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Bahamas: Great Inagua

By Val Ellis last modified Aug 19, 2012 07:44 AM

Published: 2012-08-19 07:44:22
Countries: Bahamas

Our thanks for Jane Behr for this interesting report>

We spent a week at Great Inagua Island in July, 2012, preparing for our trip south to Colombia and waiting for a favorable weather window. We had a very pleasant visit and saw a bit of the Bahamas that is well off the beaten track. Its location makes it an ideal stop for cruisers who are traversing the Windward Passage.

We first anchored off Matthew Town in about 12 feet of water (Waypoint 20 56.90 N, 73 40.72 W). Others have noted poor holding here, but we anchored off the town twice and held well both times in 1-2 foot swells and steady 15-20 knot winds. The small man-made harbour, a bit north of Matthew Town, is not designed to accommodate cruisers. There's little space to maneuver, and the concrete pier is too high for most cruising boats. From dinghy level, the pier looms far overhead, presenting as a crumbling eight-foot wall with no ladders. I can't imagine how anyone could land a dinghy anywhere in the harbour. We were told that a dinghy dock is planned, so it might be worth checking, before landing on the beach. In Matthew Town, there are two beaches, one on each side of the ruins of an old stone warehouse. We landed on both during our stay and couldn't decide which was better (or worse!). Suffice it to say we had several good opportunities to practice our dinghy-landing-in-surf skills. There were several stray wifi signals off Matthew Town.

Our visas had expired during the passage from George Town, so we went directly to the immigration office. According to our cruising guides, there used to be a customs/immigration office in town, but it is now closed. We walked about a mile north to the offices near the airport. We weren't given any grief for arriving with expired visas, but we were asked to return later in the afternoon because the immigration officer was out.

We moved the boat north and anchored off the beach closest to the immigration office. We found good holding on a sandy bottom in seven feet of water, just south of the big "BURIED CABLE" sign (Waypoint 20 58.28 N, 73 40.78 W). A few days later, when we tried to anchor north of the sign, we couldn't get the anchor to set - the bottom was sand over hard coral. We moved back south of the cable, the anchor dug in right away, and both times we anchored in this area, we held well in 20 knots of wind. Almost as rolly as off Matthew Town. We found a good wifi signal off the airport.

We needed to do some repair work on our genoa, so we looked for an anchorage that would offer a little more protection from the wind. We went north to Man of War Bay, well past the Morton salt pier, and anchored off a sandy beach in about 10 feet of water (Waypoint 21 05.58 N, 73 39.20 W). We anchored between two patches of coral that were partially exposed at low water. Very beautiful and lonely up here. No wifi, but our Batelco phone had a clear signal. Great beachcombing and snorkeling. Less rolly than the anchorages off Matthew Town or the airport, and a bit sheltered from the relentless wind. We were told later that we might have found better protection on the south side of Man of War Bay, close to Devil's Point (approximately 21 01 N, 73 41 W). Devil's Point is another great snorkeling spot - the drop-off is quite steep, and we anchored for just a few hours in 25 feet on a sandy bottom.

After a few days of peace and passage prep, we returned to "civilization." We did a bit of shopping at the Inagua General Store, on the beach road. According to locals we talked with, the "salt boat" never fails them. Morton exports over a million tons of salt from Inagua per year. Every eight days, the company boat carries salt to Cape Coral, FL, and returns with all good things, including fresh fruits and vegetables. We happened to hit the store soon after the boat's arrival, so they had a great selection of greens.

One of the cruising guides recommends Ingraham's Grocery Store, but it's no longer open. Ingraham's Liquor, however, is still in business. (Walk up from the beach on Kortwright St., which is right next to the General Store.) We paid $60 for a case of Kalik ($42 in George Town). Across the street from Ingraham's, we bought an excellent loaf of bread from Anyee Bread. The friendly woman at Ingraham's, Heather, offered to give us a ride back to the beach, locking up the store on her way out.

We didn't take on fuel in Matthew Town, but we were told it was available, from drums, at the harbour. Neither did we try any of the several small dining establishments listed in our cruising guides.

We walked to the lighthouse, just over a mile south of Matthew Town. The lighthouse was locked, and no one was around, but we enjoyed the scenery. Just past the lighthouse is one of Morton's pumping stations. We learned later that this is one of the smaller stations; the largest stations pump 250,000 gallons of seawater per minute into the salt flats of Lake Rosa. Definitely worth a look.

The highlight of our visit was a tour of Inagua National Park, home to over 50,000 pink flamingoes. (Read more about the flamingoes on the Bahamas National Trust website.) We were referred, by locals, to "the bird warden," Henry Nixon, who took us on a tour of the salt pans, Lake Rosa, and the park. The flocks of flamingoes are extraordinary and not to be missed. (You can arrange for a tour with Mr. Nixon by calling 339 2125 or cell 339 2123. He also has an email address on his card, which we didn't try: Mr. Nixon picked us up at the beach at 8 a.m. The tour, in his SUV, lasted about two hours, and he charged $50 for the two of us.)

Check out was easy - we anchored off the airport, landed on the beach with the "BURIED CABLE" sign, and made the short walk to the immigrations and customs offices. We confirmed with the friendly officials that it would be okay for us to remain at anchor overnight after checking out. We got underway the next morning, and our careful weather watching and preparations made for an easy and quick sail through the Windward Passage.

Link to a google map of Great Inagua with waypoints:
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