Our sincerest thanks to Greg and Barbara Allard for sharing their thoughts and beautiful photography from their Bahamas cruise. This is a post you will want to visit again and again.
Letter from the Bahamas
by Greg Allard
Photos and text copyright by Greg & Barbara Allard, 2017
Each year, while cruising the Bahamas for several months, we send back a series of Letters to our friends and relatives. This is the final Letter from June of 2017 at the end of this year’s cruise.
“Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.”
– Brooks Atkinson
Hello Everyone –
Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, with its neat little village of New Plymouth, was founded in 1786, not long after the American revolution – so you can guess who it was that arrived there then.
The Loyalists, however, were not the first inhabitants; that honor goes to the Lucayan Indians, a peaceful people who migrated to the Bahamas from Hispaniola between 700 and 1000 A.D. They came to the Bahamas to escape the cannibalistic Carib indians. The Lucayans managed to live a good life until the Spanish arrived.
While many hold Christopher Columbus in high regard, when his landing party first came ashore in the southern Bahamas the Spanish enticed the Lucayans with beads and hats. When Columbus departed, he took with him (kidnapped) a half-dozen Lucayan prisoners. According to the local historian Amanda Diedrich: “Though citing a desire for greater understanding, Columbus’ motivation for taking the Lucayans was less benevolent. Having noticed the Lucayans’ nose and ear ornaments, Columbus wanted them to lead him to the source of their gold.”
Eventually the Spanish enslaved all of the Lucayans, transporting them to work at hard labor in their gold mines and other ventures. By 1513 all surviving Lucayans were in Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Diedrich notes: “In the end, all the Bahmaian Lucayans, including the 10,000 believed to have lived in Abaco, were simply worked to death.” They were eradicated.
Ms. Diedrich’s book, Those Who Stayed, from which the above quotes were taken, is an excellent history of Green Turtle Cay. She is a ninth-generation Bahamian.
This is a painting by the internationally recognized artist, Alton Lowe, who is a resident of Green Turtle Cay. More about Mr. Lowe later. This wonderful work shows what New Plymouth looked like, perhaps 100 years ago. There were beautiful, stately, well-maintained colonial homes, directly on the waterfront.
In September of 1932, the first category 5 hurricane recorded in the Bahamas devastated the village of New Plymouth. Winds blew for several days at 160 mph, with gusts to 200 mph. The storm surge was 20’ above sea level. More than 80% of the homes were completely destroyed; a number of people were killed. If you look around the village today, you can still see the remnants of buildings from that storm.
After the hurricane of 1932, a number of the local people built hurricane shelters, as shown in this historic photo. The shelter is the small triangular building at the lower right. Strongly built and secured to the ground, it would have contained multiple bunks and basic living supplies. None of them are still in existence.
This is how New Plymouth looks today. The waterfront homes are less grand, but it is still a thriving little town, with the most friendly people imaginable. The island is now a mix of both black and white Bahamians. Curiously, they still have a strong allegiance to Great Britain.
Over the last two centuries, the residents of New Plymouth have earned their living in various ways, some of which have provided continuous employment, while other occupations were short lived. Scale fishing, conch harvesting and lobster catching have always been reliable. They have raised pineapples, gathered sponges, grown sisal trees to use the fibers for rope, been “wreckers” (salvaging cargo from ships which ran aground on the reefs surrounding Green Turtle Cay), and even raised sugar cane for a while – having built their own mill. Some locals were involved in rum running during prohibition and others participated in the drug trade. They are a resilient people, who are now adapting to the next new venture, tourism.
Green Turtle is a bit off the path, but it is slowly becoming known by people who want to visit an authentic Bahamian settlement, and at the same time have a comfortable place to stay: there are three simple resorts on the cay. The beaches are some of the nicest in the Abacos.
