A trip to the Bahamas does not have to be a major undertaking; a number of destinations are within easy reach of South Florida. With this in mind, given reasonable seas and a cruising speed of around 20 knots, those longing for a bit of conch and Kalik will find Old Bahama Bay a pleasing target.
Ancient mariners may remember the Jack Tar resort complex on the westernmost tip of Grand Bahama Island. While it was something of an item in the 1950s and '60s, it fell on hard times and was more or less abandoned in the 1980s. In recent years, only the adventurous visited the nearby settlement of West End. Things are looking up for the area thanks to the redevelopment of the property, which is now called Old Bahama Bay. Though it is still a work in progress, it is already one of the finest marine resort facilities I have visited in the Bahamas.
My family and I arrived on a Sunday last summer aboard Anhinga. I figured I would clear customs, spend the night and continue on. We ended up spending a week. I noticed other new arrivals enjoying the same fate, and by Wednesday, only those with reservations found a slip. Others moved on or anchored in the small, protected basin that was created when the old entrance to the marina was closed.
Getting to Old Bahama Bay is easier than navigating the Intracoastal on a weekend afternoon. It is approximately 56 miles from the Palm Beach Inlet. It's a straight shot, but you will have to adjust your heading, taking into account the effect of the Gulf Stream. Making landfall, you will find the drop-off is fairly abrupt, so there is plenty of water little more than a stone's throw from shore.
The new entrance to the marina is the old commercial channel. The approach is straight down the fairway indicated by lighted markers on the breakwater. It is, by my measure, the easiest landing in the Bahamas and one of the few that can be easily mastered by the color-blind. Even so, it is unwise to wander the Bahamas without proper charts and an up-to-date cruising guide.
As you enter the basin, contact the dockmaster on channel 16 for a slip assignment and detailed directions. When we arrived, a staff member helped us tie up and provided all the paperwork necessary for clearing customs. After I filled in the blanks, it was a short walk across the marina to the customs office, where two agents processed my paperwork.
The entire exercise took less than a half-hour. At times during our stay we saw fleets of fresh arrivals in the queue, but the dock staff remained cool, calm, friendly and efficient. These folks are clearly prepared for the weekend warriors in smaller boats who can swarm in the summer.
The marina is brand-new, and the docks are first-class. There are 72 slips for vessels up to 120 feet LOA with drafts up to 8 feet. Thirty-, 50- and 100-amp shore service is available, and each slip offers cable TV and freshwater taps. Additional slips are planned for larger vessels. Gas, diesel and ice are offered for purchase at the fuel dock, and waste pump-out is available. In addition, the resort includes a general store, shower, laundry facilities, and 24-hour security. I am pleased to report that yachtsmen were courteous and the docks were relatively quiet after dark. I am no prude, but I can tell you that this is a bonus during the busy summer months in the northern Bahamas.
Old Bahama Bay's 150 acres are divided roughly between residential properties and the resort property. Of the 24 oceanfront and 58 canal-front home sites, about a dozen had been developed when we visited. The resort facilities, while still under construction, were fully functional.
The marina, bordered by 49 privately owned rental suites managed by Old Bahama Bay, is the centerpiece of the resort. Facilities include an indoor fitness center and recreation area. The Dockside Grill serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I found the menu quite sophisticated for marina fare, and while it was a bit pricey by Bahamas standards, the service, presentation and food were well above average. Do remember to make a dinner reservation. A second restaurant, Aqua, should be opening as you read this. Aqua will focus on formal dining while the Dockside Grill will offer more casual fare.
Tennis courts and a heated freshwater pool are not far from the marina. The beach faces Little Bahama Bank, and the relatively calm, clear water is ideal for children and relaxed adults. A beach bar is quite handy and hosts weekly evening cookouts. Non-motorized water toys (sailboats, kayaks and so on) are available to guests at no charge. The resort also maintains several skiffs for fishing, snorkeling and picnic trips (with a guide).
We brought along our seasoned 13-foot Boston Whaler and spent many delightful hours coasting about, snorkeling and fishing. For the less adventurous, Old Bahama Bay has designated snorkeling trails (a map is available in the resort office). That these waters have not been well traveled in recent years seems a benefit; they have an abundance of sea life.
The lack of people pressure should also favor anglers. Our poorly conceived attempt at scouting out a bonefish did not pan out, but locals assured me that the silver ghost inhabits the nearby grassy shallows (local guides are available). We did find the rather abrupt drop-off on the ocean side productive. After investing just an hour trolling artificial baits, my son Casey released a long-bill spearfish in 1,500 feet of water within sight of the marina.
The small settlement of West End is not yet tuned to tourism, so those seeking more robust nightlife will find the restaurants and casinos of Freeport/Lucaya-40 minutes away by cab-a pleasant distraction. Rental cars also are available on the property. If the weather closes in and you must return to reality, Grand Bahama Airport has regular flights to and from South Florida and beyond. West End's airport is scheduled to re-open in 2004 and will serve private aircraft.
So, you're ready for an island getaway but don't have weeks to work with. Take my advice: Take a short trip for a long weekend to Old Bahama Bay.
Contact: Old Bahama Bay, (800) 444-9469; (242) 350-6500;
While You're There
Air Service (between Grand Bahama Airport and the U.S.) - American Eagle Continental US Airways AirTran Delta Bahamasair
Shoreside Accommodations - Old Bahama Bay hotel suites include linens and towels, CD players, library, cable television, fiber-optic cable for phone, fax and modem lines. Rates, per night: $275 to $535: one bedroom $610 to $1,180: two bedrooms
Marina Rates - $1.25 per foot: including water, through March 31 $1.75 per foot: Sunday through Thursday, April 1 through Sept. 6 $2.25 per foot: weekends and holidays, April 1 through Sept. 6 $.80 per foot: long-term, one to three months $.65 per foot: long-term, four to six months *minimum charge is for 40 feet
Electricity - $.40 per foot, up to 59 feet LOA $.60 per foot, 60 feet LOA and up
Water - $10 per day, up to 59 feet LOA $15 per day, 60 feet LOA and up