By: Marshall Solomon
Shortly after I purchased my Honda® AquaTrax® F-12 from Carolina Honda in Columbia, SC, I started thinking it would be fun to ride my PWC in the Bahamas. I'd cruised in the islands on large boats and had owned various PWCs over the last 10 years, so it really didn't seem like such a far-fetched possibility. The more I thought about the idea, the more convinced I became it would be a fun adventure.
Once there, my wife Linda and I would travel together through the islands, staying at a native cottage or motel each night. Down the eastern coast of the Bahamas is a beautiful island called Elbow Cay. On this small island is a quaint village known as Hope Town, and we decided to rent a cottage there and use this as a sort of base camp. From this centrally located spot we could then journey out on the Honda F-12 each day to surrounding islands and return by evening for dinner and our room. With the speed of the Honda we could explore large areas and visit other islands with ease. If we wanted to go diving, the F-12 would become our dive platform as well.
One of the first places we visited, Little Bahama Bank, is a fairly shallow plateau with water no more than 16 feet deep. Along its outer northern and eastern edges is a narrow chain of mostly broken coral reefs and two notable small islands, called cays (pronounced kays). Each is not much over a mile long. One of these is Walker's Cay, famous for its sport fishing. The other is Grand Cay, a small native fishing settlement poised along the edge of Little Bahama Bank and the deep sea.
Around one o'clock we made Grand Cay, and on shore we found a nice room, as native cottages go. While Linda cleaned up, I secured the Honda and it wasn't long before I'd gathered a crowd of kids, most of which had never seen a PWC. As kids are everywhere, they were bursting with questions as to where we'd come from and just how did the Honda work.
After some delicious, fresh seafood dining and a well deserved night's rest, we rose early, anxious to try to make our destination in Hope Town. By staying close in to the many cays that run like a daisy chain along the route, we avoided much of the sea's direct force rolling in from the east. We entered the next section of the Bahamas known as the Abacos, a semicircular string of cays separated from a large island known as Great Abaco by a shallow band of water some three to five miles wide. This area is locally called the Sea of Abaco.
We made our way along the many low, brush-covered islands, often catching the distinct fragrant smell of tropical vegetation blowing from them. The water now was crystal clear, and we watched the bottom below as our Honda streaked along, passing strangely named islands such as Spanish Cay, Green Turtle, Great Guana, Whale, and Man-O-War. On Manjack Cay we put ashore onto a beautiful beach of soft sand to stretch our legs and have lunch. In the clear waters along the shore we watched three large stingrays glide along the bottom.
By afternoon the outline of the famous candy-striped lighthouse on Elbow Cay came into sight. Hope Town, the main village on the island, is built around a long, narrow bay open at its northwestern end to the Sea of Abaco. Just to the left of this entrance we located our base-camp cottage affectionately known as Upsy Daisy. Our second-floor room gave us panoramic view of the distant cays. Located on the water's edge, I could moor the Honda just beneath our cottage and simply wade to shore.
After shopping for food and some quick sightseeing, by evening we had firmly planted ourselves by the waterfront at a favorite local dining spot. It had been a long day but we were at our cottage, the tropical surroundings were lush and beautiful, and the food and drink so delicious — just another day in paradise.
It has always amazed me how great food tastes when afloat and how tired one gets after a day on the water. We both slept in the next morning till after 10. Compared to the states, things in the islands don't move so fast and life is wonderfully peaceful. Everything is centered about the water. People take water taxis like we ride the bus or a cab. Boats are the family mode of transportation and cars pretty much a rarity because there are few roads. Life is simple, Spartan, generally much less material, yet much more grounded and meaningful; time spent in the islands is wonderful mental therapy. We had certainly come for all this, but we had also come to explore. So with the day passing we packed a lunch, loaded up the Honda, and set out for some island-hopping fun.
The water was calm and we could make some good speed. I've had a variety of boats in my life, from sail to offshore racers, but flying along on a PWC has got to be up there with the best. When water conditions are right, there is nothing to compare with the sensation of opening the throttle and feeling the acceleration into a turn. Just great stuff. We spent the day exploring the neighboring cays, eating lunch under coconut palms on a deserted beach, and discovering secret coves and tiny rocky islands, some barely big enough to stand on.
In the days that followed, we continued our day trips to both unpopulated and popular islands such as Man-O-War Cay just four miles north of Hope Town. The quaint village there is steeped in boat building, and several large wooden schooners — including the William H. Albury — have come from the talented boat builders who live there. Small cottages painted in a rainbow of pastel colors line the narrow streets, and the smell of fresh baked Bimini bread wafts through the air. With tourism the main livelihood, there are many shops featuring local crafts and fashion ware to tempt visitors. Friendly villagers greeted us as we strolled along the waterfront.