Cruisers will find three full service marinas on Green Turtle: Green Turtle Club and Bluff House, both in White Sound, and the Leeward Yacht Club in Black Sound; some other very reasonably priced marinas with limited services are in Black Sound, as well as a good boatyard with hauling facilities. There are some moorings and limited anchoring in Black Sound, and anchorages on the outside of New Plymouth harbour. The entrance to Black Sound is shallower than the channel into White Sound. Some boats, depending on draft, will need to use the tide to enter Black Sound; we waited until two hours on either side of that day’s high tide to enter with our boat. The depths of both entry channels may vary depending on other conditions, including the winds and the phase of the moon. Depending on your boat’s draft, you will need to rely on your charts, cruising guides, and any other sources to determine the safest entry. It is always a good idea to call the dockmaster before you enter, to obtain important local knowledge.
Three new cottages apparently built for second-home owners. Not sure they would survive a storm surge of more than a few feet.
The streets in New Plymouth are extremely narrow, making a golf cart the perfect mode of transport. Have you ever seen any child more relaxed than this one?
Here’s one of the streets, almost too narrow for even a golf cart; along the white wall there was 2” of clearance on either side. It wouldn’t be fun to topple into the water….
Visitors to New Plymouth ask why there are stairs on the outside of this building – stairs which lead to nowhere. The answer is that the local court house was the second story of this building, and the jail was on the ground floor. The hurricane of 1932 blew off the second story court house, leaving only “ye olde jail”. One of the local people commented that he didn’t think anyone had ever been confined in that jail, either before or after the hurricane. Why? “Because we have no crime here”.
A storm moves into Black Sound. Shortly after this picture was taken, all hell broke loose. Fortunately, we were securely tied to a dock at the Leeward Yacht Club.
Hilda Curry, a straw weaver and basket maker, and a lifelong resident of New Plymouth.
On one of the neighboring islands, there are some wild Abaco horses. Hilda created this child’s
corral, with straw horses inside. Notice the inscription on the outside of the corral.
Walking the streets of New Plymouth.
A local bar, called Sundowners. As we looked at the sign above the door, we couldn’t help but wonder who Irene was, and what she did to be banned from this place.
One of the quaint streets in New Plymouth. The home on the immediate left is called the Chamberlain-Kendrick house. It is one of the few houses which survived the great hurricane.
In 1890, when he was 21 years of age, Neville Chamberlain was sent here from England by this father to manage a sisal plantation investment. The Chamberlains owned this home, and Neville lived there. Neville Chamberlain went on to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940.
While it survived the hurricane, the Chamberlain home is in poor condition. Its current owner, an architect, says that she has no intention of trying to restore it, and that it’s fine just the way it is. There’s some merit to that.
Another of the old, pre-hurricane homes is now the Albert Lowe museum, named after a local man who was a fisherman, boat builder, and eventually in retirement, a boat-model maker. The museum was founded in 1976 by his son Alton Lowe and it was the first museum ever established in the Bahamas.
Alton Lowe is an exceptionally skilled artist, especially at portraiture. This is his painting of his father Albert. It’s reminiscent of the work of Norman Rockwell.
One of Albert Lowe’s ship models, this one a sponge boat.
My favorite Alton Lowe portrait is this one of Marian “Miss Mary” Hewitt, who was known to locals as “Dana.” She was a midwife, and delivered all of the children on Green Turtle for many years starting in the early 1900’s. In those days, the midwife not only helped to deliver the baby, but then cared for the baby and mother for nine days and nights. Her fee in the early years was about $2.00, and towards the end of her career she received $12.00. The last baby she delivered was her great-grandson; she performed that delivery when she was 84 years of age.
During this year’s cruise to the Bahamas, we told our cruising friends about the “famous” Bahamian desert called Guava Duff. (“Duff” is an English word for pudding, but Guava Duff is not really a pudding as understood by Americans.) In years past, we had been able to find Guava Duff fairly often, but for almost three months, after asking on multiple islands, we could not find anyone who was still making it. Our friends started to think that it really did not, and never did, exist.
One day we were exploring Green Turtle by golf cart, and we came upon this young woman, Alicia Smith, who was walking. We stopped to talk with her, and learned that she was the head chef at the Lizard Cafe, which was located at the Leeward Yacht Club marina where we had docked our boats. She told us about her extensive culinary training at the University of the Bahamas in Freeport, and her prior position at a major resort on Grand Bahama. We casually mentioned that we had been unable to find Guave Duff for the entire time we had been in the Bahamas. She immediately responded: “Oh….I can make you some. When do you want it? Do you want slices or the whole loaf?” She agreed to make a loaf that night, and we would pick it up in the morning.
