|A former paradise for smugglers, this island now boasts new marinas, excellent snorkeling and fishing, and the best conch fritters anywhere.|
A former paradise for smugglers, this island now boasts new marinas, excellent snorkeling and fishing, and the best conch fritters anywhere.
There are 700 islands in the Bahamas, and at 17 miles at its widest point and 96 miles at its longest, Grand Bahama Island is the fourth largest in the chain. Size aside, an interesting history, promising future, and close proximity to Florida make it an attractive destination for U.S. cruisers.
Following the Spanish claim of the island in 1492, it was given the name Gran Bajamar, meaning "great shallows." Shortly thereafter the island's natives, the Lucayans, were enslaved and transported to other islands to work mines and fisheries. For almost 200 years Grand Bahama was virtually uninhabited, as captains were reluctant to approach its reefs and shallow waters. In the mid-1600s groups of English and Bermudan religious refugees formed permanent settlements in the islands of the Bahamas, and by 1717, the Bahamas became an official British crown colony. Grand Bahama, however, became a stopping ground for pirates who used the island's shallow waters to force vessels aground and rob them, a practice that lasted for several decades. By 1720, however, Great Britain had successfully controlled the pirates, and the activity ceased.
The island remained sparsely populated until the 19th century when the first permanent settlers, who primarily worked as fishermen, arrived. A boom during the early 20th century, spurred by Prohibition in the United States, brought more people to Grand Bahama. Warehouses, distilleries, bars, and inns were built at West End. When prohibition ended, however, the island's economy was devastated and its population declined.
In 1955 American developer Wallace Groves dreamed of creating a tax-free city on the island. Freeport was born, and from 1963 to 1967 the island's population tripled as tourism and manufacturing flourished. Today the island is experiencing a renaissance as developers renovate properties and plan to build new ones.
There are many docking options in Freeport, a few of which have recently been renovated and feature modern facilities and adjacent accommodations. Port Lucaya and Lucayan Marina are two examples, and they're also official ports of entry. Call the dockmaster on VHF channel 16 before you arrive. Port Lucaya Marina can accommodate yachts to 170 feet in its 106 berths. Phone: (242) 373-9090. Lucayan Marina Phone: (809) 373-8888 can accommodate boats up to 130 feet LOA in its 150 slips. Running Mon Marina & Resort's recent renovation makes its 43 slips (maximum length 110 feet) another attractive option. Phone: (242) 352-6834.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.