Sailing the Exumas

From Warderick Wells, we sailed back to Exuma Bank (the western side of the island chain) and crossed to Cambridge Cay via the “Sea Aquarium” snorkel site. All of Exuma Land & Sea Park is a no-take zone which prohibits fishing of any kind. The reefs in the park are full of fish – larger than any we’ve seen in the Bahamas. Since the park’s cays have been well-protected for so long, they serve as a thriving haven for reef fish in the Exumas. I even got to swim with my first sea turtle! And one spiny lobster we saw tucked into a rock crevice in the Sea Aquarium was HUGE.

Cambridge Cay was an unexpected surprise. It felt so remote, tropical, and truly foreign –we could have been in the South Pacific Islands or Indian Ocean… We stopped only for one night, but made a mental note to return. I wish I had better pictures!

The next morning, we departed for Staniel Cay via the Exuma Sound (eastern) side of the island chain. While exposed to the open ocean, the Exuma Sound side offers a more direct route than the Exuma Bank (western) side, which is full of sandy shoals and shallow areas to avoid. Once we got south of Cambridge Cay we could fish again, outside of the park boundaries!

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Staniel Cay is the first truly inhabited cay of the Exumas that we’ve visited. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is world renowned for offering yacht services like fuel and water, as well as an airport, courier for parts and mail, and beach front hotel and dining. Even the fuel dock is beautiful:

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After refueling, we anchored west of the Thunderball Grotto, another famous snorkel destination in the Exumas. Shafts of sunlight filter into the grotto and highlight the coral-covered cave walls below.

Staniel Cay highlights include: grocery shopping, drinks at the yacht club bar, wi-fi from the Taste and Sea Café, harvesting two beautiful conch, making our own conch fritters, and walking the dogs around the far side of the island.

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We also took a trip to nearby Big Major’s Cay and its Pig Beach. Semi-wild pigs roam the beaches of Big Major’s waiting for tourists to bring them snacks. The pigs will swim out nearly a half-mile to greet boats with especially tasty snacks. The largest pigs are females (the locals cull big males for roasts), and each female has her own family of piglets, which are surprisingly large. After warnings from other sailors that the pigs have been known to climb into your dinghy and bite you for food, we left the dogs on the Abby B. and ventured to Pig Beach with our cameras and an offering of dog food. It is truly as hilarious, bizarre, and amazing as you’d imagine a beach full of swimming pigs in the Bahamas would be. Definitely a must-see!

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From Big Major’s we motored to the southside of Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay to wait out an incoming storm. Winds gusting over 30 kts pounded us from the north and northeast, including frontal squall lines. We set two anchors and rode out the winds:

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After the clouds cleared, Great Guana Cay provided plenty of deserted beach space for the dogs to run free. A small white ‘castle’ stood guard over our boat in the anchorage. Does it get any prettier than this? (Meanwhile our friends and families back in Maine and Massachusetts are shoveling feet of snow…)

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On Sunday, we explored the town of Black Point. Unfortunately nothing was open on Sunday before and during church hours, but during our walk Alex found a “blow hole” in the limestone cliffs along the Sound. Wave surge erupts through a hole in the cliffs like a massive geyser:

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Then Big Farmer’s Cay on Sunday afternoon. We were two days late for the annual 5F’s party. Nearby Little Farmer’s Cay hosts a “Farmer’s First Friday in February Festival” and apparently it’s a huge cruisers’ carnival… drinking, loud music, games and contests. We were content in our little anchorage cove just inside Farmer’s Cut:

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And finally, we sailed down the Sound to Emerald Bay, Great Exuma Island to wait out another front, this time a big westerly blow. The Marina at Emerald Bay (a mega-resort area) has a $0.50/ft dock with no water and no electricity, but FREE showers and FREE laundry. Miracle of miracles! Sailing Exuma Sound on Monday, we counted over 30 boats cruising near Emerald Bay. It was a mass migration of sailboats for as far as the eye could see. Everyone hoping to seek shelter on the same cheap docks haha.

