(Updated from 2009). Most people travel to and from Eleuthera (where we wintered for thirty years) via Nassau or Florida. Neighboring islands on the Bahamas “outer banks”—Cat Island and Long Island—seem to fall under the old adage: “You can’t get there from here.” Actually you can—with an expensive charter flight or a boat—but it’s simpler to go via Nassau.
Thus three members of the “Eleuthera Long Riders” bicycle club, John Birzten of Governor’s Harbour, Arrington McCardy from Hatchet Bay, and this writer from Rainbow Bay—arrived to cycle Long Island on January 21st-23rd, 2009. Hard to believe it was fourteen years ago.
Going traditional, we used mailboats. The Current Pride (still in service in 2023) is a microcosm of the old Bahamas, laden with produce (this really is a banana boat) and Eleutherans heading for the big city. You can’t pay for the entertainment you get free. One gent spent the entire voyage singing hymns and island ballads whilst shucking peas. Another trolled off the stern and hooked a giant barracuda. It flopped around onto the deck and scared some of us passengers.
The sturdy, wood-hulled Current Pride shook off high seas and covered fifty miles in four hours. Tickets cost only $30, including coffee, sandwiches and soft drinks. From Nassau we boarded the Island Link, which also services Eleuthera. This modern, Australian-built ferry makes the overnight run from Nassau to Long Island in sixteen hours for $80. Fare includes comfortable cabins and a hot breakfast. We cruised past the twinkling lights of Exumas on calm, translucent seas. By mid-morning we were pulling into Salt Pond, halfway down Long Island’s Caribbean coast.
Lying 100 miles southeast of Eleuthera, Long Island is seventy-three miles long and has roughly the same area. But it is flatter and relatively empty. There are only twelve people per square mile compared to Eleuthera’s year-round seventy. The inhabitants are welcoming, but a team of cyclists tackling island-long Queen’s Highway is not something they see every day.
Nor do they expect visitors from Eleuthera. Many thought we’d come from the States. As we rode off Island Link, a local said: “Welcome to the Bahamas.” Arrington, an Eleutheran all his life, replied: “Thanks very much!”
Some of the school kids took us for Martians. Some hadn’t seen a road bicycle and were intensely interested in our machinery. Their bikes are all fat-tired mountain types. We felt like Tour de France riders as they admired our speedy mounts.
Beautiful Long Island
Long Island is a gem, with brilliant turquoise water, thanks to broad, shallow depths—you can walk out a quarter mile and still be waist-deep. Yet there’s 600-foot-deep Dean’s Blue Hole—the deepest in the world—right in the middle of a wading cove.
Amidst the forests and farms run herds of free-range goats. Some Long Islanders have trained “potcakes” (Bahamian dogs of uncertain pedigree) to herd goats like Scottish sheep dogs. But some haven’t been taught not to chase bicycles.
In the north is Cape Santa Maria, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Across the way is a stone monument marking Long Island’s claim (shared with Cat Island and San Salvador) as the first landing place of Columbus. Here too are some the most beautiful churches in the Family Islands, including the massive Anglican and Catholic churches in Clarence Town, which dominate the twin peaks.
There’s no large fishing fleet, like Spanish Wells, but the multitude of small boats anchored in Salt Pond harbour gives it the look of a Maine lobster village. Many sailboats anchor here after working down the Exuma chain. There’s a museum Eleutherans can only envy, packed with artifacts dating back to the Lucayan Indians. A wilderness compared to Eleuthera, Long Island is as neat as a pin. They are really serious about not littering.
Off the boat we cycled north from Salt Pond to Seymours, 28 miles against a 20 knot northerly—hard work. After lunch it was 40 miles south to Deadman’s Cay with the wind at our backs, flying.
Near the end, at Thompson’s Bay Inn, we were welcomed by a local character. This was Justice of the Peace Tryphena Bowe, who had accompanied us on the Island Link. As promised, she rewarded our efforts with three complimentary Kaliks, the tangy beer of the Bahamas.
Tryphena meets Tryphena
Update: In 2002, David Bellows sailed the Bahamas in his 23-foot Rob Roy yawl. This is a big brother to the Nimble 20 I sailed in New England for ten blessed years. His boat was named Tryphena, and near Thompson’s Bay he was heard on the radio. To his delight, he soon met Justice Bowe—the only person he’d ever known who shared his boat’s name. His account is in Sailing Small (2004) edited by Stan Grayson, my old colleague on the staff of Automobile Quarterly in the 1970s. It’s a small world.
We spent the night at Marvin McArdy’s “Central Oasis” in Deadman’s Cay—a tidy B&B with the option of home-cooked dinners. Next morning we headed south toward Gordon’s, stopping at Clarence Town, The only settlement on the Atlantic coast, Clarence Town has a well protected harbour and is the capital of Long Island. But it’s more like little Gregory Town on Eleuthera than its own capital, Governor’s Harbour.
South to Susannah’s
At the farthest point south we turned north again and backtracked to historic Goat Pond Bar, established 1948. Proprietor Susannah Martinborough, another character, told wonderful island stories. She had a decided political viewpoint, which she didn’t hesitate to offer. (Hint: posters of Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham were the main wall decorations. Susannah called the opposition Progressive Liberal Party the “Poor Little People.”) Again cold Kaliks celebrated our achievement: 114 miles in two days at an average speed of 15 mph.
We would not have done nearly as well without Arrington McCardy, whose family is from Long Island, and who made the arrangements. The fastest cyclist on Eleuthera, Arrington could often be seen burning up the 100 miles between Bannerman Town and Spanish Wells—a distance he’d been known to cover in a day.**
**Update: To the grief of many, we lost Arrington in 2011. He was one of my closest friends for eight years. I cannot think of the Bahamas without thinking of him, and the fun we shared. He lives on in memory.
We left our bikes for the next mailboat and flew back to Nassau, catching Island Link to Hatchet Bay. We arrived around 5 pm as the setting sun was lighting up the cliffs at Gregory Town.
There’s no place like home, but this is a visit worth making. Long Islanders are sweet people who take life as it comes: “No worries, be happy, aldebest, God will provide.” There’s something to be said for that.