Days 10 - 12: Little Farmer's Cay to Great Exuma
02.06.2018 - 04.06.2018
Little Farmer’s Cay to Emerald Bay Marina, Great Exuma (35 miles)
It was our final day on the sea. Originally, we were going to keep the boat out 10 days, but shortly before our trip, we all (wisely) made the decision to bring it in early and spend our last 2 nights in a villa so that everyone could see a little bit of Great Exuma (but mostly because the guys decided they wanted to go bonefishing).
We had to make the final 35 mile stretch in one day, so it would be a long trip.
The day dawned with a spectacular sunrise.
Rather than spend a lot of time on breakfast, I made waffle sandwiches to go and everyone settled in for the long ride. This part of the trip would be remote and uninhabited islands, no real civilization to speak of. It was a long, final journey through hours of beautiful nothing.
We had learned to sync our rhythms with the tides. High tide? Move the boat. Or don’t. Maybe just sit and stare at the water. Low tide? Take the dingy and explore undiscovered sandbars or stare at the starfish on the bottom that look close enough to caress. Our skin was salty and our hair was sunkissed.
It was mid-morning and we were far….so far…..from anything. Blue stretched above us and as far as our eyes could see beside us, below us, with only the occasional dot of emerald green island to break it up. We were floating in a sea of gin clear water and we were perfectly alone. Wherever we looked, there was no one there. And it felt as though no one had ever been there. And we were perfectly happy with that.
After 8 days on the boat, we found ourselves lost between the sky and the sea, surrounded by blue. The colors of Exuma defied belief. The words to describe the color of the water haven’t even been created yet.
We officially had the Exuma blues.
And then we exited paradise and found ourselves at the Emerald Bay Marina.
Just like that.
We made a final lunch on the boat while we waited for our rental car: an antipasta platter and tortellini with salad.
And then we said "goodbye" to Lion of the Sea.
After a literal eternity (don’t get me started on Airport Car Rental and how grossly unreliable they were), we got one small car for 6 large adults (instead of the van we had reserved). One small car with a huge hole in the sidewall of the tire. One small car that made us sweat within seconds because 4 of us were crammed into the back of an economy sized vehicle. One small car on terrible roads with a tire that could blow at any second, particularly given the number of people jammed inside.
But our villa (https://www.vrbo.com/4715545ha) more than made up for it. The place was AMAZING.
And what a treat after being on a cramped boat for over a week.
We sprawled out in the spaciousness, drinking in the air conditioning, and lounging in the pool. With a couple of beaches within walking distance, it was a perfect place to wind away what was left of the afternoon.
Our original plans for dinner were to head to Shirley’s at the Fish Fry. However, given that our boat wi-fi never worked, we didn’t have a reservation. Thinking we could show up on a Saturday in June with a party of 6 and just sit down at Shirley’s was madness.
It was obvious there was no way they could accommodate our large party without making us wait until midnight or putting us outside with the horrendous swarm of mosquitos, so we cut our losses and headed back to La Palapa at Grand Isle, just a moment from our villa.
What it lacked in ambience and food quality, it made up for in proximity, lack of mosquitoes, and fast service.
Besides, all we really cared about was getting back to the house and sleeping in an ACTUAL BED.
The guys woke up early and headed off to meet their bonefishing guide. The plan was to meet up at lunch at the Chat n’ Chill.
With no galley breakfast to prepare for the group and all the girls sleeping in, I enjoyed a quiet breakfast and morning by the pool.
Shortly before noon, with me as the designated driver, we drove our small, crappy car to Georgetown where we caught a water taxi to the Chat n’ Chill on Stocking Island for their Sunday pig roast.
We two fisted while we waited for the guys to finish up their fishing and join us.
It was our last day together, so we made the most of it – drinks, barbecue, and swimming in the water with the stingrays that Chat n’ Chill is known for.
