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    Updated: 25-Apr-2006

Destination : Rock Sound Eleuthera
Blaine Parks
(previously published in Blue Water Sailing)

     Rock 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.

     Janet and 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.

     Armed with 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 understatement.

     I gripped 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 Sound.

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The always friendly Dingle Motors 
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Dingle Motors Owners & Staff - Chris, Kermit, Janette & Brad (L-R)

     As we 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.

     What we 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.

     The "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.)

     There are 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.

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Four Points Restaurant & Tiki Bar  

     Once 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.

     But there 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.

     Fuel, 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.

     Provisions - 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.

     Rock 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.

     Water and 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 dock.

     Once our 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.

     While 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.

     Last, but 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 choose.

     As we 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.

Janet enjoys an afternoon rest at Dingle Motors' waterfront picnic area and dreams of our next visit to Rock Sound.