Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Devils Backbone to Harbour Island -The Devils In The Details

The easy start to the Devils Backbone over the bank of shallow turquoise water
Sim and I recently took Wandering Star through the perilous passage of Eleuthera’s north coast known as the Devils Backbone. Locals advise you generally need a pilot to take you through this bit of treacherous coast but having read about a few people doing it on their own we decided we would like to try it by ourselves too.
The explorer charts showing the route through.
This trip isn’t for everyone, if there is any doubt about your ability to read the water then its best to take a pilot. We would not hesitate to take one if we felt it necessary. But Sim and I felt given the right conditions we should be able to do this with suitable planning and research.
One of our first thoughts was that it might be a good idea to take the ferry across from Spanish Wells to Harbour Town primarily to check the route but also to see if it was worth the trouble to get there.  But when we found out it cost over $50US each we decided against it for the time being.  In the mean time Sim studied the charts and read and understood the directions in the guide book and plotted the course onto the chart plotter. We then watched boats on the AIS go through the Devils Backbone. One of them was a 130 foot cargo ship with a 30 foot beam and an 8 foot draft.  We noted their positions against what we had plotted. There was a little variation between them but it gave us an idea about which way had more water.
You need to know if the dark patches are weed or coral
Finally, we trusted our ability to read the water.  It’s not always easy but we trust our instincts. We have been sailing together for 11 years and have navigated the coral strewn waters of Mexico, Belize and the San Blas.  I stand on deck while Sim captains the boat reading out depths as we go so I can confirm what my eyes are seeing.  We have been practicing this for many years and while we try to do most of our communicating by hand signals, those who know us know that sometimes there is a little shouting involved as well....but we try to keep that to when there is no one else around. ;-)
A morning arrived that the weather was perfect.  Not a breath of wind, no clouds in the sky and the sun was high, we were lucky that it was timely with almost a full tide as well.  I stood on the bow the entire time.  There is no denying I was a little anxious, this kind of thing makes me nervous but that’s a good kind of nervous, the type that keeps you safe. Sim was his usual cool as a cucumber self. First we motored over the most glorious stretch of turquoise blue about 3 meters deep and then the water changed colour to greens and browns where the ocean was filled with coral.  A lot of the coral must be avoided but you need to go over some of the deeper reefs and have the confidence to do this.  Most of this area was 5-7 meters deep.  We passed a couple of other boats coming the other way, but we had made sure we left after the ferry so we didn’t have to deal with him squeezing through as well. And finally we arrived in Harbour Island.
The shallow banks we passed over on the east coast of Spanish Town
And that is how we made it through the coral ridden coast of the Devils Backbone.
Harbour Island is worth the visit.  We anchored first at Man Island.  Spotted eagle rays swam around the boat and we enjoyed walks on the small island with interesting rock formations on both sides and small pieces of sea glass for me to add to my collection.  The sand here was actually pinker then the infamous pink sand beaches on Harbour Island itself.
Cave on Man Isand
Dunmore Town is known for its rich and famous clientele so we were prepared for the expense that so often goes hand in hand. But we were pleased to find that it also caters to those with a slightly slimmer wallet.  We enjoyed conch and burgers for $12 each at the Conch Queen on the front and BYOB beer from across the road cheaper than anywhere in the Bahamas so far. In fact buy 3 beers for $5 and they gave a Kalik lemon shandy for free!  The pink sand beaches were stunning.  Posh boutique hotels are hidden away from the beach but you know they are there by the onset of private loungers for patrons only! There is no riff raff on these beaches.  When we were there it was quite grey and overcast.  Still it was pretty impressive.  Back in town golf carts are the main mode of transport zooming along narrow streets lined with quaint loyalist cottages and pretty terraced house fronts, dotted palm trees and bougainvillea.   The supermarkets are hugely expensive but we found a great bakery called Arthur’s with wifi to happily while away a morning.
Cute houses with cute golf carts in Dunmore Town
We would have loved to have spent more time there but being aware how tricky and necessary it is to have the right weather to get in there and with inclement weather forecast we felt we should probably leave while the weather was good.  We are now anchored at Meeks Patch just south of Spanish Town to sit out a few stormy days.
The start of the Devils Backbone

Caves on Man Island

As always in the Bahamas there is a trail leading to the other side.

Large Chitons found in the rocks at Man Island

Wandering Star.

Spotted eagle ray swimming around the boat.

The beach at Man Island

On the infamous pink sand beach at Harbour Island.

It was a grey day but still pretty impressive.

Hotel loungers scattered along the beach for patrons only.

Colourful Bougainvillea brightens Dunmore Town

Enjoy a BYOB at the Conch Queen on the sea front.

Burger and Cracked conch - the usual mammoth sized Bahamian portions 

Outside Arthur's Bakery - a nice (and reasonable) place to hangout

Car plates and driftwood sculptures 

Probably something I could learn here :-)

Driftwood trees from a long ago hurricane

Dunmore Town is lovely to walk around - sadly we saw no famous people

Looking out from Harbour Island

The waterfront at Dunmore Town

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