We hadn’t really planned on spending New Year’s anchored off an uninhabited island with a glorious white sand beach in the Bahamas. But we got lucky. The original plan was to celebrate a land-based New Year with a large group of friends in Nassau, but once I found out that some cruising friends had anchored their 50-foot cat only a short ride away off Harbour Island, Eleuthera, and that they’d love to spend New Year’s with us, my wife Caroline, our friend Roberta and I jumped at the chance to leave the hustle and bustle of Nassau in our wake.
Having endured several (rare) chilly days and (not rare) late nights in Nassau, the peace and quiet of a night at anchor off Harbour Island was blissful. The next morning, we hired a local captain to help us navigate the coral-ridden Devil’s Backbone channel between Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. Even with a chart plotter, local knowledge is essential to ensure safe passage through this tricky stretch of water. Our local guy was a particularly colorful character.
A-1 (yes, his name was A-1) hopped aboard with a wide smile and a mental stockpile of more one-liners than David Letterman.
“Did you grow on Harbour Island?” I asked.
“Does Jimmy Carter like toothpaste?” he quipped.
[Pointing at a spot on the chart] “Is the fishing any good here?” I probed.
“Is a bullfrog waterproof?” he joshed.
The stand-up routine (along with a healthy dose of island history and other random musings) went on for the entire passage through the coral maze. A-1 seemed to concentrate more on holding court than paying attention to the channel, but he got us through. We had arrived safely at Spanish Wells when A-1 shared his last bit of local knowledge, with a smile and a wink: “Nine times out of two, if you stay in the channel, you’ll be just fine.” And off he went.
We wound our way past the fishing town of Spanish Wells, set our sails in a following breeze, and plotted a course toward a group of tiny islands to the west. Our cruising guide offered little info on the area—and that’s what made it special. We discovered a perfect anchorage off an uninhabited white-sand beach. I’ve been on countless charters and cruises all over the world, but there was something unique about this little piece of Bahamian heaven. We were the only people in sight. It was the last day of the year. The water was crystalline. The sun shone in beams through dissipating cloud cover as the cold front moved out. The beach beaconed.
We swam the short distance to the shoreline where we discovered plenty of dry firewood. It was becoming clear how this impromptu “Bahamas-style” New Year’s Eve would play out. It was certainly a far cry from those swarming streets we’d left back in Nassau. We built a fire on the beach, just as the sun set during the last hours of the year, and we basked in its warmth under a blanket of stars. If the rest of this year is anything like the hours of the last one, it’ll be a very good year indeed.
(Edited original story from 2010)