Royal Island, once the site of a small and exclusive resort is now
uninhabited. The attraction for cruisers is the natural enclosed harbour
offering shelter to all but southerly winds. It has become the place to be
when heading north from Cat Island, the Exumas or Nassau to await a weather
window. There are no facilities at all, so any supplies have to be collected
from Spanish Wells, around eight miles away.
We arrived in Royal Island from Nassau after a run of around 52 miles and
intended to stay for two nights, giving us time to visit Spanish Wells for
the day, either by dinghy or in Dream On.
Spanish Wells, situated off the northwest corner of Eleuthera was named as
such by Spanish slavers due to the abundance of good water. Some of today's
inhabitants are descendants of the Loyalists who fled the American
revolution while others are descended from William Sayles Eleuthera
Adventurers who arrived on the northern tip of Eleuthera in 1648 seeking
work and religious freedom. One hundred and fifty adventurers came
ashore after wrecking their ship on the Devil's Backbone, the reef around
the northern shore of Eleuthera. They lived in caves on the north shore of
Eleuthera for two years, then 57 came to Spanish Wells and 100 went to
Harbour island off the northeast corner of Eleuthera.
The new residents on Spanish Wells refused to have slaves on the island. The
result is that today of the estimated 1500 residents, 1480 are white. An
unusual ratio in the Bahamas. It remains an industrious working class
society, where females out number males and girls are usually married
by the time they are 15.
The main industry is lucrative lobster fishing and Spanish Wells fishermen
provide the majority of the lobster export market of The Bahamas.
Religion is very strong and there is no alcohol sold on the island. If you
ask for a double here, you will be sold a double scoop of ice cream.
Having consulted the charts again for Spanish Wells, and realising that the
channel around the outside of the island to a suitable anchorage was too
shallow, we decided to take Dream On right through Spanish Wells, through
the harbour and secured one of the mooring buoys in the east end of the
There were about 8 boats at the moorings, which were situated just off the
main harbour channel at the eastern harbour entrance. A Mother's Day beach
barbecue was organised by one of the cruisers, so we had the opportunity to
meet some new cruisers including Phil & Judy on the catamaran Take Two.
The houses in Spanish Wells are still of the typical loyalist design as
found in other islands in the Abacos.
The weather was not cooperative for a couple of days to make the trip north
to the Abacos, particularly using the two breaks in the reef north of
Spanish Wells, both of which require good visibility and a calm sea.
After making our day trip to Harbour Island by ferry, the weather improved
so we planned to head off to the Abacos on 10th May together with Take Two.
This required some very careful navigation out through the break in the
reefs between Spanish Wells and Eleuthera. Take Two only draws just over
three feet so we followed them. If they had recorded anything close to six
feet, they would warn us.
However, we came through without incident and had en enjoyable sail of close
to 60 miles to the Abacos.
We hoped to go on to Harbour Island from Spanish Wells with Dream On.
However, the most direct route between the two goes through the Devil's
Backbone, a notorious stretch of shallows and coral heads across the north
shore of Eleuthera. For the first trip on this route, a pilot from Spanish
Wells is definitely recommended, along with good weather. The alternative is
to out through the reef just at the start of the Devil's Backbone, still
navigating through narrow breaks in the reef. Again, good visibility and
calm seas are essential.
The weather was not suitable for the first 3 days in Spanish Wells so we
decided to visit Harbour Island by ferry. There is a daily fast ferry
between the two islands that goes through the Devil's Backbone at high
speed, so we decided to give this a try. The ferry, with a catamaran hull
only draws 4 feet and transits the Devil's Backbone at 35 knots. In some
places it is literally in the top of the surf right beside the beach.
Harbour Island is more tourist orientated. Known for its pink sand beach on
the eastern, Atlantic side, there are a number of resorts. The most notable
being the Pink Sands Resort. Very tastefully designed, with a hint of
Balinese style. Highly recommended for honeymooners but very expensive.
The only town on Harbour Island is Dunmore Town, named after Lord Dunmore.
Houses and gardens are very well maintained and all in pastel Caribbean
colours. The town has many good restaurants and bars but maintains its
island charm and character.