Sailing in the Bahamas – South toward Great Exuma Island
Sailing in the Bahamas was turning out to be quite an adventure—an adventure in weather forecasts and patience, that is. Once we’d sailed from Bimini to Great Harbour Cay, we were on the lookout for a place to duck behind some upcoming gale force winds. We quickly realized that our trek to The Exumas, & Georgetown, Great Exuma would take longer than we’d thought. The late winter weather in the Bahamas this year was very unexpected, as it was in much of the U.S. as well. Due to high winds and squally weather from the west, we spent nearly a week at Great Harbor Cay. This was an unexpected blessing for us, as Great Harbour Cay (like most Bahamian Islands) is a beautiful, fascinating, and safe place for visitors to explore. While anchored there, we walked around a great deal of the island, visited the local marina, (which is a great escape from the winds and is also known as a great ‘hurricane hole’ for you sailors) and enjoyed some local BBQ. The marina staff and the few vendors there, were quite nice and we heard good things from others about the large BBQs that the marina hosts each week. We also took the dinghy around the island and walked on some really spectacular local beaches, but with the high winds and large waves, we didn’t take a chance on getting into the pounding waters. For the most part, we were confined to the boat since dinghy rides were quite a rocky and WET prospect. So, the lesson that we learned is, when it comes to sailing in the Bahamas, patience, flexibility, and curiosity are traits to be valued.
Once the weather broke we were excited to be able to continue south. We planned on a short trip to Great Stirrup Cay (aka Coco Cay) to see if the winds and waves were indeed dying down and would make for comfortable travel. We also knew we had to fuel up before leaving though and seeing the fuel dock from a dinghy ride a few days earlier, since we were still gaining skills and experience, we thought it would present a little bit of a challenge for us. It’s located inside a narrow (70+ feet) rock wall cut, so we took the dinghy in and studied the fuel dock’s location, along with the shallow spots near it, which are quite common everywhere in the Bahamas. (Hence the name BAHAMAS, which is derived from Spanish, ‘Baja Mar’ (short/shallow seas). As you can see in the video, we were so happy that we fueled up with no issues thanks to our reconnaissance mission and a great (& patient!) attendant at the fuel dock.
Leaving Great Harbor Cay after fueling up, we spent the night at anchor, as planned, at Great Stirrup Cay, AKA the ‘private island’ for many cruise lines. We spent a quiet night at this uninhabited place, surrounded by empty beaches with hundreds of empty lounge chairs and riderless jet-skis and concession stands that sit empty when there is no cruise ship nearby. It was slighty eery, (a bit like a village that’s been suddenly deserted), but mostly, it was tranquil and lovely and we enjoyed relaxing in our own lounge chairs on board Traveller.
From Great Stirrup Cay, we hauled up the anchor and left early for a long 4 or 5 hours sail in the open ocean, headed on our way south. After about 3 hours though, we decided to duck in and find a quiet anchorage for the night, because even though the high winds of the past days had mostly come to an end, the wind & waves still hadn’t settled down yet and were really pounding. It wasn’t awful but it really wasn’t a fun ride, so since we weren’t in a hurry to get ahead of any bad weather, we stopped in at the cut between Frozen Cay and Little Harbour Cay. We had plenty of daylight left to explore after anchoring (need a laugh? here’s a look at our early anchoring attempts at this spot!), so we went for a bumpy dinghy ride to a gorgeous swimming beach. It the first time with ALL 4 of us in the dinghy so it was kind of an experiment as well. Once at the little beach, we hopped off and jumped in for Skipper’s first Bahamas swim with big brother Pilot! (By the way, Pilot is an old hand at swimming in the Bahamas, he spent several weeks here last summer, more on that in an upcoming post.)
The next day, we left the anchorage at Frozen Cay/Little Harbor Cay and headed south toward Nassau. Just before anchoring at Rose Island, which is right next to Nassau, New Providence, and we saw the little cay where they filmed parts of GILLIGAN’s ISLAND. We then spent the night at anchor behind Rose Island. There were 3 other sailboats nearby and it was a quiet night with a solid hold to our anchor. At this point, we’ve become reliant on an anchor drag alarm app, called ANCHOR!. Hal highly recommends it, it also coordinates well with other charts/apps. We trust it to help us sleep, knowing we aren’t moving around! While there, we could see the lights of Nassau and the silhouette of the Atlantis resort off in the distance. We enjoyed their beauty without any of the headaches of ‘big city life’ and crowded marinas! Hal even had time (& energy!) to made some delicious bread, in our bread maker since we arrived earlier than planned!
