Good Times and Good Friends : George Town to Nassau
22nd June – 4th July 2015
It was yet another stunning afternoon in the Bahamas when the American Airlines flight from Miami to George Town touched down. After around 22 hours of flying our long time friends from Australia were about to set foot in paradise. Waiting outside immigration was a real eye-opener. All walks of life piled off that plane, the majority obviously headed long-awaited holidays. Well dressed fashionistas with matching luggage made their way down the ramp and over to the swanky Sandals Resort check-in booth, local residents were greeted by loved ones, while others, who looked like they had come direct from the Miami nightclub scene, made their way to drivers with name boards. The confused just stood still like deer in the headlights until waiting taxi drivers stepped forward offering their services. The queue inside immigration was obviously moving pretty fast and it wasn’t long before Susan, Nick and the kids barreled through the heavy glass doors. Standing out from the crowd with no high heels, tight fitting clothes or tiaras, they were sensibly dressed in casual gear and big smiles. After a flurry of hugs and kisses we jumped into our taxi van for the 30 minute drive back to George Town, which was followed by a quick water taxi ride to the good ship Gone with the Wind. Liam had drawn the short straw and stayed behind on the boat, so once our friends clambered aboard round two of hugs and kisses began.Then it was time to pop the bubbly.
Swapping their “plane attire” for swimmers and sunscreen, we launched the dinghy and headed to the beach. Sunday arvo at Volleyball beach, where we were anchored, is always pretty busy. Boston Whalers and dinghy’s came and went as families and friends frolicked in the warm shallow waters. After setting up camp under some shady trees, G&T’s were mixed, Kalik beers poured and we sauntered down to the shallow waters, drinks in hand of course, to cool off island style.
As the afternoon wore on we figured it was time to introduce Susan, Nick and the kids to a Bahamian staple, the conch salad. Pronounced as konk, conch salad is far from your traditional side dish. You won’t find a lettuce leaf, crouton, olive or piece of feta cheese within cooee. Conch is a large edible mollusk which lives inside an exquisitely beautiful pink and orange spiral shell. The animal itself wouldn’t win any beauty pageants but once it’s sliced and diced and mixed with peppers, tomatoes, red onion and doused with orange and lime juice for tenderizing, the combination becomes a culinary sensation. Conch salad is an acquired taste which doesn’t always sit well on everyone's palate, Susan and Nick included. But hey, when in the Bahamas you just have to give it a go.
The late afternoon sun is a real killer in this part of the world and when we could take no more of it we adjourned to the popular beach bar known as the Chat’n Chill. It’s a funky little hangout where the décor is mainly pre-loved autographed t-shirts which hang from the ceiling like bats in a cave, although they don’t have that special bat aroma. Being ‘'Pig Roast’' Sunday, a specialty of the house, the place was packed. We downed a couple of rum punches, as you do, and chatted to a few super-yacht crew members who were off charter for the weekend. But as the light started to fade our friends were looking a tad jet lagged, so we adjourned back to GWTW for dinner and a relaxing evening. After all, we didn’t want to wear them out on day one!
The following morning we focused on provisioning. It’s not a simple thing catering three meals a day for six hungry mouths, particularly when the next supermarket is 13 days away and everything needs to be transported via dinghy to the mothership. Anyway, after a couple of trips the food, vegies and beverages were all stowed and it was time to get the show on the road and head to our first anchorage at Williams Bay, Lee Stocking Island some 30 miles north. Over the previous weeks Liam and I had put a lot of time into working out a good mix of land and water activities for our visitors and it became pretty evident that the focus would be on the aquatic ones. After all we were cruising in the Exumas which are some of the most spectacular waters on the planet.
Day two of our trip north started with a short hike to check out the views from the stone cairn that overlooks Williams Bay. Shallow waters and massive sand banks with the changing hues of aqua stretch for miles to the west and the velvet blue expanses of the Atlantic ocean were to the east. Pure magic!
With a pretty full on day planned which would be largely tide dependent we made a bee line back to the big boat for a short motor up to Leaf Cay. Free roaming pink iguanas are the attraction here and they have staked their claim on the prime waterfront real estate along the rocky shoreline. Heaps of day trippers from nearby resorts come here to feed them and have their pics taken for their social media accounts. These iguanas have certainly cottoned on to the free feed lifestyle. Whenever they hear a boat pulling up to the beach they hot foot it down to the waters edge at speed.
Jessica and Samuel had no fear of these not so warm and cuddly reptiles, while some of us, especially me, preferred to keep a bit of personal space between girl and lizard.
