One of the things we wanted to do this season was to spend some time in the Bahamas Land and Sea Park. We had spent a few days at Shroud in the past, and anchored once by Warderick Wells for one night, but we had never spent any extended time exploring the hiking trails and snorkeling.
The Land and Sea Park is a series of protected areas within the Bahamas, and it’s strictly a no-take zone. No fishing, no shelling, etc. If you see it there, leave it there. We had heard the snorkeling is outstanding and the coral was in very good shape, so we were excited to check it out. You do have to pay .50/foot to anchor or $30/night for a mooring ball (for our size boat), but it’s a reasonable price to support an NGO that is doing very good work.
We spent a few more days in Staniel after getting our outboard, and of course it’s impossible not to take pictures of a such a pretty place:
But eventually the weather was cooperating so we were off to our first ever visit to Cambridge Cay. We spent four nights there, and by the time we left, I knew it was my favorite non-settlement cay in the Bahamas (at least of those we’ve seen). I could have spent all winter there.
Cambridge has a few hiking trails that we thoroughly explored. The longer one is the Ridge Trail which offered up wonderful views. Jeff and I didn’t go all the way to the end – it was hot and we had only brought one water bottle each – but that just gave us a good reason to go back again next winter.
The trail to Honeymoon Beach was shorter and flat, but it led to a gorgeous beach that we had virtually to ourselves. The only other couple there had arrived on a small power boat and were on the opposite end.
We also took full advantage of our bigger outboard and went to Rocky Dundas in the dinghy for some snorkeling. Our friends Lyn and Ken will be bringing our Olympus Tough camera when they arrive (we had it delivered to their house), so soon I’ll be able to add underwater pictures to the mix. I sure wish I had it when we were snorkeling the Rocky Dundas. There were TONS of fish everywhere and they were following us. I suspect people feed them.
An added bonus was seeing our friends Marc and Nancy on Mer du Jour, who joined us in the mooring field on our second day. We had a great time playing Euchre each night and laughing a ton. Nancy and I even went on a girls hike on the Ridge Trail.
Since Mer du Jour has a much larger outboard than we do, we all went snorkeling together at a spot called the Aquarium where we saw plenty of fish and a turtle. We also snorkeled the sunken plane where there were a ton of fish and a nurse shark sleeping on the bottom. The current was so strong though that we had to keep kicking our fins just to stay in place. Marc stayed in the dinghy to keep an eye on all of us.
Finally, although we didn’t get a chance to get together for sundowners with them, we were also able to see and chat with our friends Chuck and Helene on Aurora. Their trip to the Bahamas was a bit shorter so our paths never did cross again for those sundowners, but hopefully we’ll see them again this summer. In the meantime, Chuck snapped this fantastic shot of Jeff and I are in our dinghy as the sun went down one evening. Thanks again, Chuck!
One of the many anchorages we’ve been meaning to check out in the past is Prime Cay. We didn’t even know about it our first year, but on our second trip we read about an anchorage that is only accessible for our draft on a rising tide. Once in, you are rewarded with very nice protection, several beaches, an abundance of marine life, and some hiking. For various reasons we weren’t able to explore Prime on our second or third trip. This trip, the fourth time was going to be the charm.
We had a lovely, lazy sail from Staniel to Rudder Cut Cay where we anchored for the night. Once again, there were 14 boats anchored by the Active Captain anchorage, so we went around the corner and had the anchorage to ourselves. Go figure.
The next day we did some calculations to figure out when we could leave for Prime Cay, knowing that we were going to be navigating through some skinny water. We added a buffer but should have added more, because the trip was a bit of a pucker-fest. We didn’t find the bottom, but there were more than a few occasions where we had less than a foot under the keel. No big deal under calm conditions, but with a steady 20 knots of wind it was choppy so it was stressful. However, the color of the water was stunning, and after a tense few hours we successfully slid into the anchorage.
We ended up staying for five nights, sometimes having the anchorage to ourselves, but never sharing it with more than one other boat. We saw plenty of turtles and rays from the cockpit, and we enjoyed snorkeling and checking out a different beach for every day we stayed – beaches we had all to ourselves.
At low tide the area next to the anchorage drained of virtually all water, creating an extremely large sand flat. We enjoyed exploring one day, looking at the small fish waiting in pockets of water for the tide to return, and doing a bit of hiking.