As we continued on our trip, we noticed several flyers which she had put up on telephone poles, describing her business of making baked goods, and in particular Guava Duff. So, by accident, we had met theGuava Duff person on the island. A good coincidence.
We picked it up the next day. The Guava Duff is the long white loaf, cut in half, with the guava swirled inside. You can see how light and spongy the dough is, from all of the little holes. The reason that it is difficult to find is that it is difficult to make. It is not baked. It is usually placed into a mesh bag or a pillow case and boiled. Alicia uses a similar steaming method. That’s why the outside does not have a crust. The key to a good Guava Duff is the sweet butter rum sauce, which is heated up and poured hot over a warm slice of the duff. Unimaginably good.
Alicia also gave us a small pina colada bread pudding, which is between the two halves of duff. It was equally good. The loaf of bread at the left is coconut, made by another local woman.
The pink pig at the upper right was a birthday gift to me from someone from whom I didn’t deserve a birthday gift. Birthday piggy just needs to be the center of attention everywhere, and it appears that Guava Duff is one of his favorites.
We dove on a spectacular reef off No Name Cay, south of Green Turtle, and were thrilled to find this incredible large colony of Elkhorn coral which looks like the horns of a moose or elk. This variety of coral has suffered significant losses since the 1990’s due to disease.
In a nearby cave I saw the tail of big shark, sleeping. I got close enough to take a poor picture of the tail, but I decided to let sleeping sharks lie.
A beautiful assortment of varied coral, including two sea fans (middle and right). Based on our picture guides, the bigger light green one to the rear of the purple sea fan is not a coral but a plant: Cactus Tree Alga. We think that the white coral, with the holes, to the right of the purple sea fan, may be box fire coral. The smaller one immediately behind the fan (gray in color) is likely slit-pore sea rods. We are still learning to identify reef corals and plants; we have several good picture guides, but many of the corals and plants on the reefs look similar.
Green Turtle Cay is named after…green turtles. They were once eaten, but are now protected.
At Coco Beach in the remote north end of Green Turtle, we brought some small frozen fish to feed the turtles. Before long, several of them appeared.
My wife Barbara took all of these excellent photos of our “turtle encounter” from a nearby dock. She managed to capture a surprising series of events as they happened around us.
This photo, especially its background (which is the sea bottom) looks like an impressionistic painting.
We were not alone with the turtles for long. Predators soon moved in. The barracuda at the upper right of this photo was one of several who appeared, looking for a free meal.
It seems that the barracuda were not to be our only guests. While three of us were standing in several feet of water feeding the turtles, a normally non-aggressive nurse shark suddenly appeared and immediately went after the turtles, seeking to drive them away from the food fest. We stood still, and watched.
This turtle, who was the target of the attacks, went into defensive mode and immediately turned his back (read that: “ here’s my hard shell that you can’t bite”) to the shark. There is still danger for the turtles – sharks will bite off their flippers if given a chance. We’ve seen more than one injured in that way.
Astonishingly, the shark then swam on top of the turtle pushing him around bully-style.
The turtle resumed the defensive position, turning 90 degrees on his side. This frustrated the shark to no end, and he finally gave up and swam away.
All of us in the water left with all of our toes.
We work hard at taking good photos. Every year in the Bahamas, we take thousands of pictures. Only about a hundred of them are good enough for our Letters. (Some of the photos we include are merely record pictures, to set the scene.)
Each year only about half a dozen photos are, in our opinion, truly exceptional. This picture is one of them, and it is fitting to include it as the final photo in this Letter from the Bahamas. The photo is of a freestanding piece of Elkhorn coral, near the surface of No-Name reef. See how its colors and outline are reflected on the under-side of the surface of the water.
By the time you read this we will have crossed the Florida Straits, pushed our boat “Meander” across the Gulf Stream, and re-entered the U.S. It has been a great trip through the Bahamas this year, and we hope you have enjoyed traveling with us.
Best regards to everyone.
Greg and Barbara Allard
Photos and text copyright Greg & Barbara Allard, 2017