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A snapshot of Abaco’s most popular pets

06 10th, 2009

by Jim Kerr
Photos by Jim and Cathy Kerr

Pot-cake n. 1. a highly variable canine of mixed heredity found in the Bahamas. 2. a mutt or mongrel in the Bahamas whose name derives from the thick, congealed food remaining in the bottom of a pot of peas and rice it has traditionally been fed. 3. a lovable, lop-eared lopper whose independence, loyalty and antics amuse and ingratiate a large host of dedicated humans. 4. an unwanted liability often born under a truck and abandoned at a garbage dump. (Definition by Abaco Life)

potcakes from abaco bahamasWhile their ancestors probably arrived in Abaco first with the Lucayans centuries ago and later with Loyalist settlers in the 1780s, today’s Bahamian mixed breed dogs are so mixed up they have been given a special status and name: Royal Bahamian Potcakes. They have distinct characteristics of size and tem-perament bred into them from a shared gene pool, and none of them have enough DNA from any one breed to be significantly identifiable with it.potcakes from abaco bahamas

Today their status in Abaco, depending on your point of view, ranges from abandoned pest roaming the streets and dumps, to cherished member of a human family. The quality of their lives seems to hang on fate. Often ownerless and half-starved, yelled at and shoed away with their tails hanging, they are also adored pets and companions, whose intelligence is admired and whose mirth is encouraged as they romp and dig for crabs on the beaches, ride in the bow of boats, stroll the narrow village streets and laze on the porches and sidewalks.

And while often feral tramps, Abaco’s potcakes are also prized by owners, most of whom rescued them from a much different life.
On average, potcakes weigh from 50 to 60 pounds, as opposed to 30 pounds in days gone by, because of mating with an influx of larger dogs such as Shepherds and Rottweilers, according to Dr. Derrick Bailey, Marsh Harbour’s resident veterinarian. “Potcakes don’t need grooming or much maintenance,” says Dr. Bailey. “And they do not have sep- aration anxiety which causes them to tear the house apart. They are well adapted to local conditions.”

The number of people, both local and foreign, who actively participate in Potcake rescue, fostering and ownership has grown substantially in recent years. For these folks, Canus familiaris of the Potcake variety is nothing less than an integral icon of domestic island life.

potcakes from abaco bahamas potcakes from abaco bahamas potcakes from abaco bahamas

Here are a few examples:potcakes from abaco bahamas

JAKE

Kent LeBoutillier was chosen by Jake, one of 14 puppies born under a truck in Marsh Harbour. “He ran around in a circle and came to us,” says Kent, a resident of Elbow Cay. While he has some Border Collie characteristics, Jake has the look and manner of a true Potcake, she says. “He’s a sweet and loving shadow – well-mannered, smart, gentle, energetic and non-intrusive.” Jake likes to ride in the boat, swim in the harbour or anywhere off the beach. “Jake will do anything for fun,” says Kent.

SUNSHINE potcakes from abaco bahamas

Every morning when Debbie Patterson comes across Hope Town Harbour to open up her Ebb Tide gift shop, Sunshine rides along. Fourteen years ago Debbie adopted her from the Bahamas Humane Society in Freeport after a taxi driver picked the dog up on the roadside when she was about eight weeks old. “She still gets off the boat on the shore at Bay Side Tellin’ and makes the neighborhood rounds before coming to the shop,” says Debbie. “But at her age she’s a part-timer now and goes home at noon.”



Potcake stamps

06 9th, 2009

Fame comes to Amigo and three other potcakes
on new Bahamian commemorative stamps

By Jim Kerr

Potcakes will have their ‘day in the sun’ this spring as the subject of four commemorative postage stamps based on paintings by renowned Bahamian artist Alton Lowe (for more about Alton’s career, see the feature in the Fall/Holiday ’08 issue of Abaco Life). It’s the first time the much-loved mutt has been the subject of a four-stamp commemorative issue, designed to give them overdue recognition as a national treasure and significant part of the island landscape going back centuries. A native son of Green Turtle Cay and a potcake lover himself, Alton has designed more than 150 stamps with subjects ranging from Bahamian scenes to his renderings of flora and fauna. Through active promotion of these unique and historical stamps, the artist hopes to help the plight of homeless potcakes. The stamps honor four outstanding representatives of the breed, each with its own unique story:

Turtlepotcakes from abaco bahamas
She Likes to Fish

Turtle was born under an upturned boat in a yard on Green Turtle Cay in May 2001. Her father was ‘Lucky,’ a retriever/chow/ potcake mix, and definitely the ‘dog about town’ at the time (See “Lucky” on page 30.) Her mother was the very eligible ‘Sassy,’ a shepherd-looking potcake who was renowned for her beauty and known all over the island. Turtle’s hobby is chasing fish in shallow waters. She will spend all day at this, if allowed. She also loves to chase curly tail lizards lounging in the sun. Her family is very proud to have her represent one of the varieties of potcakes in this stamp series, and hopes that everyone will become more aware of the breed and choose to adopt a potcake of their own.

OREOpotcakes from abaco bahamas
A Loving Personality

Along with several siblings, Oreo was rescued from the Treasure Cay dump on Abaco and brought to Green Turtle Cay, where she was adopted from a laundry basket full of potcake puppies being driven around town in a golf cart. Oreo, owned by part-time GTC resident Lee Linton, resides at Linton’s Cottages. Always friendly with guests, she was involved in a hit-and-run accident in 2008 which resulted in the loss of her right hind leg. It may have slowed her down some, but her loving personality hasn’t changed. She remains an important part of the lives of her owners on Green Turtle Cay, and is a wonderful example of ‘potcake potential.’

TRIPODpotcakes from abaco bahamas
A Three-legged Herder

Tripod was a small, feral, potcake puppy when she was found with a shattered leg on the side of the Great Abaco Highway near Marsh Harbour, probably hit by a car. A passerby rescued her, and with generous help from another animal-lover, Tripod’s leg was
amputated. She eventually found a home on Green Turtle Cay with Alton Lowe’s brother, Vertrum. Tripod has the laidback disposition and personality of a golden retriever and the intelligence and herding ability of a border collie, two breeds she resembles.

AMIGOpotcakes from abaco bahamas
A Bahamian Superstar

Amigo, who appears on the cover of this issue of Abaco Life, is a ‘rags to riches’ story; a journey from starving, diseased and homeless potcake pup to Bahamian superstar and ‘Icon of Hope’ for challenged animals in general and potcakes in particular.
He began life on Grand Bahama Island, spotted sitting on the side of the road by Frances Hayward, a passionate animal activist and then-head of The Humane Society of Grand Bahama. Little more than skin and bones and covered with mange, ticks and fleas when he crawled out of the bush, Amigo managed to convey a sweetness, confidence, high intelligence and extro-verted personality that would eventually lead to stardom as a celebrity representative and poster dog in a major campaign for spaying, neutering and rescue that Mrs. Hayward initiated and was about to launch.Amigo was chosen as ‘Story of the Year’ by The Nassau Tribune, and soon he was adorning posters, hats, t-shirts, car stickers, newspaper ads and tourist magazines as the ‘face’ of the Humane Society of Grand Bahama’s “Crusade Against Animal Suffering on Grand Bahama Island” and a national awareness campaign dealing with the care and treatment of animals throughout The Bahamas. Taking his message abroad, Amigo lived an amazing, madcap, purposeful life, hobnobbing with celebrities, starring in the Humane Society of the United States BEKIND Campaign, appearing on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and in magazine and newspaper articles. He received the
Ambassador of Goodwill award from ARF (Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons) presented by film star Alec Baldwin; starred in two Mardi Gras Parades; and appeared in Public Service Announcements with Humane Society of the U.S. President Wayne Pacelle and Hip Hop Impresario Russell Simmons. He received the Hollywood Life Breakthrough Award from actress Alicia Silverstone, then went on his own rescue mission with “The Amigo Express” after Hurricane Katrina. Finally, he became the dog that walked the catwalk in fashion shows to benefit homeless animals. Amigo died in September 2007 after a brave battle with cancer, but a recently-established fund in his name will keep his legacy alive by giving others like him a chance. The Amigo Commemorative Stamp will be an additional tribute to a gallant potcake.

