Abaco Life Magazine

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Archive for July, 2008

Sightseeing is heavenly between Abaco and Arcturus

07 14th, 2008

Behold the night skies, where stars, planets, meteors and moon present a spectacular show

By Jim Kerr

On a clear, moonless, low-humidity night, the visibility in Abaco is about 9,500 trillion miles. And that’s with the naked eye.
Orion the Hunter marches across the black velvet sky, his head, shoulders and belt easily discerned as six bright stars. His sword, made up of three dimmer stars, hangs at an angle to his body below his bright belt. But the middle “star” in the sword is not a star at all, but a nebula, a sort of cellestial incubator turning out one newborn star after another. The Great Orion Nebula, or M42 as it is known, is about 1,630 light years away.
A pair of binoculars or telescope reveals the glowing cloud of stars that make up this “open cluster,” but in Abaco you won’t need either to discover many other spectacular objects in the night sky. The lack of ambient light, pollution and, at least on some nights, humidity, opens up a vast panorama of celestial treasures rarely seen by city dwellers. The pockmarked surface of the moon is clearly visible as it reflects sunlight down on the water, the beaches and the settlements, casting romantic moonshadows across the landscape, or, if you’re in the mood, eerie illumination of ancient graveyards. In the darkened portion of the waxing moon, you can even see the earth’s reflection.Searching Abaco Bahamas night skies
“The moon reflects only 11 percent of the sun’s light,” says Bob Rogers, one of Abaco’s many amateur astronomers. “But the earth reflects as much as 70 percent of the sun’s light, which we see bouncing back to us from the moon.”
Bob and his wife, Betty, spend many evenings star gazing and moon watching from the deck of their 42-foot trawler Nereid, usually at anchor in Hope Town Harbour. And the moons they observe don’t always belong to the Earth. “With seven-power binoculars, you can see four of Jupiter’s moons as well,” Bob says. “You can also see the the Orion Nebula as it really is, a star nursery in a cloud of gas.”
From our perch aboard the Earth inside the Milky Way, other galaxies, such as Andromeda, the closest, can also be seen, even though it’s light years away. The brightest star, Sirius, is found easily to the left of Orion’s flank, a virtual lightbulb in the sky despite its distance of 8.6 light years. A light year is the distance light travels in a year through the vacumn of outer space, or about 5.878 trillion miles. Thus, the light from the Orion Nebula, as we see it on Earth, is actually as it appeared more than 1,600 years ago.
The moon and planets, on the other hand, are seen in more-or-less real time. From their front porch, or from the roof of their house on Elbow Cay, Al Spapiro and his wife, Gloria, often have star-gazing and moon-watching sessions with friends and neighbors. Their house at Crossing Bay, just north of the settlement, is a perfect spot to set up Al’s digital Meade 144 mm telescope. From this vantage point, not only are the craters of the moon are visible, but the shadowy insides of the craters, all of which Al can identify.
“What’s really unique here is the clarity and lack of pollution in the sky,” says Al, a 30-year resident. “Trade winds from the east bring clean air. The weather is almost always comfortable. It’s very dark, and not even the lighthouse beam interfers because of its low angle.”
At these latitudes, he adds, both Orion and the Big Dipper are in one sky. The former is a central measuring point to the other constellations, and the latter is a virtual “road map to the night sky.” Even casual navigators and star observers know that if you draw an imaginary line upward through the two stars, Merak and Dubhe, which form the leading edge of the Dipper’s cup, you can easily locate Polaris, the North Star. By drawing a similar line arcing through the handle of the dipper, you can find Arcturus, a bright star in the constellation Bootes. Continuing along the arc, you’ll come to Spica in the constellation Virgo. Not to be left out of the “road map,” the other two stars in the dipper cup, Megrez and Phecda, lead down to Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo. It’s 69 light years away. The closest star to the earth is Alpha Centauri, actually a three-star system, 4.3 light years, or 25 trillion miles distant. One of the stars, Rigil Kentaurus, located in the constellation Centaurus, is the fourth brightest star in the sky and is very much like our own friendly sun, which is, fortunately for us, only a mere 93 million miles from Abaco. Abaco Bahamas night sky

Mythology and astrology aside, Abaco’s starry skies enhance romance, invoke scientific curiosity, and lead one to contemplate the creation of the universe and the question of life on other planets. For many, however, just pondering the simple wonders of a beautiful night sky is pleasure enough. In Abaco, any time of year is good for star-gazing, although winter months bring the lowest humidity, and two nights after a cold front is considered the absolute clearest. Some events outshine others in rarity or visual impact. Recently, four planets, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, were neatly lined up in their nightly ecliptic voyage across the sky.
Venus as an evening “star” in the western sky is always the brightest astronomical object after the sun and moon, unless you are lucky enough to catch sight of a large meteor. It seems to be a matter of opinion as to which times of the year are best for spotting these real time visitors from outer space, but August through November is the concensus. Most meteors are produced from comet debris. Larger ones streak across the night sky in seconds as they burn up from friction with the atmosphere. Less dramatic but more fun are the annual meteor showers in which hundreds of tiny meteors can be counted as micro-second streaks of light.
There are half a dozen meteor showers every year. The most reliable one comes every November 17 to 18 when the earth crosses the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The resulting meteor barrage is called the Leonids, because they appear to radiate out of the constellation Leo. Even though the meteors are small, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to a pea, they are often very bright, leaving a train of light that lasts several seconds to several minutes. Another major show occurs during summer, and particularly on the nights of August 12-13, when a shower known as the Perseids sends down a volley of “shooting stars” from the sky near the constellation Perseus. On a really good night, when the Earth passes through a particularly dense comet dust cloud, a so-called “meteor storm” can produce several thousand meteors per hour.
Meteors in general are fast. The Leonids, for example, enter the atmosphere at more than 158,000 miles per hour. And while there are slower ones, the only way to catch any meteor’s brief existence is with the naked eye, gazing at a dark, preferably moonless, sky from a boat or lounge chair between the hours of midnight and dawn. It’s best to lay on your back and adjust your feet to face in the direction of the meteor shower.
The same prone position can be assumed for observing certain forms of manmade objects in outer space, including the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as dozens of satellites and rocket debris. However, you have to know where to look, and when. On a recent March evening, for example, the Hubble Telescope crossed the sky in its low orbit in nine minutes, while the Space Station was in view only six minutes. Both are bright enough to be easily spotted, as are nearly 20 other satellites on any given evening. Your guide to finding them is a website at www.heavens-above, where you can check “daily predictions for brighter satellites.” The coordinates for Marsh Harbour, which you will need to insert, are 26.5482 degrees north, 76.9780 degrees west.
Rocket launches from Cape Canaveral are often seen from Abaco. “We’ve seen many a launch, both day and night,” says Bob Rogers. “The manned launches were dramatic, but there are many unmanned rockets. If you see what looks like a jet trail rising in the northwest rising almost straight up, watch for the separation of stages.”
A good way to determine whether it will be a good night for celestial observations is to listen to the Cruisers Net starting at 8:15 am on VHF radio channel ?.
There are, of course, more violent versions of the night sky in Abaco than a moonlit beach, silent meteor shower or distant satellite orbiting the earth. When summer storms build, lightning illuminates spectacular cloud formations. When seen at night from afar, with distant thunder rolling in, it can be somewhat intimidating. Still, it draws photographers making time exposures, and the less timid to roofs, verandas and boat decks, usually with a cold drink or hot cup of coffee in hand.



