Without dating ourselves too much, 16 years ago we were fortunate enough to take a one year sailing sabbatical where we sailed from Toronto, via the Intercoastal Waterway, to the Bahamas. We spent half of that year exploring the Biminis, Abacos, Eleuthera, Nassau and, our favorite of all, the Exumas.
As a result, we have wonderful memories of the crystal clear water, the white sand beaches and the warm, welcoming people. So, we were both excited and reluctant to be sailing to the Bahamas as the last leg of this three-year Travelodyssea. We were excited because of those wonderful memories and we were looking forward to reminiscing in places like Staniel Cay, Exuma Land and Sea Park, and Paradise Island.
On the other hand, we were reluctant because there has been a lot of development in the Bahamas since we left and we wanted to retain those memories.
Of course, our sentiments didn’t matter since we were leaving the Dominican Republic and the only way to Florida, without sailing overnight for a week or more, was to island hop through the Bahamas.
Our first stop, after a 180-mile overnight sail from Luperon, was Matthew Town on Great Inagua Island, the most southern “developed” island in the Bahamas. I use the term “developed” judiciously since it actually has very little development. It’s essentially a town with a small harbor and airport, which meant we were able to check in with Customs and Immigration. The town also has a decent grocery store and a handful of restaurants.
But Matthew Town’s claim to fame is the Morton Salt Facility, which historically was the foundation of this community. Although the operations have shrunk significantly, Morton Salt is still a major employer that not only provides jobs but also supports the school, the library and many community organizations.We couldn’t visit their facility but via a short tour of the island we were able to see some of their operations. The most fascinating aspect being how much it looks like snow or ice!
After Matthew Town we quickly headed north through the Far Islands with short overnight stops at Salinas Point on Acklins Island, Pitts Town Point on Crooked Island, Clarence Town on Long Island and Calabash Bay on Galliott Cay before anchoring in Georgetown on Great Exuma Island for a much needed break.
At this point you may be asking yourself why we hauled ass through so many islands so quickly. The answer is two-fold. First, we were already behind schedule to get to Florida before the start of the official Tropical Storm/Hurricane Season – which started on June 1.
Second, these islands are known as “The Far Islands” and now we know why. For people who really want the peacefulness of a remote island or beach with no people, bars, shops or stores these islands are perfect as there was pretty much nothing there. For those of us who like a little civilization, the Far Islands are definitely not for us!
Maybe if we were there for a one or two-week vacation from a hectic job, we would have loved it but after almost 3-years of cruising, we were ready to move on and gladly pushed on to the “hustle and bustle” of Georgetown – the cruising Mecca of the Bahamas.
For the record, we were very familiar with Georgetown as we spent a number of weeks there on our previous sabbatical — anchored amongst the 200-300 other boats that called it home for the winter months. Yes, you read that correctly, Georgetown has a massive, protected harbor that is the base for most of the boats that travel to the Bahamas for the winter. In fact, there are often 400+ boats there for the famous Georgetown Regatta in early April.
With that number of boaters and people staying in the many hotels and villas, Georgetown has built up an infrastructure that includes multiple grocery stores, restaurants, beach bars and even live music.
We had fond memories of the live band at the weekly “Rake and Scrape”, beach volleyball at Chat N Chill, dingy rafts over to Stocking Island, and one too many happy hours. So, we were really looking forward to spending time in Georgetown and seeing how much it had changed in 16 years.
Well, the good news is it hadn’t changed that much. There are a few more shops and stores along with a number of large private villas just south of town but in general it had the same small town character that we remembered.
The bad news, for us, was that we were obviously there too late in the season as there were only 30 or so boats in the huge harbor and all of the fun cruiser events and activities were over or closed for the season. It was like visiting a ski resort in the summer!
We did manage to have drinks at Chat N Chill, enjoy a peaceful stroll around Lake Victoria, and have a large Sting Ray swim through our legs during an afternoon beach walk but Georgetown just wasn’t the same without the hubbub of the boating community. Still, our fond memories of Georgetown remained intact and after a few days rest we continued our journey north.
Those of you who are familiar with the Bahamas know that the water around these islands is relatively shallow and surrounded by reefs and large, isolated coral heads. For boats with deep drafts, like our 7-foot keel, this can be a huge problem as it limits your anchorages, destinations and sailing routes.
In our case, our draft prevented us from tucking into some of the smaller islands and cays that we remember and almost stopped us from going into Exuma Land and Sea Park, one of the most spectacular places in the Exumas, as we would only be able to enter and leave at high tide. Fortunately, they recently opened a mooring field for mega yachts in beautiful little cove on the ocean side of Wardrick Wells Cay and since it was low season they were able to accommodate our humble little Celebration.
After a exhilarating sail (yes sail) from Georgetown to Cave Cay, where we spent the night, then on to Wardrick Wells where tucking into this little cove that was hidden behind tiny Hog Cay was like finding an oasis in the desert. It was well protected, had deep blue water, a gorgeous Sandy beach and, best of all, no other boats. We swam, kayaked, walked the beach and even barbecued before a big lightning storm hit later that evening.
In hindsight, we should have stayed in Exuma Land and Sea Park a little longer since that pattern of lightning storms continued for the next few nights and really put a damper on our already short time in the Bahamas.
In fact, after leaving Exuma Land and Sea park, we sailed north to Highbourne Cay where we managed to anchor just before a big afternoon storm hit. To make matters worse, during the storm we determined that our anchor was dragging so after it passed we had to reset it. But, for the first time in our 3 years of cruising, we were unable to get it to set properly and had to reset it 3 more times before it grabbed. One time we were too close to a mega yacht for the captain’s comfort as he came over and diplomatically asked us to move “in case he hit us during the night”. That night another storm hit us which essentially told us it was time to move on.
The next morning we raised anchor then navigated across the shallow, coral-head covered Yellow Bank to Nassau, where we managed to secure ourselves to a dock at the Nassau Harbor Club just before yet another storm hit.
For obvious reasons, Nassau wasn’t our favorite Bahamas spot 16 years ago and it wasn’t our favored destination on this trip. It’s a large port city with lots hotels, cruise ships, hotels, resorts, marinas and attractions which means lots of people and traffic. However, it also has good grocery stores, laundry facilities, fuel docks, marine stores and all the facilities we needed to reprovision for our final lap – a 180-mile overnight sail to Fort Lauderdale.
After two nights of being tucked safely away from the thunder and lightning storms, Mother Nature shined on us one last time giving us calm day, a beautiful sunset and storm-free night. The next day, the winds remained calm and we motor-sailed across the Straits of Florida and the notorious Gulf Stream to the protected harbors of the Intercoastal Waterway and beautiful Fort Lauderdale.
So, that’s it. Three years, two oceans, 15 countries, thousands of miles, wonderful new friends, and countless memories. The most common question now is “what are you going to do now?” The answer is although we’ve had lots of time to think about it and a number of wine-inspired conversations, we haven’t decided yet. First, we’re going to travel OVERLAND to see family and friends then we’ll have some more wine and seriously determine where we want to live and what we want to do. After an adventure like this, it’s a nice problem to have…