IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

I wrote the original post on this theme, with its somewhat Bohemian and rhapsodic title, a while back. It was put together at a time of sunshine, normality and optimism. The 2019 hurricane season was far in the future, and the prospect of one – let alone two – of the finest islands in the Bahamas being virtually eradicated overnight was unthinkable.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Right now, in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian, and as the communities gradually start on the long road to recovery, the priorities remain personal and community safety, food, fresh water, medical supplies and access to all the other necessities that the major relief operation has so effectively enabled. However, as gradual improvements to daily life are achieved, so a degree of interest in the natural world is returning.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The despoliation of the land is there for all to see, visible even from space. As yet – as far as I know – no one has had the time or opportunity, or even a boat and the right equipment to investigate below the surface of the sea. What of the reefs: the bright darting reef fish; the larger denizens of the deep; the corals, sponges and anemones? The massive Cat 5 storm caused an unprecedented 23′ surge. It’s hard to see how the reefs can have remained unaffected, and there must be the possibility that the THIRD LARGEST BARRIER REEF in the world will have been altered irrevocably.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Since Dorian, the related organisations have been unable to operate. Abaco’s ‘Dive Abaco’ was virtually annihilated along with the rest of Marsh Harbour. Grand Bahama Scuba has just reopened, although it may take a while before dive trips are anywhere back to normal. This post contains beautiful photos from both the Melindas concerned, taken in happier times before the dark cloud swept over the islands just one month ago.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

NOTES FROM THE PRE-DORIAN PAST

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defence mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development, specifically in the field of  anti-inflammatories. Another benefit, of course, is that they are very beautiful to look at. And in bad times, that can only be good .

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Most of the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Melinda and Keith Rodgers / Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour; Melinda and Fred Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 3, 4, 5)

** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

FINALLY, A SPECIAL FAN FOR ABACO AND GRAND BAHAMA

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

At the moment it can still be said that the static (‘sessile’) members of the Abaco reef community are relatively unscathed by the impact of (and I don’t want to get into any arguments here) whatever causes mass bleaching and the death of reefs elsewhere in the world.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen. 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)  Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defense mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL (more of which quite soon). Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development. It’s tempting to say that by way of gratitude, we pollute the waters they need for their very existence. So, consider it said…

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)    Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

All the photos featured are by courtesy of Capt. Keith and Melinda Rogers of the well-known local scuba dive and snorkel centre DIVE ABACO, located in central Marsh Harbour. As prime enablers of reef exploration in Abaco waters, it can truly be said that they too have plenty of fans.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: Keith and Melinda Rodgers; Dive Abaco @DiveAbaco, Marsh Harbour, The Bahamas ** The answer to the questions in the Title is… it’s both!

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)


Artocarpus altilis - breadfruit (Hans Hillewaert)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)

Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of BREADFRUIT (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population. I think we can all guess the status of the latter at that time.

Breadfruit 2

‘BLIGH’S BLIGHT’ – MUTINY!

Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required in transit, compared to their own meagre rations. So they threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for provoking a mutiny by his conduct. 

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (Robert Dodd)

This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…

Mutiny_on_the_Bounty_Poster (1935) 220px-Poster_for_Mutiny_on_the_Bounty

BLIGH’S SECOND CHANCE

Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish, on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk, yet finally he succeeded, only for those on the eating end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and its culinary versatility was only discovered many decades later. By which time slavery had thankfully been abolished anyway.

 Breadfruit image (Pacific site)

The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay. I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree and its eponymous fruit.

Breadfruit Tree Notice, Hope Town Abaco (Dp PatersonBreadfruit Tree, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.

For those unfamiliar with the fruit and its interior, here it is in both slice and cross-sectionBreadfruit sliced (US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center)

BREADFRUIT IN ART

Breadfruit has (somewhat surprisingly?) received some artistic recognition over the years. Here are a few examples. The first, very jolly, includes early representations of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly; the second is quite dull; the third is instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth, frankly not at all appetising to look at…

Breadfruit with butterflies (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)Breadfruit (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

                                 Breadfruit (John Frederick Miller)                                  Breadfruit drawing John Frederick Miller

      Breadfruit & related plants used as food (William Rhind (1841)     Breadfruit etc William Rhind (1841)

Breadfruit - Bahamas Stamp

SO WHERE DOES BREADFRUIT GROW NOW?

Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – the fact that Madagascar is a suitable yet not a very good location, for example (not enough rainfall). You will soon find yourself alone…

Breadfruit - the world propagation range

A CULINARY TREAT

Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and untasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that… it’s within my shamefully limited culinary skill-set.

Breadfruit Recipe (myrecipefriends.com)

BAKED BREADFRUIT

Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

A PERFECT HOPE TOWN BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

This post was inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, who will be known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice. I originally posted this about 4 years ago, and have dusted it off for the benefit of new (thank you!) followers who might also have breadfruitphilia.

If you do visit this delightful little town, the museum is a treasure house of Abaconian history that deserves a visit. You can check out its website HERE and the FB page HERE.

Wyannie Malone Museum Crest, Hope Town, Abaco

BLIGH’S END

Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him. He continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of  ships. He ended up a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.

V-A William Bligh (1814)

Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London (Geograph, Commons Media

HMS BOUNTY II (Full Sails). A 1960 reconstruction (Dan Kasberger)HMS_BOUNTY_II_Full_Sails 1960 reconsrtuction (Dan Kasberger)

Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…

A LIGHT EXTINGUISHED: LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE REVISITED


Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

A LIGHT EXTINGUISHED: LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE REVISITED

The words ‘Abaco Lighthouse’ are near-synonymous with the splendid striped edifice in Hope Town, Elbow Cay. This beloved building is truly iconic, in the modern sense of the word (see HERE). But it would not do to forget the other principal lighthouse of Abaco at Hole-in-the-Wall, also with its original Fresnel lenses (see HERE for a post written ages ago).

