s stories. When she was growing up, Shawan was often sent to collect the different plants for her mother, getting a first-hand education about their appearance, habitat and medicinal purposes, which she continues to put to use. She remembers bathing in Shepherd’s Needles and washing her hair with Love Vine.
Shawan is one of a handful of locals who works at Castaway Cay. She commutes by boat to the lavish, activity-filled, luxury cruise setting, where she and 11 other women braid cornrows or single plaits in the hair of some of the 2,500 passengers who arrive each week.
Admired by many for his honesty and hardwork, Mr. Pinder is catechist of the Anglican Church and his lifelong trade has been wooden-boatbuilding, although he threatens to retire. I find him working in the shade of a coconut tree, repairing one of the 96 boats he has built. “Crawfish blood rots the wood,” he explains. His skiffs, designed as work boats, are a hybrid of the Abaco dinghy, with a curved bow for plying rough seas, and the Abaco skiff, with a flat stern for getting the boat on a plane better and traveling faster. A boat that he built 29 years ago is still in use.
As he unscrews and rips out rotten wood from this 23-year-old hull, he says, “nowadays I have little work because everyone wants fiberglass boats.” He adds that he is getting weary of digging frames, which come from the roots of coppice hardwood trees. He has passed on his boatbuilding knowledge to his two sons, both fishermen living in Sandy Point. In retirement, he sees himself fishing and making boat models.
As administrator from 1999 until this year, Mr. Pinder found himself wearing many hats—magistrate, coroner, passport officer, customs and immigration officer, and more.—which kept him abreast of community affairs. He expresses concerns about the future of the fishing industry and its direct relation to Sandy Point as a primary livelihood. “I would like to see some other form of work provided for the people, something more stable than fishing,” he says. “Only about four months of the crawfishing season is a good living; after that it’s hand to mouth.”
He is skeptical about the effectiveness of conservation laws because he sees so many fishermen breaking them. “Bahamian fishermen are not going to police themselves,” he says, citing as an example the continued use of air compressors during the off-season, which is against the law. “A closed season on conch is five, 10 years too late. There should be no fishing on spawning grouper. I see boats coming in with thousands of pounds of schooling grouper.” Along with the encroachment of Florida and Dominican fishermen, and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, which could open Bahamian borders for fishing, Mr. Pinder says wistfully. “I don’t see how any of it will be stopped.”

Basketball and treasure

The remains of an unknown World War II soldier lie in Sandy Point’s graveyard. Robert F. Kennedy Sr. was known to bring his boat, the Lindo, to Sandy Point to buy fish. Visions, dreams and superstitions about treasure abound. Being on the edge of Northwest Providence Channel, the pre-settlement Sandy Point was no doubt witness to many a wreck. In the past, foreigners have swindled locals out of bars of silver and gold. Rosco Thompson Sr., an avid treasure hunter, discovered what he believed to be a lucrative Spanish galleon wreck in the mid 1990s near Gorda Cay. Unfortunately, it was lost again in Hurricane Floyd before it could be thoroughly excavated. And then, still a subject of pride for the community, there were the Sandy Point Royals.

