Ever since we sold our boat we’ve dreamed of sailing back to the places we loved the most. The remote islands of the northern Exuma chain in the Bahamas are not easily accessible. That’s the reason why we loved it there so much. The unspoiled, uncrowded beaches and glistening turquoise waters are only 30 miles from Nassau and the best way to visit is by boat. Luckily, our sailing/cruising/travel buddies Rick and Eva had the same longing as us. Rick found us a charter boat from Navtours that we could take one-way from Nassau to Staniel Cay in a week. The plan was expertly formed and executed!
We met up at Nassau airport and endured a long taxi ride to Palm Cay resort and marina where Navtours is headquartered. The island of Nassau isn’t very big but when a Mardi Gras/Junkanoo parade is scheduled, the streets are barely passable.
When we get to the marina, the Navtours staff makes us go to the beach bar and get a much needed rum punch! Then, the chores start. Rick and Skip were given the captain’s talk and boat orientation while Eva and I took a taxi to the grocery and liquor stores to stock up.
Eva had pre-ordered some provisions and we stuffed our duffel bags with dry goods and snacks. Each of us were prepared to cook 2-3 lunches and dinners. The foods available at the grocery store were typical Bahamian stock. They had a pretty wide selection of produce. Meats and seafood were all frozen. Something smelled pretty nasty in the meat section so we played it relatively safe with chicken and pre-cooked shrimp.
At the liquor store, the wine selection was abysmal. We found a few acceptable bottles and mainly stuck with rum and gin. At least we had plenty of mixers and beer!
We were a little worried about the weather because a late cold front had just passed through Florida. Usually by mid-May the weather is settled into summer patterns. Luckily, the front came through on Saturday so by Sunday when we left we enjoyed light SE winds and calm seas for the trip across the yellow banks to Shroud Cay.
Leaving Palm Cay – The entrance is chained at night. We were so anxious to leave but had to wait for one of their staff take the boat out of the marina. At least we didn’t have to attend the chart briefings. Any one of us could probably do a better job!
Along the way we literally crossed paths with our friends Joe and Peggy on Onward. They were heading back to the States and we missed them by one day! Talking to Joe on the radio felt like old times. We also discovered the first of several boat problems – our main VHF radio would only work at very short-range. I ended up talking to Joe on the hand-held radio. Sending people out to remote locations without a working radio is not good.
Arriving at Shroud Cay we found several moorings available. Large motor yachts with inflatable slides and jet skies were anchored a ways out, thank goodness!
First happy hour. Everyone was happy, just didn’t want me to take pictures!
In the morning we explored the mangroves by dinghy and swam at the pristine beach on the other side of the island.
Entering the mangroves. Timing is important because at low tide your dinghy may get stuck.
In the afternoon we moved on to Warderick Wells, a special place in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We wanted to be in the North mooring field but our lack of radio range didn’t allow us to call ahead. Luckily, a spot was available for us. When we went ashore to check in we discovered that Henry, the Park warden, was still there but it was his last week working at the park. He remembered us from 5 years ago and even remembered that we gave him a bunch of movie DVDs. I was glad we got to see him one last time.
Skip practicing his swing
Moving on, Eva helps Rick navigate
More scenes from lovely Cambridge Cay
Rick and I wanted to snorkel and Eva came along to keep an eye on us for safety reasons. It was a good thing because while snorkeling at The Aquarium, I got swept around the rock by strong currents. When I realized that I couldn’t swim back to the dinghy against the current, I grabbed onto a rock and held on for dear life. I couldn’t see around the other side and wasn’t sure if I could swim to shallow water before being carried out to sea. Eva saw me go around the corner and started the engine while Rick swam back to the dinghy. They quickly came around to rescue me. Lesson – wait for slack tide!
We snorkeled near a plane wreck. The sergeant majors at the Aquarium were happy to see us. The lower left photo is the rock by the Aquarium where I held on. Afterwards, we found a nice pool of calm water to recover from our adventures.
There’s plenty to do at Cambridge Cay. We launched the kayaks and explored the shores. We also visited the other side of the island near Cambridge Rock.
Our next stop was an anchorage near Compass Cay. The marina at Compass Cay is owned by Bahamians. They’re known for the ‘pet’ sharks. Fast boats full of tourists from Nassau and Sandals arrive to check of their bucket list and swim with the sharks. We avoided this spectacle and headed to the beautiful Crescent beach on the other side of the island.
While we waited patiently for Jamal to cook us some cheeseburgers Eva and I sat on the dock with our feet in the water. The sharks were lazily swimming around until a fisherman cleaning a mahi-mahi tossed a piece in the water. (Cue Jaws music) Suddenly, our toes looked a lot like chum and Eva leaped up and said she was bit. A shark took a bite of her toes and left a tear of skin and a row of bite marks. I went in search of band aids and Jamal came back with only 2 left in the box. Hmmmmm…
Anyway, she was okay, just a bit sore and disappointed that she couldn’t walk the sand flats looking for sand dollars. We had no idea that the fish cleaning guy was going to toss scraps in the water. In fact, when the tourists are in the water, they toss little scraps to draw the sharks in.
Our spot near Compass Cay turned out to be very buggy. We didn’t remember it being so buggy in the winter, probably because the wind was usually blowing.
Our last night we spent anchored in Pipe Creek. Another search for sand dollars yielded very few. I don’t know if it’s a seasonal thing or if they’re all been taken by scavengers like us.
Before taking the boat into Staniel Cay we visited Sandy Cay, a little gem of beach near Sampson Cay. We had it all to ourselves and enjoyed swimming in the calm pools.
It was time to head into Staniel Cay where we would leave the boat and fly back to Nassau. Staniel Cay has a different vibe from when we used to visit. They’ve gone upscale with a new dining room and the docks are filled with large luxury yachts. We were the only sailboat there except for a large charter cat. We could have left the boat at anchor but being at the dock made it much easier to offload trash and luggage.
We found the 2 burgees we left at the yacht club and added 2017 to the list of visit dates. By this time, I was slammed by a miserable cold so I didn’t enjoy our dinner as much as everyone else. Darned airplane germ factories….grrrrrr. At least Eva had a few cold pills in her travel supply. I made Skip walk with me to the grocery store to get some cough medicine.
Leaving Staniel Cay I was seated behind the pilot who had his seat all the way back. With no leg room, I had to sit sideways!
Arriving in Nassau, we rented a car to get to our hotel, a drug store and Compass Point for lunch. The specialty Inn call A Stone’s Throw Away was close to the airport in an upscale neighborhood overlooking the sea. The house is built on a rock with 64 steps up to the lobby and has a guy who is used to lugging bags up and down the steps! The old style motif made it an interesting place to stay for a night.
It was a great vacation and we had so much fun revisiting our favorite sailing spots. It will never get old. The charter company was fine. The boat was comfortable but had the typical charter boat issues – the batteries were fried from mismanagement which caused us to run the engine a lot. A boat with a generator would alleviate that issue. Also, the freezer didn’t keep anything frozen, including ice. We took plenty of notes for next time!