"Escape, escape from what? Why, escape from the sea."
Or a short story about how and why I placed myself into this extraordinary
life threatening situation and how I managed to get out of it.
Want to get out, here you go. This is the best, perhaps only realistic place to exit the ocean along five or so miles of wave pounded, 25 to 80 ft. vertical rock cliffs in the area of Glass Window Bridge, Eleuthera in the Central Bahamas. I am near the center of the frame in all that white water.
Sending my kite to safety high up on the cliffs. Next how to get myself up there in one piece to join it?
"X" marks the spot between North and Central Eleuthera or about 225 miles ESE of Miami and 52 miles ENE of Nassau.
Part I - Some Background on Glass Window Bridge
I enjoy photographing dramatic structures such as shipwrecks, lighthouses and geologic features while kiting using GoPro cameras. I also have had a passion for open ocean round trip kiting runs, at times challenging ones going back a dozen years or more. These kiting runs have happened both at home and abroad in some exotic settings. So, this experience combined aspects that were well familiar along with some new, alarming hazards that I had the opportunity to try to learn about on the fly. This overview provides a look at some of the basis for what was to develop into a somewhat unhealthy fascination for the place. The fascination still exists but hopefully the lust to get up close and personal with the hazardous side of this dramatic and occasionally violent place has ebbed in the face of experience.
The view south over the area of Glass Window Bridge into Central Eleuthera. There are the deep cobalt waters of the Atlantic to the east with the light powder blue waters over the brilliant white carbonate sands of the Bahamian Plateau to the west. I shot this photo in 2014 when Capt. J. P. Robinson and I flew over to the island for some kiting and diving one weekend in March. It was an amazing action packed visit to this world class destination. I visited the area again for just 24 hours in January 2016 which is in large part the subject of this article.
Note the wave cut caverns at the cliff base. These common erosion features at the base of these tall cliffs will play a role in the story as things proceed. The cliff on the far right is 80 ft. high, something you don't see in my home state of Florida.
I first became aware of Glass Window Bridge and the remarkable characteristics of the place not too many years back despite having visited the Bahamas for approaching half a century. The narrow strip of limestone cliffs between North and Central Eleuthera are dramatic in appearance. The shear violence of waves during "rages" or periods of major wave activity and runup along this coast and related lore are striking. (photo from panoramio.com)
A rage captured by Jackeline Brignoni DeMiller. In past events, folks have seen the large waves barreling in from the horizon to shoal to substantial heights and slam into the island in vast explosions of spray.
The nearer cliff with all the receding water is south of the bridge and about 60 ft. high. Some powerful waves were running through on that day.
The proximity of the deep waters of the open Atlantic, large fetch and unusual bathymetry including that projecting shoal to the south likely contribute to the remarkable rages and wave/spray runup in this area.
https://www.uow.edu.au/content/groups/p ... 014953.pdf
This geologic work of others indicate that the seaward or eastern promontories of the cliff are comprised of a limestone shelf topped with some massive boulders. The boulders have been estimated to approach 35,000 cubic feet in size and weight about 2500 tons. It is theorized that the boulders were flung up here during extremely powerful tsunami or other massive storm waves during the later Holocene. Such theorectical violent storms of such remarkable extremity are outside our present day experience fortunately. More at https://www.uow.edu.au/content/groups/p ... 014953.pdf
and still a good deal more about the geology of these impressive features in Paul Hearty's work at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Pa ... istory.pdf
You can make out a horizontal line seperating a massive boulder that was thrown there from the limestone strata beneath it which formed in place.
A rendering from 1877 of Glass Windows arch, located on Harbour Island (?) as presented in an article, "Isles of June," Scribners Nov. 1877 I was fascinated by this place the first time I saw it in person for many reasons, historical, scientific and from a waterman's perspective. Plus there is a singular atmosphere about the place. I can imagine this feeling pervading the minds of visitors going back through time even to Pre-Columbian days. I don't know that any record survives of those early impressions, they are left to our imagination.
I spent a good deal of time attempting to find a photograph of the rock arch before it fell into the sea. Ironically, I found a partial image in a book I recently acquired, "Stark's History and Guide to the Bahama Islands" (1891). An online version of the book can be found at http://ufdc.ufl.edu/CA01200011/00001/1j It would be great if I could find a wider angle view of the entire rock arch, still looking (hint).
Another illustration of "Glass Windows" from "The Atlantic Islands As Resorts of Health and Pleasure" by S.G.W. Benjamin (1878). The rock bridge is looking pretty thin in this rendering. Is the arch pending time to collapse or the result of artistic license?
Winslow Homer painted Glass Windows arch during his Bahamian sojourn. Homer visited the region during winters between 1884-1885 doing now famous water colors on island themes for "The Century Illustrated Monthly," a successor publication to Scribners. Some say Homer was responsible for the name "Glass Window Bridge" given the viewing pane aspect of his artistic rendering. There is some confusion as to whether Homer painted the rock arch at Glass Window or another similar but possibly smaller rock arch at Hole-In-The-Wall at the south end of Great Abaco. I understand several bridges were subsequently constructed and destroyed by heavy seas through time.
One article summarizes the destruction of the rock arch and history of the man-made bridges as follows:
"NATURES FURY can be devastating. For centuries, there was a natural stone bridge connection between north and south Eleuthera. Phillip Thompson of Gregory Town remembers his parents talking about taking walks over it on a regular basis. Then in the 1940's, several hurricanes combined to destroy the seemingly-immortal land bridge and a concrete replacement was built. For decades, this bridge was patched with reinforced concrete, but in 1992 and 1999 Mother Nature struck again without mercy. Hurricane Andrew chipped away at the old bridge significantly in '92, but in '99 the real damage came.
For more than 2 days and nights, Hurricane Floyd, a Category 4 hurricane, pounded the area of the Glass Window with persistently-high winds and waves until nothing of the original Glass Window remained. Although the bridge was repaired and Queen's Highway re-connected within a few months, the geography of Eleuthera has changed forever. Even after four years, workers stay busy reinforcing the shoreline in order to re-pave the severely eroded asphalt.
The name "Glass Window" is still used, however, to describe the opening that connects the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans. Although natural rock has been replaced by man-made steel and concrete, the sense of awe still lingers. Stop the car and climb the rocks. Then marvel at the power of the Atlantic surf pounding against and through the narrow cut. The feeling is spectacular!."
Hurricane Floyd was a very bad hurricane for the Bahamas and elsewhere. I recall it cut a new inlet through the island of Elbow Cay in the Abacos. Wiki has this to say about it: "Hurricane Floyd lashed the Bahamas with winds of 155 mph (249 km/h) and waves up to 50 ft (15 m) in height. A 20 ft (6.10 m) storm surge inundated many islands with over five ft (1.5 m) of water throughout." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Floyd Such powerful wind waves likely sent a horrific rage to this coast with all the attendant damage.
It seems was akin to the Hole-In-The-Wall rock exposure at the south end of Great Abaco. Looking at the apparent scale it seems likely that the Eleuthera arch was larger. I was sad to learn this wonderful rock structure also fell into the sea in recent years. More at:
http://rollingharbour.com/2012/04/08/ab ... y-in-maps/
Brett Davis of Frangipani shot and edited a great drone video over Glass Window Bridge during a rage in 2014. Brett is also a kitesurfer, excellent professional photography specializing in singular Bahamian photo shoots and is an accomplished drone pilot. https://www.facebook.com/FrangipaniPhotography/
Another video which accents some of the physical processes of a rage, sloshing waves with incoming waves hitting reflected waves, the overtopping of Bahamian plateau light blue waters with roiling foam from deepwater waves and the gamesmanship of cars attempting to navigate this hazardous stretch of road.
The bridge being rammed about 8 feet westward and toppling a lane of traffic off into the water to the west during the "Perfect Storm" of 1991. http://bit.ly/1K2hF4A This and subsequent storms came close to destroying the bridge entirely. Since that time it has been repeatedly repaired but it is thought that it might be taken out entirely by a future storm event. This bridge provides an important transportation link for the island of Eleuthera. Access is periodically closed to traffic during times of unsafe wave activity. Both trucks, cars and people have been swept off the bridge over the years. A story about once such accident in 1996 appears at http://www.eleuthera-map.com/rage-glass ... idge-1.htm Ninetenth century accounts speak of a picnic party of young people being dashed by a sudden wave with the loss of some. I suspect the stone land bridge may have had special significance and provided a source of spiritual significance and fear among the Arawacks well before Pre-Columbian times on the island.
The conditions that create a rage, seem to include powerful, longer period waves from a distant or nearby wind or tectonic source. Stories relate how distance waves have been seen sweeping in from the horizon to strike the cliffs. Local wisdom says to wait at least five minutes after the onset or for the passage of the seventh wave to rush across the bridge to hope to avoid being washed over the side into the rocks.
Watch this video!
An exciting video of two local Bahamians running the wave gauntlet in an attempt to make it across the bridge and wave impact zone during a rage. Be sure to turn the volume up to capture the dialog.
A number of people have been washed off the cliffs during rages and lost. There is a famous story of Sam Pedican lost in 1934 and possibly occupants of a car related in a well written account at "Call to Lower Bogue." http://www.eleuthera-map.com/rage-glass ... idge-1.htm
A recent look at the east side of the bridge with concrete delimination and spalling.
I wanted to thank Mrs. Ross of the Haynes Library in Governor's Harbour whom I contacted during my research for this article. The Library, nearby Cupid's Cay and Governor's Harbour itself are well worth visiting. https://www.facebook.com/hayneslibraryeleuthera/
The approximate course I took from Harbour Island to Glass Window Bridge in 2014. At that time the wind was quite light to near stalling also I was concerned about land effects negatively impacting the wind. The wind was near dead onshore in the area of Glass Window prompting fears of a nearshore dead air zone. So, I stayed well offshore for most of the passage. With tacking the run was around 10 miles in total.
A shot from my successful kiting run down to and back from Glass Window Bridge from Harbour Island in 2014. The wind was very light and waves small at around 3 to 4 ft. or less. Given the violent runup of waves and incomplete understanding of the phenomena I didn't want to go out in much more than those sort of seas. Even with that waves/spray were bursting up 50 ft. just to the north of Glass Window Bridge. The wind was so light that I was concerned about being able to relaunch the kite from the water if it stalled. So, I was very careful to keep it flying and staying well offshore from potential dead air pockets created by the cliffs in the onshore breeze.
(To be continued in Part II)