We wrapped up the day with snacks by the pool and dinner at nearby La Fourchette, an utterly delightful little restaurant not too far from the villa.
Sadly, two of our group had to head home, so we did a late breakfast/early lunch at La Fourchette before seeing them off to the airport.
The Knoxville based crew was there for another day, so we moved from our posh villa to the much less posh (and somewhat moldy) Hideaways at Palm Villa to be close to the airport. Our 2 bedroom suite smelled strongly of bleach with an underlying odor of mildew and the hotel bar thermometer registered the inside of the bar at a stifling 96 degrees. Otherwise, it was great.
Because it was actually cooler outside than it was in the bar, we made the short walk to Jolly Hall beach. On our last trip to Great Exuma, it had been our favorite. Would it still be as beautiful as we remembered?
We lounged the afternoon away in the cool water before heading back to clean up for dinner.
Because we had been unsuccessful at Shirley’s the night before, we decided to give it another try and were glad we did.
We were seated immediately and had frosty drinks sitting in front of us within moments.
Shirley’s coconut crusted grouper was out of this world, as was the ridiculously decadent coconut cheesecake.
Not quite ready to let the trip end, we stopped at Blu for after dinner drinks and enjoyed one final, spectacular sunset.
The trip had been everything we hoped: (mostly) beautiful weather, great friends, and spectacular views through the Exuma Cays. We had truly been immersed in paradise.
But it was time to go home.
I only wished I could bottle the colors of the sea and take them home with me.
Days 7 - 9: Compass Cay to Little Farmer's Cay
30.05.2018 - 01.06.2018
Compass Cay to Big Major Cay: 8 miles
Compass Cay is primarily known for the bevvy of uber tame nurse sharks that the marina has been feeding and petting for years. They linger around the marina dock and are literally as docile as kittens. After a breakfast of burritos, fried potatoes, and fruit, we decided we'd visit with the sharks.
We all jumped in and swam around with the big, gentle beasts until we got waterlogged and pruney.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this post shortly after our trip: shark-attacks-instagram-model
Her quote: “I am so fortunate that I still have my arm and my life."
Seriously? Is this for real? I jumped in and immediately (accidentally) kicked one of these “ferocious beasts” HARD in the head with my big dumb foot. Then, I managed to bop another one in the face as I flailed about trying to move away from the one I kicked. What did they do? They looked sadly at me like, “Why did you do that?” and the moved closer to me so I could stroke their heads.
THIS is a photo of us with these man-devouring beasts. Certainly looks frightening, doesn't it?
As a PSA for anyone contemplating visiting the Compass Cay nurse sharks that is worried he/she might lose their life, let me give my 2 cents on the “Instagram model who nearly lost her arm and her life:”
She should be ashamed.
I am now emotionally moving on.
We needed to move the boat before noon to avoid an additional night’s fee, so we spent a little time lounging on the giant pizza and making the quick walk over to Crescent Beach on Compass– a ridiculous curve of blinding white sand and impossibly blue water.
That, of course, not another living soul was on.
Compass had been beautiful, but we had dinner plans at the exclusive and private Fowl Cay Resort, so we loaded up with water and ice and made our way south.
Big Major Cay was our stop for the night.
Unfortunately, Big Major, thanks to the swimming pig phenomenon, has recently seen an influx of mega-yachts and hit & run tourism (boatloads from Nassau gorging themselves on the pigs for mere seconds before being whisked off to overwhelm the next stop).
However, we knew that the area is big and open and there are plenty of hidden secrets if you want to find them.
We nestled ourselves into a private spot on the far end of Big Major – far from the Nassau fast boats and supersized yachts. We anchored at a lovely little private beach that was literally across from our dinner destination at Fowl Cay.
We snacked on chips & dip and sandwiches before pouring up cocktails and floating the afternoon away on our own private beach.
For dinner, we had requested reservations at the private island resort of Fowl Cay. If they have space, they will allow boaters to join them at their Hill House Restaurant for a multi-course dinner complete with cocktail hour and all inclusive drinks.