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

However, there’s a third lighthouse on Abaco. The small light at Little Harbour is, by contrast with the other two beacons, relatively unknown, unvisited, and unloved. Derelict, in fact, and a sad  relic on its lonely promontory. Recently we prised ourselves away from the delights of Pete’s Pub and found the start of the overgrown track to the light. There’s a wooden sign that helps to locate the path. 

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

This small lighthouse station – “The Old Lighthouse” – was established in 1889 close to the entrance to Little Harbour. Originally, it was manned, with the first lighthouse keeper and his wife being the only inhabitants of that part of Little Harbour. The light presumably served to guide shipping to the channel leading to the secluded and safe harbour.

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

In due course the living quarters fell into dereliction and the existing beacon (type unknown?) on a small tower was converted to a solar-powered light. This arrangement did not survive the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The replacement was a modern steel framework tower that carried an active light until eventually it was blown over by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Sandy was also the hurricane that destroyed forever the rock ‘hole’ – an important navigation mark for centuries – that gave Hole-in-the-Wall its distinctive name (see HERE and links).

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The views from the elevated position of the ruin are spectacular, both from the outside and from inside. In good weather, anyway… It remains to be seen whether the lonely light is now considered completely redundant, or whether another automatic light will in the end be positioned here when funds or willpower permit. I’m not aware of any groundswell of opinion suggesting that, in the absence of a beacon at Little Harbour, there is a potential safety issue. 

The view north from the light to the tip of the promontoryLittle Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The view roughly south past the fallen tower towards CherokeeLittle Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Over time, I have been contacted by people with family associations to previous keepers; and with personal experiences of life there. One or two Americans have wanted to track newly discovered family connections to the light, and even possible relatives. I have the makings of ‘Lighthouse Family’ tree. When I last wrote about the light, Chuck Rickey contacted me with his story, which gives a wonderful insight into the history of the light and its hardy occupants: 

“My grandmother’s first cousin, Curtis Lowe, was lighthouse keeper here for many years and along with his wife, Bessie, raised children Hartley, Maitland, Lois and Robert, obtaining staples buy walking a tract road or sailing to Cherokee Sound. Later on, they were able to motor to Snake Cay, to get provisions from Owens Illinois’ company store aboard the “Robert Fulton”, an old side-wheel steamer, permanently moored there. I was fortunate to spend much fun time there during school vacations growing up”.

WHEREABOUTS IN LITTLE HARBOUR IS WAS THE LIGHTHOUSE

Little Harbour Lighthouse 1 jpg copyLittle Harbour Lighthouse 4 jpg

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ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE: A BEACON ICON

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL: HISTORY, SHIPS AND MAPS

Little Harbour Lighthouse, Abaco Bahamas (Darlene Chisholm)

Credits: all photos Keith Salvesen except the last, Darlene Chisholm. Also, with thanks to Sandy Estabrook. 

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

LITTLE HARBOUR ABACO (1): JOHNSTON FOUNDRY & GALLERY


Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

LITTLE HARBOUR ABACO (1): JOHNSTON FOUNDRY & GALLERY

Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour needs no introduction. The place is an integral part of Abaco life, in much the same way as the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. Everyone knows that one runs effortlessly on beer and rum; the other on kerosene and a bed of mercury (just don’t mix up which is which, and best not to drink the mercury). Some visitors may happily while away an hour or three at Pete’s, not knowing of the amazing sculpture gallery almost next door, where works from the historic Johnston Foundry are displayed. Here is a taste of what you will find there.

Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

In the 1950s Randolph Johnston built a bronze casting foundry at Little Harbour that is still very much in use today. Much of the wonderful work produced by members of the Johnston family over 3 generations can be found on display in the Gallery. Here you will find genuinely locally produced sculptural works of art ranging from the simple to the incredibly complex. Some large outdoor pieces can also be found dotted around the settlement – here, a huge ray; over there, a pair of leaping dolphins.

Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Unsurprisingly, the sculptures on display mostly relate to the sea, which laps the shoreline only a few yards in front of the gallery. These are works of art, and of skill refined over decades. They do not come cheap. There are however smaller and less expensive items to tempt the visitor who may have a baggage allowance to live down to. Here is a snapshot of some of these.

Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen) Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Pete's Pub & Gallery / The Johnston Foundry Little Harbour Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

You might be entertained by this short video, which will give you an idea of Pete’s set-up at this unique off-grid settlement. And if you do visit, coincide with a mealtime – the freshly caught fish is outstanding.

All photos: Keith Salvesen, with thanks for permission to photograph some of the artworks on display. Video by Pete’s! [PS I have not been paid for my writing, not even a beer…]

MAPPING ABACO: BELLIN’S MAP 1764


Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

MAPPING ABACO: BELLIN’S MAP 1764

Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703 – 1772) was a French naval hydrographer & geographer. He was a prolific mapmaker, especially of French territories, and was noted for his meticulous technique and attention to detail. He was elected to the Royal Society; and in due course was appointed Official Hydrographer of the French King.

Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

In 1764, Bellin’s Petit Atlas Maritime was published. I am featuring one sheet from the atlas, the “Carte des Isles Lucayes”. The whole work came as a 5-volume set of map sheets, containing a total of 580 detailed charts. As you will see here, this copperplate engraving can be found in various forms: plain black & white; hand-washed or hand-coloured; or grandly multicoloured. These variations are the consequence of the distinction of Bellin’s work, which led to repeated re-publication in the c18 and beyond. Additionally, his work was admired and copied abroad.

Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

Bellin’s map contains plenty of information – including depth markings and advised shipping routes – though some of the topography might be considered debatable by modern standards. As you look more closely, some of the details are startling. For example, on New Providence (see above) the only place-name is simply designated ‘Ville’, as though the settlement there lacked the significance to merit a name. And look at it now… Andros is completely name-free, with not even a Ville marked – as is Grand Bahama for that matter, though a few Cays are named. Let’s turn to Abaco.
Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes
This section of the Bellin map also appears in my Abaco mapping article relating to HOLE-IN-THE-WALL. This geographical feature at the southern extremity of Abaco (now sadly blown apart by HURRICANE SANDY after millennia) was an important navigational landmark for shipping  by c17. The name, in French here, underwent a number of changes of the centuries, as you can see using the HITW link above.
Also of note is that at least Abaco was credited with a single named location – Little Harbour, the first settlement to feature on early maps, and the only one for a surprisingly long time. I imagine the position of this inlet and the safe anchorage it could provide for relatively large vessels became well-known. Like Hole-in-the-Wall, it was of seafaring significance.
A c18 mariner, looking at Bellin’s map in contemplation of a trip to the Isles Lucayes, might conclude that the seas around Abaco and Grand Bahama might be treacherous. The profusion of rocky areas and the indication of depth changes around the islands and cays suggest caution would be needed for a voyage. And as we know, throughout history ships have been wrecked in these seas – a situation somewhat improved (but not entirely eliminated) when the three ABACO LIGHTHOUSES were built.
Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes
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Credits: Library of Congress; Barry Ruderman Cat.; OS auctions inc eBay (!)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS


Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins! Tursiops truncatus! These engagingly playful show-offs of the inshore waters round Abaco are 99.99% adorable**. It’s been a harrowing few weeks in the western Atlantic, and everyone is hoping that the 2017 hurricane season has had enough of causing death and destruction over vast swathes of vulnerable islands and on the US mainland. Some cheer is needed.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Dolphins are good for the soul. And if you are out on a boat watching them – and especially tracking them for a whole day – every encounter reinforces the impression that all the leaping, bow-wave riding, boat under-swimming, and general sociability and interaction is often as much for sheer enjoyment as anything else. 

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Abaco is fortunate in having the HQ of the Bahamas Mammals Research Organisation (BMMRO) based at Sandy Point. That just happens to be an excellent area for bottlenose dolphin spotting in the turquoise shallows. Many sightings are made within clear sight of land. Further south, where the bright blue gives way to darker and deeper water, live the equally frolicsome Atlantic spotted dolphins. The 3 photos above were all taken on the margins of where the colour of the sea changes from light to dark.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

I’m a bit of a collector of collective nouns. For dolphins, apart from the matter-of-fact ‘group’ or ‘pod’, there is no exotic word to describe a number of them when they are having fun. No equivalent of ‘exaltation’ (larks), ‘charm’ (goldfinches) or ‘parliament’ (owls). So I’m nominating an ‘exhilaration’ as a candidate to fill the gap…

The photo above shows clearly how individual dolphins can be identified by researchers. All tend to have scars or tears to their dorsal fins that enable them to be distinguished. The closest has distinctive scars near the tip. The furthest has a W-shaped nick at the back. In fact, it could even be Rocky, a well-known dolphin on Abaco that has been sighted over many years. There are regular reports annually. I saw him myself once, in 2012, playing about in Hopetown harbour. 

STOP PRESS To demonstrate how the ID methods work, I’ve now cross-checked with the BMMRO photo ID archive. Here is Rocky’s original dorsal fin ID image (“Tt15”) from October 2010. There’s a W-shaped nick, sure, but my speculation above was wrong because overall the two fins are clearly different…

Rocky the Dolphin Tt15, from BMMRO ID photo archive

** The 0.01%? Dolphins may, rarely, be alarming for divers in circumstances I won’t repeat here (hint: to do with over-friendliness, ok? Yes, the thing that dogs do)

Credits: all photos BMMRO – and taken in the last 2 months

АБАKО: SOVIET RUSSIAN MILITARY MAP OF ABACO


Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979

АБАKО: SOVIET RUSSIAN MILITARY MAP OF ABACO

I had been toying with a plan to write something fishy today. Lifting the lid on the secrets of the creole wrasse, maybe. Then something arrived in my inbox overnight that changed my course entirely. I was struck  by an idea  harder than a torrent of mixed metaphors speeding towards a bullseye in the motherlode. A map! A map of Abaco!! All in Russian!!! From the Soviet Russian Military Survey!!!! Irresistible. An occasion for multiple exclamation marks.509px-hammer_and_sickle_black_large_on_transparent-svg

‘Russian Soviet Military Topographic Maps’

Map sheet G-18-1 GREAT ABACO ISLAND ed. 1979 – scale 1:500 000, map size 66 cm x 55 cm

Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979

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My blog is stuffed full of maps. They are scattered everywhere, like cartographical confetti. There’s even a page for some of them HERE. Want a map of Abaco’s HIGHEST POINT (134m, if you have the energy).  Need to see what Abaco looked like 300 years ago? Try HERE. Need a history of Hole-in-the-Wall in maps? Try THIS. And so on.
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The header map is a merely the bottom-left corner of the much larger map immediately above. As a crop of the much larger area, it’s illegible. Which is next to useless, because the best thing about this map is that it is all in Russian. And I really wanted to see how they had mapped Marsh Harbour. Treasure Cay. Man-o-War. And the rest. I looked around online and reached this one. Even with some work on the image, you can only get a blurry glimpse – just a few tempting hints of Cyrillic. But it’s impossible to locate Марш Харьор, Трежер Ки, or Ман-оф-Уор Ки…

Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979

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So, back to the interweb thing. And eventually, something usable turned up. Here, with props to Clicpic, is Abaco in the late Soviet era. Check out where you live – in Russian. Got friends on Грейт Гуапна Кй? Sadly, the northern end of Abaco and the whole southern end from Crossing Rocks down to Hole-in-the-Wall and right round to Sandy Point is absent. That area is of course the perfect place for missile silos**. Except now it’s a National Park, so that wouldn’t be possible… would it?

