“I’ll bet seeing that from the air while making a landing on the runway wouldn’t be a very comforting sight,” Phillip mused as we motored our way over to it. The dock master at Spanish Cay had given us some very good advice insisting we dive the sunken airplane on the other side of the island before leaving Spanish Cay. “It’s just a few hundred feet out from where the runway ends,” he said. Can you imagine being a pilot coming in and seeing the guy who came before you sunken in the water? While that’s probably not how this plane got under the water (our guess is it was sunk as a fish and tourist attraction), I don’t think that would make me pucker any less seeing that sight from the air while coming in for a landing. But, I’ll bet you would prefer to see it from under the sea. So did we! Take a trip with us folks, and dive a sunken airplane at Spanish Cay! It’s an octopus’s garden in the sea!
Spanish Cay was certainly a fun stop. This was the next place we stayed after our “holiday on the hook” at Pensacola Cay. We stopped at Hog Cay, which is in between Pensacola and Spanish Cay (primarily because Pam Wall, love that gal, said “You have to see Hog Cay!) because Phillip had a hunch it would be a good snorkel spot. And, boy was it. I hope you all enjoyed our video from last week — Under the Sea at Hog Cay. Pam Wall also said she and Andy wanted to buy one of the islands there. And probably live forever on their boat with the palm trees. I could totally see that! Unfortunately, I had to send her a selfie with the main Hog Cay island I’m guessing they wanted behind me showing it was already happily occupied. “Someone must have beat you to it, Pammy!” I texted her that day.
But I can see why Pam wanted to buy it. Hog Cay was a beautiful little group of islands surrounded by shallow, shimmery water and it was the perfect day-stop before we made our way over to Spanish Cay.
When you first dabble into the northern Abacos, it’s difficult to decide where to go when and how long to stay. Every island has a unique vibe and beauty to offer. While Phillip and I try very hard to not cruise on a schedule, we are not full-time live-aboards (with no more work/home ties) yet, so we did need to spend just a day or two or four at whatever islands we stopped at to keep making way.
We were actually inspired, by another couple who had been anchored out at Pensacola Cay near us, to stop at Spanish Cay. They left the day before us, on Christmas Day, and shouted across the water as they weighed anchor: “We’re headed off for a spa treatment.” Meaning, they were planning to stay at the marina. In cruiser-speak, that is spa treatment! Give the boat a good wash down, fill the tanks, give ourselves a good wash down, eat out on the town. That equates to spa in our salty book! So, Phillip and I planned to pull the hook early the following morning, on December 26th, toodle over to Hog Cay and spend a few hours snorkeling, then make our way over to Spanish Cay for our spa night at the marina. And Pam was right. Hog Cay did not disappoint!
But, as with every other island we have visited so far in the Abacos, Spanish Cay was definitely memorable as well. For many, many reasons: the perfectly quaint little marina, with crystal clear green water (it was hard at times to believe our keel wasn’t touching!).
The little tiki-hut bars around the pool area and other resort amenities (fun restaurant, bar, ping-pong, golf-carts for rent, etc.).
Lots of walking trails that allowed you to traverse pretty much the entire island shore to shore and get some great “just taking it all in” exercise.
Stunning shorelines on the Atlantic side!
That unmistakable Bahamas “putty sand” (or at least that’s what I call it). It was funny how it’s so different from the sugar-white, crystal, quartz sand we have at home in Pensacola. The sand in the Bahamas almost feels like play-doh.
Fantastic little sunset seating where we watched the sun go down (and enjoyed coffee and a little “work time” the next morning) … when the flies and gnats weren’t eating us alive.
Perfect view of the sunset from our cockpit (the view is always the best from the stern of Plaintiff’s Rest).
Not to mention the super-scary “marina watchdog” at the marina office. Her name was actually Lady Elizabeth (or something equally regal) and she would grunt and scuttle her way over to anyone who walked in the door and looked capable of giving her a belly rub!
And the actual-scary nurse shark that patrolled the marina daily, zipping in and out under our boat, looking for dinner. He was definitely on the hunt! And, he was definitely not getting any belly rubs from this shark-savvy sailor. I know they don’t want anything to do with me, but I’ll leave them to patrol their waters without an edible Annie in the mix – ha!