Sea Glass Reveals Muted Tales in Red, Green, Blue, White …..

07 14th, 2008

By Jim Kerr

With a beachcomber’s sharp eye, Kim Sands walks slowly and methodically along Abaco’s deserted beaches, her attention finely tuned to the tide lines and pockets of tide pools at water’s edge. She searches not for shells, but for glass.
Tossed and tumbled by the relentless sea, some bright fragments glitter in the sun, while others hide camouflaged in brownish rocks and craggy edges of limestone. The shards are usually small and smooth, having been pounded and buffed, sometimes for years, by the sea. The surface of the glass is opaque and milky, but the colours are distinct, with telltale signs of origin ranging from a Milk of Magnesia bottle discarded 50 years ago, to an empty liquor bottle thrown off a cruise ship three weeks ago.Sea Glass in Abaco Bahamas
It may be trash those who discard it, but it’s treasure to those who find it. And while collecting it isn’t nearly as popular as shell hunting, many Abaconians and dedicated visitors consider sea glass combing a combination of archeology and gem mining. “Sea glass collectors look for rare colours and a connection to people and history,” says Kim, who owns the popular Java coffee shop in Marsh Harbour. “Among the best things you could find would be something like pieces from a Black Case gin bottle from the 1800s, which would be thick and deep olive green, or anything that’s red. I’ve only found three pieces of red sea glass in 10 years of collecting.”
That’s because few bottles were made from red glass, and most red sea glass comes from old lanterns and boat lights. Orange, turquoise, yellow, black and teal are also very rare. The most commonly found sea glass is white, Kelly green and brown, the colour - or lack thereof - of most bottles today. Many are tossed off ships passing in the night off Abaco’s shores, or washed up in storms from farther away. They are battered and broken by waves on the rocks, and the fragments are worn smooth and rounded by continuous tidal action. “The best places to find it,” says Kim, “are at the high water line during changing tides, especially following rough weather. Heavy pieces are thrown to the top of the high tide line, while smaller ones get caught in rocky pools at low tide.”
Some pieces of worn glass are fused together by fire. This occurs when bottles join other refuse and debris in trash dump fires. Kim calls this “campfire glass,” because much of it is the result of people, going back to loyalist days, burning garbage on Abaco beaches The broken bottle glass bubbles and has traces of charcoal.
Collectors put the glass in bowls, baskets, jars and glasstop coffee tables. Like Kim, they make jewelry and mobiles out of it. Bottle necks and bottoms are particularly good for mobiles and small pieces can be fashioned into jewelry including bracelets, necklaces and earrings. While some artists use mechanical “tumblers” to soften glass edges and create the sea frosting effect, purists like Kim rely on serendipity and experience in finding the real thing. Artist Blaine Sweeting of Little Harbour gives nature a hand.
He makes three dimensional lamp shades from sea glass, layering glass on top of glass, but instead of tumbling the glass, he smashes bottles he finds, places the fragments in a net bag and secures it in a hidden spot where wave action will eventually result in the effect he wants. “It takes a long time to find the glass you need, because naturally
everyone wants a lot of cobalt blue,” he explains.
Aside from its aesthetic value as a “gem,” sea glass is intriquing because of its past association with people. Blue bottles which once held Milk of Magnesia and Bromo Seltzer have long been displaced by plastic containers. Other bottled remedies, such as Scotts Emulsion Codliver Oil with Lime and Soda, have ceased to exist. Sometimes marbles, which were once inside bottles as stoppers, are found. Other beach glass found in south Abaco comes from long-closed industrial sites like Owens Illinois and Wilson City. Agricultural areas in both south and north Abaco are also good places to look.
“You can find it almost anywhere,” says Kim, who does not reveal her own favorite locales, “but the best places would be Bahama Palm Shores, down around Hole in the Wall, Sandy Point and up in north Abaco north of Treasure Cay.”
Kim searches the Internet for information on sea glass and ideas on how to make things from it. Some people simply keep in it glass jars by a sunny window, or in fish tanks, while others go a more extravagant route. There are books on the subject, such as Pure Sea Glass by Richard LaMotte, and Sea Glass Chronicles by Carole Lambert, as well as many websites, including www.bytheseajewelry.com, www.pureseaglass.com and www.bythebaytreasures.com. Most are related to collecting sea glass, or beach glass as it is sometimes called, in New England. But Abaco’s many miles of Atlantic shoreline and outer cay beaches may be superior as reservoirs of this treasure.
“It’s always a secret as to your favorite spot,” says Kim, whose sea glass mobiles spin and glitter in the sun from their hooks at Java. But if you approach her at the right moment, she might drop a few tips.



The Way it Was

07 14th, 2008

She was a ship, a headquarters and a home:
The Robert Fulton remembered in Abaco

By Dave Gale

As I looked toward the western horizon from Elbow Cay on a clear and sunny mid-morning in 1959, I thought I was seeing a mirage, a ghost ship. I had never seen a vessel so big in Abaco . It was much too big to ply the waters of Abaco Sound.
At the time I didn’t know just how big she was, but even at three miles distance, as she was being towed south along the eastern shore of Sugarloaf Cay, she loomed disproportionately large. Gleaming white, the morning sun reflecting on her massive superstructure, she had the long low profile of a river steamer.
I jumped into a speed boat and zoomed over to investigate. I was even more surprised to find that the apparition was, in fact, a side-wheel lake or river steamer. The large black letters on her pilot house and on either side of her bow shouted, ROBERT FULTON. Robert Fullton
I was brought up a short walk from Long Island Sound and a Harley ride from the Hudson River, and I knew that the Robert Fulton had been in the Hudson River Day Line fleet, which operated day-excursion steamboats – 4000 passengers each — up and down the River. I saw those steamers and I may have even seen her. But why was she here in Abaco? It wasn’t long before I found out. The boat was to be used as home base for the Owens-Illinois lumbering operation soon to start on Abaco at Snake Cay.
Being involved with the Newhope Lodge, back then the only hotel in Abaco besides the New Plymouth Inn on Green Turtle Cay, we had been hosts to the survey crew from Owens-Illinois, although they were operating under a different company name. I was hired to run the launch for the somewhat mysterious crew for a week or so a few months before the big steam boat arrived. The survey crew refused to tell me why they were surveying, or for whom, but when they wrote the check to pay for their lodging, food and services, I nearly croaked when I saw it was from a pulpwood and turpentine company in Jacksonville, Florida. While in the U.S. Navy, I had been stationed in both Jacksonville and Pensacola, Florida and I knew what an awful, all-pervading stink came from pulpwood plants.
Reacting to my obvious and serious dismay, they explained the company was actually the National Container Corporation, and that the new timbering operation would only be shipping the timber to Jacksonville for a few years, making it economically unfeasible to build a pulpwood plant here in Abaco. I heaved an enormous sigh of relief.
Nevertheless, nothing had prepared me for the arrival of the 346-foot steamboat Robert Fulton. The line had operated day excursion steamboats like her on the Hudson between New York City and Albany in upstate NY from 1880 to 1948. It was a seasonal but highly successful business. The Fulton was built in 1909 to replace the company’s steamer, New York, which had burned and sank at her dock that year. In their haste to be ready for the coming season, they used their basic1880 plans to build the Fulton. They put in a 3850 horsepower 1887 walking-beam coal-fired steam engine which, it appears from the records, they had in storage, and which was later converted to oil to make steam. On the main deck, her salon had the motif of a formal Italian garden in white, gold and green. The overhead effect between deck beams was of the sky. Vines, palms, plants and caged birds completed the décor. As their newest steamer, she was the queen of the fleet.

