Tag Archives: Cambridge Cay

Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay

On November 18, 2016, we left Great Harbour Cay Marina at 1500 and motored to nearby Bullock’s Harbour, about 1.5 miles north of the cut into Great Harbour Cay. Even people who have been in and out of the marina many times do not do it in the dark in a large boat. There are several tight cuts and turns to navigate through.  Since it was our first visit to this marina, we were definitely not leaving in the dark from the marina slip the following morning and that was necessary in order to get to Nassau in the light.


Since we saw “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” we left the next morning for Nassau. Actually, we checked the weather forecast first and had a fairly pleasant motorsail, averaging 8 kts. Part of the route was over deep water, called The Tongue of the Ocean, and we did have large swells, but they were on the port aft beam, about 12 seconds apart, so they were manageable. We left Bullocks Harbour at 0520, in the dark, and arrived in Nassau at 1435, pulling into a slip at Nassau Harbour Club with several hours of daylight left. Very few boats were there, since the majority of cruisers hadn’t crossed to the Bahamas yet. We walked across the street to the strip mall, stopping at Starbucks and also picking up some fresh fruits and vegetables at the Fresh Market. It’s not the chain from the States, but is an equally nice grocery store and the last well stocked store we would see until the Exuma Market in Georgetown. In the Bahamas, we rarely look at prices, and buy what we need since there really isn’t an option. Except for a few dairy products, almost everything is much more expensive than in the States and of course we don’t always find the brands we prefer. Since we have stocked dry goods for seven months, we usually only have to buy fresh vegetables and fruit and eventually cheese, eggs, yoghurt and other dairy products. I freeze several months worth of yoghurt and eat it frozen for breakfast every day, so I don’t have to buy any for quite awhile.

The next morning we left the marina at 0755 and motorsailed across the shallow bank, arriving  in Shroud Cay, part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, at 1340. Until we exited the Park after Cambridge Cay, we would have no Internet or phone service since there are no cell phone towers in the Park. For most of the rest of the way to Georgetown we would be on the “bank” which is shallow water. Therefore unless the winds were extremely high or from the west, which isn’t protected since we travel on the bank with islands to the east of us, or if there were squalls, we could move from cay to cay without encountering uncomfortably rough conditions. We chose this stop over the more protected Norman’s Cay, a few miles to the north, because we wanted to take the kayaks into the mangroves. Unfortunately there were swells on the beam in the Shroud Cay anchorage/mooring field so it was an uncomfortable stay and Norman’s Cay would have been a better choice for our first stop in the Exuma chain.  We didn’t paddle in the mangroves long because the tide was going out and it gets shallow even for a kayak, so we could end up walking back and dragging our kayaks behind us. However, this is a favorite place to snorkel in the midst of nature and silence so it was worth the rocking and rolling night. 


The next morning at 0725, we sailed south to the headquarters of the Land and Sea Park, Warderick Wells, and took a ball for two nights. When we arrived at 1000, we were the only boat on the balls in the North Mooring Field, except for a lonely sailboat that belongs to the park. Over the two days we were there, a few more boats came in but it was not full the way it is later in the season. Of course we had to go up to Boo Boo Hill where cruisers leave handmade driftwood boards with their boat names on them and there is a beautiful view of the Exuma Sound and surrounding Park foliage and water. Even though Hurricane Matthew passed over the Exumas a month earlier, there were still plenty of signs on the hill, including our Seas the Day one that we first put on Boo Boo Hill in 2010 and have added to in subsequent visits in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Mark originally carved into the driftwood and painted the letters, but the past few years had just used Magic Marker and it had washed off. He brought the sign back to the boat and painted the dates. We’ll probably stop at Warderick Wells again this season, so will add “2017” on that occasion. (Usually we stop here on our way south in January or February, so we had already been here in 2016.) We also went snorkeling in the north mooring field and around Emerald Rock. Peter used his GoPro camera to shoot a video and got some nice shots, although the coral is not as bright as it was when we first came here in 2010. After two days we were ready to move on.

