Exumas Bareboat Charter – Our Best Ever!

Exumas Bahamas bareboat charter review

Hola Melody and all, Jose and Elena here with a short narrative of the Exumas bareboat charter we just returned from this past Saturday, October 30… our sixth (I think) yacht charter with you and The Moorings and our first – but certainly not the last – catamaran charter to the Exumas, which our family agreed was the best charter ever!

I’ll start of by saying that if partying is your preference, you’ll find many more destinations in the BVIs than the Exumas. Hell, there are more cool places to hang out on Jost Van Dyke alone than there are in the first 30 miles of the Exumas. No problem, mon… just bring what you need with you and make Painkillers and Mango Madnesses to your heart’s content, because with the Exumas’ beaches, sand bars, sharkies and pigs, you won’t miss the bars at all.

The Exuma islands are stunning beyond words –and since we became GREAT at blending Painkillers all the way down to the nutmeg, we did not miss the Soggy Dollar much. Okay, I lie… we did miss it – but only just a little.

That said, a word of caution here: this is a much more challenging charter environment than the BVIs due to the Bank’s quickly-changing water depths, tidal effects and currents and it’s definitely not one for the faint of heart or an inexperienced sailor. You MUST be adept at navigating skinny water using your charts, depth-sounders and good old-fashioned pilotage, as well as committed to preparing yourself ahead of time for your ‘next hop‘ the old-fashioned way: at the chart table, with the excellent Exumas Guide chart book provided to familiarize yourself with the waters, cuts and anchorages where you intend to navigate that day and moor for the night.

Just to make a point, the Maintenance Board at Moorings Base Palm Cay Marina showed 24 vessels were undergoing maintenance on the day we arrived and six of the twenty-four catamarans were for groundings. These are not waters for the casual sailor, so if you are one, you would do well to consider hiring a skipper.

We had arranged to sleep aboard the evening before we sailed and much appreciated the much-needed rest after the 3,000 mile red-eye from PDX and the provisioning trip to the Solomon supermarket, which is just a mile from the marina. There’s also a well-stocked liquor store right next to the market where we found the spiced rums needed for the much-anticipated Painkillers and Mango Madnesses… YES!!!

Be prepared for sticker shock on prices on all food items compared to the mainland, too. Having gotten shocked the first charter we made to the Bahamas – the Abacos, the year before Hurricane Dorian- we brought a cooler with all the meats, hams, bacon and cheese we would need for the trip as one of our free checked bags and it was well worth the hassle in terms of both costs and quality. All the frozen stuff was still frozen when we put it away on arrival, too.

On this matter of pricing and costs, on 1 Jan 2022 the new Government of the Bahamas will be reducing the VAT from 12% to 10% which will be a Godsend to the people of the Bahamas and of course, help future charterers as well.

Day 1: Nassau to Highbourne Cay

Saturday morning we started our itinerary and initiated the 34 nautical mile jaunt passing north of Yellow Bank and past Ship Channel Cay to the deep water on the Great Exuma Sound as we wanted to drop some lures for wahoo on the sail down to Highbourne Cay.

The water was flat and calm the whole way with winds at around six knots and not ten minutes passed before we had a wahoo double on our 30lb class gear. Both fish were landed a few minutes later; one was a good 25 to 28lbs, the other smaller. And yes, it was our daughter Gabriela who landed the bigger one!

Highbourne Cay wahoo

We took the filets to Xuma Restaurant at Highbourne Cay where we gifted one fish to the staff and with the other, Chef Corey prepared absolutely amazing sweet and sour tempura-breaded nuggets which we devoured and broiled filets, most of which wound up as fish tacos the following evening aboard.

Day 2: Highbourne to Norman’s Cay

Sunday morning we were off cruising to Norman’s Cay where we snorkeled the wreck of one of Carlos Lehder’s cocaine-smuggling aircraft and then explored the beaches and sand bars on the north side of the cove where the airplane wreck lies.

Should you want to explore this mile-wide cove, do so on the dinghy on a rising tide and plan to get back to the mother ship before you reach half the ebb because the water will get skinny indeed. In fact, we had to get out of the dinghy and walk it along for a good third of a mile as it was not possible to power it across the flats – but the sandbars and beaches were well worth it.

We spent the night at anchor in the small bight just south of the plane wreck, which was a bit rolly even though we were in the lee of the fresh southeast breeze.

By the time we came back from the ‘walking dinghy’ experience the sun was low on the horizon, so it was just safer to stay there than to seek another anchorage because simply put, you DO NOT want to move ANY boat in low-light sailng conditions in these waters.

Day 3: Norman’s Cay to Shroud Cay

Monday morning we had a short sail to Shroud Cay which fascinated us… it’s a place we will definitely visit again. The island is not really one cay but a small archipelago of small cays with a large, silted-in mangrove swamp and salina in between all of them, and the whole thing is traversed by two channels that cut thru the swamp to connect the east (Sound) and west (Banks) sides of the islands.

The northernmost channel can be navigated by motorized vessels but is shallow enough in some places that only dinghies and flats-type boats can traverse it – and it is worth doing not once, but several times.

It was simply spectacular… the cleanest water one can imagine over the whitest sand one can possibly ever hope to see… in a mangrove swamp!?

We saw dozens of small turtles (Carey) in the channel and were just awed by the incredible, unspoiled beauty of the place… one of many pictures we took below.   

