Exumas, Cat Island and Little San Salvador
03 April 2021
Wanting to avoid Nassau, we made the short trip from the West End of Grand Bahama to Lucaya to spend a few days at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club while seas abated. We found this marina to be much friendlier, more protected and convenient than Old Bahama Bay. We were able to walk the short distance into town for last minute provisions.
Our plan from there was to run overnight from Lucaya all the way to the Northern Exumas, but the sea state in the Tongue of the Ocean was rough and our progress was very slow so we stopped at West Bay on New Providence instead. The remainder of the trip was pleasant and we were blessed with several nice days anchored in a favorite spot inside SW Allens Cay.
Our next significant front with north winds sent us into the Pond at Norman's Cay where we comfortably stayed for over a week, enjoying miles of beach walks and swimming. From there we sailed and fished south on the Sound to Black Point, catching our first of 3 Mahi Mahis. We realized when we saw the harbor there that Covid isn't, in fact, affecting the number of cruisers here this year. There were 31 boats in the harbor, more than we've seen there for quite some time. There are more huge motor yachts than ever, (presumably because the Virgin Islands are so restrictive right now) and many first timers. Although we didn't expect to see many Canadians, we have seen Canadian flags almost everywhere we've gone.
We made a short stop at Staniel Cay to get some groceries then returned to a favorite anchorage by Little Pipe Cay. To me, the dramatic color variations in the water there are as striking as they are at Warderick Wells in the Land and Sea Park. We stayed there until the next front, then headed back north to Normans Cay where we rode out a front with sustained north winds that kept us there for 10 days.
The highlight of our stay at Normans this time was running into family members from Massachusetts, of one of the oldest remaining homeowners on the island. During the "reign" of Carlos Lehder, most private homeowners were intimidated and driven away. This family, however, managed to stay cool and not let Lehder's activities affect them. In fact, a couple of the family members actually flew in Lehder's plane to New England, where one of them got dropped off for college! They did report that they were aware of constantly being watched by Lehder's men. Apparently the homeowner was a licensed pilot. While not actually utilized by Lehder for this, he felt like this made him useful to Lehder in some way. One woman we spoke to was present for the rescue of the pilot from the plane that crashed in the southern harbor at Normans. Its remains are a frequented dive site for tourists, although family members dispelled the myth that the plane contained drugs. It was, in fact, on a practice flight carrying loam.
When we left Normans again, we made the same trip down the Sound, this time hooking four Mahi Mahi but landing only 2 of them. When Dave cleaned them at the fish cleaning station at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, he was quite the celebrity. Throwing the carcasses to the sharks was a huge attraction for the marina guests.
Eager to finally get over to Cat Island for the first time, we moved south to Little Farmers Cay, a lovely spot we hadn't been to for years. From there we had perfect conditions for our sail over to New Bight on Cat. We anchored right below the Hermitage.
The Hermitage is a monastery, built in 1936 by Father Jerome, a Roman Catholic priest, as a place of contemplation. It sits on Mount Alvernia, the highest point in the Bahamas, 206 feet above sea level. Originally called Como Hill, Mount Alvernia was renamed by Fra Jerome after La Verna, the hill in Tuscany where St. Francis of Assisi received his Wounds of the Cross. Fra Jerome lived there for the last 17 years of his life.
Our next stop on Cat was Fernandez Bay, a popular spot to anchor in front of a small, lovely resort. We stayed several days there, enjoying a long dinghy ride through Fernandez Creek with its multitude of Bonefish and a couple of quiet walks along the main road.
After a brief stay in Little Bay near Smith Bay Settlement, we anchored in front of Pigeon Cay and finally got to do some great snorkeling at Alligator Point. When the southeast wind picked up the anchorage got "rolly" and we moved north to Port Royal Beach near Orange Creek Settlement, at the north end of the island. This was my favorite part of Cat, with its miles and miles of unspoiled beaches. After several days there, the wind was clocking and increasing, so we knew it was time to move again. As beautiful as Cat is, there are few places to shelter from high winds.
We decided to make a stop at Half Moon Bay on Little San Salvador Island, privately owned now by Carnival Cruises, Inc. We figured this would be the only time we'd want to stop here as cruise ship travel has not resumed yet because of Covid. The island is still maintained by 40 staff and private cruisers are not allowed on shore. We were joined in the anchorage by seven other private cruising boats and, on the morning we left, by one of Carnival's largest ships, with only staff on board. We had a hard time picturing thousands of people spread out on a one mile stretch of beach and limited surrounding area. It was fun to see nonetheless.
Looking ahead we saw another front with northerly winds coming so we sailed back to the Exumas with plans to shelter and start planning for our return to the States. We are presently sheltering near Sampson Cay and plan to head north on Monday and across to Lucaya Tuesday into Wednesday. There we will "check out" with Customs (a new rule this year) and stage to cross to Florida.
Please go to the menu and look in the gallery for many more photos!