It comes with a hefty price tag, but we all agreed it was one of our favorite meals of the trip.
The dinner experience begins with “Social Hour” at promptly 6:00 p.m. We arrived by dingy and were warmly greeted at the dock and shown to the restaurant with its cozy bar and outdoor terraces with jaw dropping views.
Appetizers were set out and limitless cocktails were made to order. Let me repeat: Limitless cocktails were made to order.
Danger, Will Robinson.
We draped ourselves on the oversized loungers and sipped martinis as we watched the sun sink on the horizon, like we were Kardashians and did this crap every day.
We were eventually called in to dinner and seated at a lovely table where our waiter began to bring our first course. We had pre-ordered when we made the reservation, which was another way Fowl Cay ensured a seamless experience.
We were introduced to Lemont, our waiter, as seared scallops were brought and wine was poured.
Then a sorbet was provided to “clear our palate.” Our Kardashian vibes were in full gear by this point.
Everyone had opted for the fresh catch and a delicate and delicious mahi-mahi was set before me.
Lemont changed my life with that piece of Mahi Mahi. It was cooked as if it was a sacrifice to the gods.
I’m not sure how we had room for dessert, but we made it happen.
Then it was time for 6 overstuffed, overimbibed people to crawl into a dingy and find their boat in the dark.
Big Major Cay to Staniel Cay: 2 miles
Our very ambitious plan for the day was to do no more than visit the swimming pigs on the other side of Big Major and then hop 2 miles over to Staniel Cay Marina where we would celebrate Matt’s birthday.
It was a glorious morning. We celebrated the birthday boy with brioche French toast with fresh mango and maple syrup.
Then it was time to visit the swimming pigs. Matt and I had visited the pigs on previous trips to the Exumas, but our friends had never had the pleasure. It had been 5 years since Matt and I had been, and I was surprised at the changes time had brought.
I felt lucky to have seen the pigs for the first time in 2012. They were still under the radar and very little information existed about them on the tangled depths of the interwebs. We were able to enjoy them in relative peace with only a few other people while the pigs behaved like very polite hosts. Hungry, but polite.
In 2013, they started to get notoriety as they appeared in web-based articles by some heavy hitters like USA Today, Travel & Leisure, Huffington Post, and the New York Post. Thrillist featured them as a “must do” adventure. Then 2015 came and the Bachelor filmed there and it was all over. Bachelor Ben and his awkward group date ruined it for everybody.
Rather than the primary visitors being those vacationing on Great Exuma or, more likely, those staying on nearby Staniel Cay as it was “back in the day,” in the past few years Pig Beach has become a popular day trip for the masses from Nassau.
I have already shared my opinion of Nassau.
Speed boats loaded with bodies zoom over to throw a few turkey wieners at the pigs, take a selfie, and run back to Paradise Island to get a yard long cocktail at the pool bar. Some people even take a day flight from Nassau just to visit the pigs. In the past couple of years, Pig Beach has become so over-instagrammed, over-visited, and over-hyped that it has lost all of its magic.
I have now visited the famous swimming pigs on 3 separate trips, so I feel I have enough experience to dispel what I call the “Pig Beach Myth.”
Pig Beach Myth:
“Oh you can’t believe your eyes when the boat gets close to the island surrounded by the cleanest, crystal clear, turquoise water and you see pigs frolicking on a deserted sandy beach and cooling down in the water. Wait, pigs? In the ocean? Oh yes. Here on Pig Beach, you will find big, fat jolly pink pigs, kicking their little trotters through the surf, nuzzling up to the side of your boat, and practically dancing on the surface of the glittering water. As soon as you step in the water they surround you and play with you. If you visit Exuma, don’t miss these adorable pink bundles of joy.”
