Grand Exuma Island, Bahamas to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida…The end of the season
May 21st – June 8th, 2014
Update as of November 20th, 2014.
We’re catching up now (sorry it took so long) on our end of season for 2014. We are currently getting ready to depart Ft. Lauderdale which will be sometime in December.
Our travels will take us back to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and up to Costa Rica where “Beach House” departed the West Coast of the America’s in 2009.
It is there that we will complete our sail around the world……
We departed Calabash anchorage at the northern end of Long Island Cay to head for our first stop in the central Bahamas – one of the major island groups – “The Exumas”. The sail was a quick 20+ miles with a beautiful following wind and we entered the very complex reef system just to the south of Georgetown and headed for what would be our base of operations – Stocking Island.
Stocking Island is an outer barrier island which runs just to the north of Georgetown which is the Capital of the Exumas. It had it’s own classic beach bar called the “Chat N’ Chill” which served the usual beers and burgers for the boats. There were lots of American and Canadian vessels enjoying the warm clear waters and beaches as we neared the end of the cruising season. June 1st would mark the end of when we’d be highly certain no early season hurricanes would be threatening.
We stayed three nights, enjoyed a bit of sight seeing in Georgetown and generally hung out enjoying the beach vistas of Stocking Island. The island itself had a Yacht Club and two natural hurricane holes (protected areas for boats). I still think I’d rather not be here in a really threatening blow.
We picked our way through the sandy shoals toward the north for our planned day sail 40 miles up the chain to the northeast. Our night stop would be at Farmer’s Cay. On our way out of Stocking and our way into Great Guana Cay anchorage just north of the Farmer’s Cay cut, we brushed the sand with our daggerboards. The Bahamas in general are noted for their extremely long and shallow passages. (Aside: when I hauled the boat out of the water in Florida, I saw lots of bottom paint “sanded” off by the shallows of the Bahamas).
The currents reminded me a bit of the Tuamotos of the South Pacific and small standing waves could really get going while immense qualities of water moved from one side of the Exuma chain to the other. The get an idea of the terrain, see this link: http://www.worldmapfinder.com/Google_Earth.php?ID=/En/North_America/Bahamas/Exuma_District
The Exuma’s are the long chain extending some 120 miles in the central Bahamas. They are located just to the southeast of Nassau in the above map.
Our next stop and last on entering from the deep Exuma Sound would be at Staniel Cay – Big Majors spot.
This was a challenging entry in the current and a bit tricky to get anchored in a nice protected spot. We ended up across from the Staniel Bay Marina, just east of Thunderball Grotto. Thunder Ball Grotto was the site where the James Bond movie “Thunder Ball” was filmed. The grotto is an under water entry to a huge expansive and well lit cavern.The restaurant has lots of photos and memorabilia. It was a nice lunch and tour spot. One of the highlights was watching the fisherman clean their catch and throw the scraps off the pier where a dozen bull sharks were all waiting for their free meal.
We did the Thunder Ball Grotto swim and enjoyed this stop and anchorage. We’d heard about “Big Majors Spot” but couldn’t believe the story till we saw it for ourselves. What happens here is – a short dinghy ride from Thunder Ball Grotto – a large group of pigs are on the beach and swim out to your dinghy to be fed! No, we’re not kidding! This was hysterical and the photographic evidence is seen here:
Due to the very shallow western side of the chain, we’d do our first few days moving to the northeast on the “outside” in deep water. The “inside” is the huge area often seen as a beautiful turquoise from photos taken from the International Space Station. After a quiet night off Farmer’s moving first one way, then the other in the current, we again set off on the “outside” (East side) of the Exumas and headed for Warderick Wells Cay. This is the main area of the National Park and perhaps one of the most stunning anchorages in the entire Bahama’s.
It’s absolutely blue shades of water in a very narrow cut contrast sharply with the surrounding white sugar sand.
First, we accidentally had a “sheet” (line used for controlling a sail), find it’s way overboard and just as we were about to pick up our mooring, we lost our port engine! This has happened a few times over the years, but why is always at a critical moment?! We were in a fairly strong current and fortunately were able to get moored before we went up on the sand. Ah, the benefits of two engines!!! I was able to dive on the stuck line and fix it in short order once we were moored. We took the dinghy to the beach and did the short hike to “Boo Boo Hill”.
Boo Boo Hill is the top of the overlook where we could see both out to sea and the anchorage. It’s unique feature was the hundreds of carved and painted signs from boats over the years than left evidence of their arrival and departure.
We had a lovely stay but were anxious to keep moving north and this time we went “inside” (west) of the long chain of the Exuma Islands. We stopped in a really nice spot with moorings on the lee of Hawksbill Cay. This was a very long streach of white sand beaches with rocky outcroppings. It reminded me of some of the Yasawas of Fiji, and the parts of the central Tongan chain as well. We wish we’d spent a bit more time here, but did have a short swim and off we went to the northeast. We were sort of winging it here and thought we’d just find a night anchorage en route to our next stop in Highbourne Cay. We tried to anchor in Pelican’s creek out of the current off Norman’s Cay, but it was just too shallow! After a few scrapes with the sand, we tried to take a short cut as it was getting dark and go inside the reef just west of Norman’s. After getting into 3+ feet of water on too many occasions, we turned back and went further west. I did not want to find what being “on the hard” was like out here in the middle of nowhere. We made it to Highbourne Cay, just before dark where we anchored near our new Aussie (of Canadian heritage) friends Bob and Bev of “Icrius\” in their Catana 42 Catamaran.
We tucked in for the night and went ashore the next morning to find out that the Marina was beaucoup expensive and wifi unavailable for anyone but hotel guests. We did have a lovely lunch ashore and decided that the next morning we’d take the boat over to Leaf and Allan’s Cays a few miles to the north. The attraction here is the local Iguana’s which come right down to the beach to be fed.
The next morning, we’d set off on a very long day trip across the Exuma Bank and into the metropolis of Nassau in the Bahamas. This was about a 60 mile trip as we had to take a dog leg to the west to avoid some truly shallow and rocky parts of the bank. We’d end up at the end of the day in Atlantis Marina. This is the place that looks like Disneyland in the Bahamas. You see it advertised on television all the time.
Culture shock is an understatement. It really was like being at a cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland. We had full access to the property as guests of the marina. Restaurants, water slides, an aquarium and on and on. It was fun for a day or two, but after that? You really have to like long stays at Las Vegas and Disneyland to avoid the sensory overload we were hit with. As such, and to save about 50% on our remaining slip fees, we motored around the north of Paradise Island back to the main island of New Providence. Paradise (where Atlantis is), is a barrier island that separates and defines the big cruise ship harbor at the Port of Nassau. We enjoyed walking through old Nassau town with it’s very British feel on New Providence Island.
After about 5 days in Nassau and Paradise Island, we were ready to move on toward Florida and our last two stops in the Bahamas – Chubb Cay and North Bimini Island.
The 40 mile trip to Chubb was a long motor and we decided to stay in the anchorage rather than the marina as it would be quicker to move on the next morning as we had to leave around 5 am to make it to North Bimini. We went into the Marina with the dinghy and it was a large, very well protected, clean and new facility. However, it was extremely expensive and as such, was about 5% full! The folks at the local bar and restaurant were not particularly friendly, so we cut our visit short as we’d be leaving so early the next morning anyway.
When we upped anchor in the dark, a series of events (my silly bad), led us to almost T-boning a dock pole. We did “bump” it, but fortunately at about 0.5 knots. As such, no harm, no foul….:-) We set off for North Bimini across the Bimini Bank for the 90 mile trip. Going across the Mackie Shoal was reminiscent of the Caicos Bank. We could see the bottom the entire way. It was rarely deeper than 15 feet. We entered the harbor at North Bimini and tied up to the end tie at Blue Water Marina. This was a good choice. We took a taxi ride the next morning up to the new resort and casino at \”Resort World\” and again were in deep culture shock. Day trips are run the 50 miles or so out of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale to this resort and casino which also has upmarket housing developments. It’s a real different feel than the island is used to. I hope it benefits them and doesn’t ruin the charm of yesteryear when Ernest Hemingway discovered this place as a world class fishing get a way. We went to visit the haunts of Hemingway on the south side of the island which were right across from Blue Water Marina. A few nights here were good enough and our next and last trip for the season would be across the famous Gulf Stream and into Ft. Lauderdale, Florida which would be our Summer home. The Gulf Stream is very similar to the Mozambique and Agulhas Currents off the southeast coast of Africa. Fortunately, not usually as strong. As we would be motoring across the key was to do so in a wind that did not have “N” in it. No northerly component to the wind means no seas get “walled” up and break nastily. The day was calm, evidence of the current was everywhere and as June had arrived, the thunderstorms of South Florida were in full regalia. We did see about 3.5-4 knots of current from the south briefly, but it was of no consequence in the very flat seas. As we approached Port Everglades, the lightening was a bit intimidating and the skies a bit ominous. We entered the outer harbor where Nikki’s mum had once arrived via cruise ship and “Beach House” was first in the USA. We had her shipped from Mallorca in the Spanish Ballerics of the Mediterranean to the US West Coast. Beach House stopped here which meant that at least “the boat” had actually crossed her own path around the world. It will take till next season to accomplish that “under sail”.
We had a very interesting season overall with some really great stops. We hope to update this again before we leave next season and let you know of our summer tales (Scott would learn to fly and get his pilots license and Nikki would have her first grandchild).
Stay tuned….the blogs will be coming faster again and we really do hope to get some photos up in galleries (maybe even a video or two?) before we leave in December.
Scott and Nikki