Tag Archives: Big Majors

Cambridge Cay to Georgetown

With our dinghy motor nonfunctional, on 11/24/16 we left Cambridge Cay at 0950 and at 1200 dropped the anchor at Big Majors Cay, next to Staniel Cay. As usual on this trip, we were one of very few boats in the anchorage. In a month or two, this large anchorage will be crowded. It’s a very popular stop, both for cruisers heading south and for those who like to stay in this area for weeks or longer. The anchorage is huge and well protected from all but westerly winds, with a few smaller nearby anchorages for wind protection from the west. There are three very small grocery stores, two in small rooms in private homes and one on the first floor of a private home. Another advantage of stopping here is there is an airport, so often cruisers will have their guests fly into Staniel Cay. Also, with the airport being walking distance from the marina, it’s a good place to have boat parts or other supplies shipped from the States. (In Georgetown we have to pay a $30 fee to a broker who drives to the airport to pick up packages we have sent  from the States and brings them back to town where we pick them up.) There are several restaurants, including the recently updated Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The town recently added a laundromat. Water and fuel are available at the marina and dive boats take tourists to nearby snorkeling and diving locations.  There are quite a few cottages and private homes for rent on Staniel Cay. Cruisers can base themselves here and with a short sail or motor be at the popular Exuma Land and Sea Park. 

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First on the agenda was to repair the dinghy motor. Mark worked on it for several hours, finally determining that the problem was the fuel. He emptied it from the motor and it looked more like water than gas. He added new gasoline and the motor started. Off we went to see the swimming pigs and take Sailor to the beach. We needed to wait until the next day for a slack tide during daylight to go into the Thunderball Grotto and snorkel. 

People actually come from all over to see these pigs, which is quite amazing because a pig farmer from Iowa once told us that all pigs can swim. Although there are quite a few beaches on Big Majors Cay, the pigs are always on this one. We chuckle when we see float planes or tour boats coming here from resorts all over the south and central Bahamas and as far away as Nassau to see the pigs.  They pull up to the pig beach, the tourists get out and swim with or feed them, they get back in their plane or boat and head off to the next “attraction.” We usually stop our dinghy when passing this beach, but have never gotten in the water with the pigs or gone ashore. Sailor, of course, would love to play with them, but that would be dangerous. These are huge pigs and they are protective of their piglets. Apparently, these pigs are so important to tourism in the Exumas that as Hurricane Matthew approached Big Majors Cay in October, the piglets were captured and placed in sheds while the larger pigs were left to fend for themselves. With the strength of the hurricane force wind, the piglets could have blown away. 

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Next we took Sailor to another beach on Big Majors where he could run, swim, and fetch his ball. We can almost always find a deserted beach in this anchorage where he can freely run without dodging people. He hadn’t been off the boat since the fiasco on Bell Island the previous day when we were marooned for awhile. This was much more fun.

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My son, Peter, climbed a nearby hill but the rocks were very sharp so he didn’t go far.

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The next morning, we moved Seas the Day to an anchorage right next to the grotto so we wouldn’t have a long dinghy ride to snorkel or go to lunch. Our motorsail to our next stop at  Cave Cay was short, so we could easily get there in the afternoon after spending the morning in Staniel Cay. Last year when we snorkeled Thunderball Grotto, it seemed like there weren’t many fish and the coral wasn’t as colorful as in the past. We blamed it on the massive amount of people in the grotto making it difficult to swim around to look at the coral. Everyone times it to come during one of the two slack tides during the daylight hours. Otherwise, the strong current pushes through the grotto and makes getting in and out difficult. Like the pig beach, tour boats bring tourists to snorkel at the well known Thunderball Grotto where scenes from the James Bond movie Thunderball were filmed. This time, again there were several dinghies anchored outside the grotto (the dinghy mooring balls have disappeared), but it wasn’t as full as last year when we came. Swimming into the grotto, it was very apparent that the tourists who come here in large groups have killed the coral and scared the fish away. I spent several minutes inside and returned to the dinghy since there was little to see. Mark didn’t go in the water because he had a cut on his foot and there are a lot of sharks, mainly harmless nurse sharks, in the area. Peter ended up snorkeling mostly around the back of the outside of the grotto where few people go. All in all, I don’t think we’ll go to Thunderball Grotto again. It’s sad that the multitudes of tourists have ruined it. I don’t include cruisers in this because they have been coming here for many years, before the influx of numerous daily tours began, and until a few years ago the coral in the grotto was very healthy. Our first time snorkeling here was in 2010 and the grotto has changed drastically since then. In the past, there were so many fish in the grotto than they would sometimes totally surround snorkelers.  Most cruisers are very careful to protect the land and sea environment so they know to be careful not to touch live coral. 

Peter used his GoPro camera at Thunderball Grotto, but hasn’t put a video on YouTube yet. Hopefully he captured some colorful live coral outside of the back of the Grotto. He saw a nurse shark while swimming there. 

Below is a video Peter took when we snorkeled at The Aquarium, near Cambridge Cay, at our last stop. This is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is a “no take” zone, so it’s as pristine as the coral is going to get here. There were still plentiful, wide varieties of fish in The Aquarium. However, several nearby islands are owned by private citizens, including Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan, and they have been dredged for megayachts which will probably affect the nearby cays in the Park. I suspect they allow their family and visitors to take shells off their beaches, so while they are in the Park, the “no take” rule isn’t being followed. 

We returned to the boat, cleaned up, and went ashore to Staniel Cay where we had a delicious lunch at the Yacht Club and took a walk around the town. 

Lunch at the Yacht Club.

