Traveling east of Nassau toward the Exumas, one once again finds a vast expanse of open ocean with depths no greater than 15-20 feet. It makes for quite a sight to see the shadow of one’s boat skimming over the top of the sand for hours on end.
Many of the destinations north of Georgetown in the Exumas are isolated and very scenic. Cruisers should keep a close eye on the forecasts to be sure they choose anchorages that offer protection from the numerous weather fronts that move through the area during the winter. Here are brief highlights from the destinations we chose, each of which can easily be reached without the need to travel after dark.
Easily the jewel in the crown of the Exumas, Highbourne Cay is basically an entire island groomed to the perfection of a resort but without the big buildings and crowds. Highbourne offers absolutely incredible scenery, all of which can be taken in during a bike ride around the island. At night, enjoy fine dining right at the marina. If there are any points to be deducted from Highbourne they would be related to the lack of an “authentic” or “local” feel to the island but … meh…. that vibe can be felt elsewhere during a Bahamas cruise. This place was stone cold amazing.
We stopped here for just a single night before continuing on to Compass Cay to hide from a fierce weather front that would have us pinned down from traveling for several days. There’s not a ton at Hawksbill but a scenic little anchorage with a small mooring field. Ashore there are rumored to be some amusing sights to be had during a short hike but Hawksbill Cay was just a pit stop for us.
Compass Cay is an absolute must-see in the Exumas. The marina is expensive but well worth a stay. Picture being allowed to motor your boat over the top of an aquarium, tie up to a dock on the surface, then go snorkeling around your boat for a look at large schools of fish, nurse sharks, and rays. Absolutely stunning. Compass’ marina also offers a community of tame nurse sharks that like to be massaged and hand fed.
Ashore there is plenty of hiking to be done, with Crescent Beach offering the main attraction. We were there in January, which is the off-season for the Bahamas and had this massive, gorgeous beach entirely to ourselves. Cresting the hill and taking in the sight of Crescent Beach made up for each and every cruising hardship that had brought us there.
Big Major / Staniel Cay
This is where the infamous swimming pigs can be found. To our thinking they are a must see only insofar as one needs to “check the box” of having seen them but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Also one needs to use some measure of caution around the pigs: they are extremely aggressive in trying to get at any food cruisers carry ashore. Their sense of smell is absolutely amazing so forget trying to hide some food to dole out over time. You’ll find yourself dropping it and running away very quickly.
The good news is that Big Major is a crazy scenic anchorage all in its own right, and offers great protection from the prevailing easterly winds. The sun rises and sunsets there are dazzling.
Staniel Cay is a terrific shore destination. Although one can anchor nearer to Staniel Cay or dock right at the marina, navigation is tricky enough that most cruisers anchor at Big Major and take the long dinghy ride in to Staniel Cay when they wish to go ashore. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is a Club in name only. It offers a casual bar for daytime cocktails / light fare and a more formal dining room for (reservation required) fine dining.
Ashore there is a small and very scenic cafe and a couple of small stores for (very basic) provisioning. It’s definitely worth the walk to take in a very authentically Bahamian destination.
Black Point is a very short sail from Big Major but is worth a look for a few reasons.
First, the anchorage is just as crazy scenic as Big Major.
Second, there’s a charming little village to explore that has a similar vibe to Staniel Cay. You can get laundry done here and have drinks & food at one of the two festive little restaurants there.
Third, there is some very scenic hiking to be done on the uninhabited parts of the island.
Finally, Black Point provides a great jumping off point for the passage to Georgetown.
Many experienced live-aboard cruisers will spend most of the winter season in Georgetown. It offers the best opportunity to provision since Nassau as one makes one’s way down the Exuma chain of islands and offers a very active and friendly network of cruisers who organize a variety of events on a daily basis. They team up to offer one another spare parts and help with repairs, all organized using a daily radio “cruiser’s net” briefing over the VHF. Very cool. Ashore the small town is complimented by communities of winter homes and even a luxury resort with a great pool, restaurant and bar.