Before traveling to Cat Island, I knew nothing about it. I did not know that it was the home island of Sidney Poitier, the first black man and first Bahamian to win an Oscar for Best Actor. I did not know it was the first place that Columbus touched land in the “New World”. Ok, there’s certainly a lot of debate on this one, but our local guide made a pretty compelling argument, and since I was standing on the sand in the very harbor which the guide said was Columbus’ first anchorage, I choose to believe it! And I definitely did not know anything about beloved Father Jerome.
Father Jerome was a British architect, turned Anglican priest, turned catholic priest who was assigned to the Bahamas to build churches after the 1908 hurricane caused massive devastation. His churches are still in use on several Bahamian islands, including Cat. At the end of a long and prolific life, he designed and built by hand a hermitage on the summit of the highest hill in the Bahamas, and retired there to a simple life of prayer. He is buried in a cave on the hill, designed to look like Christ’s tomb.
We hiked to the top of Como Hill, and were in awe of the amazing hermitage at the top. Ok, it’s no Colorado 14’er, but the last steep climb really does get the heart pumping!
Gate to the walking path
The Hermitage includes a church, bell tower, stations of the cross, and living spaces.
Finally at the top!
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair!
Father Jerome must have been a very short man. Everything from the stairs, to the doors, to the windows, to the bed is about three quarters the normal size.
After a short ( but hot!) walk from the anchorage, I visited the New Bight Catholic Church that Father Jerome designed.
With the door and shutters open wide, it would have a lovely breeze for Sunday services.
New Bight also has the best grocery store since Marsh Harbour. I guess it is more than a grocery store; you can also find school supplies, shoes, a good selection of hardware and household goods. And when we asked when the liquor store next door would open, the owner pulled a key off the hook on the wall and said, “right now” and let us in.
Just north of town, there is a colorful collection of wooden shacks that turned out to be small bars and restaurants. These shacks and the sailing club (plus the nicest public restrooms we’ve seen in the Bahamas) make up regatta park, where things must really get hopping during Regatta festivities in August. We spent A LOT of time here, eating excellent food, enjoying some cold beverages and meeting the local Cat Islanders. Our favorite restaurant was the family-run Hidden Treasures, where at least three generations (maybe four!) of women served the best jerk chicken, burgers, and pina coladas we’d enjoyed anywhere in the islands. The owners husband is head chef at the Albany resort in Nassau, founded by Joe Lewis, Tiger Woods, and Justin Timberlake, so obviously a talent for cooking and wonderful recipes run in the family. Ok, I had to look up the Albany resort. Apparently residences start at $5 million, and resort accommodations start at $2,500 per night. Dad must really be an excellent chef! I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience his jerk chicken marinade on a sandy beach for only $15.
Playing with little Destiny at Hidden Treasures.
Mike always orders the Pina Coladas. This one was excellent!
While the atmosphere was laid back and beach at Hidden Treasures, we could tell there was quite a party raging next door at the Starlight takeaway. So after lunch, we walked over and had a drink with the locals including Bull Hog, who kept exclaiming “I’m 39 years old, but I been playing the Rake ‘n Scrape for 68 years!” He’d clearly been drinking for a while, and shouted out quite a few other things, not exactly fit to print. Everyone welcomed us, made room on the benches, and asked where we were from and how we were enjoying their beautiful island.
Over the next couple of days, we rented a car and attempted to see every single site of interest on all of Cat Island. No, that’s not really an exaggeration. Since there’s only one real road on the island, we couldn’t really get lost, but it was a bit of a trick to figure out where we were at any given moment! First we headed south, and pulled over at Sweet Tambrin restaurant, where Daisy Mae sold homemade papaya hot sauces and jams, and served a killer papaya smoothie. She has marine biology students from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg stay with her for three weeks every year, performing research.
We explored the Greenwood Beach Resort, one of the most beautiful long beaches I’ve seen outside of a national park. If you find yourself on Cat Island without a sailboat, stay here!
Heading back north, we stopped at the Bat Cave. True to its name, it was filled with sleeping bags. Not so sleepy when we disturbed them with noise and cell phone flash lights!
After lunch at Sunshine Restaurant, we stopped for drinks at a stone bar so New, it didn’t yet have a name or a sign. But it did have a lovely view over the crashing waves, and a fairly big crowd for a weekday afternoon. We talked with the two customs officers from Nassau who had been assigned to Cat Island since January. Talked about their home islands, their favorite spots on Cat, and the difficulties of being stations so far away from their families. After a long chat, they treated us to a round of drinks and I gave them our boat card. Did I mention how amazingly kind and friendly everyone we met on Cat Island was?
Further north, we truly got off the beaten path, in order to explore Great Crown Cave. We’d read that Cat Island is riddled with caves, some opening to the ocean, and some you could hike to. But we couldn’t find any maps of detailed directions. One guide book said, “stop at the C and S farm supply store, and ask for Mr. Gaiter.” So, we did! He was sitting on a step right outside the store, and Sharon got out to ask for directions. It was a bit complicated; something like “go back the way you came, turn at the Ebeneezer Church, keep following the dirt road over a few hills, don’t turn at any of the turns, and when you get to the end of the road, the entrance is nearby.” Of course, he also said, “The Cave is three miles long. If you get lost in there, they won’t find you for weeks.” Our intrepid group of adventurers was not deterred. However, our rental mini van was not quite up to the dirt road. We went as far as the van could manage, got out and started walking, followed an unmarked dirt trail, and lo and behold! We found the cave! Or at least a hole in the ground with a rope leading down to what was probably a cave. We peer pressured each other to climb down and explore a bit by cell phone light. I was the voice of reason who stayed within view on the light of the entrance calling out, “don’t go much further Mike” while he kept going to ” just one more cavern”. I have to admit it was a pretty cool natural experience, and we tried our best to get good photos of the stalagmites and stalactites in all of their glory.
North again to Shanna’s Cove, another absolutely lovely small resort. If you find yourself on Cat Island without a sailboat, stay here too! The owner, Gabi, was lovely and talked to us for quite a while about what it was like to buy a property in the Bahamas and design a build a resort. Her homemade pizzas looked amazing! From there, we hiked to Man o War Point, where the sound and the ocean meet with a crash.
After returning the rental van we decided to relocate the big boats from the New Bight anchorage to Rolleez resort anchorage, in the hopes of a calmer night and less rocking and rolling. Z-Rays was already at that anchorage, so Orion took Drew on board, and Sanitas took Sharon, and we had a fun race of about 6 miles to the next harbor. Wind was perfect and Sanitas won! (Although Capt. Bob or Orion later said he didn’t know it was a race. Harrumph.)