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I’ve split the map into 3 sections to make it as big as possible. The maps overlap to keep the proportions equal on-screen. Double click to zoom in. Hope you enjoy travelling around it…

Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979 Detail 1 Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979 Detail 2 Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979 Detail 3

** Vladdy, mate, if you or your agents have picked up on this, (1) only joking, right? and (2) you’ve  anyway got better things to worry about these days…

PIGGYVILLE: HOME OF THE SWIMMING PIGS OF ABACO


piggyville-adam-rees-scuba-works-copy

PIGGYVILLE: HOME OF THE SWIMMING PIGS OF ABACO

No Name Cay has a name. Which is ‘No Name’. Which is a logical paradox.  Since I last wrote about it, the Cay has acquired a new nickname in honour of its only permanent residents: Piggyville. You can find swimming pigs on Exuma, of course – they are a famous and well-promoted tourist attraction. Abaco’s own population of feral swimming pigs is much less well-known, even now.

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco

When I first posted about the pigs a couple of years ago, several people – including locals – contacted me in surprise and wonderment. And people still get in touch to ask (1) if there are really swimming pigs on Abaco and (2) “how do I get to see them?” (a short boat ride from Green Turtle Cay). Now the word is spreading, and indeed the piggies even have their own FB page HERE.

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Recently, a reliable replenishable water supply system was introduced to No Name Cay to ensure enough fresh water for the denizens. You’ll find more about nutrition and other vital porcine matters in Amanda Diedrick’s excellent post on LITTLE HOUSE BY THE FERRY, a wonderfully informative blog for Abaco in general and Green Turtle Cay in particular.

swimming-pigs-of-no-name-cay-abaco-claire-towningSwimming Pigs, No Name Cay, Abaco (Craig Russell)

WHERE IS NO NAME CAY WHEN IT’S AT HOME?no-name-cay-copy

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Craig Russell, Pig Guardian of No Name CayCraig Russell, Abaco Swimming Pig Whisperer on No Name Cay

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Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works (1); Craig Russell / FB (2, 7, 8,9, 10); Tim Mantle (3); Patricia Labarta Douglas (4); Barefoot Sailor (5); Claire Towning (6); Lynn Collins (11); Samantha Regan (12); Ruth Albury / Destination Abaco for Piggy PDF [link removed]

LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE: A DERELICT MARITIME LANDMARK


Little Harbour lighthouse Abaco - Darlene Chisholm

LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE: A DERELICT MARITIME LANDMARK

The words ‘Abaco Lighthouse’ are near-synonymous with the splendid striped edifice on Elbow Cay. This beloved building is truly iconic, in the modern sense of the word. But it would not do to forget the other principal lighthouse of Abaco at Hole-in-the-Wall, also with its original Fresnel lenses. The small light at Little Harbour is by contrast relatively unknown, unvisited and unloved. And derelict. Maybe that explains it. You can read in detail about this neglected relic of Abaco’s maritime history HERE

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Last Spring,  friends and fellow Delphi Club members Bob & Annie Rusby and their children stayed for a while in Little Harbour. Among their adventures was a walk to the lighthouse, which is situated quite remotely on a promontory, and a decent stagger from Pete’s Pub. They took some up-to-date photos (the ones shown are in fact video stills) which supersede the ones I have previously posted. 

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This small lighthouse station – “The Old Lighthouse” – was established in 1889 at the entrance to Little Harbour. Originally, it was manned, with the lighthouse keeper and his wife being (according to Sandy Estabrook) the only inhabitants of that part of Little Harbour. The light presumably served more to locate the channel to the secluded and safe harbour than to warn of reef dangers.

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In due course the living quarters fell into dereliction and the existing beacon (type unknown?) on a small tower was converted to a solar-powered light. This arrangement did not survive the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The replacement was a modern steel framework tower that carried an active light until it was blown over by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The header image shows the tumbled structure, which has never been replaced. Even the steel tower seems now (4 years later) to have gone. 

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Little Harbour Lighthouse 1 jpg copyLittle Harbour Lighthouse 4 jpg

The views from the elevated position of the ruin are spectacular, both from inside the ruin (lucky keeper!) and from outside. In good weather, anyway… It remains to be seen whether light is now considered completely redundant, or whether another automatic light will in the end be positioned here when funds or willpower permit. I’m not aware of any groundswell of opinion suggesting that, in the absence of a beacon at Little Harbour, there is a potential safety issue. I’d be interested to hear any views.

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STOP PRESS Chuck Rickey has left a wonderful comment in response to this post, full of personal and historical interest. Any other reminiscences would be most welcome.

“My grandmother’s first cousin, Curtis Lowe, was lighthouse keeper here for many years and along with his wife, Bessie, raised children Hartley, Maitland, Lois and Robert, obtaining staples buy walking a tract road or sailing to Cherokee Sound. Later on, they were able to motor to Snake Cay, to get provisions from Owens Illinois’ company store aboard the “Robert Fulton”, an old side-wheel steamer, permanently moored there. I was fortunate to spend much fun time there during school vacations growing up”.

