Cruising the Bahamas (Staniel Cay to Great Exuma) – Part 3 of ???

This is part 3 of Ken and Roberta Williams’ log from our trip cruising through the Bahamas on our Glacier Bay 27’ power catamaran.



May 26, 2006 – As I mentioned previously, we rented a home for a week at Staniel Cay in the Exumas (24.10.1 N, 076.26.3 W).

We chose Staniel Cay, because of its’ location in the center of the Exumas, thinking we could spend each day exploring to the north and south of us. However, I must confess that laziness set in, and not much cruising took place. Our home came with a golf cart, and instead, we spent our days exploring the island, surfing the internet, reading and not doing much of anything.

To be fair, there wasn’t much we could do. We were striking out with weather once again. It rained every day. The locals are all saying how much they appreciate the rain. Apparently they have had almost no rain this year, and need all they can get.

Dinner our first night was at the Staniel Cay Yacht club. Although it was a very nice dinner, I remember joking to Roberta that we would probably be eating there another 21 times (seven days times three meals), as there were no other options on the island. I didn’t realize at the time how true this would come to be.



Beach front cottages at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Our stay was nearing its end when we discovered that there was another option, and a darn fine one! If you call nearby Fowl Cay, they will send a boat for you. Fowl Cay is incredible. I was told that a very wealthy businessman had bought the island, and was sparing no expense to make it into a small luxury destination resort. We didn’t realize where we were going and dressed “casually,” and were horribly underdressed. It was an excellent dinner and an excellent evening. The ambiance and setting had much more in common with visiting friends for dinner at their home, than going to a restaurant.

I can’t leave our discussion of Staniel Cay without mentioning some of the site-seeing we did do.



Roberta hiking a deserted beach

 



Roberta feeding bread to the iguanas

 



What do iguana’s eat? Everything seemed to work. This guy kept
following us, and we didn’t know what would happen if we stopped
feeding him – so we fed him until he gave up



A couple of James Bond movies were filmed here, and the “Thunderball Grotto” is a must see




The entrance to the Grotto – clear water, and fish!


Every morning, our routine was to listen to the weather report, which was invariably “unsettled, 25+ knot winds, with scattered thunder showers, and squalls.”

Finally, it was time to leave our home at Staniel Cay and venture out. We were ready for time at anchor, and looking forward to it. We didn’t have to go far. Just around the corner is Big Major with well protected anchorage, and a “pig beach”. We were told that pigs live on the island in front of the anchorage, and would swim out to the boats for food.



Dropping anchor at Big Major

The anchorage itself was huge spanning perhaps a mile, with 25 or so boats spread out. Anchoring was in 6 feet of water at low tide, in sand. In spite of all the space to spread out, most of the boats were packed into a narrow space, just in front of the beach with the pigs. We took our place in the front of the pack, for our day of “swimming with the pigs.”



There were a dozen friendly pigs on the beach in front of us.
Throughout the day, there was a steady parade of tenders temping the pigs to
swim by offering various foods. Nothing worked.
I suspect they were too well fed to swim…

How to describe life at anchor? We were in an incredible bay. The water was crystal clear, and ranged from six to ten feet deep depending on the tide; water temperature about 80 degrees. We spent the day in and out of the water. For fun, we cleaned the bottom of the boat, swam some more, dived down to the anchor, listened to music, made dinner, listened to more music, and sipped a great red wine. As uneventful as this sounds, I’m sure when we look back on the trip, this will be the day that we remember most. Days at anchor are always the highpoint of cruising.

A brief segue way:

We have had a heck of a time with cooking. We have a simple gas barbecue, but somehow the little tube that runs from the little propane canister to the barbecue burner has disappeared. Our backup is a two burner alcohol stove, which has worked great. We also have a microwave/convection oven which has been a nightmare.

The manual for the convection oven says that it takes 1400 watts, however our 1800 watt generator won’t power it. I tried the 2000 watt inverter and it also failed. The microwave “kind of” works. The lights on the microwave dim, and sometimes it works, and sometimes the generator dies. Usually, the generator dies, or the microwave dies.

Roberta has the idea that we should consider dumping the generator, which is adding a lot of weight to the back of the boat, and add a much larger inverter. The engines themselves might be able to be run to recharge the house batteries (I’m not sure on this), and we only need large amounts of power long enough to cook dinner. I will be looking into this after the trip.

