There's nothing to do on the island of Walker's Cay but fish, dive and relax

July 26, 1992|By Steve Waters | Steve Waters,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

The most gracious customs officials I've ever met were in Walker's Cay.

"Have you ever been to Walker's before?" they asked. "No? You'll loveit. Enjoy your stay."

Walker's Cay, the northernmost island in the Bahamas, is only 100 acres. You can fish, dive and relax. That's about it.

There are no streets and no cars, aside from a few trucks driven by Walker's employees. There are two pay phones on the island, but no credit card or collect calls can be made; you must purchase tokens ($5 for the first three minutes to call South Florida, $1 per minute thereafter) in advance. Cellular phones work sometimes. (For best results, go to the roof of your hotel at night.)

The hotel rooms, while clean and comfortable, are devoid of phones, televisions, mini-bars and stationery.

Most everybody comes here for the same reason: to get away.

Walker's Cay is named after Thomas Walker, a British judge sent to Nassau in the early 1700s to crack down on piracy. Walker quickly earned a reputation as a hanging judge, which did not sit well with the corrupt officials in charge. They exiled him to the island that bears his name, but Walker eventually returned to Nassau to complete his work.

After Walker's death in 1721, Walker's Cay was uninhabited for more than 200 years. Then, in 1935, a Palm Beach businessman obtained a 99-year lease on the island and built a small hotel and dock. Over the next 30 years, Walker's became a popular destination for celebrities and businessmen seeking solitude and great fishing.

Robert Abplanalp, who made his fortune in aerosol valves, was one of those businessmen.

Mr. Abplanalp liked Walker's so much he bought the lease in 1968. Walker's now has a 75-slip marina, charter fishing boats, a dive shop, 62 hotel rooms and three villas, two restaurants, an airstrip and its own airline, based in Fort Lauderdale. Walker's makes its own fresh water and electricity, and also is home to a thriving aquaculture operation that specializes in tropical fish.

Conservation always has been a priority for Mr. Abplanalp, who encouraged tag-and-release fishing 20 years ago. Billfish are rarely killed, and the reefs north of Walker's are off-limits to spearfishing. "Please help us preserve our fragile environment for others to share!" reads one of many signs detailing regulations.

In addition, the Bahamas has strict limits on the amount of fish U.S. citizens can bring back: only six lobster tails, 10 conch, six wahoo, dolphin or king mackerel (any combination) and 20 pounds of other fish.

Such measures make for fabulous fishing and diving, reminiscent of that found off South Florida in the 1950s.

Anglers come to Walker's primarily to catch big fish, from grouper and snapper to blue marlin and bluefin tuna.

You don't have to travel far to pursue such fish. The 1,000-fathom curve (6 feet to a fathom), where big marlin and tuna roam, is 12 to 15 miles from Walker's. Wahoo and yellowfin tuna are available within a few miles of Walker's. This year, wahoo up to 128 pounds were caught.

An even better-kept secret is the diving at Walker's. Numerous nearby reefs, in 10 to 170 feet of water, provide a variety of sights that appeal to novice and veteran divers alike.

There is staghorn, fire and brain coral. Friendly yellowtail snapper accompany you on your journey through twisting caverns and big Nassau grouper that take in the scene from pockets in the reef.

One of the most popular excursions is a shark-feeding dive, in which divers see 35 to 75 sharks.

For the less adventurous, Walker's has numerous shallow reefs ideal for photographers, because of the excellent water clarity, as well as for beginners.

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