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Sailor and the resident Yacht Club retriever had a discussion below our table, probably about food droppings. There are signs telling people not to feed the dog, but he is quite clever. We were eating outside and I noticed he would wander over and walk under the tables from time to time. He seemed to know he would find food that had dropped off the tables, and he did! Sailor doesn’t eat “people food” so the dog got any scraps that blew off our table. Perhaps Sailor was telling him to feel free to eat any scraps he found.

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Whenever the Staniel Cay residents have a fundraiser for a local cause it’s held in this location. The food is always traditional Bahamian cuisine including BBQ meat, peas and rice, mac and cheese and coleslaw.

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Before cell phone towers were built on most of the islands, you could get a phone card and make calls back to the States, or locally, from one of these booths. Now Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) has cell towers everywhere (except in the Land and Sea Park) and voice and data prices are reasonable. This phone booth hasn’t been used for awhile.

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Coming back to our anchored boat near the grotto, we were all alone again. We pulled up the anchor and made our way to Cave Cay. 

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We had asked Chris Parker during his morning SSB/webcast what the sea conditions on the Exuma Sound would be like the next day between Cave Cay and Georgetown and he said the wind would be 10-12 kts and seas would be 4 ft becoming 3 ft. That sounded fine to us so the plan was to leave for Georgetown in the morning from Cave Cay Cut. When we arrived, there was one other catamaran anchored near us. We didn’t go ashore, although there is a nice beach right around the corner from this hill. You can see why this is called Cave Cay. Below is one of the many caves along the shore and there are more on the land.

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The next morning, we waited until 0900 to leave, hoping that since it was close to slack tide we might not encounter large seas or a rage as we left through the cut. We were anchored near Galliot Cut but motorsailed the short distance to Cave Cay Cut, which we find is sometimes easier to go through. But it wasn’t. As we entered the cut, large waves were coming onto the foredeck and crashing over the salon roof, which was not unexpected since it’s always been rough when we’ve gone through these cuts, but we assumed once we got through the cut and turned south, the predicted 4 ft waves would be manageable. They would have, except Chris Parker didn’t mention the HUGE SWELLS. The four ft seas were on top of them. We were going straight into the swells and they were still crashing up onto the foredeck, occasionally coming over the salon roof.  Mark estimated the swells were 10 to 12 feet high. From another direction they would have been manageable because if there is enough time between the swells, they just carry the boat up and then gently drop us down. Not this time.

I went to bed with Sailor and Peter got in his bed with a dramamine while Mark was at the helm, controlling the boat as best he could. Many people think it’s easier in rough seas to be on the deck level, but on our catamaran, I find it’s more comfortable in beds located in the hulls. Besides, Sailor is a “fair weather sailor” and insists I get in bed with him if the sea is not almost flat. These sea  conditions were probably the worst ones we have ever sailed in over the last eight years. At 1417, about five hours after leaving Cave Cay, we were in Elizabeth Harbour and dropped the anchor near Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island to wait for high tide to get into the mooring field on our ball. The seas dropped as soon as we entered Elizabeth Harbour although it was still very windy and the water was choppy. While this was a horrendous leg of the journey to Georgetown, we know that Seas the Day can take much more than we can and we weren’t worried about any danger to us or the boat.

The Ohio State/Michigan game began shortly before we entered Elizabeth Harbour, so we had to finish watching that, which went into several overtimes. We lived in Columbus, Ohio for over 20 years, so Peter and I are diehard Buckeye fans. A few minutes before the game ended, we lost our Direct TV signal, so we had to check online to find out that Ohio State won.

Before we left Cave Cay, we had removed all items off shelves, locked all cabinets, moved cockpit plants to protected areas, and put away everything we thought might fall because it’s almost always a little rough on the Exuma Sound, aka the ocean. However this time anything that was loose fell down. We have hanging rods for clothes in the two showers that we don’t use and these had never come down in the roughest of seas. Not only did they come down with all the clothes, the rods bent in the middle and will have to be replaced! A planter in the cockpit that had never moved fell down causing loose dirt to blow all over the cockpit. Except for the hanging rods, nothing broke, but it was the biggest mess we ever had to clean up. 

Below are pictures of the mooring field in Hole 2, and Seas the Day on her ball. Most of the moored boats are empty, with owners storing them here during hurricane season and not arriving for the cruising season yet. When Hurricane Matthew passed over Georgetown in October, several boats in this mooring field and the “hurricane hole” next to it, broke loose and hit the sharp rocks on the shore, causing major damage. The mooring  balls, which are held by screws dug deep into the floor of the mooring field, did not break loose, but the lines from the boats to the balls did. In one case, a boat came loose and hit other boats, pushing them along with it to the shore.

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Peter had a few days to explore Georgetown before he flew home to California, but the wind was high so all we got in were a ride around the relatively calm mooring fields on the stand-up paddleboard and kayak, a walk on the Exuma Sound beach, a trip into town for a short tour, a snorkeling attempt in the harbor, two dinners at St. Francis, and a game of Texas Hold’em the night before he left. It was too choppy in the harbor to get in anymore snorkeling or exploring.

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We’ve never seen the dinghy dock in Lake Victoria, where cruisers tie up when they come into Georgetown, so empty. Then again, we arrived here over 1 1/2 months earlier than on our other five visits to Georgetown. Sometimes we were the only dinghy on the dock. In a month, dinghies will be three and four deep along this dock.

dscf3256In the dinghy dock photo below you can see Mark and Peter are getting water from a hose to fill a bowl for Sailor.  This is the only place in the Exumas where there is free RO (reverse osmosis) water for cruisers available directly into their dinghies. Water usually costs about 50 cents a gallon at fuel docks and marinas in the Bahamas. The Exuma Market, located next to the dinghy dock (which was built for cruisers by the Market), provides this free water. As more boats arrive in the harbor, there will be a line of dinghies with jerry jugs waiting to get water to bring back to their boats and put in the tanks. We have a watermaker so we make our own RO water, but once our watermaker broke and while waiting for a part we were very grateful for this free source of water. 

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Shortly before we arrived in Georgetown, we heard news that the Red Boone Cafe had burned down. The building is next to the Exuma Market, so it was amazing that did not catch fire. Fortunately, a large propane tank used by the cafe, not shown in this picture, did not catch fire and explode. This was a very popular place for cruisers to get together for something quick to eat and to visit. I believe they also had free wifi. The three red picnic tables near the cars, always occupied by cruisers and locals, are now partially burned,  showing that is where the fire stopped. Hopefully it will be rebuilt and used as a cafe again.

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The Georgetown School is near the center of town. In the Bahamas, all schools are painted yellow. Government buildings are pink and police stations are aqua/green, The islands in the Exumas do not have high school classes, so students have to move to Nassau and live with friends or relatives when they attend high school. 

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I don’t know the significance of this boat, although I suspect it won a regatta for Georgetown.  Next to it is the Georgetown Straw Market. This burned down in April, 2015, but is up and running now with a variety of locally made treasures. The only thing I could talk Peter into letting me buy him was a small refrigerator magnet with a map of the Exumas on it. It cost $6 and I suppose I could have bargained down the price, but I always figure these ladies need the money much more than we do, and gladly pay whatever they ask.

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The wind finally calmed down enough to go for a kayak and iSUP ride. We stayed in the “Holes” aka mooring fields, where there weren’t any waves and we were protected from the higher wind in the harbor. This photo was taken in Hole 3, which is a hurricane hole, and boats are on mooring balls or tied to docks. No liveaboards are allowed.

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We took the kayak and iSUP to a small beach in Hole 1 and walked over the hill to the beautiful Exuma Sound Beach. It’s amazing that there is so much foliage left after Hurricane Matthew’s wind went over The Exumas.

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A climb to the top of a sandy hill where there is a bench gave us a great view of the beach below. It is almost always either empty or at the most has a few people walking or swimming.  All the action is on the Elizabeth Harbour side Stocking Island and across the harbor in Georgetown, so many cruisers and tourists never discover this treasure. Hopefully the tour boats don’t start coming here!

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On November 30, Peter had a flight leaving in the morning and the wind had picked up, making a dinghy ride across the harbor rough. Peter and I took Elvis’s Water Taxi and he brought us to town. From there Peter rode in a van taxi to the Georgetown airport to fly back to his home in Oceano, California. We enjoyed having my son with us for several weeks on our travels from Miami to Georgetown.  I think he got a taste of what the “cruiser’s life” is all about. A few days ago I got a text from Peter saying, “I saw someone in Morro Bay taking their groceries out to their boat via dinghy yesterday…..Now I know the struggle.” 

We plan to stay in Georgetown until sometime in April, when it will be time to start heading north to eventually return to our home port of Stuart, FL and our favorite marina, Sunset Bay. 

Last Month of Bahamas Cruising Season 4

After dropping off our guests at Staniel Cay, we sailed back to Warderick Wells on 4/23/16. The next day we sailed across the Exuma Sound to Governor’s Harbour in Eleuthera leaving at 0630 and arriving at 1430. The seas were 2 to 3 feet, just the way we like them. On the 25th, as we pulled up the anchor in Governor’s Harbour we realized it had wrapped around an underwater cable. Mark was able to untangle it using a boat hook and we sailed from Governor’s Harbour to Spanish Wells, thus skipping most of Eleuthera. We’ve always stopped at three or four towns and anchorages, but this time we were anxious to get to our mooring ball in Spanish Wells to begin our one month stay. On May 22, we left Spanish Wells, sailing the short distance to Royal Island where we anchored overnight and left at 0700 on the 23rd of May. For the first time, we did not stop, and sailed straight through to Lake Worth, arriving at 1145 on May 24. From there we motored north on the ICW to Stuart on the 25th, arriving 5 1/2 hours later at our home port of Sunset Bay Marina. Below are some photos of our final month of this cruising season.

Sailor took one last look at Big Majors/Staniel Cay before we left.

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Sailor posed beside the whale skeleton in Warderick Wells at the Land and Sea Park Headquarters.

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We had one last Sundowner get together at Warderick Wells with some new and old friends.

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First Mate Sailor made sure Mark was headed the right direction across the Exuma Sound.

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We arrived at slack tide at Current Cut. If you don’t enter the cut at slack tide, you will either be barely moving against a very strong current, or you’ll fly over the water through the cut. We sailed on to Spanish Wells, but couldn’t get our mooring ball so we anchored outside the harbor. There are only nine balls in the field and luckily someone left the next day.

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One of our favorite restaurants in Spanish Wells, actually on Russell Island which is connected by a small one lane bridge, is the Sandbar. This is the beach next to the restaurant.

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To get around the island we rent a golf cart for a month. We are then able to go to this beautiful beach twice a day. We are almost always the only ones on the beach so Sailor can fetch his ball in the water, his favorite water sport. Of course this means we have to share the golf cart with a wet dog.

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We always stop to visit and feed the goats. 

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The sandy beaches are crystal clear.

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I was out of my favorite drink, Land of Lakes hot chocolate, so I ordered some from Amazon and had it delivered by Eleuthera Couriers. It took less than a week to arrive and was worth every penny!

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After going ashore, we ride our dinghy back to the mooring field.

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One yard has this lovely shell collection on the front lawn.

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Well water is free in Spanish Wells. While you wouldn’t want to drink it since it has a slightly salty taste, it is perfect for rinsing the sand off Sailor before we go back to the boat.

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Our time in Spanish Wells came to an end and we headed across the water back to Florida. This was our view as we left the Royal Island anchorage, where we spent our last night. As you can see, conditions were perfect for a long overnight sail.

