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Bita Bay House

Selected feature stories from Abaco Life magazine

It's a quieter life for many, but often full of surprises...

By Jim Kerr
Abaco Life Editor

Though it's sometimes fraught with inconvenience, and often shunned by those needing a lot of structure, there is a quieter life by the sea. Abaco's permanent population of 13,000 is supplemented by hundreds of foreign home-owners who have taken the plunge, investing in new or renovated private homes over the past three decades. Providing goods and services to these part-time residents has become a major industry in Abaco, supporting many businesses from grocery stores, banks, resorts, restaurants, boat rentals and others, while employing locals in real estate, architecture, contracting, maintenance, house rentals and management. Following is the first in a series of articles in which Abaco Life will periodically profile home-owners and their own particular "cottage by the sea" lifestyle.

Bita Bay House
In many ways, the story of the Barretts from Cartersville, Georgia and their Bita Bay House on Green Turtle Cay rings familiar. Their island odyssey and love affair with Abaco began the year after their oldest daughter, now 19, was born, when they vacationed on White Sound at Bluff House.

"We fell in love with the people, the fishing and everything else you might imagine about this place," remembers Susan Barrett. "There was no phone. My husband, a workaholic, found it was the one place he could really relax."

They rented a house over two consecutive summers. Then, eight years ago, they bought their 30-year-old beach cottage located on Bita Bay, a small cove or "bight," blessed with an offshore ridge of rock and coral that is an easy snorkel swim from the beach. It teems with marine life, and the shallow and protected water between it and the beach is always great for a dip.

Bita Bay House fits the quintessential image of the cozy and rustic beach cottage. It has a veranda on three sides open to the sea, glowing orange and yellow sunrises and brilliant risings of the full moon. "It's like someone struck a match, lighting up the water in orange and red," says Susan. The large, single great room also faces the beach through double French doors and large windows. The master bedroom in back has a queen-size bed and faces southeast, catching the evening tradewinds. The other bedroom, while smaller, contains three single beds and a bathroom for the couple's two teenaged daughters and 10-year-old son, who have spent the past ten summers of their lives on Green Turtle Cay.

When we caught up with them one warm summer afternoon, Brad Barrett had just come home from bone fishing off New Plymouth's shallow south shore. Susan was getting ready to catch some bait fish, using netting techniques taught her by notable local fishing expert Lincoln Jones. The girls were on the beach a few feet in front of the house catching some rays (sun, that is). Brad and his son later went to work hefting stones from the beach for a walkway and low retaining wall. The beach has returned since Hurricane Floyd rearranged an acre of it behind their house in September, 1999, and a lone coconut palm that survived sits just south of the house, adorned with a couple of dozen coconuts. They call it "Floyd."

"We're very spoiled," sighed Susan, as she and Brad relaxed on the porch. "A bottle of wine can go down easily sitting here looking at the ocean." A few years ago, producers of the film "The Insider," with Al Pacino, scouted Bita Bay House as a likely setting for beachfront tranquility, although they decided instead to build a set on nearby Manjack Cay. The set was perhaps more appropriate for Hollywood purposes than the real thing, although Bita Bay House had many more comforts and amen-ities, including plumbing and electricity.

Bita Bay House rents for $1,700 a week for up to four. For information call Island Property Management at (242) 365-4047, e-mail: ipm@batelnet.bs or visit www.abacoislandrentals.com.

Done Reach Boat House
For Rusty and Nancy Angstadt, life is full of "happy surprises," like the skates and rays, dolphins and barracudas that come swimming by their dockside house on Eastern Shores in Marsh Harbour. The 60-yard-wide channel between their house and Sugar Loaf Cay is usually tranquil, until suddenly there's a "rush of water as fish are being chased by something big."

Done ReachEastern Shores is a long peninsula jutting out into the Sea of Abaco from the end of the road at Albury's Ferry terminal. There are several dozen houses here, most of them with property from sea-to-sea. When the Angstadts, who are from New Hope, Pennsylvania, bought the property about half way out on the peninsula in 1985, they renovated the main house and added two large additions, making it three bedrooms and two baths. "It was pretty rundown, but we liked the charm of the open beams, and we've worked on it for the past 15 years," says Nancy, a real estate broker.

Known as "Done Reach" after a native boat and expression which means "having arrived," the main house has an almost 360-degree view of the area, as well as a small beach and swimming pool that Rusty and his hired help labored on for many months. It was only three years ago that the couple rebuilt what had been a small boat house below the main house into the 400-square foot cottage they call "Done Reach Boat House."

"We built it mainly for our guests and friends," says Rusty, a real estate attorney. "The best way to have and maintain friends is to have a house in Abaco. Besides, it was a wasted part of the property; an old dock house that had been ruined by Floyd. We designed and built it from a pile of rubble."

Avid boaters, Rusty and Nancy are used to living in small spaces, and they retreat here to the tiny 20-foot by 20-foot house when the larger house is rented - or they feel like "getting away on vacation to on-the-water living at the dock."

"We were sailors, and we tried to use every inch of space. There's a boat-sized bathroom and galley, and the screened porch doubles for a living room. We got our inspiration from small Man-O-War houses on Dicky's Cay and the area called Eastern Harbour."

They keep their 20-foot outboard tied to the dock and ready to go, with four fishing lines and snorkel gear. There's a good coral head no more than 40 yards off the north shore. Johnny's Cay off the north end of Elbow Cay, and Sandy Cay down at the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park, are both options half an hour away. "We also like to jump in the boat and drive over to Hope Town for late afternoon cocktails at Harbour's Edge," adds Rusty. "We've always felt we were a part of things here, and we've made a lot of friends."

