a  magazine  of  travel  and  discovery

by George Oxford Miller

For an hour we’ve floated in the shallow tidal flats around Long Island—that would be Long Island in the Bahamas where the sand sparkles like spilt sugar and the water looks like turquoise ink. With rich aquamarine hues and puffy clouds suspended in a pastel sky, the setting feels like a watercolor painting and I’m the tiny figure in the foreground.

Our boat putters over a giant eagle ray silhouetted against the sand like a cloud shadow. An osprey zooms overhead gripping his catch in his talons. The only sounds come from twittering birds in the mangroves. Once again I lose my concentration. I'm supposed to be looking for the ghostly white silhouettes of bone fish hovering over the sandy bottom.

The Out Islands, the small islands and cays south of Nassau and Grand Bahama, are world famous for bone fish fishing. The flighty fish, which bolt at the slightest disturbance, test the skills of the most astute angler. Though only two-feet long, the supercharged critters fight like a tarpon and run like a marlin. But all we've caught so far are hand-sized blue runner jacks and sheepshead poggies. Not that I mind. Casting lazily into the vivid water, I feel more like a painter dipping a brush into cobalt paint than a fisherman.

The flight from Nassau to Long Island takes about half an hour, but the distance isn’t accurately measured in minutes or miles. With no casinos, cruise ships, or traffic lights, and more goats than people, the island exists in a different dimension from Freeport and Nassau. People come to the Out Islands to fish, to relax on isolated beaches, to escape the hubbub of the tourist centers. Our hotel, the Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort, doesn’t even have locks on the 20 beachfront bungalows.

One road runs the length of the 75-mile-long, 4-mile-wide island, and from the high point you can see from sea to azure sea. The unlined two-lane winds through hamlets with names that commemorate events buried deep in the past: Burnt Ground, Deadman’s Cay, Hard Bargain. Cape Santa Maria, on the northern tip, was named after Columbus’s ship which anchored in the bay in 1492.

Suddenly, my fishing rod jerks me back to the present. The reel starts singing. “Hey, now you caught a bone fish!” our guide, Big Dog Smith, shouts. “See how he runs with the line. Tighten up the tension.” My rod arches with the pull of the pint-sized fighter. The bone fish whips out 50 yards of filament in a matter of seconds.

Then, something larger strikes the line. The whirl of the reel goes from a samba to a tango. A four-foot reef shark breaks the waves and spins in the air. “Oh, man, a shark took your fish,” Big Dog says. “Now, we gotta’ break the line.”

After our fishing excursion, we pack up to explore the southern reaches of the narrow island. A row of hills forms a rugged backbone for the scrubby, rocky island. Mysterious blueholes dot the Bahamian waters like navels into the unknown. We look at a survey map made by a Cuban marine research team. This bluehole, located in a secluded cove and surrounded by cliffs, reportedly descends 600 feet underwater.

We plunge into the cooling waters and swim across the circular abyss. The sparkling white sand angles down at 45 degrees then plunges into the unknown. A myriad of multicolored fishes hover around the edge of the dark recess. Occasionally a larger fish appears and circles the pit. 

On the way back north we stop for lunch at Max’s Conch Bar and Grill, a roadside cook shack in Deadman’s Cay. The two resorts on the island, Cape Santa Maria and Stella Maris, serve outstanding seafood and local cuisine, but Max’s conch salad equals any you’ll find in the islands.

Other roadside shops offer island crafts. Basketry, or straw works, is a Long  Island tradition that transcends centuries and cultures. The Long Island History Museum displays artifacts that date back to the first inhabitants. The Lucaya Indians lived in the Bahamas from AD 500 until Columbus first landed on nearby San Salvador. Weaving dried palm fronds continues today as a refined handicraft with baskets, trays, mats, and purses for sale in local shops.

One of the main reasons people come to Long Island and the other Out Islands is for escape. If you like isolated beaches, you’re not alone, but you can be on Long Island. With only 20 duplex bungalows, Cape Santa Maria Resort has a maximum of 80 guests for four miles of beachfront. I walk a mile down the beach and see only one couple. The pinkish sand feels like cold silk under my feet and the waves lapping the beach are so blue you’d think they leave a stain.

On our last day we kayak along the shore from the resort to the marker where Columbus landed, a structure that resembles a half-scale lighthouse, and return in time to sit in silence and watch the sunset. The sky blazes with color, the first act of a nightly celestial spectacle. Once darkness falls, millions of stars hover just out of reach. After dinner, we gaze into the heavens with the surf lapping at our toes. I realize that the next time someone mentions Long Island, it won’t be New York that pops into my mind.

If you like isolated beaches, you’re not alone, but you can be. on Long Island.

Long Island in the Bahamas offers an Out Island escape.

All contents of this website copyrighted and cannot be used without permission of George Oxford Miller