Abaco Life Magazine

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Archive for October, 2006

Boatyards of The Bahamas

10 18th, 2006

Every winter Bill Gallo of Melbourne, Florida returns to Green Turtle Cay to fetch his sailboat, an Irwin 43 named Blue Rondo. For four previous months the boat has spent its annual vacation and downtime perched in a wooden cradle fortified by eight jack stands at Abaco Yacht Services, which has maintained and generally baby-sat Bill’s baby as though it were a close relative or a friend’s visiting child. “I’ve had the boat for ten years,”
says Gallo, “and this is the best boatyard I’ve ever used. My boat has been through Irene, Floyd and Jeanne with very little damage here; less than $500, mainly from rain water than had to be pumped out of the transmission.”

The Green Turtle Shipyard has been an institution on the island for 28 years, having doubled in size since its inception in September, 1978. Owned by the Bethel family of Nassau and operated by Manager Everette Roberts, his son, Scott, anddaughter, Crystal, as well as several dedicated yard workers, AYS counts on a growing list of satisfied repeat customers who have come to rely on the kind of security and competence long associated with Abaco’s flourishing boating industry. There are boatyards in four Abaco locations; Green Turtle Cay, Hope Town, Man-O-War Cay and Marsh Harbour, and while providing safe haven and shelter from the storm is an essential function, it’s only one of many services they perform for hundreds of boaters, including bottom painting, engine repairs and preparation work.

“Many boats are left year-round, especially by owners from Florida and North Carolina,” says Craig Knowles who, with his wife, Linda, are the management team at Lighthouse Marina in Hope Town, a business also owned by the Bethels of Nassau. “We store the boats and prepare them so that when the owner comes back, they can jump in and go, either here or in Marsh Harbour, where we’ll deliver the boat. Many owners will fly back and forth during the peakfishing season from April through May, then leave the boats here in mid August.”

Lighthouse Marina, with its fuelstation, marine store and liquor store, can’t be missed at the entrance to Hope Town Harbour, but the protected boatyard is tucked away in a hurricane hole behind the marina and beneath the Elbow Cay Lighthouse. “Boats do very well here in bad weather,” says Craig, who has operated the business with Linda since 1988. “There’s no surge here and a high hill to the west provides great protection. We’ve stored up to 200 boats in preparation for hurricanes, and that’s about the maximum for the boatyard.”

The yard at Green Turtle is similarly protected on Black Sound, but while it has a Travel Lift that can raise boats up to 50 tons and 50 feet, the yard at Hope Town specializes in smaller boats up to 36 feet. Most of its tenants are outboards, speedy little craft lined up by the dozen as though waiting their turn for a snorkeling trip or island cove picnic. It costs between $150 to $175 to secure a boat for storage and about the same amount to relaunch it. The storage fee is $4 a foot per month, and for many who return regularly, it’s often cheaper to put their boat in and out of the yard and pay the monthly storage than rent one while they’re here.

The same is true across the Sea of Abaco at Marsh Harbour Boatyards, located on the southeast shore at Calcutta Creek. Here, however, the boats tend to be bigger, and can range up to 100 feet because of the yard’s 85-ton Acme Marine Hoist “When we commissioned the yard’s lift, we had them build it four feet wider than standard to accommodate catamarans with 24-foot beams,” says Laurence Higgs, the yard’s
general manager and co-owner. “Many of the boats in the Moorings charter yacht fleet are examples, boats which are popular in Abaco because of their shallow draft.”

The yard can accommodate morethan 30 large boats from a week to several months. But while a number of big boats are kept here for six months during the winter, most come in for maintenance, repair and bottom painting that gets them in and out of the yard in a week. “This is our bread and butter work,” says Higgs. “We have 20 dedicated spaces for this kind of work, and we do it year-round. We also do fiberglass repairs, much of it to boats that have run aground, and engine work.” The yard occasionally subs out woodwork as well, and has several factory-trained diesel mechanics.

Business is growing here, as well as in other Abaco boatyards, as more and more boat owners, particularly from Florida and the Carolinas, are finding Abaco and discovering its cost-efficient and convenient facilities. In the past five years, the yard at Calcutta has doubled its business, growing from a staff of three to 18. For many boaters, the season has been extended because they know they can stay longer to have work done here, or simply leave their boats. While the majority of boats are in the 40 to 55-foot range, a hydraulic trailer can easily raise smaller craft. “A lot of small boaters with houses on Lubbers, Tilloo or Elbow Cay leave their boats here and catch a taxi to the airport, which is seven minutes away,” says Higgs. “Other cruisers stop over in Abaco and go on south to Exuma in the winter, working their way back here in the spring.”

At Marsh Harbour Boatyards, 90 percent of customers are here because of the workmanship, reliability and paint used in bottom painting, Higgs says. And while many boaters stay in a hotel, with friends, or even return to the States and come back during the five-to-seven days it takes for painting and maintenance, it’s not uncommon to find some living aboard their boats while they sit mounted on blocks in the yard.

Abaco has a long history of boat building and maintenance expertise, but the longest-running survivor of this traditional industry is at Man-O-War Cay, where construction of sailing schooners and dinghies have evolved into small sloops, ferry boats, regatta racing boats and, most recently, 20 and 23-foot fiberglass Albury Brothers boats, which are in high demand as rental and fishing boats throughout the Bahamas and Florida.

Today, however, Man-O-War’s boat industry has shifted in large part from building to repair and maintenance, with storage as a secondary option. Two boatyards, Edwin’s I and Edwin’s II, trace their origins back 45 years to 1960 when Edwin Albury started BoatYard I, then expanded when he bought out legendary boat builder William H. Albury, affectionately known throughout Abaco  as “Uncle Will.”

“Most of our business today comes from repeat customers and word-of-mouth, and it stays steady almost year-round,” says Daren Sands, who started with his father, Darwin Sands, in 1997, and has managed Edwin’s Boatyard II since last year.

Both Edwin’s II, run by Daren, and Edwin’s I, run by Keith Albury, feature rails which can haul boats up to 60 feet. “We do fiberglass repairs, carpentry, painting and mechanical work,” says Keith Albury. “And we have customers from up and down the eastern coast of the U.S. from as far away as Maine.”

