Sailing the Exumas
We arrived to Nassua on a Sunday afternoon and after waiting in line at customs for over an hour we found our driver waiting for us outside ready to head to Compass Cay Marina (Navtours base). We pre-paid for our transportation to and from the airport and a trip to the local grocery store, which was very convenient. After about a 45 minute drive we arrived to a beautiful marina on the East end of Nassau. The check-in was not as seamless as we had hoped as they originally thought we were going to be on a monohull rather than the catamaran we had booked for the week. After everything was sorted out and provisions were purchased we went for our walk-through of Carpe Diem (2014 Lagoon 39), or as we liked to call her “Crape Diem.” Although the marina facilities were fantastic the boat was not well-maintained considering her age. She looked at least five years old when compared to other boats we have chartered. The staff was very nice, but definitely understaffed with only one person completing check-outs and unfortunately none of the equipment we had rented was on the boat. This meant we were not able to complete our check-out until 9pm at night and were sorting through a pile of old, broken, and moldy equipment (snorkel gear, fishing pole, Hawaiian sling, etc). and left hauling it back to the boat ourselves. Thankfully the restaurant at the marina was open until 10pm so we managed to enjoy a cocktail and a delicious grouper sandwich before calling it a night.
We planned to leave the docks at 8am, but had to wait for the staff to find equipment we identified missing from the boat. We finally cast off the lines around 9am and were the first one out of the harbor, despite four other boats who had been stuck due to weather for the last two days and were still trying to rectify equipment issues on their boats. We had a five hour sail from Nassau to Highborne Cay and decided our hand at fishing along the way (no discernable bites, but our lure was missing when we went to pull the line in). We spent a night in a small anchorage along with two other boats and spent a few hours snorkeling and checking out the resident nurse sharks near the dock. We had hoped to grab dinner on shore, but they were closed for the evening. We fired up the grill and enjoyed our first meal on board watching the sunset.
The Adventure Continues
The weather conditions were favorable so we decided to head out into the Exuma Sound to try our luck at deeper water fishing as we headed toward Shroud Cay. We soon discovered “Big Pink” (our fishing lure) was a barracuda magnet, which was fun to reel in, but another story when it came to removing the hook.
Shroud Cay was magical and unlike anything we had experienced before on our journeys. We took the dinghy into the mangrove river which was filled with turtles, nurse sharks, sting rays and a multitude of fish. At the end of the river we found a spectacular beach and had the afternoon to enjoy it all to ourselves. After making our way back to the boat we set sail again for Wardrick Wells (also part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park). We picked up a mooring on the Southeast side by the Pirate’s Lair and once again had the place to ourselves. We spotted an eagle ray in the water as we were exploring the area by dinghy and trying to find the infamous Stromatolites (the oldest known macrofossils, dating back over three billion years). Needless to say we didn’t manage to find them despite multiple attempts of me shoving me face in the water with my mask on while Chris drove the dinghy (I think he took secret please in driving around while I plunged my face repeatedly into the water, hmmm maybe we should have switched spots). We paid our mooring fee at the drop box and Chris hiked inland to check out the Pirate’s Lair, which was a meeting place for the pirate’s when ashore near a freshwater spring.
We rose bright and early and watched the sunrise over the ocean as we planned our next sail down to Staniel Cay and the much-anticipated swimming pigs. We decided to venture back out on the Exuma sound side and try our luck again at fishing during the four hour sail. We managed to catch three more barracuda with “Big Pink” and I began to wonder if I should have bought more groceries. We arrived to what I can only describe as paradise, it was absolutely breathtaking as we anchored on the backside of Thunderball Grotto. We quickly hopped in the dinghy and headed around to the front of the cave just as several tour boats were packing up and we were lucky enough to have the entire place to ourselves surrounded by fish. We visited at slack tide so we were able to swim out the other side of the cave as well and Chris took a great video with the GoPro of our adventure.
We were just contemplating whether the water would be deep enough to jump in at low tide when we heard another tour boat pull up so we decided to swim back to the boat and enjoy some sandwiches and of course local Bahamian beer (Kalik for Chris and Sands for this girl).
Then it was off to visit the swimming pigs on Big Major Cay only about 1 NM away from Staniel Cay. The pigs were slightly bigger than I had pictured (let’s just say they are well-fed)! The piglets finally woke-up and we watched them nursing while Chris inquired with a group of people with film equipment on the beach what project they were working on and found out they were filming a Norwegian rap video… After an hour with the pigs and exploring the nearby beaches by dinghy we decided to motor back over to Staniel Cay to make dinner reservations (unfortunately they were still closed for the season and opening the next week). We decided to stop into the town to pick-up some more water and snacks before heading back to one of the secluded beaches we had discovered earlier in the afternoon. This was probably one of our favorite anchorages as the water was crystal clear and we were guided into the anchorage by two stingrays. We spent the evening paddleboarding and Chris searched for lobster as the sunset.
We knew we wanted to visit Compass Cay, but decided to spend some time exploring local deserted islands for the morning first along our way and each one proved to be more beautiful than the last. After arriving at Compass Cay in some strong winds and an ebbing tide we hopped into the dinghy to hopefully go explore the Rocky Dundas caves nearby. The conditions were not favorable and I was starting to panic at the idea of Chris snorkeling in so we headed back to the boat and decided to explore the nearby Rachel’s Bubble Bath. It was a short walk from where we landed the dinghy and one of the most incredible experiences of our trip. The water from the Exuma Sound side would come crashing over rocks making a bubble bath of sorts in the pool (it felt like being in a champagne bottle) and we spent a few hours jumping off the rocks, frolicking and carefree.
We decided that we would head back to check out the other side of Wardrick Wells for the evening and had one of our best sails (8.5 knots in 15 knots of TWS) as we made the trek back down the island chain to the Emerald Rock mooring field. There was a small squall that came through the area right before we arrived. We went over to check out the skeleton of a sperm whale on the beach and left our mooring fee in the drop box on the dock before heading back to the boat for sundowners.
We spent the morning exploring the Davis Ruins (loyalist ruins of three buildings dating from 1780 consisting of rock and conch mortar walls) just up the hill from the beach we were anchored in front of for the evening. After our short hike we decided to go explore some of the area underwater. We had a great time snorkeling around Emerald Rock and saw a multitude of brightly colored fish. However, as we were heading back to the dinghy Chris told me in his calmest voice I needed to head back to the dinghy and I looked up thinking I was off-course with the current, but was clearly headed in the right direction so I looked to see him swimming facing backward and he calmly told me again you need to head back to the dinghy now. At that point I realized something was wrong and decided not to ask any more questions and hightailed it back in Olympic swimmer mode and launched myself into the dinghy on pure adrenaline. Chris arrived back a few minutes later and told me we were being stalked by a 6 foot barracuda, which at one point was only about six feet away from his fins. We decided we had enough fun snorkeling for one day and headed to Norman Island to hopefully have dinner ashore. We arrived at Norman Island late in the afternoon and the winds shifted during our sail up the island chain and the sea state picked up so the anchorage we had selected was very choppy with little protection. We had planned to visit a sunken airplane, but after the restaurant was closed and not wanting to be bashed around all night we picked up anchor and returned to Highborne Cay just as the sun was setting. Thankfully the restaurant was now open for the season and we had a wonderful meal up on the cliff overlooking the bay. We had lobster spring rolls, conch ceviche, and of course I couldn’t leave without some conch chowder.
We spent our last morning relaxing with breakfast on board before pulling up anchor around 9am and beginning the sail back across the bank to Nassau. The winds were light so we motor sailed the entire way back with just the jib. We managed to catch not one, but two more barracuda with “Big Pink” and pulled into the marina around 2:30pm. After filling up with fuel we decided to head to the pool to enjoy some cocktails and relax for the rest of the afternoon. The checkout process was very smooth with a brief walk-through of the boat. Until next time Exumas… You were one of our favorites!