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Hatchet Bay in the Bahamas

What you see is not what you get in Hatchet Bay. Located about two-thirds of the way up the long and narrow Bahamian out-island of Eleuthera, it is a great place to visit for cruising sailors
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What you see is not what you get in Hatchet Bay. Located about two-thirds of the way up the long and narrow Bahamian out-island of Eleuthera, it is a place so twig-like you wonder how it hasn’t broken. I arrived at the supposed “entrance” following a rolly passage from Governor’s Harbour in sloppy seas and light winds. My charts showed a narrow manmade cut, but I saw nothing more than a giant unbroken rock cliff stretching out before me.

Casting a disapproving glance at the GPS, I was just re-checking the coordinates I had put in the night before (wouldn’t be the first time I made that error) to be certain, when the bow of an 85-foot fuel boat emerged out of what looked like solid rock, and proceeded southwest toward Nassau. In its wake I saw the narrow cut that led into Hatchet Bay—and I do mean narrow, 80 feet wide at most. I’m certain the deckhands on that large boat could have reached out and touched rocks on both sides as it passed through.

I had been warned that the transit could be rough, especially when the tide opposed the wind, and I was not disappointed. As I turned in, the bow began to dance, pointing at rocks to port and then starboard, but a quick push of the throttle got my boat Ukiyo through and into what author Everild Young once called “the most perfect sheltered harbour imaginable.” I cannot argue against that bold statement. For though the wind may howl in the sound, there be nary a ripple in this bay, which makes it a preferred destination for sailors who are privy to its existence, especially when winter “northers” come through.

The nine free moorings were all taken when I arrived, so I dropped the hook by the new dinghy dock, making sure I allowed plenty of room for service vessels to pass on their way to the government pier. You read that correctly: the moorings are free. The government installed them years ago and has yet to get around to charging for them.

A slice of Bahamian sailing history

The cut that transformed this former pond into a bay was created shortly after World War I by retired English army officer George Benson, who planned to use it to load quarried stone from the island onto ships bound for construction projects in Nassau and the United States. Legend has it that on his way out after his plans went bust Benson intended to fill in the cut out of spite, but was prevailed on by the locals from the adjacent community of Alice Town to leave it open.

Though most cruising guides list the holding in the bay as “feeble,” I anchored a total of five days and did not drag. However, I do recommend using a trip line, as there is bottom debris that can easily foul your anchor. There is a first-class dinghy dock with a large gazebo that doubles as a gathering place for crews ashore enjoying their sundowners. Having rowed into many a Bahamian settlement with nothing more than a rocky beach or ruined jetty, I was grateful that the good people of Alice Town took the time to install this great landing.

Within a short walk of the dock there is piped water, a Laundromat and fresh produce at the Triple TLC grocery. As in most of these islands, a warm smile greets you everywhere, and streets have names like “Smile Street” and “Happy Hill.” Still, Alice Town is no stranger to hard times, as the ruins of a large poultry, cattle and cotton plantation will attest.

It’s also the kind of place where you’re bound to meet friendly cruisers. Steven of Mistress, a Catalina 34 out of Pensacola, Florida, rowed over in his dinghy early one morning to tell me how impressed he was with Hatchet Bay: “This is a great place to cruise to. Free moorings, free water, and the people are great.” Mark and Kathy Stanley, cruising their Hallberg Rassy 43, Nancy Lu, from Tool, Texas, told me about their volunteer work at the local grade school, where they help the kids with art projects each afternoon.

The town’s social center is Da Spot, an outdoor bar and restaurant run by the indomitable Shanni, who rules the roost over the mostly male patrons. The food is excellent, and the price is right. If you rent a car for a day, be sure to drive to the Hatchet Bay Caves, a mile-long menagerie of stalagmites and stalactites that are said to have sheltered the pirates and buccaneers of old. There’s also the Rainbow Inn, a gorgeous restaurant down island, and some of the most awesome pink sand beaches you may ever see.

November 2014

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