Information on the new Bahamian commemorative stamps is available by writing the Bahamas Philatelic Bureau, P.O. Box N-8302, Nassau, Bahamas, or by e-mail at: Bahamasphilatelic@bahamas.gov.bs . The stamps can also be ordered in person at the main building of the General Post Office in Nassau and at the Welcome Center at Prince George Dock. A set of signed limited edition prints of the “Amigo” painting will also be available, thanks to the artist. All proceeds will go to Amigo’s Fund to benefit animals of The Bahamas. For further information visit: www.amigosfund.org.



Pineapples Days: How Sweet They Were

06 9th, 2009

pineapples in abaco bahamas
By Jim Kerr

pineapples in abaco bahamasOf all the colorful historic periods of economic endeavor that transformed Green Turtle Cay and its inhabitants, one of the sweetest of all is perhaps least remembered. Unlike wrecking, sponging, shark fishing and craw fishing, it came and went like a foreign wind that, while it brought good fortune, left few remnants and even fewer memories among locals.

The product was the pineapple, a fruit with sharp, pointy leaves and prickly exterior with a sweet center that originated in Brazil and Paraguay and made its way to the Caribbean, where it was discovered by Columbus and carried back to Europe. If you order a pina colada today at Pineapples Bar in Green Turtle, or a pineapple-topped pizza in Marsh Harbour, chances are the juice in your drink and the fruit on your pie came from a pineapple grown in Costa Rica or the Philippines. But back in the late 19th century, pineapples were not only grown in abundance on numerous farms on Abaco and Eleuthera in the Bahamas, but were profitably canned and shipped to the U.S. and Mother England.

While pineapples were introduced to Eleuthera in the 1850s and commercially grown and canned there until the early 1990s, Green Turtle’s lesser-documented pineapple era also spans more than 30 years from the late 1860s to around 1900. pineapples in abaco bahamasRecords obtained by Green Turtle Cay artist and historian Alton Lowe indicate that 6,000 dozen pineapples were shipped to New York from Abaco aboard the American schooner Charlotte Brown that left New Plymouth on October 26, 1870. By then, the industrious inhabitants of the cay, who numbered almost 1,200 at the time, had become the basis of a labor pool for a canning and shipping operation which effectively cut hundreds of sailing miles from the established Nassau and Eleuthera trade routes to New York and London.

Munroe and Company out of Baltimore, Maryland built the plant, which lay along the east side of what is today Black Sound. And while the operation is little more than a faded blip in Green Turtle’s past, recent discoveries by archaeologists indicate that the scope of the factory and technology employed played a significant role in the lives and fortunes of many who once lived and worked here. In December, 2008, pineapples in abaco bahamasBob Carr and two other researchers from the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy in Florida began excavating property now belonging to real estate developer Doug Poland. A Green Turtle Cay resident himself, Poland was aware that the site of his new seven-acre Leeward Yacht Club marina and subdivision was once the site of the pineapple factory.

“This is an important discovery from what was once a leading industry in the Bahamas,” said Carr, whose company operated under an antiquity permit authorized by the National Museum of the Bahamas. “These are well-preserved features that can help tell us about the details of economic life in 19th century Abaco. Many sites have been destroyed over the years as the result of growth and Doug was interested enough to get involved.” Both the foundation and fragments of 19th century life abound on the site. A piece of a pipe stem, a broken handle from ceramic crockery, chards of formal dinnerware, broken bottles and other artifacts are scattered near what would have been the site of the factory manager’s house, attesting to the comfortable lifestyle of the family who lived here more than 200 years ago. Nearby are brick building foundations, wells, large, double-celled cisterns and the foundation of the plant’s processing boiler.