Note: all of the words above are from ACTUAL blog posts. I have taken the liberty of high jacking them and packing them all together into a single, utterly delightful, and absolutely absurd package.
Pig Beach Reality:
First, pigs are prone to defecating all over the place. That said, the water at Pig Beach is neither clean nor crystal clear. It’s more of a murky turquoise because it’s filled with pig poo. So, when you gleefully leap from your boat to frolic with these “adorable pink bundles of joy” make sure you keep your mouth closed. Can you say cryptosporidiosis three times really fast?
Second, most of these pigs are not jolly nor are they adorable. They do not nuzzle, they do not play with you, they do not frolic. While a few of them are moderately “cute-ish,” many of them are quite unattractive. Some are HUGE, fairly ugly, and extremely aggressive. They do not want your friendship or affection. They want a turkey hot dog. They are HUNGRY. As soon as your boat gets close enough, they literally charge into the water, circle your boat, and start clawing with their giant hooves (little trotters, my Aunt Fanny) at the sides of your inflatable. If you are brave enough to get into the water, they will chase you mercilessly looking for something to eat. They bite some people (people who don’t have food or don’t run fast enough).
Third, you are not on a deserted beach. This is not a private experience. You will likely be sharing your bucket list experience with at least 842 day trippers from Nassau. Loud, screaming, maniacal day trippers. With turkey hot dogs.
Finally, NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT THE DAMN BIRDS. Seriously, people are running around the beach throwing all manner of bread and potato chips blindly into the air in the direction of the pigs (because the pigs are chasing them down the beach). This results in a flock of manic seagulls dive bombing your head trying to get every morsel the pigs don’t get first. Within moments, you’ll find yourself doing your best Tippi Hedren impression.
So, let’s recap: Feces, bacteria, 700 lbs of aggressive swine with sharp incisors and hooves wanting to eat anything in the vicinity of your person, hordes of other people with GoPros and selfie-sticks, possible screaming and profanity depending on who got caught without a piece of bread in their hand, and dive bombing birds.
I am absolutely not saying this isn’t an experience. GO. DO IT. I have been 3 times for goodness sakes. Just realize what it is and what isn’t. Don’t expect Babe snuggling in your hand while you exchange pleasantries and establish a lifelong bond. Enjoy the sheer novelty of pigs on a beach, swimming in the water, and trying to knock you down for an apple. Then run back to your boat. With your mouth closed.
Here is a rundown of our visit: Before we could get out of the dingy, the biggest of the pigs was climbing onto the side of our inflatable dingy. I forcefully screamed, “Everyone get out of the boat and run before she pops it!” At this point, everyone grabs their assigned zip-loc full of old sandwiches and starts running. The pigs give chase. Big Momma Karma, the pig leader, bites Matt on the ass. I start screaming, “Drop the sandwiches! Drop the sandwiches!” as he forcefully flings the sandwiches as far from his body as he can get and runs. Meanwhile, some girl from Nassau is literally screaming like she’s being chopped to death by a hatchet as she runs down the beach while her boyfriend stands next to tour operator asking what to do. At this point, I look over and Big Momma Karma has discovered that I left my bag of sandwiches in the boat (because I decided I didn’t want to be chased) and is attempting to climb into our dingy. Matt and I scramble to the boat to throw the sandwiches overboard. As the sandwiches hit the water, a momma pig with 3 piglets immediately swims into the water, piglets swimming beside her, to eat up the floating sandwiches. As they do, one piglet craps all over my feet.
While our 2012 and 2013 visits were quite nice, this visit left me feeling like a parent that just took her kids to DisneyWorld, spent $97,456 and did nothing more than stand in lines and come home with a heat rash and food poisoning from a $9 hot dog. It wasn’t what it was promised to be.
For me? Never again.
Like any good Instagram Model, Matt feels lucky to have his ass and his life.
After about 10 stressful and disappointing minutes, we were ready to leave Pork Paradise and get the birthday in full swing on Staniel Cay.