Seas the Day, alone in the mooring field


Peter stopped to look at the skeleton of a 53 ft sperm whale, who died after swallowing a plastic bag.


Dogs must be kept on a leash in the park and only on the beaches, not the numerous trails. We take Sailor to a beach by Emerald Rock  so he can swim and fetch his ball.


The Park Headquarters are in the building on the hill, with access by dinghy from a dock or a beach near the sperm whale skeleton.


Peter walked up the path to Boo Boo Hill.


Views below are from the top of Boo Boo Hill.


Video of snorkeling in Warderick Wells in the north mooring field and near Emerald Rock, by Pete Beagle:

We had one more stop in the Land and Sea Park, Cambridge Cay. We left Warderick Wells at 0915 and tied up to a ball in Cambridge Cay at 1130 on 11/23/16. Again, we were the only boat in the mooring field. We only stayed one night, but it was an exciting, and a bit frightening, afternoon. Since it was still very windy, we took the dinghy to The Aquarium, a sheltered area with a coral wall and lots of tropical fish. We all went in the water and then started back to the boat. One of us had to stay in the boat with Sailor or he would have joined us.


As we passed near the cut to the Exuma Sound by Cambridge Cay, where the waves were high and choppy, our dinghy engine suddenly quit. Mark is proficient at fixing motors, but he could not get it started. We were bouncing around and water was splashing into the dinghy while he attempted to restart the engine but we soon realized we had to get ashore quickly to get out of the waves in the cut. In the Land and Sea Park, except for Warderick Wells where the park rangers stay, almost all of the cays and islands are uninhabited. While we always bring a handheld VHF radio with us in the dinghy, unfortunately this was one of a handful of times over eight years that we forgot it so we were unable to call for help. However, we were fortunate to be near Bell Island, owned by Aga Khan, the leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslim community. His purchase of Bell Island was quite controversial, since it is in the Land and Sea Park, the one area of the Bahamas left that is kept in its natural state as a “no take by land or sea” zone. The Aga has dredged a marina for his megayacht and built a mansion and other buildings on the island.

Because this was the Aga Khan’s island, it was probably the only one where we could hope to find someone who could help us. Mark and Peter rowed through the waves to a small sandy beach on Bell Island, surrounded by mangroves and sharp rocks. We had protection from the large waves on the east side of the hill pictured below. We knew there was civilization on the west side of Bell Island, so Mark took off walking through the mangroves and sharp rocks. Luckily we had all brought hiking shoes. Peter, Sailor and I stayed on the beach and waited. Even Sailor knew something was wrong because he was on a beach but just stayed near us, rather than run back and forth like he usually does.


Periodically, Peter walked to the top of a hill and said he could see buildings and a few workers on the other side of the island but didn’t see Mark. By now it was late afternoon and we hoped we wouldn’t be sleeping on the beach. We could see our boat in the mooring field, but it was far too rough to attempt rowing there. We had almost given up hope when Mark came around the end of the island in a large open boat with two powerful motors and a Bahamian at the wheel. He was a maintenance worker on the island and kindly towed us back to Seas the Day. We gladly gave him $50 and thanked him profusely for saving us. I doubt that he expected any money, but he certainly earned it! If not for the kindness of this Bahamian, we would have been sleeping on the beach. We were incredibly lucky that the motor died where it did. I believe a guardian angel was watching over us that day.

After this harrowing experience we decided to leave the park the next morning and move on to more populated Big Majors Cay and Staniel Cay. This meant we couldn’t snorkel in one of our favorite spots at the Rocky Dundas Grotto or visit the Bubble Bath on Compass Cay, but the water was too rough and high tide for the Bubble Bath, when waves crash over the rocks from the Exuma Sound into a small pond on the other side creating numerous bubbles, would be in the late afternoon the next day. Most importantly, we had no way to get to either of these without the dinghy.

We hoped that Mark could find out what was wrong with the dinghy motor, which is only one year old, when we arrived in the anchorage at Big Majors Cay the next day. If not, we wouldn’t be going ashore again until we arrived in Georgetown where we could ride on a water taxi to town and possibly bring the motor to a repair shop. When cruising, a dinghy is our “car” and our only way to go ashore. We do have two kayaks and an iSUP, so we could possibly use them to get off the boat, but with the high winds we had on the entire trip so far, and choppy water conditions, it wouldn’t be the preferable mode of transportation. We are fortunate that Sailor will “go” on the boat, using the trampolines on the forward deck. However, we were looking forward to snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay, showing Peter the swimming pigs, and eating lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

Boat Repairs in Exotic Places

Some say this is the definition of cruising: repairing your boat in exotic places. Tied to a dock for six months, we rarely find anything that needs to be repaired because we don’t use many of the boat’s systems when we aren’t sailing and are connected to shore power. A few days before we left this year we turned on the chart plotter and discovered the backlight circuit had failed. It was cheaper to buy a used display than to get it repaired. We found several on eBay and drove a few miles to pick one up. Once we leave the dock and all systems are running it’s not unusual to discover something needs to be fixed.  We hope that it happens before we leave the States where parts are readily available, but of course that isn’t always the case. There are old boats and new boats, but no matter how carefully they are maintained, repairs are a necessary part of cruising.  Seas the Day is only five and a half years old and she has been at a dock for over half that time, during hurricane seasons. Even with excellent care, there are many intricate systems aboard and eventually parts fail.

Several days after we left Stuart we arrived in Miami and discovered the watermaker wasn’t working. A Spectra Watermaker technician who lived nearby diagnosed the problem, ordered a new pump and in a few days the watermaker was working again.  When we got to the Bahamas, we realized that we were having a voltage drop between the batteries and the buss where the power is sent to everything that needs it. The batteries and buss are connected by a long cable. This was a major problem last year, but we hoped with the addition of a sixth battery and the new wind generator we would have plenty of power even with a voltage drop.  If the voltage is low the freezer turns off, even though there is plenty of power in the batteries to keep it on. In the middle of the night our voltage might be 12.2V at the batteries but the buss reads 11.7V.  Last season Mark made some changes which helped including putting in a better cable, but decided to take another look.  After checking everything he couldn’t figure out anything else to do so he started to put things back together and suddenly there was a burning smell and a cloud of smoke came out of the top of the inverter.  Mark has done the same procedure multiple times when working on the batteries and nothing happened. This time the inverter stopped working.  Without the inverter, we have no AC power so the outlets don’t work and we can’t watch TV, do laundry, use the breadmaker or ice maker, or charge electric toothbrushes and camera batteries.  We can’t use the microwave, the toaster, a blow dryer or a coffee bean grinder.  We have 12V chargers (cigarette lighter chargers) for our phones, computers and tablets, Kindle, etc. so we don’t need AC outlets for them. Most of the systems on the boat run on 12V and they don’t need the inverter either.  We didn’t panic, but realized if we weren’t able to replace the inverter, or repair it,  our living conditions on the boat would change.  Oddly, the next morning we noticed the inverter was back on!  Apparently when it overheats it turns off and when cooled down  resets itself. Broken parts rarely fix themselves so this time we were lucky.

Next, our 21KW generator (huge and left over from when we were a hybrid boat) stopped working.  We use it to charge the batteries if the solar panels and wind generator don’t give us enough power during the day.  We don’t run the generator often, but sometimes on a cloudy, still day we need an extra push to keep the batteries charged high enough through the night.  Mark tried several possible fixes, but in the end discovered that the repair is inaccessible without removal of most of the outer cabinet work and possibly the genset body, which won’t happen until we get back to Florida.  Our only alternative now is to run one of the diesel engines for a half hour or so to charge the batteries.  This isn’t a good practice because it puts unnecessary hours on the engines but until we repair or replace the generator this is our only choice. Luckily we don’t have use the engines while we are anchored very often since there is plenty of sun and wind in the Bahamas to keep our batteries charged.

One day in Georgetown, the dinghy motor died while Mark was crossing the harbor to go to town. The current pushed him along while he tried in vain to fix  it. A couple in an anchored motor yacht noticed his dilemma, lowered their dinghy to go rescue him, towing him back to our boat. After a few hours, Mark had repaired the motor. It would be a disaster if we didn’t have a dinghy motor because the dinghy is our “car” while we are here.

The next mechanical failure was the watermaker….again. Until this year, it had been working perfectly, making clean water out of sea water whenever we were away from a dock. The watermaker was running on our way from Williams Bay to Blackpoint but shortly after we dropped the anchor we ran out of water. I had done four loads of laundry on the way there that day, but this was not nearly enough to empty the tanks which hold 120 gallons. There is no gauge on the tanks but the watermaker makes 12 gallons of water an hour and the tanks should not have been empty.  Removing the floorboard over the watermaker, Mark saw water running out of a broken part and collecting in the bilge. Until we were able to get a new part, the watermaker would not work. Many cruisers here do not have watermakers and get along fine.  In reality you never make up the money it costs to buy a watermaker, but it is convenient to be able to have all the water you want, any time, any place.  We were near Staniel Cay so we brought the boat to the fuel dock, purchased 120 gallons of water at 40 cents a gallon, emailed the watermaker dealer in Florida and ordered the part. Then we went a few miles north to Cambridge Cay to get protection from an approaching front and waited for the part to arrive.  It’s very easy to get mail at Staniel Cay via Watermakers Air whose small airplane flies round trip from Ft. Lauderdale twice a day.  Within two days our new part was waiting for us at Staniel Cay.

The watermaker is fixed and all is well……at least we don’t know of anything that needs to be repaired. Another saying is “Everything on your boat is broken……you just don’t know it yet.”

Photos below are from Cambridge Cay and Staniel Cay where we have spent the last few days.

This was the view from our mooring ball at Cambridge Cay.  We were at the end of the field of 12 mooring balls, all taken by boats needing protection from a front passing through the Bahamas. Obviously this picture was taken before the strong winds and choppy seas arrived.


Some dogs love to stick their head out of a car window.  In the Bahamas, our dinghy is our car and Sailor, like all boat dogs we’ve ever seen, enjoys riding in the dinghy and he doesn’t even need a window to feel the wind in his face.


In Staniel Cay there are three grocery stores: the Pink Store, the Blue Store, and Isles General.  All three are in houses.  Isles General is on the bottom of this two story home.  (The Pink and Blue stores are much smaller.) There is a small room stocked with groceries and another small room with boating and household items.  For $39.10 today, we got two large cans of juice, some fresh broccoli, a package of frozen broccoli, and two large containers of yoghurt.   These prices are the reason we provision before we get to the Bahamas, but we still need to buy fresh food from time to time. The more populated settlements, such as Georgetown, have larger stores with more reasonable prices.


One of the highlights of Staniel Cay, besides having the James Bond movie “Thunderball” filmed here, is Pig Beach.  Years ago a few pigs were left on Big Majors Island and every year there are new piglets.  People come close to shore in their dinghies or small boats and the pigs swim out to beg for food.  We didn’t get close enough for them to do that because Sailor might have jumped out of the dinghy to play with them and that would not be good!


Most of the inhabited islands in the Bahamas have a Batelco (phone) tower.  Under it is always a Batelco store, which makes it convenient to find one.  These islands have strong phone and data signals, but the ones that don’t have towers and are far from islands with towers have weak or no signals.  Cambridge Cay is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park where there are no Batelco towers, thus there is a very weak signal coming from the tower on another island and sometimes no signal.  We have a Wilson cell phone signal booster and by placing our Bahamas phone in a cradle with a cord running to an antenna outside the signal went from no bars to five.


We’ll be at Staniel Cay for a few more days and then will start north, stopping at a few islands before we leave the Exumas and sail to Eleuthera.