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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