The next morning, we left the peace and quiet for what was supposed to be a smooth sailing day…with all the technology that exists now, we are still surprised (and humbled) when the weather forecast is NOT what was expected…We headed south from Nassau and were expecting calm seas and little wind & waves. Umm. This did NOT occur. Conditions were pretty awful and we even radioed other boats ahead of us, off in the distance, to see if they were getting the opposite weather of the forecast too. Yes, they all reported and concurred that conditions were ‘less than favorable’ and we gave some thought to turning back and waiting another day. We decided to try making a few adjustments to our course, our sail, and our speed and things were slightly more ‘tolerable.’
As the day wore on, thankfully, the waters & wind became steadily better as we started our final approach to a magical place called Warderick Wells, which is located inside the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.
The Park & the Mooring Ball
We never like to arrive at any unknown place after dark, so we pushed ahead for about 8 hours, toward Warderick Wells. We radioed ahead to get a coveted mooring ball spot for the night, thank goodness we were able to book the last once available. At the end of a long travel day, we were pretty tired, and it was so helpful, knowing that there was a calm resting spot waiting for us ahead.
We found our mooring ball, (and didn’t run aground in some shallow water, thanks to HELPFUL waving by a moored neighbor with an easily understood “HEY! Don’t goTHAT way! Go THIS WAY” kind of a wave) and then, we hooked onto the mooring ball on the first try EVER! We quickly attached it to our boat and then we celebrated with a quick victory hug (whew!) and then traded places while Hal did the ‘heavy lifting’ part of connecting it to our mooring bridle.
We enjoyed a magnificent sunset there, the colors of the sky and the water were out of this world. At night, there was a carpet of stars in the sky, followed by manta rays and sea turtle swimming around our boat in the light of the moon and our underwater lights. We wanted to stay for a week or so to explore this place, but we really wanted to push ahead and get to Exuma while we had good sailing weather. We knew that we would see tons of natural beauty while sailing in the Bahamas, but we never expected to see an area so overflowing with majestic sea life! We made a plan to spend at LEAST a week exploring the ECLS park on the way home.
The next morning, we headed south for another 8 hour trek to Little Farmers Cay. When we called to book a mooring ball there for a night, they asked us if we wanted dinner and we said we didn’t think so, but that we would decide later and get back to them, (not fully understanding why they would ask us that during a mooring ball booking call). We went ahead and found, and hooked onto, our mooring ball like old pros! Once we were settled in & connected up, we relaxed a bit and noticed an incredibly delicious smell coming from the marina’s building/ owner’s house. Yes, we thought, YES, we will go have dinner there, it smells soooo incredible! Hal went to the marina office to pay for the mooring ball and asked about dinner, too. Sadly, he was told that since supplies are so limited here, and we didn’t order ahead, there was not enough food for us to order a dinner. (so it was then that we realized, THAT’S why they asked us about dinner earlier in the day!!) If only we’d known that ahead of time, yep, we made a rookie mistake that we don’t want you to make & miss out on a great dinner! After the dinner news, I reluctantly looked in the fridge and decided to put together a tuna salad sandwich dinner for us, and called it a night. (By the way, more later in another post about Little Farmers Cay, a MUST-SEE place!) We wanted to see more of Little Farmer’s Cay, but we also knew that we had a good weather to get south, so we were just here for a quick overnight on our way to George Town.
Next stop, on our Sailing in the Bahamas itinerary, Georgetown, Great Exuma! We left at sunrise the next morning and had a great weather day for the 6 or so hour trip to Great Exuma Island, specifically next to Goat Cay, (there are MANY Goat Cays, this is the one in Elizabeth Harbor.) We knew exactly where we wanted to anchor, in front a beach that we enjoyed while house-sitting in Exuma last summer! We took it slow through the shallow waters near the beach and settled into a peaceful waveless cove, in about 7 feet of water. Hal immediately jumped into the crystal clear, brilliant blue water to inspect the anchor, & we took the dogs for a swim on the beach. Later, we met up with friends we’d made last summer, and we were just so ecstatic to FINALLY be back in familiar and GORGEOUS Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas territory!
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