It seems that Pirates and Bandits knew how to choose their outposts well. Cayo Sabinal is a place of legends; the pirates who inhabited the area used its virgin coastline to spring attacks on vessels trying to make it through the Bahamas Channel. Their adventures, now stuff of legends, included looting and smuggling, resulting in the primary reason why the Spanish, in 1831, built on the eastern coast the Fort Sabinal San Hilario to curb these wayward scoundrels. San Hilario served as headquarters for the Spanish troops, packed with artillery to protect the Sabana-Camaguey cays and, all important, shipping routes from the Old World to the recently discovered Americas. The Fort on Cayo Sabinal serves as a reminder of these tumultuous times.
Cayo Sabinal is the first island in the Jardines del Rey Archipelago and, as such, the first area where vessels needed to guide themselves through the perilous shallow waters surrounding the over 2500 keys, cays and islets of the Kings Gardens on their way to Havana and beyond. As a result, in 1847, the tip of the island at Maternillos is where the Columbus Lighthouse was erected. Not only to guide ships through the narrow channel, but also as an observation point from which the Spaniards would survey the Old Bahamas Channel.
The perils of these waters are made only too real when we consider the high number of shipwrecks in the area. The extensive coral reef has no less than 34 designated dive points to view these numerous sunken vessels.
Cayo Sabinal is probably best remembered, in recent history that is, because Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize winning novelist, spent time here, supposedly searching for German U-Boat submarines during World War II but, as we suspect, spending more time fishing aboard his yacht Pilar, using this honorable excuse to pen his novel, The Great Blue River…