The body of water bordered by the Abaco Island to the west and the smaller barrier islands to the east, by Whale Cay to the north and Marsh Harbour to the south is commonly called the Sea of Abaco, although it doesn’t seem large enough to qualify as a Sea. In its Southeastern corner lies a small island that vaguely resembles an arm bent in the middle with its “elbow” pointed to the east.
Elbow Cay is an active center of tourism in the Abacos islands, with marinas and rental cottages sprinkled throughout the island, however life on this island revolves around a settlement surrounding a well protected bay on the inside of the elbow known as Hopetown.
Hopetown is the most picturesque settlement we have seen in the islands so far. The houses are meticulously kept up and painted a delightful array of pastel colors; with no two adjacent houses the same color. The streets are clean and garbage is nowhere to be seen. The beach along the Atlantic side has beautiful pink coral sprinkled in the powdery, clean sand; protected from the ocean by the offshore reef.
Hopetown is watched over by candy-striped lighthouse constructed by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service during the American Civil War. The Elbow Reef Lighthouse warns ships straying too close to the reef with a light seen up to 20 miles out to sea; a light that emanates from a kerosene lantern that projects through a rotating Fresnel lens, all maintained by a lighthouse keeper.
Hopetown was settled by Loyalists, settlers who remained loyal to the British Crown, who fled the United States after the American Revolution. A widow from Charleston, SC named Wyannie Malone is credited with founding the settlement in 1785, and a Historical Museum bearing her name is maintained by the community of Hopetown.
The Loyalists came to the Abaco islands hearing promises of fertile farmland with which they hoped to capture trade with the British that America gave up with their revolt, but it didn’t quite work out that way. The land and climate didn’t lend itself well to farming as the Loyalist had hoped, so to survive they divided their time between farming what land they could, learning to fish the offshore waters, and what’s called Wearing, the practice of selling parts salvaged from ships wrecked on the nearby reefs.
When the British built the lighthouse on Elbow Cay it signaled the beginning of the end of Wearing in the islands, and fishing has fallen into decline just like most areas. In the end Tourism has won out as the mainstay for the local economy. So far our experience in the Abacos , especially in and around Hopetown, has been that they do it with a degree of sociability and customer service that we have yet to experience in other islands. The islanders are warm and friendly; they make us feel welcome and are anxious to see that we enjoy everything that their lovely island has to offer.
Elbow Cay has become one of our favorite spots in the Bahamas. We may not stay much longer, but we most certainly want to come back.