Fulton is key to “Fishyback”

The line closed operations after the 1948 season, and in September of that year, the Robert Fulton made the last regularly scheduled trip by any steamboat from Albany to New York City, and in so doing closed an era on the Hudson River. Her new owners altered her interior and sailed shorter excursions for six more years. She was waiting to be scrapped when National Container Corp. (later purchased by Owens-Illinois) bought her and saved her from the ship-breaker.
The company had leased the timber cutting rights on Grand Bahama, Great Abaco and Andros, and they had an unusual plan for the Robert Fulton which gave her a new lease on life as a movable base of operations. She was towed to a Jacksonville shipyard, where they removed her 30 foot diameter paddlewheels, the walking beam on the upper deck, the three big smokestacks and 500 tons of engine equipment. For her new role, she was fitted with a general office, apartments, a supermarket, an infirmary, a schoolroom, a snack bar with a soda fountain, a dining room, laundry, lounges for television and a movie theater. Many of those things did not exist at the time on Grand Bahama or Abaco, and the movable base for the shipping of pulpwood from overseas was unique in the timbering industry, as Owens-Illinois developed much of their equipment around the new concept.
The new Bahamas operation, dubbed “Fishyback,” was an amphibious pulpwood logging venture the likes of which the world had never seen. The inspiration was the brainchild of C. G. “Mac” McLaren, formerly of National Container Corp., and it made history in the logging industry. Two barges incorporated into the plan, and somewhat less than creatively named Pulpwood No. 1 and Pulpwood No. 2, were the largest flat deck sea-going barges afloat at the time. A barge load averaged 1,640 cords of wood weighing 5,500 tons. The “Fishyback” Bahama experience, on three separate islands, lasted for 17 years, during which time Owens-Illinois shipped two-and-a-half million cords of Caribbean Pine to the Jacksonville paper mill. The Caribbean Pine on Abaco, Grand Bahama and Andros was, at this time, second growth and of poor quality. First growth pine, which is very hard by comparison, had been cut for building lumber about 30 years earlier.
By 1960, Owens-Illinois had shipped to Jacksonville all the timber that Grand Bahama had available, and the Robert Fulton was towed to Snake Cay, about seven miles south of Marsh Harbour on the mainland of Abaco, where she would once again act as a home base.

Attention Fulton shoppers

For those of us who lived on the outer cays of Abaco, the most interesting feature of the old converted steamer was her supermarket. It stretched almost 200 feet along the entry level deck, accessed by a dock and a gangway. Primarily for the 400 or so Owens-Illinois employees based at the Snake Cay facility, it was also open to the public and carried about 2000 different items, including meats, groceries, vegetables, patent drugs, fabrics, various household items and furniture. It was the first time I remember fresh milk and ice cream being regularly available in Abaco. Customers and clerks were separated by a sort of chain-link fence which ran along the center of the long counter. The clerks had a foot of counter space on their side of the fence while we had a much smaller portion of counter on which to rest our shopping list and elbows. We had no idea what might be stored in back, except for what we could see down the narrow aisles which trailed off out of view. There were no signs or lists of what might be available, nor was there a line to stand in: you just walked aboard, stepped up to the fence, and tried to catch a clerk’s eye. We spoke our orders, one item at a time, through the fence, and we discovered a small tip to the clerk was a nice gesture for all his running back and forth; a gesture which usually paid off on your next shopping adventure, a routine resembling the old parlor game “Twenty Questions.”
Purchaser : “Do you have any cereal?”
Clerk: “Yep.”
“What kind do you have?”
“Have to check. What kind do you want?”
“How about Cheerios?”
“Lemme see.” He walks away from the fence to go searching in unseen isles. After a few minutes, “Nope, don’t have Cheerios.”
“Any Raisin Bran?”
“Lemme see…Ah, no, I don’t think so, but we got oatmeal.”
“Oh, I can’t stand that stuff. How about Wheaties?”
“Yep, I know we have Wheaties.” He disappears again and comes back with a small box of Wheaties.
“That’s an awfully small box, don’t you have a larger one?”
“Lemee go look.” Away in the isles he goes and comes back with a large box of Wheaties.
“Swell. Do have any jam?”
“Yep. What kind do you want……………..?”
That’s the way we all remember it. Folks came by car from Marsh Harbour or, like us, by boat. All over the dock were pallets for pulpwood. We could not imagine things so big. An empty pallet weighed 2 tons and 38 tons when loaded with pulpwood. Giant LeTourneau fork lifts moved these monsters with less trouble than picking up your cat. When empty and stacked two high (almost 30 feet), and many rows deep, they looked like a permanent building. A friend once tied his speed boat to this seemingly immovable object and went shopping with ruinous results. When he returned, both the “building” and boat were gone. Looking more closely, he spotted his boat on the bottom. A giant fork-lift had moved the pallets and the operator had unknowingly picked up the boat, which dangled by its bow line until the line broke, dumping the boat into the basin.

The Fulton as a live-aboard

For the Owens-Illinois staff, living aboard the Robert Fulton was a memorable experience. The boat was outfitted with 12 one- and two- bedroom apartments for families, and about 10 single or double bachelor cabins. In addition to the grocery store, there were dining areas, a movie theater and a so-called “proprietary club,” a package liquor store that was open for 30 minutes a day. Staff live-aboards could buy and keep their bottles there to make themselves a drink, but there was no actual bar. It opened at 5:30 pm, and when the dinner bell rang precisely at six, it closed tight.
Dave Ralph and his wife, Kathy, who are today the editors and publishers of The Abaconian newspaper, met as single staff members aboard the Robert Fulton during the Grand Bahama Island phase. Kathy, who taught school on Grand Bahama, was the first single woman to be hired in the “Fishyback” operation. She was given a small apartment with a kitchenette aboard the Robert Fulton while at Snake Cay. Bachelors, like Dave, had maid service in their tiny rooms aboard the boat, but married couples who had larger apartments did not.
“The single men ate only at 6 am, noon and 6pm, which started with the ringing of a bell at the dining room door,” Dave recalls. The seats were assigned, he said, and if you didn’t sit down at your regular seat, the burly guy whose seat you were in would threaten to toss you over the side. The plates were upside down and the food was on the table to be passed around. There was silence except for polite requests to “Pass the potatoes, Pass the butter.” There was no lingering, and while it was all you could eat of wonderful food, when you were through you were expected to be gone.
“The couple who cooked were from a lumber camp out west,” remembers Dave. “They used lumber-camp rules, ran a tight ship and had their way about everything.” With the exception of Dave, who was office staff, the men were heavy equipment operators, foremen and boss mechanics. Each man scraped his plate and turned in his utensils at a designated place after eating, to avoid finding his dirty plate still there at the place he left it when he came for his next meal.
At first the Robert Fulton remained afloat, tied to the Snake Cay dock, rockin’ and rollin’ when the wind piped up from the northeast. The office staff had to tie their rolling swivel chairs to their desks to keep from careening across the office. The Fulton’s riveted hull began to leak so badly that after a year a decision was reached to fill in the space around the old hull with rock and earth, landlocking the boat. By then, she was 52 years old. Cars and trucks could now park all around her and she could never sink.
In 1967, Operation “Fishyback” was completed on Abaco Island, the tugs and barges having made 768 round trips of 734 miles each between Snake Cay and Jacksonville, Florida, delivering over one-and-a-quarter million cords of wood to the mill. The pulpwood operation was then moved to Andros Island, but alas, the Robert Fulton could not leave her landlocked station to continue services at Owens-Illinois’ third timber-cutting site in the Bahamas. Instead, she suffered the indignity of having her wooden portions burned and metal sections cut apart, junked and buried in what was left of the forest. The hole she left at Snake Cay was filled and graded to become part of the docking area for the next Owens-Illinois project in the area – sugar growing and refinement, a story for another time.
Today, walking the wharf at Snake Cay, one would never suspect that a grand old lady from the Hudson River once lived in this very spot.