Shroud Cay Exumas

Day 4: Shroud Cay to Compass Cay

Next day we were off again to travel from Shroud Cay to Compass Cay to pet some friendly nurse sharks. Many thanks to Trevi at Compass Cay Marina for hosting us for this experience. We were the only cruisers there, had the sharks all to ourselves and were swimming in the water almost an hour with them.

Compass Cay nurse sharks

It was a great way to celebrate my 69th birthday alongside my wife Elena, our two kids Joey and Gabriela and our dear friend Joseph. Our son proved to be the shark whisperer of the bunch us as he definitely was their favorite “please pet me target“.

Day 5: Compass to Big Major Spot

From Compass Cay we ran down to Big Major Spot for to meet the swimming pig and had a ball. By the time we got there most of the day trip tourists from Staniel Cay had left and we had the piggies all to ourselves. We had bought lots of carrots for this and had the foresight to cut them up into 2 inch pieces so we could feed a lot of pigs – which we played with for more than a hour. We learned a lot about the piggies from their caretakers and left very much appreciating how much they care for and socialize with these animals…

Feeding the pigs at Big Major Spot

And here’s Gaby bottle-feeding a piglet. Kinda hard to tell who is enjoying herself more…Gaby or the piggy.

Feeding the pigs on Pig Beach

After Pig Beach we sailed the two miles to Staniel Cay Marina where we had made plans to stay overnight, but a wind shift to a Force 4 blow from the Southeast made the marina untenable so we moored off just to the east side of Big Major Cay where we were well protected from the southeast swell and waves.

We spent the next day at Staniel getting our mandatory return-to-the-US COVID tests (thank you, Nurse Rolle!) and just running around between Blackpoint Cay, Big Major Cay and Staniel in the dinghy, paddleboard and kayaks.

The mandatory visit to the Thunderball Grotto was a hoot for the kids as they jumped in from the hole above while Elena and I waited for them outside on the dinghy.

Later in the day my son and I took the dinghy to some rocks in about 40 feet of water on the east side of Blackpoint and caught some very nice triggerfish; their fillets made for an exquisite dinner that evening.

Day 6: Staniel Cay to Warderick

We initiated our trip back Thursday morning trolling north outside the Exumas Land and Sea Park into Warderick Wells with no luck on the rods as we had one bite but no hookups.

We arrived at Warderick Wells around 1530, picked up a mooring buoy for the night and immediately greeted by a large barracuda who decided our boat’s shadow was a cool place to hang out for a while.

Soon after we were also visited by several lemon sharks who probably thought we would feed them –not! They were persistent, so most of us showered inside that night…

Lemon sharks at Warderick Wells Exumas

Day 7: Warderick Wells to Long Cay

Friday morning before heading north we made the short hike to the top of Boo Boo Hill to the ‘we were here’ pile of cruisers’ memorabilia.

The white limestone cliffs are similar to those you would find in some of the Greek Isles but here, you’ll see the cobalt blue water of the Sound on one side and the emerald green water of the Banks on the other side and you’ll find yourself thinking ‘I need to sit down and enjoy this for a while’.

Definitely a place we’ll be back to and hopefully, not once but many times…

The 'we were here pile of cruisers' memorabilia on Boo Boo Hill
The ‘we were here’ pile of cruisers’ memorabilia

Warderick Wells is the home of the Exumas Land and Sea National Park and in visiting the Park’s main house we learned how it was not the government but a group of about 140 volunteers and private citizens who collaborated to construct what is now the park’s main building and headquarters. The Park has ambitious plans for additional staffing and new equipment and will need private donations to achieve their goals, so any help we can provide will be appreciated.

After visiting Boo Boo Hill it was time to continue our sail north, which we did on the lee (Sound) side of the islands as the southeast winds continued unabated. We anchored just north of the small sand spit on the east side of Long Cay for the night and prepare for the early Saturday sail north back to the Moorings Base at Palm Key Marina -and it was a foreboding night indeed with a Force 5 breeze and numerous thunderstorms through the night.

Day 7: Long Cay to Nassau Base

We left Long Cay at first light, running hard at 11 knots into port beam seas to arrive at Palm Cay at 0945, grateful the predicted strong morning thunderstorms did not materialize. All we had was the fresh breeze to deal with which the boat took in stride and the shallows just southwest of Yellow Bank which appear much more intimidating on the charts than they really are as we never saw less than 11 feet on the depth-sounder.

This Bahamas yacht trip was two years in the making, delayed of course by the pandemic, so to say we were pumped for this is an understatement. Even as pumped as we were, nothing could have prepared us for how wonderful this trip turned out to be and how much we appreciate and admire the people of the Bahamas and the rugged majesty of the waters of the Exumas.

A special hug to Sarah, Bernadette and Capt. CJ from the Moorings Base Palm Cay crew and to Melody, Karimah, Joann and Kimberly from the Virgin Island Sailing team who took care of us for the two years it took to make this trip a reality.

Ladies, we’ll be in touch soon for our next one

With best regards from Beaverton, Oregon and Orlando, Florida

Jose, Elena, Joey, Gabriela Galindez and Joseph Morales

Now it’s your turn for your dream sailing vacation on an Exumas bareboat charter in Nassau, Bahamas… Let’s start planning your Bahamas yacht charter!

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