Many boaters prefer the quiet setting of Man-O-War to store their boats. The
relatively small yards, where there is sometimes a waiting list to get in, can take boats up to 25 feet for storage. Wet storage on moorings is also available with adequate lead time.
 Hanging out in a busy Abaco boatyard on a pleasant afternoon provides an  inside look at how a well-oiled operation works, how yard employees interact with customers, and how work gets done in well-organized segments, from hauling a boat out of the water and getting it secured on blocks to bottom painting and relaunching.

“Because it’s family run and on a small island, service is a lot more personal than you would get from a boatyard staff in Canada or the U.S.,” says Alan Wainwright, a Brampton, Ontario attorney who comes to Green Turtle Cay twice a year and has kept his 32-foot sailboat Distant Fire parked at AYS for the past 11 years. “It’s one-on-one from the top down. And you can depend on the quality. Once I had my boat blocked at a Canadian boatyard, and when I walked on it, I could feel the boat move. When I have it blocked at AYS, I can’t feel it move.”

Not even Hurricane Floyd rocked his boat in 1999, even though there was only one jack-stand holding it up. In such a renowned cruising destination, such stories form a nucleus of information and opinion among boaters. And their shared experiences either inspire confidence or create an uncomfortable doubt that drives them elsewhere. In Abaco, boatyards have well-established reputations today because yard operators have come in contact with customers from all over the world. The growth alone indicates a healthy long-term success for this traditional industry.

“When I started here, there were no computers and the yard was half the size it is now,” says Crystal Roberts, office manager at AYS in Green Turtle. “It’s been amazing to see how it’s changed over the years. We have a lot of good customers here, a lot of repeat customers. And we’ve become good friends with many of them.”



Pretty Picket Fences

10 18th, 2006

ALL THE PRETTY PICKET FENCES
MAKE THEIR POINT IN ABACO

Photo feature by Jim Kerr

“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote Robert Frost in his famous poem “Mending Wall.” He was an American poet, and in Abaco, nothing is more American about the island village scenery - or more neighborly - than white or natural picket fences.

Wall fences were, and still are, the most common property delineation used in the British Isles, especially in rural areas. The concept of picket fences in the American colonies, particularly in New England and New York, was inspired instead by pointed iron fences in Europe, which symbolized the stately and affluent status of the home owner. But metal was expensive in the New World, and wood was abundant, so picket fences were born.

The same laws of supply and demand existed in Abaco when American loyalists began arriving in 1783 to build settlements, and while a few wealthy types put up fences of wrought iron and brass, the vast majority opted for local cedar, and finally pine, for picket fences.

Picket fences make a bold and sturdy statement, but unlike metal and chain link fences they are not particularly intimidating. Respect for private property was a theme in Frost’s poem about fences, but while they may serve at times to keep out the neighbor’s dog, their main purpose in Abaco is beautification. Their standard height of only four to five feet actually invites socializing rather than discourage it. Generally, the only picket fences six feet or higher are found in backyards.

The best examples of these fences today are in the settlements of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay and in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. But wherever they are found, construction and care still add to the home owners’ status in the community, just as his garden does. Sometimes, a white picket fence blends regally with a flowing and firey bougainvillea, and different styles can express individual tastes for simplicity or ornateness.

The crisp, vertical lines of a picket fence have always been associated with wealth, even though they are less expensive than chain link and most other manufactured fence material, and, as one resident put it, “astoundingly prettier.” The wood has to brave the rain, wind and salt air of the islands, however, making it still fairly expensive. Pine is cheaper than cedar, but requires more maintenance.

Since paint cracks and peels as wood expands and contracts in hot and cool weather, picket fences are often whitewashed or stained rather than painted. A cedar-bleeding block primer is best applied before the stain. Some, like the fence around the Sculpture Garden in New Plymouth, are kept unfinished on purpose to minimize maintenance costs. Another technique in Abaco is the use of stainless steel nails, which won’t cause rust stains on a white fence. But whatever wood or stain is used, chances are it will need touching up and redoing within three years. Fences may make good neighbors, but it’s a good neighbor indeed who is willing to help with that job!



Nature’s Corner

10 18th, 2006

NATURE’S CORNER

When Vertrum Lowe was growing up in Green Turtle Cay many years ago, he had a very unusual pet. The animal followed him around, ate fish out of his hand, and when Vertrum went to school in the morning, the pet would swoop into the school window and land on his desk.

It was a Summer Sea Gull, or Laughing Gull. “He just had pinfeathers when I got him,” says Vert, a life-long resident of New Plymouth and a well-known craftsman of model boats. “Someone had brought him from the northern cays when he was only five or six days old.”

Vert was 12 or 13 years old. And during the five or six years he had him as a pet, the bird acted as a “guard bird,” attacking strangers who came around. He also fetched marbles and deposited them on Vert’s steps.

“Wherever I went, he followed,” he remembers. “I called him ‘Gull,’ and if he could hear me when I called him, he would answer back.”

Anyone visiting New Plymouth during the spring and summer knows the cry of the Laughing Gull, one of three types of gulls found in Abaco. They appear suddenly in March, swirling and swooping over the harbour, making raucous cries and coming remarkably close to anyone willing to feed them. At six-and-a-half inches in length, they are the smallest of the gulls, and are easily identified by their black head, dark bill, dark grey upperparts and white underparts. Winter visitors include two other species, Herring Gulls and Ring-Billed Gulls, both in two different plumages. But the Laughing Gull is the only gull around in the summer months. While their habitat varies, and they sometimes disappear for periods starting in September, they are still around, flocking back to town during storms or fine weather.

Few people believe Vertrum when he tells them the tale of his gull. But the truth, he says, is that he had not only one, but two pet Laughing Gulls. A few years after the first bird came out on the losing end of a fight with a dog, Vertrum obtained a second bird in much the same way as the first. “He would fly off during the day with the wild birds, but return every night,” Vertrum says. “When they left in the winter, he stayed. He was friends with a potcake named ‘King’ and shared meals with him, even though the dog tried to swat him, and the two would walk together.”

One day Sid Lowe called Vertrum from his store in the settlement. The bird was there begging for food, and Sid wanted to prove to customers that the gull would go to its owner if called. Vertrum did and the bird flew home. “Early training is the secret,” says Vertrum. “I’d have three or four of them as pets now if there weren’t so many cats on the island.”



Conch: A Royal Gift From the Sea

10 18th, 2006

CONCH: A ROYAL GIFT FROM THE SEA
By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

It doesn’t soar through the air like an eagle, race over the terrain like a graceful gazelle or roar like a lion, but in Abaco, the Conch is King. Or at least Queen.

Conch shelling on Abaco BahamasWell before Columbus arrived in the Bahamas, the native Lucayan Indians used the Queen Conch for food, tools, decoration, building material and jewelry, and 500 years later the current natives continue the process. Not only do folks here consume prodigious quantities of conch salad, conch fritters, conch burgers and cracked conch, they also make and wear conch jewelry, landscape and decorate their homes with conch shells, create conch art and sell conch souvenirs. In fact, nothing in the Bahamas or Abaco has stood the test of time quite like the slow-moving, algae-eating, easy-to-catch, hard-to-clean mollusk shellfish known as the conch.

They’ve been around these parts for 65 million years. Officially known as Strombus Gigas, Queen Conch (pronounced KONK) can be found from Brazil northward through the West Indies, Florida Keys and as far north as Bermuda. But because they have been vastly depleted by large populations in the Caribbean and the Americas, they now exist in large numbers only in the Bahamas, where they are not only a traditional food staple, but a national symbol.

At his stand adjacent to Harbour View Marina in Marsh Harbour, George “Show Bow” Wilmore slices and dices with a smile, chopping the moist white meat of the Queen Conch and mixing it with sour orange, lime, peppers, onion, tomato and salt. A line of hungry customers often forms, usually around mid-morning, their appetites further stimulated by Show Bow’s showmanship.

“The secret’s in the ingredients,” says Show Bow. “Some use cabbage or cucumber, but not me. I go strictly by tradition.”

He is one of four entrepeneurs in Marsh Harbour, Dundas Town and Murphy Town who “basically fix fresh conch salad in front of your eyes,” he says. “They got their customers and I got mine.”

in fact, his closest competitor is just down the street in front of Abaco Market on Queen Elizabeth Drive. Bruce “Froggie” McIntosh and his wife, Elva, set up their own program almost daily. Froggie perches on a stool in the back of his pickup, a slicing board in front and a rapidly slicing knife flashing down on his own particular recipe for conch salad. Soon, he says, Elva and he will be opening a small cabana-type resort and restaurant off Forest Drive called “Conch Paradise” where they will continue to serve up conch salad as well as drinks.

There is money to be made in the conch salad business, but it takes a special kind of person to put up with the work. Vendors like Show Bow and Froggie get up before dawn to go conching along the sandy and grassy bottom in water ten to 30 feet deep. They stock and maintain “conch crawls” with 500 to 600 conchs and, on a good day, they often use 50 or 60 conch to make 100 cups of conch salad, selling it at $5 to $6 a cup.

Once you have found them, catching conch and keeping them is easy. Using a muscular foot, the Queen Conch literally moves at a snail’s pace. The long, narrow foot has a horny, hook-shaped operculum on the end which the conch uses to propell itself in the sand. She had her origins there as a gelatinous strand of eggs wrapped around and around until it formed a banana-shaped mass. For about a month after hatching as an embryo, the conch floated as a microscopic larva until sinking forever to the bottom, buried for protection in the sand and feeding only at night on algae. The flaring outer lip that distinguishes a mature conch doesn’t even begin to build until the creature is two years old, and it takes about four years for the conch to reach a full grown stature of eight to 12 inches with a weight of up to five pounds. Taking conch that does not have a full lip, no matter how large the shell base, is frowned upon, since that depletes the population. Free diving is also the only legal way to gather them.

The Queen Conch, which is the only type eaten in the Bahamas, is easily corraled. Holes are made in the shell lip and several conch are strung together. When an old dock was pulled up for replacement a few years back in Hope Town, workers found seven conch tied together and fastened to a piling. They had been forgotten by a fisherman seven years earlier, but were doing just fine, thank you.

But while catching and keeping them is one thing, cleaning and preparing conch is another. Separating the animal from its home correctly, with a minimum of mess, is an island art form. Abaco fishermen like Show Bow and Froggie pride themselves in how fast they can accomplish this task, which requires a hammer, screw driver, and a thin, very sharp knife. With the shell held opening down and spire inward, a hole is made with the hammer and screwdriver on the spire of the shell between the second and third row of horny nodes. This is known as “cracking” or “knocking.” The knife is then inserted in the hole and the tendon is cut so the animal can be pulled out by the operculum, a step called “jooking.” Finally, the conch is cleaned, a tricky, messy procedure appropriately known as “slopping.”

An expert can crack, jook and slop 25 conch in under ten minutes. People like Show Bow and Froggie are usually so fast that watching them reveals little about technique. Amateurs often find the job a sticky, slimy mess. A black mucuous substance that emerges with the conch frequently gets all over your boat, your clothes or both. It is next to impossible to get off, except with lime and lemon juice combined with vinegar.

The shell is another matter. Cleaned up with commercial bleach, small amounts of muriatic acid or simply left to bleach naturally in the sun, they are bright pink, yellow and peach coloured. Found in abundance near almost any dock or bought from numerous vendors, conch shells adorn mantles, shelves, tables and porches of homes around the world. Many Abaconians use them to decorate planters and walls. One man created a conch shell water fountain on his private island, while Hope Town Hideaways Resort made a glimmering garden wall.

They are also the subject for paintings, and artisans fashion the shell into jewelry, carving from the pink twirl just inside the shell, just as they did centuries ago. Nor have conch pearls lost their value over the years. Depending on the shape, colour and size, they can fetch as much as $1,000. As rare as South Pacific pearls, they cannot be cultured like their oyster counterparts, having formed from a microorganism rather than a grain of irritating sand. No two are alike and colours range from white and beige to pink, red and brown. The most desirable are dark pink, and because they tend to fade in the light, they have an exotic mystique as “night only” jewels. Smooth and sometimes shiny, the best are set by jewelers and artisans with diamonds, rubies and gold in pendants, rings and earrings. A lucky fisherman who is looking for them can make hundreds of extra dollars, but they are rarely found in the routine, expeditious cleaning process. You are more likely to bite into one in your conch salad.

Better yet, just enjoy your meal. Conch is still a major food source in the Bahamas where an estimated half million pounds are consumed each year. Properly prepared, raw or cooked, the meat is tasty and full of nutrients and vitamins. It has a firm, chewy texture, especially raw in salads. Local men are sometimes fond of slurping down a long, transparent rod or tube known as a “style” that comes from the conch’s stomach and is reputed to be a male energizer. The rest of the animal can be prepared in a dozen or more ways, usually pounded for tenderizing before cooking. Arrive early at any Abaco restaurant and you are likely to hear wooden or metal mallets pounding in the kitchen as cooks prepare cracked, stewed, battered or breaded conch dishes.

But whether it’s food, artwork, jewelry or just an inexpensive but distinctive ornament, the durable conch remains a highly visible symbol of Abaco. Long live the Queen!



Brendal’s Picnic

10 18th, 2006

BRENDAL’S PICNIC
By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

“Goombay, anyone?”

Brendal Stevens, a mischeivous grin across his ebony face, glances toward the 11 adult guests aboard his dive and snorkel boat. He doesn’t have to ask twice as plastic cups are thrust in the direction of a jug he holds filled with a potion made from Castillo Gold, coconut rum and pineapple juice. After a stimulating dive and snorkel over “The Pillars” off Manjack Cay, these people are thirsty.

The boat is less than an hour from Brendal’s dock at White Sound Harbour on Green Turtle Cay. A giant eagle ray flapped his wings in farewell as we left the harbour on this sunny summer day, and a bottlenosed dolphin followed us across the channel to Manjack. The trip is a seven-hour, combination dive, snorkel and picnic that Brendal operates every week. The Pillars are thick coral fingers that tower 35 feet from the sandy bottom. Below we find purple sea fans waving from thick coral heads and a ridge that shelters an incalcuable assortment of colourful fish. A midsize reef shark slides by, paying us no mind, and “Junkanoo,” a large black grouper eyes us from a few feet away.

Back in the boat, goombay in hand, Brendal deftly cleans a couple of conch, giving his guests an opportunity to make a mess of things by trying it themselves. He cuts up grouper filet and marinates it with Real Lemon juice, lemon pepper, hot sauce and salad dressing in a pink, plastic bucket. We anchor halfway to Manjack beach and ten minutes later one of our boater guests has two hogfish and a mutton snapper on a spear from a Hawaiian sling which will be used later for our special close encounter with several southern stingrays. For now, however, the purpose of the speared fish is a mystery.

A sliver of white, crescent beach runs for a mile or so along Manjack’s lee side where Brendal ties the boat to a private dock. We gather fire wood and soon flames and sticks are crackling under a big metal grill. The grouper cooks in foil-covered pans for six minutes, then sits for another two before being served. There’s also snapper in cilantro and onions, regular tossed salad and the conch salad made earlier. It’s an incredibly tasty picnic feast, served at a table in the shade of casuarinas. Our bare feet curl deliciously in the cool sand, and before us is an almost searing panorama of sun and blue sky against an aquamarine shoreline and white beach.

Even before lunch, we couldn’t help notice we had company in the clear, shallow water off the beach. A nurse shark and his cousin, a large, black stingray, glided inches from the shoreline as we unloaded the boat. Now it was the stingray’s turn for lunch.

With cut up chunks of the hogfish and muttonfish caught earlier, Brendal coaxes us into ankle-deep water offshore. Soon there are not one, but four large stingrays circling our feet. Warily, we hold pieces of raw fish in the upturned and submerged palm of our hand. The jet black stingrays, their brown eyes watching us from the top of their head, swim over and gently take the food in an invisible mouth underneath their bodies. Their soft, satiny wings brush lightly against our legs and ankles, an unexpected but pleasurable sensation. Their long tail, with its venomous barb, somewhat rougher in texture than the wide wings, also rubs harmlessly against our legs.

After the cautious and protective parents are satisfied there’s no danger here, two four-year-olds join in the feeding and the rare and gentle communion with these strange and fascinating creatures. It’s the highlight of the day, and something to ponder as we head back to Green Turtle.



Bonefishing in The Bahamas

10 18th, 2006

WHERE THE BONEFISH LIVE
By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

In the past decade, Abaco has become one of the hottest bonefishing destinations in the world. Several small resorts have sprung up catering to bonefishermen, and others have happily adopted packages and other ways to accommodate enthusiasts of this sport. Along with eco-tourism, bonefishing is one of the most positive developments spotlighting Abaco’s tourist industry in recent times; a sport which not only conserves resources and highlights the environment, but also generates millions of dollars a year for Abaconians. Unlike lobster fishing, there is no closed season on bonefishing, although January through April is best. In the past 15 years, several dozen local men, most of whom once specialized in lobster fishing, have become full-time bonefishing guides, a fact which has relieved some of the pressure on the depleting lobster fishery. And while revenue from bonefishing visitors filters through myriad businesses, no individuals have benefited more in recent years than the guides themselves.

“Tourists wanted to go bonefishing,” says Marsh Harbour-based Town Williams, a lobster fisherman until about 12 years ago. “I didn’t know anything about it, but I knew where to go. I knew where the bonefish lived. The clients said ‘just take us there, and we’ll show you what to do.’”

Today he works 150 days a year as a bonefishing guide, a global business with clients from around the world who find him primarily on the Internet. There are more than 35 active bonefishing guides in Abaco, from Sandy Point to Coopers Town and beyond, and the number is growing as demand increases. They charge an average of $350 for two anglers for a full day, and $250 for a half day, which translates for most into annual gross income of more than $50,000. Like Town Williams, they may not have known much about the art of catching them, but they learned at an early age that bonefish - spooky and fast, but not much good to eat - live on the flats. The rest they learned by practice and from the experienced bonefishermen who came, including the legendary baseball great Ted Williams.

