Destination : Rock
(previously published in Blue Water Sailing)
Sound, tucked into the southwest shore of Eleuthera, has long been
overlooked as a cruising destination in the Bahamas. In the late 1960's
and early 1970's, Rock Sound was a lively community catering to crowds of
Hollywood jet setters who flew into the local airport on their way to the
very exclusive and trendy resorts nearby. With the collapse of the resorts
in the late 1970's, the town retreated into a quieter existence, the roar
of jet engines no longer signaling the sound of the town's prosperity. And
though this simple town with all its love for tourism stands guard along a
well-protected sound, two miles wide and more than four miles long,
cruising boats were rarely seen.
I first came to Rock Sound two years ago, urged on by
word-of-mouth recommendations by other cruisers. These
recommendations were often proffered in hushed whispers and always
qualified with phrases like "don't believe the guide books" and
"the charts are wrong; there's plenty of water." We were never
sure if they were ashamed to speak louder or if they simply didn't want
others to know what a jewel they'd found. Being an adventurous crew, we
headed for Rock Sound to investigate for ourselves.
charts that showed depths ranging from three to six feet with the words
"submerged coral reef" stamped in the middle of Rock Sound's
anchorage, we maneuvered our five-foot draft Island Packet towards the
harbor. Earlier on the passage, Janet read aloud from Mathew Wilson's The
Bahamas Cruise Guide with the Turks and Caicos Islands - (Third Edition
copyright 2002). On page 149, he says, "After looking at Rock Sound
in every way, and having covered the shore side time and time again, we've
concluded that unless you have a compelling reason to visit this area,
there's nothing that would persuade us to highlight it as a cruising
destination." To say we had low expectations would be a monstrous
the wheel tightly as I piloted Charbonneau into the mouth of the harbor.
Janet was perched on the bow, searching ahead for possible hazards. Just
as we cleared Sound Point at the gate to the harbor, our VHF came alive
with a booming man's voice. "Vessel entering Rock Sound, this is
Dingle Motors. Please acknowledge and switch to channel 17." I slowed
the boat, sure that this 'Dingle Motors' person was calling to warn of our
imminent grounding. To our surprise, Chris Cates - the man behind the
voice - was merely calling to welcome us to Rock Sound and offer an
invitation to use their free dinghy dock, free town water spigot, and to
enjoy the table and stools in their small waterside park. He also assured
us that there were no hazards between us and the town, encouraging us to
aim towards the Batelco telephone tower and "come on in." We
learned later that Chris and his parents, Kermit and Janette Cates, take
it upon themselves to welcome each and every boat when they enter Rock
friendly Dingle Motors
Motors Owners & Staff - Chris, Kermit, Janette & Brad (L-R)
motored towards the town, patches of bright yellow, coral pink, and
subdued greens slowly took the form of buildings neatly arranged along the
shore. We noticed that the waterfront docks and wharfs were in a real
state of disrepair, a lasting mark of previous hurricanes. I have to admit
that the shoreline didn't look all that inviting with its fractured docks
and mixture of rock outcroppings interspersed with casuarinas and a few
palm trees. The town had a very contrarian look: vivid, happy colored
houses set just beyond this inhospitable-looking shore. We took the
optimistic view and focused on the houses, ignoring the shore, and that
made all the difference.
discovered is that, with the exception of the far north and western
shores, the harbor carries a minimum depth of six foot throughout - often
more. The bottom is fairly flat with fair holding in a mixture of marl and
sand on the eastern shore while the northwest corner provides excellent
holding in deep hard-packed sand. The northwest corner is also a superb
location to wait out a passing cold front. We endured twenty-four hours
with sustained winds of thirty knots during one such storm with barely a
ripple in the anchorage.
"submerged coral reef" shown on our Maptech Region 9 Chartkit
(5th edition, 1999) and also on the smaller scale chart in Monty and Sara
Lewis' Explorer Chartbook for the Far Bahamas does indeed exist, but it
lies in the far northwest corner and not in the center of the harbor, as
the charts would lead you to believe. There are also some snags, as you
might expect, along the eastern shore where rocks, Casuarinas, and debris
have been carried into the water's edge from bygone storms. Most snags we
encountered, however, were primarily a hazard to fast-moving dinghies in
the shallow waters near shore. (Note: The larger scale charts of the Rock
Sound area included in Monty and Sara Lewis' Explorer Chartbook depicts
the depths and necessary waypoints very accurately.)
three primary dinghy landings in Rock Sound. The first is Dingle Motors'
dinghy dock located on the southern end of town. A few hundred yards north
is the small dock for the Four Points Restaurant and Tiki Bar. And the
third is located at the extreme northeastern end of the harbor near the
airport. All are free and accessible 24-hours a day.
Four Points Restaurant
& Tiki Bar
ashore, we found it hard to imagine what Mathew Wilson saw that prompted
him to write such a disparaging review of the town for his cruising guide.