Generally, we avoid running the generator. It ruins the anchoring experience to hear it whining away… (and damages our reputation with the surrounding boats)

Remember I mentioned that all the boats had anchored unnaturally close together to watch the pigs? This made for an uncomfortable night, as the winds came up. Winds gusted most of the night to what felt like 20-30 knots. I had personally dived on the anchor and knew we were set well in sand – but, you never know. Standing watch seemed the smarter thing to do.

This wasn’t all bad. There was no moon, and the sky was cloudless. All you could see was stars, stars and more stars. I am not a person who is normally impressed by these sorts of things, but around 4am I tried to wake Roberta just to check out the view.

It was time to start thinking about our next passage. This next leg was the one that worried me the most. Our destination was the Four Seasons Hotel on Great Exuma Island. Those who have made the run to Great Exuma know what had me worried. Georgetown, Elizabeth Harbor, and our hotel, are all on the side of the island which is on the Exuma sound.

Most of our cruising thus far on the trip had been on the Great Bahama bank, over shallow water, with limited, but at least some, protection from the wind. For the next leg of our voyage we would need to venture out into the deep unprotected water. This would be fine on a larger boat, or a lower wind, but with our tiny 27’ boat, and gusts to 30 knot winds, we were thinking we should stay put. Besides – we were in a great anchorage.

Patience has never been my strong suit. At 7:30am on the Friday the 25th of May, the weather report was its usual: “unstable”. Looking around us the skies were clear, with no wind. Other boats were pulling anchor, and it was time to go.

I studied the charts again, studying to see if there wasn’t some way to get where we wanted to go without venturing out to the deep water, and it just isn’t possible. If you look at the map below, you’ll see where we were at Big Major (on the West side of the Exumas, off of Staniel Cay), and where we needed to go (half way between Rolleville and George Town on the East side of Great Exuma island).

Here’s what we decided to do, and the mistakes we made. Studying the chart, I could stay in protected water only as far south as Big Farmers Cay, and then I’d have to take one of the “cuts” out to the deep water, Exuma Sound. Going further south in the ‘protected’ shallow water would mean facing water that in places was only 1-3 feet deep. None of the guidebooks recommended that.

Have you heard the phrase “Let’s just poke our nose out, and we’ll come back in if we don’t like what we see”? Here’s some useful advice: BE CAREFUL. We had a very easy run to Farmers Cay, and assumed we’d have no trouble once we made the cut to the other side. On the charts, the cut is shown as having “high currents”. As we approached it, we could see whitecaps, and uttered the aforementioned phrase. That was mistake #1.

Then we committed mistake #2: We were inside the boat, and didn’t notice the wind had come up. We were expecting high currents, and could see the whitecaps, but thought they were only at the narrow cut.

As we entered the cut, we realized the breaking waves were bigger than we thought – perhaps 2 to 4 feet. We were getting slammed, but expected it to stop once we were out of the cut and into Exuma Sound; so we continued. Suddenly, the waves were taller, 5 to 7 feet, and one broke over the top of the boat. When the water cleared, we only had a few seconds of respite before the next one hit us. All thought of moving forward was immediately gone. We were clearly in over our heads – literally and figuratively! — and the attention had shifted to “how are we going to turn around and go back?” The waves were close enough together, and high enough, that we were very concerned about being beam to them.

Roberta said, “I wonder how our Nordhavn would do?” And, I said, “I suspect even the Nordhavn wouldn’t be having fun now.. How do you think we get turned around?” She said, “We have no choice. Pick your wave, and go for it.” This conversation was punctuated by anything that hadn’t yet hit the ground transforming into airborne missiles. Boom – there went the toaster. Splat – all of our charts. Etc.

Turning around was easier than I thought, as the boat performed flawlessly. I then found myself surfing the top of a very tall wave, but at least it felt calm. Then began a bizarre conversation in which Roberta thought we should speed up in order to out-run the waves lapping at our stern, as I was arguing that we should continue to surf the top of the wave, and hope it ran out of steam before breaking. I’m not sure who was right, but can say that things worked out fine by surfing the wave for the 100 yards or so back into protected water, at which time it promptly lowered us back to water level, in relative calm.