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RELATED POSTS

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE: A BEACON ICON

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE

LITTLE HARBOUR LIGHTHOUSE

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco - Patrick Shyu

Credits: Darlene Chisholm (header image); Bob Rusby (all main images); Patrick Shyu (last photo); Sandy Estabrook (special thanks for info re earlier post)

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

ABACO’S WRECKS INVESTIGATED: SS HESLEYSIDE


SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O4

ABACO’S WRECKS INVESTIGATED: SS HESLEYSIDE 

Abaco, like many of the islands of the Bahamas, has its fair share of wrecks around its shores – both ancient and modern. I reference some of these under my RANDOM menu, with some maps, links, and general information. One that I didn’t include is the SS Hesleyside, a wreck that lies broken and wave-tossed on the rocks at Schooner Bay. To reach it, you will have to arrange at the entrance for a golf-cart to take you down to the shore. The price for your transport may be an invitation to take a tour of the community there, an ambitious enterprise that was started about 10 years ago.

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From where the Hesleyside lies, you get a long view across to Delphi, some 3 miles to the north. Delphi Club from Schooner Bay

For the energetic, you can walk the beach of Guinea Schooner Bay all the way to Delphi. However, the unpopulated strand is covered in seaweed (good for wildlife, though) and horrendous quantities of plastic, from micro off-cuts to macro bollards, oil containers and so forth. Frankly rather off-putting.

Guinea Schooner Bay, Abaco Beach Debris, Abaco

We visited Schooner Bay on a bright day with a strong wind that whipped up the waves all along the shoreline, with clouds of spray rather detracting from the photographic possibilities. The tide was high, and the remains of the wreck were at times barely visible. 

The bow, part of the central section towards the stern, and some sort of boiler (?) at the sternSS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O1 copy

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SS Hesleyside was a British cargo ship built in 1900 in Sunderland, England for the Charlton Steamship Co. (Charlton, McAllum). Steam-powered, the 2600 ton vessel was more than 300 foot long.  In 1908 she was was sailing from the Azores to Key West when bad weather struck, and on 1st October high winds – described in contemporary reports as a hurricane –  drove her aground where her remains now lie, a part of the coastline known as the ‘Iron Shore’. Fortunately the crew were able to escape, and there was no loss of life.

SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O7SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O3SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O5

A dramatic account of the shipwreck was published in the New York Times. The hero of the crisis was fireman Jack Thompson, who with notable courage volunteered to swim ashore with a line, by which the rest of the crew were able to make their way to safety.

Report from the New York TimesSS Hesleyside NYT report (Coconut Telegraph) jpg

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In accordance with standard practice, a Court of Inquiry was held in Nassau two weeks after the event to investigate the circumstances. The Master was exonerated of blame, having “tried every means of getting the ship under control without effect”.  SS Hesleyside 5 Report (Abaco Palms)

One interesting nautical and topographical note  is that the site of the wreck is described as “about 18 miles north of Hole in the Wall”. The navigational importance of HITW as a landmark was known from as early as the c17, and it was the first location to be named in the earliest maps of Abaco. For a detailed history of HITW in maps, click HERE

Nautical Map, 1856, showing the seas around ‘Le Trou dans le Mur’, and the lighthouseNautical Map 1857
Hesleyside details wrecksite.euSS Hesleyside details (wrecksite.eu / Tony Allen) [the date is wrong]

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WHO, WHAT OR WHERE IS HESLEYSIDE?

It’s a place in Northumberland, UK – inland, but not very from where the ship was built. Many of the Charlton ships began with an H and ended in …side. It was – and is – a common practice to have a naming theme for vessels. 

Hiram; SS 'Hesleyside'; Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ss-hesleyside-35255

THE WRONG SORT OF HESLEYSIDE

I got quite excited when I thought I had tracked down a painting in the Sunderland Museum of the SS Hesleyside. After all, there could hardly be two steam ships with the same name, could there? Wrong. There were in fact 3 ‘Charlton’ Hesleysides in all. There is some coincidence (but not necessarily ‘irony’, Alanis Morissette) that all 3 were wrecked.

Hesleyside (1) 

86089 

 

1882 

688 

Ex-Turgenief, 1882 purchased from Baxter & Co, Sunderland r/n Hesleyside, 24.7.1893 wrecked at Sosnowetz.

Hesleyside (2) 

110353 

 

1900 

2631 

4.10.1908 wrecked at Abaco, Bahamas.

Hesleyside (3) 

133508 

 

1912 

3994 

1933 sold to P. Hadoulis, Andros, 1935 sold to M. Sitinas, Andros, 24.5.1940 torpedoed and sunk in 48.30N 09.30W by U.37

The rather glamourised painting shown above shows Hesleyside Mark 3 her glory days. She was built in 1912 but was sold in 1933 to a Greek company and renamed SS Kymas. Under that name she was torpedoed by a U-boat in May 1940, and 7 of her crew of 30 were killed.  The photo below (which took me a long time to decide was the same Helseyside) shows a much more steamery, freightery looking vessel… 

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Sources of information: plimsoll.org; NY Times; http://wrecksite.eu / Tony Allen; coconuttelegraph.net; http://www.abacopalms.com; Wiki; Sunderland Museum http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ss-hesleyside-35255; magpie pickings from all over the place.