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Periodically, Mark took Sailor forward to “go” on the trampolines. His willingness to do this enables us to do an overnight sail. As you can see, we are very careful. Mark is always tethered to jacklines that run across the deck and Sailor is on a leash. We always wearing lifejackets. Plus, the seas were very calm. If they were rough, Mark and Sailor  wouldn’t have attempted this “walk.”

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Sunrise over the ocean after an uneventful night at sea. The conditions were still calm.

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We arrived at Lake Worth, anchored for the night and then started north on the ICW. Luckily we were not doing this on Memorial Day Weekend, or we could not have enjoyed it. Local Florida boaters are known for racing up and down the ICW creating wakes that rock sailboats and on a holiday weekend they are out in full force. 

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When we tied up to the dock at Sunset Bay, we were all happy to be home for the next five months. Below is our first sunset back at our marina. 

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Enjoying the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

After leaving Georgetown on April 8, we motorsailed to Staniel Cay. As always we waited for relatively calm seas since we had to go on the Exuma Sound for part of the day until we entered Galliot Cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank. Our purpose in going to Staniel Cay was to pick up guests Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) on April 14 and take them to Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, 15 miles north of Staniel Cay.

According to a brochure, “Exuma Park, a no take zone by land and sea, was established in 1958 to preserve and maintain the delicate ecological balance of marine life in the Bahamas.” People are not allowed to remove anything from the water, the beaches, or the land. The park begins at Wax Cay Cut in the north and is 22 miles long, ending at Conch Cut. The average width is eight miles and the park is a total of 176 square miles. The sea part goes from 3-5 miles off the land in both directions, on the Exuma Sound to the east and on the Bahamas Bank to the west. There is nothing commercial on any of the cays, including Batelco cell phone towers. Therefore there is no phone or Internet service while in the park. In fact the only structures are on Warderick Wells, where the park office is located, as well as living quarters for the park wardens and staff. Oddly, a few of the Cays (pronounced Keys) in the Park have been sold. Johnny Depp purchased 45 acre Little Halls Pond Cay, next to Cambridge Cay, in 2004 for a mere 3.6 million dollars. I wonder if he doesn’t take anything from his beaches and property. 

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Carolyn and Ed flew in on Watermakers Air and took some amazing photos of the Bahamas as they passed above the islands. One in particular was special because they happened to get a photo of Seas the Day anchored by Thunderball Grotto. We are in the center, closest to the two small cays. Never having been to Staniel Cay, they just happened to get a perfect shot of us as the plane was landing. Our usual anchorage is at Big Majors Spot (where the swimming pigs live), but that morning we had moved closer to the yacht club where we were picking them up. It was also convenient for snorkeling the next day in the nearby grotto. 

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Mark picked Carolyn and Ed up at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and brought them to our nearby anchored boat.

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After our guests arrived we spent a day snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto and waiting for the mail boat to come to Staniel Cay with fresh groceries. Then we moved over to the anchorage by Big Majors Spot. There are numerous beaches so it was easy to go to a deserted one to let Sailor chase his ball and for us to swim in the turquoise water.

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Arriving in Warderick Wells the next day, we tied up to a mooring ball in the preferred north mooring field, which offers excellent protection. This crescent shaped field with various shades of turquoise water is a favorite photo opportunity for anyone visiting the area. When we first came here in 2010, the mooring ball fee for a boat up to 45 feet was $20. This year it cost $30. We paid $80 to become part of the “Support Fleet.” For this donation we got two days of ball fees and for the next year we will be put at the top of the waiting list when we request a mooring ball. The park is the only area of the Bahamas which has restrictions on fishing, shelling, etc. so we were happy to help them with their costs to preserve this treasure.

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Close to the park office there is a skeleton of a whale. 

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As with all of the cays and islands we visit in the Bahamas, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches. In the park, dogs are allowed on the beaches, but they cannot go on the numerous trails. Below are photos of one of our favorite beaches, near the Emerald Rock mooring field. It is well protected from any wind or waves, the sand is like sugar, and it is very shallow.  The rocks in the foreground are actually under water, which shows the clarity of it. Each beach area has paths that go across to the Exuma Sound side of Warderick Wells. 

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At this beach there are tall rock piles and on this day we found a gecko sunning himself on the top of one tower of rocks.

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Shortly after we picked up our mooring ball we had an interesting event develop before our eyes. Four Lagoon catamarans came into the mooring field. At first we noticed they were very close together and coming in too fast. We saw flags from a charter company flying so knew they could be inexperienced cruisers, and it turned out that was an understatement. I guess no one told them they didn’t have brakes. Even Sailor knew they were coming in too quickly and too close to each other. As you can see in the photo below, they had plenty of people on each boat to help pick up a mooring ball. Each boat had 10 or 11 people aboard. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to know how to do it.

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They all tried to pick up their mooring balls next to each other at the same time. Big mistake! There was current at the time, so the little control they had was lost. The first one turned sideways and ran into the front of another Lagoon catamaran that was already on a ball and not with their group. The second one hit the side of the first one. The third one hit the second. Another cruiser yelled at the fourth one to turn around and grab another ball near the opening of the field and wait. While turning around, that boat almost hit the monohull in front of us. We already had our fenders out ready to protect Seas the Day. The charter people seemed to have never picked up a mooring ball before, but eventually they each grabbed a ball. Unfortunately then they put out far too much line placing them dangerously close to each other, especially since the current causes the boats on the mooring balls to swing with each tidal change. The correct way is to pull the ball as close to your boat as possible with lines coming from each hull on a catamaran. Other people in the mooring field rushed up in dinghies to instruct them on the correct way to attach their boats to the balls and also had to tell them to use stronger lines. The people on one boat spoke Italian and the others were speaking French. The charter company was from Canada out of Nassau. 

