EXUMAS: REVISITING LOVED PLACES, EXPLORING NEW SPOTS

March 31st: Neil picked up Meg and Liv at the taxi stand (aka “Exuma Markets”). The girls had been on the road since the day before, taking a red-eye from Denver and then spending 11 hours in Miami before the short plane hop to Great Exuma Island. They may have been a wee bit tired…. After some tropical refreshments and appetizers, they were very happy to be here – ALMOST as happy as we were to get to see them and hug them. The next day we dinghied over to George Town to do some grocery shopping. Lunch was spent at “Chat and Chill” on the nearby Stocking Island, another great outdoor spot where conch salad is prepared right in front of you, drinks are plentiful, and food is good, but takes a very long time to come out of the kitchen. After lunch, we had a quick stop at the boat to get stuff together to hike to the other side of Stocking Island – the view is spectacular and the swimming fun, so we really wanted to show it to the girls. It was another perfect day.

We lifted anchor on April 2nd and headed north for Bitter Guana Cay, a 7.5 hour run. Neil and the girls tried fishing, although none were biting. Bitter Guana Cay is JUST south of Staniel Cay, and MUCH less crowded (we had the place to ourselves!). This Cay is a wildlife refuge for an endangered breed of iguana. These giant lizards are very friendly and have, for reptiles, great manners. They also LOVE carrots and HATE having them fall in the sand – good to know. Liv and Meg took the kayak over the beach that first afternoon, arriving back in time for cocktails and another breathtaking sunset.

The next morning, we all rode over to the beach to visit and feed the iguanas, which were still excited about carrots… After emptying our supply, we hiked up a trail to the crest of a bluff, able to see both sides of the island from there. Kathleen and Liv explored the area closer down by the sea, and Meg and Neil checked out the surrounding views. The white cliffs, tidal pools, and occasional iguanas were amazing. We finished the hike back on the west side, exploring some rocky coastline and checking out a cave – which was already claimed by MANY iguanas cooling off from the mid-day sun. Back on board, Kathleen made some more chocolate chip cookies, and we settled in after dinner to watch one of the myriad DVD’s that Meg had brought for us – so much fun as the majority were Disney or Warner Brothers – guaranteeing trips down memory lane for some, and a chance for Neil and Kathleen to get caught up on the “must see animation movies” that we had missed.

Hiking the east side of Stocking Island
Cocktails and snacks on the boat deck with Liv and Meghan, anchorage off George Town
Early morning departure from George Town, heading north to Bitter Guana Cay
Meghan enjoying a float in the crystal clear waters in Bitter Guana Cay anchorage
Checking out the iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay beach
Bitter Guana Cay anchorage

Around 10:30 on the morning of the 4th, we took the two hour cruise over to Staniel Cay, anchoring again in the Bay of Pigs (no joke…). After anchoring at Big Majors Spot, we got the dinghy in the water and headed over to the beach to introduce Meg and Liv to the piggies. We still had some carrots saved, so we had a lot of fun, barring the one large pig that seemed to want to chase our dinghy instead of coming with us to the beach to get fed. It IS amazing how large these pigs are, and they are good swimmers – with cloven hoofs that can scratch if you’re not careful…

Our friends, Paul and Shannon from Time Out were anchored close by, so we finally got to visit with them (we kept missing each other for various reasons – pretty typical for cruising!). From there, we took the girls to the Grotto for a fantastic snorkeling experience (except for the crowds – lots of tour boats here which lead to lots of people) – we spent some time snorkeling outside the Grotto too, checking out some beautiful and varied coral with hundreds of fish swimming around for our viewing pleasure! We had brought some clothes to change into in our dry bags, and we headed over to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a very relaxing dinner, complete with frozen daquiris for the girls. Walking around the dock we were treated to many nurse sharks in the marina as well as smaller fish darting about. After some photos with the sunset in the background, it was back to Granuaile for showers and relaxing on the “Lido Deck” for the end of the day.

Feeding the pigs at Big Majors Spot
Snorkeling at the Thunderball Groto near Staniel Cay
Taking in the view from the boat deck

We took another short cruise up to Cambridge Cay on April 5th. The cruise was very easy until we started working our way to the mooring field. It was a good “learning experience” for Kathleen as she was piloting through narrow winding passages, and Neil exemplified great patience and calm, helping her navigate. When we got to the mooring field, there was exactly ONE ball left – good luck for us! Once we were tied up and secured, Kathleen needed a little decompression time, so Meg and Liv chilled on our floating chairs off the stern with Neil grabbing beverages and pictures. Later that afternoon, we took the dinghy to “the Aquarium” – a beautiful coral reef in semi-protected waters. Another fantastic place to visit, but way over crowded with people. The times to be able to swim at some of these spots is limited due to current and tide, so you go when you can – and so does everyone else! We went from there to a less crowded spot, diving over a sunken plane and more gorgeous “coral condos” with fish of every color, size and shape. Back on board, after showers, Kathleen made some Ahi poke with rice and shrimp scampi – amazing how these meals are raved about when everyone is starving from a full day! ;).

We had several nurse shark visitors that evening/night, and Neil hung the green fish light off the back of the boat once the sun had gone down. It was sooo amazing to see so many fish and nurse sharks milling around our boat in the clear water. They seemed to really like the warmer water from our generator, and possibly some shrimp-flavored water from cleaning our dishes…

Liv and Meghan hanging off the swim platform in our Cambridge Cay mooring
Heading out in the dinghy for some snorkeling
Checking out The Aquarium near O’Briens Cay
Lots of fish at The Aquarium …
But lots of snorkelers too
Neil investigating a submerged plane near O’Briens Cay
Nurse sharks swimming around us in Cambridge Cay mooring field

The next morning dawned beautiful (as usual…), and after breakfast, we headed over to the Cay to explore. The trail we took was called “the Honeymoon Path” and it was a pretty, lush (for the area) short walk to Honeymoon beach, and the Kissing Rock (also called the Bell Rock). We hiked the beach and surrounding hills, getting fantastic panoramic views of both sides of the island, including a salt pond. Kathleen and Liv again explored closer to the Atlantic side, marveling at the cliffs and awesome power of the ocean. After more portaits with this background, we hiked back down, visiting the Salt Pond and then back to the beach. Liv was the only one brave enough (?) to swim over to Bell Rock and climb to the top – the rest of us watched a little fearfully, but cheered her on the whole way.

After checking out the other end of the beach, we dinghied over to the “Bubble Bath”, a recommendation from our friends Doug and Sue on their “not to be missed list”. A short walk in from the beach proved them right – a shallow pool backing up to limestone rock that had an area where waves crashed over from the ocean side was so much fun. We went back to the boat to grab our snorkeling gear, and headed out to the Rocky Dundas mooring, a short ride away. In addition to great reefs to visit, there are two amazing caves here, easily accessible at low tide. These caves sported unbelieveable stalagtites and stalagmites – many that had joined together and looked a lot like ET’s, lending an other-worldliness to the caves. They were also sacred sites for the indigenous Lucayans, so that probabaly added to the mystical air, too…

On the 7th, we went to one more snorkeling spot – Larry’s Reef, a drift spot. The winds had really kicked up the water, so it wasn’t an easy snorkeling, and not a whole lot to see – we were hoping to see a “rare stand of pillar coral”, but didn’t locate it, and after swimming around for a while, headed back in
Back on the boat we celebrated another fun day with fresh guacamole and humus – along with some beverages, of course, followed by pizza!

Hiking over to the east side of Cambridge Cay
View of Granuaile at mooring in Cambridge Cay from hill on the east side of cay
Overlooking the Exuma Sound
That’s Liv on Bell Rock after swimming over and climbing the steep trail to the top
Wave crashing into the Bubble Bath, on Compass Cay
Inside cave at Rocky Dundas

We left the anchorage early the next morning for a 9 hour cruise back to George Town. The seas were really rough and the only one not affected by it was Neil. Once again, we were very glad for Scopolamine and Dramamine! We secured an anchor spot and relaxed for the evening, enjoying a spectacular sunset.

Our time with our lovely girls was coming to a close. We spent Saturday, the 9th, in George Town, getting the girls their Covid tests, hitting the Straw Market for shirts, hats, ornaments, jewelry and other touristy items, and a bit of grocery shopping. We had lunch at Chat and Chill again, snorkeled some nearby reefs (that were unfortunately cloudy due to the active currents and winds) and then Meg and Liv treated us to a fantastic dinner at the Green Turtle restaurant. Another movie capped off our last night together.

The next morning, we took the girls to their taxi stand and after many hugs and not a few tears, waved them off, very grateful for their time with us. Neil and I did more grocery shopping, and headed back to the boat – we had a lot of cleaning to get done after so many days of cruising! It was strange to have the quiet again – we definitely enjoyed having guests, and with Meg and Liv departing, we realized we were in the last few weeks of our time in the Bahamas.

Back in George Town, and unfortunately time for Liv and Meghan to depart
Another beautiful sunset in the Bahamas

George Town, Great Exuma Island and Long Island

March 18th: Kathleen piloted us out of the Oven Rock anchorage off Great Guana Cay and through the Galliot Cut into the Exuma Sound for our cruise down to George Town. The seas were a little rolly, but easy, we had some light drizzle, which was actually great. George Town is the capitol of the Exumas and the largest town on Great Exuma Island (every wonder about the difference between “cay” and “island”? Well, Kathleen did – thank you Google – a cay is formed over a coral reef, with deposits from the sea on top building over time. An island is formed by a volcano or by shifting underwater plates. There – your geography lesson is complete.

