BV21: To Harbour Island via the Devil’s Backbone

High times at Harbour Island High!  These high-flying kite-surfers were also there on a boat at Harbour Island when Phillip and I were there, back in March of this year, only their boat was just a smidge bigger.  Owned by a billionaire.   Yes, with a B.  It’s amazing the potluck of people you meet while cruising.  But, they were super humble and a lot of fun to “hang” with … get it? : )  From Spanish Wells, Phillip and I decided to hire a captain to help us navigate through the treacherous coral-ridden path, known as the “Devil’s Backbone,” into Harbour Island, and we spent a fabulous three days exploring ashore, kiting our a$$es off (with the billionaires!), and hiking the south side with Brett and Kristen from Life in the Key of Sea.  As we share work from our time in the shipyard this summer, it’s also fun to remind ourselves what all of that hard work is for.  Flash back to one of our last stops in the Bahamas this past March with a fun video and photos for you below from our time in Harbour Island.  Enjoy!

There was no end to the surprises the Bahamas kept revealing were in store for us.  At Spanish Wells, we were honestly expecting a more industrial fishing town, not many stunning sights.  But, then we got this:

It won the award on Plaintiff’s Rest for most beautiful beach in the Bahamas.  For us, anyway, our first year there having only made it through the Abacos, Eleuthera, and the Berries.  We’re often told the beaches and shorelines in the Exumas are just incomparable, but we haven’t seen them in person yet.  So, until then, this neon-breathtaking-blue beach on the north shore of Spanish Wells will have to do.  C’est la vie.

But, Harbour Island turned out to be a great surprise, too.  Initially, when Phillip and I were planning our route through the Bahamas in 2017/2018, Harbour Island was not one of our intended destinations.  Our (very vague, back in 2017) plan was to tinker through the Abacos, then make our way down through the ragged islands and the Exumas—to the extent we could—before we needed to get the boat back to Pensacola for hurricane season.  When we got to Spanish Wells, our cruising timeline was starting to close for the year.  Currently, Phillip and I are more “commuter cruisers,” who spend roughly half of the year aboard our boat cruising and the other half (broken up here and there) back home in Pensacola working.  Somehow you gotta pay for all this fun, right?

So, we knew our window was closing and we still had on our list: the Berries, the voyage back across the Gulf Stream to Florida, and all of the wonderful cruising we wanted to along the west coast of Florida.  With that in mind, Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball.  Around the time we were planning to leave Spanish Wells one of those very common north fronts came through and it looked like it was going to blow for days.

This meant we had one of two options: 1) Run down to the Exumas and try to find a place to hide there for the four-or-so days we expected weather.  (And, many of you who have been to the Exumas likely know—hiding is not a great thing to try and do in the Exumas.  The islands are just so small and sparse, they don’t offer great protection.)  So, we could either race down to the Exumas, try to hide for a bit, hope for a few clear days, then race back to the Berries and onward to home or … Option Two.  Tuck into Harbour Island, which was just a short half-day jaunt over in Eleuthera.  Here is where we were in the Bahamas:

We could then drop the hook there for a few days to escape the coming winds, explore Eleuthera and the Berries slowly, then pick our way home.  As you can imagine, any option with the word “slow” in it is likely the one that’s going to appeal to us.  You just cannot do the Exumas in five days.  I think it’s blasphemy.  Birds would start flying backwards.  Ducks would bark.  Strange things would happen.  I’m sure.

With the Harbour Island decision made, Phillip and I then had to decide whether we were feeling brave enough to navigate the very rocky and coral-ridden inlet to Harbour Island—known locally as the “Devil’s Backbone”—on our own or hire a captain to take us safely through.  You can see here the many, many coral heads that litter the path from Spanish Wells into Harbour Island!  Makes me want to tuck my keel and run.  Yipes!

The cost to hire a captain was roughly $120 (and we added a $20 tip).  While we are in no way made of money, our keel and hull are not made of material that is good to slam into a coral head.  It just seemed worth it to us—our first time coming into Harbour Island—to hire a captain to ensure a safe entry, no damage to the boat, and avoid the immense stress it would put on us trying to do that ourselves.  Now that we’ve been in and out and laid a track, I feel confident Phillip and I could now do it on our own, but we didn’t feel the need was great enough to chance it the first time, in light of the fairly low cost to ensure safe entry with a captain.

There were several captains available to take you most days, either at 9:00 a.m. or around lunch.  The run through the Devil’s Backbone took about 3.5 to 4 hours, traveling as we do at roughly 4-5 knots under motor.  The captain that took us in was very knowledgeable and nice and told us to follow him “very closely.”  He did not tie up to our boat or board, but he puttered slowly in front of us, making sure we were on a safe path, communicating with us often via radio, and he got us in safely.

And, while it was a beautiful day, gorgeous waters, and a successful navigation, there was one thing about the trip that bothered me and Phillip.  When we were envisioning doing the Devil’s Backbone ourselves, both of us had a mental image of one of us standing at the bow, sun directly overhead, pointing out coral heads left and right, giving cues to the helmsman at the wheel.  To be frank, we kind of wanted to gain that experience while following a captain so we knew we would be safe.  Like a test run with training wheels on.  But, here’s the thing: we couldn’t really see the coral heads.  Neither Phillip nor myself could make them out.  Sometimes I would feel like I saw one up ahead and it turned out to be a big patch of black sand or grass.  Then sometimes I didn’t feel like I’d seen one at all, but there it was breaching the surface where I thought there was no coral.

I can’t explain why we couldn’t see the coral heads.  Perhaps it was too early in the day, although it was a very clear, bright day, and we navigated the corally (that’s a word today) section from about 10-12:00 p.m.  Perhaps we just don’t have good coral eyes (another linguistic gem for you.)  Whatever the cause, that part about the trip made us very glad we had hired a captain because he obviously could either see them where we couldn’t, or he just knew the route between them by heart.  (We later learned it is both but mostly the latter).  Either way, it was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable journey.

Once in Harbour Island, the captain rafted up with us briefly to get his fee then sent us on our way.  Phillip and I navigated the shoals (which would later become our kiting ground when the tide was out) to drop the hook behind Harbour Island on the south side.  We took the dinghy over to Man’s Island and snorkeled around, which was really fun.  I saw my first lionfish underwater.  Oh, and sea cucumbers, too!  Those lovable lazy slugs.  Phillip and I were also very surprised to find such a diverse, budding little town ashore with plenty of shops, eateries, nice restaurants, conch salad shacks, clothing boutiques, etc.  There was a laundry mat where we washed all of our clothes and linens for $4/load and wifi in certain places.  I certainly had one of the nicest, most beautiful “offices” I’ve had in a while.  No complaints from this little remote worker!

The north side of the island also promised pretty pink beaches!  While I imagined an entire beach shoreline the color of conch shell pink, that’s not really what we got.  But the sand did have a nice rosy hue to it and—pink or not—it was gorgeous!  One of my favorite parts was seeing the horses walking along the beach.  The locals apparently give horse rides on the beach often to attract tourists (and it works!) but it was still cool to see my favorite animal in now one of my favorite places: the Bahamas.

We also inadvertently ended up dropping our hook next to another cruising couple we had previously connected with on social media: Brett and Kristen aboard Life in the Key of Sea.  We met up with them one of our last days in Harbour Island, hiked the south side, and ate at the famous Sip Sip with a stunning view of the Atlantic shore.  Brett and Kristen were very like-minded and easy-going (as most cruisers are) and we connected instantly.  It was fun to hear the places they had been, their plans going forward, and a lot of the wacky, unfounded questions we all get from people who aren’t cruisers.  Like “How do you feed the dogs?” Kristen told me someone had asked her, as they have two very lovable rescues aboard.  It’s like the ability to buy dog food in advance and store it on the boat while cruising cannot be fathomed.

People are funny!  But we always get a kick out of some of the questions we get, too.  For instance: “What do you dooo all day on passage?” is another one of my favorites.  You don’t have time to think about it, you’re usually so busy fixing things, checking the weather, holding your shift, cleaning, napping, fixing more things, researching, cooking, more cleaning, fixing something else, then it’s all of sudden the next day and you don’t know how it happened.  We definitely had a good time laughing with Brett and Kristen about these shared bewilderments from our followers!

Phillip and I also did some of our best kiting from our entire Bahamas trip in Harbour Island.  Mainly because the folks we kited with made it so memorable.  It’s always the people, am I right?!  Phillip, from our table at a little vegan restaurant, saw someone pumping up a kite on a tiny spit of sand in the harbour.  He couldn’t help it.  That man smells wind, I tell you.  Instantly, he was up, “Check please,” and we were on our way out there.  We met the folks and got to talking to them.  Obviously—when you’re all on a tiny island with no airport—the question of “How did you get here?” often comes up.  The gal with them said offhand “Oh, we’re staying here on a boat.”

“Oh, cool.  Us, too.  Ours is that sailboat over in the distance,” as I pointed.

“Oh nice,” she said (I now know) graciously.

“Where’s your boat?” I asked looking around for perhaps another monohull or cruising catamaran.

The gal got a little quiet and responded, “We’re on the biggest one here.  It’s the Trending Yacht over there.”  And by “over there,” she meant a vessel big enough to block out the sun.  The thing is 165-feet of mega-money.  It is a badass boat.  Fun video for you here:

I mean.  Whoa.  We later learned her dad, who owns the boat, is not just a millionaire.  But a billionaire.  With a B.  Say it again.  Whoa.  Check out more photos, video, and info about the boat and crew and the charters they do at Trending Yacht.

But, the crew (the two guys in the video above and photos below) and the daughter, “Biz” (short for Elizabeth), were super cool and a ton of fun to hang out with.  The crew also told us the owner of Trending is—much unlike most other mega-yacht owners who are total douchebags—very low-key.  He just wants everyone to have a good time, and wants to keep the boat in good working order so folks can appreciate it.  It felt pretty freaking cool to meet my first billionaire!  We had a great time kiting with them several days in the harbour.  The two guys helping Biz learn to kite and crewing on the boat were total adrenaline junkies, trying to loop their kite (which usually ended in monster crashes into the water), hoisting each other up into the air, launching wicked jumps on the kite, etc.  The “Trending Show” was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

In all, Harbour Island was an unexpected treat.  Phillip and I had never really envisioned ourselves heading this deep into Eleuthera during this trip to the Bahamas.  (We had envisioned ourselves in the Exumas instead.)  But it was just further proof that when we go where the wind takes us (and not try to fight the universe’s obvious coaxing) we usually are rewarded to an unexpected but surprisingly unique and memorable new place.  Harbour Island definitely fit that bill.

Hope you all enjoy the video, write-up, and photos below.  We only have one more destination in the Bahamas to share before we scoot back across the Gulf Stream and start trickling up the west coast of Florida back to Pensacola, in blog time that is.  As I mentioned in the video, in real time, we just splashed back after 4.5 weeks in the Pensacola Shipyard with Perdido Sailor, having accomplished some very awesome and necessary projects on our boat, and we’re now working to prepare our workloads and stock the boat for this season’s cruising.  I will announce our plans soon.  We’ve got something very, very cool in store for you followers.  Stay tuned!

For now, let that Harbour Island footage roll!  Enjoy!

Following the captain through the Devil’s Backbone:

Off on a dinghy adventure to snorkel around Man’s Island:

  

Our favorite time on the boat: Captain’s Hour

Exploring the awesome little town on Harbour Island:

 

The pink beach on the north shore!

Time to get our kite on!

 

The fun billionaire-ess and her cRaZy crew!

Enjoying the little eateries and shops in town:

Hiking and dining with Brett and Kristen from Life in the Key of Sea!

I was completely sober when I took that picture … promise ; )

This entry was posted in Bahamas Bound, Kite-Surfing, Landlubber Outings, Videos and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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