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Later, they all went ashore in their dinghies. It was interesting to see how many people a small rubber dinghy can hold.

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After they were finally all on balls, the Lagoon (not part of the charter group) that had been hit by the first one moved a few balls away. The picture below shows Seas the Day at the front with with three of the charter boats behind us. The fourth charter in the group went around to the other side of the field. Whether by choice or not, they were the wise ones and the only boat in their group without damage. When they left a few days later, they hadn’t learned any lessons as they all went out at the same time very close together, one of them even passing another in the narrow channel. 

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The wind picked up for the next few days so we decided to stay in Warderick Wells rather than follow our original plan which was to spend a day or two there and then go the few miles back south to Cambridge Cay. We prefer the multiple snorkeling sites and beaches in and near Cambridge Cay, but we were able to snorkel at Warderick Wells.

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Of course, Mark hiked up to the top of Boo Boo Hill to add “2016” to our Seas the Day sign. This is a popular thing for boaters to do. The signs have to be made on a piece of driftwood. Mark made ours in 2010 and we have added a new year each time we have come for four more years. Our original sign had our previous dog Daisy’s name on it, but when she died in 2013, the next time we came we wrote “RIP” by her name and added “Sailor, 2014.” Mark screwed our sign into a post, which has helped keep it above the pile of other signs for six years and prevented it from blowing away. The original sign had white paint over the letters and numbers which were cut into the board, but for the last few years he has used magic marker which has washed off. Next year he’ll bring white paint.

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Here is a photo of the entire north mooring field taken from Boo Boo Hill on a cloudy day so the water isn’t as beautiful as on a sunny day. The inlet from the Exuma Sound is on the right side of the photo, and this is where we leave the Exumas to go to Eleuthera.

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After the boats near us in the mooring field left, we had this beautiful view to ourselves until the next group of boats arrived.

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On our way back to Staniel Cay to drop our guests off, we stopped at another favorite area located south of the park on Compass Cay called the “Bubble Bath.” The Cay is privately owned, and if you want to visit the beaches and hike on the paths, you must pay $10 a person. However, the Bubble Bath is on the north end of the cay and no one seems to care if you visit it. It is far away from the marina area on the south end. There is little in the Bahamas reference books about the Bubble Bath, and not a word in the several ones we own. We discovered it three years ago when boat buddying with our friends on SV Interlude, Cathie and Tom, who knew about it. Now it’s a “must stop” when we approach Compass Cay. The Exuma Sound shore on the cay is steep and rocky, but there is an opening and a calm pool on the western side. At high tide, waves occasionally reach the opening and crash into the pool, covering it with bubbles. Sailor joined us but wasn’t interested in the bubbles. First we had to walk a short distance from where we anchored until we came to the pool.

In the photo below, Seas the Day is anchored on the west coast of Compass Cay while Carolyn and Ed start inland to the Bubble Bath. In the background is Rocky Dundas, another grotto and an excellent snorkeling site close to Cambridge Cay.

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Mark and Sailor are almost to the Bubble Bath pool. The path we are walking on carries the excess water collecting in the Bubble Bath to the Bahamas Bank side of the cay. 

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In the foreground is the Bubble Bath pool and through the opening you can see the darker water of the Exuma Sound. At high tide the waves splash through the opening into the pool. The pool is shallow enough to stand in while waiting for the bubbles to arrive.

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Carolyn, Sailor and I wait for the waves to reach us.

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Here comes the wave!!

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The water goes from very warm to chilly with the arrival of the bubbles.

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Here comes another wave, but Sailor decided he had enough.

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It was certainly fun having guests aboard.  Hopefully Carolyn and Ed had a relaxing vacation. We tried to make it interesting for them, showing them “the real Bahamas.” Chef Mark made them some wonderful breakfasts. Below they are eating French toast made from Jan’s homemade French bread with bacon and cantaloupe for breakfast in the cockpit. Their coffee was made with freshly ground coffee beans in a French press.  I guess the theme of the breakfast was French! 

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There is probably not a prettier spot in the Bahamas than the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We always try to stop there during our trip south in the winter or north in the Spring. Warderick Wells is also a good place to make the cross over to Eleuthera. The day after our guests flew out of Staniel Cay on April 20, we went back to Warderick Wells. It was Saturday night and the park employees always invite all of the boaters in the mooring field to get together for “Happy Hour.”  Everyone brings treats to share and their own drinks. The park provides something most people appreciate – ice!

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After waiting for a good weather window to cross the Sound to Eleuthera, on April 25 we left Warderick Wells and arrived in Governor’s Harbour in the afternoon. The Exuma Sound is deep water, part of the Atlantic Ocean, so we always wait for calm seas. We stayed at Warderick Wells until the wind had been down for several days, flattening the seas. On the day we crossed, the wind picked up at a good angle for our sails, but the seas were still flat – perfect sailing weather. One way we always know when the seas are smooth is that Sailor stays at the helm. If there is any rocking, Sailor is inside, down the steps and up on a bed, expecting one of us to join him. He is indeed a “fair weather sailor.” This trip he stayed at the helm the whole day.

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On April 26, 2016, we motorsailed up the coast to the northern end of Eleuthera to Spanish Wells. In order to get to Spanish Wells, we first have to enter Current Cut. We always wait until slack tide, since the current is very strong on the incoming and outgoing tidal changes. This is a picture of the cut after we went through.

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We have stopped in Spanish Wells for the last month of our Bahamas cruise every year and this is our fifth trip here. After securing a mooring ball for the month and renting a golf cart for the same time, we settled in to relax and enjoy this wonderful Bahamian town. On May 25, weather permitting, we will leave Spanish Wells, heading back to our hurricane season location in Stuart, Florida at Sunset Bay Marina. Below we are safely attached to mooring ball one, close to the channel and a very short dinghy ride into the town.