And while the sunken airplane—which we motored over to, anchored near, and dove the next day before heading off to Powell Cay—was definitely a highlight of Spanish Cay for us, I can easily say it was not the single memory that sticks out. Donnie does.
As we motored up to Spanish Cay, checking our charts and looking at the landmarks to make a safe entrance into the marina, we noticed this triple-decker, white mega-yacht docked at the marina. We literally saw this big white boat on the horizon well before we could actually make out that it was the marina, and it was the last big, white blob on the horizon that we saw as we left Spanish Cay in our wake the next day. That white water mansion could be seen for miles. Once we docked at the marina and got a look at her we could see it was a multi-million-dollar, three-story super yacht parked at the end of the dock at Spanish Cay. Status Quo it was called.
Phillip and I mused that it must be some mega-millionaire who keeps his boat there and flies in once a year to spend a few weeks in the Bahamas, leaving the rest of its time on the water to the hard-working crew. We had seen this a lot. Massive, luxury yachts that are handled, cleaned, cared for, and prepped by captains and usually a handful of staff to make sure every surface of the boat gleaned, and every locker and fridge was filled with the finest wines, liquors, and foods, for when the owner and friends arrived. After Phillip and I cleaned up and eyed the yacht while walking up for dinner at Wreckers, we wondered whether the owner was in the Bahamas and on-board now or whether the captain and crew would be “playing owner” tonight just for fun.
We had asked earlier that day when we checked in about making a reservation there at the marina restaurant that night for dinner, and the gal at the front desk replied, “Let me see if she’s planning to cook dinner tonight.” While this might seem odd in the states—a restaurant that is seemingly open but they are merely debating “whether or not to cook tonight”—this was a perfectly reasonable explanation in the Bahamas. Everything runs on island time there. Stores are not just open every day 9-5 like they are at home. Grocery stores don’t always have all the food items you want. The water does not always work. The restrooms and laundry facilities don’t always work. But, it is always beautiful and the people are always (open, stocked, working or not) super friendly and glad that you’re there. What is always guaranteed is a good time and usually a good island story to boot. This was ours from Spanish Cay
I believe her name was Nita, but don’t hold me to that, or any Bahamian cruiser reading this, feel free to correct me, but she was the wonderfully joyful cook at Wrecker’s Bar and we were in luck. Because she was agreeable to coming to cook for us that evening at the restaurant. But, that meant Nita was going to have to come back that evening by boat and she needed to wrap up dinner and get back home where she lived (it sounded like Little Bahamas Island) again by boat at a decent hour. Trying to accommodate this (as Phillip and I would normally eat dinner around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m.), we made a reservation for 6:00 p.m. The marina gal wrote it down, but caught us later while walking around the resort and asked if we could “do 5:30” to make it easier on Nita and we said “Sure.”
“Guess we’ll be getting the early bird special tonight,” Phillip joked as we made our way back to the boat to get cleaned up for our big night out.
Now, I have mentioned this here on the blog a time or two and it’s no secret—Phillip will readily admit it—but between the two of us, he is by far the Shower Diva. As you can clearly tell from our photos, Phillip is a polished, put-together, quite-stylish guy and that just doesn’t happen by magic! He has a pretty extensive shower routine he likes to indulge (particularly when we’ve opted for “spa treatment”). It always reminds me of McCauley in his one-hit wonder where he claims to have “cleaned very nook, every cranny.”
My shower routine is more along the lines of an elephant going through a carwash. “I’ll take the scrub and shine, with the buff at the end.” As a result, I usually get back to the boat well before Phillip does even though we leave at the same time to head to the marina showers. That day was no different, but as I was passing the marina office, the office gal stopped me again to let me know Nita was there and ready to cook whenever we could join for dinner. It was 5:17 p.m. I hadn’t even had my two happy hour cocktails or my usual happy hour snack yet. But, I didn’t want to hold Nita up since she had come all this way just to cook us a dinner, Phillip and I being the only boat (other than the monstrous Status Quo at the end of the dock, seemingly sitting empty) at the marina at the time. But, as I sat and waited for Phillip to come back from the shower, Nita sat, as well, and waited quite visibly for us. She appeared to be a jolly, older black woman, and she was sitting on a bench seat in front of the restaurant facing our boat. Just sitting. Watching. Waiting on us.
