We pulled into Rock Sound Harbour mid-afternoon with lots of light to find a good spot to drop our anchor. While John was at the helm, I stood on the bow to watch for any coral heads and shallow spots as we entered the harbour. Even with the shallow 4′ draft on our boat, there are many places where you could hit bottom in the Bahamas, and we never get used to seeing such low numbers on our depth gauge. As we surveyed our charts and the boats already there, we chose a location near a dinghy dock at Frigates Bar and Grill towards the north east end of the harbour, where we had read in the Bahamian Waterway Guide that there would be good holding.
Although I was anxious to go exploring onshore, we decided to wait until the next morning and use the remaining daylight to get a few boat chores done. Rock Sound is becoming a popular location for cruisers since it offers a well-stocked grocery store as well as other conveniences of a small town such as car rental, laundromat, liquor stores, hardware stores, restaurants and even a small airport just outside town with several daily flights to Nassau. The sound is pretty well protected from all directions, which also makes it a favorable spot to shelter or just hang out for a while. It is a fairly large harbour, so some people move east or west towards the windward shore to try and get better protection.
Mail boats deliver products from Nassau to this remote location a couple times a week, and their is frequently a fair bit of traffic around the government dock. Soon after arriving, we were amazed to see this barge. At fist we thought it was using an excavator to dredge the area off the government dock, but soon realized it was using the shovel to push itself along, periodically turning to see where it was going. Ingenious yet terrifying at the same time.
We headed to shore the next morning and tied up at the dinghy dock with others at Frigates Bar & Grill. The restaurant was much larger than it looked with tons of seating outside as well as inside. We learned later that cruise ships anchor along south shore of Eleuthera about 20 miles away where they ferry tourists to shore and deliver them to Frigates for entertainment a couple days a week. They demonstrate how to clean and eat conch and perform a small Junkanoo, which is a traditional Bahamian dance party with elaborate costumes.
The Market grocery store was only 1/2 mile up the road, located in a strip mall with a liquor store and hardware store. We browsed the hardware store for a while and felt like we were back in the 1980’s with Sony Walkmans for sale next to VHS tapes. Hey, they’re still available on Amazon!
Inside the grocery store, the selection was very good with some foods available that I hadn’t seen since we left Florida in December. I later discovered that The Market also offers online shopping, providing deliveries to homes and yachts in South Eleuthera. This store is the largest in the area and owned by a family that manages real estate properties as well. They support the local tourist rentals by ensuring fresh produce is regularly available, which has been a real problem in the Bahamas out islands. We had stocked up in Spanish Wells, just a couple days earlier so we only bought a few things this trip.
Since we were anchored so near the dinghy dock, we took our food back to the boat and returned to Frigates for lunch. We met a local musician who said his name was “Smooth Groove” (but then it got complicated). Sometimes it was just “Smooth” and sometimes it was just “Groove” depending on which island he was on. After he learned John’s name, he said he also had a “biblical name” which was Samuel.
He was from the south shore of Eleuthera and had lived there all his life. He mentioned that as a young man, he could free dive down to 120′ which is astounding! I’m happy to get to about 15′. Now he is a full time musician at bars in South Eleuthera and plays for tips a few days a week at Frigates. We bought him a couple drinks and enjoyed the local songs while we munched on some Bahamian favourites: fish fingers, conch fritters and BBQ chicken wings cooked on a spit.
We explored more the next day, heading into the centre of town to visit the famous Ocean Hole, a world-renowned blue hole just a couple blocks from the main road with brackish water rumoured to have healing powers. You can walk the entire perimeter and enjoy one of the park areas which are undergoing improvements. People have stocked the blue hole with a wide variety of tropical fish, which are not shy and swim right up to you when snorkeling.
I had read there were caves located about a mile south of town so we wanted to try and find them. No directions were provided other than to just walk south from town along the main road until you see a church by itself on the left and the entrance to the caves will be on the right. Sure enough, across from the church there was a nice stone wall and stairs leading to the Boiling Hole, named for bubbles that appear when the tide is just right, and the Cathedral Cave, named for the proximity to the church. The Boiling Hole was flat calm today so we didn’t get to see anything too exciting, but these water/ocean/boiling holes located through the island never cease to amaze us.
We continued along the path and were very impressed with the recently built stairs leading down into the caves. Normally we would see an old knotted rope and perhaps a rock with a painted arrow. That’s typically the extent of the infrastructure around the interesting sights. Our theory was that this place was another location where cruise ship passengers were brought for some on shore entertainment.
We wandered through the caves keeping a close eye for bats and were amazed at the trees rooted in various odd angles. The bats were well hidden so we never did see any but heard from friends later that some were in fact lurking in a far corner of the cave. We had seen several caves on Long Island a couple months ago and these were equally impressive.