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO


Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 5

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO

The Abaco Neem Farm just off the highway about 20 minutes south of The (one and only) Roundabout is about much more than the neem plants and the resultant products sold at the well-known shop in Marsh Harbour. The many varieties of fruit tree, the grasses and the wild flowers, the coppice, the pine forest, the open land and the pond that make up the extensive property provide a wonderful haven for birds, butterflies, moths and bees (there are hives too). It’s a great place for birding, and the owner Nick is rightly proud of the peaceful ambience of the farm. On a bright day, the place is alive with birdsong. 

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 6

Among my favourite small birds found there are two species that are so tame and inquisitive that it is often possible to move slowly right up to them. The blue-gray gnatcatcher is one. The cuban pewee is another. This pewee was flitting about the edge of the coppice, hawking for insects and quite unconcerned by our presence. Sadly I only had ‘hated camera’ with me, having thrown ‘beloved camera’ into the sea a couple of days before, photographing shorebirds (and thence into the trash bin). So I’m not wholly pleased with the results, either for clarity or for colour. Needless to say, hated camera always has the last laugh…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 2

Identification of the various flycatcher species e.g. CUBAN PEWEE, LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD and GRAY KINGBIRD can be tricky. The simplest way to distinguish the cuban pewee is to remember that it is a small bird (so, not a kingbird); and that its informal name is ‘crescent-eyed pewee’ due to the very noticeable white crescent behind the eye. And as Liann Key Kaighin reminds me in a comment, these little birds also answer to the name Tom Fool…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen)Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 3

A quick check of the sky for predators? Or maybe just for rain…Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 8

All photos: RH. Thanks to Nick Maoulis for his tolerance of people armed with cameras and binoculars.

PS I don’t go in much for beauty products (far far too late), but the Neem Salve is fantastic for minor injuries: cuts, grazes, bruises, small burns and so on. Well, it works for me.

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO


Peahen, %22Different of Abaco%22 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO

A year or so ago I wrote a post entitled SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”, a nod to Monty Python and to Nettica Symonette’s long-defunct fishing lodge on the road to Casuarina that it still proudly signposted on the Highway. You can click the link to see the full post and plenty of peacocks. Or, as I mentioned then, peafowl (only the males are peacocks; the females are peahens; and the little ones are peachicks).

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

“Different of Abaco” is a great place for birding. An overgrown wilderness with brackish ponds and a *dangerous structure alert* dilapidated building, it was once home to Nettie’s flamingos, reintroduced by her in the hope of reinstating Abaco’s lost breeding population. The experiment did not come off, but another one did. The legacy of her introduction of a few peacocks is very evident today: they have bred very successfully and provide an exotic – and noisy – addition to the breeding bird species on Abaco.

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

The evidence from reports suggests that the peafowl are spreading from their base at Different of Abaco and the local Casuarina area. Celia Rogers saw 2 males on the Cherokee road, some 3 or 4 miles to the north. And Rhonda Pearce has more recently found them at the entrance to Bahama Palm Shores, some way to the south (below).

 Peacock, Bahama Palm Shores Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)    Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

Extent of peafowl range from reported sightingsCasuarina, Abaco area map

As I wrote before, “In the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact”. If anyone has encountered peacocks elsewhere than in the DoA / Casuarina area, I’d love to hear about it. A photo would be a bonus!

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 4 (Rhonda Pearce)

OPTIONAL FUN FACTS

The collective noun for peafowl is generally considered to be a “pride”, as with lions. But many bird species have been assigned more than one collective noun – and many of the more unusual ones are historic, dating back to medieval times, in particular The Boke of St Albans (1486) by a nun called Dame Juliana Berners, which included lists of collective nouns for ‘companys of beestys and fowlys’. These were known as ‘terms of venery’, and many related to falconry and hunting. She also wrote the presumed first fishing guide, A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (her catch records do not survive).

Anyway, apart from ‘pride’, peacocks are also collectively known as a ‘muster’; and far more descriptively as an ‘ostentation’.

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: All peafowl Rhonda Pearce; final image π “The Abacos” online

PELICAN BRIEF (2): SANDY POINT, ABACO


Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 04

PELICAN BRIEF (2): SANDY POINT, ABACO

The small settlement of Sandy Point is literally at the end of the road. Beyond the limit of the tarmac lies the shallow sea. The Highway – Abaco’s only main road – extends the length of the skinny island, 120 miles roughly north to south with occasional side roads to settlements, dirt roads, forestry tracks, and something a bit more significant for Marsh Harbour – a roundabout, a single set of working traffic lights, the only ones on the island. There’s a second set but I have never seen them working. I don’t think anyone ever has. Maybe they were never even wired up.

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7

We went to Sandy Point for lunch with friends at the famous (though not yet world-famous) Nancy’s, with its reliably comforting menu of a choice of the same 3 dishes permanently on offer (fresh fish, conch, or chicken), plus Kalik or Sands beer. Simple yet satisfying. Sandy Point is a great place for birding, both sea / shore / wading birds, and land birds. Ospreys are often around. And brown pelicans. At high tide they dive off the dock (see HERE). At low tide, when the long sand bars are just visible above the water level, the pelicans use them as base for their fishing operations, often some 200 yards from the shoreline.

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 11

We were watching 5 pelicans doing just that – lazily flapping aloft from the water in their clumsy way, then turning swiftly and diving with some elegance before smashing into the water for fish, returning in triumph or sorrow to the sand bar to eat… or plan the next foray. Then one detached itself from the group and flew closer to us for a single dive in deeper water, before flapping heavily back to the sand bar.