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We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

Ask any person on a boat what their favorite part of cruising is, and it will probably be the people they meet. We are still in contact with friends we met in 2008 on our first year living aboard Seas the Day. Each year we cruise, we make new friends and connect with old ones.  Sometimes we don’t see them for years, and sometimes we’ll never pass near them again, but they are friends for life. 

If you need help at your home port or at a marina or anchorage you are visiting in the States, you have lots of options on shore. Same thing if you want to socialize. You have friends onshore and friends at your home marina or anchorage, but probably don’t say more than a quick hi to cruisers passing through. There is also a tendency to get to know the same “type” of boater as you are, be it sailor, powerboater, or megayacht owner. This is certainly not true in all cases, but it does seem to happen fairly often, especially when you are away from your home port. 

That all changes when you cruise offshore and from our experience, especially in the Bahamas. Once at Cambridge Cay we had sundowners on the beach and the owner of a large yacht joined us. Of course, the sailors scarfed up the gourmet snacks from the yacht owner a little faster than the salsa over cream cheese with Tostitos we brought and the similar snacks from the rest of the people. Another time we stopped at a a restaurant in Eleuthera and the only other people there joined us at our table. We had a nice conversation during which they told us about some repairs they were working on. When asked, they said they were on a motor yacht and at the end of the meal we found out they were staying in an upscale marina at nearby Harbour Island on a 100+ ft yacht. They live in Palm Beach right on Lake Worth where we often anchor and they invited us to stop in to see them (in what we saw later was a large mansion) the next time we were there. Regardless of  the size of boat or type of propulsion people on the seas are living on, when cruisers meet the camaraderie is instant.

There is no better example of “getting by with a little help from our friends” than what happens in Georgetown, Bahamas. Every morning on the Cruisers’ Net, there is a section called “Boaters’ General” when people can “buy, sell, trade or give away something or ask for help.” Earlier this week, we had a reason to ask for that help. To prepare for our departure, on Monday we let go of the mooring ball that we had been attached to for almost three months, and motored across Elizabeth Harbour to the Exuma Yacht Club Marina to fill up our tanks. The entrance to our mooring field is shallow at low tide, so after getting our fuel, we crossed the harbour again to anchor until we could get back into the mooring field. We have an electric windlass with a remote handheld to raise and lower the anchor. Mark was at the helm and I was in front ready to drop the anchor. I touched the “down” key and nothing happened. No problem. This has occurred before and we just need to reset the circuit breaker for the windlass. Didn’t work this time! That was a big problem since we were leaving in a few days and needed to anchor. We went back to the middle of the harbour and floated around for a few hours while Mark checked everything he could think of to fix it. Mark had installed a new windlass two years ago, and knows the mechanics and electronics of our boat well. He worried that the problem could be somewhere in the wiring or in the circuit breaker. Worse yet, he thought he might have to tear the windlass apart. When the tide was up, we went back to our mooring ball (thank goodness we had this option) and he continued to troubleshoot. As they say, cruising is making repairs to your boat in exotic places. We posted our problem on the Lagoon Owners Facebook page and got several suggestions. 

The next morning on the Georgetown Cruisers’ Net (on VHF radio station 72 every morning at 0800) Mark explained our problem and asked for help. We got several responses, but the most promising was from a friend on another Lagoon 420 named The Norm. Bruce and Rhonda had the same problem recently and the cause was the wiring in the remote device. They had put in a switch to fix it and then ordered a new remote from the States which their son brought to them in Georgetown. They kindly loaned us the repaired one to try and when we plugged it in, presto! Down went the anchor!! So Mark headed to town to buy a switch, however when he opened the remote he saw the loose wire and decided to try soldering it back on. This worked!  We also ordered a new remote which we’ll have forwarded to us at one of our next stops and will also order a new circuit breaker for the windlass, since several people said theirs had cracked. 

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On a daily basis, the cruisers in Georgetown help each other. Whether it is rescuing a dinghy that came loose from another boat and floated by them, coming to the aid of other cruisers with electrical or mechanical problems, answering questions, helping with an injury, etc. cruisers answer the call for assistance. They are some of the most giving people we have ever met, especially considering that help is often offered to total strangers. A few days ago a cruiser on a boat in our mooring field went to make tea, and the can holding the tea bags had a long snake wrapped around it! (They believe it climbed aboard when they spent a few days at the marina a week ago.) They called someone they knew in the harbour who had worked with snakes. He came, captured the fellow, and released it on land. Last night while we were at anchor, someone came on the radio calling the St. Francis resort. They had found a black lab swimming in the harbour and thought it had fallen off a boat named Second Chance. They had called them on the radio with no answer so they called the resort to see if the dog’s owners were there playing poker. They weren’t but eventually were tracked down. In the meantime the dog was safe on someone else’s boat. Georgetown is not unique in this way. Gather any group of cruisers together from 2 to 300+ and if you need something, ask for help and you will get it. 

Another positive feature of us being with cruising friends, especially in the Bahamas, is they get us involved in activities where we make more friends. The perfect example of this happened last year when we boat buddied with friends Cathie and Tom (SV Interlude) and they taught us to play Texas Hold’em poker. Twice a week at the St. Francis Resort for the last two seasons, we have played in the “International Texas Hold’em Tournament” with a $5 buy-in. For $10 a time, we have had great fun and, even better, made new friends. We go there to eat dinner and play cards, but it’s also a social event. Cathie and Tom also encouraged us to take a ball in Hole 2 last year. Not only did we enjoy the calm weather in the protected hole, but we made another set of good friends who are on the other boats in the mooring field. We have enjoyed many get-togethers and bonfires on the Hole 2 beach, had  sundowners or meals or just visits on each other’s boats, talked on the beach when other dogs were there to play with Sailor, and of course had friends over every Saturday night for poker on Seas the Day. The photo below was last year’s group, all of them from Hole 2, and this year, since half of these cruisers didn’t return, we invited others and made more friends.