After a very enjoyable stay, it was time to tear ourselves away from Prime and head back up towards Staniel. Once again we had a very nice sail – cruising the Bahamas is fantastic if you like sailing the vast majority of the time!
After dropping the anchor south of Staniel to try a new spot for one night, it was time to go back to our anchorage at Big Majors. We had an outboard being delivered on the mailboat!
The Exumas offer beautiful cruising grounds, but they aren’t perfect. Protection from westerly winds when winter fronts arrive is hard to come by. More than a few cruisers base themselves in Georgetown or Red Shanks and do what’s known as the “Georgetown shuffle”, moving as necessary depending on the wind direction. But long-time readers of this blog know that we have spent enough time in Georgetown and Red Shanks to realize that those spots are not for us.
In the past we’ve kicked around the idea of basing ourselves out of Staniel Cay, but always found ourselves being sucked down to Georgetown (“Maybe this time it will be better!”) and getting pinned down there. This time, my best friend and her husband were going to be vacationing in an Airbnb in Black Point in mid-March, so we decided to avoid going farther south than Lee Stocking until after they leave. And that’s how we discovered that Staniel Cay is definitely the winter base for us.
But before we arrived in Staniel for the first visit of the season, we upped anchor on our second morning in the Exumas and spent several lovely days at Shroud Cay, even sitting out a mild cold front.
We would have stayed longer at Shroud but the trash situation was getting critical, and we needed to replenish the snacks and the booze which was even more critical. So off we went on a beautiful sail to Staniel.
Staniel Cay is a regular stop for us, and typically we anchor right by the settlement. But since we were last here the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (i.e. marina) has installed moorings along our preferred anchor site, so we decided to round the bend and try Big Majors Spot – a place we had previously stayed for one night.
Being sure to anchor far away from Pig Beach (too many go-fast power boats with tourists who want to swim with the pigs), we tucked ourselves close to land and were VERY well protected from the strong easterly winds. Yes, there were more boats than we prefer and it was a wet dingy ride into town (more on that in another post), but it was comfortable and had a good “feel.”
Between the number of boats in Staniel and nearby Black Point, I was surprised that there wasn’t a cruiser’s net. So I took the script that I had from Vero Beach and started one up, which was a lot of fun.
The first morning I was concerned I’d be like the person who invites everyone to a party and no one shows up, but to my surprise there was good participation. Encouraged, I kept it up for the next 8 days, including while we were tucked away in Rat Cay for a cold front. I had a lot of fun with it, and by doing it we met several cruisers.
It was when we moved to Rat Cay for the cold front that we were convinced that Staniel would be our winter base in the Exumas. While Rat isn’t the PERFECT spot for a cold front, it’s good enough. Great holding, and it’s a short hop from Staniel.
While we waited for the weather to improve, we relaxed, baked bread, and even had a visit from Joyce and Matt who we met at Shenny back in 2017 when they bought their first cruising boat. We hadn’t seen them since New Year’s Eve in Miami, right before Covid hit, so it was wonderful to catch up.
But once the front passed it was time to go explore. I couldn’t get any volunteers to take over the net, so it went silent until we planned to return. But we were definitely planning to return – we had to pick up our new outboard that was going to be delivered on the mailboat! More on that in the next post.
Our strategy for this trip was to get down to the Exumas as quickly as possible. Typically the water is a bit warmer and the air temperatures are a bit higher than in the Abacos, and ideally the cold fronts don’t make their way that far south quite as often. Of course as we’ve seen, that doesn’t always pan out, but we were willing to give it a try again.
Towards that end, we had a great sail from Green Turtle to Marsh Harbor where we stocked up at Maxwell’s and picked up an Aliv card so we could finally have reliable internet again (yay!). We spent a few days there waiting out a cold front, meeting with cruiser friends and making new ones, before we had another fantastic sail down to Lynard Cay.
We spent one night at Lynard and then motorsailed across to Royal Island in Eleuthera where we connected with cruiser friends we had made in Marsh Harbor. Two nights later, we were up with the sun to the Exumas!
Typically we go down Eleuthera and leave for the Exumas from Rock Sound. We’ve shied away from dropping down from Royal Island because the chart makes it look like you have to dodge a minefield of coral heads. After talking to other cruisers though, we decided to go for it.
The lines on the Explorer charts are usually bang-on for avoiding obstacles, but in this case we did find ourselves having to dodge the occasional coral head that was right on the line. But, they were easily seen with a lookout on the bow (they look like a black puddle of oil on the water).
