01 September 2012

Operation Go Great Inagua!

An other-worldly landscape; doesn't it deserve some attention?
After an eight-day visit to Great Inagua, I've become a booster. If Great Inagua had a facebook page, I'd "like" it. It ticks me off, that this, the third largest and most southern of all the scad-zillions of Bahamian islands - this majestic and beautiful place - has been so overlooked. Hence the need for Operation: Go Great Inagua (or OGGI).

I've already completed OGGI Phase One, by reaching out to my fellow cruisers. The most common Bahamas cruising guides give hardly a mention to this far-off edge of the island nation, so I started a thread on the Cruisers Forum, "Go to Great Inagua!" And since specifics were lacking or out-of-date, I created a Google Map and wrote a detailed report for Noonsite, the reference site for cruisers.

It's a good start. But I'm not sure what to do next. It's been over a month now, since we left Great Inagua. Still, I find myself thinking about flamingoes and salt: remembering the stunning desolation of that lonely place.
  • Lounge chairs and tables, made from shipping pallets.
    We also saw pallets pressed in to service as fencing material and shutters.
On the northern curve of Man of War Bay, we walked along a picture-perfect beach, soaking up the solitude. We tripped over the conch shells that were strewn everywhere and watched a nurse shark glide along the shore in waist-deep water. There were "ruins" to explore along the sandy beach road: a church with a caved-in roof, then a public restroom with most of the plumbing fixtures long gone. A concrete pier has crumbled into the bay, and a rustic picnic area has been built in a small clearing next to the beach, with a few tables under a tin roof.
We had landed our dinghy on a particularly fine bit of sand near the wooden framework of a small shelter. When we returned to it, a ladder was propped against the frame, and a young man was attaching palm fronds. We waved hello, and continued to walk towards the dinghy. But then I noticed the potcake puppy, resting in the bit of shade that the shelter already provided. Of course, I couldn't resist. While I got some puppy lovin', we chatted with Rolando. 
He was rebuilding the shelter, he said, because he and some friends were having a party here next weekend. Turns out, Rolando is a college kid, home for the summer. He studies mechanical engineering at a university in Miami, courtesy of a scholarship from Morton Salt.
Rolando was wearing a PLP hat, and since the Peoples Liberation Party had just defeated the incumbents in the national elections, we asked him what the victory might mean for Inagua. "I hope it means more investment here. Even a few million dollars..." he left the sentence unfinished. Clearly, hoping is not believing. He'll believe it when he sees it....
OGGI Phase Two.... hmmm. Maybe I oughta write a letter. To the new Prime Minister of the Bahamas. Because... here's the thing. Rolando is right: investment is required. Great Inagua has a lot going for it, but it's a bit... rough, shall we say.

Start with the cruisers, I could suggest to Prime Minister Christie. Great Inagua is ideally located for boats traversing the Windward Passage. Also, some boats who have "done" the Abacos and the Exumas, perhaps over several cruising seasons, might be ready to visit a Bahamian island that is truly and utterly "off the beaten track." Some of the more adventurous sport fishers might be convinced that Bimini is Boring.

Cruisers are a pretty hardy lot; but even so, a few affordances must be made.

The Marsh Harbour dinghy dock - isn't it spiffy?

For the love of all that's holy, put a dinghy dock in the harbour, Mr. Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, probably, has never tried to land a nine-foot dinghy in a two-foot surf on these Matthew Town beaches. Let me just say: It is ridiculous.

I'll bet he could get someone to bang together a dinghy dock for a couple thousand dollars in no time flat. I might tell him to check out Marsh Harbour, where a nifty dock was built by members of the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club.

Two nice little beaches, when viewed from a safe distance, but challenging for dinghy-landings
Then, I might respectfully suggest, the Bahamian government needs to find some investors, so they can start building the breakwater. Probably in Man of War Bay, don't you think, sir? During our visit, the ocean surge and the stiff breeze were relentless - geeze! The super salty sailors, the cheap and the poor and the misanthropic, will all continue to anchor off Inagua's beautiful and lonely shoreline. That's okay. But some boaters will feel safer and more comfortable in a marina.

Wait: not just a marina: Great Inagua needs one of those "eco-resort" developments. Please (I will implore Prime Minister Christie), not a fancy-pants resort that normal tourists can't afford. Just a laid-back, friendly, welcoming place to hang out, for boaters and land-lubbers alike. Get some developers in who will build condos along a stretch of beach. There should be a swimming pool, of course, next to a casual bar and restaurant.

The Prime Minister will need to keep an eye on these developers - of course he already knows that, so I won't insult him by mentioning it, in this letter I'm going to write. And I won't tell him how stupid it would be, to put a golf course here. He will, of course, ensure that the development doesn't damage the environment, that it employs and benefits Inaguans, and that the investors are sufficiently capitalized and appropriately motivated to actually finish the damn thing.

Once the Prime Minister has got that going on, I can start thinking about OGGI Phase Three. Maybe I can do some outreach to small-scale and local investors and entrepreneurs. For one thing, the restaurateurs of Matthew Town are going to have to step up their game. I don't know anything about running a restaurant, but I know this: the power of a signature drink cannot be underestimated. (See excellent Abacos examples in this post: And the Winner Is....) Off the top of my head, how about the Salty Pile, the Great Iguana, the Pink Flamingo....?

