And by “OC” I don’t mean Orange County, or even Ocean City. I’m talking about Orange Creek, Cat Island.
Sometimes I think there are more welcome signs on Cat Island than there are people.
Probably no one has ever heard of it. It’s pretty remote, even for Cat Island (which is included in the chart book for the “Far Bahamas”). There’s a beautiful mangrove creek, and an Exuma Sound side beach great for beachcombing. A few fishermen keep their boats in the creek, and there’s a handful of houses and business built alongside the Queen’s Highway. That’s about it.
Orange Creek, as seen from the road.
Cat Island is a pretty rugged place outside of the resorts. It was hard for us to leave our Bahamian home at Fernandez Bay. Home, even though we didn’t even actually stay at the resort this time, just anchoring in the bay for 3 nights. Aside from the beautiful setting, Fernandez Bay Village is a community of like-minded travelers, and the honor bar and pre-dinner appetizers there make it easy to meet each other. Even people traveling in groups seem to make the walls around them porous – we found ourselves at the edges of a fly-in group there for the wedding of one of the couples, and never felt like interlopers, instead getting to know some of them and observing part of their festivities.
But leave we must, as we need to be back in the Exumas in a few days and can’t afford to be stranded by weather. In the world of Cat Island outside of Fernandez Bay, and the other resorts which punctuate some of the prime beaches on the shoreline, life is a bit rougher.
Consider the effort it takes to reach one of our favorite ocean beaches, Conch Bay (or Conch Cove). It takes about 45 minutes to drive up the Queen’s Highway from Fernandez Bay to Bennett’s Harbour. (I note that the road, especially along the water, had been beat up along the edges, but looks like it’s getting spruced up.) The road is lined with homes, ruins of homes, and homes-in-progress. There a many small businesses, often featuring an unlikely combination of goods and services – like bread and barber. And there are churches. Lots of churches. As hardscrabble an existence as it appears to be, every passing car’s driver honks in greeting; every person along the road waves “hello” and smiles.
Before going off-road, we stop at Yardie’s for lunch.
Yardie’s, like most other establishments, doubles as a gas station.
It’s very much a local establishment, and looks also to be the owner’s home. Fuel up at the restaurant, or fuel up at the gas pumps. We were the only customers, but Yardie’s 2 ½ year old daughter Samantha was toddling around, Clyde – who was totally in the bag last time we came, and played dominoes with us for ages – was sweeping up and picking up, and another lady kept an eye on Samantha. I never bother to look at the menu, for like business hours, it’s merely a guideline; just ask what she has and take it from there.
Conch fritters, jerk chicken and ribs, and we were good to tackle the next 45 minute segment of our journey. This means going off-road. There is a “Recycling and Reuse” center alongside. It doesn’t look like the recycling efforts reached critical mass, because there are piles of cans and bottles alongside the road, until you reach a salt pond and a fork in the road.
The “road” leaves much to be desired. It takes about 30 minutes to travel the less-than-2-mile distance. It’s a double sand track in places, with boulders and rocks poking out, especially when going uphill. Our rental Honda CRV was barely up to the task. The foliage closes in, and the road is so narrow, we’re glad it’s not likely we’ll run into other traffic.
At the end, the road opens and you reach the ocean.
At least you have something to look forward to at the end of the “road.”
Then it’s 10-15 minutes of walking to a pristine cove of pink sand and clear blue waters, with a sand-bordered islet off the beach. No one but us. Absolutely worth the effort.
We’ve been to this beach many times, and have yet to encounter another human being for miles and miles.
Once we broke ourselves from Fernandez Bay’s gravitational pull, we sailed the 25 miles to Orange Creek. We had east winds – brisk ones – which allowed us to sail almost the entire distance under shortened jib alone. The chart book and chart plotter said that Orange Creek was an ideal anchorage in east winds. Boy, were they WRONG. Even as we approached the appointed anchoring spot, we saw that the chop and swell would make for trouble. It reduced us to lurching around belowdeck like drunks, made the night a sleepless one, and drove me to seasickness pills.
This morning found us cross and cranky, despite the allure of having Orange Creek and its beach to explore.
This squadron of stingrays in Orange Creek this morning helped ease the pain of our night anchored in the chop.
Orange Creek’s beach offers interesting beachcombing.
After having done so, we sought a calmer harbor – so we went the half dozen miles to Bennett’s Harbour. It’s windy, but the sea here is flat. The anchored buried itself in the sand off a pretty beach bordered by rental villas. A good night’s sleep is in our future, I hope.