Walker’s Cay, 90 miles across the Gulf Stream from Stuart, Florida, is the northernmost island in the Bahamas. This quiet, unassuming island has a grander history than its size suggests.
Thomas Walker, a born Bahamian but Englishman by birthright, was living in New Providence, Bahamas, serving as a stand-in governor for the Vice-Admiralty Court when pirates first arrived. Agitated at their illegal activities, Walker wrote letters in an attempt to gather reinforcements to banish the pirates. When he realized the letters weren’t working, Walker decided to take matters into his own hands. Walker gathered his men, boarded a vessel and sailed to Harbour Island.
Walker and his men captured multiple pirates, notably Daniel Stillwell and his ship, Happy Return. Walker couldn’t try Stillwell as his “Commission as an Admiralty judge expired years earlier” so he was sent to Jamaica to stand trial. Stillwell never made it to Jamaica.
While in transit, he was freed by a pirate named Benjamin Hornigold. When Hornigold discovered that Thomas Walker was a major player in ridding the Bahamas of piracy and interfering with his territory, he threatened to burn Walker’s house to the ground, kill Walker and harm his family. Fearing for their lives, the Walker family fled to an island 170 miles north west of New Providence in order to escape “the rudeness of pirates.” That island today is now known as Walker’s Cay. Three years later, Walker served as Chief Justice over the fate of the most heinous pirates with Benjamin Hornigold sitting by his side prosecuting the pirates. Walker passed in 1722, never to return to the cay bearing his name. Walker’s Cay would remain uninhabited for nearly 200 years.
A Palm Beach businessman named Buzz Shonnard leased Walker’s Cay in 1935 and built an airstrip, a marina, and a small hotel. Shonnard used his resources and connections to promote Walker’s Cay as a sport-fishing destination. From 1942-1947 the US Navy used Walker’s Cay as an anti-sub-marine base, during which time it was closed to the public. Shonnard reopened the island but eventually lost interest and handed over ownership to his manager, Stanley Griffin.
By 1968, Walker’s Cay caught the attention of another businessman by the name of Robert Abpla- nalp. Abplanalp continued to market Walker’s Cay as a fishing destination, but never forgot about conserving marine life so he began to encourage catch and release tournaments.
Offering much more than Marlin fishing, Walker’s Cay was overflowing with bonefish and attracted an eclectic crowd; a former American president and some of the most elite athletes and actors of the 20th century all enjoyed the magic Walker’s has to offer. The Walker’s Cay Marine Area was declared a national park in 2002 by the Bahamian Government. Robert Abplanalp passed in 2003 leaving behind a legacy of creating an epic fairground for sport fishing enthusiasts and their families.
Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne wreaked havoc on the small island in 2004 destroying the hotel and badly damaging the marina. Walker’s Cay would be deserted, again, for the next 14 years.
In 2018, Texas businessman Carl Allen, purchased Walker’s Cay in hopes of reigniting its past and restoring Walker’s Cay to its former glory as the ultimate sport fishing destination.