Some eight miles across the main channel from Hope Town on the so-called mainland of Great Abaco is Marsh Harbour, the largest of the cities in the Abacos. This city has a large, protected harbor where boats and small ships continuously come and go, bringing and taking their cargos. A visit to Marsh Harbour is like going to the big city for most islanders. Because there is little manufacturing or agriculture in these islands, nearly everything must be imported, and this major port is the lifeblood for most everything people need.
After a morning hike about this micro-metropolis, we were ready to return to more peaceful places. Returning to our Honda at a small community dock, we found several islanders checking her out. Though they were familiar with PWCs they had only heard about the new Honda from the television, and wanted to know all about it and where we had come from. This was becoming a regular occurrence wherever we stopped. After relating our trip and opening all the hatches for a look-see, we headed for lunch at a popular resort marina known as Boat Harbour.
The normal route to get there meant traveling some seven miles around two outlying islands known as Sugar Loaf and Matt Lowe's Cays. This route avoided the shallow water between the two cays. After examining the chart, I decided we could save a few miles by cutting between the two cays. With the Honda we could easily skim over the two-to-three-foot-deep water there. Our passage between the cays and over the shallows proved another advantage of traveling by PWC. We were proving, as we'd thought all along in our trip planning, that our Honda was not only capable, but a fun choice. By 12:30 p.m. we had tied up at the Boat Harbour Marina and were having freshly caught grilled grouper and drinks at the tropical in-the-water pool bar.
Toward sunset we motored over to the lighthouse dock and walked a narrow path leading to the lighthouse atop the hill. We climbed the 101 steep steps to the lantern deck just in time to catch the golden orange sun dip below the horizon—a perfect ending to a perfectly beautiful day.
Well rested by next morning, we once again set out on the Honda, this time to a more distant area known as Little Harbour, about 15 miles to the south. Little Harbour was the home of an old friend of mine who had passed away, Randolph Johnston, a world-famous bronze sculptor and artist. Earlier in my life I had worked with Ran and his gentle wife, Margot, in their studio at Little Harbour. There I'd helped this amazing artist cast a bronze sculpture known as Brave Front. I had fond memories of this place and it was so great to journey there once again. Seas were near perfect and we streaked along as if the Honda was on rails. The clear aqua-colored water whisked by us ,and the warm tropical breeze caressed our faces.
In short time we were entering the narrow entrance that opens to the round, wind-protected basin of the small harbor. It felt as if I had but left the day before, as the so-familiar soft-pink house and powder-blue studio of my old friends stood waiting. Memories of good times gone by swept through my mind. Sometimes there is truth in the saying you can’t go back, but I was grateful to have come. Gazing upon this place and the various bronze sculptures Ran made right here on this small, remote island using but the simplest of tools and his great talent made for a very special experience. We walked into the old studio where more than 30 years ago I had helped pour the fiery-hot molten bronze that would form a unique piece of art. There are experiences that stay with us forever. This was one.
For several hours we explored the area about Little Harbour. Ran and Margot had come here with their children in the 1950s. Then, and still somewhat today, it was a very remote place. Together they hacked out a place from the dense jungle, built their home and studios, and raised their family. Ran was what one might call an early individualist. It was a hard life by our standards, yet it offered a natural beauty and serenity few of us will ever know. This is a very special place to me, and as we rode back to Hope Town I realized just how wonderful this trip had become.
For several more days we continued to explore neighboring cays. Calm weather plus the Honda’s speed and long permitted us to see cay after cay. We traveled up to Great Guana Cay, about 15 miles to the north, for a day of beachcombing. We also cruised over colorful reefs with huge coral heads below, snorkeled the ledges off the beaches, and sometimes just snoozed on the sugarlike sand on some private beach we temporarily called our own.
Alas, all good things must end. Our time in the Bahamas had all too soon run out. After our goodbyes to our hosts, the Jones, we headed back up the Sea of Abaco. On our way back, locals we’d met the first time saw us return and eagerly met us at the dock with anxious questions about our journey. Like some sort of old-home week, we related our story, the fun we enjoyed and the places seen. Even the motel restaurant joined in the welcome back by preparing us a fantastic meal of fresh grilled fish and fabulous stone crabs. These friendly folks seemed to take pleasure in our accomplishment, and together we ate, drank and enjoyed an evening of laughter and fun.
As I rode, I reflected on the trip. We had covered many miles, yet through it all the little Honda had done her job, never missed a beat, never needed more than fuel. She had carried us safely and made possible wonderful memories to last a lifetime. How much more could one ask? Thank you God, thank you Honda.