We moved the boat to Thunderball Grotto where we tied to a mooring ball and enjoyed some mimosas and snorkeling.
We couldn’t move the boat to the marina until the afternoon, so we took the dingy over to the Yacht Club for lunch.
Frozen drinks, burgers, and fish tacos nearly made Matt forget he’d been bitten on the ass by a pig.
After lunch, we walked to the Pink Store and the Blue Store in an attempt to restock some necessary provisions (i.e., Doritos). As the stock at the Pink Store and Blue Store could literally been anything to nothing on any given day, we did not find Doritos. We did, however, find some old Halloween candy, cheddar cheese Bugles, and YooHoo.
Afterward, we took the dingy around the cay until we saw a deliciously deserted beach calling to us. We stopped and did some serious chilling and shell hunting until we were too sun parched to do anything but go back to the boat.
We moved the boat to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and cleaned up for Matt’s birthday dinner.
SCYC dinner requires that you sign up and order earlier in the day. There are 2 meal times, early and late. We opted for late so that we could enjoy the sunset.
We started off with shots in the bar and waited for the dinner bell (literally) to ring us in at 8:00.
Our multi course dinner consisted of cream of cauliflower soup, fresh salads, and your choice of entrée. Obviously, I dove into the fresh lobster. My side? Fries! Does it get any better?
I must give kudos to the staff at the SCYC restaurant. Not only did they hook us up with a gorgeous private room for dinner, they also make the most decadent chocolate cake and served with candles and singing.
There was a lot of wine and a lot of silliness. There was loud music, boat dancing, and vomiting off the back. There were 2:00 a.m. Ramen noodles.
I would call it a successful birthday.
Staniel Cay to Little Farmer's Cay: 19 miles
I woke up with Ramen noodles in my hair.
The morning after our rum punch birthday bonanza, Matt was moving a little slower than normal. All he really wanted was to go back to sleep. That and to find the small animal that had died in his mouth during the night.
We checked Matt’s ass for gangrene, found none, and enjoyed a breakfast of loaded scrambled eggs, banana bread, and melon, and headed to Farmer’s Cay.
We had been swimming with sharks. We had been chased by pigs. Why not round things out with a trip to see the giant iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay?
It was a short hop over to Bitter Guana where we stopped and visited lizard beach for a while. As soon as you pull up, these prehistoric giants come crawling out of the foliage onto the beach, hoping for a dropped grape.
Of course, it made me angry when a tour operator showed up and handed his guests bags of bread to feed to the iguanas. Yes, bread, a natural part of the iguana diet. At least if you are going to feed them, feed them fruits and vegetables.
We tried to feed them grapes. Which they promptly discarded in favor of Wonder Bread.
Before heading out, we mixed up some morning bloody Marys and mimosas and simply enjoyed the view.
Sometimes you want a vacation that takes your breath away. Sometimes you want a vacation that lets you breathe.
Exuma was both.
Eventually we made it to Little Farmer’s Cay. We had overnight reservations at the Little Farmer’s Yacht Club. What it lacked in amenities, it more than made up for in personality.
The personality of its distinguished owner, Mr. Roosevelt Nixon, to be precise.
He makes a mean rum punch.
We had planned to take the dingy over to Ty’s Sunset on the beach and have lunch, but, as it was Bahamian Labor Day, Ty’s was closed. Instead, we settled in for fried fish and more delicious rum punch with Mr. Nixon.
After lunch, we took the dingy into the main harbor where we found a quaint settlement, a fresh conch stand, and Deno Darville…the turtle whisperer.
While we waited for our conch salad, Deno convinced us all to don our snorkel gear and, for a few bucks, he would “call the turtles.”
Not only did he call the turtles, he called Stewie, the cutest puffer fish of all time.
We swam around in the water until our salad was freshly prepared and ready to eat.