Rizpa “Doc” Edgecombe has worked in marine construction for the past decade and owns a small bar called Three Aces. His face lights up, as it seems everyone’s does, when I mention the Royals. Inspired by former commissioner Harrison Thompson, who Doc says “saw a lot of talent in the younger folks,” the Sandy Point Royals were the top basketball team in the nation during the late ’80s and early ’90s. One season, they were unbeaten from the first local game to the national championship. In Abaco, they were unbeaten for seven or eight consecutive years.
Nicknamed after “Doctor J”, AKA Julius Irvings, “who took basketball to the next level in the early ’80s,” Doc Edgecombe was a point guard with the Royals for 15 years. Asked how such a legendary team came about, Doc says, “I think it was the laidback life in Sandy Point at the time; everybody was self-employed and able to put in that time and special effort to become good. Good fishing gave us that leverage. We’d go fishing, and if there was practice that day, come in early.
“Today that has changed: not everybody fishes; some have bosses and nine-to-five jobs, so they can’t commit to just playing ball for the sport.” He adds, “guys here now are really into bonefishing.”
Two former Royals players, Patrick Roberts and Ricardo Burrows, have been professional bonefishing guides for the past 16 years. Ricardo and his wife Monique own and operate Rickmon’s Bonefish Lodge & Restaurant, located at the tip of the settlement’s eponymous point and in view of both the setting sun and a wide area of flats.
Having been taught fishing at a young age, Ricardo, like most guides in Sandy Point, took easily to bonefishing, but he credits the tutelage of Floridian Warren Brouster for skills like knowing how to position the boat. Such expertise landed him, smiling, on the cover of the November 2002 Onshore Offshore Magazine, a Florida sportfishing publication.
“From what I’ve been told, Sandy Point has more and bigger bonefish and easier access to them than anywhere else in the Bahamas,” he says. “A lot of novices come here because the abundance of bonefish increases their chances of catching a fish. A novice can catch three-to-five fish a day.”
With a loan from the Bahamas Development Bank, the Burrows opened their 11-room fishing retreat four years ago, attracting a mostly-American clientele through booking agents and Internet advertisements. They aim to “tap into the European market” and to add cottages, a gameroom and a swimming pool to the existing lodge. While Ricardo himself guides clients, his business also employs independent bonefish guides (such as Paul Pinder) from the community. Bonefishing is a sustainable industry, as the fish are released and able to reproduce. In fact, Ricardo notices the number of bonefish around Sandy Point seem to be increasing, although he wishes there were more conservation research on Bahamian marine life, including bonefish.

Challenges and preservation

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon, a group of adults and children are wrestling with bags of potting soil and mulch, bantering cheerfully among themselves as they plant palms and shrubs to beautify the entrance to Sandy Point’s airport, a landing strip lengthened and improved by Disney for emergency flights. Among them is 26-year-old Jason Roberts, chief councilor of South Abaco, the youngest ever to hold this position in the Bahamas. A third-generation Sandy Point resident, Jason also manages the post office, sings lead alto in the Baptist church choir, and plays the organ. Initially he served on the town committee, but he says, seeing “deficiencies in the former local government,” he decided to run for chief councilor. “I campaigned on a policy of transparency and consultation, a more open policy as regards dealing with people’s businesses, and I guess that was something people were seeking.”
An astute and personable man, Jason studied at Prince William’s High School and Bahamas Baptist College in Nassau, where his favorite subjects were history and French, before returning to his hometown. He says many things prepared him for his position as chief councilor, particularly his spiritual background and the influence of his father, Reverend Napoleon Roberts, who watched the news daily during Jason’s youth and interested him in what was going in the world. “Learning of the achievements of Sir Lynden [Pindling] and his fight for the majority, that really interested me,” Jason says. He aspires to become a member of Parliament and to eventually seek a ministerial office. Being chief councilor, he says, is “fun more than anything,” because as representative for the diverse settlements of South Abaco, “you get to experience the cultures of other places.”
One of the challenges he sees both locally and nationally is conservation law enforcement: “I think that government hasn’t provided for protection of natural resources as yet in terms of upholding the laws.” At the local level, he expressed dissatisfaction with the electoral process because council members are chosen by their town committee and not necessarily according to the number of public votes they received.
“We should not allow our politics to get in the way of the success of the people. You have to see each person as an equal despite differences.”
About his hometown he says, “I am very optimistic about the further development of Sandy Point, which encompasses the fast ferry, Castaway Cay, and the added subdivision. I feel the way ahead is through active consultation with the residents of the community. My main hope is that people’s lives can be improved by these developments.
“I wouldn’t have chosen another place on this earth to spend my childhood other than Sandy Point. The way of life is too unique—the people, the wildlife, the environment in general. My only hope is that 30 years from now I can still say that I am proud to be from Sandy Point.”