pineapples in abaco bahamasRaw pineapples, which take about 18 months to grow, were pared and the core was sliced and canned. Rain from the cisterns was mixed with sugar and ladled into the cans, which were made from sheets of imported tin. Heated rods from furnaces sealed the seams of the cans and the lids were soldered. The operation was similar to those on Eleuthera and in Nassau, and the process was described by Mrs. Frank Leslie, wife of the noted illustrator, who visited Nassau in the late 1800s

“Enormous caldrons, half full of madly boiling water, stand embedded in the floor (and) over each caldron there is tackle for lifting and lowering the iron vessel containing the cans,” she wrote. “When the vessel is filled, it is lowered into the boiling water where it remains until the air within each can become expanded – the space of four or five minutes. Then the cauldron is hoisted high and dry, and with a hole punched in the top of each can to permit the air to escape, this hole being instantly re-soldered, the cans are again lowered into the cauldron, where they remain until the fruit is completely cooked.”:pineapples in abaco bahamas

Although the canned product traveled much better to far-flung markets, fresh cut pineapple continued to be shipped until the early 1890s. Otis Roberts, who owned the house in New Plymouth that later became the Albert Lowe Museum, was paymaster for the pineapple cutters, and Adolphus Curry of Green Turtle Cay was an agent for the company who often sailed with the ships to markets in New York and Baltimore. In 1890, however, he left the job and moved his entire family to Key West, Florida after his daughter, Susan, decided to marry a man she had met there while visiting relatives. Adolphus’ great granddaughter, Ann Gardner, 79, who lives in the house in Key West where she was born, still has the letter that Adolphus wrote giving her grandmother permission to marry.

The pineapple industry on Green Turtle, meanwhile, had reached its peak. World demand for exotic fruit brought large profits, and buyer’s representatives from abroad descended on the cay. Green Turtle’s first hotel, the New Plymouth Hotel, was built to accommodate buyers, shippers and visitors, and in 1890 Munroe and Company recorded a record shipment of 3,272 cases to London. The two-story hotel was destroyed in the 1932 hurricane, but by then the flourishing pineapple industry was long over, at least in the Bahamas. pineapples in abaco bahamasOther far-flung entrepreneurs had jumped into the market, taking pineapple slips to Hawaii and other locales. In recent times, pineapple growing and canning has shifted to tropical climates in the Pacific and Central America.
Doug Poland, whose Leeward Yacht Club funded the archaeological project, is determined to preserve not only artifacts but the character of the site, which will feature Bahamian and Key West-style homes. “I’ve planted pineapples across the property to respect the history of this place, and will preserve some of the more interesting historic features so that residents and visitors will see some vestige of the island heritage,” he said.

The site includes two six-foot deep, double-celled cisterns, each measuring about 13 by 25 feet. Project archaeologists, whose laborious excavations turned up many of the artifacts, included Joe Mankowski and Ryan Franklin from the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy based in Florida. “All of these artifacts will help us understand daily life in the Bahamas,” says Carr. “Many of them will eventually be at the Albert Lowe Museum in New Plymouth.” A special showing of the finds so far was held on December 16, along with tours across the site.



Lionfish Invade Reefs

06 9th, 2009

A great photo op but a greater potential disaster
By Rhonda Claridge • Photos by Kay Politano

lionfish in the waters of abaco bahamasIt may be lovely to look at, but the red lionfish (Pterois volitans) that has come to live in Abaco waters recently is a devastating invader of the Western Atlantic Ocean. They pose such a threat to the fisheries and marine life of their new habitat, that one scientist warns they “could very well become the most disastrous marine invasion in history.”

All feathery fins and camouflaging stripes, the foot-long lionfish is a voracious and efficient predator. In its native domain, the coral reefs of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it attacks at night, patiently singling out a small fish or shrimp, then sucking down its prey in an instant. As defense, the lionfish injects venom into any intruder, human or otherwise, that comes into contact with the quills on its fins, located 360 degrees around its body. For humans, the typical effect is serious but temporary and non-life-threatening pain, but the more serious, long-term ramifications of the lionfish in its Atlantic habitat are becoming painfully evident.

