By Dorie Cox
Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, made international headlines for nearly two weeks after tearing across two major island areas in the north of the Bahamas.
Even so, the majority of the Bahamas, including the most popular yachting cruising grounds remained untouched.
Joe Dargavage, vice president of the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM), was surprised to find people in Europe thought the whole of the Bahamas had been destroyed.
“I asked everyone when I was in Monaco, and everyone felt like the Bahamas just got washed away, from the taxi driver to brokers,” Dargavage said. “My driver had a cruise to the Bahamas in December that he was going to cancel.”
ABM, a group of 48 marinas and members, is on a mission to educate potential visitors that most of the Bahamas are open for business.
Much of the confusion comes from the size of the Bahamas, about 100,000 square miles in total. The country is comprised of about 700 islands with 2,000 rocks and cays. The ABM breaks the nation into 16 major islands. Although the destruction is severe where it is, the group’s members clarify that 14 of those major island areas did not have any hurricane damage.
“The storm was terrible, there’s no doubt about that,” said ABM president Peter Maury, by phone in early October. He is general manager of Bay Street Marina on Nassau, New Providence, in the Bahamas. “I’m an eighth generation Bahamaian. We’ve been through this before and we can recover. To say we’ve been blown away is just not true.”
A big misconception is the geography and layout, Maury said. Most of the damage lies around the northernmost Grand Bahama — where estimates are that nearly half of the homes on the island were destroyed — and around the Abaco Islands, which include Great Abaco, Little Abaco, Walker’s Cay, Grand Cay, Spanish Cay, Green Turtle Cay, and Hope Town. Many visitors know of the Abacos’ commercial hub, Marsh Harbour.
The group “got on the marketing right away,” Dargavage said. As managing partner at Romora Bay Resort and Marina on Harbour Island, he saw how the 2017 hurricanes in the Caribbean left potential visitors unclear on what areas were impacted. Many yachts and charter guests delayed or cancelled visits that winter
“We know what happened in the Caribbean,” Dargavage said. “They waited too long to let people know how things were. I want to talk about it.”
Part of that message, members of the ABM believe, is that a major way to support the rebuilding efforts in the north and the local population overall is to visit the area.
“Tourism makes up almost 70% of our nation’s GDP,” Dargavage said. And he shared a post from the group: “This revenue not only supports all the Bahamian people, it will be a driving force behind the rebuilding of the hurricane damaged islands of the Abacos and Grand Bahama. Many, if not all, of the residents of these two islands, may have to relocate to other islands within The Bahamas for a while. They, too, will most likely be supported by the tourism industry, as this is where the bulk of our jobs lie.”
By mid-October, another ABM email stated that, “Both islands are making great strides, particularly Grand Bahama where Grand Bahama Yacht Club has already re-opened and Old Bahama Bay is scheduled for full reopening on Nov. 1.”
Aids to navigation and channel markers have been located and the waters of southern Abaco will be available for yachts to transit by December, according to Maury. Mooring fields are available and yachts can tie up at anchor.
Walkers Cay is open to the north of Abaco and he recommended yachts consider a visit to the southern Abaco area. “Spend a couple nights, then continue on your itinerary to the Berries and the Exumas,” Dargavage said. “The single most important thing that the boating and yachting community can do for The Bahamas and its people is to come visit.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Triton Publisher Lucy Chabot Reed contributed to this report. Comments are welcome below. For updates from the Association of Bahamas Marinas, visit bahamasmarinas.com.