It was a bit stressful, and we wouldn’t take the route again in anything but settled weather and sunny skies, but we WOULD do it again. That’s because before we knew it, we had the anchor down in Highborne Cay and we were basking in that beautiful, gin-clear Exuma blue water!
We typically check in at Green Turtle and stay a few days at a time, but this year we changed it up a bit and stopped for a week. It wasn’t our original plan, but checking in turned out to be a bit of an unexpected saga.
Check-in at Green Turtle used to be in the center of town. Unfortunately, the office was destroyed in Hurricane Dorian so the location was switched to the Green Turtle Club once the Club was up and running again. However, this means that there isn’t a full-time customs and immigration officer on the island any more. She comes on the ferry, ostensibly daily. More on that later.
The Green Turtle Club is a marina and resort on the other side of the island. We’ve stayed there once before, but the docks are fixed and it’s difficult to get on and off the dock at high or low tide, so we decided to stay for two nights at Donny’s Marina. It’s a 10 minute walk into town, which we prefer over the more remote location at the Club. We rented a golf cart for the day, and I drove over to the Club on Thursday to check in.
Green Turtle Cay is pretty small, so these signs above are usually sufficient to find your way to where you want to go. Of course I made a wrong turn the first time I left the Green Turtle Club, so I stopped to ask directions from a resident who was walking down her driveway. She asked if I could give her a lift to the trash drop off – no problem! – and sent me on my way with excellent directions. By the end of our stay, we were driving around like a local and didn’t even need the signs.
Now, one key to happy cruising in the Bahamas is to remember it’s not the United States. Island time is a very real thing here. If you come over and expect things to happen immediately and start getting impatient, it’s not going to be a happy experience for you. You have to get your chill on. The ATM is out of money? Try again in a a few days. The store isn’t open despite the hours saying otherwise? O.k., check back later. No hurries, no worries.
So when I drove over to the club and the office staff wasn’t sure if the customs and immigration officer was going to show up that day, it was no big deal. If this had been our first year, I would have been stressing out because I’m a rule-follower, and technically you’re supposed to stay on the boat (except for going to check in) until your paperwork is approved. But now, on our fourth trip? No hurries, no worries.
The office staff tried to call the officer on the phone, but she didn’t answer, and they didn’t know when she would back. So I texted her that I needed to check in and drove back over to Donny’s. I told Donny we hadn’t been successful and he said not to worry about it. Just try again later, and in the meantime take down the Q flag so we don’t draw any attention. LOL! We love the Bahamas.
We had only rented the golf cart for one day, but now we obviously needed it for a second day. It was all good though, because we were starting to get into major chillax mode.
We asked Donny if we could switch to a mooring and stay for a week. Donny thought about the logistics and then asked if we would want to stay at the dock for the mooring rate. Otherwise he was going to have to move an unoccupied long-term boat off the mooring to the slip, and he said he just didn’t want to hassle with it. No problem! We extended the golf cart rental for a week, and started to settle in.
Ultimately, checking in took three trips to the Green Turtle Club (or maybe it was four?), but it was all good. It was a fun ride in the golf cart, and everyone knew we were trying so we weren’t stuck on the boat in the interim. By the second-to-last trip the staff was letting me hang out in the air conditioned lounge for the afternoon while I waited to see if the official would come. I had good wifi, caught up on blog posts, and chilled. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t giving a fist pump once we were finally, officially, checked in! And since by then everyone at Donny’s knew about our saga, we got some cheers when I came back and announced we were official.
Our stay at Donny’s Marina and on Green Turtle for the week was fantastic. The boaters at the marina were the friendliest we’ve ever met, and there were several happy hours on the lawn during our stay.
We had an unexpected thrill when we arrived, and the happy surprise just set the tone for the whole stay. Our first year in the Bahamas, our friends on SV Minx met a Canadian couple who were cruising the Bahamas on a Bristol 29.9, SV Quick Sticks. Minx passed their boat card to us, and I sent them an e-mail to say hello. They said they were planning to leave the boat in Green Turtle that summer.
Fast forward three months and Hurricane Dorian hit the Abacos, virtually destroying Marsh Harbor and severely damaging Green Turtle and other communities. I immediately thought of the other Bristol 29.9 and was curious how it had made out, but I figured it had been destroyed and didn’t want to add salt to the wound, so I didn’t send an e-mail.