Williams and others knew that Abaco, like the rest of the Bahamas, was ideal for this kind of fishing. The silvery, almost translucent bonefish reside in water usually one to three feet deep. The name “Bahamas” comes from the Spanish term “Baja Mar,” or shallow sea. The islands are fringed by shallow banks, and while an Atlantic coastline with a barrier reef makes Abaco ideally situated for beaches, diving, snorkeling and deep sea fishing, the western side of the cays and mainland make for some of the best bonefish habitat in the world. The Marls, a series of small atolls amid shallow, marshy waters on the west side, cover more than 120 miles from north to south. Here, small shrimp, crabs, worms and shellfish, the bonefish’s favourite dinner, live in abundance, as do an unlimited number of bonefish. The west side of many of the outer cays, like Green Turtle, Manjack and others, offer more of the same, as does the eastern side of Great Abaco from Snake Cay to Cherokee Sound.Bonefishing Abaco Bahmas

While some locals still somehow manage to prepare and eat bonefish in stew or crushed into cakes, the bones that make up its anatomy have always made it less than popular as a food source, and today the fish is protected as a sport fish only. As such, it is always caught and released. The majority of bonefishermen and women use fly fishing techniques somewhat similar to mountain stream trout fishing, but with some significant differences. The fly, a light-weight lure usually crafted by the fisherman himself with personal intuition regarding how to attract and fool the fish, is cast as far as 50 or 60 feet, so that it lands softly at least ten feet in front of the fish. But before that can happen, the fish have to be found.

Most guides use 14 to 17-foot shallow draft boats powered by outboard motors to get to the fishing grounds, then pole their boats silently across the flats looking for signs of fish.. The guide, often scanning the waters from an elevated platform, spots the tell-tale signs of the fish, which sometimes travel in schools of 30 or more. Their tails and dorsal fins often break the surface when feeding in the shallow water. The cast is sideways so that the fly falls lightly. Plopping the fly in the water, or casting too close to the fish, will almost certainly spook them into a quick departure. Once hooked, however, a bonefish zips away at incredible speed, often running 100 yards or more on its initial flight. They generally weigh from four to six pounds, but ten-pounders are not uncommon in Abaco. Besides casting, it takes finese to set the hook, let the fish run, play out the line and keep him out of coral or marsh where the line might tangle or break. After netting him for a quick photo, the bonefish must be properly released unharmed and in a manner insuring he will swim away to perhaps fight another day. It’s not easy, and even a good bonefisherman will lose half the fish he hooks, getting a strike on one out of ten casts. Nevertheless, there are plenty of fish, and the chase is often the greatest reward.

“It’s the stalking that’s fun,” says Neil O’Shea, a bonefishing fanatic who travels to Abaco with his equally enthusiastic wife, Karen. The English couple, who travel 4,000 miles from their home in Cheshire near Manchester, have been back to Green Turtle Cay four times since they got married in 1998, staying at the New Plymouth Inn. And while they have utilized local guides like Ronnie Sawyer, they like to go on their own, wading knee deep on the “town flats” just south of the settlement. Other locations in Abaco offer similar opportunities to bonefish without a guide. At the Sunset Resort, located on Abaco’s west side five miles north of Marsh Harbour, owners Janeen and Silbert Cooper work with a number of guides, but say it’s also “simple to just walk off the dock.” A flat, shallow expanse of water from their shoreline that stretches to the horizon is dotted with small, green atolls where ideal bonefish waters are five minutes away.

Many bonefishermen describe the experience as almost spiritual, as well as an addictive encounter with nature. It’s quiet and totally serene. The flats are habitat for fish and birds of all types. Herons, egrets, rays, barracuda and sharks are plentiful, as well as tropical fish. Sharks and barracuda stalk bonefish, and some guides rely on their presence as a strong indicator that bonefish are near. Visiting fishermen are often focused, and dedicate most of their vacation to the sport.

“Typically, fishing guests get up at 6:30, have coffee and talk about bonefishing,” says Janeen Cooper at Sunset Resort, which also has two bonefishing skiffs of its own. “They fish until 4 pm, come in for snacks, a swim in the pool, clean up, have dinner, talk about bonefishing and go to bed.”

Other bonefishing lodges in Abaco include Nettie Symonette’s “Different of Abaco,” in Casurina Point, Rickmon’s Bonefishing Lodge, Pete and Gays Bonefishing Lodge, and Oeisha’s Resort in Sandy Point. Green Turtle Cay, Treasure Cay, Hope Town, Guana Cay and Marsh Habour are also popular locales with a number of guides in residence or close by. All provide pickup service with optional equipment. Lunch is usually not provided. A good pair of UV sunglasses, sun screen and head covering for protection from the sun and being hooked is always a must. Guides are highly recommended for novices, and even for experienced fishermen. Finding the best fishing grounds in the company of a local guide greatly enchances the occasion, and is most likely to make it a memorable one.



Barefoot Weddings

10 18th, 2006

UNINVITED GLITCHES SOMETIMES MAKE A BAREFOOT WEDDING MORE MEMORABLE
By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

The wedding cake, a three-tiered structure filled with strawberries, had collapsed.

As the Jeep Wagoner crept ever so slowly along the road from town to Bluff House on Green Turtle Cay, even the most painstaking care had failed. The wedding, an elaborate if barefoot affair, was in half an hour. But the cake would be repaired quietly, behind the scenes and out of sight, never to distract or dismay a single soul on this otherwise joyous occasion.

“Usually, there is some kind of glitch,” says Molly McIntosh, who, after presiding over arrangements for hundreds of weddings at Bluff House over the years, ought to know. “But it’s always a memorable experience, not just for the bride and groom, but for everyone.”

Minor snafus and last-minute, “island-style” adjustments are common; a sudden rain shower, late arrivals, lost luggage. There’s the cake that melts on the ferry or topples on the table, requiring a rebuild. Or the minister from afar who has forgotten his “vow book,” and has to dispatch a runner to fetch it an hour before the ceremony. But the island glitches are balanced with warm beachy days, starry night skies, moonlit walks on the sand, sun tans, painted-sky sunsets, and the increduity of first-time snorkeling. Dolphins frolicking in the bow wake of a sunset harbour cruise, appearing as though on cue, have been among the positive omens. And these, as well as the snafus, are the shared and treasured memories that will last a lifetime.

Around the island archipelago, from Elbow Cay to Marsh Harbour, from Guana Cay to Green Turtle Cay, folks are getting hitched Abaco style. Both locals and foreign visitors arrange resort weddings and do it up in big and small ways; from 100 friends and relatives to intimate and quiet ceremonies. Attire ranges from tux and gown in church, to barefoot on the beach. Abaco’s resorts are averaging more than 100 weddings a year, and almost every resort has an assigned wedding guru who has developed an expertise which goes far beyond flowers and photography.

