Tag Archives: Cave Cay

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. 

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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