EDITORS NOTE: Bruce Werner, a frequent Hope Town visitor on his trawler-yacht, Lady Jane,is researching the Robert Fulton, as well as other boats significant to Abaco’s history, for the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. Dave Ralph, Jay Wise, Carl Diaz and many others are contributing to Bruce’s work, which was generously provided for this story. I was here when the Robert Fulton arrived and throughout its years at Snake Cay, so I have taken the liberty of providing my own personal slant on this episode of “the way it was” in Abaco.



Getting a life–Abaco Style!

07 14th, 2008

By Jim Kerr

Most mornings, Jack and Betsy Helm join a diverse group of friends for early coffee on the terrace at the Abaco Inn on Elbow Cay. The sun is rising from the sea, and rays of orange light cast a glow over the sand dunes. A coastline of low hills covered with thick green brush, sea oats and coconut palms arcs to the south. Surf swirls ashore on a curving Atlantic beach, and beyond they can see waves breaking over a barrier reef that is said to be the world’s third largest.
Conversation over coffee covers many subjects. Last night’s power outage at dinner was mildly annoying, albeit a bit romantic. But the storm than caused it also led to some rare shell discoveries by Betsy during her sunrise walk this morning. And did anyone else see that Getting a life Abaco Bahamas style!pod of Bottlenose Dolphin just offshore the other day? Civic affairs and volunteer work are discussed, as are upcoming art shows and other island events. And, of course, there’s the ever-changing, all-important topic of weather.
Life is both simple and complex, problematic and adventurous for Jack and Betsy and the several thousand other transplants who, over the past several decades, have come to live in Abaco. For them, the inconveniences inherent in island life, along with the need for constant attention to maintenance, are more than offset by friendly neighbors and activities in an environment where you can work eight hours a day on your house or boat - or just go fishing.
Where once there was only a smattering of ex-patriots and second-home owners on Elbow Cay, there is now a steadily growing wave of both full and part-time foreign residents. Today, the green rolling hills of south Elbow Cay are dotted with new homes; some lavish sentinels overlooking the sea, others perched inland on stilts. Vacant land is also disappearing from North Elbow Cay, as more new homes sprout up, as well as in the picturesque settlement of Hope Town.
The story is the same in many Abaco locales. Lured by sun, sand and sea, as well as proximity to the U.S., political stability, helpful people and good values, Abaco has become one of the hottest real estate markets in the hemisphere. Developers are planning to invest well over a billion dollars in real estate projects in Abaco over the next five years, and many more millions will be spent by individuals on homesites and houses. Nothing tells the tale of this phenomenal growth market more than the proliferation of real estate agents and offices throughout Abaco. More than a dozen offices, some with as many as six agents, are scurrying to help new buyers find a piece of personal paradise, and to sell a shrinking inventory of available property.
And while the number of realtors in Abaco seems miniscule compared to other fast-growing semitropical real estate markets such as Florida, or even some other island escapes, the action in Abaco represents a much wider recognition than in the past. Even though this island archipelago is only 180 miles east of Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, finding it has not always been that easy. It can take a few turns in the road — not to mention the sea and sky — before you discover that what you want in life often lies closer to home than you might imagine.
Take the case of Gregg and Meredith Bakke. Searching for a winter island retreat and second home away from their Wisconsin roots, they took eight to 10 Caribbean cruises. Nothing rang their bell. Then they saw a small ad in AOPA Pilot Magazine for Treasure Cay Resort and flew down to Abaco in Gregg’s small plane to have a look. They rented motor scooters and scooted down to Marsh Harbour, 30 miles south. They had lunch at Angler’s overlooking Boat Harbour, and voila! This was the place for them.
“We wanted a tropical climate, and we had covered a lot of islands,” said Gregg. “It might not be as warm as the Southern Caribbean, but we saw it was perfect for boating. There is no language barrier, it’s close to the U.S., the political climate is stable, and the people are friendly and helpful.”
They used a credit card to put a deposit on a lot at The Great Abaco Club, then built a two-story, four-bedroom house on a canal. Half Mediterranean and half Caribbean style, it offers access to the Sea of Abaco, which glimmers just yards from their back veranda. And while the Bakkes still work together in a chiropractor practice back in Madison, Wisconsin, and enjoy summers boating on Lake Michigan, they savor every winter moment spent here in their new second home.
It was eight years ago, in 1996, that the Bakkes built their house here, and while this relocation trend has been progressing steadily since the 1960s, there has been nothing like this in Abaco’s 200-plus year history, since loyalists from the former colonies in America suddenly appeared on the scene in 1783. There were virtually no comforts or conveniences for newcomers in those days, and early settlers, who did manage to make it, fended for themselves in a harsh and wild environment, adopting many new skills and ultimately embracing the sea to make a living. It more or less stayed that way until tourism arrived, and with it a yearning from visitors to own a piece of this sunny, uncrowded world.
Peter Sutherland, a British citizen who worked with a shipping and freight forwarding company with an office in Nassau, found Abaco 20 years ago when he and his wife, Helen, were looking for a weekend retreat. They watched a house being built on Pelican Shores in Marsh Harbour in 1997, and three years ago, when it came up for sale, they bought it. “The Out Islands were quieter in the days when we first started coming,” remembers Peter, now 59. “It may not be as quiet now, but the people are still friendly and charming. The sea and the weather are the same, but life is not without pressures. There are hurricanes to contend with, and while shortages of goods and services are no longer the problem they once were, you need to be laid back, and that takes time. It isn’t a simple life, if that’s what you’re looking for. Abaco, as they say, is not for sissies, and it helps if you’re practical.”
Peter and Helen’s well-constructed wood-framed house is testimony to the high quality of construction found today in Abaco. A four-bedroom, 2,800 square-foot house built on concrete stilts, it has survived three direct hurricane hits since 1999 with minimal structural damage, despite being on the northeast waterfront facing the Sea of Abaco. Hurricanes aside, the Sutherlands’ backyard waterway offers easy access to the sound in their 26-foot boat. Helen, 57, loves to scuba dive and swim, and the couple enjoy boating off to lunch at Nipper’s on Guana Cay, Cap’n Jack’s in Hope Town, or Cracker P’s on Lubber’s Quarters.
Like the majority of property in Abaco owned by non-Bahamians, the Pelican Shores house is a second home for the Sutherlands. While they live here most of the year, they still maintain a home in Devon, England, where they have family and friends. And like many home owners, foreign as well as Bahamian, they occasionally rent their home to visitors. Today the hundreds of rental homes on Abaco far outnumber the inventory of hotel rooms, even though the latter are on the increase. And while some hoteliers might see rental homes as competitive with resorts, others have learned there is a mutually-beneficial relationship between themselves and potential property owners, who usually come here first to vacation. “In the past year I’ve had more people staying with me who were looking for property than in the past 10 years combined,” says Sid Dawes, owner of the Lofty Fig Villas in Marsh Harbour. Furthermore, because of the expenditures of foreign home owners on goods and services, Abaco’s current economy would plummet without it.