“A wedding here is unique and beautiful,” says Tania Duncombe, food and beverage manager at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge. “People want an experience that everyone can enjoy. It’s great for young professionals who want a casual, stress free getaway they can share with their family and friends.”

Sometimes, however, it’s not quite stress-free for Tania. Not long ago three straight days of rain preceded a large wedding during which a secret fireworks display was planned. The bride, groom and wedding party were returning from the Methodist Church at 4 pm., and still it poured. A construction crew had already rigged up a tent over the entire outside patio where greenery, gathered hastily from the bush by Tania and her helpers, hid the tent poles. But then, lo and behold, the skies cleared as the bride and groom made their way back up the street to the lodge, and a dazzling sunset, like a heavenly omen, lit the western sky behind the lighthouse. The fireworks followed, the stars came out, dancing ensued.

At the Abaco Beach Resort in Marsh Harbour, Kevi Thomas is a popular fixture in sales and marketing whose portfolio includes the title of wedding coordinator. As such she deals with many couples who want an island wedding that will fulfill a pre-conceived dream of tropical bliss. It’s up to Kevi to provide all the attendant props and atmosphere.

“A couple from Michigan wanted to be married in The Bahamas, but had never been here. They wanted the simplicity of the island, but they wanted elegance too. We made an aisleway up the beach lined with potted palms, conch shells and overflowing bougainvillea. There were tiki torches, and the sun was setting. The sky was serene and beautiful.”

The resort organizes a dozen weddings a year, averaging about 20 people, although 40 rooms in the resort have been booked for one wedding in November. And regardless of how elaborate or simple a ceremony might be, the event is almost always a five to seven-day affair. The bride and groom may get joined in holy matrimony, but the guests often cut loose in down-to-earth fun.

If the wedding is at the Abaco Inn or Hope Town Harbour Lodge, the wedding party might head out aboard Froggies Island Adventure for a day-long snorkeling trip to Fowl Cay Reef; or climb into rental boats and head for Cracker P’s for a gourmet luncheon on Lubbers Quarters. Mostly, however, they stay in town - lounging around on hammocks, walking the beach, riding rented bikes and sipping frothy sunset drinks.

“We set up dinners around the island,” says Tania. “They get a feel for the whole place. It’s a great getaway experience. It’s unique and beautiful - an international destination that’s close, intimate and civilized, and costs far less that a big city wedding.”

The Lodge averaged 60 to 75 people for seven weddings so far this year, with another 10 planned through the end of 2002. Guests not only fill the resort’s 24 rooms, but rent houses as well.

Bluff House has orchestrated as many as 36 weddings in one year. Fortunately, says Molly, some are small with just a couple of friends, or even the hotel staff, as witnesses. The resort sells a basic wedding package, which includes the minister, license, ceremony, cake, bottle of champagne, hors’d'oeurves, a bridal bouquet, groom’s button hole flower, and photography, for $1,000. From there, the sky’s the limit. Options include a special cake with sugar shells, a decorated beach setting, a soloist singer or entire band, and T-shirts with “Bluff House” and the wedding date emblazoned on them. Activities can include a day’s snorkeling and picnicing with Brendal, of Brendal’s Dive Center, a guest golf tournament at Treasure Cay, sailing or bone fishing charters.

A wedding in Abaco - regardless of whether it’s a first for the bride or groom - is always an event the wedding couple wants to share. “They are very much into each other,” says Molly. “but at home, weddings are often more for everyone else. Here, you are giving your guests something different.”

Traditionally, the bride and groom arrive mid-week before the Saturday wedding and pick up their license from either the commissioner’s office in Marsh Harbour or in Green Turtle Cay. They need to be in the Bahamas 24 hours before the wedding. (See side bar on requirements). If they are already familiar with Abaco, locals often become invited guests to the wedding. Afterwards, Abaco usually becomes the site of the honeymoon, and, more often than not, the wedding guests - or a portion of them - stay on as well. By then, the sailing is usually smooth, the glitches gone. The wedding is over, the luggage has arrived, calm prevails.

For Molly, Tania, Kevi and other wedding arrangers in Abaco who deal with behind-the-scenes surprises, there’s a sense of relief - until the next one.

GETTING HITCHED BAHAMAS STYLE IN ABACO

To qualify for marriage in the Bahamas, you must be a resident in the Bahamas for a minimum of one day (24 hours) prior to the wedding. The following is necessary to obtain a marriage license, available at the commissioner’s office either in Marsh Harbour or Green Turtle Cay:  Birth certificates, Passports,Affidavits stating you have never been married or Divorce decrees, Bahamian entry visa to prove length of time in the Bahamas



Abaco Homes

10 18th, 2006

NO LONGER HUMBLE, ABACO HOMES STILL REFLECT LOYALIST HISTORY
By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

Abaco’s early settlers lacked interest in appearances. A house was a place where you survived the wind and the rain and the summer heat. You stored water beneath it and salt in boxes, and the kitchen was a separate building outside so the house wouldn’t burn down in case of fire.

The house was usually turned away from the sea, its back to the sound of surf and blowing sand. And when you built your “home, sweet home,” you had to take into account materials and skills at hand.

But the loyalist settlers who started arriving here in 1783 also came with ideas, brought from New England and colonial cities in the U.S., such as Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston itself had been heavily influenced by the French, and by English islanders sailing up from the Caribbean.

Once the fundamentals of survival were mastered in Abaco living, loyalist descendants began to adapt some of the old styles and designs they had brought to this unique island environment, using shipbuilding skills and techniques they had developed in this world of the sea.

Steep staircases, built like those on a wrecking schooner, led upstairs to attic-like spaces used for additional sleeping quarters. The steeply peaked roof funneled precious rainwater to underground cisterns, but the space under the roof was cramped and hot, so dormers and gable windows were cut for light and ventilation. Outside, white picket fences began to sprout in the yard; then porches with draping gingerbread were added.

Today in Abaco there are many modern designs, but generally the loyalist look has survived and been preserved in communities such as Hope Town on Elbow Cay, Guana Harbour on Great Guana Cay, New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay and Cherokee Sound in South Abaco. Many of the houses dating back 100 years or more have been restored or renovated. And newly built houses, while reflecting a wide range of architectural ideas, have a distinct island flair.

“The pitch of the roof is the most important feature,” says Michael Myers, a landscape architect who lives in Hope Town. “It sets the mood. You can get away with a lot of other things, but the angle of the roof sets the loyalist ambiance. It’s like a woman’s hat. It draws your attention.”

His own house features a widow’s walk, a little porch atop the house that commands a panoramic view of the harbour and sea beyond. He and his wife, Patte, restored the hilltop home at the harbour’s entrance several years ago, opening up the house’s small, interior rooms into a great room with a kitchen and dining area that looks out onto a lush, tropical garden. The house is refered to as “The Wedding Cake House” because of its gingerbread trim, pure white colour and unusual, rounded shape.

Bougainvillea, banana plants, hibiscus and other flowering scrubs combine into a delighful and comforting scene just outside the door. Hope Town has become much more tropical in recent years as home owners plant a combination of Caribbean and Florida plants, all of which thrive on little rainfall. Evidence of this man-induced tropical abundance can be seen in landscaping all over Abaco, from beachfront and waterfront homes at Treasure Cay and Green Turtle Cay to the backyards of Marsh Harbour and Man-O-War Cay. Several nurseries on Abaco provide the plants, while amateur horticulturists and professional landscapers do the rest.

Abaco’s construction industry is also booming. Architects, designers and builders are backed up with pending projects, many of them involving foreign owners seeking both full and part-time residence. Renovation of older houses is still popular, but with plenty of building materials now available from local hardware stores and lumberyards, as well as efficient freight operations from Florida and Marsh Harbour, many builders would rather start from scratch.

“Renovation is expensive,” says Kevin Albury, a popular builder on Elbow Cay. “It’s hard, dirty work, but it looks good when it’s finished. Abaco pine used in the original construction is usually good for another 100 years, but exterior siding, shutters and all the interior usually has to be redone.”

Nails were unavailable in Abaco during early construction, so wooden pegs were used. Mortise and tenor were used for joints. Today, a new woodframe house built in the old style is likely to have a concrete foundation and standard asphalt shingles with cement-based siding that looks like wood.

Many residents have also added artistic trimming and extensions to older houses. Woodcarver and sculptor Russ Ervin built a large front porch on his harbourfront home in Hope Town with pineapple pattern designs and gingerbread. The original design of the house, built here in the 1800s by loyalist descendants, was first introduced into Charleston by French immigrants. Early builders feared hurricanes would rip frills such as porches off the house and blow them away.

Russ’ house, like many others on the cays, was built with the front door along the side, another precaution against rising water. Few property owners today would forego a waterfront - and especially oceanfront - view because of the exposure. At “Villa Pasha” on Green Turtle Cay, owner Paul Thompson built his beachfront home with a series of French doors around the house to enhance the feeling of openness and the view. The design is based on a Caribbean style home built in Guadeloupe around 1874.

Great Abaco Club in Marsh Harbour offers a wide variety of designs to new home builders in this gated, waterfront community, but all designs have an open, island style, and you can have any colour you want as long as it’s pastel. Both the club’s architectural committee and a town architectural committee have to approve the plan. Construction costs run from $100 to $170 a square foot, and every upgrade is available. from Bermuda roofs to Italian tiles.

Unlike the bare-bones, utilitarian furniture used by early islanders, many of the new or restored homes in Abaco today are furnished in colonial antiques, wicker or rattan. Local craftsmen, like Bill Fuller on Elbow Cay, also make Caribbean and plantation-style furniture that adds to a relaxed, casual but upscale island look. Paintings, shell art, driftwood sculpture and other decorations adorn walls and shelves. Perhaps the most impressively decorated of all is the home of Abaco artist Alton Lowe on Green Turtle Cay where the walls are covered with his original oils, both inside the house and in the adjoining Lowe Gallery.

Some of the outdoor scenery and salt air may remain essentially the same as it was in 1783, but life in Abaco has reached a level of comfort and aesthetics never envisioned by those early settlers. Hardwood floors and modern indoor kitchens prevail - not to mention tiled bathrooms and cozy bedrooms with a beach view. It doesn’t get much better than this.



Abaco Bread

10 18th, 2006

SMELL IT, TASTE IT, SAVOR IT: IT’S FRESH-BAKED ABACO BREAD!
By Cathy Kerr

From the biblical “manna from heaven” to the reference in the Lord’s Prayer to “our daily bread,” it’s always been the “staff of life.” It was a key element in historical and literary Vernon Malone baking in Abacoevents, too. The theft of a loaf of bread in “Les Miserables” started the chain of events that are the basis of that novel and play, and ignoring its importance to the citizens of France contributed to the downfall of Marie Antoinette. It’s the first thing off grocery shelves when a storm is predicted, and an essential prelude to dinner at restaurants around the world. But in few places does it conjure the dreamy-eyed wistfulness that it does in Abaco.

Fresh-baked island bread goes with Abaco like sea water and sunshine. Patrons of many Abaco eateries return time and again for conch salad or grouper atop full-bodied island sourdough. And breakfast at most cottages or boats wouldn’t be complete without a thick toasted slice topped with a dollop of melting New Zealand creamery butter and a spoonful of mango jam.

Every Abaco community has a baker, if not a bakery. On Man-O-War Cay, locals and visitors alike harken to the sound of Lola Sawyer’s golf cart, which is laden with fresh bread and her legendary cinnamon rolls, ready for direct sale to local businesses and the waiting public. Lola, a lifetime resident of Man-O-War, has been baking bread in her kitchen for many years, and her secrets are closely guarded.

At McIntosh Restaurant and Bakery in Green Turtle Cay, Denise McIntosh arranges an assortment of daily-baked goods, including bread, pies and cakes on a counter for customer selection, and fresh bread and rolls are a foundation of the menu. Marsh Harbour residents collect their bread from a number of local sources, and appreciate the fact that Abaco is one of the few places where fresh-baked bread can be found in grocery stores. In Abaco, “sliced bread” isn’t considered all that great!

As you walk through the Hope Town settlement, the wafting aroma of fresh-baked bread is likely to tempt you to slip through the screen door of Vernon’s Grocery. The crusty brown loaves have been a key ingredient in his business for 40 years. Today he bakes white, whole wheat, multi-grain, onion, sourdough and sometimes raisin breads. Specialties include banana, date-nut, cranberry and guava-raisin, and on special request he’ll even make dietetic salt-free bread. His tiny bakery, an annex to his grocery store, turns out an average of 100 loaves a day, which sell for $2.50 a loaf.

