Exuma Island Hopping

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After all the activity of Georgetown, we were really looking forward to weeks spent exploring the Exuma chain.  The Exumas are a cruisers paradise with hundreds of mostly uninhabited islands, beautiful waters in every shade of blue, amazing beaches, great snorkeling and lots of peaceful anchorages.  There are very few settlements in the Exumas, which makes it difficult to provision.  After 4 weeks here, we would love to see some fresh fruit and vegetables, which are really hard to come by.  The small settlements here usually have a supply boat that comes in once a week; so if you visit too long after the boat the small stores are mostly empty.  In the ‘90s I remember the Exumas being pretty quiet, however much has changed in 20 years.  Tourism, while still not on the scale of Nassau and the Abacos, has exploded with everyone wanting a piece of this little paradise.  There are numerous private islands owned by celebrities like Johnny Depp, lots of high end small boutique resorts and this time of year, tons of mega yachts (likely I will do a whole other blog on those).  There is a large area of the Exumas that is designated the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is probably the loveliest of the islands.

After visiting some islands in the southern Exumas, we survived that horrible squall at Staniel Cay. Since leaving Georgetown we were fortunate to be travelling with two other family buddy boats we knew from Georgetown (s/v Lost Horizon and s/v Paisley).  Between the 3 boats, we had 7 kids, aged 3-9 and the kids had a blast each day hanging out on the sand bars, snorkeling, fishing, sleepovers, movie nights and the adults enjoyed the company as well.  Staniel Cay is the second largest settlement in the Exumas and is well known for Thunderball Grotto, which has been used many times in movies including the James Bond movie Thunderball.  The best time to go is low tide where you can swim through a small crack in the rocks to enter the grotto.  The kids did really well snorkeling here even with the strong winds and current.  Our kids have really taken to snorkeling and it is impressive to see them diving down deep and pointing out all the great things they see.  Even 3 year old Miles loves snorkeling and it is pretty cute to watch him floating around with his mask on.  Staniel Cay is also well known for Pig Beach, which is an island where the main attraction are the swimming pigs.  After our harrowing night during the bad squall we moved north to the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

Many islands around here are privately owned and it is quite interesting to get a glimpse of that lifestyle.  We anchored off Johnny Depp’s private island, where he was apparently married in Jan/Feb.  We enjoyed snorkeling “the aquarium” which remains the best place we have snorkeled so far.  It truly is like snorkeling in an aquarium with an amazing variety of fish and coral.  The kids loved playing on the low tide sandbars in this area and exploring the uninhabited islands.  We then headed up to Warderick Wells, which is the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  The mooring field here is spectacular with a very narrow channel of mooring balls carved through the bay with sand bars on all sides. 

Technology has advanced quickly since my last visit to the Exumas in the ‘90s and now Chartplotting GPS technology gives you a virtual map through tough to navigate areas. However, it is imperative to read the water in the Bahamas and be able to identify the shallower water, coral heads and rocky bars.  Arriving into Warderick Well at low tide and navigating the channel was a bit daunting. Paul drove the boat while I scouted from the bow and it was a bit stressful deciding which side of the moored boat to pass.  Luckily we made it into our mooring (and picked it up on the first try!) and were greeted by our friends already out enjoying the sand bar right off the boat.  It was pretty great to be able to jump off your boat and swim 100 ft to an incredible sand bar.  We had gotten used to seeing lots of rays and nurse sharks, but Warderick Wells was pretty incredible for wildlife.  The highlight had to have been when we say a huge ray leap 2 metres out of the water right in front of us – absolutely incredible.  We also saw our first eagle rays up close and they are so beautiful to watch as they “fly” through the seafloor.  This is where we had to say goodbye to our friends on Paisley as they headed north.  Cruising relationships can be really intense because they are often short-lived but grow strong quickly.  It is particularly hard for the kids to get used to people coming and going from their lives so quickly and Ella especially was really sad to lose her friend Ophelia.

Coming up: we continue our adventure through the Exuma Land and Sea Park



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