When vacationers visit Abaco, or buy homes here, friends are sure to follow. Tom and Ann Maxfield of Annapolis, Maryland first came to Abaco on vacation at the suggestion of friends. They stayed at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge, then rented houses on subsequent trips. “We got on the ferry in Marsh Harbour on a rainy day,” remembers Tom. “We came into Hope Town Harbour, and even in the rain it was quite a sight. I took one look around and said to Ann, ‘we’re going to live here.’”
In 1993, they bought a piece of property north of the settlement. The process began with local real estate agent Chris Thompson. An architect in Marsh Harbour approved the Maxfields’ house design, and six months after they hired an Elbow Cay contractor, the house was finished. Along the way, they engaged several other locals who provided landscaping, legal assistance, consolidation and expediting of building materials, shipping and customs brokerage details. By the time everything was added up, including hefty customs duties, the couple estimate the cost of building their Elbow Cay home was about double what they would have paid in the U.S.. Nevertheless, the expense includes a spectacular Atlantic Beach and a dock on the protected Sea of Abaco, both a short stroll from their front door. Picturesque Hope Town, where it was love at first sight, is a pleasant five-minute ride in their golf cart.
Their many friends and neighbors include Linda and Doug Behrendt, who live in an 1,800-square-foot house they call “Sea Breeze.” They first came here as bareboaters in the 1980s as something special to do with the kids. Many vacations and rental houses later, they bought a quarter-acre, pie-shaped “jungle” lot on the north tip of Elbow Cay and hacked their new home site out of the bush. That was in 1999, before Hurricane Floyd, and they didn’t start building until July, 2001. Like everyone else, they learned a lot from Floyd in terms of contruction and protection, such as the need for storm shutters and hurricane-proof glass. But they also knew to take advantage of available technology to maximize comfort and efficiency in an island environment, installating reverse osmosis equipment to augment rain-catching cisterns, and contouring the property and house design to maximize the view and ensure the placement of underground units like the cistern and septic tank. “It took a year to build,” says Doug, 67, a retired cardiac surgeon from Iowa City, Iowa. “And I came down during critical decision-making points, like staking out the plot, laying out rooms, and deciding where the electrical outlets should go.”
Frank Wilson of Saugatuck, Michigan followed a similar procedure when he and his wife, Kathy, bought a lot on Gillam Bay on Green Turtle Cay. He was an electrical contractor himself, and after the couple hired a Green Turtle contractor, Frank supervised much of the house construction from the vantage point of a lawn chair. “Floyd hit in September, 1999, right in our building time slot,” he recalls. “It cost us a year delay, and I could see this wasn’t going to work without me being there. They would start one job and go to another. We rented an apartment across the road in September, 2000, and things started moving. I was right here in my chair every day. I got to know all the workers and their families, and we all got together on weekends. They’re good, hard-working, religious people.”
The Wilsons moved into a small cottage they built behind the main, two-story building they called “Bay House,” which they rent out. They still own businesses back in Michigan, including a bed and breakfast inn and a small seasonal resort, but they manage to spend four to five months at a stretch on Green Turtle Cay. Like many, they first came here on the recommendation of friends. But unlike the Maxfields, who stepped off the ferry in the rain at Hope Town, the Wilsons arrived under a classically clear blue sky. “It was one of those perfect days,” Frank remembers. “The water and beach were glistening. We used to go camping in the Florida Keys years ago, and it reminded us of those days. We had to come back to Green Turtle every winter after that.”
The Wilsons hired Reggie Sawyer, a Green Turtle Cay contractor. He oversaw all construction, contributed invaluable advice and ideas, and consolidated all the building materials at Home Depot in West Palm Beach. The Wilsons used the beachfront lot on Gillam Bay, which they bought in 1996, as collateral to secure a building loan for the house from the First Caribbean International Bank in Abaco. “We had a viable, money-making business in the U.S., but it was heavily mortgaged,” says Frank. The earnings from rentals on the large house, which are handled through Island Property Management on Green Turtle Cay, offsets expenses.
Today the Wilsons keep busy painting, gardening and walking along Gillam Bay’s magnificent beach, which curves east toward a shallow bank on Abaco Sound, and provides one of the best spots in Abaco for shelling. But their escapades are not limited to their island. They occasionally play golf at Treasure Cay, and are still getting to know the rest of the area. Like most part and full-time transplants, they have discovered there is much to do.
“Life is good,” says Don Himes, who moved to Treasure Cay in 1996 with his wife, Pam, from West Bend, Wisconsin. “We fish, go island-hopping, snorkel on the reefs, have lunch on another island or on a beach. The roads and beaches are empty, and there are no lines at restaurants or tee times at the golf course.” They started with a two-bedroom condo, but are now building a larger townhouse on an oceanfront lot they bought in 2000. They like the slow pace of Treasure Cay, but appreciate the fact they can easily drive to Marsh Harbour, where a broader range of goods and services includes supermarkets, hardware stores, restaurants, banks and shopping.
The same is true of Bill and Judy Marx, but with an interesting twist. A retired attorney from Virginia Beach, Bill says he and Judy graduated to different levels of island life, each one more independent than the last. When Bill’s secretary brought back photos from her Abaco vacation in the 1970s, the couple decided to visit. Over the next decade, they rented a series of houses for two-week intervals on Eastern Shores in Marsh Harbour. They knew it would take a heavy dose of self-reliance to live happily in Abaco, and many times over the years they asked themselves: “Could we really enjoy living here over an extended period of time?”
But by 1991, they were so enamored with island life they sought to immerse themselves even further in it by buying property on isolated Lubbers Quarters, where they have neither car nor television. A local architect designed their 1,800-foot house on the water, with 2,000-square feet of outside decking with a sunrise view. The master bedroom and bath face the water in one section, while another has three more bedrooms and two baths for guests, who often include their grandchildren, ages four to seven. Entertainment here includes watching the curly-tailed lizards and hermit crabs, snorkeling and shelling along the beaches. And while there are always weekly boat trips to Hope Town and Marsh Harbour for supplies and diversion, the Marxs’, like hundreds of others, have discovered that the rewards of living here are found mainly through daily contact with the environment and people.