The roads were suitably paved with sidewalks in many places. Homes were
neatly kept and surrounded by trim lawns and colorful gardens. And the
town's residents were all outwardly friendly, always making a point to
smile and wave as we walked by. After traveling through almost every
island group in the Bahamas, we could only remember a few places that
equaled Rock Sound's hospitality.
is more to Rock Sound than hospitality. They also have nearly any service
a cruiser could need. Let's begin with the basics: Immigration. Whether
clearing into the Bahamas for the first time or seeking an extension to an
existing immigration permit, Ms. Simonette - located at the airport - is
easily reached and usually available seven days a week. You can call to be
sure she's in the office (242-334-2055) before taking your boat's tender
to the dinghy dock near the airport. The airport's administration office
is only a short walk from there.
provisions, mail, water, and trash disposal are also within easy reach.
Though there are no fuel docks for boats to pull alongside, diesel and
gasoline can be purchased from Dingle Motors and then ferried in jerry
jugs to their dinghy dock - a short twenty yards away. There are two other
gas stations slightly farther north, but they require a much longer walk
to the town's dinghy docks.
- food, liquor, and hardware - are all centrally located at The Market
Place shopping center, two blocks north from the Four Points dinghy dock.
All three stores are well stocked and housed in a single building
resembling a Middle American strip mall from the 1960's. There's no need
to worry about schlepping all your groceries back to the dock. The staff
at the market will drive you back to the dock - for free. In addition to
the Market Place, fresh breads can be purchased from Julian at the local
bakery and simple staple items are available from Dingle Motors.
Sound's post office is located in the large pink-colored Administration
building set back a few streets from the Queen's Highway. For help with
parts or similar shipments, Dingle Motors offers DHL International
service. A reasonable, fee-based Internet connection is available at
Dingle Motors for cruiser's to check their email or surf the Net. Joey and
Margaret Lewless, the owner/proprietors of Four Points Restaurant have
plans to provide a similar Internet service later in 2003.
trash disposal services for visiting cruisers are offered by both Four
Points and Dingle Motors. Four Points has trash bins at the front of their
property and has reverse-osmosis water available for fifty cents per
gallon. Dingle Motors' trash receptacles are located to the left of the
store. Free town water - not necessarily suitable for drinking, but great
for washing needs - can be found at the spigot near Dingle Motors' dinghy
basic needs were met, we turned our attention to the town's restaurants.
With options ranging from traditional Bahamian 'carry-outs' to
full-service dining establishments, we didn't have to look far. Our first
stop was to see our good friend Chris at Dingle Motors. While not a
restaurant, per se, they do offer one of my favorite foods - Dominos
Pizza. Not very luxurious, you say? Try going five months without delivery
pizza and then call me back.
eating our pizza, Kermit Cates - Chris' father - recommended that we also
try Sammy's Restaurant, a small place serving Bahamian and American fare
set back several blocks from the water. The next day, we followed small
signs nailed to telephone poles that, after many twists and turns, led us
to Sammy's. The food was excellent and the prices low.
certainly not in any order of preference, is the Four Points Restaurant
and Tiki Bar, which serves an extraordinary conch salad, in addition to
several Bahamian and American dishes. Meals can be served inside the main
restaurant or outside at the bar overlooking the harbor. Many of the
cruisers we met in Rock Sound found their way to the Tiki Bar each day for
a sunset celebration.
I could go
on and on about all the services in Rock Sound, but I'll close with just a
few more points of interest. If you want to rent a car, see Dingle Motors.
If you need propane, see the gentleman at the Marketplace's hardware
store. If you need to meet guests, have them fly into Rock Sound's airport
on Twin Air's direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale, arriving daily. If you
need something unique as a reminder of your visit to Rock Sound, visit
Janice at her Luna Sea Art Gallery. And if you need a little Divine
Inspiration on Sunday morning, there are several churches from which to
pulled up our anchor and left Rock Sound on our most recent trip, I
realized that I no longer noticed the scraggly shoreline or crumbling docks from years ago. Instead, I
now saw the homes painted in
Caribbean hues and remembered the heartfelt good-bye hugs and farewell
wishes from the residents of Rock Sound. Often now, as Janet and I make
our way from anchorage to anchorage, we find ourselves talking in animated
voices to cruisers we meet about the virtues of Rock Sound. Unlike the
opinion of some cruising guides, we see absolutely every reason to
recommend it as a cruising destination and refuse to whisper about it in
hushed tones. Others must share our opinion because according to Dingle
Motor's informal calculations, the number of visiting boats nearly doubled
within the last year. But don't take our word for it; go discover Rock
Sound for yourself.
an afternoon rest at Dingle Motors' waterfront picnic area and
dreams of our next visit to Rock Sound.