Our stay in Nassau ended up being longer than we had anticipated and even though we made the best of our time here, being stuck in the middle of the main harbor with no engine was a bit less than tropical. My exhaust finally arrived and after scouring marine stores for all the miscellaneous connections, Nefertari was back in action and ready to go.
Alex had used up all the time away from his business that he could spare and with what I am sure were some mixed feelings, he decided it was time to depart. Gladly, Sam was able to stay on for a bit longer. We topped off the fuel and water tanks and said our farewells to Alex as he left to get on a plane back home to Portland.
Our first leg was to get from Nassau to the northern cays of the Exumas. This was a pretty long day’s journey and as the wind was light, we motored the whole way. The day started off with a bit of rain as we headed out of the harbor but within a couple hours, the sun was out and we enjoyed a nice trek across the Yellow bank on our way to Alan Cay. The only hazard in this crossing was about midpoint across where there were some shallows and an area of noted coral heads for us to keep an eye out for. Everything went well but we were a little behind schedule so we were racing the sun to arrive at the anchorage while there was still light to anchor.
We got to Allen cay just at sunset and followed another, smaller boat into the anchorage. It was a very tight harbor and as we started going in, boats next to us started shouting about the shallows. We noticed then that the boat we were following had grounded and even though I thought the chart I had was pretty good, I heeded the warnings and quickly turned around. We found a spot to anchor right near the entrance in a very narrow spot and got a good hold but I was a little nervous. OK, I was very nervous. The wind picked up and there was strong current in the channel where we were and I stayed up most of the night, checking our holding every 30 minutes. Sam talked me down as I was pretty amped up about the whole thing and in the end, we were fine but I learned my lesson to get to an anchorage early and make sure I was happy with anchorage while it was light.
The next morning, we left and headed further south to Warderick Wells park anchorage. It was a beautiful location where we tied up to a mooring ball in a narrow channel. It only took us three tries and then we were good. We met a few other cruisers while there and did some snorkeling on one of the islands in the park where we saw a ton of fish. Probably the best snorkeling we had on the whole trip so far. The small hill on the island is said to impart good luck to those that offer something so we hiked to the top and left a carved pieces of driftwood on behalf of our crew and Nefertari. We stayed here two nights as the wind was pretty strong from the East and when we left, we headed back inside on the bank with our goal of getting to Shroud Cay.
It was a great passage of about 20 nm and we arrived before anyone else was there so were able to take a free mooring ball close to the beach. It was only 10 am so we had the whole day to explore the beach and relax. Probably one of the most relaxing days of the trip. Sam hiked up to one of the wells on the island and we swam off the boat and generally relaxed all day.
From Shroud Cay, we left early (7 am) and headed towards Big Major’s. When we left, the weather was great. We headed back inside but as we came around the shallows and turned south, we started to hit weather. We were sailing to start but as we turned south, we were going into the wind and had to start the engine to get to our heading. Then the weather started turning and we spent about 4 hours beating into a storm. At one point, we were having to even tack into the wind as we were barely making 3 knots headway. The run was again, about 20 nm but it took forever. For a while we were following another boat, a catamaran called Dragonfly, but they disappeared into the rain and gray. Finally, we got to the point we could turn East again towards our backup anchorage and just as we started coming into the islands again, the weather cleared up and we made it in to the protection of Sampson Cay. This ended up being a great little anchorage, only a few miles north of Big Majors and we anchored in 12 feet of water with great holding and good protection.
The next morning, we were able to get up and I took the dinghy while Sam took a SUP over to some islets and snorkeled, looking for lobster, fish, etc. We had our pole spears with us but did not find anything to harvest but had a great time. When we got back to the boat, we noticed that there were 4-5 rays swimming around the boat. We dove back down and swam around with them which was awesome.
From Sampson Cay, it was about 4 miles to Big Majors. It was a challenging little motor though as we came in from the north where the entrance required steering a zig zag course around a large sand bank and then through a narrow pass about 30 feet wide. Luckily, it was slack tide and we weren’t fighting a current. We made it through and then we were there, Big Major’s spot. A very wide and long beach with 30-40 other boats with the key attraction being the swimming pigs on the beach.
We went in to Staniel Cay with the dinghy and walked around the village as we tracked down groceries and booze. There were quite a few boats in the harbor and at Big Majors but the town was pretty sleepy. Not much there other than a few small shops and a restaurant or two. We went to the beach and fed the pigs of course, but the highlight was snorkeling at “Theunderball Grotto”. This is a small island in the middle of the bay that has a huge cave in the center where the ocean comes in from two or three different tunnels to a central cavern. There were literally thousand of fish in the cave and they were all very unafraid and used to swimmers. There was also an opening in the roof of the cave that a few brave souls jumped down off of and into the water.
Coincidentally, we were flagged down on our way out of Big Majors by a passing ketch and when we got along side, it turned out to be Bliss, another Whitby 42. The owners of Bliss had actually looked at buying Nefertari in Charleston just before I did and I had actually spoken to Brian about his impressions. They found Bliss in the Abacos and bought her instead opening the door for my adventures on Nefertari.
From Big Majors, we took to the East side of the cays as the depth further south starts to get shallower. We were able to sail all the way down to our next stop at Galliot Cut and Big Galliot Cay. Big Galliot Cay was a completely deserted beach where we were able to swim and hike around a little in total isolation. There were two or three other boats in the anchorage but it was very quiet overall. We had some local fishermen stop by and I bought a couple of lobsters from them for dinner. Our plan from here was to start heading south to see if we could find the underwater statues commissioned by David Copperfield but after reviewing the charts, the depth through the channel inside was just a little too shallow for comfort.
One thing to note about the Exumas is that the chain of islands runs Northwest to Southeast over a couple hundred miles and they separate two very large bodies of water. The breaks between the islands are usually narrow in comparison which means that when the tide is running, there is usually a lot of current passing through the cuts. Ideally, you want to time your passage so that it is either slack tide or you have a slight tide going with you. Worst case is when the tide is going East and the weather is blowing in from the Atlantic. This sets up large standing waves and at times even breaking waves in the passages.
When we went to leave from our anchorage, we were pretty casual about timing as we were thinking of going inside. When we changed our plan, we failed to take into account the tide and it was only once we started to get close to the channel that we saw our error in planning as the passage was in high rage mode and we would be mad to try to go through. Lesson learned and we got to spend another peaceful night at Big Galliot Cay.
Once we left Big Galliot Cay, it was a straight run down to Georgetown for the last sail with Sam. We made great time and with the help of a of the cruising guide, we were able to get in to the harbor and anchored safely off Stocking Island. We had a brief look at Georgetown, had a burger together at the yacht club and all of a sudden it was time for Sam to head back home. We had great time exploring the islands and cutting our cruising teeth in the Exumas and I know we both had Alex in our minds as we had wanted him to be with us for this part of the journey. After all of the challenges and difficulties we went through getting to Nassau, the last week was truly great.