Long Island, Bahamas by Bicycle: A Trip to Remember

Long Island, Bahamas by Bicycle: A Trip to Remember

(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.

Long Island
Cur­rent Pride, pho­tographed by Eric Wiberg, who pro­vides details at his web­site, ericwiberg.com.

Surface travel

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.

Eleutherans abroad

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.

Checking the map at Simms, en route Cape Santa Maria.
Check­ing the map at Simms, en route Cape San­ta Maria.

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.

Salt Pond

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.

Anglican Church, Clarence Town
Angli­can Church, Clarence Town

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

Long Island
Click map to enlarge. (Joachim Grein­er, Cre­ative Commons)

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.**

Long Island
The Eleuthera Long Rid­ers, 2009: John Birtzen, Cecil McCardy Jr., Arring­ton McCardy, Richard Langworth

**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.

Fur­ther reading

“Long Island Revis­it­ed, 2010”

2 thoughts on “Long Island, Bahamas by Bicycle: A Trip to Remember

  1. Oh -how I enjoyed this arti­cle. Miss you guys all over Queens!
    And so, likewise…

  2. Very very inter­est­ing – brought back a lot of mem­o­ries. It was the best of times and I am sure that it extend­ed our lives by many years. Thank you for this arti­cle. Anita

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