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Several of our Hole 2 friends have been on adventures with us, and I know we wouldn’t have done them without their invitations. A few weeks ago we went to Mariah Cay, a long dinghy ride from where our boat is, with friends Jean and Art (MV Interlude) and their visiting friends. What a fantastic day we had eating our picnic lunches, swimming in the crystal clear turquoise water, floating with the current on a natural “Lazy River ride,” walking on the beautiful deserted beach, and of course talking. 

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DSCF2425DSCF2369Another day, Christina and John (HB Oasis – that’s HouseBoat) invited us to go with them on their Carolina Skiff, about 18 ft long, for a day of snorkeling. We hadn’t been snorkeling in Elizabeth Harbour so we were thrilled to have the  chance to visit the coral gardens they knew well. Even Sailor got into the act, as he was unwilling to stay in the skiff alone and joined us in the water. After some excellent snorkeling, we explored a nearby cave. Next we motored to Santanas, a very popular restaurant south of us in Great Exuma. As we anchored the skiff, a dog we assume belongs to the owners of Santana’s swam out to greet Sailor. We had two delicious lobster tails for $14 and some conch with sides. A perfect Bahamian lunch. Next door we visited Mom’s Bakery and bought rum cake and coconut bread. Mom used to bring her baked goods to downtown Georgetown, parking near the Exuma Market, and sold her cakes and bread out of her car, but she is getting older and doesn’t make the trip now. She still gave us the hugs she is famous for, however. Santana’s was too far away for us to go in our 12 ft inflatable dinghy, so we really appreciated going with Christina and John. The underwater photos below are from Christina’s camera. 

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We left Georgetown as soon after sunrise as it was safe to go on Friday, April 8, after anchoring out the last night at the Monument anchorage in Elizabeth Harbour. The first part of the day we motorsailed on the Exuma Sound, part of the Atlantic Ocean, in water over 300 feet deep a mile offshore. We waited several days until the seas were calm, and we had a very smooth sail. Then we entered the Bahamas Bank through Galliot Cut and sailed in shallow water, about 14 feet deep, to Staniel Cay where we will wait for guests to arrive from Florida by plane in less than a week. The photos below begin with the sunrise over the Monument anchorage as we left Georgetown and end with the sunset at Big Majors anchorage near Staniel Cay.

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Sailor knew it was going to be a calm day at sea when he settled under the helm seat instead of running inside to the bed to hide from the big waves. He didn’t move from this spot for 8 1/2 hours until we arrived in Staniel Cay.

imageHere we are leaving the Exuma Sound at Galliot Cut and entering shallow water.Sometimes this cut is very rough, and today it slowed us down 3 kts since the tide was going out, but it was a smooth ride. 

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imageThis is the sunset from our boat in Big Majors anchorage. 

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Bimini to Georgetown

On January 8, 2016, we left Bimini for Chub Cay in the Berries at 0520, obviously in the dark, arriving at the Chub Cay anchorage in daylight at 1700. We were going almost directly into the wind and made good time, but it wasn’t a comfortable ride. However, we were on the Mackey Shoals portion of the shallow Great Bahama Bank for most of the trip and the water was beautiful. Chub Cay anchorage is not the best, but OK for one night. It is often rough because large fishing boats race in and out of the channel to the marina, which is right next to the anchorage, causing huge wakes. It is close to deep water, where the fishing boats are headed, and often there are uncomfortable swells. Also, Chub Cay is private so we aren’t allowed to take Sailor ashore. Below was our view while sailing on the Bank. 

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Unfortunately we had to stay a second day in the Berries since the sea and wind conditions were still unfavorable for going on to Nassau. Also the wind was clocking and the conditions were getting worse at Chub Cay. In the morning we moved to nearby Frazier’s Hog Cay and while the first part of the trip around the end of Chub Cay was VERY rough, it smoothed out and we spent a comfortable night at Frazier’s Hog Cay. This will probably be our stop in the Berries from now on instead of Chub Cay. We had a nice time swimming off the beautiful beach and Sailor got lots of exercise chasing his ball. The evening ended with a gorgeous sunset.

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On January 9, we reluctantly left our anchorage in the Berries headed to Nassau. We heard on Chris Parker’s morning report that the seas were 6-8 ft with over 3 ft swells on the beam and we try to only sail in 3 ft seas or less. However the weather this winter in the Bahamas has been very different than usual with constant storms and poor sailing conditions for long periods of time. This was our last sail on deep water until we go out on the Exuma Sound for one day to Georgetown. The winds were also not great at SSE 19-20 kts gusting 22. It was a rough ride, in fact Mark wrote in our cruising log, “Worst sail by choice ever.” Thankfully it wasn’t a long sail, leaving at 0715 and arriving in Nassau at 1230. 

We had reservations at Nassau Harbour Club and enjoyed a quiet night in a slip. Of course, we had to have our last frappuccinos at Starbucks and visit the Fresh Market grocery store, both right across the street from our marina. The photo of Starbucks below is taken from the exit of the marina. Two years ago, when Sailor was 7 months old, we stopped at this same marina and Sailor, spooked by fireworks (in February!) jumped off the boat, ran down the dock in the dark, and fell into the water when the dock turned to the right as he kept going straight. Mark showed him the very spot this happened, but not sure if Sailor remembered.

