I have been sailing to the Abacos since the 1980’s. My wife, Sharon and I love the Abacos; we love the water, we love the beaches, we love the towns, but above all of that we love the people.
We did not get to make our yearly five month visit for a few years because of weather conditions, hurricanes and family emergencies. Our last trip we were in Marsh Harbour for nine months where both of us volunteered five days a week at Every Child Counts, a school for special needs children.
We have found that getting involved and giving back to the islands is more rewarding than sailing over for a few weeks to party and have fun in the sun and then return to the states. We have met many friends who have lived in the Abacos for generations through volunteering and attending a local church.
For the above reasons, having to write this letter makes me sad, though I know things change. I understand the Bahamas National Defense Force is an important and necessary branch of the government. Their work with drug intervention, illegal immigration and law enforcement is commendable. However, events over the last few years have led me to believe that someone has lost perspective.
Law abiding boaters from any nation do not mind having to produce the proper documents when a questionable situation develops. However, we are concerned when our boat is boarded by armed men with automatic weapons just to check our paperwork. The older we are, the more nervous this sort of incident makes us.
I can understand the tactic when boarding a high speed boat running through the islands at night with no running lights or acting suspiciously. Unfortunately, the other extreme of this is becoming far too prevalent. The situations I describe below are only two examples of a trend that if allowed to continue or worse yet escalate, will dramatically reduce the number of boaters who choose the Bahamas as a travel destination.
Sharon and I were peaceably docked at a local marina in Marsh Harbour. We had been there for months as we volunteered at ECC.
Out of the blue, the Defense Force invaded the entire harbor. They were heavily armed and boarded every boat. In our case, two armed men with automatic weapons were stationed on the dock at the bow and stern of our sailboat. Their inflatable was moored in the slip next to us and contained another three men while three other armed men boarded us. It took some time to confirm our check in with Green Turtle Customs, and I eventually I had to go ashore to the restroom where I was escorted by an officer carrying an automatic weapon.
Everyone was polite but the situation was unnerving to say the least. At the time, I was 75 years old, six feet tall at 135 lbs. Sharon is maybe 5’3 and was 65 years old. In no sense of the imagination did we present a threat to the Bahamas that warranted an armed response. One officer with a citation book would have served the same purpose, and wouldn’t have left behind a scared and shaken older couple.
Case #2(Via article in Boat US Magazine August/September 2018 issue.)
In a far more frightening environment, friends of ours were onboard their 51+ ft motor yacht this year. They were anchored at uninhabited Great Sale Cay when seven armed agents of the Bahamas Customs and Border Patrol boarded their boat. After checking their documents, the agents began aggressively going through all of their lockers and drawers. They were both in their 70’s, and in no way presented a threat to anyone and certainly not a party of seven armed agents.
The agents informed them that “this is a new policy of the Bahamian government.” This new policy will produce results and the Defense Force will soon have far fewer boats to be concerned about. This type of intimidation sends a definite message to boaters.
In the future, we will bypass your islands and sail to other destinations, islands that don’t greet you with armed forces.
We will sail to islands that welcome you with smiling faces, and invitations to stay as long as we want, islands that are like the Bahamas used to be.
Good Bye Bahamas! Things change, and Sharon and I will miss you but pray that at some point the change will be back to the old island life.
Ron & Sharon Reynolds