Ean and I poked around an abandoned, half-finished building that was surely intended to be a restaurant. It has a huge wrap-around deck and a million-dollar view, right next to the lighthouse. Someone needs to finish this project, and - clearly - the signature drink here should be the Fresnel Fizz.

Future home of the Fresnel Fizz: a great spot for lunch or afternoon drinks, after a visit to the lighthouse
Besides eating and drinking, visitors will want to charter boats for fishing and diving. Great Inagua has shallow-water reefs for snorkeling and steep drop-offs for wall diving and fishing. There are shipwrecks and rumors of buried treasure. The intriguing and seldom-visited Hogsty Reef is just 50 nm away. A sturdy ocean-going dive boat or fishing trawler could run multi-day trips, attracting hard-core, novelty-seeking sport fishers and divers from all over the world.

Just off the beach in Man of War Bay
"The Bird Warden," Mr. Henry Nixon
Birders will want to hire guides for expeditions through Inagua National Park. Of course, the BEST, most authoritative guide is Henry Nixon, known locally as "The Bird Warden." But Mr. Nixon is already a busy guy, so perhaps he should recruit and train some additional guides: especially for the really serious birders who want to hike around for hours and spot all the different species here in the park.

Bird watching for dummies: the flamingoes are hard to miss
To review. Phase One: cruisers. Phase Two: government and major investors. Phase Three: small investors and entrepreneurs. During Phase Four, I'm thinking, I'm going to focus on Morton Salt.

Morton, of course, is the primary (only) industry on Great Inagua, employing nearly 200 people and exporting over a million tons of salt each year. Profit is their primary concern; however, they also have a role to play in OGGI. For visitors to Great Inagua, the salt is striking. A solar saline operation, as it turns out, is pretty interesting.

This, apparently, is one of the smaller pumping stations.  The largest station, according to Henry Nixon, pumps 250,000 gallons of seawater per minute into Lake Windsor and the salt flats.
Salt flats of Great Inagua
The salt trucks haul salt from the flats to the pier.
The salt pier in Man of War Bay, Great Inagua: every eight days, the company boat takes a load of salt to Florida.

So. OGGI Phase Four: I'm gonna write a(nother) letter. I'm going to tell Morton that company's a'comin', and they need to tidy up a little. I think they might need a new PR person. First of all, this sign has GOT to go.

Which do you prefer: "clean, green and pristine" or "spotless, spic and span"? Rhyming or alliteration?
"Inagua is OURS" - what does this even MEAN? Does Inagua belong to... Morton Bahamas, Ltd.? Morton Bahamas is of couse owned by Morton Salt (that's the umbrella girl in the middle of the sign). Windsor Salt -aka The Canadian Salt Company, Ltd. - is another subsidiary of Morton Salt (logo on the right). And the logo on the left? K+S, you may not know, is the German corporation that owns Morton Salt. Two different paternalistic "slogans" sponsored by four corporate entities... this sign gives me a rash.

More importantly, how can there not be a Morton Salt Museum in Matthew Town? A museum could take visitors step-by-step through the solar saline process. It could offer some hands-on demonstrations for the kids, and it could educate visitors about the difference between a solar saline operation and salt mining. Finally, a museum could showcase how Morton contributes to the community by granting scholarships, taking care of the environment, and whatnot.

Clearly, Operation: Go Great Inagua will be a pretty substantial undertaking, requiring a big team. But let's get the ball rolling, shall we? As Rolando said, "Even a few million dollars...." Let's put Great Inagua on the map! Instead of being a quick stop for off-shore cruisers, Great Inagua will become a Must-See Destination for divers, sport fishers, sun-lovers, and bird-watchers. Here's hoping.


  1. Jane -- Brilliant!

    Our time in Great Inagua was indeed far too short -- we never even made it to Man o War -- and I would love to return and as well heartily recommend it as a stop to other cruisers, especially those interested in someplace not DIsnified.

    It's fine balance -- making a place both more approachable yet maintaining its uniqueness. Culebra and Culebrita seem to have that balance about right.

    BTW -- maybe we were lucky but it was a pretty easy dinghy coast for us onto the soft sand beach near Matthew Town's general store.

    Also -- The place you noticed partially built near the light house is clearly moving along. Looks like it's becoming a B&B, one of the only places I saw whose architecture incorporated a back porch to take advantage of ocean view sunsets.

    Oh, and thanks for introducing me to the term "potcake puppy" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potcake_dog.

    1. Dana - thanks for the great feedback - especially the very good news that "The Home of the Fresnel Fizz" is being worked on - it looked pretty much abandoned when we were there, but maybe they were just waiting for the next chunk of cash that they needed to proceed.

      I owned a Potcake from Abaco - she was my sweet girl and lived well past her 14th birthday.

  2. I traveled here in 1972 as a 6 year old with my father, who was a merchant seamen, aboard the Cecile Erickson. This was Morton salt's ship that transported the salt back to the states. We caught many barracudas by the inlet at the pumping station. We swim at a deserted beach with the angelfish, and Coral. We saw pink flamingos. We drove out onto the salt flats. I would love to go back again one day.