This past week we have continued our trip south through the Exumas, enjoying the beautiful beaches, sunsets, sunrises and sailing of this region.
Our first stop after Highbourne Cay was Norman’s Cay. This area gained notoriety in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as the home base for a cocaine smuggling operation. Yeesh! It is now a very quiet island and the only remnants of its shady past is a small airplane partially submerged in one of the anchorages. Once we set our anchor, our first point of business was to get to snorkel the airplane. It was quite the sight to see as most of the plane is still intact.
It was a fun to snorkel from the dinghy and this was another “first” for Ocean. She had never seen us in our snorkel fins and masks and she had never watched us swim underwater from the dinghy. For anyone that knows Ocean, you know she likes to “talk”. Well, she had lots to say about this new experience, much to the amusement of the occupants of a tour boat visiting the area.
After our snorkel trip, Steve from “Lola” (our buddy boat since Bimini) suggested that we dinghy over to Wax Cay. This was a real treat. Wax Cay is a private island, owned by a billionaire in Nassau. It is set up like a resort with a Vietnamese type style. Inside the harbour were several docks and a large 100-year-old 80 foot steel Chesapeake crab boat. Lucky for us, the owner was aboard and very chatty. Shortly thereafter, the General Manager of the island came by on his golf cart. He was also chatty and loved that we were so interested in the island. Could we beach our dinghies and have a look around? Sure!
It was incredible. There were several out buildings – a dining hall, games building, and many, many cottages. Each building housed intricate carvings and fascinating artwork. The floors were marble, as were the beautifully appointed bathrooms and outdoor showers. Everything had a Vietnamese feel to it and we later learned from the General Manager that the cottages were actually shipped in from Vietnam. The most stunning part is that we learned that the owner maintains the resort to the tune of about $500,000 USD yet rarely visits. He never rents the cottages either. He just keeps them for family and friends. Hmmm, I might need to closely examine my family tree…
The GM, Mike, was an interesting character himself. He had an ever-present glass of gin on hand (a self-described profession drinker 😉) and told us great stories about the property and the plane wreck that we had just snorkeled. He was on the plane just 3 days after it went down. It was in great condition but completely empty and definitely buried in the sand. The plane didn’t crash, actually, it was purposefully landed at low tide after running out of fuel. The pilot and drug runners then removed all the illicit cargo. Like I said, great stories!
After a few more days of exploring and relaxing at Norman’s Cay, we decided to head a little further south to Shroud Cay, which is part of the Exumas Land and Sea Park. The Park is 176 miles long and encompasses over 15 cays, starting with Wax Cay (which we explored via dinghy previously) and going all the way to Conch Cut. The Park was created to preserve the natural beauty and environment of the Bahamas. There are no commercial developments within the Park and the only inhabited islands are privately owned. Fishing and hunting of any kind is prohibited. The result of this care is a pristine and beautiful aquatic playground. Inspiring.
From the first moment entering the anchorage at Shroud, we were mesmerized by the tranquility. All around us were unpopulated white sand beaches, mangroves, and about a million shades of blue Bahamian water. First on our list was to do the famous “dinghy drift.” Throughout Shroud Cay are numerous creeks that wind their way through the mangroves, with the main one being perfectly wide enough to explore by dinghy. Getting there at a half-rising tide, you can actual just put your dinghy in neutral and “drift” through the mangroves, checking out their intricate root system and spying on fish, nurse sharks and sea turtles. The tides didn’t quite work out for Wild Horses and Lola – we got to the dinghy drift at a half-falling tide. Oops! We didn’t mind though. Walking the dinghies through the soft mangrove mud was an experience in itself.
We also walked up the ridge of Shroud and found the fresh water well at the top. And, yes, you guessed it – the water was delicious!
The remoteness and beauty of Shroud was addictive but strong winds are forecasted for the Exumas this weekend so we have moved quite a bit further south to Staniel’s Cay. This Cay is a bustling metropolis compared to the quiet Cays we have been visiting over the last ten days. Truly, it is still a small village but we now have access to small grocery stores, restaurants, shops and fuel. More importantly for us, it is home to the famous swimming pigs and to Thunderball grotto (of James Bond fame), both of which we plan to visit over the next few days. Oh, and we are now officially out of the Land and Sea Park so can start fishing and looking for those lobsters again!