As we strolled through the small town, we explored the docks and a few shops. There were 3 separate locations along the waterfront where you could tie up a dinghy.
As is typical, the largest building in town is a government administration building.
A few properties still had their windows shuttered from hurricane season, and someone had cleverly written on the panels which section of the house they should be attached. This one was “N. Middle Porch”, which would certainly make the job easier next season.
We stopped at the South Eleuthera Mission, a historic building where friends had told us a travelling art exhibit was on display. The theme was “A Migration of Identity” interpreted by Bahamian artists in paintings and sculptures. A British ex-pat volunteered at the centre as a guide and explained each of the works to us in detail. He described island history of how most Bahamian people arrived as slaves and upon gaining freedom, have had to create their own sense of identity as a people, and are still struggling with this. I was as impressed with the artistic talent as I was with John’s attention and discussion about the art.
You’ll note that all the pictures we took are from an odd angle. This was required for any picture of the paintings throughout the building as their way of keeping anyone from reproducing a high-definition reproduction.
The building itself had an interesting history where it had once been a vital part of the community as a mission, then had fallen in disrepair over the years. Recently a committee had undertaken its restoration and it now supports youth programs, a small library, computer training and an after school program.
Across the street we were surprised to see a cotton bush growing. We had first seen cotton fields throughout Alabama when we lived there in 2015 but this was the first cotton we had seen growing in Bahamas.
While waiting for a good weather window to head to Cat Island, we were staying put in Rock Sound for a few days, since some strong winds were coming late in the week and we were well protected with good holding. The next day however was flat calm with a gentle breeze so I headed out on my paddleboard. Along the south east edge of the harbour, I discovered another blue hole. As I approached, I noticed a stingray coming up along side my board, when all of a sudden the ray realized that I was only about 10′ away and it literally stopped in place and took off the other direction at incredible speed. Too fast for me to follow! I soon heard a dinghy coming near and realized that I had paddled quite a distance from our boat. John hadn’t expected me to be gone such a long time so he had come to check that I was doing ok. I assured him I was fine and we had a look down into the blue hole. Since the water is so clear in Bahamas, it’s remarkable to peer into the depths of a cavern, similar to looking into a huge aquarium.
As predicted, the next day the wind picked up from the west. Most of the boats anchored around us moved to the other side of the harbor, to be protected along the west shore. With our catamaran, we are not usually affected by waves at anchor to the point of being uncomfortable so we stayed along the east shore close to town. A few other boats also stayed near us including a very nice Westsail 32 with only a rowboat for a dinghy.
You can see them braving the rough conditions to go ashore in the video. A Westsail 32 is an older “double-ender” boat, where both the bow and stern come to a point. What I found interesting about this couple with their old-school sailboat and dinghy is that, while they needed to row, they stayed visibly dryer than anyone moving around in a modern inflatable & outboard, and they were as comfortable as we were on the “wrong” side of the harbour for the winds, even though we weigh twice as much.
The winds were steady at 20-25 for most of the day and the waves got to maybe 3′ at their biggest. This didn’t really effect us except for the rare time when the waves managed to hit just the right frequency to cause us to hobby-horse a bit. While we sometimes wonder if we bought a bigger boat that we should have, but days like this reinforce that we made the right choice. We spent the day doing minor chores, watched a movie, and just kind of scanned the harbor to watch all the various other types of boats and how the conditions were effecting them.
The strong winds lasted only overnight, but were expected to pick up again as another front approached. During that time, we heard other boaters on the VHF radio trying to reach a sailboat to advise that it seemed like their anchor was dragging. Unfortunately they weren’t monitoring their radio and didn’t receive the message. Thankfully they didn’t actually collide with another boat, but there were a few folks who had a sleepless night because of them, and watched to ensure they maintained a safe distance. The next morning, we were alarmed to look up from breakfast to see a boat motor by about 10 meters away and it was this same boat! They proceeded to drop anchor, up wind, about 2 boat lengths away. John went to the bow and whistled to get their attention (yes, they were that close!), and they momentarily looked up and then went about their business again. John then held down the boat horn until they paid attention (along with everyone else in the harbour) so he could signal they need to turn on their radio.
He explained the anxious radio chatter from the other side of the harbor to which they seemed unconcerned, and that they were attempting to anchor too close with the unsettled weather. They moved a little further away and set anchor again. Fortunately they didn’t stay long and we had no issues. Glad we were paying attention! Much like with a house, you can’t really pick your neighbors.
We joined fellow cruisers at Frigates later that day for happy hour. Our plan was to head to Cat Island the next morning, to take advantage of a couple days of good weather. We happened to meet another couple who were also headed to Cat Island as well. Our plan was to stop en route for a night at Half Moon Bay, where cruise ships have set up a resort village, complete with pirate ship. An early night for us as we prepared for a busy couple days of sailing ahead.