I took a sequence of photos with ‘Hated Camera’ (having drowned ‘Loved Camera’ in a minor marine mishap). As I have since discovered, ‘HC’ was on the wrong setting the whole time – by which I mean several days (some small but important side switch I’d neglected to remember). Hence the pelican images are in small format because I am slightly ashamed of the quality… There’s a theory about cartoons that there are two possible reasons for pairing them together on a magazine page: (1) they are each doubly funny and therefore only need half the space; or (2) they are only half as funny and so two are needed to double the overall chuckle quotient…

So here is the pelican dive sequence – unsuccessful in terms of fish – with the bird then flying back past us to the sand bar to rejoin his 4 buddies. I’ve put 2 images per line – either because (on the cartoon principle above) they are so good they only need half the allotted space or (hint: this is the truth) they are of such indifferent image quality that I am too embarrassed to enlarge them…

Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 01 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 02 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 03 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 04 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 05 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 06 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 07 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 08 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 10 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 11 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 12 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 13

In the final image you can just make out a spooky ghost ship on the horizon. This is the huge vessel moored at the ‘Disney’ island, historically named Gorda Cay but now ‘pirated up’ to Castaway Cay. Arrrrrrrr!

Credits: all images RH & ‘Hated Camera’; Mrs RH kindly being encouraging about the results

SITTING ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY… TAKING TERNS ON ABACO


Royal Terns Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

SITTING ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY… TAKING TERNS ON ABACO

During a day of deep-sea fishing we put into Cherokee for a short time at the famous LONG DOCK, the longest wooden dock in the Bahamas. There were three royal terns at various plumage stages watching and waiting for fish, or maybe just ‘watchin’ the tide roll away’. Not that there is very noticeable tide at Cherokee, hence the need for the Long Dock to get out to deeper water from the shallows. So this was a good time to take a few photos from the boat with a point ‘n’ shoot, having dumped my proper camera in the sea (by mistake, I should add).

One bird has been banded with a metal ring LR. Does this signify anything to anyone?Royal Terns Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3Royal Terns Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2Royal Terns Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4 Long Dock, Cherokee

RELATED POSTS

CHEROKEE LONG DOCK

ABACO ROAD TRIP: CHEROKEE SOUND

All photos RH, short Musical Digression to be added when I am reunited with my computer next week…

THE PROMISED MUSICAL DIGRESSION

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was co-written by Otis Redding and Stax guitarist Steve Cropper. The song was recorded in 1967, but shortly before its release in 1968, Redding died in a plane crash. The song became the first posthumous single to top the charts in the US (it reached number 3 in the UK), and won two Grammys. It has been covered around 7387 times (or so it seems), most surprisingly (or alarmingly) by T Rex, Pearl Jam, and Sammy Hagar. And Michael Bolton. Grrrrrrr. And not one single cover version – I challenge you to deny it – is half as good as the original…

ABACO’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 ft asl) : ABACO LANDMARKS (2)


Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

ABACO’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 ft asl) : ABACO LANDMARKS (2)

The header photograph is in fact nothing to do with Abaco. Apologies for any confusion. You can put away your ice axe, crampons or skis. It’s the Matterhorn, towering over the border of Switzerland and Italy, complete with high altitude, year-round snow and sub-zero temperatures. Abaco has its own skiing, of course, but solely of the watery sort.

I was curious as to the exact location of Abaco’s highest point. There are a couple of rocky hills in the pine forests of South Abaco that I thought might be candidates. All sources I checked agreed that the altitude is a dizzying 134 feet, with some equating that with 40 metres and others with 41. It would be nit-picking to use the straight conversion of 40.8432 metres. I am that nit-picker.

A site called PEAKBAGGER is useful for such queries. Click on the link and it takes you to the Abaco entry; elsewhere on the site there is a mass of remarkable worldwide altitude information that you could easily spend an hour or 2 investigating.

EIGHT ESSENTIAL ABACO SUMMIT FACTS TO ASTOUND YOUR FRIENDS

  • Elevation: 41 meters / 134 feet
  • Name: “Unnamed High Point” [according to John Bethel, it is known locally as ‘Pidgeon Hill’]
  • Latitude/Longitude: 26° 34′ 6” N; 77° 8′ 14” W 26.568399, -77.137319
  • 3rd highest point in the Bahamas
  • 54th highest point in the Caribbean
  • 1014th highest island point in the world
  • Nearest high point is on Eleuthera
  • No ‘ascents’ by registered ‘Peakbaggers’ (this is now on my bucket-list for personal achievements – and it’s an easy start on the way to fame and the conquest of Everest).

THE PRECISE LOCATION OF ABACO’S HIGHEST POINT

Peakbagger’s map places the high point close to the Highway north of Marsh Harbour. Although the land relief shown on the Peakbagger map suggests a higher ridge to the north-west of the red circle, it is in fact only 30 metres high.Abaco High Point Map 1

Quite a while back I contacted Sandy Estabrook, éminence grise behind the wonderful ABACO ESCAPE website. Within a very short time he got back to me with a clipping from a nautical map, confirming the high point’s location as the one given by Peakbagger. Abaco Nautical Chart

Far more importantly, it turned out that Sandy actually ascended the summit in 2009 with a friend and without oxygen. His expedition journal states simply:

“Heading South along Queens Hwy, Frank pointed out a hill on the Sea of Abaco side of the road. It had quite some elevation of over a hundred feet or more it seemed. I have not seen a higher place in all of Abaco. And atop the hill was a tower that I was told was built by real estate interests some years ago for prospective clients to view the surroundings. We climbed the tower and I took a couple pics”. 

