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In “Cruising by MailBoat: History, Culture and Adventure in the Bahama Islands,” Fred Braman details his adventures exploring Abaco and other Bahamian out islands by mailboat.
A few years back, Alton Lowe and I were working at the Albert Lowe Museum when a gentleman came in and introduced himself. His name was Fred Braman and he was interested in learning more about Abaco’s mailboats.
A retired U.S. Navy veteran and lifelong sailor who, with his wife Louise, had cruised the Bahamas for more than 30 years, Fred first encountered mailboats while boating in the Bahamian out islands.
“No matter how small the island,” Fred recalls, “it seemed that the mailboat would come in while I was there. Mailboats are the link to the larger world for the small, outer islands and they carry everything – milk, beer, groceries, lumber, crates of chickens, pallets of canned goods, goats, passengers, and even mail.”
It was during a 2012 sailing trip to the Berry Islands, as Fred watched the Capt. Gurth Dean dock and unload at Great Harbour Cay, that he first decided to give mailboat travel a try.
Fred’s first foray into travel by mailboat was in 2017, when he and two friends — including professional photographer Dave Blake — journeyed to Long Island aboard the Sea Wind. Fred was so taken with mailboat travel that he decided to plan more trips, do some research and write a book about his experiences.
“At that point,” he says, “It was clear that I couldn’t finish my book until I rode the mailboat that started it all for me – the Capt. Gurth Dean.” So, in January 2020, Fred and friends travelled on the Capt. Gurth Dean to Great Harbour Cay and then on to Sandy Point, Abaco where he met the Deans, arguably the first family of mailboats in the Bahamas.
And in 2021, Fred published Cruising by MailBoat: History, Culture and Adventure in the Bahama Islands. It’s a fun, easy read that details his adventures in mailboat travel in the Bahamas. It includes lots of tales of the sights and characters Fred and friends encountered on their travels.
Cruising by MailBoat is also a terrific primer for anyone who’d like to give mailboat travel a try. Fred provides details about the Bahamian mailboat fleet, shipping schedules, suggested itineraries, and tips and suggestions for packing, budgeting, etc.
Fred says he’s grateful to several people for their contributions to the book. “Eric Wiberg has been instrumental in my mailboat education. As a true maritime historian and author, he is without question the foremost authority on Bahamian mailboats.”
“Historic mailboats can no longer be photographed, but old, grainy, black and white photos are available to paint,” says Fred. “Randy Curry is a multi-talented artist who has brought them back to life in his colorful renditions of yesteryear.”
Steve Dodge may be best-known as author of The Cruising Guide to Abaco, Bahamas, Fred says. “But it was another of his works, Abaco: The History of an Out Island and its Cays, that spurred my interest in mailboats and Bahamas history in general.”
“I was fortunate to have a professional photographer in my maiboat crew,” says Fred. “Dave Blake has been a great friend since we were both eighteen-year-old college freshmen, and has been riding mailboats as long as I have. His photographs bring this book to life.”
Cruising by MailBoat: History, Culture and Adventure in the Bahama Islands is available at Fred’s website, on Amazon.com, as well as at the Harbourside Rentals Gift Shop and Ponderosa Shell Shop in Spanish Wells, the Ebb Tide Shop on Hope Town, and through Randy Curry on Green Turtle Cay (Randy’s place is upstairs from the Calypso Coffee House in town.)
Have you ever travelled by Bahamian mailboat? If so, we’d love to hear about your adventures in the comment section below.