With Kids in Tow

07 14th, 2008

How they spent their summer vacation - again.

(From the Summer/Fall, 2005 issue of Abaco Life)

By Jim Kerr

Every July, gliding into Hope Town Harbour on the ferry, you see them everywhere. They wave from the tower railing of the old lighthouse. They ride in boats, their suntanned bodies glistening with lotion. They seem to be fishing from every dock.
Along the beaches, they splash in the surf or ride bogey boards. Along the roads they wave happily from passing golf carts. And at local restaurants, between giant bites of cheeseburgers, they laugh a lot.
While it’s impossible to estimate their total number, especially when you add the locals whose children are out of school (and have friends visiting) with all those who are on vacation with Local Abaco girls fishing from the docktheir parents, it is safe to say there are a WHOLE LOT of kids in Hope Town, an occurrence which has become an annual event.
Hope Town, once an isolated village with few conveniences and even fewer forums for entertainment, is now a magnet for visiting families. Today there are several hundred rental houses and villas, as well as two small resorts, the venerable Hope Town Harbour Lodge in the settlement and Turtle Hill located just south of town. And although the settlement itself, established in 1785, has neither a movie theater nor video arcade, its natural resources prove infinitely more entertaining than any TV program or gameboy.
Like most small towns, everyone knows everyone. For the younger set, this includes not only the local kids, but those who are here annually on vacation. It’s a mix that many kids and parents look forward to every summer, and while a similar family atmosphere can be found in several Abaco locales, particularly on Green Turtle Cay, and more recently, on Guana Cay, Hope Town is Abaco’s primary sun and sea summer camp. Here the great outdoors awaits. Fish are jumpin’. Sailing is sensational. Surf’s up, and coral reefs spread their sea fans like sirens waving to young snorkelers. And while it tends to be quiet in town most nights, Cap’n Jack’s rocks with music and dancing Wednesdays and Fridays, while Harbour’s Edge lures a crowd for pizzas and music on Saturday night, with dancing under the stars and the lighthouse beam. Teens and young-at-heart adults fill the place, while knots of friends spill out onto the street outside.
Take a stroll down the upper road, also known as Back Street, and you’ll bump into visitors like Cameron Saffell, 10, a Jacksonville, Fla. beach enthusiast visiting Hope Town with her folks for the third time. She has stopped to admire the shell crafts designed by Nicky Maltarp, 11, who has grown up here.
Meanwhile, Dylan Thompson, 9, and his two friends, Aston Kemp, 10, and Eli Lowe, 8, have hauled their surfboards down to the beach, only to find the sea is flat calm this day. His sister, Shannon Thompson, 11, has a better idea. The fifth grader has found a good fishing spot from a dock with her two visiting pals, Lia Nixon, 11, of Nassau and Hailey Lee, 11, from Local Abaco surfersMarsh Harbour.
For the past 13 years, Jim Laughlin has run a special summer program for Hope Town kids ages four to 15 which includes windsurfing, sailing, group games, arts and crafts and other sports. “The idea was to create a summer program for local kids,” says Jim, “but now we include visiting kids as well.” Sponsored by the Hope Town Sailing Club, one of the settlement’s most active civic groups, the summer camp had 34 participating kids this year, including Jim and Margie Laughin’s children, Katelyn, 8, and Maggie, 4.
Like many second homeowners here, Jim’s family has been highly supportive of the community. He spent much of his youth here, drawn to the same summer pastimes he now teaches. There are many others like him, and there will likely be more as new foreign homeowners arrive with their children and grandchildren.
Kids sometimes have trouble expressing exactly what it is about Hope Town that enthralls them. It’s the beach, some exclaim. It’s the beautiful sea and all that it holds, others attest. “They paint the houses with happy colors,” said one small observer with regard to the pink, green, blue and pastel-shaded houses. The adults, who may have a better grasp of both language and intangible concepts, are more succinct in their assessments.
“It’s freedom,” said one mother with a 14-year-old son. “They have an independence and freedom here they don’t have in any city. Here they can go to a grocery store or a restaurant, as well as ride bikes or walk to the beach. It’s safe to just let them go. They’re able to form bonds with good kids who are involved with things like surfing, fishing and other sports.”
Put into a visiting family’s perspective, the activities available also make for family cohesiveness and sharing that is rarely found in other vacation locales. Parents who find it difficult to interact with their children as much as they would like to because of work and other obligations find a rewarding togetherness with them here.
“I’m switched on 24/7 in my real estate business,” says Christopher Breda, whose wife, Gina, has a similarly high-profile public relations job. They have two daughters, Caroline, 10, and Meredith, 7. “Here I unwind, disconnect from that other world, and see the islands through their eyes while I recharge. We snorkel, collect shells and visit every little place on the island. At night we play cards, and this year maybe I’ll teach them spades and poker.”
Getting here has always been the hard part. For most people it means early wake-up calls, airline connections, baggage and security hassles and sometimes an overnight stay along the way. As the distance closes, however, anticipation rises. Families have been known to change into shorts and bathing suits in South Florida airports so they won’t waste any time getting started on the fun as they jump into rental boats in Marsh Harbour or onto the ferry bound for Hope Town.
This is the fifth trip to Abaco for Chris and Gina, including a honeymoon in Green Turtle Cay in 1990, a return trip there four years ago, a stay on Guana Cay three years ago and last year’s first visit to Hope Town.
“Hope Town has plenty to do, and the girls are never bored,” says Dad. “They meet lots of other kids and make many new friends. When we have to leave, they cry.”
Well, there’s always next year.



The Road to Cherokee

07 14th, 2008

The future has arrived overnight down a twisting new road
to a place where time seemed to stand still for 150 years