As we pulled into Donny’s, I said to Jeff, “That looks just like a Bristol 29.9.” Then I saw the boat name and said, “It is! It’s Quick Sticks! The boat survived!”
We were so happy to finally meet SV Quick Sticks and spend time with them. Their boat had been damaged but had since been repaired, and they are spending the winter cruising the Bahamas once again. We toured each other’s boats, hung out at happy hours, and really hope to run into them again this winter as we bop around.
When we weren’t hanging out with fellow cruisers at Donny’s, we were roaming around the island on the golf cart and plugging into the community.
Marilyn runs the golf cart rental business that we used, and we greatly enjoyed chatting with her. She found out that Jeff used to manage a bicycle shop and mentioned she had two bicycles in the back that needed new tubes and tires. She had the parts but no way to put them on, so Jeff and I went over one morning with some tools and he got the bikes up and running again.
Another evening we went to go get ice cream with Donny at the local shop, and hung out listening to residents shoot the breeze. It was there that we discovered that people greet each other after dark with, “Good night” vs. “Good evening.” It’s those little things that I love about traveling around.
We went to various beaches during the week so Jeff could go metal detecting and I could chill with my Kindle.
Jeff is very methodical about where he puts things, and I am more haphazard. I thought this day on the beach captured our different styles perfectly:
We also went to Island Greens for the first time for fresh produce. The gentleman who began it several years ago passed away within the last few months. His son has decided to try to keep it going, and we are VERY glad about that. Everything is grown hydroponically and it was all SO fantastic. It’s hard to source extremely fresh produce in the Bahamas because most of it comes over from the U.S. on the mailboat.
We truly had what may have been overall our best week ever in the Bahamas. I wouldn’t be surprised if we book a month at Donny’s and Green Turtle in the future, and we’d be VERY happy to do it.
In the meantime, our week was up, and it was time to start making our way south to the Exumas. But we knew when we left that we’ll definitely be spending another week at Donny’s when we come back north later this spring!
Typically we cross to the Bahamas from Lake Worth and anchor at Great Sale Cay, then check in at Green Turtle (our friends on SV Cutting Class used that route for over a decade, so we copied them). We like leaving from Lake Worth because the current sets us north to enter the Little Bahama Bank at Memory Rock. Once we left from Miami and checked in at Bimini, but we didn’t like that route and won’t do it again.
This time however, we were in Vero when the Donald Ross Bridge north of North Palm broke down, preventing us from going inside to Lake Worth. We don’t have any problem with going outside between Fort Pierce and Lake Worth, but the closer you get to Lake Worth the more you start fighting the Gulf Stream which is a pain. With weather windows being what they are, often it’s easier to just suck it up and make the run inside – not an option with the bridge not opening and no sign of it re-opening for at least two weeks.
So now we were looking for a window that wouldn’t involve bashing into south winds so we could head south to Lake Worth before crossing. Amazingly we got it pretty quickly, so we waved goodbye to Vero Beach with a plan to head out the Fort Pierce inlet.
We got lucky and timed the Fort Pierce bridge perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. We had a little help from a patient bridge operator. But thanks to her we didn’t have to wait an extra 30 minutes. We were on our way with a plan to head south until we started fighting the Stream, then hang a left.
While we were motoring south, I commented to Jeff about how confident we’ve become over the past four years. We’ve gone from our first overnight being a huge deal of 120 nautical miles with great trepidation to “Eh, let’s see when the Stream starts pushing against us and then just go for it if we feel like it. It’s only 145 nautical miles from Vero.”
Another thing that has changed for us is to start our watch system right away. We used to both stay up all day and then each take a four-hour shift for a single overnight, but that left us pretty tired. Our friends on Lone Star told us they start their watches immediately, so we tried it when we did our overnight to skip Georgia. What a difference! We both were substantially less tired in the morning, so we did it again this time with equal success.
It was an uneventful crossing, just the way we like it. The clear skies gave us plenty of stars to see by, and the bioluminescence kicked up by Pegu Club as she chugged along was so cool to see.
The crescent moon rose when Jeff was on watch, and he told me when I got up to switch shifts that he had forgotten all about it until he saw an orange dot on the horizon. At first he thought it was a ship, but as it was rising it got bigger and bigger, and he thought “What’s on fire over there??” Then the other point came up (because the crescent was at an angle) and he thought, “Duh! It’s the moon!” LOL!
We dropped the anchor at Great Sale around 30 hours after leaving Vero and grilled a celebratory boneless ribeye that we had bought specifically for this occasion before falling asleep around 7:30 p.m.
The next day we anchored at Crab Cay for the night, then we were off to Green Turtle so we could check in. Our season in the Bahamas had finally begun!
So would we cross from Fort Pierce again? Ideally, no. We were fighting the Stream quite a bit to make the necessary southing to go in at Memory Rock, and that’s not something we need to do when we leave from Lake Worth.
We could have entered the Little Bahama Bank a bit farther north, but we were coming in at night so we weren’t entirely comfortable doing that. Our route via Memory Rock is tried and true for us, so we didn’t mind entering at night that way.
Bottom line, leaving from Lake Worth works for us and it’s our number one choice. But if the Donald Ross bridge (or another bridge between Ft. Pierce and Lake Worth) breaks down again? Then we’d definitely leave from Fort Pierce vs. waiting the extra days for a repair. Under those circumstances, it’s definitely worth fighting the Gulf Stream for awhile!
After our driving tour of Eleuthera we turned our thoughts towards going back to the states. We had been in the Bahamas for almost four months, and we were increasingly fantasizing about Publix and other conveniences. This had been the longest stay of our three trips, and we agreed that next time we would keep it to three months. That seems to be about when we are ready for a change of scenery. The beaches and the water are gorgeous, but when it starts to feel like just another beach it’s time to go.
We wanted to cross back to the U.S. from the Abacos so we picked the best day to make the 55 nautical mile trip over from Eleuthera. Of course “best day” was relative. We were looking at a solid week of sloppy, rolly, crappy conditions so we chose the day that appeared to be the least sloppy, rolly, and crappy. We prefer not to have long days in those conditions, but at least if we know that’s how it’s going to be we can be mentally prepared for it. The forecast didn’t disappoint, but we sucked it up and anchored by Lynard Cay in the southern Abacos at the end of a long day. Continue reading “Time to head back to the states.”→
After we waved goodbye to Rock Sound, we had a great sail to one of our favorite anchorages in Eleuthera (well, of the ones we’ve seen so far): Alabaster Bay. This anchorage is simply gorgeous, and while we would have loved to stay a bit longer, the wind direction wasn’t really cooperating with a southerly component.
Little did we know that when we decided to go to Rock Sound instead of George Town it would turn out to be one of the smartest decisions we made this cruising season. We knew that the anchorage in Rock Sound would be excellent if we ended up pinned down for several days due to high winds, and when we left Staniel Cay that was exactly what was in the forecast. What no one could have foreseen at the time, though, was that those several days of winds would turn into almost two weeks with very little respite.
The trip to Rock Sound itself was uneventful once we made it through Conch Cut. That part was “entertaining.” When the wind blows strongly from the east, the cuts between the Exuma cays can develop what is called a “rage” when the wind is against the current. While we had previously experienced sloppy departures, we hadn’t ever been in what we would consider a rage. I think now we may know what people are talking about. Continue reading “A fortuitous decision.”→
I think it’s almost inevitable. If you do anything long enough, you start to get a bit complacent. The only problem with doing that on a boat is Mother Nature will give you a smack in the face to bring you back to your senses. Fortunately the repeated smacks we experienced over a a few weeks didn’t do any damage except to our psyche.
Leaving Red Shanks turned out to be the first of a series of poor decisions for Pegu Club’s crew. After a rolly motor sail to Lee Stocking, we enjoyed a great day anchored in front of “our” beach, doing some snorkeling and swimming. The water was already warmer than it had been just a few weeks ago which was a welcome development – it will only get warmer as the days go by!
Looking at the weather forecast, the wind was going to clock more to the south-southeast which meant that the anchorage in Lee Stocking would be fairly exposed. We decided we would ride it out the next day – our first poor decision. The winds ended up being substantially higher than forecast so that by mid-morning it was honking in the steady low 20’s with higher gusts, bringing 3+ foot waves onto a lee shore. For non-sailors, that means the wind was blowing towards the land – not good. We raised the anchor and motored over to Rat Cay – a much better decision.
The next day we took a look at the tide tables and the weather and decided we should move north in anticipation of a front that would be arriving in several days. It was a long day but a very nice sail, and we ended up back in Pipe Cay where we anchored in our up-to-that-point favorite spot in Pipe where we planned to wait out the front. Our second poor decision. We dropped the anchor slightly west of where we had during our previous visits – something that we would find out later was our third poor decision. Continue reading “A series of poor decisions.”→