Building In The Bahamas

Jonathan B. Gans shares his experiences building in the Bahamas, creating his own one-of-a-kind home from the ground up.

| March/April 1987

Tackling the task of building my own home on the island of Eleuthera brought me face to face with any number of unexpected challenges when building in the Bahamas . . . and rewards. 

Building In The Bahamas

In July of 1978 I arrived on the Bahamas "out island" of Eleuthera for a week's vacation. For six days I played, and on the seventh I bought land—so hard had I fallen for this gorgeous place with its friendly people. A native said he had a one-acre lot to sell and led me down a road to a point where we faced a wall of "bush": dense, semitropical, wild, green growth. He laid his machete to it and cut a path another 200 feet to the edge of a very high cliff. It was the sort of spot where you could easily imagine no man had ever stood before. Straight down below me lay the Caribbean Sea, clear as tub water straight to the bottom. There wasn't another house in sight all up and down the cliffs to the east and west. "Now under here," he was telling me, "there's a cave that reaches back under the cliff: I always thought if I built a house here, I'd blast the rock out to where I could see water down there, and I'd have a living room with a glass floor."

Thus began an adventure of building in the Bahamas that has changed my life and probably prepared me to handle any building problem, delay, or frustration known to man as well as a few known only to God and the Bahamas.

Stranger in Paradise

I returned in June of 1979 prepared to stay the summer, as I'd left my job and wouldn't be starting a new one until the fall. I walked down the same road and stood once again before a wall of bush, now fully grown back over the path. Everything else was exactly as I'd remembered it.

First thing: how to clear the site. The only bulldozers and grading equipment on Eleuthera were those owned and operated by the government to build and maintain the single road that ran the entire 110-mile length of the island. Like the rest of the island, my property was composed of solid limestone and flint lying under a thin but rich layer of topsoil from which sprung the thick, constantly renewing vegetation. Clearing this bush was no job for a city boy.

"You need to find a Haitian fellah," Fat Pig told me. Fat Pig was a gentleman who lived in the town down the road from my homesite. He was neither fat nor porcine, but this was the name by which everyone in town addressed him. His response was always immediate recognition, without a trace of wryness, humor, or indignation.

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