By Jim Kerr

Of all Abaco’s communites, Cherokee Sound is by far the most isolated. It remains debatable as to why the location, 23 miles south of Marsh Harbour on the east coast of Great Abaco, was chosen for a settlement in the first place. One explanation is that American loyalists, sailing from Spanish-held Florida in 1783, were working their way up the east coast of Abaco when they spied a shallow harbour. It was the first they had seen, and while it was only suitable for small vessels, the area offered fertile land, protection from the sea and, perhaps most importantly, plenty of fresh water. The nearby mangroves, while dense, were Cherokee Sound Abaco Bahamasnavigable by skiff, and there was excellent elevation off an ocean point which formed the northern boundary of a fabulous bay and curving sand beach which became known as Winding Bay.
Why they dubbed the settlement “Cherokee Sound” is also a subject of conjecture. Patrick Bethel, a native of Cherokee and author of a brief but informative booklet called “Growing up in Cherokee, 1935-1950,” theorizes that the founder, Colonel Thomas Brown, who had commanded a battalion of king’s rangers in the Carolinas and had been the King of England’s representative to the Cherokee Indians there, brought with him a Cherokee Indian woman. Some say old photographs show distinct Cherokee features in the faces of some early settlement offspring.
Whatever the true source of the name, Cherokee Sound’s geographical situation held it in check for the next two hundred years. The shallow harbour did not allow major vessels, and the only alternative way into the town was a creek accessible by dinghy. Other early settlements such as Marsh Harbour, Hope Town and Man-O-War Cay, all with excellent harbours, were a day’s sail from Cherokee. In the 1950s, as these communties began to catch up with 20th century techology and establish modern-day industries such as tourism and real estate, Cherokee basically remained an anachronism of the 19th century.
Coming suddenly upon Cherokee is somewhat like finding the mythical Scottish village of “Brigadoon,” which, according to legend, only appeared once for a day every 100 years. Today there are 98 houses and a population of about 180, but there were as many as 400 people living here in the 1800s, and until the 1950s, there were more residents in Cherokee than in Marsh Harbour. The neat and narrow concrete streets pass by pastel painted houses trimmed in pink, green and blue. There are three churches; a small community center, which was resurrected from an old one-room school house; and a new, two-room primary school with 18 students. One small, but well-stocked, grocery store, the Cherokee Food Fair, serve the town needs, but there are no restaurants or tourist lodgings in the settlement, although 23 of the houses are foreign owned and a handful of these, as well as native-owned houses, are sometimes rented.
The people of Cherokee are known for being tall, handsome, intelligent and hard-working. While the earliest inhabitants were American Loyalists, newcomers included descendants of the Eleutherian Adventurers, who had settled Eleuthera from Bermuda in the 1600s. The village had ties with other loyalist settlements such as Hope Town, Man-O-War Cay and Green Turtle Cay, and today names common in those island communities, such as Sawyer, Albury, Pinder and Bethel, can be found in Cherokee as well. They survived on what they could grow on land or catch in the sea. Grits, corn, potatoes, peas and wild fruits were supplemented with conch, fish, turtle and whelks, but from the mid 1800s to present day, cash to buy everything else, from clothes to household goods, has come almost exclusively from catching and selling fish of one kind or another.
Cherokee fisherman Kenneth Albury, 63, stands six-foot-five. His solid frame and can-do attitude is typical of many men here who have worked hard all their lives to make the settlement a lasting entity. He left school at age 14 to go smack fishing on a 48-foot boat called the Renown, built in Cherokee. Like most, the Renown spent six to seven weeks at a time at sea before selling its catch in Nassau and returning home. Today Ken is a crawfisherman, a much more lucrative occupation which only requires an absence of two to three weeks. “I never had any desire to move away,” Ken says. “I like the quiet here and going to sea, and when you’re home for two or three weeks between trips, you have time to help the community.”
His mother had eight children. Large families were the rule back then, a trend which has greatly diminished in recent years. When Ken went to the little school, there were more than 80 children. His teacher was Pat Bethel, who was born in 1933, and whose own family numbered six boys. Today, half the 18 students in the primary school live at nearby Casuarina Point, and big families of 10 to 12 are a thing of the past. Attrition has also contributed to the decreased population over the years. But while many have moved away, others have either stayed or returned, determined to take advantage of new job opportunties while embracing Cherokee’s peaceful ways.
Hartman Albury, 35, is primarily involved in construction, a trade he learned from his father, but for 15 years he was a crawfisherman working for Ross Sawyer out of Green Turtle Cay. Bonnie, 31, his wife of 13 years, works full time at the Cherokee food store. Their home is a sturdy block house, as opposed to the older wood frame houses which tend to be plagued by termites. It’s bright and richly furnished, with every modern appliance, and inside some glass cases are samples of Hartie’s talent as a model boat maker, another skill passed down from his father.
“I’ve traveled a lot in the U.S. and Bahamas,” says Hartie, “but I prefer things in Cherokee to remain the way they were. Until now, it has basically stayed the way it was in my father’s day. People interact like they did 100 years ago, and I don’t want to see that change, despite the new road and all.”
Telephones arrived in 1987 when Batelco installed a radio tower on the edge of the village. Electricity, via an underwater cable from Casuarina, followed almost six years later, and the paved road, linking Cherokee to the newly paved highway on South Abaco, was opened in 1997. For the first few miles, the road runs straight through level farmland, then takes a series of sharp, 90 degree turns as it follows higher ground around the mangroves and along the coast until finally dead ending into a town parking lot to the left, or straight into the village and waterfront. Both electricity and the road are said to be fulfilled political promises in return for Cherokee’s support during the 1991 Bahamas elections, but whatever the motivations might have been, the outcome has been dramatic.
For people used to a seamless commute between home and work, Cherokee’s situation up to this point is hard to imagine. A mail boat plying the route between Marsh Harbour and Nassau was the community’s only regular contact with the outside world, except for short wave radio and telegraph. During the 1950s, a dirt farm road linked the unpaved road on south Abaco to a place called Big Mangrove, across the sound from Cherokee . From here, small, shallow-draft boats could pick up and drop off passengers at the settlement dock. In the early 1980s, Carol Albury, a Marsh Harbour contractor, pushed a road through the forest from Big Mangrove which circled the inland waterways and mangroves and reached the village. It was a necessary element in a project to bring in equipment to deepen the dredged channel from Cherokee to the ocean, but the narrow tract road was never intended as a viable overland route. Nevertheless, taxis came over it once a week, conditions permitting, and Cherokee men like Meldon Albury, Hartie’s father, commuted five days a week to construction jobs as far away as Treasure Cay.
Because of its peculiar location, it is easy to understand why Cherokee was as dependent on the sea for a living as much, if not more, than Abaco’s outer cays. Fishing smacks, which were typically 32-feet on the keel and 48 feet overall, carried a crew of nine or ten men on five to seven-week trips. Scale fish such as jacks and google eyes in summer, and snapper, grunts and yellowtail in winter, were caught with large nets about 300 feet long and 12 feet deep. The catch, up to 1,200 pounds, was stored in live wells and sold in Nassau about once a week. The boats were kept at an anchorage called Riding Cay, about a mile from the settlement, when the men came home for a layover, but during the hurricane months of September and October the boats were brought up into the creek, beached or hauled for painting and maintenance at the settlement.
Boat building became a major industry in Abaco in the late 1800s, but while settlements such as Hope Town and Green Turtle built sailing schooners for freight, Cherokee specialized in fishing smacks. The industry produced several generations of talented builders from the mid 1800s until the late 1950s, but Benny Sawyer, Hartie’s uncle, is considered the best and most prolific of them all. He built 22 boats during his career, and while most were fishing vessels, one was a 60-footer commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook of England and another, the Pinnochio, was later bought by William F. Buckley, who renamed it the Cyrano, sailed it across the Atlantic and wrote a bestseller book about it called “Airborne.”
Together with his father, Hartie built a replica model of Sea Bird, one of Uncle Benny’s early creations, and because of his talent, the Bahamas government has asked Hartie to build a similar model to represent Cherokee’s boat-building past for a display at a Smithsonian Maritime Museum in Baltimore. It’s only one project of many that Hartie and other Cherokee residents are involved with to preserve the past. A neighbor, Lee Pinder, was instrumental in erecting a monument to Cherokee sailors, an obelisk engraved on three sides and dedicated in 1988. Lee contributes a column on Cherokee affairs to the Abaconian newspaper, but while she is tuned in to everything going on here, and involved in many on-going civic projects, she is not a native. Originally from Ohio, she met her husband, Dan, a native Cherokee resident, through friends in Nassau, and spent the next 20 years living in Freeport before coming home to Dan’s birthplace.
“We looked for 20 years for a place here in the settlement,” she says. “This house had been sold to foreignors, and they sold it back to us.”
Like many in Cherokee, whether newcomers or tenth generation residents, Lee Pinder worries about foreign influence on the community, while at the same time acknowledging the tremendous contributions of outsiders. There have been many, but one of the most notable is Colyn Rees, an entrepeneur born in Bermuda who, unlike the loyalists, did not discover Cherokee from the sea. The year was 1946, and Colyn had founded an air charter service called Nassau Aviation Company. During the war, he had ferried new bombers across the Atlantic as an RAF Transport Command pilot, but now he was looking down on something decidedly more picturesque than open ocean. From the vantage of a Grumman Goose amphibian, he saw beauty and potential beyond anything previously imagined.
“I wanted to see all the islands,” says Colyn, who lives today in Marsh Harbour. “In those days, Abaco was the most neglected.” A talented photographer, he shot aerials of the village and the area. He could see how neatly the settlement nestled into the sound, how Winding Bay’s sandy beach curved gracefully to the north, and how the coastline rose beyond to elevations not found many other places in the Bahamas. “It was,” he said, “without a doubt, from Cherokee Point to Little Harbour, the most beautiful property in all the Abacos.”
A lifelong love affair with the area began soon after when Colyn himself bought 23 acres on a hill which sloped from the sea down to the sound just north of the settlement. He built five cottages as a bonefishing and deep sea fishing camp, then went into semi-retirement there in the late 1950s. He kept his businesses going in Nassau, but embraced the Cherokee community as his own. “It was the most remote, poorest white settlement I’d ever been to,” he recalls. “They were fishermen and boat builders and that was it. I felt I could help these people, so I commissioned the building of two fishing smacks.”
The Pride of Abaco and the Queen of Abaco, 60 footers built in 1952 and 1953, were among the last in a long line of Cherokee-built fishing smacks. Eventually, Colyn sold most of his land, keeping seven acres, and moved on. But he is not at all surprised to see the most recent development taking shape just a few hundred yards from his property. The Winding Bay Club, a $160 million development, features a spectacular links golf course, two-acre oceanfront homesites selling for $1.5 million dollars and up, and “cottages” which go for well over a million dollars apiece. The new development, which has come with the speed of light compared with Cherokee Sound’s history and slow evolution, already employs some Cherokee workers, mainly in construction and landscaping, with more jobs to come. But as affluent new club members and home owners at the Abaco Club at Winding Bay begin to arrive, the biggest economic impact will no doubt be on tourism and real estate.
“Everybody is anxiously waiting to see what happens,” says Lee Pinder. “People who have come here to visit from other Abaco communities have remarked how lovely it is here. They tell us, though, ‘don’t let foreigners come in and take it away.’”
Real estate prices in and around Cherokee have already spiked considerably. Lot prices in Yellowwood, a residential area between the settlement and Winding Bay, have more than doubled in recent months. “People will be tempted to sell at high prices,” says Hartie Albury, “and young people growing up today won’t be able to afford property in their own community. The problem will be keeping the community together. This is what happens when change comes.”
New neighbors, however, have always meant new benefactors. The settlement’s pride and joy, its long dock, which stretches far out over the shallow waters of the bay, has been rebuilt several times after storms with money contributed by foreign home owners. Fundraisers backed by foreign residents have also helped finance repairs, the community center, the village fire truck and other projects. Curiosity will no doubt bring Winding Bay’s new residents to Cherokee, but the outcome remains unknown. The world behind the gates of The Abaco Club is a world of refinement and manicured scenery, where an oceanfront golf course borders a well-tended white sand beach, and a stable of horses stand ready for treks across the property, and perhaps up to Little Harbour where gallery and pub-owner Pete Johnson is already thinking of new boat moorings and docks for a wealthy newfound clientele.
In a world where the day begins by addressing a ball teed up on a multi-million dollar ocean golf course, tiny, unimposing Cherokee Sound, while just over the ridge, might just as well be on a different planet. On the other hand, a glimpse of Brigadoon could be the beginning of a long love affair.