The anchorages were very busy, as this is a popular place for boaters to “winter over” – free to anchor, two well-stocked groceries, fuel availability and a good spot to hop off to places north, south, east and/or west. We did not go ashore the first night as a) we were tired and b) it was pretty rolly. So we settled in for dinner and another Harry Potter movie…

Exiting through Galliot Cut into the Exuma Sound
At anchorage in Elizabeth Harbour off George Town, lots of boats

Dinghying in to George Town the next day was “wet” as it was nearly impossible to avoid sea spray on the bumpy ride to the dinghy dock. The marina looked to still be in the throes of some repairs, so we followed the rest of the traffic under a cement archway into “Lake Victoria”, aka a shallow large pond with lots of dinghy docks to tie up to. We dumped our trash and walked around the island for a bit, doing a big circle. We wandered through a “straw market” – also known as a tourist spot for souvenirs, stopped to read some local postings about the local history of the area, went into a local grocery, then got served “turkey sauce” by some lovely ladies who were part of a church group feeding people for free. (Just as a suggestion, probably want to pass it by if offered – it was bits and pieces of hacked up turkey, skin, bones and very little meat – but it was very kind and we were happy to contribute to their work). By the time we got back to where we had started, we were pretty tired, so we hit the grocery store near the marina (we were extra lucky as the mail boat had just come in the day before – and WAS THAT STORE EVER STOCKED!) – we were overwhelmed with, well, everything. Fresh fruits, fresh veggies, frozen foods, dried and canned goods – we hadn’t seen this much plenty is almost two months. The store was mobbed, so we stocked up as quickly as we could, and headed back to the boat. (Neil was hoping to be able to buy some gas for the dinghy, but they were sold out – something to get used to here).

On Sunday the 20th, we took the dinghy to Sand Dollar Beach on Stocking Island, near where we were anchored. After passing sailboat Rock Chalk (the couple we had first met in Warderick Wells and had seen several times since!) we had a nice visit with a couple on shore who gave us directions for a short hike to a spectacular view. We all agreed it was one of the absolutely most beautiful beaches we had every seen, and we took a great walk up the coast.

Hiking on Stocking Island
Exuma Sound side of Stocking Island, beautiful long beaches!
Sand Dollar Beach. Granuaile anchored in the background (red arrow)
Sand Dollar Beach anchorage off Stocking Island

A quick bite on the boat and a change of clothes, and we went back to George Town – Dave and Elaine needed to get their Covid tests as they were leaving the next day for Miami. It was hard to believe that their time with us was almost up! We decided to have lunch at a local stand, as most of the area was closed down (yes, it was Sunday, and yes, at some point we would figure this out). Lunch took over 1.5 hours to MAKE, but it was good and the owner/cook/server was very apologetic, stating that everything was made from scratch and that she had just come from church (!) to open for lunch. It did taste great, but we all wondered if the wooden table would have tasted great as we were really hungry. Ah, Bahamas time…

After another stop at the grocery store (and another failed attempt at getting gas as it was closed – on Sunday…), we went back to the boat, having left overs for dinner, and spending time together as Dave and Elaine packed. We also met another Nordhavn couple from Boulder! Very nice people on Puffin Quest, Paul and Renee. Super helpful and fun, and we hope we get to catch up with them soon.

The next morning, Neil took Dave and Elaine to the George Town dock (not enough room in dinghy for Kathleen this time!), and after securing them on land and bidding our love and farewell, we lifted anchor and took the five hour cruise to Thompson Bay off of Long Island.

The ride down was easy and beautiful, and anchoring simple, with not a lot of boats in the area. The winds have been steadily high (around 20 knots), which makes for interesting dinghy rides. We did get ashore the first day, walking around near the government dock, noticing a grocery and a beach bar, as well as a real Esso gas station and fish market nearby. We took a short swim once back at the boat – you HAVE to when the water temperature is 83 degrees. The evening was polished off with Kathleen’s homemade hummus, Neil’s Manhattan and nature’s glorious end of the day. Our second day started well with Kathleen making some chocolate chip cookies (they somehow taste better on the boat). However, shortly after Kathleen’s back demanded a day off, so we hung out on board, marveling at the stars that night, and actually watching a movie (we did finish Harry Potter with Dave and Elaine…).

Sunset at Thompson Bay anchorage on Long Island

The 24th was bright and sunny with billowing clouds – and super high winds. So, a day of catching up on this blog, laundry, housework, engine maintenance and the like took over. The next day had us exploring the island, crossing over to the “Atlantic” side, where after a good hike, we lounged on the beach, played a bit in the water and took it all in as the only people on the beach at that time.

We finally found our beach bar here – Tiny’s – with a very relaxed atmosphere, WiFi (Kathleen got to download some more pilates classes), and according to Neil, the best rum punch he has had yet. Combine that with a game of Cornhole on the beach, some swings and an incredible view and we were in heaven. During the dinghy ride back to the boat, the sunset was exceptional, painting the sky various shades of orange, bouncing off the water, silhouetting anchored boats with an unbelieveable backdrop.

Atlantic Ocean side of Long Island, never tire of Bahamas’ beautiful beaches
Dinner and a cocktail at Tiny’s Hurricane Hole
Dinghy ride back to our boat with a beautiful sunset

We took time over the next couple of days to do some cleaning, polishing, laundry and maintenance in preparation for our next guests, daughter Meghan and wonderful friend Olivia.

On the 28th, we lifted anchor around 8:30 to cruise back up to George Town, where Meg and Liv were flying into on the 31st.

Staniel Cay and Great Guana Cay

March 7th had us cruising the relatively short hop (2.5 hours) from Warderick Wells Cay to Staniel Cay. After dropping anchor, we got the dinghy in the water and cruised over to a grocery store to both dump trash (large amount and stinky …) and buy some provisions. We planned a bigger shop the next day, but we have learned that when shopping on these islands, if you see something you want/need, buy it – it might not be there later.

We toured around the area, ending up at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and Marina, where we were happy to discover the Karen Marie, with Dale, Karen, Sean and Debbie – friends we last saw in Norman’s Cay. They invited us aboard and we enjoyed a great hour catching up, friendship, beverages and seeing a plethora (Kathleen just loves using that word…) of sealife – about 10 nurse sharks, rays, one barracuda, and a myriad of other tropical fish. After our visit, we grabbed dinner at the bar of the Yacht Club and wandered back to the dinghy, well after sunset and nightfall. The long dinghy ride back felt sketchy except for Elaine who enjoyed watching the stars and maybe the newness of the ride not feeling the tension that Kathleen and Neil did while trying to navigate the waters and many anchored boats back to our boat in the dark. We got back safe and sound, no worse for wear.

The next morning had us up and out, first checking out the “swimming pigs” on the beach near us, along with nurse sharks and rays and other fish. From there we cruised over to the town to do some proper shopping and a bit of sightseeing. We got back to the boat, where Neil changed the generator oil and the rest of us relaxed (Kathleen trying to master Fair Isle knitting and Elaine and Dave alternating between reading and “contemplating with eyes closed.”). Neil had checked the current and tide, and found a good window to snorkel the Thunderball Grotto (the scene of last summer’s fiasco where Kathleen banged her head on the limestone). This time, it was PERFECT. Hardly any current, water low enough we could just gently swim into the grotto. The fish were fantastic, the light dancing across the water in different areas through a larger hope at the top of the grotto, grasses hanging down from the ceiling, stalactites and stalagmites growing with. We snorkeled in and around for about an hour, all declaring that it was one of our more stellar expeditions.

Sunrise at our Staniel Cay anchorage
Dave and Elaine inside the Grotto
Underwater views from inside the Grotto
Staniel Cay beach with swimming pigs attraction
Kathleen taking video of the rays swimming near our dinghy

We left Staniel the next day around 1:00, after a tour around the Sandals resort and another visit to the pigs and company, and a quick trash dump. We were ready for a short hop (ten miles) to the Little Bay anchorage off of Great Guana Cay. On the way, we connected via VHF with Christine and Joe Cook on Legacy, our friends from Vero, who were headed to Staniel. It was a bummer that we couldn’t stop to visit, but hopefully will catch up later.

The Little Bay anchorage hosted a seeming Nordhavn convention, with 4 Nordhavns anchored (including us). Kathleen’s back decided she had had enough bouncing while in the dinghy and needed a long rest, so she headed to bed, but everyone else had a grand evening, with folks from one of the Nordhavns coming over to meet and greet.

Although the anchorage was pretty, it was very rolly, so the next morning we weighed anchor and cruised around the point to the Black Point Settlement anchorage. There were A LOT of boats here, both for nominal protection from some anticipated blowing later in the week, as well as a pretty town with friendly people. We had lunch at Lorraine’s, a popular restaurant/bakery, which definitely ran on Bahamas time (lunch took about 2 hours, of which 1.5 of it was spent waiting for our food..). We came back to the boat where some quick snorkeling and longer sunning took place, and we are still waiting to play Euchre (Elaine did teach Kathleen, but somehow, every night after dinner and stars, we are all just ready to collapse into bed – there are worse things…).