Full of fresh conch salad and our own rum punch, we took the dingy around to Ty’s, just to see what all the fuss was about. It was a beautiful stretch of beach and the little bar and grill looked lovely. I guess we’ll just have to save that for next time!
We enjoyed sunset on the boat before heading to Ocean Cabin for dinner.
We had enjoyed this place a lot on our previous trip. While Terry wasn’t up to the entertainment and antics of our previous trip, the lobster and ribs were spot on.
I still wasn’t a fan of the Windex blue drink though. That stuff could strip the paint off a barn.
Days 4 - 6: Highbourne Cay to Compass Cay
26.05.2019 - 28.08.2018
Highbourne Cay to….Highbourne Cay: 0 miles
On our second day, my 98 page itinerary demanded that we depart Highbourne Cay and travel 14.5 miles south to Shroud Cay where we would anchor for the night.
The weather disagreed.
It became clear that we were spending the entire day on Highbourne Cay and wouldn’t be moving the boat until the following day.
It was a hardship being stuck on a beautiful private island, with a comfy slip, shore power, showers, an upscale restaurant, beautiful deserted beaches, and free bicycles, but we made the most of it.
First order of business: Showers. You learn quickly on a boat that whenever an opportunity to take a land-based shower presents itself, you take it.
(The same holds true for a #2)
I whipped up a breakfast of eggs-in-a-basket with avocado slices, fresh tomatoes, and salsa while everyone cleaned up.
After breakfast, we set out to explore. Highbourne Cay has 8 amazing beaches, each one more beautiful than the last. Highbourne was nearly deserted and we had every pristine beach to ourselves.
We thought we’d take the bus to visit one of the more distant beaches, but when we saw how long this guy had been waiting, we decided to take the bikes.
We stumbled on a perfect crescent beach, complete with a lounging pavilion, chairs, a paddleboard, and an outdoor bar where we quickly set up our rum punch assembly line.
Knowing that we couldn’t do anything or go anywhere was incredibly relaxing.
Eventually, we biked our way back to the Marina for lunch at Xuma. Lunch was as decadent as dinner. Their hamburger was a thing of beauty.
Then it was back to the boat for clean-up and naps before dinner.
We noticed the beach had a bonfire set up so we inquired at the office and found that we could reserve the beach pavilion and bonfire for dinner – so reserve it we did. It cost $200, but it was well worth it.
Sure, you could probably just show up on the off chance that no one else was using it and use it for free, but we were glad we had a paid reservation when we arrived and a large family had set up camp in the pavilion.
No receipt? No beach for you. They packed up and went to find their own spot.
Pesto pasta, grilled chicken, salad, bread, s’mores, a beach bonfire and more wine than Trader Joe’s…it just didn’t get better than this. This is what boat trips are all about.
Highbourne Cay to Shroud Cay: 14.5 miles
It was still cloudy when we woke up, but the weather looked promising. We made plans over a breakfast of yogurt, granola, and fruit parfaits.
We had to modify our itinerary to make up for the day we spent on Highbourne and decided to skip a stop at Norman’s Cay and head straight for Shroud. The following day, instead of stopping at Warderick Wells, we’d go all the way from Shroud Cay to Compass Cay.
As we made our way north, the gray skies gradually began to clear. The dark water gradually illuminated, as streaks of electric blue began to appear.
The skies were clearing as we anchored at Shroud Cay.
Our “routine” became an appetizer and cocktails mid-morning so we celebrated our arrival with bloody marys and a fruit tray.
Then, we did nothing but lounge in the incredible water with cocktails until it was time for lunch.
Lunch was a giant platter of nachos, black beans and rice, and one weird circular rainbow around the sun that looked very much like a celestial boob.
After lunch, it was nearing high tide, so it was a good time to take the dingy for a ride up the shallow mangrove river on Shroud Cay to see what was supposed to be “the most amazing beach ever.”
We navigated slowly through the shallow water, the guys having to get out on occasion to pull us through.