So we’ve spent the last few days at Emerald Bay working on boat projects, all under canine supervision, of course. And we’ve met so many great cruising couples and families, inviting us for dinner and drinks on their boat almost every night of the week!

After Emerald Bay, our next (and last!) stop will be Georgetown, Elizabeth Harbor, Great Exuma. It’s taken us 3 ½ months, and what an amazing last month in the Bahamas it’s been!

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The Abby B. is looking as good as ever!

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Warderick Wells Cay, Exuma Land & Sea Park

Next island: Warderick Wells, in the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.

Warderick Wells is renowned as “one of the most beautiful anchorages in the world” in a cruising guide we read, and it absolutely is. (Really, Google it. It’s perfect.)

The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park includes several islands in the northern/mid Exumas, from Shroud Cay (northern-most) to Cambridge Cay (southern-most). Johnny Depp happens to own an entire island in Exuma Park. Naturally.

Warderick Wells Cay is the heart of the Park, hosting the best walking trails, mooring fields, and the park ranger headquarters. We spent our first night in the Emerald Rock mooring field (moorings are $20/day), before moving to the ‘main’ or ‘north’ mooring field, closest to Park HQ. We lucked out because often there is a waiting list – literally days long – to get a spot in the north mooring field. Although, the snorkeling is much better around Emerald Rock.

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Boo Boo Hill is the highest point on Warderick Wells and a short walk from the main beach. An almost unreadable sign at the top of the hill reads:

Take Only Pictures. On a clear day you can see from here to eternity. The cairn on the top of the hill, the tiny cluster of park buildings and the tops of ship masts are the only unnatural objects that disrupt the island’s wild nature. The rule of the park is: Take only pictures and memories, leave only footprints in the sand. This cairn is one of the exceptions to the rule. Memories left by passing cruisers, offerings to the spirits for good weather or to placate the ghosts that inhabit the island, remind us of fellow travelers who love this special place […] Please leave only driftwood. As you look out over this paradise, please respect all you see by leaving it as you found it.

The hill is covered with driftwood offerings, inscribed with boat names, crew members’ names, years visited, and a lingering sense of all their beautiful memories. Alex and I had hiked the hill just after sunrise. It felt like no one else was awake, and that we had the whole island to ourselves:

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On Saturday nights, cruisers congregate for an informal Tiki Hut cocktail party on a beach by the main park office. Appetizers, music, story-swapping – it was the most social contact we’d had in weeks haha. We even met younger cruisers, Hannah and Roger on Hahnunnah and John and Jen on Elissa.

We also got up close and personal to the island’s hutia population – the dumbest rat-meets-guinea-pig mammals you’ll ever find. Hutia have no natural predators and almost went extinct once, until human intervention brought them to Warderick Wells and two other islands in all of the Bahamas (three islands total in the world). Our dogs want nothing more than to decimate the hutia population with all the blood lust their bodies are capable of producing. We opt to walk the dogs on a large sand bar in the middle of the mooring field to avoid any confrontation with the hutias…

Sunday, February 1 was Super Bowl Sunday, and our very own New England Patriots were playing. Alex and I were sure we were going to miss the game because, as far as we knew, the nearest TV was in Staniel Cay, a day away. And we were hunkered down in Warderick Wells, with no desire to leave a mooring in the most beautiful place in the world for a football game. (I guess we’re not ‘die hard’ enough haha.) Luckily, the park rangers were nice enough to host a Super Bowl party at their staff house. Problem solved!

Around 6:15pm, we joined 20-30 other cruisers for an awesome pot luck on the staff porch. Minimal football was watched, but everyone had a good time. Spoiler alert: the Patriots beat the Seattle Sea Hawks in a crazy/historic victory. A very expensive bottle of 2004 Veuve Cliquot champagne was passed around exclusively to Pats fans. There were four of us on the island 🙂