They have always rented both houses, although they now spend more time here themselves. "We think a house lives better when somebody's in it," concludes Rusty. "It needs to breathe, and the energy is nicer. People are respectful. They don't take or wreck things. And the thought of it being empty is almost selfish. While families are our main guests, we've had couples get married and honeymoon here."

Done Reach rents for $1,800 a week for one to four guests, and Done Reach Boat House rents for $1,200 a week. For information call Elaine Thompson in Marsh Harbour at (242) 367-2719 or Nancy Angstadt in the U.S. at (215) 862-2682; e-mail: info@donereach.com, or go to www.donereach.com.

Turtle's Landing
Not all cottages by the sea are on the beach. Turtle's Landing, owned by Debbie Smades, is on Black Sound, across from the Green Turtle Club on Green Turtle Cay. "It's where people land when they come here by boat, so we named it Turtle's Landing," explains Debbie.

Turtle's LandingShe lives most of the time in the larger of two houses, which is up on a hill overlooking the harbour. The smaller house, which she has rented for the past two years, sits directly on the harbour, and features both a swimming pool and a dock. Originally built as temporary quarters while the Smades constructed the main house, it also became a furniture workshop following Floyd in October, 1999. "After the storm, the house had a sailboat on the porch with the stern facing the water," Debbie remembers, "and stuff we used to build furniture included debris from the Green Turtle Club dock."

Still, the house itself suffered little damage, and a lot of new coconut trees planted in the aftermath have since matured. The harbourside house is an old Key West design, with a constant flow of tropical breezes and a view from all sides. A screened porch is just a few feet from the water. There is one bedroom downstairs, along with a bath and full kitchen, with another bedroom upstairs. Like all the outer cays in Abaco, homeowners depend on rain water to fill cisterns, usually located under the house. But to combat Green Turtle's ofttimes shortage of rain, the harbour house at Turtle's Landing features a reverse osmosis system which can convert up to 800 gallons of sea water a day.

Inside comforts include air conditioning and satellite TV, and the island-style decor features sponge painted walls, shells and sea fans. It's a cozy hideaway from traffic, except for the boatscruising in and out of White Sound. Life can be as sedate as sipping a fruit punch on the porch or by the pool, but most guests prefer a bit more action than that. Bluff House and the Green Turtle Club are both nearby for dining out and entertainment, including some evening gigs by the "Gully Roosters," Green Turtle's famous island band, and other entertainers who come up from Marsh Harbour. Most guests rent a golf cart, a boat, or both to get around the island. Diving and snorkeling tours are available from Brendal's Dive Center across the harbour, and bone fishing trips can be arranged from several local experts. The Atlantic beach is about a quarter mile away, although you can swim in the pool or off the dock.

Turtle's Landing rents from $1,800 to $2,000 a week up to four persons. For more information, call (242) 265-4593 or 1-800 (834)-4190 in the U.S. Visit their website at www.turtleslanding.com.

Sasse Dolphin
Probably no American couple ventures farther from home to be in Abaco (and still arrive with smiles on their faces) than Ginny and Jerry Sasse. Four times a year, they pack their bags in Milwaukie, Oregon, take a deep breath and undertake a 14-hour overnight ordeal which takes them through Portland, Los Angeles, Miami and Marsh Harbour before finally "reaching" their home on the south end of Elbow Cay.

Sasse DolphinThey first discovered Abaco nearly 15 years ago during a Florida vacation when, on a whimsical search for an island alternative, Ginny found a brochure about Lubbers Quarters. "We spent a week there in a cottage," says Jerry. "But it was a bit remote."

Nevertheless, they loved Abaco, and with the help of Chris and Peggy Thompson of Hope Town, they started looking at property. After several years of vacationing on Elbow Cay, they bought a lot on the south end of the island just north of Tahiti Beach. In April, 1999, they built a small house which doubled as a garage and a place for the couple to stay while they built the main house. "We called it the 'Love Shack,'" laughs Ginny.

Then along came Floyd. "We thought it was gone," says Jerry with respect to the ÔLove Shack.' "We were going to forget about the whole thing. Then came a fax saying there was only minor damage. We couldn't believe it. We came down and did all the repairs in seven hours."

In June, 2000, they broke ground on the main house. A plumbing contractor by profession, Jerry did all the plumbing work, the tile, sheet rock and many odds and ends himself. In February, 2002, they moved in. "It's a very big deal to build a house here," says Jerry. "I don't recommend doing it yourself. But if you find the right people here, it's okay, even though Oregon is a long way off and everytime they called it seemed like the message was the same: send another $25,000."

"Sasse Dolphin" sits up on a hill on pilings. A veranda raps around the blue and white house, and the view covers a great deal of south Elbow Cay's hilly geography, as well as both the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Abaco Sound to the west. It's a short walk to palm-studded Tahiti Beach, with its great shelling and snorkeling. Docks, where the Sasse's have a boat slip, are nearby. The house has two bedrooms and two baths and the rest of the living space consists of one long great room with a comfortable sofa and chairs, a dining area with an art deco table, and a modern kitchen. The walls are decorated with Sasse family paraphenalia, from old photos, shrunken shirts and military uniforms worn by Jerry's father, to flotsam and jetsam ranging from old oars, boats and various other items, collected from the beach.

The Sasses stay for two weeks at a time when they come, sometimes bringing their daughter and two grandchildren. To them, the long and ardous trip is worth it. "One night at Nippers years ago, we met a couple," Jerry remembers. "He was quite drunk, but coherent. They had been absolutely everywhere in the world, and they said that Abaco was the best place they had ever found."

Sasse Dolphin rents for $1,600 a week for up to four persons. For information call Hope Town Hideaways at (242) 366-0224, or e-mail: info@hopetown.com. Also visit www.hopetown.com.

E-mail: jimkerr@mindspring.com

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