Dr. Mark Hixon, a professor of marine conservation biology at Oregon State University, who has been studying the biodiversity of coral-reef ecosystems in the Bahamas since the early 1990s, provides a grim list of possibilities: “There may be less food fish for people as lionfish consume juvenile grouper and snapper. There may be fewer grazing fish, which help to keep corals from being overgrown by algae, and there may be fewer large predators, which have been shown to help stabilize fish populations, as lionfish eat their young.” Based on the findings of a recent study that he and graduate student Mark Albins conducted, Hixon explained in an online NBC discussion recently that “a single lionfish can reduce the input of new fish to a small coral patch reef in the Bahamas by 80 percent in just five weeks. As we continue our studies, it is becoming clear that the spread and intensity of this invasion is both unprecedented and staggering.”

Where did these foreign invaders come from? The source is believed to be an aquarium that dumped as few as six individual fish into Biscayne Bay, Florida, in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew. With no natural predators in the Atlantic, and a host of unsuspecting prey, the lionfish have prospered, reproducing and dispersing at an astounding rate. From Bermuda to North Carolina and as far south as Jamaica and possibly the Lesser Antilles, and, most recently, Columbia, Belize and Mexico, lionfish are now ubiquitous. Since their first reported sighting in the Bahamas in 2004, they have become “widespread and abundant throughout the archipelago,” according to Nicola Smith, research assistant at College of the Bahamas’s Marine and Environmental Studies Institute. Abaco’s scuba and snorkeling operators have watched the proliferation with alarm.

lionfish in abaco bahamas“Three years ago we knew the location of one lionfish in the Sea of Abaco,” relates Kay Politano, owner of Above and Below Abaco. “It was quite a novelty. We were impressed with its beauty and stillness; a perfect subject for photography. But within two short years we were finding up to 30 lionfish inhabiting nearly every log or piece of junk in the Sea of Abaco. We are now seeing at least one lionfish during every dive at Fowl Cay. They hide in small crevasses and under rocks, making them hard to see. When we do see one, the probability is there are many more.”

In June 2007, the Bahamian government and COB launched the Bahamas National Lionfish Response Project (NLRP), calling for reports of sightings nationwide. By August 2007, the project had received 207 reports of lionfish in 13 island groups. When the NLRP set out artificial marine habitats, lionfish inhabited them within three days. The pervasive fish has been found in ocean depths between four and 250 feet in the Bahamas, and in a variety of habitats and locales, including reefs, docks, beaches, and coastal mangroves.

Of greatest concern is the lionfish’s appetite for juvenile fish and crustaceans. Dr. Hixon and his graduate students witnessed one lionfish that ate 20 juvenile fish in 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the invasive fish does not discriminate and will eat grouper, snapper, lobsters and other marine life not only crucial to the Bahamas fishing industry, but to the survival of native marine ecosystems as well. Sharks and grouper have been documented with lionfish in their stomachs, but as their populations continue to be hard hit from fishing, they are unlikely to balance the ecological scales now tipped to advantage this invader. The only hope may be another dominating and high-consuming predator: Homo sapien.

Lionfish are not only edible by humans, they are, in fact, quite tasty. According to the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation, which urges Bahamians to “Go green – eat lionfish!” the colorful but dangerous creature is “sold as a food fish in the Pacific region.” There are even rumors from Asia that eating lionfish is an aphrodisiac.

Wearing thick gloves while handling the fish prevents punctures from its venomous quills. Once all of its fins have been cut
off, it can be filleted like any other fish.

Its venom becomes harmless when it is cooked. Filleted or pan-fried whole, the lionfish tastes – you guessed it - like chick-en. Abaco’s Friends of the Environment and the Bahamas National Trust hosted a presentation in Marsh Harbour last summer at which Alexander Maillis of Nassau demonstrated how to handle, clean, and cook lionfish. As the FRIENDS newsletter later reported: “Mr. Maillis gave us something to ponder when he informed the crowd that the fish he was cleaning were a portion of the 124 lionfish he had speared the previous day. Those 124 lionfish were caught within two hours in a one-mile radius off of the South Western side of New Providence.”

lionfish in abaco bahamasThe newsletter continues, “…Mr. Maillis removed a juvenile fish, fully intact, from the stomach of a lionfish which was just slightly larger than the juvenile it had swallowed.”