On the 11th, we went to shore around noon, hoping to rent a golf cart to see the island. Apparently, they are a rare commodity – although we saw several scurrying around, there were none available to rent. Just as well, as we had a great walk along the one main road here, with the island narrowing at one point so much that we could see both the Atlantic side and the Bank side at the same time. We also ejoyed a very active blow hole and a dip from a pretty beach. It was very shallow (like 2-3 feet shallow) for a long way out, so we had fun just floating around. The water was really warm – a harbinger of the months to come. Back at the boat, we all snorkeled around for a bit, with cooler (aka more refreshing) water, and not a whole lot to see beneath us. The sea bottom for a lot of the Exumas is a vast desert, with amazing coral reefs exploding in color and life popping up with regularity. We went to a restaurant for dinner and were treated to dining on an outdoor patio, by ourselves, for the most part, watching another amazing sunset and a very adorable local child who had fun entertaining us with his antics for a bit before mom had had enough. We are still trying to figure out the night life – or lack thereof – on these islands – it seems that most people eat out at lunch, and it’s pretty quiet come 5:00. We enjoyed fresh conch prepared in various ways, Kalik beer (local brew) and an easy cruise back to the boat – we left extra lights on this time so easier to find in the dark…

Anchorage off Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay
Atlantic side of Great Guana Cay
Enjoying dinner at restaurant overlooking our Black Point anchorage. Granuaile in the background (red arrow)

The next day we awoke to waves hitting us on the beam causing us to roll. The whole day was really rough, even too risky to try to get on the dinghy to get to shore. So, we had the difficult task of entertaining ourselves – lots of reading, Kath working on new knitting techniques, Neil doing some tax work (yuck), and Dave and Elaine practicing maintaining balance and stomach calmness in between well earned naps.

Still no Euchre yet, but we are getting through the Harry Potter movies (again!).

We had one more day at this anchorage, again visiting the small village of Black Point Settlement. It was very quiet as it was Sunday and not yet 1:00 – people here seriously use this day as a day of church and rest. We walked around a lot of the island, and evenutally had lunch at a local spot, where the owner had JUST opened as she had just come in from church. After a nice relaxing meal, we walked around a bit more and then headed back to the boat. This time, we did have a somewhat raucus round of Euchre!

We headed south late in the morning the following day, March 15th, to Oven Rock at the southern point of Great Guana Cay. We towed the dinghy using a bridle that we had yet to use since we had bought the boat. All went well, it was a nice easy ride. It was a gorgeous day, and after securing the boat and anchor, we went exploring. There were several coral areas to snorkel, with lots of tropical fish, sea stars, and even a playful young turtle! We saw our first lionfish here, and appreciated it from a distance. They are actually a menace here and hunting them is very encouraged. Unfortuately, we did not have the equipment, so we just watched.

Oven Rock anchorage off Great Guana Cay
Oven Rock anchorage reef teeming with life

We went ashore on the 16th, with Kathleen, Dave and Elaine exploring the island to a cave with fresh water, stalagtites and stalagmites to stagger the senses. Neil stayed back with the dinghy, as the anchors did not give him a great sense of security given the rough surf. The hike also opened up a panorama to the other side of the island, with crashing seas and limestone landscapes. We can never get enough of this. We then took the dinghy over to Little Farmer’s Cay, which was right next to the end of Great Guana and very close to the anchorage. The townspeople were crazy friendly, from the moment we pulled up with helping us to tie up and giving us the rundown of things to see and visit. Dino appears to be the head of the weloming committee, inviting us to take part in “feeding the turtles” with him if we so desired. We gently declined the offer, but did stop by the next pier to put in an order for lobster tails and conch salad. We then took a short walk around the immediate area, having fun talking with local about a project to complete a recent monument (a local who had moved to Nassau to live and work as a nurse is currently in charge of a memorial to all the family members who have lived on this island – it has an interesting history, as it was bought from the British by the children of a freed slave, with the understanding that only family members could own property on the cay.) We also had an “enterprising artist” who corralled Neil, Elaine and Dave to check out his wares – none of which really sparked any interest to purchase.

At the dock, Kathleen got a free lesson on how to make conch salad, which we consumed on site. It was a truly perfect Bahamian moment eating conch fresh from the sea, watching rays and nurse sharks coast around and watching Dino enthrall some new tourists with feeding his 80+ year old sea turtle (which was, in fact, very cool). We spoke with the owner of the local restaurant, confirming that we needed to make dinner reservations and promised to do so for the following evening (it was too late in the day to do it for then). Back on board, after some swimming and unwinding, it was time for relaxing beverages and another spectacular sunset, along with grilled lobster!

Ordering fresh made conch salad and lobster tails for dinner. Little Harbour on Little Farmers Cay
Chef Kathleen attending the lobstor tails cooking on the grill
A delicious lobster tail feast

In the morning, Kathleen made Irish soda bread as it was St. Patrick’s Day – admittedly not a big holiday here. We made dinner reservations via VHF for that evening, and went back to the island around 2:30 to do some more exploring. We walked all around the island this time, seeing goats, chickens, beautiful waters from all sides, the “airport” aka – landing strip for one or two propeller planes, ending up at TJ’s a beachfront bar and grille that was touted as “the best” on both Active Captain and our Waterway Guide. Unfortunately, TJ’s was not open – it did look like a really fun place, but also that it may have suffered from Pandemic restrictions. We were pleasantly surprised when a woman came by, said it was her day off, but was happy to get us a drink. As this was all that we really wanted, we were grateful. She told us a lot about her life, both on Little Farmers as well as in Nassau. Kids from the out islands leave their homes at 10th grade to go to school in Nassau. The university is there also. Many families choose to mover there, understandably, to be near their children. Many never come back. At one point, Little Farmers had over 200 people living on it as permanent residents – today, it’s aroun 75. The people are eager to show off their home and would love to have more tourists come – we heartily encourage anyone going to visit this little gem.

After our visit, Dave took a dip off the beach to cool off, and then availed himself of the outdoor shower! (we were glad for the blue planks…)

We walked back over to the marina for dinner at the Ocean Cabin, a great Bahamian restaurant/bar just up from the water. Terry and his wife Evangeline run a very pretty place, with great food, music and company. They also have more unique tee shirts for those of us who don’t want to have ones that just scream about swimming with pigs…

Terry has had a very interesting life and is more than happy to share it with you. After realizing we were probably keeping them from closing up (it was nearing 8:00), we said our good nights and dinghyed back to the boat. We had an early evening too as we were leaving at sunrise (or so) the next day to head out for George Town.

Beautiful view from TJ’s Sunset Bar and Grill on Little Farmers Cay
Dave enjoying a shower after a refreshing dip in the Exuma waters
Ocean Cabin restaurant hours … life in the Bahamas, love it!!

EMERALD ROCK, WARDERICK WELLS CAY, AND THE EXUMA LAND AND SEA PARK … AKA PARADISE

Another short cruise on March 2nd took us to our favorite spot (so far) in the Bahamas. We picked up a mooring ball in the Emerald Rock field, anticipating bigger winds later this week – strategically locating our boat near shore and “hills” that would hopefully buffer the winds that were anticipated from the East in a few days. We took the dinghy to the ranger station to pay our mooring fees and to hike Boo-Boo Hill, the blow holes, and environs. The Ranger was also kind enough (and patient enough) to point out that our mystery “shark-fish” were remora – something Kathleen was SURE were waaayyy smaller – until he very kindly and patiently brought up pictures – of exactly what we had seen under the boat. We were glad for the lesson, and ventured out to hike.

The three mile round trip was fun, with breezes and a lot of sunshine. We encountered other boaters on the trail, which is always fun, to hear about their travels and swap stories and weather updates. Most of the hike was either over very pointy limestone or sand, so we figure we got our workouts in for the day!

Coming back to the boat, we had a nice dip off the swim step, cleaned up and settled in for another spectacular sunset and dinner on the deck. There are worse ways to welcome in the beginning of March.

Dave taking in the beauty of Warderick Wells Cay
Granuaile in the distance on mooring ball at Warderick Wells Cay
Elaine and Dave hiking up Boo-Boo Hill on Warderick Wells Cay
Top of Boo-Boo Hill: Surveying the offerings left by cruisers ove the years to King Neptune
Another perfect day comes to a close

On the 3rd, we dropped Dave and Elaine at the ranger station so they could do some more land exploring, and Neil and Kathleen went over to the coral garden to try snorkeling. This particular morning we had no luck as the current was really strong. After struggling back into the dinghy, we took a cruise around the mooring field, checking out various boats, and then anchored off of a small beach near the inlet for Warderick Wells Cay. We snorkeled for a bit, again feeling some strong current, explored the tide pools on the beach, and headed back to the Garden to try snorkeling again, hoping that the changing current would allow us an easier time. Kathleen got in first, and had moderately more success, noticing that along with fins, if she swam Freestyle, she made progress – she also probably made noise like a fish in distress, because shortly after swimming, she noticed a 6 foot long black tip reef shark swimming nearby. She immediately went to just calmly hanging out and when the shark chose a direction, she chose the opposite one.

Neil and Kathleen worked very hard to see a small area, but it was beautiful as usual, ending with seeing four beautiful rays swimming/flying through the waters as they headed to the dinghy. They then went to the other end of the island, discovering Pirate’s Lair, another amazing protected cove with pristine beaches. Although the water looked like the most inviting swimming pool ever, the current there was also too strong to swim. They did, however see more rays, however, which was simply icing on the cake of a perfect day.

After cruising back to pick up Dave and Elaine after their excursion (they also saw a lot of sea life, a ray and a nurse shark and lots of fish!), we all went back to the boat for some more swimming and evening relaxing.

Pirates Lair, Warderwick Wells Cay a beautiful location for snorkeling or just hanging out to take in the view
Reef near our Emerald Rock mooring

March 4th was the last good weather for several days, so we made the most of it. We dinghyed over to Beryl’s Beach, one of the many gorgeous beaches to choose from. We hiked to see colonial ruins, including a stone wall and some very rudimentary “buildings” on the top of a hill. It definitely clarified the incredible difficulties of the earliest settlers, as this “plantation” settlement was listed as failed – with no further discussion of what that meant – but without much potable water, arable land or even easily traversed terrain, it would seem that the failure was probably quick and not pleasant.

We walked to another area designated “Slaves’ Dip” which was on the exposed side of the island, a much more turbulent area with very little sand and a whole lot of limestone. It seemed safe to deduce that either the name was ironic and used as a punishment, or slaves in the day did not dip very often…

We then hung out on the cove side beach, swimming, sunning and enjoing a very brave local lizard who bonded with Kathleen, even climbing on her. She was thrilled, Neil was less so. We got back in the dinghy and cruised over to show Dave and Elaine Pirate’s Lair, which, even with higher winds and choppier water, was still breath-taking.

Ruins overlooking our mooring near Emerald Rock, Warderick Wells Cay

After a lunch and naps for at least three folks on the boat, we went out to snorkel the Malabar Cays, just behind our boat. Neil and Kathleen saw some great fish, including several fluorescent colored ones, Butterfly fish, Tangs, a grouper, two live spiny lobsters, and tons of coral. The craziest sighting however, was an incredibly huge lobster shell – two crustaceans had apparently battled to the death – but the larger one, which appeared broken into three pieces was greater than three feet long. This is crazy to contemplate, and Kathleen, at least, was entirely convinced she would not enjoy encountering such a large crustacean when it was alive.

We then ventured to Emerald Rock and the reef right by it for the last swim of the day. Everyone enjoyed this swim, with lots of fish, sea slugs (ick) and coral abounding. Kathleen saw another fish that she couldn’t identify and is anxiously awaiting some WiFi connection in Staniel Cay to do some research.

By sunset, the winds were starting to blow, so dinner was inside, but fresh breezes actually kept the temperature wonderful and with our mooring ball close to protective hills, even with higher winds (gusting to the high 20’s), there was not much rolling inside the boat.

Snorkeling near Emerald Rock, Warderick Wells Cay
Nurse shark checking us out

March 5th was sunny with really high winds, so a day on the boat, with Kathleen practicing guitar and excercising, Neil working on this blog and all reading and relaxing. We have great philosphical, historical and political discussions, with the space and time to listen to each other, laugh a lot and learn about each other and ourselves. Tonight – Elaine has promised to teach us all Euchre.

The Snorkeling Dive that Made Narcos Real

Feb 26th: Today we snorkeled the plane that went down here during the days of Norman’s Cay being a drug-running center. Apparently this cay was ideal for its out of the way location, long landing strip and proximity to the US. We don’t know what happened to the pilot of this ill-fated plane, but it missed the runway and crashed in about 6 feet of water many years ago. Since then, the islands have turned to more peaceful pursuits in tourist trade and the tales of Carlos Lehder, the drug lord from decades ago, have faded into the mists of time.

However, Kathleen and Neil had a very enjoyable morning exploring the wreckage, marveling at the sea’s ability to reclaim its territory, seeing many types of coral and several schools of fish making the twin engine their home. Dave and Elaine decided to relax on the beach, as they are still acclimating to life on a moving, rolling home and needed some time on terra firma.

Kathleen snorkeling sunken plane off Norman’s Cay

After diving the wreck, Kathleen and Neil toured the area, which has beautiful beaches, shallow waters, lots of coral beds and apparently a “new” Norman’s Cay Club being constructed. (Neil pointed out that it has been being built for the last 4-5 years, and so far only has part of a roof on one building, but we did see construction vehicles moving stuff around, so progress was being made!). We checked out another set of “coral condos” just off the southern point of the island. Kathleen had a blast swimming among the beautiful tropical fish and amazing variety of coral while Neil relaxed on the dinghy. We boated back to Dave and Elaine’s beach spot, and the four of us went to MacDuff’s restaurant (the only one on the island, we believe) and had a very enjoyable lunch on a relaxing and beautifully appointed veranda. After lunch, we got back in the dinghy, motored to our floating home, and Kathleen enjoyed reading and sunbathing while the other three napped away a couple of hours inside the boat. The weather was perfect, with a constant gentle breeze, 75-80 degree temperature and water that is just cool enough to be refreshing. While taking some pictures, we did remember that it was snowing in Denver today, and again thanked our lucky stars for this time in our lives.

The grounds of MacDuffs Cottages and Restaurant are immaculate
Lunch at MacDuffs

The next day, all four of us dove the wrecked plane, getting to meet up with Dale and Karen Bennett, friends from Vero, and their guests. It was a gorgeous day, and it was fun to be able to share it with family and friends. After the wreck, we snorkeled the Coral Condos from the previous day, being lucky enough to see a fairly large sting ray nestled in the sand. Lots of tropical fish and a wide variety of coral made it a great adventure.

Later that afternoon, while enjoying the late day sun up on the “Lido Deck” – aka our upper deck, Dale and his brother-in-law Sean dinghyed by for a visit. We also met some other sailors near us who were out for a dinghy ride and came by our little party – and we all had a great visit. That’s how this community is – it seems really transient (and it is), but you meet such friendly people almost every day.

The stars that night put on their usual spectacular display. Neil got a green light to hang off the transom to draw in fish after sunset, so we had a lot of entertainment (even if the fish were of the rather small variety, they were very cute).

Dave posing with plane wreck
Dinner on the boat deck at our Norman’s Cay anchorage
Underwater lights to attract fish for night time viewing

Shroud Cay Revisted!

The next day we had a short cruise (like five miles) to Shroud Cay, one of our favorite visits from last Summer. It did not disappoint. We picked up a mooring ball, and after getting settled, sent Elaine and Dave off on the kayak to do some exploring. Neil and Kathleen had some down time during a sun dappled afternoon. We did have a rather large and sudden rain shower, which hit out of nowhere. Dave and Elaine were on a nearby beach, with (luckily) a beach umbrella to huddle under, and Kathleen kinda scurried about the boat closing hatches and doors, only to open them all again as soon as the rain stopped – it may have been the end of February, but it was still in the 80’s and a bit humid in the Exumas…

Smooth seas for our cruise south to Shroud Cay. Dave and Elaine contemplating the comfort of a super yacht …
Dave and Elaine exploring Shroud Cay
Shroud Cay mooring field

We went for a dinghy ride, trying to traverse the Cay through a mangrove channel that we had used last year – but the tide was too low. We still saw some rays and turtles, so it was a nice little ride. We celebrated our new anchorage with cocktails on a nearby beach at sunset – really cool and breath-taking, but was also a bit abbreviated as the tide was coming in and the beach was shrinking significantly. Still… it was a glorious sunset.

Next morning we got out bright and early (OK, a little after 8:00, but it SEEMED early) to take the ride through the mangrove forests to the other side of the Cay. The waters were crystal clear, the turtles swimming in abundance, and enough depth for us to motor to the Atlantic side of cay. We anchored and walked to shore, over a short rise, to an amazing vista of gentle waves, innumberable colors of blue in the sea, and a soft breeze. If it wasn’t for a maddeningly/sad amount of plastic that had washed ashore on this secluded island, it would have been absolutely perfect. We took a walk along the curving shoreline, and then a quick dip before heading back to the dinghy – we wanted to head out with the tide, not get stuck there!

Later that afternoon we saw three fish circling under our boat that Elaine and Kathleen were SURE were sharks – Neil dropped the GoPro into the water at the end of a boat pole and got some great video, after which we all agreed that they were not sharks, but we had no idea what they were – and with little to no WiFi, no way to research it.

Toasting a glorious sunset with a glass of wine
Sunset at Shroud Cay mooring
Walking the isolated beaches on the Atlantic side of Shroud Cay
Remora fish swimming under our boat at Shroud Cay mooring. Photo taken with GoPro attached to boat pole. We first thought the fish were small sharks when viewed from above!

AND JUST LIKE THAT…IT’S 2022

We spent the first two weeks of February provisioning for our 2-3 month cruise to the Bahamas, completing maintenance items and installing our new cooktop and dryer. Kathleen completed a long (since October) dental work saga (at least its over). Dave and Elaine arrived on the 9th, and we started our weather watch looking for a good window to cross over from Florida to the Bahamas. And we waited. And waited. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day together, as well as venturing out for sushi one night, to the Mel Fisher treasure museum for an excursion, and our requisite visit to Squid Lips – a local restaurant that is heavy on fried food and excellent views of the Indian River. Finally, the stars seemed to align for a reasonable crossing, and with negative Covid tests in hand, Bahamian Health Travel Visas, and a pending cruising permit, we departed Loggerhead Marina Vero Beach on February 18th at 7:45 am.

Dave and Elaine enjoying the view on the Indian River during a one night excursion to test boat systems before we set out for the Bahamas
Elaine enjoying a morning workout on the boat deck

The trip started fine, with 3-4 foot waves at the Ft. Pierce Inlet where we entered the Atlantic about 10:00 am. We had nice cruise down the coast, the guys trying their hands (alas unsuccessfully) at fishing for tuna and mahi mahi, and watching the sunset 3 miles off shore. We began angling east as we neared Palm Beach, planning to cross the Gulf Stream overnight, cruising to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands for our first stop and check in with Customs. Sometime in the small hours of the night, Kathleen was on watch when the alarm for the stabilizer hydraulic oil temperature started, well, alarming. After a too-soon awakening, Neil determined that a cooling pump was failing and we had to shut down the stabilizers – in the middle of crossing the Gulf Stream in 3-4 foot seas. Suffice it to say that Dave and Elaine had a rather abrupt induction into “sea life” and we were all very glad that we had our Scopolamine patches on. With all the rolling, our navigation chart computer shut off at one point, but luckily, rebooted without too rapid of heart beat for Kathleen (not to worry though as we had our backup navigation chart program running on the iPad – redundancies…).

Once through the Gulf Stream, the seas calmed a lot, and we had a magnificent sunrise to reward us for our harrowing night. We carefully navigated into Great Harbour Cay Marina around noon, getting secured to a dock with helpful hands from the marina crew. Kathleen went to check in with Customs, and was informed that some information she had uploaded in Florida had not been saved – not a big deal, but it was a bit of a hassle. Although it probably only took about another hour, we were FINALLY all checked in, the yellow quarantine flag came down and we could all get off the boat to explore a bit.

Cruising south a few miles off the coast, sunset near Palm Beach
Entering narrow cut into Bullocks Harbour, Berry Islands Bahamas
Great Harbour Cay Marina
Marina cat decided our boat was a great place for a nap

We wanted to go to our favorite place, Brown’s Garden, for dinner, and grabbed a cab. Once there, however, we discovered that the restaurant was closed from Friday night through Saturday night (seems an odd schedule for a restaurant, but whatever). Our very obliging cab driver took us to two more restaurants until we found one that was open (who knew that Saturday night was not a popular night to go out?). We had a nice meal, with Dave sampling two variations of fried conch (fritters and cracked) and Neil, Dave and Elaine toasting our arrival in the Bahamas with a Kalik, the locally brewed beer. Our cab driver was conveniently at the bar with his friends also enjoying a couple of Kalik’s while we ate, and was there to take us back to the marina when we were done. Yes, we all collapsed into deserved sleep that night.

Kathleen and Elaine used our bikes to explore the island the next day, discovering beautiful sights and beaches. They did visit the Beach Club (another favorite from our previous visit), but it was closed on Sunday morning (to be fair, it did seem that most people were at church when they were out riding). Neil was busy trying to fix the stabilizer oil cooling pump. It took a couple of days, but he got the original pump fixed.

Over the next two days, Neil and Kathleen ventured out on a bike ride to the beach while Dave and Elaine explored the area on foot. Kathleen discovered that she really CAN fit into a lower storage area in the kitchen (good to know if she ever has to find a good hiding place on the boat), and also did some baking, taking advantage of the shore power while in the marina. The days were easy as we waited for weather to clear and we all agreed that there are worse places to wait out the wind.

Kathleen repacking the galley food stores, and discovering a great hiding place
Enjoying a walk on Great Harbour Cay beach
Beach all to ourselves!
Cocktails on the foredeck

On the morning of Feb 22nd, we exited the marina and cruised for a couple of hours to confirm the stabilizer system fix, use the watermaker, and check other systems. We then anchored off of the Government Docks just outside Great Harbour, intent on beginning our journey south to the Exumas the next day.

Short cruise off Great Harbour Cay to confirm no more stabilizer system issues

We raised anchor about 7:00 the next morning for a nine hour run to West Bay, New Providence Island. It was a bouncy ride, with 2-4 foot waves. Dave and Elaine were beginning to doubt the stories that Kathleen and Neil had told about smooth Bahamian cruising from the previous Summer. Even with the stabilizers working there was still some rolling on the boat. Again, Scopolamine to the rescue. It is definitely different here weather-wise this time of year, but the temperature is wonderful and the water very inviting.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of the water here- it’s unique, crystal-clear torquoise blue is unlike anywhere else. The water is a tempting 80 degrees and the air temperature about the same. We have to keep remembering that it is still winter and keep thanking our lucky stars that we get to have this adventure.

Anchorage off the Government Docks at Great Harbour Cay
Our first Conch catch! Appetizers …
Kathleen preparing scorched conch for a pre-dinner appetizer
A beautiful West Bay, New Providence Island sunset

West Bay was just an overnight stop, so we were raising anchor again the next morning around 7:30. The seas were very bouncy, with 4-5 foot waves once we entered the Great Bahama Bank which is quite shallow. We turned into the anchorage at Norman’s Cay about 3pm, carefully working our way around inattentive captains and coral reef heads to get anchored by 4. The beautiful vista did not disappoint – white sand beaches, crystal teal waters, and gentle, sun-kissed breezes. We all went for a swim, Kathleen diving the anchor to ensure it was set, and all of us playing in the water for a bit. Dinner was a bit later than anticipated due to Kathleen not noticing the BBQ had gone out (oops), but we had a nice celebratory first night in the Exumas, and an early bedtime as we were all pretty tired from the last week’s travels.

Early departure from West Bay anchorage to begin our cruise to the Exumas
Steep waves on the Great Bahama Bank sending a continuous sea spray wash onto the windshield, and coating the boat with salt
Kathleen diving the anchor and giving the thumbs up

On the 25th, after breakfast and morning chores, we lowered the dinghy and cruised over to the beach. We toured the waters for about 30 minutes, then anchored just off the beach, setting up our towels and gear. We walked for a little over an hour, discovering MacDuff’s restaurant located right on the beach (which alas was not yet open), and just enjoying the sun and sand. We did some snorkeling and relaxing which seemed to be the perfect way to spend the day. We plan to be here until Monday, so we will have time to find some reefs to snorkel, and the sunken drug-running plane on the other side of the island that is apparently quite the tourist attraction and something Neil and Kathleen were sorry they had missed on their previous Bahamas visit.

Sunrise at our Norman’s Cay anchorage
Norman’s Cay beach, nice …

Closing out 2021

The long gap between postings does not mean we’ve been idle! We took two trips to the Keys, one in August/September and one in November, enjoying various islands, snorkeling, sunsets and dolphins … We spent time in Key Biscayne, which is our favorite anchoring place as we travel south. On the second trip we also anchored at Elliot Key for six days. It was an idyllic spot, much quieter than our usual anchorage, but also less protected from north winds that were prevalent during our cruise. From Biscayne, we cruised south discovering and re-visiting Rodriguez Key; on the second trip, we met up with our friends Christine and Joe Cook on Legacy. They were returning from their voyage around the Keys and the Dry Tortugas. It is ALWAYS nice to catch up with our cruising friends!

Heading south off Florida’s Atlantic coast
Relaxing at anchorage on Miami’s Biscayne Bay
Sunrise as we depart Biscayne Bay and head further south in the Keys
Granuaile anchored off Rodriguez Key
Snorkeling Molasses Reef located 5 miles off the Florida coast
Touring the canals in Key Largo

On our first trip south, we stayed at the Marathon City Marina in Boot Key Harbor. There, our very dear friend Christa drove down from a convention she was attending in Miami. We had not seen each other in almost two years, and it was so great to catch up. We got to visit a dolphin training and rehabilitation facility in Marathon during her stay, as well as dining at some of Marathon’s colorful eating establishments. On our second trip south, we again anchored just outside the Marathon City marina, waiting and hoping for some clear weather to adventure to the Dry Tortugas. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Neither trip afforded us our necessary weather window, so it looks like we may have to try again next season.

Stayed on a mooring ball in Marathon’s Boot Key harbor
Sunset at anchor outside Marathon
Another gorgeous sunset off Marathon

We did travel to the gulf side nearthe Everglades and enjoyed unbelieveable beauty and solitude on Cape Sable. Not another soul in sight and too many shells to imagine. It is a national park, so all shells were left where we found them on the beach, and we reveled in the calm beauty of the area. Unfortunately, we also discovered that our house battery bank was in need of replacing, as well as our main engine alternator needing some serious attention. We decided it was best for us to head back to Vero Beach to attend to needed maintenance. On the way back, we did celebrate Thanksgiving in Biscayne Bay, which was pretty much as close to perfect as it gets.

Cape Sable, Everglades beach all to ourself

On our return we did shorter hops back to Vero instead of cruising overnight up Florida’s Atlantic coast, spending the night in the Palm Beach anchorage. The next morning, when we were heading out to turn into the channel for the inlet, we came to a halt, seeing on our navigation chart and hearing over VHF that a cruise ship was heading in to port. It was amazing to watch this huge ocean liner coast into the Palm Beach harbor right in front of us! At that moment, we once again sent a quick mental thank you to Bernie Francis, our training captain, who drilled us on the importance of using ALL devices at our disposal to always look ahead and pilot defensively.

Waiting for cruise ship to pass before we enter channel to exit Lake Worth/Palm Beach

We got back to our Grand Harbor Marina on November 27th, with our welcoming committee of two dolphins leading us back to our slip. The next two weeks were busy with boat repairs/maintenance, Christmas shopping, and packing. We left for Denver December 16th, and by the end of the day, were able to hold our oldest, Sean, who we had not seen in over two years. Needless to say, it was amazing, and there were a lot of tears on Kathleen’s part.

Our kids were with us again – which was amazing. We also all came down with Omicron eventhough we were all vaccinated and boosted. Many silver linings, not the least of which was that no one got too sick, and we were all together for three weeks. We spent many great hours laughing, doing jigsaw puzzles, even went ice skating when we were in the clear. It was a truly magical time and we can’t wait to do it again next year (albeit WITHOUT any version of Covid…)

Visited Denver for Christmas. Neil hanging out with son Sean’s pug trio.
Christmas morning with all four children!

We returned to Vero on January 8th, and left on the 15th to head to Yacht Tech at Seminole Marine in North Palm Beach for our biannual haul out. Cruising on the ICW and through Lake Worth on Martin Luther King weekend definitely ensured a lot of crazy boat traffic, and a busier than usual anchorage, but all went smoothly. The next morning, we manouvered from our anchorage over to Seminole Marine and into the Travelift’s waiting straps. She was lifted out of the water and moved a very short distance to a space where work would be done over the next two weeks.

  • New bottom paint
  • Rebed rub rails
  • Replace some old hoses
  • New house battery bank
  • Service the dinghy crane
  • Service the stabilizers
  • and other misc stuff
Granuaile lifted out of water at Seminole Marine in Palm Beach Gardens

We splashed back in with just a minimal rub against a piling due to a swift cross current. We went back over to the anchorage by Old Port Cove Marina to wait out some inclement weather. Had high winds and rain for a couple of days (as well as a close call with a nearby sailboat that anchored too close to us), but the worst of it was having our cooktop go kaput when the generator malfunctioned and output >300VAC, smoking the cooktop circuitry, and then the clothes dryer gave up the ghost. Murphy’s Law was working overtime for us. Luckily, Neil was able to locate both a new cooktop and dryer AND have them delivered to Vero the following week. We returned to our Vero slip on January 31st, anticipating Neil’s brother, Dave and his wife Elaine coming from Vancouver to journey with us to the Bahamas for our next adventure.

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.

On to Eleuthera Island and the Exumas

Monday, July 26 we left Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay at about 8:00am to cruise a few hours south to Tilloo Cay, our last stop in the Abacos before we cross the Providence Channel to Eleuthera. The anchorage is protected and very quiet (we were the only ones here – which was marvelous). We lowered the kayak and rowed over to a nearby beach, snorkeling in shallow, clear water, with not much sea life, but easy swimming on a hot day. We did see several large conch (which we will one day gather to have for dinner), lots of small, clear/white fish, and one ray. After a leisurely stroll on the beach (just us), we kayaked back to the boat. We snacked and then sunned on the upper deck, with music and books. Given the isolated area, there may have been much less clothing and much more sunscreen as we sunned and swam. Life is very good.

Tilloo Cay South anchorage
Relaxing on the foredeck with a cocktail
Kathleen providing some live music entertainment

On the 28th, we pulled up anchor around 6:30am, knowing the cruise south to Eleuthera Island would be close to 10 hours. Neil tried his hand at fishing again, this time hooking two barracudas (one was about 4 feet long!). As these were not fish we wanted to mess with, he became rather proficient at releasing the hook from inside their mouths (which had very long, very sharp, and many teeth… thank God for the hook remover gizmo he bought…) Kathleen saw a flying fish that was actually flapping its fins like wings and flying far over the water, even able to change direction. Seems like a really cool evolutionary upgrade, right there. We did encounter a few freighters, which always makes you pay more attention when you are cruising across generally wide open spaces. We anchored near Current Cut, which is the inlet we would use the next day to travel across from the north west side of Eleuthera to the south east side.

Heading out early to a beautiful sunrise
Barracuda catch and release
Crossed paths with a few freighters and a cruise ship while cruising Providence Channel
Putting out the anchor bridle. Anchored near the town of Current Settlement on Eleuthera

The waters here are even clearer than in the Abacos, reminding us of swimming pools rather than large oceanic bodies of water. We did some snorkeling to cool off and explore, but there wasn’t a lot around us as far as wildlife. It was also Kathleen’s birthday (and a rather cool way to spend one’s birthday, she did heartily opine….). Our daughter Meghan set up a Skype call with the kids (well, three out of the four made it…) and it was wonderful to spend an hour laughing and catching up. We had some Mahi Mahi in the freezer from Sam’s Club, so we had that, which while not as good as fresh caught, was still wonderful to enjoy with a cocktail and a splendid sunset.

Amazingly clear water in the anchorage
Easy to inspect Granuaile’s bottom for growth and check zincs

We left about 2:30pm on the 29th, planning to catch (or at least near) slack current through Current Cut, and we were successful. It is a narrow deep passage, with very shallow shoals and reefs on either side. Once through, we cruised to Mutton Fish Point, first passing “the Glass Window” which was probably waay cooler when it was a natural arch. It’s still impressive as a view to the Atlantic and is the only connecting road for the north and south parts of the island. We anchored in a lovely spot, enjoying the views and the water. We realized that we were skipping down Eleuthera, and have every intention of coming back to more fully explore the beauty of this island. For this trip, we are taking advantage of really nice weather, and trying to get to the Exumas before Mother Nature decides we’ve been here long enough. So, for now, it’s quick overnights at gorgeous anchorages, in beautiful waters.

At anchor off Mutton Fish Point, Eleuthera

We left Mutton Fish Point on the 30th at about 9:00 for a six hour run down the coast to the Tarpum Bay Settlement (which is very near Kemp Point. We have dear friends, John and Anne Kemp – it seems that their last name is rather prolific as we saw a Kemp’s B&B last summer on St. Michael’s, and now we have Kemp Point. We need to ask John about his family’s nautical past…). In the anchorage, we were the only boat there, and were able to anchor 1/4-1/3 of a mile from shore. Again, stunning, clear waters, fun snorkeling, lots of sunscreen and stargazing.

Another beautiful Bahamas sunset

On the 31st, with good weather in our favor, we left the anchorage at 9:00 and cruised 30 miles across the Exuma Sound. Neil tried his hand at fishing, but we had no luck. It was awesome to see the southern part of Eleuthera, which has a beautiful marina/resort on the point where you cross out into the sound. There were many fishing boats and dive excursions, which means it is probably a place for us to come back to!

We made it to Warderick Wells Cay which is part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park! This has been on our “must see” list from the beginning, and we planned to stay for at least 4 days. After speaking with the park manager over VHF radio for a mooring assignment, we carefully and slowly cruised in to the mooring field. Shaped like an incomplete “U”, there are mooring balls for boats up to 120′. The current was running swiftly, which made our grabbing the mooring ball pendant “tricky” to say the least. Neil did some amazing contortions and was able to grab the loop with an extremely long boat hook while Kathleen did her best to hold the boat as close to still as possible (which, in this current, was not really all that still). Once we were moored and settled, we put on our fins and masks and jumped in. Kathleen was the first in and was immediately shocked that when she came up for air she was 15 feet from the boat. The current was very very swift as it was near high tide, so she swam back to the boat and hung on to the swim ladder. Neil swam for a bit, but we both decided that maybe it would be more enjoyable with less current…. Not long after we got out, a very cute, curious nurse shark came by to check us out. We LIKE nurse sharks to swim with, as they are more like rays than true sharks, and are timid creatures – a friend likened them to sea puppies, and we have to agree.

Nurse shark checking us out
Jumping off the swim platform for a refreshing swim

We launched the dinghy and cruised over to the office, which was closed due to Covid. We paid our mooring fees via a drop box, and walked along the adjacent beach, seeing the skeletal remains of a whale that had died near there about 25 years ago. There are lots of posters and information signs, so in addition to enjoying another exceptional sunset, we learned about the land crab (nice to see it’s a real thing and not just something mutant that we saw on Manjack Cay), the terns (who knew there were so many kinds of terns?), the conch life cycle, the coral reef and its life cycle, and the spiny lobster. There are several hikes starting from this point, and we intended to visit them in the coming days. There were not a lot of boats here on this first day, and we knew how lucky we were for that. The mooring balls are plentiful, and this is a “go to” place, so in season we imagined that it would be a little tougher to grab a ball.

Out for a sunset stroll on nearby beach
Sun setting on Warderick Wells Cay

August 1st had us up and enjoying sunrise with our beverages and reading the paper (there is very little wi-fi here, but with our booster, Neil was able to download the WaPo…). We packed up our backpack and dry bags and headed to the dinghy dock after breakfast to hike one of the trails. We picked Causeway Trail (it was the first one we came to). It was a wobbly trail, built largely on limestone (which reminded us of hiking on jagged lava rocks…). The trail ran next to a causeway that would fill up during high tide (we hiked at low tide), detouring off to see barefoot beach, and ended at a beautiful over look of the water. It was a very hot hike, however, and when we got back to the marina office, we did sit for a while, drinking copious amounts of water and enjoying the view. Once back on the boat, we grabbed some lunch, then headed out for some snorkeling at Emerald Rock, a spot not far from our mooring. This entire area (the land and sea park) is known for wondrous snorkeling, and we couldn’t wait to explore.

Emerald Rock did not disappoint, with beautiful coral reefs to explore. After exploring one section of the reef, Neil cruised to another nearby mooring (very nice to have here – easy to tie up and don’t have to worry about your anchor dragging or accidentally hitting coral). Kathleen did some more snorkeling and videoing the vibrant community that was cruising around below the dinghy.

Once back at Granuaile, we realized how truly bone-tired we were – the best kind of tired – like the tired you felt as a kid on vacation when you zoomed all over the place, swimming, running, exploring, daydreaming, until your engine just needed some down time. So we took naps and relaxed and had a nice cod loin dinner before watching the stars.

Granuaile on a mooring ball at Warderick Wells Cay
Hiking the Causeway Trail on Warderick Wells Cay

August 2nd had us up again to watch the sun greet the day, and about 10am we dinghied over to the coral garden, which was only a couple hundred feet from our boat. There is so much to see and so hard to put into words. Entire communities at each cluster of rocks and coral, with fish, large and teeny, all living together. Coral like Staghorn, Brain, and Elkhorn, colors across the spectrum, fans and plants waving in the current, polyps of every color on the corals. The tiniest of fish, bright, neon blue, then what we call the LSU fish – half purple, half orange, angel fish, and Nemo fish, and striped grouper, parrot fish, so much to see. Neil saw three spiny lobsters (which Kathleen somehow missed). Then Neil tapped Kathleen on the head. Our nurse shark was coming to see what we were up to. We called her “she”, but we really have no idea. – flat heads and tails that resemble sting rays more than sharks. She carefully looked us over, then went to hide behind a reef on the sandy shore. We took some pictures and video, but left her alone. First time swimming with a “shark” for both of us!

Snorkeling the Coral Gardens located a couple hundred feet from our boat
Nurse shark resting in the coral garden

After we rinsed off from this exceptional swim and had some lunch and downtime, we took a dinghy ride around the moorage to check out the few other boats here. There was a really cool big full rigged two mast wooden sailboat, seemed to be a charter. There were two “super” yachts, and a couple of catamarans. It’s always fun to check out other boats! We then cruised out to a secluded beach, anchoring the dinghy in 3 feet of water – Tababuia Beach. Shallow enough to just play in, deep enough to swim around. Neil took some “meditation” time and we both relaxed and reveled in the quiet and beauty.

It had been overcast all day; this didn’t dissaude any of our excursions, but did limit night sky viewing. So, after a fair attempt, we went inside, and tried to watch a movie – with both of us asleep within 15 minutes! Ah well, tomorrow is another day…

We had Tababuia Beach all to ourselves

We ran the generator overnight to fully charge the batteries, which meant we ran the aircon all night – HUGE bonus! After a great sleep, we got up on the 3rd, had coffee with the sunrise, and were able to leave a bit earlier as we didn’t have to run the generator in the morning to charge the batteries for the day. We headed over to the dinghy dock to take on Boo Boo Hill trail and beyond. Again, we crossed a lot of limestone rock, and various bits of flat sand (part of the causeway from our previous hike). We got up to the top of the hill, tried first to see blow holes (which would be cool at high tide, but it was low tide), then to Boo Boo Hill crest. This is another spot where boaters have left memorabilia from their time here – mostly carved wood with their names, their boat names, and the year (or in one case, several years) that they visited. From there, we continued to the Pentatek Memorial (for a couple that had done much to preserve this area), then followed the path onward, seeing amazing cliffs and beautiful beaches, including “Pirate’s Lair”, ending when we couldn’t find the path to continue on the Exuma Sound trail. It was another long, beautiful hike, and we needed a break from the heat and the sun by the time we got back to the boat.

It was, however, very near slack tide, and that would be the optimal time to visit the coral gardens again… so after a bit of a rest and snack, we jumped back into the water and swam over. Once again, a phenomenal experience. At one point, Kathleen asked Neil to point out a lobster as she hadn’t seen one the day before. Not more than ten seconds under the water, Neil had found a HUGE spiny lobster for her! It was incredible. After about an hour in the water, we swam back to the boat, this time against the current, for a really good workout. Once we were on the boat and rinsing off, the nurse shark came around again, just seeing what we were up to.

View from Boo Boo Hill
Driftwood and buoy offerings for King Neptune at top of Boo Boo Hill
Angelfish in the Coral Gardens, Warderick Wells Cay
Nurse shark dropping by the boat again

Truly exhausted this time, with lots of boats arriving into the mooring field, we had a bit of lunch, and much needed naps. In the afternoon, Neil suggested a swim, which was perfect as it was hot and muggy, and he wanted to clean some of the bottom of the boat. Kathleen swam around the area as Neil worked. Suddenly we both spied a shark – not a nurse shark – a real shark – turned out to be a black tip reef shark. He was a bit bigger than us, but really was just cruising around and had very little interest in us. As he swam off, Neil continued cleaning the keel. Kathleen noticed that little fish swam around after Neil as the stuff we didn’t want on our boat was food that they loved. Kathleen also noticed the return of the reef shark under the boat – not aggressive, just there. We both decided maybe we should be done for the day, so we got out, rinsed off, had a nice cocktail, and leftovers for dinner.

Next we head to Shroud Cay in the Exumas …

Cruising the Abacos: Green Turtle Cay to Man-O-War Cay

July 18th: We lazed on the morning at our Manjack Cay anchorage, finally securing the dinghy to the upper deck, preparing the boat, and raising the anchor to leave about 11:00. It was a little bittersweet leaving, but we knew we would be back and wanted to see more of this beautiful country.

Leaving Manjack Cay

We cruised just 4-5 miles south to Green Turtle Cay, anchoring just north of Joyless Point (not sure why it is called that, but whatever). We were hailed by a catamaran that had anchored behind us – a family of five came toward us in their dinghy – they are from Westminster, CO – right by where we used to live! It was great to meet them and hear about their adventures and marvel that in all this space we would run into a family that lived about 10 miles from us back in Colorado.

After we got the dinghy in the water, we cruised over to the town of New Plymouth to explore the historical area of Green Turtle Cay. The people here are very resilient, and are working every day to rebuild their town from the destruction of Hurricane Dorian two years ago. It is shocking to see the bulldozing power of a hurricane in its aftermath – buildings flattened, roofs ripped off, palm trees still standing, but with no palm tops to them. The marinas are open, and there are several resorts that are open for business, and most of the flora has grown back. Still. The damage is extensive and these people are amazing in their hard-work and positive attitude to build their home back even better than before.

Taking the dinghy for a cruise into town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay

On the 19th, we went back into town (most everything was closed the day before as it was Sunday). Neil bought some tremendous baked goods at “The Daily Bread” bakery, and we hit two grocery stores, picking up some fresh produce (and guava jam, because, well, it’s guava jam). We wandered the various streets (which are basically cement slabs – everyone drives golf carts or 4 wheelers, with very few actual cars or trucks around – there just isn’t room for them). We walked around a large vessel – the Bahama Seas – that was pushed up onto the seawall during the hurricane. There is an interesting sculpture garden memorial dedicated to the “American Loyalists” (a new term for Kathleen), the original immigrants to these islands. These settlers were loyal to King George and Great Britain and it was interesting to read “the other side” of the Revolutionary War. The people who came here left everything (or had it confiscated by the rebels when they beat the British). Some had traveled first to Florida, but ended up leaving when the Spanish got that land in a settlement. Many of the immigrants were freed slaves (the memorial stated that the British guaranteed the freedom of any slaves who sided with them), and they made their homes here alongside the loyalists. Hurricanes, lack of arable land, and just very rough conditions caused many to leave, but obviously, many also stayed, and created the Bahamas. There wasn’t any mention of indigenous peoples already here …

Memorial garden for America loyalists and key figures in Bahamas history
Bahamas Seas wreck in New Plymouth harbour

We lunched at Two Shorty’s, a nice food stand, where we had hoped to get conch (Bill and Leslie swore that it was the best in the Bahamas), but they didn’t have any on the day’s menu. We settled for roast chicken, which was an excellent substitute. Back at the boat after the day’s excursions, we had a leisurely swim, they settled down for a nap (for Neil) and this blog update (for Kathleen). A thunderstorm is off to the west right now, and we plan a quiet evening before hoisting anchor again tomorrow to sally forth to Great Guana Cay.

Another gorgeous Bahamas sunset

On July 20th, we left Green Turtle Cay mid-morning for an easy 14 mile ride to Great Guana Cay. We went “outside” for a bit, but honestly, there was very little to no difference between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean. As we were nearing Great Guana Cay, we spied our first “super yacht” of the trip, coming up from behind us. These huge vessels are luxury in the extreme, and fun to spy as they pass us. The north end of Guana Cay appears to be an area for the well-heeled, with huge estates and private beaches in some areas. We happily anchored not far off the beach, with brisk winds and some less than perfectly steady seas. Neil dove the anchor to be sure that it had dug in. The ocean surface here is often lots of grass with spots of open sand. Grass is not as easy for our anchor truly dig into as mud or soft sand, but so far, we’ve held fast at each anchorage. We snorkeled around the boat, spying several conch, tropical fish, and the ever-present barracuda… They are rather imposing fish, with their teeth and all, but seem very relaxed about us swimming in their areas… so far!

Anchored in Bakers Bay off Great Guana Cay
Swimming with Barracuda

The next morning we got up and breakfasted, lowered the dinghy, and took a ride around the point to the Atlantic side of the cay. We had read that there was some pretty awesome snorkeling among the reefs not far off the shore. After two tries, we successfully anchored the dinghy in sand bottom near the reefs, and went for a swim.

