Cruising on Island Time – Part 3
Eleuthera and Harbour Island
Whereas my previous blog on the (northern) Exumas [click here] highlighted the destination for its nature, wild and (almost) deserted beaches and islands, and beautiful turquoise waters, Eleuthera is more about enjoying the “Island Life”.
There are several settlements and towns, shops and restaurants, a few fancy resorts, lots of Airbnb rentals for different budgets, several marinas, and a working boat yard with a boat lift. There are three airports on Eleuthera, and some of the main US airlines even have direct flights into Eleuthera from major US airports, in addition to smaller local airlines and private charters generally flying through Nassau and from Florida.
Eleuthera is derived from the Greek word “eleutheros”, which means free. One of its famous Ambassadors is American rock star Lenny Kravitz, who has a house on the island, and whose song “Fly Away” is used by the Bahamas Tourism Board in its latest promotional campaign. Eleuthera is known for its mesmerizing pink beaches, beautiful nature, pineapples, “Island Architecture” (in a British Colonial style, influenced by British Loyalists who settled here in the 1700s), Friday night Fish Fry in Governor’s Harbour, Junkanoo, and of course its people.
The itinerary on our most recent boating trip to Eleuthera was mostly determined by weather conditions, and I will focus in this blog on some of the places we visited. But there are of course lots of other places to explore! The distances are relatively short. Getting to Eleuthera, from Nassau (on New Providence), it’s around 50 miles to Spanish Wells and 85 miles to Cape Eleuthera. From Highbourne Cay (in the Exumas) it’s around 60 miles to Spanish Wells and 30 miles to Cape Eleuthera. Getting around Eleuthera, it’s around 12 miles from Spanish Wells to Harbour Island, and around 24 miles to the Glass Window Bridge. From the Glass Window Bridge to Governor’s Harbour is 27 miles, and from there to Cape Eleuthera is 31 miles. There are of course lots of places to stop and anchor in between these stops.
We came up from the Exumas, through Current Cut, Spanish Wells, and the Devils Backbone to Harbour Island, where we stayed at Valentine’s Resort Marina (one of two marinas in town). Current Cut can be intimidating, and if you are on a sailboat you will want to take tides and current into account for your passage, but on our power boat it was a breeze. A very fast and strong current runs through a 300 feet wide cut (though it looks narrow on approach!) between Eleuthera Island at Current Settlement and Current Island. It is known to be a great diving spot.
As we approached Spanish Wells we were met by our Pilot, who we had contacted in advance to book a time slot. Captain Neil came on board, tied up his own boat to the back of our boat, and took the helm to navigate us safely to the tricky and shallow waters of Spanish Wells and the Devil’s Backbone. Spanish Wells is a pretty little lobster-fishing village with pastel colored houses, a marina, several restaurants, a boat yard with a boat lift, and a substantial lobster-fishing fleet. Apparently, all the lobster caught out of Spanish Wells goes to the Florida headquartered restaurant chain “Red Lobster.” The Devil’s Backbone is a shallow and ragged reef (very close to the beach!) along the north side of Eleuthera Island. I was very happy that we had an experienced pilot to take us through it!
Harbour Island is a very picturesque town, sometimes referred to as the Nantucket of the Bahamas. It has pretty, pastel-colored British Colonial or New England style (depending on who you ask) clapboard houses with dormer windows and white picket fences, lots of great restaurants, cafés and conch shacks, cute shops and boutiques, and well-stocked grocery stores. We rented a golf cart to get around and to visit the absolutely stunning Pink Sand Beach (over 3 miles long, and some 50-100 feet wide). The sand is very soft and powdery, and yes, it really is pink!
The day we left Harbour Island the weather was rough and getting worse so lots of boats were trying to get out. The famous Pilot Woody came with his son, also a pilot, to guide 5 yachts out in our time slot. Woody was on board the first boat, we followed that boat closely, Woody’s son was on the boat behind us, and the other two followed him closely.