Mistake #3 – We had let the calendar control our cruising plan rather than the weather report. We were racing to make our hotel reservations, and letting this bias what were hearing on the radio.

Now what?

We did have a real schedule issue. On May 31st we are scheduled to meet Roberta’s parents back in Nassau, 80 or so miles north of our current location. We wanted to continue south, but were recognizing that even if we reached our destination, the weather might turn against us and interfere with our return. The vision of Roberta’s parents arriving in Nassau alone probably meant we should turn back and head north immediately.

However, we WERE only 30 miles from four days at the Four Seasons Hotel on Great Exuma. There had to be a solution. Floating just inside Farmer’s Cay Cut, we spent the next 30 minutes studying and re-studying the chart to see if there was a path to the hotel without venturing out to the unprotected water. We could get close, but we couldn’t get there, and neither of us was in the mood to “poke our nose out again.”

Both Roberta and I are fairly headstrong people. When we decide we’re going to do something, nothing stops us. We docked at the Farmers Cay Yacht Club and Marina, and asked the harbor master if he knew of any ferries that made the run to George Town. Amazingly, he said “No, but there are a couple of guys in town with a speed boat. Maybe they’ll take you down.”



Mas O Menos (our 27′ Glacier Bay) tied in, on all four sides, at the Farms Cay Yacht Club

Within the hour, we were on a speed boat, with two locals we had never met, with our boat tied up and lonely, at a yacht club somewhere close to the “middle of nowhere”, as we headed south.

Our guides for this next leg were “Curly” and another guy who refused to smile, and didn’t speak. I asked Curly how he was going to get through the rough water, and he said he would run the inside, in the shallow, protected water. He said that we could arrive at Barraterra on the West side of Great Exuma island, and taxi from there to our hotel. This led me to ask if I could just take my boat, to which he shook his head and said I’d never find my way through the shallow water without him. This led me to ask if there was a way that I could just follow him down. He said his boat wouldn’t go less than 40 knots, and there was no way I could keep up.

Something didn’t seem right. What boat can’t go less than 40 knots? What boat could go more than 40 knots?

He was right about the speed. At first I didn’t believe him, but within seconds I had no doubt. Our run from Farmers Cay to Barraterra took under 30 minutes, and averaged over 50 knots. Roberta and I were sitting in the open bow of the boat, with Shelby on our lap, as we ran across water that sometimes looked only inches deep.



Shelby

If you have ever watched a running back carry the football on a touchdown run, you know how I was holding Shelby. I had visions of us going airborne at any second, and Shelby flying through the air. We actually DID go airborne at one point, when we were launched from an exposed sandbar. Curly looked a little sheepish, but we kept zigzagging through the sand bars. We didn’t drop speed one knot. If they could package up our ride, and offer it as a ride at Disneyland, the line would stretch for miles. It was scary, but fun.

The ride down was shocking in its beauty. We were seeing a part of the Exumas that exceeded anything we had seen previously. Places with names like Musha Cay and Cave Cay. I wanted to take pictures, but there was no way to loosen my grip on Shelby. We rocketed past a few cruising boats, even a sailboat, so I am convinced there is a way for a boat like ours to reach these places, on the inside. Perhaps we should have gone for it, although, there isn’t a marina we could find to put Mas O Menos on the west side of Great Exuma. So, even if we could get there, we weren’t sure what we’d do with Mas O Menos while at the hotel. This was better…
 



Curly, his friend, and their rocket ship, on arrival at Barraterra

On the taxi ride to our hotel we were accompanied by Curly and his friend. I didn’t have cash for the charter ride, and they weren’t letting me out of sight until we reached an ATM machine. Making small talk, Curly asked what I did for a living, and I mentioned that I am a retired software geek. His friend suddenly lit up. It turns out he was the local computer guy, and we had a terrific chat about laptops and internet connections, boring everyone else in the taxi.

We had arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel, and you can’t imagine how good it looked. Golf. Showers. High Speed Internet. Restaurants. A bed with REAL pillows.

At dinner on Saturday night, we went to “Peace and Plenty” a George Town restaurant and boater hang out. I was surprised to find a huge incredible bay (Elizabeth Harbor), which for roughly six months a year is home (anchorage) to 500 or so boats at any given time. The restaurant had a huge dinghy dock, and we felt at home.