The tower will be familiar to travellers passing by on the Highway. I had read that this was a good place to look out for birds, and had assumed it was some sort of fire-watching tower. The use of a tower to scope out land for development is an ingenious one, but the landscape remains undeveloped. Here are some photos from the vantage point taken on Sandy’s expedition.

View roughly south-east from the tower to Hope Town. The lighthouse is visible to the right.Frank View from Tower 84 copy

Looking north-east, with Great Guana Cay just visible on the horizonFrank View from Tower 82 copy

The view north(ish) along the ridge, with the Highway snaking up to Treasure CayFrank View from Tower 83 copy

AERIAL VIEWSMount Abaco 5 copyMount Abaco 3 copy

WHERE IS BASE CAMP?

Turn east off the Highway and take the spur road to the right. Park at the wider area near the end. Prepare for a scramble up. If there is – or was – a path to the top, I expect it’s overgrown now, unless for some reason it has been cleared. And if anyone undertakes the challenge, it would be fun to post your account of the adventure plus views from the top – especially looking west.

Thanks to Sandy Estabrook and to Peakbagger

 Abaco Escape logoPeakbagger Logo

This is a rijig of a post I did in 2013, because it fits in with my new ‘Landmarks’ series. Also, I (luckily) have loads more followers these days. If there have been any significant changes to the location, I’d be pleased to hear and amend accordingly. And if there are any other local names for the hill, I’ll add them. 

CHEROKEE LONG DOCK: ABACO LANDMARKS (1)


Cherokee Long Dock Aerial (David Rees)

CHEROKEE LONG DOCK: ABACO LANDMARKS (1)

Cherokee Long Dock has a significant claim to prominence on an Island that has, with its Cays, a good few docks to admire. The impressive 770 foot wooden dock is the longest wooden dock in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, as its plaque proudly proclaims. The waters of Cherokee Sound are very shallow in places, and as the tides retreat, so sandbanks appear and the rest is barely covered by the sea. Hence the need arose for a very long dock to serve the very small community of Cherokee.

Cherokee Long Dock, Abaco, Bahamas (Larry Towning 1)Cherokee Long Dock, Abaco, Bahamas (Larry Towning 2)

Before the roads were built – in relatively recent memory – Cherokee was an isolated settlement. There was a shortcut connection by boat to a now-abandoned dock at the nearest community, Casuarina, across the Sound. However, non-tide-dependent access from the open sea was vital for supply boats and mail boats. Access to the sea was needed by the fishermen.

Cherokee Long Dock 4 (Amanda Diedrick) Cherokee Long Dock 2a (Amanda Diedrick) Cherokee Long Dock 1 (Amanda Diedrieck) jpg

The plaque documents the history of the dock, the damage inflicted by hurricanes, and the ‘countless hours of labour’ by local people- ‘men, women and children’ – to preserve the dock.Cherokee Long Dock: the plaque (Amanda Diedrick)

Royal terns and other seabirds use the dock to rest; and as a safe place from which to fishCherokee Long Dock (Velma Knowles)

long-dock-cherokee-abaco-karen-eldonCherokee Long Dock 3 (Amanda Diedrieck)IMG_3013

Photo credits: David Rees and his wonderful drone (header); Larry Towning (2, 3); Amanda Diedrick (4, 5, 6, 7, 9); Karen Eldon, Velma Knowles (8); last image from a FB friend with thanks and many apologies – I’ve lost my note of who took it…  to be added if possible; short vid from Youtube.

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)


Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)

The photos you see in this post were all taken by Hitoshi Miho during an amazing 3 days of diving with Brian Kakuk deep in the pine forests of South Abaco. It’s not the first time they have explored together the wonders that lie beneath those hundreds of acres of pines and scrub; I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The most spectacular cave systems are the adjacent Ralph’s and Dan’s Caves. These systems are believed to be linked, and I know Brian has been trying to find where they meet – a difficult and dangerous task carried out underwater many metres below the forest floor, and requiring sophisticated diving equipment and great expertise. 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The latest 3-day exploration involved 12 dives and nearly 30 hours underwater in Ralph’s Cave. Narrow passages open out into massive caverns filled with wonderful and complex crystal stalagtites and stalagmites formed over eons. I hope you enjoy examples from the ‘Rooms’ and passages, many with exotic names (Glass Factory, Ninja Passage, Erabor); some more prosaic (Fred’s Room). Then try to imagine that you are actually swimming there.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

I shall be posting some more photos in due course showing some of the details of the cave formations – intricate patterns, delicate tracery, irridescent colouring, pencil-thin rods, ‘rock’ folds that look like the finest linen. As always I am immensely grateful to both intrepid divers for use permission. I won’t pretend that these thrilling caves are easily accessible – this is emphatically not an adventure to try unguided with a snorkel and flippers. But as you drive along the highway past miles of forest, it’s worth reflecting that far below you are some of the most magnificent cave systems anywhere in the world – right there, on your very own island… 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

As it happens, the Delphi Club is very close to these caves, which lie within the boundaries of the newly created ‘South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (see map). This is one of several such conservation areas on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas that are designed to protect the natural resources of the islands from development and exploitation. The second map shows how tantalisingly close Dan’s and Ralph’s caves are… and suggests that further exploration may lead to the missing link.

abaco-caves-map-jpgAbaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Finally, here is a 4-minute video of one small part of the exploration, which gives a very good idea of what is entailed in investigating the narrow passages and huge cathedral-like caverns. Welcome to the Fangon Forest…

Hitoshi Miho, Ralph's Cave, Abaco

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO


Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO

In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3

GILPIN POINT LOCATION

Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

WHAT SPECIES MIGHT BE FOUND AT GILPIN?

A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett
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Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos