After the fiasco in Bimini, we were ready for some smooth sailing and fun in the water. Once we got everything ready, we did an overnight, 110 mile crossing to West Bay, near Nassau, arriving at 8:30 in the morning to a beautiful, calm anchorage. We were one of only three boats in the entire bay. Tired from the crossing, we promptly went to sleep. When we woke up in early afternoon, it looked like the entire Spanish Armada was headed for us. The bay went from three anchored boats to over fifteen boats in just one hour! As the boats got closer, we noticed several of our friend boats from Bimini among the flotilla. The reunion called for sundowners on the beach to catch up!
The next morning we headed into downtown Nassau to buy some parts to finalize the repairs to our dinghy, Lagniappe. We used public transportation to get around; which is quite easy, inexpensive, and safe. The only problem we encountered was when I left our smartphone on one of the buses. After a failed attempt to sprint through the Nassau streets trying to catch up with the bus, we decided to see if the local police could assist us. Although the elegantly dressed officers were extremely helpful, they assured us our phone was lost for good. This was our main communications link to text friends and family as well as to get mobile data. Ugh! Luckily, we have a second phone with a Bahamas number that works some of the time. After a hectic day in the bustling city, where we found ALL the parts we needed for Lagniappe, it was time for some rehab.
The West Bay anchorage is bordered on the south by a National Park full of hiking trails, stunning cliffs, ruins of a plantation and slave cabins, and a snorkeling park full of underwater statues.
After a day of re-supplying and another of exploring, it was time to head to our real destination…The Exumas. We set sail and headed for our first stop on this island chain, Highbourne Cay. We dinghied over to a nearby uninhabited island famous for its iguanas. They did not disappoint. The cute little Godzillas are ravenous, and charge the beach when they hear a boat approaching.
Later that day we treated ourselves to a late lunch ashore to celebrate our arrival in the Exumas. The restaurant at the local marina has one of the best views of any place we have visited. Perched high on a hill facing west, we watched the sun descend and the waters glow as we sipped on Rum Dums. We were introduced to this delicious, frothy cocktail by non-other than the owners of the John Watling’s rum distillery in Nassau. They treated us to shots of their finest aged rum and insisted we stay for a cocktail. Their aged Buena Vista rum is possibly the best sipping rum I have ever tasted; but I will continue my research for the sake of science. (We are not being paid to advertise this rum. It really is just that good!)
Our next stop was Normans Cay. This was the last anchorage before we entered the Exuma Land and Sea Park where fishing and lobstering is prohibited. Although the water was too cold for Kimberly, I jumped in to do some spearfishing in the wreck of a sunken DC-26 cargo plane; a relic from the days when this part of the Bahamas was a haven for drug-running.
The plane was teeming with fish. The big one got away, but I surfaced with a fish big enough for dinner. We also ventured to a nearby secluded pond with shallow caves.
The entrance is tricky and quite bouncy in a dinghy, but once inside, the water is like glass. That afternoon on the beach, Kimberly collected sponges while I piled up driftwood for a sunset bonfire. The memories of the troubles in Bimini faded away along with the sunlight and my cocktail.
We continued south along The Exumas to Hawksbill Cay where we hiked up a hill to see the Russell Ruins – what’s left of a very remote settlement dating back to 1785.
We finished the day having sundowners on the beach at Hawksbill with fellow cruisers aboard Exile and a couple from Perth, Australia vacationing on a catamaran.
Although we prefer anchoring to mooring or marinas, we stopped for a night at the Warderick Wells mooring field. This is the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park, and it has so many shades of blue and green in the water, and such beautiful scenery that it almost seems fake.
From here, we hiked up Boo Boo Hill – named after the ghostly sounds made by the holes in the coral rocks when the wind and waves blow through them. The top of the hill offers a 360 degree view and is covered by a huge pile of driftwood painted by visiting sailors to commemorate their voyages.
The weather was turning ugly yet again, and we needed shelter for a couple of days from the strong westerly winds of a passing front. We headed for a tiny, horseshoe-shaped private island named Fowl Cay that offers perfect protection from the south, west, and north. We expected to find it full of other boats and were stunned to have it all to ourselves for two days. While we waited out the frontal system, we were able to take Lagniappe to the caves at Rocky Dundas just a mile away. These caves that are accessed underwater were so beautiful that we returned the next day to see them again. This snorkeling trip marked Kimberly’s return to the water! She has been staying dry ever since we left the Abacos in December because the water temperature was just too cold.
No blog entry is complete with a boneheaded decision, so here it is. Our idyllic anchorage was getting a little rolly because of a small northerly swell. Not rough, but just enough to be annoying. We pulled up anchor and moved further into the bay at Fowl Cay. The water was shallow, but we estimated that we had enough depth. Wrong!!! When the tide went out, Pura Vida spend the entire afternoon bouncing on the sandy bottom or sitting on it. It was not until 8:30 PM that we were able to float her with the incoming tide and move back to deeper water – 8:30 PM, on a moonless, pitch black night. Why do we always end up doing this in total darkness?