A certain nostalgia lingers in the atmosphere when locals talk about the days when children would diligently patrol the beach after school and return stranded conch to the sea; when no one dove for conch because the beach was lined with them; when crawfish outnumbered conch. Wild boars used to come around the settlement at sunset to feed on seagrapes. Captain Dean swears he killed a 120-pounder. “How I long for the Golden Days,” Benjamin Pinder says a little sadly. “I don’t think we will see them now, but we can try and preserve what we have left.”

-30-

A prominent citizen looks back
On Sandy Point’s early years

Captain Ernest Alexander Dean drives up Sandy Point’s West Bay Street in a golf cart sporting a small Bahamian flag in honor of the Bahamas’ 30th year of independence. He parks cautiously next to his house, in front of E & E Grocery: Drugs, Dry Goods and Notions All Under One Roof, an enterprise begun half a century ago by his late wife Eula and now run by their daughter, Shirley. E & E is short for Ernest and Eula, who were married 59 “very good” years.
Born in 1915, Captain Dean is a respected Sandy Point patriarch whose life as a mailboat captain, father of 12, member of the Assembly of God church, and recipient of the Queen’s Certificate of Honor and the British Empire Medal for his years of service has greatly influenced his community. Once a man of enormous strength, ambition, and courage, he is now a little frail and forgetful. We sit on his living room couch, surrounded by pictures of his 40 grandchildren, and I prompt him with details from his autobiography, Island Captain, while he shares his recollections of bygone days.
As a boy, his primary chores were drawing water from the family well, and, at the fish market in Nassau, selling strings of dried conch: six for three cents. He witnessed his mother’s death as she labored to deliver twins when the settlement had no doctor. He was eight years old at the time and had to fill his mother’s shoes, raising his younger siblings, cleaning and cooking, and running the family’s small grocery store, while his father was away at sea. “I think I saw even at that early age what a man had to do if he was going to make out in life,” he wrote.
A fisherman on his father’s boat at 14 in the days before refrigeration, he remembers “scald conch”—boiling conch and then hanging it to dry—and “long conch”—simply hanging it to dry overnight. Grunts and snappers were stored in “live wells,” salt-water pens built into a boat’s hull. Horse-eye jacks and other fish were “corned”—gutted, salted and packed in pickling tubs. A big school of fish was sometimes stored in a net pegged to the side of a boat until there was time for corning. Cotton nets would rot if they were not hung to dry.
Captain Dean recalls his initiation to the hard work of fishing when he went below and fell asleep once, before the boat had anchored or the nets had been hauled and hung from the masts: “My daddy came down there into that cabin and shook me awake, calling me everything but a smart boy. By the time he was done I had learned that you didn’t go to your bunk until the boat work was done, no matter how tired you were. After that, I caught many a nap leaning against the mast or the cabin trunk, but never again in my bunk until the boat was secured for the night.”
At the age of 17, he became captain of the fishing smack Exceed, and, with his crew, rode out the hurricane of 1935 in the lee of More’s Island, while two local schooners and 16 men were lost. He built his own 40-foot sloop, Captain Dean, out of Abaco hardwoods, and began hauling mail, freight and passengers to and from Nassau, the Berry Islands and Abaco.
One of his most harrowing and memorable experiences at sea was when his mailboat, Captain Dean II caught fire midway between the Berries and Abaco. He and his crew of five, as well as seven passengers, were forced to disembark into two small dinghies at night in 10-foot seas. They blew downwind watching the Hole-in-the-Wall Light disappear, while exploding gasoline and propane drums from the burning mailboat went “flying through the air off in the distance.” Captain Dean wrapped his arms around two-year-old Paul Pinder, son of Isidora and Edward Pinder, to prevent the infant from succumbing to hypothermia. They blew ashore on the south end of the Berry Islands. No lives were lost.
“Ain’t nothing on the sea for younger people to tell me about I don’t know about it,” Captain Dean says, adding that he would like to go mutton-fishing if someone would take him.



       
 

©  Jim Kerr, Abaco Life Magazine
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