Story and Photos by Clarity Nicoll
I was ruined...completely and utterly ruined. At the young age of 22, my very first trip to the Caribbean was to Eleuthera, which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on earth. It will now be an uphill battle for me to surpass my visit there.
An opportunity to go to the Bahamas presented itself to me because I spoke French and I was available. I will be forever grateful to my parents for enrolling me in a French Immersion program.
The trip was arranged by Michel Sacco of L’Escale Nautique – Canada’s French-language yachting magazine); the charter was booked through a Quebec-based company, Navtours, so French was a necessity. Needless to say, my French sailing vocabulary was limited so I came prepared with notepad in hand, ready to learn how to sail in French.
Our charter cruise started from Nassau with a three-boat flotilla. I was lucky enough to crew on a Beneteau 50; the other two boats were Jeanneaus (a 409 and a 379).
The tiny and thin chain of islands called Eleuthera lies about 40 nautical miles east of Nassau and is well worth the 10-hour sail (beating upwind) to get there. The morning we left, a large, cold front was heading towards us so we sailed straight for the protected bay of Egg Island. Although this bay provided us safe shelter for the night, it is home to the ruins of a once beautiful resort that was devastated by a hurricane years ago. We explored this nearly uninhabited island the next morning to check out the ruins and see the beaches.
Our next spot was Spanish Wells, a small fishing town about an hour’s sail away where we were warmly greeted by a school of dolphins. The town of Spanish Wells typified how I imagined the Bahamas; I finally saw my very first pristine white sand beach, complete with a kite boarder out on the clear turquoise water. The houses are painted with different pastel colours and everyone (even the police) drive golf carts, so naturally I rented one. We toured the island on our noticeably slower rental golf cart, seeing banana trees and goat farms. We also stopped at a restaurant to try a local favourite dish – cracked conch, which is a deep-fried sea snail found in a giant conch shell. I’m a true believer that anything deep-fried is amazing and after cracked conch, that still holds true for me.
Our day in Spanish Wells was especially windy – great for kite surfing but bad for snorkelling. We tried snorkelling anyway. I’d never tried it before and was keen to see the colourful fish and incredible coral reefs that my friends raved about after returning from trips to sunny all-inclusive resorts. Sadly, the water was too stirred up to see anything much but, on our swim back, Michel managed to harpoon a sea ray. We marinated and barbecued that sea ray and voilà, a fishy tasting appetizer!
The next day, we sailed for Hatchet Bay via the Current Cut – well named as it is, in fact, a cut in this chain of islands boasting an unbelievable current. It was there that I successfully tried my hand at snorkelling.
The final mooring of our cruise was Hatchet Bay; the 25-foot opening to Hatchet Bay makes it one of the Caribbean’s best-protected harbour. Lucky for me, just outside the Hatchet Bay harbour, another incredible snorkelling awaited me. We saw grouper, leopard whiprays, lobsters, jelly fish and more schools of colourful fish than I could ever count.
I have always made it my life’s mission to try anything that someone claims to be “the world’s best” and to date I’ve rarely been disappointed. So, of course, while at Hatchet Bay, I made a trip to Twin Brothers Seafood and Steakhouse to try the “world’s best strawberry daiquiri” with a side of their acclaimed Bahamian favourite, conch salad. Now, I’m not a strawberry daiquiri connoisseur but I do think that I’ve tasted enough to know that this place serves up an outstanding one. The conch salad was also a winner and I was able to watch the chef prepare our entire meal.
The snail is forced out of the shell and all of the tough muscle is cut off. Then, the meat is cured by rubbing it with salt and lime juice. The conch, green peppers, tomatoes and onions are all diced, and along with more lime juice, salt and orange juice thrown in for good measure, an amazing match for the “world’s best strawberry daiquiri” was served.
Although we had limited time, we did rent a car to explore the area a bit more. Our first stop was Surfer’s Beach – a 15-minute walk in from where the road stops being drivable. The view from the top of the hill was spectacular and the waves were extreme. The beach was totally deserted; it took us less than five seconds to change into our swimsuits and run headfirst into those waves.
The next stop on our road trip was the Looking Glass Bridge. It is a breath-taking place where the rough and dark blue Atlantic collides with the clear, calm and turquoise Caribbean water. The bridge here used to be made of natural stone but was sadly brought down by a hurricane. It is now a sturdy man-made bridge beside where you can climb up on the rough rock hills to see the contrast between the two oceans and the unbelievable power of the water as it crashes into the cliffs.
When I first found out I was going to Eleuthera, I immediately went on Google to do some research. The only thing I remember was that Eleuthera had pink sand. Pink sand! During the entire trip, I felt like a little kid on a road trip asking, “Are we at the pink sand yet?” All that nagging finally paid off when we arrived in Governor’s Harbour and were able to see the empty, untouched and pristine pink sand beach at dusk – created by a mixture of white sand, coral and broken pieces from the red shell of foraminifera, a microscopic animal.
On our sail back to Nassau, I could already feel myself missing this place, but I didn’t have to worry because the Bahamas pulled through for me and gave me an unforgettable sail back. As we headed out to sea, that morning’s sunrise will be forever burned in my memory as the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen…so far!
Shortly after that sunrise, we felt a tug on the fishing line. We had had no luck so far fishing, losing one lure to a massive fish and throwing back a barracuda, which are inedible in the Caribbean. This time felt different; after 10 minutes of reeling we had a 2½-foot bonito in our cockpit. This fish – a close relative of the tuna – is extremely rare in the Caribbean. Lunch was served shortly after; barbecued bonito served with a garden salad...perhaps the world’s best lunch on board.
During our trip, someone picked up a book on the history of Eleuthera. During the couple of seconds when I managed to tear myself away from the beautiful scenery, I learned that Eleuthera is a variation on the Latin word for “freedom”.
I could not think of a more magical place to be 22-years-young and “eleuthera”.
French Sailing Vocabulary 101
Grande voil – main sail
Étai – forestay
Écoutes – sheets
Pataras – backstay
croisière - cruise
foc – jib
bord – tack
rhum – rum
Photo 1 - Taking in the first white sand beach.
Photo 2 - Spanish Wells “skyline”. Photo Credit: Michel Sacco
Photo 3 - Twin brothers; the home of the World’s Best Daiquiri.
Photo 4 - Fishing boats of Spanish Wells.
Photo 5 - Snorkeling at Current Cut.
Photo 6 - Digging into a conch salad.
Photo 7 - Running headfirst into the waves at surfer’s beach.
Photo 8 - Freshly caught barbecued bonito for lunch!