Since we could not go anywhere for the next entire afternoon, it was time for some boat repairs. Our forward head had been giving us problems, so we took on the activity most loved by all boaters: overhauling the toilet. For those not familiar with this joyous task, it is a combination of yoga, contortionism, huffing a sewer pipe, raking your knuckles on gravel, and hitting your head a few times. There was an issue, however. After taking the toilet apart, everything looked fine. So where was the damned problem that was preventing us from flushing? We traced the waste line and determined that we must have a clog in the Y-valve (a valve that can direct your waste to the holding tank or overboard). Upon inspection, we found a complete clog that must have been building for years. It was only allowing waste to trickle through a hole the size of a pencil tip. While trying to remove an elbow fitting from the offending valve, I snapped a 2” diameter pipe clean off, breaking the whole thing in my hands. Kimberly insists that the pipe must have been weak from age and vibrations, but I’m certain it was my prodigious manly strength that broke it. Regardless of the cause, we now had a broken plumbing system with a tiny piece of threaded pipe still firmly screwed to the holding tank.
Fortunately, we are spare parts hoarders, and had a spare Y-valve, sanitation hose, and a threaded fitting just the right size. The old adage is true, cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. Most repairs make you feel like you deserve a drink when they are complete, but overhauling the waste system REQUIRES a drink when done.
After all that potty fun, the weather was cooperating again and we had a perfect sailing day on the way to Big Majors Spot near Staniel Cay. This is the home of the famous and absolutely adorable swimming pigs. We could not get enough of watching them swim and run on the beach. For those of you visiting them in the future, they love fresh water even more than food. We took five gallons and they chugged it in just a few minutes, some of them letting us pour it directly into their mouths.
Staniel Cay is the site of the Thunderball Grotto made famous by the James Bond movie “Thunderball” and also used for the movie “Splash.” We chose to enter at high tide to avoid the crowds, and go in using SCUBA since most of the openings are well underwater at this time. The current was ripping outside the grotto and we could not get the dinghy anchor to hold. We ended up wedging Lagniappe right next to the rocky ledge of the grotto and tying her fore and aft to the rocks. We lucked out – there was an entrance tunnel to the grotto with little current just a few feet away and about ten feet below the surface.
With all these off-boat activities, chores were piling up and we spent the next day doing domestic work. After a third cleaning of the outboard carburetor, Lagniappe was running like new again. Now that we did not have to take the cowling off every time we wanted to start the motor, Kimberly painted Lagniappe’s name on the motor cover and we dressed her up properly.
Kimberly also did laundry aboard for the first time away from shore power, and defrosted the fridge and freezer. Life aboard can be so exciting some days! You can always tell laundry day on a boat because all your clothes are waving in the breeze outside on full display for the world to see.
During our stay in Staniel Cay, we met fellow cruisers aboard s/v Nightingale Tune and s/v Smitty for drinks at the local “yacht club”. They are on a similar itinerary to ours, so we’re likely to see them again “down the road.”
We sailed south again and anchored off Black Point on Great Guana Cay. This settlement is known for master craftsmanship of small sailing vessels – built from local wood without the use of power tools.
Here, we walked in the clean and beautiful seaside town, enjoyed gorgeous views of the anchorage, and restocked fresh veggies after seeing the supply boat tied up to the government dock. It’s a good day if you happen to make it to the grocery store when the mail-boat arrives!
Just a few miles away was our next anchorage at Little Farmers Cay with a long beach and Ty’s Beach Bar and Grill. It’s hard to beat a plate of cracked conch and a rum punch beachside while watching your boat anchored just a few hundred feet away. Ty’s has the best rum punches we have tasted so far and absolutely exceptional service with that quintessential Bahamian smile. To make things even better, they offer free wi-fi, and we speared a fish for dinner at a small wreck between the beach and Pura Vida.
We saw on a friend’s blog that there is an inland cave nearby where you can snorkel or dive. The cave does not appear on the charts and the entrance is hard to find high up a hill side north of Oven Rock and hidden by trees. The hike up the hill was worth it! We did not dive the cave because we are not certified for cave diving and don’t have the requisite equipment; but snorkeling the dark cave pool among stalagmites, stalactites, bats, and shrimp was a fantastic experience. If you are visiting this area, the cave entrance is located at N 23° 59.0357’, W076° 19.6435’. It’s a must see and worth the hike up the hill.
Our last stop before heading south to Georgetown was at Rudder Cut Cay. The weather was too rough to really explore this anchorage in depth, but we could not pass up a quick snorkel to see the underwater mermaid playing the piano at one of David Copperfield’s private islands.
With just a few days left before Kimberly’s Dad and Bonus Mom arrived at Georgetown, we set sail in light winds and made the 35 mile run south to the largest harbor for cruisers in the entire Bahamas, Elizabeth Harbor. We’re thrilled to have family visiting and to show them the cruising life.