A few days of rest, then back to anchor we go… Curly picks us up for the rocket ride back to Farmers Cay Yacht Club and Marina on Tuesday morning.

Still ahead: the return to Nassau, Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, and more time at anchor….

Thank you,

Ken Williams
www.kensbook.com
www.kensblog.com



Roberta and Shelby walking the beach behind our hotel


 



The view from our room

 

— Excerpts from Email —

Whereas Roberta and I are discovering the Bahamas for the first time, there are many of you have been traveling here for years. I thank you for your tips and suggestions, and have taken the liberty of putting here excerpts from a few of the emails.

Ken,

Just a quick note. We have been doing the Bahamas for ten years before getting the Nordhavn. I agree the best time is NOT in the typical season.

Too many fronts, too much rough weather and the water is just too cold.

However, in the right season, (like starting now) the Exumas are still my favorite place I have ever been in the world. That sounds like a big statement for something so close to the USA and easy to get to, but I think the Exumas are the most overlooked paradise in the world. It is one of the last places undeveloped enough to be able to drop an anchor at a white beach with unlimited visibility in the water.

The only place I would put above the Exumas in the Bahamas is Conception Island just east of the Exumas. In the boat you are in now, you can stay at a GREAT marina at Rum Cay. From that marina it is a short jump to conception. Hope you get a chance to enjoy it.
 
Have fun. Tell David at Staniel Cay we said hello and when you get to Georgetown, tell KB who is the owner of Chat and Chill we said hello.

Take care.

Larry Biggs M/V NEXUS
Website: NEXUS47.com – – – –


Ken,

I’ve enjoyed your reports on your Bahamas cruise. We Floridians try to keep the Bahamas a secret but it just isn’t possible! As you’ve no doubt learned, sometimes George Town has close to 500 cruising boats in Elizabeth Harbour for the Out Island Regatta and the Cruising Boat Regatta.

The Exumas are surely the crown jewel of the Bahamas, with some of the clearest water in the world. Judy and I have been cruising there for 25 years and never tire of it. If you have time, however, there’s a lot to be said for Abaco and you might want to pass through the Abaco chain on your way home. Lots of contrasts: Exumas underdeveloped, Abacos becoming a bit too developed; Exumas of almost entirely black population, Abacos mostly white; stops in the Exumas in the lee of the islands, while Abaco has “the Sea of Abaco” and lots of (for the Bahamas) deep water cruising. We like both. Not to mention the out islands.

You’ve probably figured out how to read the water now, a skill that comes easily after a few miles of Bahamas cruising. The easy way to remember is that as long as the water is neither very light (like white) or dark (like black or brown) you’re in good water. The lighter the color, the shallower the water. The dark colors are usually either coral heads (sharp outlines) or vegetation (soft outlines). Practice with the sun over your shoulder. It’ll soon come easily!

Remember, mon, it’s bettah in the Bahamas!

Best regards,
–Milt Baker, N47 Bluewater, lying RBYC Hamilton, Bermuda – – – –


hello ken & Roberta,

i am glad to see that you made it to the Bahamas. the exumas are my favorite but like you said; they are very shallow. i draw 8 feet swinging 6 foot diameter wheels that are the lowest point of the boat. i use Sarah and Monty Lewis’ charts and then i have researched and made my own routes in their chart book. all the chart/guidebooks work on a 6′ draft but i do know that the lewis’ books are very conservative with their depths. paying attention to the tides and moon phases are key.

though, july and august are the best months to cruise the bahamas and i feel the safest in nassau & exumas for hurricane season. just ask Johny on the MY TIME at Nassua Yacht Haven Marina, he will tell you because he has been through some there. he will make you a believer! be safe and take good care,
jared 



Ken:

Great story & pics.

You could try attaching your dangling fenders to the dock, rather than the boat. They need to be tied so they can’t slide up & down on the dock.

If you can get the height of the fenders right, it may work out better for you. Works for me with tyres and a 9ft tidal range.

Regards Tim 


Ken,

How about a couple of pictures of the inside of your boat?

Ray



[Response from Ken: Ray, Thank you for reminding me – I’ll include those in my next update. We’re actually very comfortable, and well equipped.]

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson