Feb 20, 2017
In my last blog, Adamant 1 and Folly had just left Nassau for the Exumas. When we left the harbour, we realized there were at least 15 other sailboats headed the same way. Our destination for the evening was Highborne Cay, about 30 miles southeast of Nassau. There wasn’t any wind, so we motored the whole way, which wasn’t a bad thing as we had to cross the Yellow Banks, a two mile wide stretch of coral heads. With flat water we were able to see them as big black circles in the water and that made them easy to avoid. They are probably deep enough, but I’m not going to be the one to test that theory!
When we reached the western beach of Highborne Cay, we saw we weren’t the first ones to get there. Most of the area was taken up with three 200’+ yachts, all with their water toys in full use….dinghies, PWCs, sailboards and paddle boards. We bypassed all of the activity and opted to go through the cut into the harbour where we were able to anchor outside of the marina.
The cut is also used by small freighters and large yachts as a shortcut to Eleuthera Island, which we didn’t know about until we started seeing some of those craft scooting past us, really close!
The next morning we headed out to make the run to Norman’s Cay where we had stayed on our previous trip to the Exumas. It’s a great place to explore by dinghy and the snorkeling is superb. The only drawback is a surge from the east and we were expecting a few days of high winds. We decided to make the 25 mile run to Warderick Wells, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, with its protected harbour and mooring balls.
The Park is a 176-square mile area set aside as a land and marine protected area. It is 22 miles long and extends out four nautical miles on either side of the cays. Its stated purpose is to provide a safe haven and replenishment area for the wildlife native to the Bahamas. The entire boundaries of the park are a “no take” zone which means no fishing, conching, shelling, or lobstering; nothing living or dead may be removed from the park.
There are numerous well marked trails to follow on Warderick Wells and quite a few coral heads and small reefs to snorkel on. There is a resident nurse shark in the harbour, but he has become a pet, harmless.
At this point we were joined by another of our club’s boats, Pisces, with Ken and Grace aboard. Three boats from the same club, pretty cool!
We stayed for five days while the winds raged. Then when we had a window, sailed down to Big Major, a huge anchorage just north of Staniel Cay. Along the way south we bypassed a couple of islands where the snorkeling is terrific, but these islands are exposed to a surge from the Atlantic, and this doesn’t seem to be the year to explore their wonders, unless you like rolling around!
Big Major is well protected from every compass point but the west and this year five mega yachts, all well over 200′, decided to break up any waves arriving from this direction by anchoring outside of the harbour. I’m not sure who owns all of these HUGE yachts, but there are people out there a lot richer than me! This beach is more commonly referred to as “piggy beach”, since there are big sows, with their piglets, that roam freely on the island. And they are well fed big pigs. As soon as they see dinghies approaching, they will run down the beach and swim out to meet the boats because they know everyone will bring them celery and lettuce as a treat. If you are in their way they will knock you down! One of our friends had his backed turned to a particularly large sow and when he didn’t move over, she bit him on the derriere! Thankfully she didn’t break any skin, but left him with a bruise in a spot only his wife could see!
The weather had turned hot and humid since leaving Nassau, so we spent as much time as we could swimming and sitting in the shade on the beach. That’s why we came down here, for the sun, the warm temps and the chance to just sit and watch the world go by. Judging by the number of boats coming and going in the harbour, we weren’t the only ones with those thoughts. We made daily runs into Staniel Cay to walk around and re-provision. We had done a lot of stocking up before we left Marathon so we only needed fresh food.
There are three grocery stores in Staniel Cay, the largest being smaller than a single car garage. Sticker shock is a way of life down here as it cost $8 for a box of crackers, $12 for a 2lb jar of peanut butter and $20 for three chicken breasts. We didn’t even look at the price of eggs, fruit or vegetables, just bought them and used them up before they could go bad…no waste! It’s not like home in the Bahamas; everything is a week old when it gets here. Pat would look at the produce counter (he was a produce manager for 35 years) and declare he would have thrown out most of the produce he could see. My comment was “we have to eat, find something!”
The Staniel Cay area is home to Thunderball Grotto, a small island, hollow inside with a hole in the top to let in the sunlight, entered by snorkeling in through a cave like entrance. This grotto was used in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball. Everyone who can swim delights in snorkeling there at low tide, and the amount of sea life inside the grotto is amazing. We were told to bring a small bag of oatmeal with us to feed the fish, but when Pat opened the bag in front of me, I was swarmed by the fish. It freaked me out and being a poor swimmer, I had to be hauled out onto the ledge by a friend so I could get my breath back. I was not amused!
Walking around on Staniel Cay is a lesson in island life. Everything is spread out, homes, churches, schools and businesses built where there is enough flat land to erect a structure. Construction is mostly cinderblock, a deterrent to hurricane winds. Bright colours are everywhere and the island folk are very friendly and helpful. And we try to help the local economy as much as we can by patronizing the local bars when we are in town….only fair to the locals, right?
It was now only a few days before Christmas, so we hauled anchor and along with a couple of other boats that had joined our flotilla of three, we headed for Black Point Settlement, six miles south. This settlement is very small, maybe 300 residents, but is famous for its super clean laundromat and for Lorraine’s Cafe, a restaurant with fabulous Bahamian food, and free internet!
The wind had piped up again to about 25 knots from the east and though we were well sheltered from the surge, going to shore from the boat required wrapping yourself in raincoats to prevent looking like a drowned rat when you got there! Most of the boats in the harbour signed up for Lorraine’s Christmas dinner at $20 per person. We were 60 people crammed into the restaurant that night and after the feast of Bahamian food: turkey, beef, chicken, fish, conch salad, peas and rice, Bahamian mac and cheese, corn and salad, we were treated to a DJ who played well into the night.
Two days later, we rounded Black Point and took shelter from the winds in Little Bay. We spent the next couple days exploring the beaches, trespassing on shore to get pictures of The Castle, a house built complete with turrets, shuttered windows, and a drop down door at the back! There was also a 30′ sailboat washed up on the beach but it was completely stripped, down to just the hull and mast.
Finally the wind died down and we were able to make the trip, sailing, down to Galliot Cut. By the way….have you noticed a pattern here? Either the wind is blowing 25 knots or is totally absent! Not many good sailing days here. Anyway, along with about 25 other boats, we were there to stage for our trip to Georgetown, 36 miles south, our first open Atlantic run of this trip. Again it was another hot and humid day which required a trip to the beach with our lawn chairs and a cooler of beverages! It’s a tough life down here!
Early the next day, at slack tide, every anchor was pulled up and we headed out. During that trip, Pat was able to catch a mahimahi, not a big one, but certainly enough for a couple of meals. We wiggled our way into Georgetown harbour and dropped a hook just below the monument up on the hill. We were here now for the next month or so. But more about that next time……………….