We've spent three years cruising to the Bahamas on Pegu Club, our Bristol 29.9. Time to switch it up a bit and head to Southern California for the winter, tent camping our way across the United States.
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.”→
Last year we were stuck in George Town and Red Shanks for close to a month as we waited out cold front after cold front. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with George Town and Red Shanks per se. It’s just that it’s not for us. So what did we do this year? The strongest front of the winter was coming, we were 25 nautical miles away in Lee Stocking, and we let the siren calls of the most well-stocked grocery stores in the Exumas suck us back in.
We had to settle for a motor sail from Rock Sound, but it was well worth it because after an uneventful day (except for the joy of the dolphins that followed along beside us for ten minutes – they never get old!) we were dropping the anchor in one of our favorite spots: Pipe Cay. A small blow was predicted so the next day we followed our track from last year’s adventure and slid into our hands-down favorite hidey hole in the back of Pipe. Although we still play the tides, it’s MUCH less stressful being able to follow last year’s track on the chart plotter.
After the blow we moved over to Staniel Cay (another favorite spot), then proceeded to spend the next week and a half moving between Staniel and Pipe as the weather dictated. We found a great spot to snorkel in Pipe and alternated between exploring and loafing around until we saw a nice stretch of weather to continue farther south.
Weather can be so cool. This picture was off the starboard side of the boat at Staniel one morning:
And this was the view off the port side of the boat:
A stop in Little Bay was next, along with a hike to the blow hole (which I find very entertaining) in Black Point:
Thar she blows!
We then moved on to Lee Stocking where we snorkeled among plenty of fish and several rays, including one that was literally at least three feet across.
We absolutely love Lee Stocking. The water is so clear, and between the swimming, snorkeling, and hiking, we could easily spend weeks there (something we hope to do on our way north now that we have a water maker).
Unfortunately after several days a look at the weather for the upcoming week made it clear to us that it was time to skedaddle. After debating whether to head north back up to Pipe or south to Red Shanks, the desire to get more food at a well-stocked and reasonably priced (for the Bahamas) grocery store tipped the scales, so we pointed the bow towards Red Shanks near George Town.
There are some people who return to the Exumas year after year. It’s not surprising given how beautiful it is, but last year part of me wondered if they didn’t get a little tired of revisiting the same cays. Now that we are repeating some of the same spots ourselves, I can see why they do it. We’ve discovered that simply by anchoring in a different area in the same cay it can be like going to an entirely new island.
This really became clear when we finally arrived at Lee Stocking. After two aborted attempts to get south of Staniel Cay (a steady 18 knots+ dead on the nose with accompanying chop had us turning back – no need to beat up ourselves or the boat if it’s not necessary), the third time was a charm on a windless day. Yes, we would have preferred to sail, but at this point we were beggars who weren’t going to be choosers.
The water in the Exumas is unquestionably gorgeous, and it feels like you could spend months here in a different anchorage each night. But one thing it lacks is an abundance of anchorages with good all-around protection from the wind. As a result, you will generally find yourself sharing one of the decent anchorages with a bunch of other boats. Not a big deal if nobody drags, but as we witnessed in Norman’s Cay, you can’t necessarily count on that. So with those events fresh on on our mind and another front coming in, we decided to head to Pipe Cay.
Pipe Cay was one of our favorite anchorages last year. A quick five mile hop from Staniel Cay, we decided to head over there just before high tide to see if we could sneak into the back on the northwest side of Little Pipe Cay. Last year we had seen one boat anchored there, and it looked skinny but doable on the charts.
It was a cloudy and windy morning and we were keeping an eye on a big squall heading our way as we motored over. Fortunately it dissipated before arriving, but by the time we were entering the Pipe Cay channel I was out of sorts.
We do seem to be in the midst of a streak of adventure. Hopefully it’s almost over and I can go back to more boring posts (we swam, we snorkeled, repeat) complete with pretty pictures.
The cold front had finally passed and we decided it was time to get out of Norman’s Cay and move to one of our favorite anchorages last year, Pipe Cay. We were down to slightly over a half tank of diesel and our reserve tank of water, so it was time to make tracks down to Staniel Cay where we could replenish both. The plan was to stay in Pipe Cay for a few days, wait out a mild front with westerly winds, move to Staniel, and then backtrack north and spend some time in the Land and Sea Park. Well you know what they say about plans.
After several days of traveling in sportier conditions than we prefer, we were more than happy to wait out the next cold front in Norman’s Cay. The protection was o.k. and the holding was very good, so we spent a few days relaxing and playing in the water before the front moved in.
The cold front was predicted to arrive in the evening bring steady winds of 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40 for around 24 hours before “dropping” to 25-30 without the 40 knot gusts for another 12-18 hours. There aren’t many good options for protection from westerly component winds in the Exumas, so as the day progressed the anchorage steadily filled until there were 23 boats that had joined us.
Boats were spaced apart pretty well so we were feeling pretty good until just after sunset when we took one last look out of the cockpit. Where the hell did he come from? A sailboat had parked himself a bit too close for comfort off of our starboard bow. Hmmm. Well, we had been there for two days and had gone swimming over our anchor earlier so we knew it was well dug in. The anchorage had a reputation for good holding and the sailboat’s chart plotter was still on so we figured he was paying attention. We decided to take a calculated risk by not moving. Nevertheless, given his proximity we were going to keep a close eye on the situation.
Around 11:30 p.m. the winds really started picking up, so I got up to take a look around. The latecomer was definitely closer and I could see someone on the bow with a flashlight. O.k., he’s dragging but he knows it. After nothing changed for a few minutes, Jeff shined a flashlight on his boat to get the boat name and I called him on the radio.
Any place after Pipe Cay was going to pale in comparison, but we still enjoyed our stop in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. We spent a night anchored at Warderick Wells before moving on to Shroud Cay. Everyone we spoke to who offered suggestions for Exumas stops said that we MUST see Shroud Cay, so how could we skip it?
We spent two nights in a very lovely anchorage where we were able to snorkle a few coral reefs (we saw lots of fish) and we also took our dinghy up the mangrove creek to the ocean side which was a lot of fun.
We didn’t have any fish-sighting success while snorkeling in the creek, but we did see a shark swimming in the shallows on the ocean side and a turtle in the creek as we slowly motored along. The Land and Sea Park has so many snorkeling spots that we didn’t get to see, but the pesky calendar won’t slow down. We’ll definitely come back next season, but for now we needed to take advantage of good weather to cross back to Eleuthera and keep heading north. Continue reading “Farewell to the Exumas as we begin to head north in earnest.”→
A short sail away from Staniel Cay was Pipe Creek, an absolutely stunning spot which is now my favorite place in the Exumas. As far as beauty goes, it is the prettiest place we’ve seen so far, and that’s saying something.
Pipe Creek runs between Pipe Cay and Little Pipe Cay, and at low tide the vast majority of the water is gone, leaving sand flats everywhere. The water ranged from dark blue to turquoise, electric blue to clear.
We spent several days here, simply not wanting to leave. We watched kiteboarders (who love the shallow spots), a seaplane landed in front of us, and every time the tide went out we took the dinghy and played in the water, floating in the shallow areas, drifting along, and walking around the sand flats.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let these pictures (which honestly don’t do it justice) do the talking:
Our next stop after Black Point was Staniel Cay, an easy, lazy 11 nautical miles up the Exumas. With one of the few places to get diesel and water in the area, Staniel Cay was the busiest place we had been since leaving Georgetown and it was initially a little jarring. I can only imagine how much starker the contrast will be when we return to the United States at the end of the month! Boats ranging from regular to mega yachts went in and out of the harbor, and the anchorage was busy with dinghies of all types and sizes zooming back and forth.
Despite all of the activity, we really enjoyed Staniel Cay. The water was crystal clear and had the most beautiful shades of blue that we had seen so far. The pictures really couldn’t capture it.