These reefs are magnificent – so full of color. Hundreds of tropical fish, ranging from less than an inch to a couple of feet, in every color of the rainbow. Coral of all types and colors, along with beautiful fans and sea plants everywhere. We took a lot of footage with the GoPro, while marveling that this whole world was just a few feet under us as we cruised around. After about an hour of playing, we got back into the dinghy and came back to our anchorage. The weather all day was on and off showers, which really was not a bad thing as it a) cleaned the salt off of the boat, and b) cooled the air. The breezes are a wonderful respite in this rather hot and humid time of year.

Anchored dinghy near coral reefs on the Atlantic side of Great Guana Cay

Neil took advantage of a break between rains to try out our hookah dive system – it allows underwater breathing using a regulator, many many feet of tubing, and a compressor. It was a successful test and we plan to use it while cleaning the bottom of the boat in the coming weeks

After enjoying refreshing Cosmo cocktails, dinner was on the light side, fruit salad and hummus with tortillas, but a million dollar view, enjoyed from our forward deck. We got chased inside by yet another thunderstorm, but were rewarded a few minutes later by a huge full, end-to-end rainbow. We really do feel that we have found our pot of gold. Tomorrow, we’re off to Man-O-War Cay for more reef snorkeling….

Nap time under a rainbow

We took a leisurely run down to Man-O-War Cay, as it was only 10 miles away. The day was nice and the wind light, which boded well for a smooth cruise. The trip itself was easy and uneventful, anchoring, well, not so much. It took us three tries, which is never a lot of fun. Our first drop (which set really well) would have been perfect, except for our anchor chain laying right over a power line which is definitely a no-no. So after Neil dove the anchor and saw this (the power line was noted on our charts that Kathleen had somehow missed seeing), we successfully raised anchor and moved a bit farther south. Our second drop was also pretty good, more sea grass than the first, but still ok. Neil dove the anchor again, and this time swam past a clothes dryer and pieces of an outboard motor, not ideal as we did not want to foul the chain when the boat moved with wind and current (although Neil reported that the fish really liked the dryer as a makeshift beginnings of a reef…). Finally, our third attempt was a success! We were both pretty tired after this foray, and after lunch decided that naps were in order. Kathleen jumped in to do a bit of snorkeling later, and then we had cocktails on the upper deck, watching another magnificent sunset and moon rise.

Kathleen swimming laps around the boat

We had a couple of reasons for coming to Man-O-War – the town sounded intriguing, but mostly it was to follow a recommendation from our friends Doug and Sue for some of the best snorkeling in the Bahamas at Fowl Cay (which is 2 miles north of our anchorage at Man-O-War Cay). After a good night’s rest and breakfast the next morning, we launched the dinghy and headed over to the reef. Fowl Cay is a land and sea reserve, with acres (miles?) of reefs teeming with life. We anchored the dinghy in sand bottom, with Kathleen very happily volunteering to dive the anchor (you could see it from the dinghy itself, but always a good thing to do!). The water was jump-in perfect temperature.

This was one of the most beautiful places we have ever been – not just the Bahamas, but anywhere. There were so many fish of every color, with neon-seeming glows, schooling, playing, eating, plants and corals of every shape and size, perfectly clear water. We saw a beautiful ray swimming with another fish when we first jumped in. He (she?) settled into the sand to watch us, and let Kathleen get a little close before eyeing her with what seemed to be a “God, I hate these tourists” look, and gently flew away in the water. The fish here were much less skittish of us, and seemed to like swimming almost with us (Neil made a couple of attempts to swim with schools that seemed to be either trailing him or just off to the side – he never completely got into the middle, but came close). After about an hour, Neil decided to rest topside on the dinghy, while Kathleen continued to explore. As soon as she had turned the GoPro over to Neil and went back under, she saw a sting ray (far enough away to admire and not be afraid of), many more fish (some small electric blue ones that seemed to be very curious now that she wasn’t holding a beeping camera), and five small floating sea creatures that she thinks may have been some type of juvenile cephalopod (not sure what baby octopi look like, but these had a large eye, were about 6-8” long swimming together, and one bravely squirted ink to scare her off.)

When our kids were little, we would take them to the Denver Aquarium, a beautiful place to go, where you could walk through clear tunnels and see various sealife all around. As cool as that was, we always thought about how fun it would be to be actually swimming with the fishes. That’s what this excursion was like – swimming in an aquarium. It is not an experience we will soon forget, and hopefully we will be back here again.

After having too much fun on the reefs, we cruised back to our boat, rinsed off, had lunch and relaxed as a storm or two rolled through. Later in the afternoon, around 4:00, we took the dinghy into the Man-O-War Cay harbour. Here is where we could see the real destruction of Dorian. The area had obviously previously been a very cute, thriving area, with homes and businesses on both sides of the narrow harbor. The storm had ruined so much – homes, all the docks, and so many boats. Lots of sailboats were demasted, and appeared to have just been left behind, creating a boat graveyard feel to the area. The main marina dock was new and open, so we tied up there to walk the area. Man-O-War has a long history, a small community with a strong spiritual commitment (no alcohol is sold on the island, all shops close at 5:00, and nothing is open on Sundays. Also, according to our Bahamas Waterway Guide, 70% of the residents can trace their ancestry back to the first Albury settler… not sure how that worked, but suffice it to say it’s a close-knit community.). There is a long history of boat building here, with people from the US bringing their boats here for work. The craftsmen on the island were (are) renowned not only for their high quality boats, but for canvas sail-making. Sail-making has morphed into including canvas bags and hats, which are easier for most tourists to buy.

Town on Man-O-War Cay, looking down to the harbour

We visited the grocery market here, and were amazed at how well stocked it was. We picked up some fresh produce (as well as Raisin Bran for Neil – there is another box somewhere on the boat, but neither of us can remember where we put it – oh well.) Our purchases completed, we went back to the dinghy, carefully nosing our way out the north entrance to the marina (that runs lower than one foot in places.) The winds were picking up, and the evening was cloudy, stormy, threatening-looking clouds looming. We went to bed, having learned to try to keep an ear out for any trouble (like heavy rains as we had open port holes and hatches to improve wind flow, or the anchor alarm going off to indicate that the winds had won over our anchor.) Kathleen awoke in the early hours to an impressive lightning and thunderstorm, but easily fell back asleep – only to realize later that the rain had come in the front hatch – luckily, that is in the guest shower, so no damage.

July 24th: The winds were between 15-20 knots, which is stiff, and the clouds were continuing to look like they were ready to drop buckets on us at any moment. As the water in the anchorage is shallow, the waves weren’t huge (2-3 feet), but they were causing us to rock more than usual. We watched the weather forecasts, and when it looked like there was a slight break (very slight) we worked quickly to get the dinghy up with the davit (loads of grins and giggles when the boat is rocking, the dinghy is heaving next to the boat, and a harness has to be secured to both the dinghy and the davit – good times). We were successful in getting the dinghy loaded without causing any damage to anything or ourselves – no small feat. Once that was done, we quickly got the boat ready to leave, raised anchor, and sailed back north to Orchid Bay Marina, located at the southern part of Great Guana Cay. We made good time with the winds almost off the stern, and after circling the area to see if the most recent clouds would move off (they did – a bit!), we radioed the marina for our slip assignment. We were not terribly encouraged when Neil asked about the conditions in the marina (it is protected by a rock jetty) and was told succintly that conditions were “sloppy”. However, once we got into the marina area, the winds decreased significantly. We had a very able dockhand, and with Kathleen calling out directions and Neil manouvering Granuaile into the slip, we secured with no bumps and no scrapes. The marina had water (yea!) for 35 cents a gallon – so we were able to fill up our water tanks (300 gallons), and Kathleen went to work washing clothes and sheets and towels and anything else that needed a bath after two weeks. The inside of the boat got washed, vacuumed, wiped, and scoured – it felt good to get things cleaned up again. There was a great party boat docked near us, with great music and a fun group on board. After laughing with them a bit, we walked to Grabbers, an outdoor bar/restauraunt/B&B – pretty much the only restaurant/bar that is still open on this end of the island. We had a nice meal, and wonderful frozen rum punches while watching the sunset. There was a legendary place called Nippers, that looked crazy fun (two-level swimming pool? Pig roasts? Tiki bar and semi-annual Barefoot Man concerts…) – unfortunately, it was lost completely to Dorian, with very little of the structure remaining – and Kathleen REALLY wanted to see the two-level pool…

Docked at Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay
Orchid Bay Marina had been destroyed by hurricane Dorian in 2019. Around half the slips have been rebuilt.
Grabbers Bar & Grille located on beach off Fishers Bay, Great Guana Cay

The next day involved more boat maintenance, and Kathleen made some bread (she has to have Gluten Free and that’s not a thing here), did more laundry, and polished all of the stainless steel on the superstructure (railings, grills, caps, staples – anything stainless) – much had been beaten up by the salt showers from cruising, and needed a bit of elbow grease to remove marks and beginnings of rust, and then polished with wax to protect all of it again. When our chores were completed, we walked to the Atlantic side, to a beautiful beach and swam in the shallows enjoying the magnificent clear waters and small fish that shared the area with us. More storms looked to be coming in, so we walked back to our dock, had evening cocktails and enjoyed some shrimp and andouilla sausage gumbo (we may be roughing it, but we’re not savages…).

Atlantic side beach, a short walk through town from Orchid May Marina

Next we head to Tiloo Cay, then south to Eleuthera …