Oh Bahamas, the adventures you take us on 😊. After our one night anchored off Chub Cay, we set off with our boat buddy “Lola” to head towards New Providence Island. Both Lola and ourselves wanted to avoid the bustling city of Nassau and were looking for ample protection for the winter wind storm that was forecasted to hit the entirety of the Bahamas late Friday and through the weekend. Our solution for both issues came in the form of a private dock in Coral Harbour that Steve (Lola) had heard about by chance while we were in Bimini.
In the southwest of New Providence Island, Coral Harbour is a quiet, low-key and mostly residential area. Perfect. And the private dock that we had heard about was nestled within a very wind and sea-state protected canal system. Extra perfect.
The entrance to the canal system is alongside the Royal Bahamian Defence Force Base. It was incredible to see the military ships docked and ready as we scooted along towards our dock. Arriving at our destination, it was clearly a small dock wall, with enough room for just three boats. But the canal is wide so this easily grew to nine boats, with rafting up employed. The private dock is owned by the Wardles, a lovely couple who make their dock accessible to sailors needing a long-term home base or a short stay through poor weather. They do not advertise their dock space, preferring to have word-of-mouth spread by friends of friends. Their focus is on having community-minded sailors sharing their dock rather than making a bunch of money from whomever. To this end, they charge very little for dockage but really amp up the social scene.
Carolyn and Nick, both in their eighties, greeted us warmly and expertly assisted with getting us rafted up to Karuna, a 49-foot Beneteau, and then with getting Lola rafted up to us. Immediately, Carolyn put her whole attention on ensuring that our dock lines were secured for the “big winter blow” and giving us an overview of the dock amenities and what the town had to offer. We were very much impressed. This was a lady with moxie and reminded us of our own moms back home 😊.
What came next can only be described as “summer camp-esque”. Yes. Summer camp. Carolyn and Nick made sure that all their dock-ees were properly entertained and socialized. Mornings were a walk with Carolyn and her pup “Jager” around the peninsula, with lots of chatter about local birds, fauna and flora. It was a nature walk with a local who loved being a local. Interestingly, Carolyn and her husband Nick hail from Great Britain but have lived in the Bahamas for a good portion of their lives. Their love and knowledge of the islands is very strong and addictive.
Afternoons were croquet tournaments followed by “happy hour.” Every single sailor there participated actively and we were all richer for it. We met really interesting people and made some amazing friends in those four days of waiting out the “big winter blow”. Note to our Canadian families and friends – it got as cold as 15 degrees Celsius. We totally remember that this is not “Canada cold” but, in the Bahamas, it is frigid. Jeans, mittens and blankets were worn while we all gathered in the gazebo for happy hour.
As the weekend and the wind began to die down, Wild Horses and Lola started to make plans for leaving New Providence Island. We knew we would continue our journey with Lola and we wanted our next destination to be Highbourne Cay in the Exumas. The two wonderful surprises for us were that our newfound friends Peter and Laura on Karuna would be joining us and that Sensai, our wonderful buddy boat from Trident Yacht Club, would still be at Highbourne Cay when we arrived. Yes!
Our journey to the Exumas (i.e. Highbourne Cay) was under 0 knot winds. Yeesh! No sailing but we were able to use the seven hour journey to run our Rainman water maker to fill up our water tanks and to also do a load of laundry. There isn’t a lot of wasted time in this lifestyle!
Highbourne Cay has been a joy. Not only did we get a chance to catch up with Ted and Evelyn but we also took the dinghy to Allan’s Cay to check out the very tame iguanas that inhabit the islands of the Cay. They are a very unique and endangered breed of iguana that goes by the genus “iguana iguana”. Nice. At Allan’s Cay, the guys also took a shot at snorkeling the coral reefs to try to find some lobsters. It was a good try but, yeah, more pasta for dinner that night!
Tomorrow we will weigh anchor once again. We have a very short two-hour sail to Norman’s Cay and then onto Shroud Cay. Both of these locales offer more snorkelling options as well as ventures among the mangroves for turtle and sting ray sightings. Our time in the Bahamas continues to be bliss!
We have caught the Bahamas slow paced “island time” bug! After several months of rushing from port to port on our journey south through the canals, along the jersey coast and then through the ICW, we finally have time to rest. And we have! In total we stayed five days in Bimini and enjoyed every last moment.
Well, except when our bilge pump stopped working. That was pretty annoying but we had brought a spare along so it really only took a few hours out of our blissful island days to do the required plumbing and electrical work to get the new (and higher powered) bilge pump installed.
With our bilge pump fixed, we set about enjoying all that Bimini has to offer. Bimini is a tiny set of islands and sits in the westernmost part of the Bahamas. Less than 2,000 people make Bimini their home and although there are cars on the narrow streets, most people get around on golf carts, motorcycles or bicycles. Or they do as we did - they walk! And they all give cheery hellos to all passersby. It is comfortable and homey, even to us non-locals.
Getting into the vibe and culture of Bimini was a real pleasure. We spent time talking with Star and Techo (their Biminite nick names), old-timer locals who are the soul of the island. Every day we chatted and every day we learned lots of the history of Bimini. We also took part in the Junkanoo festival in Alice Town, which is the capital of Bimini and where our marina was located. Junkanoo festivals are street parades with lots of music and great food. They are celebrated around Christmas and New Years and we were thrilled one was taking place on the Saturday we were in Bimini.
Of course, we also spent lots of time on the beach. Radio beach is a huge stretch of white sand along the western edge of Bimini. And there are none of the rules that we are used to with beaches in Canada. As one local told me “The beach is for everyone”. Dogs are allowed and access to the beach is from wherever you happen to be – someone’s back yard, through a café or just a pathway. We spent a lot of time on Radio Beach – soaking up the sunshine, walking, swimming and just good old relaxing.
The most fun we had in Bimini, though, was watching how people would react to Ocean. There are some dogs in Bimini but mostly medium or small sized. Ocean really stood out. No one could go by us without saying “Well, that’s a big dog” or “yeah, you’re a good dog” directly to Ocean. The one that really made us giggle was a young lad about 7 who spied Ocean coming down the street. He yelled to us “I’m Scared!!!” and then very quickly “Does she bite?”. When we assured him that she did not bite, he then cheerfully asked if he could meet her. And he did. And then he followed us for a quite a bit, while also petting Ocean. Very. Sweet.
What else did we spend our time doing in Bimini? We finally installed our Rainman water maker. This is the system that will allow us to pull saltwater from the ocean around us and convert it into drinking water. Very necessary if we want to be fully sustainable on our boat (i.e. never need to go to land unless we want to). Mike plumbed the system to be able to either manually fill our water jerry cans or to pump directly into our water tanks. And it works! The best part? The water is delicious!!
After five glorious and successful days in Bimini, we decided it was time to start exploring the rest of the 699 islands in the Bahamas. At our spot at Blue Water Marina, we were lucky enough to meet a wonderful chap from Ottawa, who is solo sailing his Alberg 37 sailboat “Lola” through the Bahamas. We hit it off right away so decided to buddy boat our way across the Grand Bahama Bank and to Chub Cay, the most southern island in what is called the “Berry Islands” chain in the Bahamas.
Tuesday morning, Wild Horses and Lola set off into light winds, through the Bimini entrance and then to the northern tip of the island before turning east at “North Rock” towards the “Mackie Shoal” and the Grand Bahama Bank. Although Chub Key is the next closest island to Bimini, it is about 90 miles away. Too far for us to transit in the daylight of one day. The solution to this problem is the Grand Bahama Bank. It is a long stretch of water that is deep enough to transit but shallow enough for us to set our anchor. And that is exactly what we did. 60 miles into our journey, the sun was starting to slide away, so Wild Horses and Lola dropped their hooks. It was the middle of the Bank, with no land in sight. This was an incredible and magical experience. Quiet serenity in calm Bahamian waters, with just the slight roll of the ocean to rock us to sleep. No lights from land, no sounds from afar. Just a full canvas of stars, including the incredible and elusive Milky Way, to highlight our evening. Sigh. Like I said, it was magical.
The next morning, we weighed anchor once again for a short hop to Chub Cay. On the way, Lola suggested over the VHF that he was going to try his hand at fishing off the boat. With all our new gear on board, we also decided to get a fishing pole out. To our amazement, we caught one! Our happiness was fleeting, however, as we realized right away that it was a Barracuda. These fish, as well as other reef fish, can cause ciguatera poisoning, which is an illness that can cause neurological dysfunction. Um, no thanks. The fish was released but we were happy to have successfully tried out our gear. Yay!
Tonight we are anchored on the eastern side of Chub Cay. We are enjoying light winds and the beautiful warm sunshine. Oh and we are also enjoying that Ocean (finally) did her business on the boat. We can now officially call her a “boat dog”. Yay Ocean!!!
We did it! We have officially arrived in the Bahamas! Wow, we are a happy, exhilarated, and exhausted crew of three. It has been quite the week getting ready for our crossing but we are thrilled to be in Bimini and staring at the bluest water we have ever seen.
But let’s back up a tad.
We left West Palm Beach, and Sensai, last Friday. We loved Fort Worth and how accessible it was for getting groceries and boat supplies. Fort Worth is also where Ted and Evelyn on Sensai were anchored, waiting for their weather window on Saturday to cross to the Bahamas. They had decided to leave the US from Forth Worth and go to West End, Grand Bahama. The crew of Wild Horses, however, still had plans to cross using the southern route to the Bahamas, from Miami to Bimini, Bahamas. Since we still needed to go another 70 or so nautical miles south to get to Miami, we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the same weather window as Sensai but we did see another window opening up later that same week.
And on we went! This last part of the ICW in Florida is all about bridges and lots of boat traffic. Mike was stellar at the helm though and I held my own with setting up our timing for the bridges, which was no small task. In just a few days we went through 21 bridges, all timed openings. This involved a lot of precision to get right…well, okay…I am lying a bit. We actually lucked in by getting behind a gigantic motor yacht that the bridges seemed to stay open for. We just rode his coat tails all the way through several bridges, with no waiting or rushing to time the bridges. Hmmm, maybe it is all about who you know 😉.
While Sensai was successfully crossing over to the Bahamas on New Years Eve, we were in Fort Lauderdale. Holy Todelo! What a madhouse! After our very cold Christmas, 34 degree heat decided to settle itself firmly in southern Florida and everyone was taking advantage. Holidays + heat = General Craziness! The beaches were packed. The bars and restaurants were packed. The streets were packed. And the evening festivities did not disappoint. From the boat, we had a 360 degree view of fireworks. It was incredible! We celebrated the New Years with just our small crew, some take out and an awesome Georgia vs. Ohio college football playoff game that actually ended exactly as the clock struck midnight. Wild game, amazing night!
New Years Day we were on the move again but this time it was outside the ICW. We left Port Everglades and the ICW and headed out into the ocean and down to Miami. After navigating the inlet into Miami (past cruise ships and other big boats) we found our way into the anchorage at Marine Stadium. For us, this was a “get ready” anchorage. We knew we wanted to cross over to the Bahamas on Thursday and we had a long list of “must dos” including topping off our diesel and water tanks, getting Ocean certified by a US veterinarian (required by Bahamas customs) and buying our last bit of provisioning done. We got a rental car and set off into the city of Miami to get it all done.
By Wednesday, all our “get ready” items were done and it was time to move to our staging anchorage. No Name Harbor is in Key Biscayne and immediately beside the Stiltsville channel. This is the channel that would take us out into the Straits of Florida and across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, Bahamas. With all of our work done, we decided to go to shore and treat ourselves to some beers and Ceviche at the local restaurant. Delicious!
Thursday morning we woke at 0400 and got the boat ready for departure (after coffees of course – we aren’t animals!). The anchor was weighed at 0515 and we made our way out the channel and into the ocean in the darkness but under a clear sky and bright (almost full) moon. Once the sun was up, we started to relax and found the trip very easy. The sea state was a gentle 1 to 2 feet with about 7 seconds in between waves, making the boat rock gently instead of pounding. This was the first time in our sailing lives that we were truly in the ocean, with no land in sight. It was beautiful and serene, with just a bunch of flying fish to entertain us.
By 1115 in the morning we could see Bimini start to pop up from the horizon. As we got closer, we were treated to the vibrant blues of the Bahamian water and an easy entrance into Bimini. It had been a glorious 8 hour journey. We made our way to Bimini Blue Water Marina and hoisted our quarantine flag. This yellow flag is required until we are all checked in with Customs and Immigration. Mike, being the captain, was the only one allowed off the boat to do the check in process but the staff at the marina made it a super easy process. By 1415, we were all checked in and walking through Alice Town.
Like I said, we are in awe. Bimini has been incredible and we will stay here for a few days to rest and wait for good weather to go further east in the Bahamas. Truly, there is no where that we would rather be right now. We are one happy crew, excited about all of our adventures on the horizon!
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.