Moving right along, next stop was a snorkel at Rudder Cay. Quite a few years back illusionist David Copperfield commissioned an underwater statue to be placed in about 12 feet of water just off the shore. Although Liam and I had seen the statue two years ago, it was more fun this time having our friends with us.They got a real kick out of snorkeling down to see the beautiful bronze mermaid reclining against a piano stool in front of a full size grand piano.
Just a little to the north is Musha Cay, a private island owned by Mr Copperfield and it really is something else. It has a to-die-for beach backed by swaying palms, five fabulous beach villas, plus a main house on the hilltop. Apart from having ample accommodation for friends there’s also a private runway for those arriving via their gulfstreams or helicopters. The villas are available for rent to the general public and from browsing the internet you don’t just book a villa, you book the entire island. It’s yours for a mere US $37,000 a night with a 4 night minimum for 12 people or, if you have more friends, bring along 24 of your best buddies and spend US $52K… seriously some people really know how to holiday! One has to wonder though, is it for real or just an illusion?
From Musha it was just a stones throw to our rather late lunch stop.Ty’s Sunset Bar and Grill on Little Farmers Cay. Now this place was cool.
Located right on the beach with the island airstrip at the front door, it has to best the best pseudo airport lounge anywhere and its a little piece of Bahamian panache as far as eateries go. The food is good, the drinks cold and the setting just stunning. We ambled through lunch and what was left of the afternoon simply soaking up the laid back atmosphere these islands and their friendly people are so famous for. After a team talk we ditched the plan to move to another anchorage and stayed put for the night.It was an excellent decision.
The friendly community of Black Point attracts hundreds of cruising boats in the high season and not so many in the off season, which is when we were there. Only a handful of boats were anchored in the bay when we pulled in. Stopping here was really just a pit stop so that our friends would get to experience a slice of true Bahamian life, sans tourists.
The local community of Black Point are really “salt of the earth” types and the town benefits a lot from the passing trade of cruising yachts. Many regular cruisers do here as they do elsewhere throughout the Caribbean Islands. They help out with projects around town and volunteer to teach the young kids reading at the local school. In return an excellent laundry facility and dinghy dock has been constructed by some of the locals complete with a fast, free wi-fi service, all of which are way up the top of the list for most cruisers. There are a couple of basic food stores in town and a few good eating places including Scorpios and Lorraine's Cafe.
The local baker at Black Point is known by all as Lorraine’s mum. She’s an elderly woman who starts her day at 0530 baking fabulous fresh loaves of bread in her kitchen using a 1960’s model oven. Even before you get to her front porch the smell of freshly baked bread wafting in the air sends your senses into a spin. As she only bakes two dozen or so loaves a day in three varieties, cinnamon, coconut and white, you have to get there early or go home empty handed and no one wants do do that. With our loves in hand we strolled through town and stopped to talk with another elderly lady sitting in her front yard. Nearly blind she sat weaving long strips of reeds together which are sent to Nassau and eventually become straw baskets for sale in the markets. Many of the older women at Black Point weave as a means to make a small income.This lady also made linen bags, one of which caught Susan’s eye and of course she bought and it’s a nice reminder of the old lady doing her ting under the tree.
Staniel Cay and Big majors Spot (strange names but there you go) are among the best known places in the Exuma Islands. For anyone who visits Staniel Cay, Thunderball grotto, swimming pigs and hand-fed sharks are on the must see list, our friends included.
The swimming porkers are a seriously popular attraction and there is even talk of a movie being made about them. As boats approach pig beach the oinkers amble down the sand looking for a feed.
They say pigs are smart and these guys definitely know which side their bread is buttered. It‘s a clever tactic on their part and one which has paid off well judging by the size of them. You can land your dinghy on the sand and toss them the handouts or hang just a little offshore and watch them hit the surf and paddle out. They don’t exactly break any swimming records but they are very comfortable in the water and extremely confident about seeking out dinghies that have breakfast, lunch or dinner on offer. And a word of warning, they have very good bugles so watch out. If you don’t deliver the goods quick smart, they’ll be mounting your dinghy in a flash. After hearing the many tales of these pigs from us over the years our friends couldn’t believe that they were actually here feeding them.
Being creatures of habit, come late afternoon at the Yacht Club, harmless sand sharks gather by the dozen. The sportsfisher set along with charter fishing boats bring in their daily catch for cleaning and filleting and a heaps of scraps gets tossed to the waiting sharks, many of which are around 6-8 feet long. They say that you can swim with them if you want but would you really want to when they are all hyped up? I think not. The pushy sharks compete with stingrays and assorted other fish for the booty. There’s no real aggro and everyone seems to get a good feed.