Lionfish are fairly easy to spear or to catch with a dip net. Fishermen have been encountering lionfish in their crawfish
“condominiums,” or traps, and spearing them over the past two years.

“During this past summer, the reefs at Fowl Cay were relatively free of these fish, thanks to Troy Albury from Dive Guana,” says Kay Politano. “Everytime we saw one on the reef, we called Troy to the rescue.

He did the spearing!”

The Department of Marine Resources aims “…to encourage the use of these fish as a food source, and even to sell them once the spines have been removed,” according to Director Michael Braynen. Hixon hopes that the Bahamas government will “actively promote local controls, possibly including a targeted fishery and even bounties.” Even these efforts, though, will not eliminate all lionfish. “Unfortunately,” Hixon says, “they can live to a depth of at least several hundred feet, which is beyond the range of most divers.”

Lionfish do not attack humans. Injury generally occurs by accidentally stepping on one, or handling them without gloves, although it is also possible to be “spined” without any venom being injected. In rare cases, however, the venom can result in seizures, pulmonary edema, or congestive heart failure, but, according to Smith, there have been no documented fatalities in the Bahamas. Tingling, blistering, and experiencing acute pain are the common reac-tions. As treatment, experts recommend applying very hot water and seeking medical assistance.

To learn more about this invasive species and its impacts on the aquatic Bahamas, the Department of Marine Resources and COB’s Marine and Environmental Studies Institute are collecting fresh or frozen specimens and can be contacted at (242) 302-4413. To report lionfish sightings, go online to www.breef.org. To watch Mr. Maillis’ demonstration of how to clean and cook lionfish, visit www.loggerheadfilms.com/lionfish.html. The U.S. Geological Survey also maintains an up-to-date map of the spread of the invasion which can be accessed on-line at nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/ FactSheet.asp?speciesID=963.



Catches of a lifetime Live to see another day

06 9th, 2009

By Athy Lionikis
Marlin Photos by Lee Stevens

Abaco Beach Resort fishing tournaments

Of all the pelagic fish that roam the seas around Abaco, the blue marlin is perhaps the most powerful, graceful and hardest to catch. But despite writer Ernest Hemingway’s dramatic account of battling the most difficult billfish in the stream, Abaco’s version of this adrenaline-pumping experience is no less exciting, challenging or inspiring, even with environmental considera-tions that did not exist in Hemingway’s day.

blue marlin fishing in Abaco BahamasOver the years, the photos of a huge marlin hanging from weigh scales, with proud anglers displaying unsure smiles,
have evolved into blue marlin flags flying from the rigging of sportfishing boats to signify a successful catch – and live release - of one of these magnificent creatures. These flags, with the silhouette of a blue marlin, have become the boat and angling crew’s “bragging rights,” and are flown high as symbols of fishing prowess and good sportsmanship. The fishing team has not only conquered the marlin, but has allowed the fish to swim away and continue to propagate the species.

There are many ocean-going migratory fish that make their pelagic passage along Abaco shores. Some are considered food fish, while others are prized more as big game sportfish. Tournaments for the latter focus on tuna, Mahi Mahi, wahoo, sailfish, white marlin and the granddaddy of them all, the blue marlin. They are extremely difficult to hook and catch, and their breathtaking jumps and greyhound leaps are spectacular. They can range in size from 200 to more than 1000 pounds, although only the females exceed 500 pounds, making live release all the more important.

