I’ve been frequenting the Berry Islands since the 1980s as I worked on projects from Chub Cay and Whale Cay in the south to Great Harbour Cay in the north with several other Berry Islands in between. In more recent years I've enjoyed the islands even more as I explore them in my old dive boat “Gone Astray”.
The Berry Islands are located on the southern edge of the northeast Providence Channel, a major shipping route from Europe to America. Along that channel a hoard of cruise ships visit the Berry’s Stirrup Cays where guests enjoy great beaches and snorkeling. I hear today they even have zip lines and swimming pigs like those in the central Exumas.
A well-known wrecker named Cameron lived on Little Stirrup in the 1700s, today the island is known as CocoCay. Wrecking was a common occupation in the Bahamas which involved salvaging cargo from ships that wrecked on the endless reefs that surround the island nation. Bahamian wreckers also worked the Florida Keys reef and settled there even before Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819. A noted settlement on Great Stirrup was Williams Town that had a customs house during the time of Britain’s King William IV. Freed slaves were settled there by Bahamas Governor William Colebrooke in 1836 after British emancipation in 1834. Prior to that, British Navy Captain Allan Bertram was buried on the island, leaving his name on Bertram’s Cove. In 1863 the British Imperial Lighthouse Service built a light on Great Stirrup which still functions today, though now on solar power instead of whale oil and kerosene that was originally used with lighthouse keepers present.
One of my favorite Berry Island stories involves Whale Cay which was bought by Joanne ”Joe” Carstairs in 1934. Joe was a Standard Oil heiress who grew up in London and became a famous speed boat racer, besting many men of the day. She transformed Whale Cay into her own sanctuary with hundreds of Bahamian employees to tend her home and to play in her marching band which residents in Nassau would boat over to see. Ms. Carstairs had affairs with movie stars Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo and named a beach on Whale “Beach La Femme”. Besides famous girlfriends, other celebrity guests included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Duke having abdicated the throne to England before serving as Governor of The Bahamas during World War II.
East of Whale is Little Whale Cay which was owned by American entrepreneur Wallace Groves who created Freeport, Grand Bahama in the mid-1950s. He had a home, a private airstrip and a menagerie of wildlife on Little Whale including peacocks and other exotic birds, many of which survived him.
While the Berry Islands are a popular cruise ship destination, they’re also an ideal cruising spot for private vessels to enjoy the many islands, beaches and secret little coves. I’ll continue to enjoy them on our new boat!For more information on The Bahamas, visit our site and check out A History of The Bahamas Through Maps and our other items! Call us at 239-963-3497 with any questions!
I like the Jumentos Cays because of the remote nature of the long archipelago which stretches from south of Great Exuma to the Ragged Islands off the north coast of Cuba. It’s some 80 miles from one end to the other with several protected anchorages along the way, the only access is via boat. We spent 4th of July weekend there recently and enjoyed it thoroughly while we fished and explored the little islands and beaches that run down the chain. You seldom see anyone and there are no facilities other than in sparsely populated Duncan Town on Ragged Is. (which has the only airstrip in the Jumentos). Duncan Town is interesting since the salt flats a
re still intact, solar evaporation salt production is how it sustained itself in years past.
Adjacent to the Jumentos are the deep waters of the Crooked Island Passage, thousands of feet deep with Crooked and Acklins on the far eastern side. Most of the Jumentos are small islands that have seen little or no attempt at any permanent settlement, though some ruins and remnants of slave built walls remain. While the islands are generally unpopulated, in modern times they’ve seen seasonal fish camps due to the abundance of snapper, crawfish, conch and other catches.
Most written history on the area revolves around Ragged Island/Duncan Town. The town was named after one of two brothers who were British Loyalists, Duncan and Archibald Taylor. Major Archibald Taylor assisted Colonel Andrew Deveaux in taking Nassau back from the Spanish in 1783, a famous ruse where an outnumbered Loyalist force under Deveaux outsmarted the Spanish garrison by shuttling forces in small boats to a shore landing out of site. The soldiers would then lay down in the boats as they rowed back out to Deveaux’s small fleet where they would stand up and be counted again by the Spanish as they rowed back in. The numbers added up and the Spanish surrendered without a fight. Families who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War were sometimes granted large tracts of land in The Bahamas by King George. This is likely how the Taylor brothers ended up with land on Ragged Island.
The brothers built Ragged Island’s salt ponds with the help of slave labor, and by 1886 the town was flourishing with more than 300 inhabitants. British emancipation freed the slaves in 1834, but Ragged Island continued to trade salt for fruits, vegetables and other materials from Cuba until 1960 when the new communist government came into power. At that point coastal trade with Cuba became difficult and the salt trade all but died. Coastal trade of another sort came to Ragged Island in the late 1970s and 80s, that of drug trafficking. The relatively narrow gap between Ragged Island and Cuba is patrolled by three different entities: the Cuban Coastal Defense Force, The Royal Bahamas Defense Force and various entities of the U.S. government including the Coast Guard. Cuban vessels wouldn’t chase drug-running boats outside of Cuban waters and Bahamian/American craft wouldn’t chase them in Cuban waters. This allowed drug runners the alternative of leaving Cuban waters if Cuban vessels were spotted or entering Cuban waters if Bahamian or American boats were in the area. Some of the drug boats would consequently end up in Duncan Town’s harbour.
I’m not certain of any smuggling activity today but feel that Ragged Island and the Jumentos Cays are a safe location to boat and plan on going there again soon.If you are interested in learning more about Bahamian history, check out our other blog posts and The Bahamas: A History Through Maps! Please contact us at 239-963-3497 with any questions including custom orders.
I made the map as a gift for a Kiwi friend on the South island who routinely leaves cases of the wine he makes "Middle Earth" at my house when he visits. We've toured the world together; Cuba, Panama, Bahamas, the American southwest, throughout Europe, Turkey and Russia. When I'm in New Zealand he takes me everywhere from lovely islands in the north to the southland region, even to the remote Chatham Islands far offshore.
I wanted to make a map worthy of the landscape and enlisted the help of another friend from New Zealand who spent his early years on tug boats and barges around the coasts of both islands. An example of his nautical expertise was a suggestion that the Humpback and Blue whales shown on our draft map be reversed based on where he saw them while operating vessels offshore (Blue whales being primarily in the extreme south, Humpbacks slightly further north, who knows that!)
The map further evolved when I visited my wine friend for a wild ride around New Zealand visiting spots I'd missed on earlier trips. We met other Kiwis who made map comments along the way using his truck, ferries, planes and helicopters for access. The result was a beautiful map which hangs on walls across New Zealand and is now on display at the gallery of Island Map Publishing in Naples.
To purchase the New Zealand map visit our site here or call 239-963-3497 for more details! Island Map Publishing is happy to work with you on special orders or assist the right product for your space.
We've sold and donated many Florida Keys maps over the years and now produce it in both bright colors and antique earth tones taken from an original map I own from 1695.
Like my antique map collection, we produce maps that are made to display on your wall. Before the digital age, printed maps were more common and for centuries beautiful wall maps were a sign of wealth and knowledge. We have recreated that art.
There's been renewed interest in the Florida Keys map since in March 2020 when our company (Island Map Publishing) released a new book "The Florida Keys, A History Through Maps". The book displays the Keys map in various ways, like to show the location of ship wrecks. We also created 10 enlarged area maps of the Keys from North Key Largo to Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
Both our maps of the Keys and our book are works I'm proud of. They both will be passed down through time as a way to convey information and history in an interesting way.
For more information on the Florida Keys map and options click here or call 239-963-3497! Our books are available at islandmapstore.com as well as well as Amazon. Be sure to also follow our Instagram for updates on our blog, press and upcoming events!
The Bahamas map and others we now produce are made combining elements from many different sources. We strive for accuracy and in most cases I physically visit the area of the map we're making. Local knowledge is important and it's best earned by going there!
Our map of The Bahamas is displayed in airports, businesses, homes and resorts throughout the U.S. and The Bahamas. It's on the walls of many yachts and cruise ships and I've even seen it hanging in the office of the Bahamian Prime Minister! The U.S. Embassy and Navy in Nassau have framed copies and it's displayed at U.S. Customs in Naples and in Bahamian Customs offices on several different islands.
Our company Island Map Publishing sells The Bahamas map at boat shows and online here, it makes a wonderful gift for island lovers. We now produce over a hundred maps that include the Bahamas, Caribbean, Florida and the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S.
For more information about our maps please call 239-963-3497 or visit our site. We also offer custom options and can work with you to find the best option for your space!