We were the only boat going back through Spanish Wells, so half-way through the Devil’s Backbone where the other boats exited to go north, Woody climbed back on his own boat and went to pick up his son, the other pilot from the other boat, and then guided us through the rest of the Devil’s Backbone and then through Spanish Wells. It was a little hairy! As conditions were calm at the other end of Spanish Wells Woody pulled up to our boat and handed us a big bag of home-made goodies, with freshly baked carrot cake, English muffins, and pineapple-coconut jam. Thank you Captain Woody and “Mrs Woody”!
We traveled on and made our way back through the Current Cut and down to the famous Glass Window Bridge.
We dropped anchor near the bridge and took the dinghy to shore. Sometimes called “the narrowest place on earth”, the Glass Window Bridge connects northern Eleuthera to the rest of Eleuthera, and highlights the very stark contrast between the deep blue (often rough) water of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the calm turquoise waters of the Bight of Eleuthera on the other. Just a short walk south of the Bridge you will find the Queen’s Baths (on the ocean side). They are a collection of natural pools, filled with water from crashing waves from the Atlantic Ocean. You should only go near them at low-medium tide, and when the ocean is relatively calm otherwise it gets very dangerous.
As the weather window for that week was getting shorter and closing we pulled anchor and made our way straight down to Governor’s Harbour, not stopping in Gregory Town and Hatchet Bay as we had planned, but we later rented a car and drove back to visit.
We arrived in Governor’s Harbour not long before sunset and the pink late light made the shore line look quite magical. Governor’s Harbour is a pretty little town set against the Buccaneer Hill side, overlooking the harbor, with beautiful Victorian-era houses in keeping with the ‘island architecture’ style, including some rentals, several nice resorts and restaurants, and our favorite coffee place, Da Perk Café. The Haynes Library (1897)  on the waterfront is one of Eleuthera’s beautiful historical landmarks, a striking pink building with turquoise trims and shutters.
The Government Dock at the tip of Cupid’s Cay has room for two large delivery boats and many goods for Eleuthera come in through Governor’s Harbour. Every Friday night there is the Anchor Bay Fish Fry, next to Haynes Library, before you get to Cupid’s Cay. On the ocean side, French Leave Beach is another beautiful (over a mile long) pink sand beach. Holding is not that great for anchoring in the harbor though, and there is a wide shallow area before you get to shore, so it is not the most convenient place to anchor (for longer periods) if you are planning on many shore trips.
With the weather window closing we decided to only spend one night at Governor’s Harbour and make our way straight down to Cape Eleuthera. We skipped Rock Sound, even though it has a great anchorage where we had planned to stay, and checked into the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina. Indeed, as we didn’t know for how long we might have to stay out at anchor given the unstable (and deteriorating) weather conditions, and given we would need water and many trips to shore with our doggies, we decided it was safer and more convenient to have the comforts of a marina, and get a rental car to visit the island.
The marina is located at the tip of Cape Eleuthera and we were docked right next to the gorgeous Sunset Beach, the great restaurant with a surround second story deck providing stunning panoramic views, and the pool. The marina also has a small store, showers, laundry, bike and car rentals, a dive shop and fishing charters. The Island School  is also based on the property and is open for guided visits.
We loved our time at Cape Eleuthera with the beaches to ourselves, gorgeous sunsets on Sunset Beach and sunrises on Sunrise Beach, great food at the onsite restaurant, Happy Hours with fellow cruisers who also came in to take shelter from the high winds, and bike rides around the 4,000-acre property. We also rented a car for a few days and explored lots of towns, settlements, and deserted beaches around the island (including the ones we had planned to anchor at).
We went all the way back up to the Glass Window Bridge for a second visit, checked out Gregory Town, also known as ‘Pineapple City’ (Eleuthera has some of the sweetest pineapples in the world), Hatchet Bay, which has what is probably one of the most protected harbors in the Bahamas, spent some more time in Governor’s Harbour, explored Rock Sound (which also has a great quite protected anchorage) and its famous Ocean Hole, and re-provisioned at the great (and quite large) grocery store there, and visited many smaller settlements up and down the Queen’s Highway. We ate at great little shacks and restaurants “off the beaten track”, and were lucky enough to be there for the annual Eleuthera Junkanoo Festival (held in Governor’s Harbour).