My introduction to tournament big game fishing was a “Boy Scout” Blue Marlin Open held in St. Thomas, USVI a few years ago. Lee Stevens, a friend and well-known figure in the sport fishing world with his Marlin Magazine, recruited me as a volunteer. Lee loves to help with charity-based tournaments, especially those focusing on children, and he knew my lifelong career as a middle school teacher made me a sucker for volunteering. It was an exciting and eye-opening experience that left me hooked as an avid follower of the sport from then on.

blue marlin fishing in the abacosThe same motivations, and added enthusiasm, brought me to Marsh Harbour when I volunteered to help with the Abaco Billfish Challenge tournament two years ago. This annual event is held during the first part of June, with much of the proceeds going to the Abaco-based school for exceptional children known as “Every Child Counts.” The ABC Tournament, as it is known, is now in its third year. But while the past two tournaments have been held at the Abaco Beach Resort, the 2009 event will be hosted at Spanish Cay, June 21-24. There are several different formats for big game fishing tournaments, with the ABC catering more towards families rather than hard-nosed competition. It’s also a “boat tournament,” meaning anyone registered on an entered boat can try their hand at bringing in the big ones. It was particularly exciting for me as an ABC guest to watch the owner’s daughter catch her first white marlin, and their teenage son catch a Mahi Mahi. We all stood wide-eyed and slack jawed as the magnificent marlin skyrocketed from the cobalt blue water, trying to shake the lure from its mouth and sending cascades of spray
skywards. The marlin tail-walked for at least two minutes, then leaped like a greyhound along a foaming path 100 yards from boat, literally smoking the 30-pound class fishing reel. The fish’s tail beat the water like an outboard motor propeller. I’m not sure who was more excited, the kids, their parents ­– or me! The marlin was released after a 30 minute fight and, with the biggest grins you have ever witnessed, we hugged and high-fived each other.

Dockside in a big game tournament is fun and exciting. At the Abaco Beach Resort, and at Treasure Cay, visitors walk the docks, talk to the crews about the day’s adventures and soak up the atmosphere.

Just viewing these million dollar fishing machines is enough to take your breath away. Music, dancing, exotic rum-drinks and lots of revelry, sometimes with a “Junkanoo” band, is just icing on the cake.

Big game tournament season in the Abacos is from April through June. Most of the Bahama Billfish Championship Series is held here at the Abaco Beach Resort and at Treasure Cay, along with other very popular big game tournaments. “Abaco will host three BBC tournaments this year, one at Abaco Beach Resort and two at Treasure Cay,” says Mike Sawyer, manager of the Treasure Cay Marina. “We have 150 slips here and while we don’t know how many boats to expect this season, we have had as many as 70 to 75 boats in a tournament.”

blue marlin tournament fishing in the abaco islands of the bahamasTo stimulate participation this year in the 26th Annual Treasure Cay Billfish Tournament June 7-12, officials announced a first-ever guaranteed cash payout, ranging from $10,000 for a minimum of ten boats and up to $50,000 for the participation of 50 boats, plus a two percent fuel discount. Open to the public, the tournament format consists of multiple awards for billfish, plus awards for tuna, dolphin and wahoo. Release point standings are verified by the participant’s own digital and/or video camera with an image that can verify the time and date the photo was taken.

Other annual fishing tournaments this year in Abaco include the 22nd Annual Green Turtle Cay Fishing Tournament June 9-12 in Green Turtle Cay and the Abaco Anglers Fishing Tournament April 16-24 on Elbow Cay. Following is a list of this year’s eight big game fishing events in Abaco: BBC Central Abaco Championship, April 28 - May 2, Treasure Cay; Bertram-Hatteras Shoot Out, May 5-9, Abaco Beach Resort; HMY Billfish Blast, May 25-29, Abaco Beach Resort; BBC Boat Harbour Championship, June 2-5; Annual Treasure Cay Billfish Championship, June 7-12; BBC Treasure Cay Billfish Championship, June 16-19; Abaco Billfish Challenge (ABC) Tournament, June 21-24, Spanish Cay.

For more information, check out the resort websites, see advertisers at www.abacolife.com, or call the Abaco Tourist Office in Marsh Harbour at 242-367-3067.

(Athy Lionikis is a teacher and writer who lives in Topsail Beach, North Carolina. Photographer Lee Stevens is a freelance sport fishing reporter and co-founder of Marlin Magazine).



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.



       
 

©  Jim Kerr, Abaco Life Magazine
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