At the end, the river spilled into the ocean at what was, definitely, the most amazing beach ever.
We pulled out the drinks, parked our butts in the sand, and let the sun and sea take us. We did a whole lot of nothing for a couple of hours.
Eventually, we made our way back to the boat and cleaned up for dinner. It was nothing more than hot dogs and hamburgers, but with the sea salt air and the magnificent sunset, there has never been a finer meal.
Shroud Cay to Compass Cay: 27 miles
Because our power cat only had a 3 foot draft, this allowed us to cruise on the shallow west side of the islands, where the Exuma Bank offers crystalline turquoise and jaw dropping views. We planned to take advantage of the “skinny water” and take our time navigating to Compass Cay and simply enjoy the ride.
Because we had to combine 2 days of travel into one, it would be a long ride. We decided to get up early and have a quick breakfast “to go” of bagels with fruit.
We pulled out as the sun was just peeking into the day.
To break up the long day, we planned to stop at Cambridge Cay to visit the sandbar. This meant our morning would take us 22 miles. The weather had completely cleared and we finally saw that Exuma water we had been dying for.
We stopped for lunch at Cambridge Cay: sesame seared tuna with noodles.
After lunch, we took the dingy to explore the sandbars and shallow waters around Cambridge Cay.
Then, it was another 5 miles to Compass Cay, famous for its tame nurse sharks.
We had reserved a marina slip, which was no easy feat. Compass doesn’t have bathrooms, showers, or a regularly operating restaurant, but we had shore power and it was just nice to get off the boat and stand on a non-moving, non-wet surface for a bit.
We enjoyed a sunset platter with wine before grilling up some steaks and calling it a night.
Days 1 - 3: Nassau to Highbourne Cay
25.05.2018 - 27.05.2018
The Exumas is an archipelago of 365 cays (pronounced “keys”) scattered along some 130 miles of extraordinary turquoise sea in the family islands of the Bahamas.
These 130 miles of island are sprinkled in the ocean like a glittering necklace. On one side of the cays is the heaving ocean. On the other side is the protected and peaceful Exuma Bank, a shallow paradise of shifting sand, colorful reefs and tiny uninhabited cays with shockingly white beaches and water that looks lit from within.
The Exumas are remote, beautiful and untouched. With only a handful of beach bars and even fewer restaurants , and almost nothing that could rise to the level of “town” for some 100+ miles, it is raw and isolated nature, incredible in its beauty and unmatched in its tranquility, but it’s the water that makes the Exuma Cays the perfect place to bareboat.
The draw here is not what you see by land….it’s what you see by water.
It had been 5 years since our last boating trip, having done 2 week long bareboats in the B.V.I. and a 2013 trip in the Exumas. We were itching to see that Exuma water again and knew that doing it by boat was the way to go.
But we don’t sail.
Imagine my delight when I found the sole power catamaran for charter in the Exumas. Before you could say, “Swimming Pigs,” we had convinced 4 friends who had never bareboated to join us on an Exuma adventure with Matt at the helm, armed with nothing more than my 98 page itinerary.
God help them.
On our previous sail through the Exumas, we had opted for a there-and-back trip out of Georgetown Exuma that lasted 7 days. That trip barely gave us enough time to get to Staniel Cay, some 60 odd miles from Great Exuma. That left over half of the Exumas undiscovered to us. We wanted an opportunity to see the entire chain, so for this trip we chartered a boat out of Nassau for a one way to Georgetown, Great Exuma for 10 days.
Unfortunately, this meant flying into Nassau.
I love the Bahamas. But I hate Nassau.
Ahhh……..Nassau …. the land of Senor Frog’s, drunk 20-somethings, and electric blue, 2 foot tall plastic cocktails. It is a land of cruise ships, three-for-$10 t-shirts, and oversized resorts with midnight buffets.
When I hear someone say they have been to the Bahamas and the next sentence is, “I’ve been to Nassau,” I know they haven’t been to the Bahamas.
Thankfully, our time on Nassau was short.
We arrived at midnight and were literally waved through customs and immigration as the agents packed their belongings up to leave for the night.
We endured a $50 taxi ride to our hotel, paid $8 for a can of soda, and went to bed.
I woke up before Matt and, to kill time, decided to walk down to the hotel’s “beach.” It just made me sad. Having seen so many breathtaking beaches in the Bahamas, to imagine anyone spending their vacation on this “beach” was just wretched. They had no idea what they were missing.
Although it did have a stunning view of the cruise ship port......
As soon as Matt was awake, we wasted no time getting to Palm Cay Marina, where our boat was waiting. While it was still “Nassau” it was a world apart. If I was going to be forced to spend a day on Nassau, this was the place to do it.
Palm Cay Marina is far from….well….pretty much anything else on Nassau. It was a lovely marina, and for $10 we could use the pool, beach, and facilities until our 4:00 boarding time. It was very chic and upscale. They even gave each of us a free rum punch, which we consumed faster than you can say, “May I have another rum punch, please?”
We lounged by the pool and sipped cocktails while we waited for everyone to arrive.
We celebrated everyone’s arrival with a poolside lunch.
And then it was time to board catamaran "Lion of the Sea." Chartered through NavTours, we couldn't have been happier with the boat.
And our very tiny cabins.
With our very large luggage.
Good thing I had that extra cocktail.
Dinner that night was at Palm Cay’s poolside restaurant with plenty of twinkling lights, cocktails, live music, and terrible dancing.
And then everyone crammed themselves into their sardine can bed for our first night on the boat.
As I lay down in my tiny bed, Matt’s giant body taking up 2/3 of the space, I realized that this must be exactly how it feels to be a sardine in a tin- just hotter, tighter and far more uncomfortable. What followed was approximately 7 hours of restless fidgeting, jostling, and shoving with the “accidental” kick thrown in occasionally. Everything but sleep.
Nassau to Highbourne Cay: 35 miles
The next morning we got up as early as we thought reasonable just to get out of that cabin. We admitted to each other how, at least once during the night, we had both felt abject loathing for one another. But in the beautiful glow of our first boat sunrise….
Except, there was no beautiful glow.
We woke up to absolutely miserable weather.
Gray skies. Wind. Rough Seas. Rain.
Today was one of our longest legs, as we had to get all the way from Nassau to the very beginning of the Exuma island chain. We had 35 miles to go across open sea. It was our 4 friends’ first day on a boat trip, Matt’s first day ever driving a catamaran, and nature had turned against us.
Not to mention that, even for a seasoned captain, simply navigating in the Exumas is not for the faint of heart. One must use a combination of the boat's chartplotter, Explorer charts, the Cruising Guide to the Bahamas, and several iPads running a variety of navigation apps to pick your way through the shallow water. Add 7 hours of rough open sea and 4 newbies to that equation and it was not looking like an amazing first day.
As the self-designated Galley Wench, I cooked up a “to go” breakfast of egg sandwiches, told everyone to take some Dramamine and “HOLD ON,” and off we went.
The seas were angry that day, my friends.
We had 3 mildly seasick friends and one who literally entered her cabin, died, and never came out.
Lunch was en route, so I had to make ham and cheese croissants, a vegetable platter, and cocktails in a wildly rocking galley. I have talents, people.
The day was a tropical hell of rough seas and disappointment.
After a 7+ hour slog through alternating rain and wind, we made it to Highborne Cay. We entered the marina where a glorious slip awaited us as did dinner at their upscale restaurant.
Frankly, it had been a long, miserable day, but the worst was over. We celebrated with arrival cocktails and a little appetizer platter on the boat.
And then it was off to a beautiful dinner at Xuma, Highbourne’s open-air restaurant.
A plate of profiteroles can fix anything.