Cruising the Exumas and returning to Florida

August 4: We weighed anchor at Warderick Wells Cay around 10:00am. With a strong current as we navigated out of the mooring field and several moored boats to steer around, it was a bit nerve wracking, but we did fine. Our cruise to Shroud Cay, still within the Exumas Land and Sea Park, was a nice easy run, with us arriving at the mooring field around noon. The wind was brisk but it was easier to pick up the mooring ball this time. What surprised us was the SIX superyachts also moored/anchored here

After a quick lunch, we launched the dinghy, eager to make our way through the mangrove creeks from our side of the cay to the Atlantic side. These creeks are swimming-pool-clear, and shallow. We saw quite a few sea turtles, but really no other sea life. The banks were lined with mangrove forests and extremely peaceful. The ride took about 30 minutes, anchoring the dinghy in shallow water, on what was a still-rising tide.

We had heard that this beach was possibly one of the most beautiful in the world, so we were very excited to see it, with just a small hike over the intervening sand hill between the creek and the beach beyond. Unfortunately, the seas must have been really rough recently, as the beach was covered in seaweed. We could imagine how it would look with calmer seas and a white sand beach, but for us, this was not the right time of year to come here. We took some pictures, and headed back to the dinghy. As we waded out to the dinghy the fine sand creek bed, more like mud, was sucking at our feet and sandals up beyond our ankles – interesting sensory experience, but not really enjoyable… We cruised back to our boat, checking out some possible snorkeling sites near some reefs.

Granuaile on a mooring ball off Shroud Cay
Hiking beach on the Atlantic side of Shroud Cay
Cruising mangrove creeks on Shroud Cay

The yachts around us were HUGE. They had all the toys – jet skis, paddle boards, kayaks, hydrofoil boards, and even inflatable slide from the top deck to the water (some of these boats were 4 or 5 decks high). They all had crews. It’s fun to check out these yachts, but we noted at the end of the day, we all had the same spectacular sunset to enjoy with a chilled cocktail (of course, they also had a catered meal on the beach that someone else set up, prepared, cleaned up and took down, but you get the idea!).

We snorkeled the water around our boat to cool off, but there was not much to see. We were anchored in great sand, but as it is on dry land, sand in the ocean equals desert. Still, we are constantly amazed at the clarity of the water here and know that we will miss it when we have to leave.

The next day, several of the yachts left and we had more of the area to ourselves. We dinghied to a protected beach near us, set up the umbrella and marveled at the beauty around us. Whenever we had previously thought of the Bahamas, this was the picture in our imaginations. We lolled on the beach for a couple of hours. Kathleen went exploring in the bay (which was so shallow for a long way out that she had to crawl along the bottom with her hands, letting her feet float out behind her – the same kind of fine sand/sand mud was here… She was trying to snorkel out to the breakwater area as there looked to be some reef activity near there. Just as she was getting near the area, she spied a HUGE manta ray watching her, floating in the water, with its face raised up – Kathleen got the strong vibe that she was intruding on some territory, so she carefully and calmly made her way back to the shallows. The ray followed her for a while and then settled back in the deeper water. Kathleen is well aware that rays (other than sting rays) are no real threat, but when suddenly faced with something waaay bigger than her both in length and width, she happily ceded territory and went back to the beach…

After we decided we had been lazy long enough, we got back in the dinghy, only to get back out and have to push it a bit to deeper water. Then we got back in to motor out. Neil angled over to the ray (the water was THAT clear that we could see it from some distance). It actually swam towards us, and then followed us out as we left. Who knows – maybe it was used to the humans giving it treats. It was a very cool experience, and of course, we have no pictures of it.

We enjoyed another lovely evening watching the sun set and the stars come out. The breezes help tremendously in this very humid, hot climate, and more than once we wished there was some way we could sleep on the deck without waking in the morning soaked from the dew.

Relaxing on deserted Shroud Cay beach just a short dinghy ride from our boat
Shroud Cay sunset

We left Shroud Cay on August 6th about 10am for a run south to Staniel Cay, about a 4.5 hour trip. We have had several friends tell us about Staniel, and we have been excited to see it. We anchored in the Bay of Pigs off Big Majors. The anchorage again had MANY super yachts, along with smaller boats of various lengths and kinds (sailboats, catamarans, trawlers, day boats). After setting the anchor, Neil swam out to check that it was set (it was), we lowered the dinghy and loaded up two weeks worth of trash and headed to a dinghy dock. We tied up easily, but realized that we had forgotten to bring our masks (DOH!). The store clerk was kind enough to give us two, and we were able to dump our trash and pick up some fruits and veggies. We walked around the area, checking out the other markets, homes, and marina. We had seen the mail boat that delivers everything for the island arriving as we were anchoring, so we knew that any real shopping should wait a day for the stores to get restocked. After dinghying back to the boat, we took a quick swim, had some dinner, and relaxed. We did have a more rolling evening as this anchorage has great holding, but is bumpy and rolly – we probably should have cruised in further before dropping the anchor, but again, it being our first time here, we decided to err on the side of caution.

On the 7th, after a lazy start, we kayaked over to a beach area that had semi-wild swimming pigs as an attraction – no joke! We didn’t bring any snacks (which you’re not supposed to do as these are semi-wild animals that will swarm to get at any food you might have – only feeding them in the water is allowed….), but they were all really friendly and super cute – especially the piglets! Kathleen made friends with two of them that were lounging at the water’s edge – Charlotte’s Web is right, people – pigs LOVE having their ears scratched. She even had one reclining on her leg, loving belly rubs. There is a long history there about the pigs, but today it’s kind of a kitschy attraction that we really enjoyed. After satisfying our pig curiosity, we got back in the kayak and paddled around the shoreline. It’s all limestone or sand right up to the water with lots of interesting caves that were carved out by the sea long ago.

Kathleen making friends with the swimming pigs
Kayaking around Bay of Pigs

Back at the boat, we had a quick nosh and then dinghied over to a beach near the marina and town; we were seriously jonesing for some fresh produce. One thing about this life – grocery shopping is always an adventure when away from our marina. We anchored the dinghy in shallow mud-sand stuff, and walked up the beach, down semi-paved roads and over to a market (Burke’s or “the blue one”), where we were able to stock up. The cashier was so incredibly friendly – she was watching the Olympic events on YouTube and proudly showed us the events where both the male and female Bahamian runners had won the gold in the 400. This country has many islands, but not a large population, and you could feel her pride and excitement that they had won both events. It was really cool. Getting back on the dinghy, we realized that we were getting kinda used to seeing nurse sharks – they were still fun to see, but we didn’t really notice them all the time anymore. This is not something we had expected, truth be told. But it’s like getting used to seeing the Rockies every day – it is something exceptional, but at the same time, something that becomes part of the norm.

Anchor dinghy and head into the town of Staniel for shopping

Once back on the boat, groceries put away, Kathleen made some hummus and guacamole and we enjoyed a light meal on the deck. We also got to catch up with all of our children, having both cell coverage and data available to us. This is the hardest part of this life – being so far away. But everyone was great and had stories to tell. Christmas is not that far away…

Our weather forecasting gurus were starting to make some noise about weather coming off of Africa, which is always a precursor to icky weather in the Caribbean and possibly the Bahamas. So, we knew the time was looming for our return to Florida.

August 8th had us up and out a little after 8am to go explore the “Thunderball Grotto”, which was used as a shooting location in two Bond films, “Thunderball” and “Never Say Never Again”. Of course we had to check it out! High tide (or just after) left us with rather swift current, but no other visitors. We anchored the dinghy just off the limestone rocks of the grotto. Kathleen got in first, and though the current was robust, felt that we could handle it. We eased our way around the outside, knowing that there were three or four entrances to the grotto (which at high tide meant diving down under the water to come up on the other side of the cave wall. Neil went first with no mishap. Kathleen followed, a bit panicky as diving down with just a snorkel in a quick current under sharp limestone rocks caused her heart rate to go up – she also has an INCREDIBLY difficult time staying down in the water – too much buoyancy… Anyway, she only slightly scraped her forehead upon entering. The grotto was magical, with early morning light filtering in from the opening above, Spanish moss (or something much like it) hanging from the top, stalactites growing down from the rocks above, and a lot of fish (including our now-anticipated barracuda…). There was a natural shelf against one wall which lent well as a bench to rest on. Neil got some good video and photos and Kathleen swam around.

We took a different way out as it was bigger, and seemed easier. Neil again went first. Kathleen followed, and was fighting current as well as her inability to stay down in the water. Neil, safely on the other side, saw her struggling, and pulled her out. On the way, she clonked her head on the limestone above, having her seeing stars. We had to rather quickly get back in the dinghy as the anchor was beginning to drag. Kathleen hit her head twice on the way out, significantly enough to start bleeding (as all head wounds do), we knew there were sharks around, so that may have boosted our exit speed quite a bit, too.

The rest of the day Kath spent on the couch with 4X4 pads and an icepack. Suffice it to say, we learned a lot, Kathleen needs a weight belt and gloves and put her hand up when going under ANYTHING, and we should trust our gut if a current seems a bit too wonky. BUT it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. We’d like to come again in the future – at slack current, of course.

Snorkeling Thunderball Grotto near Staniel Cay
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Aug 9th: With the weather predictions continuing to point towards an approaching Tropical Storm, it was time to start heading back north. We raised anchor about 8am for a 6 hour cruise to Highbourne Cay. On this trip, our nautical miles crossed over 4000 since moving aboard Granuaile! We’ve done a bit of traveling in the past 1.5 years!

The sea conditions were easy and calm, and marina was beautiful. Highbourne Marina is a smaller, private marina, and we got tied up easily. Neil checked us in, and we replenished our water supply. After dinner, we walked the area, strolling on the beach in the moonlight and walking the docks of the marina. At one end, there was a fish cleaning table with lights on in the water. There were easily six nurse sharks, and some bigger fish hanging out – they know where the free food is. We saw a reef shark casually swim into this area, snarf down one of the fish that was swimming about and head out. Nature at it’s finest, right there….

Cruised by a 200+ ft superyacht anchored near Staniel Cay. Now that’s a water slide …
Highbourne Cay Marina
Crystal clear water in the marina

We left Highbourne the next morning around 8:00 to cruise the 60 miles to the west end of New Providence Island and anchor in West Bay overnight. Seas were active this trip, with 11-14 knots of wind and 2-4 ft waves. Not awful, but quite bumpy. The anchorage was easy to get into and set the anchor, we were able to tuck in quite close to the shore with good depth. However there was a lot of surge here so it made for a rocking sleep.

We departed the next morning in pre-dawn light around 6:15 to get to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. It was a 10 hour run, with 3-4 foot waves, 11-15 knots of wind, but we made it no worse for wear. We tied up at the Great Harbor Cay marina, initially thinking we would leave the next day for Florida. Unfortunately, “Fred” had other plans. The weather was beautiful where we were, but predictions for crossing were not promising, and Florida was getting a lot of rain. So we did what we always promised that we’d do in this type of situation. Stayed put. This marina is a great “hurricane hole” protected by land on all sides. The island is pretty, and has a population of about 850 people (both of our high schools had more people…). The people here are unbelievably friendly. Everyone waves, has a smile, light toot on car horns as they go by. We stayed for five days, planning to depart on the morning of the 16th to cross after Fred and before Grace.

Early morning departure from anchorage in West Bay, New Providence Island
Granuaile at slip in Great Harbour Cay Marina located in Bullocks Harbour

While here, we borrowed the marina’s bikes (which unfortunately were not adjustable and gave our knees quite the workout). We rode around the island, checking out the town and stopping for breakfast at “The New Beach Club” which is a wonderful outdoor restaurant/cafe/bar. After a very filling and tasty breakfast, we headed back to the marina. While Neil did some maintenance on the boat, Kathleen got in a lot of pilates and shoulder exercises. We walked to Brown’s, a restaurant/take-out place about 1.5 miles from the marina (which is a much bigger deal in this heat/humidity) and were rewarded with our best meal in the Bahamas so far. Neil had cracked conch and Kathleen had grilled hogfish snapper – both freshly caught and prepared by the host/manager/waiter Ronnie. We waited at our outside table, watching a glorious sunset, being regaled with fishing stories by a lovely older local, who has spent his life free diving for conch and spear fishing with his Hawaiian sling. It was a great night, with Ronnie coming out to visit with us. The island has suffered from Covid and it’s affect not just on the population here but also on the tourist industry. But these people all care for each other and have a very beautiful outlook. After dinner, Ronnie called his uncle (this island’s form of Uber?) who gave us a ride back to the marina – which we greatly appreciated after a couple of rum punches, a very large dinner, and a sun already set.

Breakfast at the New Beach Club
Dinner at Brown’s Garden
Brown’s Garden patio overlooking Great Bahama Bank

We went back to the New Beach Club for lunch, thoroughly enjoying it (and earning it with another walk to the restaurant – not as far, but much hotter). Kathleen completed our Bahamian exit documents online and a very nice immigration official came over from the airport to check us out.

We did get to partake of another excellent meal at Brown’s to celebrate our last night in the Bahamas. We split a dish of scorch conch (a truly Bahamian way of preparing it – almost like ceviche, but much much faster – scorch is to the Bahamians as scored is to us. Lime juice, onions, and a very few habanero chili seeds, mixed up and poured over the scored (scorched) and sliced conch. It was amazing. We also got chicken wings, peas and rice (a staple here) and some fried plantain, rounded out with Ronnie’s rum punch. We watched the sunset and fully appreciated this unique experience on this unique island. The walk there and back justified our indulgence (or at least that’s what we told ourselves!). Back on our boat, we grabbed showers and some reading, and went to bed early – we knew we’d be up before five the next day.

We left Great Harbour Cay around 7:30 am with calm seas and clear skies with just a few cottony clouds. We were a bit nervous that we would encounter at least challenging seas during our trip across, but it was unexpectedly easy. Waves were 1-2 ft, wind was 11-15 knots, and absolutely no rain. It stayed that way all night and the next day. We picked up speed in the Gulf Stream, so we arrived just outside of Ft. Pierce around 5:30am – we didn’t want to enter the inlet until 6:30 to catch the slack tide. We just meandered for a bit, then Neil captained us in through the inlet. We did have to wait just a bit for a bridge opening, but we had very calm waters the whole way back to Vero Beach. We had a textbook docking with very low winds and got secured easily.

We passed multiple cruise ships that were adrift off Freeport.
Sun setting as we cross the Gulf Stream

So now this Bahamas adventure is in the books. We have some maintenance and lots of cleaning and polishing for the next bit, but if the weather gives us a window, we will scoot down to the Keys or maybe the Dry Tortugas. We feel so very lucky to have been able to stay in the Bahamas as long as we did during hurricane season. It all went way too fast, and we cannot wait to go back next year. This trip, with just the two of us, tested us and confirmed our desire for this life, and we are grateful. We both hope we can hold onto the Bahamian outlook (relax, work hard, be nice) and share it here. Another bucket list item in the bag. Thanks for coming along with us through this blog.

2 thoughts on “Cruising the Exumas and returning to Florida

  1. So posted an update on the Abacos and I thought I had saved it but cannot find it. We’re plan on doing A Moorings in the Abacos and I know that post would have been very informative. Can you help here?

    On Sat, Aug 21, 2021, 3:47 PM CRUISING ON M/V GRANUAILE wrote:

    > npdonohoe posted: ” August 4: We weighed anchor at Warderick Wells Cay > around 10:00am. With a strong current as we navigated out of the mooring > field and several moored boats to steer around, it was a bit nerve > wracking, but we did fine. Our cruise to Shroud Cay, still with” >

    Like

  2. Very nice. I remember watching your video on offshore training with Jeff M…….and I decided to find your blog. Blessings. Merle O>

    Like

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