Like many Abaco bakers, Vernon learned the art of baking from his parents. His mom baked six to ten loaves at a time, three times a week, in a rock oven outside their Hope Town house. It was all sourdough, the unanimous choice of his eight-member family. “Baking bread was a social event where people shared one oven,” Vernon remembers. “It was your afternoon work, and it was eaten with every meal - a major part of everyone’s diet.”

In those days, flour called “Cream of the West” came in 100 lb sacks on the mailboat. Before that, when flour was altogether unavailable or unaffordable, folks made “potato bread.” No one in Abaco grew wheat. In settlements such as Sandy Point, people dug up roots to make a kind of bread called “pap.” Johnnycake, made like a flattened and soft muffin, was once a “poor man’s bread,” but is today a fashionable addition to the dinner table.

Somewhat ironically, the secret to the consistency, taste and popularity of Abaco bread is Canadian flour. “U.S. flour does not make good bread,” asserts Vernon. “It does not walk (knead) well.” The Canadian flour of modern times carries brand names like Purity, Robinhood or Five Roses. One starts with sugar, salt and yeast, adding a liquid shortening or oil with warm water and flour. The dough is kneaded, allowed to rise twice, then shaped into loaves, put in pans and baked. The yeast makes it rise. In Vernon’s gas convection ovens, 48 loaves can be produced in about 30 minutes. About half his working day is spent baking bread.

Of course, there are other delicacies emanating from Abaco ovens: fresh coconut or key lime pie, cakes, tarts, rolls and a steamed and boiled jelly roll treat called guava duff. But bread is king. In fact, dozens of loaves leave Abaco each week as gifts, as visitors balance them with carry-on luggage, hoping customs agents won’t prod them into inedible lumps. But even when the transport is successful, many later realize that one key ingredient is missing: a morning sunrise over an Abaco beach.



RUM!

10 18th, 2006

By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

In a small café and liquor store in New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, someone said: “daytime is beer time, but rum owns the sunset.”

Abaco Bahamas RumIt might have been David Bethell, who owns the Plymouth Rock Café and Liquor Store, and who carries on his shelves no fewer than 72 kinds of rum. There are light rums and dark rums, sweet flavored rums and fruity rums, rum liqueurs for sipping and smooth rums for drinking on the rocks. There are rums for cooking, marinating, flaming, and flavoring everything from cakes to coffee.

Rum is the preferred drink of the islands, and, by association, the boaters who frequent them. It was called “grog” back in the heyday of pirates in the Bahamas, and “booze” during the heady bootlegging days, when Abaconian ship captains sailed their schooners to New Jersey loaded with this much-sought contraband. And let us not forget that the second island landfall Columbus encountered in the Bahamas on his first journey to the New World is today known as “Rum Cay.”

The stuff altered the Caribbean forever with Columbus’ introduction of sugar cane from the Canaries on his third voyage. And after slaves from West Africa were imported to work the big sugar cane plantations of the English, Dutch and French, a “vicious triangle” was formed as grog went to Europe via the Americas, where it was traded for textiles, guns and, ultimately, more slaves. Today, however, what was once referred to by prohibitionists as “demon rum” has taken on a benevolent role. It is so strongly intertwined with vacation pleasure that, on arrival, many visitors gravitate to the nearest watering hole faster than you can say “pina colada.”

Among spirits, rum is the number one best-seller in the world, with several million locals and visitors in the Bahamas and Caribbean helping it retain that status. The most popular rums in Abaco are Mount Gay, Bacardi and Anejo. The venerable Cuba Libre, made from white rum and Coca Cola, is still simple and popular, but for fruity, and potent, drinks, Meyers mixes the best, according to our sources. Virtually every bar, restaurant and resort in Abaco has a specialty drink made with some kind of rum, and the Goombay Smash served up at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar in New Plymouth is still legendary. While the exact recipe remains a house secret, the main ingredients are believed to be pineapple juice and 60 proof coconut rum, with perhaps something else to “kick it up a bit.” They go down deliciously smooth, luring the thirsty patron to try another, which often brings dizzying results. Another theory is that, because Goombay smashes are premixed and refrigerated overnight in plastic gallon jugs, the sweet fruit juice and sugar-based alcohol get an extra evening to interact, increasing the strength of the brew.

The basics of rum-making are standard, although the process can have many variations. Molasses is fermented from crushed sugar cane and fruit juice. The mix is combined with oxygen, distilled, heated and separated. Timing and temperature is everything. Ingredients, flavoring, labor costs, length of process, shipping and even the artistic value of the bottle can determine the price of rum. In Abaco, it comes from distilleries in Nassau and Freeport, West Palm Beach and several Caribbean islands. A bottle of Cruzan, a rum originating in St. Croix but bottled in West Palm Beach, costs $12.95, while a bottle of Ron Matusalem, a rum originating in Cuba but now distilled in the Domincan Republic, costs $12.95. Most rums run between $8 and $15 a bottle regardless of origin.

Jan Samuelson, a wine and rum connoisseur and writer who recently visited Green Turtle Cay, tested out a variety of locally-available rums. “The qualities I look for in a good rum are a well-balanced taste between the alcohol and the flavors from the barrel, mostly oak and vanilla,” he says. “Other flavors often found in better rums include chocolate, licorice, molasses and citrus.”

He tasted five different rums selected from the best at the Green Turtle Club and ranked them on a point system from one to 20. The results were: Barbancourt from Haiti - 18.5; Mount Cay Extra from St. Croix - 18.5; Cruzan Single Barrel from St. Croix - 19; Appleton Estate from Jamaica - 18 and Ron Barcelo Imperial from Santo Domingo - 17.

Many boaters and other vacationers in Abaco might take this as confirmation of a long-held premise: rum is one of the cheapest forms of quality entertainment. To witness followers of this tenet, stop in at any Abaco bar or resort at Happy Hour. Or drop by the Plymouth Rock Café and Liquor Store around 5 pm., where you are likely to find proprietor David Bethell busy bagging bottles of grog.

“I can’t say that I’ve tried all 72 kinds myself,” says David. “But I’d like to.”



       
 

©  Jim Kerr, Abaco Life Magazine
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