Thunderball Grotto is another popular attraction with great snorkeling both inside and out of a cave. Low tide is the best time to swim here as there is no current. On a rising tide the entrance nearly disappears. The huge grotto chamber is maybe 60 feet long with a large overhead opening in the rock. The sunlight to streams in giving an eerie glow to the underwater scene.
It’s a fun experience as hundreds of colourful fish dart around you, though as the tide turns and the current builds, swimming back out can be a little challenging. The grotto is a classic Kodak moment for budding underwater photographers.
Between Fowl Cay and the north eastern end of Big Majors Spot a narrow cut made for a great drift-snorkel as the current rushed through. While Liam and Nick rode shotgun in the dinghy on the lookout for approaching boats yours truly, along with Susan, Jessica and Samuel jumped overboard and headed to the opening. Within seconds the current caught us and we were hurtling along. We got such a kick out of it first time that Jessica and I backed up for seconds. It was a real hoot and felt like we were flying as the sea bed and everything else rushed past us at speed!
We were now roughly half way up the Exumas and it was time to spend a few days in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The park is a definite no-take zone and covers quite a few cays and islands with the main ones being Cambridge Cay, Wardrick Wells and Shroud Cay. We spent a few days in the park and did heaps of great snorkeling, a little hiking and generally enjoyed ourselves. If only I had a dollar for each time Susan said that she couldn’t believe the colour of the water, well the dollars would be mounting up that’s for sure.Words can’t describe it and you just don’t believe it until you see it with your own eyes.
Day eight was at Normans Cay to snorkel the sunken Columbian drug runners’ DC3 plane and later that afternoon we popped into McDuffs Café for a quick bite to eat. The café and the island have changed dramatically since we last visited in 2011. A few more homes have been built and the abandoned runway has been upgraded and now has regular flights servicing the small population who live there.
Prices at the café have skyrocketed with most things on the menu in the $20 –$30 US range so there were no cheese burgers in paradise this time. The bartender was friendly and entertaining but after a couple of drinks for the six of us and a bill of close to $100 it was definitely time to head back to the ponderosa.
The weather gods had been pretty kind to us since our friends arrived with no rain and sunny skies, perfect holiday weather. But being the hurricane season we’d listen on the radio each morning to Chris Parker, the weather expert for the Caribbean. There were plenty of reports of nasty squalls packing winds of 40 + knots all around where we were. So far we’d been lucky but at 2am next morning our luck ran out.
We’d been watching the distant lightening for a few hours before retiring for the night before and by 0130 the distant rumble of thunder was no longer distant. The lightening got closer and brighter turning night into day as the wind swung around to the west which wasn’t good as we were now on a lee shore. Our awnings started to flog wildly and with the help of blurry eyed Nick we got them secured before the brunt of the storm hit. Strangely there wasn’t much rain but the strong winds whipped up the seas and the wind howled for a few hours. We saw a top speed of 39 knots on our wind instruments. It’s times like this that we’re ever so glad we’d put out over 100ft of anchor chain and have a rock solid bugle anchor that didn’t budge an inch. When daylight came the red Saharan dust that had blown in was all over the decks and mixed with a little bit of moisture it had turned to brown mud …yuck !
Nassau, the end of the line for our friends, was now only a few days away and we still had one or two more stops to make. Our provisions had lasted well but the beer machine was just about running on empty and emergency supplies would have to be purchased. The high-end resort of Highboune Cay is not the place to be doing your beer shopping but the circumstances dictated that it was there or nowhere. The little shop just by the marina most definitely had the bull by the horns and the fellas paid the price. A whopping $76 US for a case of Kalik beer to be exact , rrp $44, but at least now they wouldn’t have to worry about getting dehydrated!
Our last stop before Nassau was at Green Cay. It’s a delightful little place with clear blue waters and abundant reefs and fish life. Albeit, they’re your Nemo size fishes, but most times it’s the little ones that are the most interesting to watch. The kids and I spent a few hours checking out the underwater scene while Liam looked in every nook and cranny for more lobsters. When we figured we were getting water logged we packed it in and finished the day off with a beach fire and sundowners on the sand. Perfect.
Sadly tomorrow we were Nassau bound and the following morning, July 4th, would be an early send off for our friends. As the saying goes, all good things come to an end eventually. We’d had a fabulous time over their 13 day visit and we hoped that they felt the same.
Great company, lots of laughs, fresh caught lobsters and sunny weather made cruising the Bahamas in the summer of 2015 something that will last a long time in our memories. Thanks for coming guys, we had a blast.