I decided to take my first drink below while Phillip made his way back. I pointed Nita out to him through the cabin windows when he arrived and told him I thought we should probably move our little spa party to the restaurant as soon as possible. “Fine by me,” Phillip said throwing on some flops. “I’m ready for a Nita feast anytime.”
The minute we stepped off the boat, Nita popped up off her bench seat and made her way around to the back of the restaurant. When Phillip and I came in and pulled up some stools at the bar, Nita was quick to hand us some menus and ask us what we would like to drink. While she poured us our first round of white wine, Phillip and I watched a catamaran make their way into the dock (because as we all know, the most entertaining thing to do at a marina is watch other boaters come in) and started to get curious whether we’d soon have two other cruisers joining Nita and us for dinner. As Phillip and I meandered around the little bar, looking at all the pennants, signed t-shirts, old photos from fishing tournaments, and other nautical trinkets you often see pinned around marina bars (well not just specific to the Bahamas, but anywhere, really), we heard a booming voice erupt from the kitchen.
“Well ahoy, sailors!” a jolly middle-aged fella said, coming up from behind the bar and pulling the cork out of the wine bottle Nita had started for us and topping our glasses off. “I like your sloop,” he said. Ours being the only sloop sailboat (and the only boat of three actually) at the marina, this wasn’t too wild of a stretch that he knew we were the sailors on the Niagara. “Donnie’s the name,” he said as he stuck out a pink meaty paw to shake ours. This, too, was not unexpected in the islands: bartenders introducing themselves. Everyone introduced themselves: dockhands, waiters, charter boat captains, dive boat captains, marina staff, the guy making you a conch salad on the side of the road. That’s one thing we love about the islands. No one is in a hurry, and no one is too busy or important to extend a hand and give yours a shake. And, boy did Donnie have a good shake.
“So what you looking to get for dinner?” Donnie asked, and we both just assumed he worked the restaurant, or just the bar perhaps. You could never tell. But, it was clear Nita was now getting things ready back in the kitchen and Donnie was now here to happily serve us. We started to poke down through the menu as the other couple from the catamaran made their way in and bellied up to the bar, an older couple (as is often the case with Phillip and I) but they seemed more at home at the Wrecker’s Bar and Donnie obviously recognized them and welcomed them in as old-timers. Donnie watched as Phillip and I eyed the menu and started food bartering as we often do:“Do you want to get two salads, and we’ll split an entree or are you wanting a whole entree to yourself?” “Okay, one salad, now the blackened grouper or the fish sandwich?” And it seemed Donnie then could no longer hold back:
“You want my advice?” he asked with a grin. He seemed a wise, long-time Bahamian local type, which is always the kind of advice we want. “I’ll just go ahead and admit it,” Donnie said with a smile and no hint of an ego. “I’ve got the best conch fritters in all the Bahamas.” Phillip and I probably smirked a little, because that was a pretty bold statement, but it did not deter Donnie. “Yep. All of them. And I can easily say that because I am a meat master. I know what makes conch fritters good. Do you?” Phillip and I sat completely stumped but excited to hear more from the charismatic Donnie.
“They gotta be tender, see?” he said, making a kind of pulling motion with his fingers, like he was pulling strings apart. “Conch, when it comes out of the shell, is tough as shit. And, while beating it with a hammer,” Donnie said while re-enacting a vicious hammer beating on the bar, “can help, it’s not going to really tenderize it.” Back to the pulling motion, “No, you need a machine that cuts into the meat and pulls it apart, that can make holes in it, so you can fill it with juice and batter. That’s how you make good conch fritters.” Donnie let just enough silence sit in the air until I—ever the curious one—asked the question it appeared he loved to get and loved to answer.”
“What kind of machine?” I asked, and that kicked off the entire thing. Donnie began a rather colorful, entertaining diatribe where he described he and his family long-standing operation of raising and selling chickens out of west Texas. Donnie said while they used to have a “whole hut of Mexicans” who would spend their day knifing and pulling and tenderizing the chicken meat, Donnie and his brother eventually invented a meat tenderizing machine “with hundreds of tiny teeth” Donnie described, his hands propped up on his generous belly looking like little claws going at each other. He and his brother would then run the chicken breasts through their nifty meat-tenderizing machine and they would come out fully-tenderized on the other side, perfect for breading and frying. As Donnie told his colorful tale, he was often topping our wine glasses up, taking down both our order and that of the catamaran couple across the way, who were equally caught up in his chicken tenders story.
Donnie also happily served us our meals when they came out. Phillip immediately ordered the cracked conch when Donnie said his was the best in the Bahamas (I mean, why doubt him?) and I ordered the grouper which was coated in what the menu said was “Spanish Cay sauce” which Donnie promptly told me was “a stick of butter, white wine and lemon.” Sold! And boy was it good. Donnie took great care to make sure we, only the four of us in the entire restaurant that night, had whatever napkins and cutlery we needed, topped-off our water and wine glasses, and even offered us free dessert in the form of Nita’s special “raisin cake.” I would say it might be one regret of the evening that we didn’t take him up on the cake, but we were so stuffed from the conch and grouper and wine. Donnie was right. Phillip and I have since had cracked conch four or five times in the Bahamas, and Donnie’s is still easily (hands down and miles apart) the best. It is tender and soft and the batter, very light, seems to be literally a part of the meat. It’s not conch surrounded by batter. They become one and the heavenly-same.
But, as Donnie continued his story about the meat-tenderizing machine and what they used it for, I started to sense his machine had been a much bigger, national hit than he was letting on. Words like “Dairy Queen, Wal-Mart, and Tyson,” started to slip out as his main purchasers. As we finished up dinner and Donnie could see that Nita had pleased us all and could get back home at a reasonable time to her family (it was probably just a little after 7:00 p.m. at this point), he then cleaned away our dishes, ran our cards, and handed both couples our checks. He bid us all a wonderful evening, told us to enjoy our stay at Spanish Cay and he then came around from behind the bar, with the remainder of the third bottle of white he had just opened for us in his hand, said he had to get back to his “little boat,” and walked out the door.
Phillip and I started to chuckle with the other couple, exchanging equal sentiments about what a fun night it had been and what a memorable experience. I then made a comment that he was one of the best bartenders we’d had so far in the Abacos and the other couple laughed. Apparently the catamaran couple had been stopping here often in Spanish Cay during their usual three-month visit to the Abacos each year and they knew Donnie. “Oh, he’s not just the bartender. He owns the whole place,” as they waved their hands around the bar. “Runs it like he’s serving family. And he lives on Status Quo out there.”
And, sure enough, as Phillip and I were meandering down the dock back to our “actual little boat”—our heads swimming a little from the wine, the succulent conch and butter, and the congenial atmosphere that had immersed us at Spanish Cay—we saw Donnie walking toward his “little boat,” drinking straight from the bottle and singing to himself.
All night long, we’d been sitting at the bar and Donnie, the mega-millionaire, who lives on a three-story monster, luxury yacht, had been happily waiting on us. Bringing us dishes and napkins and repeatedly filling our glasses. He didn’t even charge us for half the stuff, just a glass of wine each. I guess technically it was just one glass each, but he kept refilling it. The world needs more people like Donnie. That’s about the happiest, humble millionaire I’ve ever met.
And that was our wild night at the Wrecker and a most memorable evening at Spanish Cay. Just one of a dozen others we are piling up each day. Now this crew is off to dive a sunken airplane right off the edge of the tarmac! I’ll bet that wouldn’t give any pilot flying in the sky a good feeling about landing there. But, we were excited to see what awaited us beneath! Hope you are all enjoying the content and videos. The Bahamas, and Donnie and his meat-tenderizing machine, have definitely been treating us right!