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While our sail from Frazier’s Hog Cay to Nassau was rough, other boats had come in after sailing straight from Bimini or the States over a period of several days, and they had horror stories to tell. A boat in a slip across from us had taken on water. The marinas in Nassau were filled with tired cruisers. We were glad we waited the extra day to leave the Berries even if we still had an uncomfortable sail.  

We try to never stay longer than one day in Nassau. It is not a safe city, and other than crossing the street from the marina to the strip mall, we don’t have anything else we want to see or do there. Boats have even been boarded by thieves at several of the Nassau marinas and it is dangerous to be out on the streets after dark. Paradise Island, where most tourists go, is across a bridge and probably safer. Nassau is on New Providence Island and is where the cruise ships stop. Our boat buddies since Miami on Renaissance II, another Lagoon 420,  decided to stay in Nassau since they had never been there and we left the next morning for Norman’s Cay, our first stop in The Exumas.

On January 11, we left the last marina we would stay at until we return to Sunset Bay in Stuart, Florida, at the end of May. The route to The Exumas is across the Yellow Bank portion of the Great Bahama Bank. We had a great wind angle for sailing although on a long day we always use the engines and sails and at one point were motorsailing at 8.3 kts. We left Nassau at 0900 and arrived at Norman’s Cay at 1445. It was almost full when we entered the anchorage because strong winds were forecast for that night. We anchored southwest of the sunken plane and several boats came in after us but left, probably going south to the next anchorage or mooring balls at Shroud Cay. During the night we had high winds and rain while turning 360 degrees with the strong current.

After listening to Chris Parker’s report the next morning, we decided the weather was settled enough to head south to Big Majors/Staniel Cay. This meant we were going past the entire Exuma Land and Sea Park, something we would never do if we weren’t planning to return on our way north in April. The park has the best hiking, kayaking, beaches, and snorkeling in the Exumas. Our goal was to get to our mooring ball in Georgetown as quickly as we could safely move. Friends who were already there told us the balls were being taken quickly, perhaps in part due to the 100+ kt storm they had while we were safe at a marina in Bimini.  We left Norman’s Cay at 0740 and dropped the anchor at Big Majors at 1230. We made very good time, outrunning a squall coming from the ENE as we left Norman’s Cay followed by a sunny day. Big Majors is a large, excellent anchorage, unless the wind is from the west. We will be returning here in mid-April to pick up good friends Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) so we didn’t mind missing snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto. We did go ashore for a walk and Sailor got to visit the nurse sharks who hang out at the marina waiting for someone to drop discards from the fish cleaning station. Of course we had to bring him to see the famous swimming pigs also.

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The next morning we made the short trip to Cave Cay, where we planned to exit the cut to go out on Exuma Sound to Georgetown. We knew we would have several days to wait for calm seas and favorable wind. We left Big Majors on January 13 at 0825 and arrived at 1130, the only boat in the anchorage outside Cave Cay Marina. It was a very pleasant sail and after dropping the anchor, Sailor and Mark headed to a beautiful beach near our boat. The shore has some interesting caves and there are many more on the cay, thus the name “Cave Cay.” Mark and Sailor also took the dinghy into the very protected marina at Cave Cay. He reported that it is a hurricane hole marina with excellent docks, but it seems to only get boats in its slips during very bad weather. During the several days we were in the anchorage, two boats joined the one that was already there.

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Houses and caves were next to the beach where Sailor played.

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Sailor checked out the marina at Cave Cay.

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We spent three nights at Cave Cay waiting for the Exuma Sound sea state to calm down. On the first morning we had a BIG surprise. We got up at 0630 to listen to the Chris Parker marine weather report and saw a 160 ft long tanker named Tropic Breeze headed right towards us. (We have AIS and checked the info about the tanker.)  We saw her anchored on the deeper south side of Cave Cay Cut the night before and early that morning she was coming to our shallow anchorage.  Tropic Breeze motored straight for our starboard side, then turned and went a few feet off our aft, turning again passing us on our port side. A short distance past us, her anchor dropped. Next, we saw a small boat with a diver in it next to the tanker. The diver brought a large fuel hose from the tanker to the shore and for several hours fuel was pumped into the Cave Cay tanks. We weren’t worried about the “close call” because we have seen these Bahamian ships often and their captains are very good at maneuvering in tight spaces. The reason the ship went around us was to get downwind so they wouldn’t be blown into us. However, we were surprised that this was a marked anchorage on the Explorer Charts but there was no indication that tankers would come here to transfer fuel to the cay. We have anchored here before but this was our first close encounter with a big ship. 

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The fuel hose is visible floating in the water in front of the small boat.

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For the next two days, all was quiet in our anchorage, mainly because we were the only boat there, and by January 16 the sky was clear, seas were 2-3 ft, and winds were from the southwest at 8-12 kts. It was time for the last leg of our journey to Georgetown. Even Sailor stayed out in the cockpit all day, which he only does when it is very calm. Otherwise he insists I get in one of the beds with him where he feels safe. We left at 0730 and were on our mooring ball in Hole 2 at Stocking Island, across the harbour from Georgetown, by 1230. There were only two balls left in Hole 2 and a few days after we arrived the last one was taken. We were very happy to reach our destination for the next few months and are looking forward to our stay here until the end of March.

This was our view of Exuma Sound on our way south to Georgetown. It is rarely this flat so it was well worth the wait.

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Entering the turquoise water of Elizabeth Harbour. The city of Georgetown is on the right and Stocking Island is on the left. 

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Finally we are on our mooring ball in Hole 2.

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This is Hole 2 with Elizabeth Harbour and Georgetown in the background, We are at the far end of the mooring field, protected on all four sides with a narrow channel running in the foreground of the picture from Hole 1 through to Hole 3.

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