The Way It Was

07 14th, 2008

When they sailed to Key West
Green Turtle homes went too

(from the Spring, 2005 issue of Abaco Life)

By Jim Kerr

At age 18, John Bartlum of Green Turtle Cay was already a captain. His wrecking vessel, Wanderer, slid into Nassau on February 7, 1832 with a cargo of candles, butter, dry goods and oil that Bartlum and his crew had salvaged from the line ship Dewitt Clinton, which had recently wrecked on the reef at Elbow Cay.
Like most men on Green Turtle, Bartlum was a loyalist descendant. His parents, John Bartlum and Mary Curry, had come to Abaco in the 1780s looking for a new life after the American Revolution. Their youngest son and his crew were part of a sturdy breed, religious and hard-working, resilient and durable; much like the native madeira wood that went into their vaunted wrecking schooners, laboriously crafted at Green Turtle Cay. They would have been Bartlum House Stamphappy to stay and work in Abaco the rest of their lives, except for the law. But when it changed, requiring goods salvaged from U.S. ships to be brought to a salvage court in a U.S. port, John Bartlum moved to an obscure little island at the tail end of a series of islands at the tip of Florida known as Key West.
He became a shipwright there in 1835, and with financial help from a fellow Green Turtle Cay native named William Curry, he built a 10-ton sloop called the Mary McIntosh, described by the Key West Enquirer as “the first boat of her size built here, being about 32 feet keel.” A couple of years later, Bartlum was back in Green Turtle Cay where, on July 29, 1837, he married Sarah Lowe, daughter of William Lowe and Eliza Albury. For the next eight years (long enough to have the first four of their nine children) they settled into the house Bartlum had built there. But in 1845, lured by opportunity, Bartlum and his growing family moved back to Key West, where he proceeded to put both himself and his adopted new home on the map.
Engaged as a shipwright for Browne and Curry, Bartlum constructed a flurry of large sailing schooners of more than 100 tons each between 1848 and 1859. He had never served a day as an apprentice, learning from reading and hands-on experience, and while he would become a U.S. citizen in 1853, and would turn down many offers to leave Key West and relocate his work elsewhere, he chose to stay in this growing island town. After all, it was almost an extension of his homeland. The population of around 3,000 was 40 to 50 percent Bahamian, with about half of that number originating in Abaco. It was, in those days, more of a Caribbean island port than a city in Florida.
Besides, Abaco was only a few days sail from Key West, and like other Bahamians, Bartlum could easily visit folks back home. It was in 1847, however, that he returned to claim his most important possession - his house.
It was the year after the most devastating hurricane in Key West’s history. The town had been substantially flattened. In a scenario still familiar to hurricane victims everywhere in Florida and the Bahamas, no carpenters or other workmen were readily available to repair or rebuild, except at outrageous prices. So Bartlum came home, dismantled his house in Green Turtle, loaded it aboard ship, and reassembled it on a lot he had purchased in Key West from his brother, Joseph.
He wasn’t the only one from Green Turtle Cay to do this. Capt. Richard “Tuggy” Roberts did the same, buying a piece of Bartlum’s land in November, 1847 and reassembling his own Green Turtle house in Key West. Like Bartlum, he was a wrecker, but as a southern sympathizer and entrepeneur during the civil war, he used his ships to run Union blockades.
Both men, talented and successful as they were, were eclipsed by yet a third Green Turtle native, William Curry, a merchant and businessman extraordinaire, who became Florida’s first millionaire. He too had been a wrecker, but his subsequent mercantile businesses extended into ship provisionings, farm stores and ship building. In 1854, a year after he had become an American citizen, John Bartlum, working under the auspices of Curry’s company, built the clipper ship Stephen R. Mallory. It was the crowning acheivement of his career - 959 tons, 164-feet in length with a 35-foot beam, built from the mahogany known as “madeira” and capable of carrying up to 50 percent more cargo than any other ship its size. The ship was named for a U.S. senator who became secretary of the Confederate Navy, and she sailed for the next 14 years, including two trips around Cape Horn, until foundering off the Irish coast in 1870.
The Mallory cemented John Bartlum’s reputation and guaranteed his legacy in shipbuilding history in Key West. He lived there until he died in 1871 at age 57. His mentor and financier, William Curry, who had been born on Green Turtle Cay in 1821, died in Key West in 1898 at age 77. Together with Capt. Tuggy Roberts and many other Abaconians, they left behind a legacy of family and accomplishments that can still be seen today in the flourishing city of Key West. Curry’s house still stands, as do the Green Turtle Cay homes of Roberts and Bartlum, the latter now restored but still side-by-side, as they have been on the corner of William and Eaton Streets for the past 158 years.
Meanwhile, this year’s Island Roots Festival on Green Turtle Cay, scheduled for May 20-22, continues the Key West connection, featuring activities commemorating the ties. New Bahamian stamps, scheduled for release May 17, feature paintings by artist Alton Lowe of Bartlum, Curry and the houses brought to Key West. For more information on the Island Roots Festival, call 242-367-3067 or 242-367-4336. For information on acquiring the stamps, write Philatelic Bureau, c/o GPO, P.O. Box 8302, Nassau, Bahamas.



       
 

©  Jim Kerr, Abaco Life Magazine
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