French Fries, Sharks, and Piggies, Oh My!

Staniel Cay, our first island outside of the Land and Sea Park, is a bustling settlement with the epicenter being Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We headed south from Cambridge Cay to reprovision: we needed gas, water, and groceries…and planned on treating ourselves to lunch at the yacht club. We decided to anchor on the western side of Big Majors Spot, the cay just northwest of Staniel Cay. Here, rather than be in the be in the path of boats entering the yacht club, we’d be a 10-minute dinghy ride from Staniel Cay. We would be able to resupply and fill up our jerry cans while being anchored in a place that offered several pretty beaches as well as Pig Beach!

We entered the anchorage from the east and settled in the back of the pack: this was the most crowded anchorage we have experienced so far. Cruising boats dominated the anchorage, but there were quite a few large mega yachts off the southern point. Now that we’ve been cruising for a few months, we are beginning to recognize sailboats we have seen along our way south. Several of these familiar “faces” were anchored here as well.
Our first full day was spent doing chores. First up: filling the water cans and gas cans and getting rid of trash. We took the dinghy…full of cans and trash bags over to the yacht club. Our dinghy may not have been a pretty sight, but the views along the way were! The water was crystal clear, we spotted coral heads and several nurse sharks along the way. We paid $0.40 per gallon for water and $7.00 per bag of trash…expensive, but a necessity. The yacht club seems to be a haven for nurse sharks; countless sharks hang around the docks regularly until the fish cleaning station is in use (aka feeding time).

We were just thankful to have full water tanks and be free of trash (nowhere in the Land and Sea Park is there a place to dispose of trash). Diesel and gas were priced as we expected, roughly $5.00 per gallon. Loading and unloading 20 gallons worth or gas/diesel was a sweaty workout!
Next up: laundry, groceries, and propane! Three convenience stores can be found on Staniel Cay: Isles General (conveniently located in a canal with its own dock), the Blue Store, and the Pink Store. We visited all three…you never know what one store may carry and the others may not. All three stores are well-stocked with staples. We loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies at Isles General, along with dropping off one propane tank to be filled. Isles General also has some basic marine supplies and DVD rentals. We found our favorite tortilla chips and other necessities at the Blue and Pink stores. We noticed these stores had more of a variety than Isles General but were a further walk.

The yacht club has a beach just for landing dinghies. This was great: it was free, near the laundromat, and just outside the restaurant (French fries, here we come!). The laundromat on Staniel Cay is clean and in a newer building just a short walk from the yacht club. We hadn’t done laundry since Nassau, so we had two big loads needing to be washed. We paid about $20 for both. Do you know what else is at the laundromat? The liquor store! We restocked our rum supply while our clothes finished up then headed over to the yacht club for lunch.

In preparation for our trip, we ate all meals at home…this would be our first meal out in over six months! We took a seat in the bar area, tucked our clean laundry under our seats, and immediately ordered drinks: Troy had a Kalik (Bahamian beer) and I had a frozen mango daquiri…heaven! Next up: a cheeseburger and fries for Troy and a giant Chef Salad for me. We probably looked like starving sailors; we scarfed our food down, barely speaking. That hit the spot!

That evening, feeling like little piggies, we headed over to the beach on Big Majors Spot to see the famous swimming pigs. After watching tour boat after tour boat unload tourists onto Pig Beach to feed them, we decided the evening would be a safe time to go…my hope was that the pigs would be nice and full and therefore, less pushy. Armed with apple cores, carrots, and other veggie scraps, we climbed out of the dinghy. Most of the bigger pigs lay passed out on the beach, not seeming too interested in us, thankfully.

We noticed a sign on the beach that says: Mama Karma will bite your butt! Hopefully Mama Karma was somewhere sleeping and dreaming of tomorrow’s visitors! One large, wiry, gray-haired pig approached and was surprisingly, very patient. She opened her mouth and waited for food to be dropped down without stepping on my toes.

The baby piglets were our favorite and since they are often pushed out of the way by bigger pigs, we made sure they got a fair helping! The beach was really a sight: pigs lay scattered over the beach sleeping and grunting, roosters peck around at scraps, other pigs find anything they can to rub and scratch their bodies along, and baby piglets hop in and out of their raised wooden pen.

We spent five nights at Big Majors and we had guests under the boat every night. Five large remora called our bottom home. The stayed suctioned to our keel (and had blue paint on their heads to prove it) until I dropped crackers in the water to feed them. Soon, expecting crackers regularly, anytime we’d walk on deck, they’d come out circling and splashing.

The remora took off for a bit on the afternoon we cleaned Salty Tails’ bottom. That’s when we met Stanley! He was another resident who lived in our rudder shaft during our time here. He’d circle our swim ladder before darting back to safety.

That afternoon was the first time we had cleaned the bottom. Even after three months, all that was needed was a light scrubbing; no barnacles and hard growth needed to be removed. I helped for a while, but Troy did the vast majority of the work. Soon, she was nice and clean!
We enjoyed our final night with the dogs on the cruiser’s beach at the northern end of Big Majors. Over time, cruisers have added a swing, picnic table, chairs, and a grill to the beach, for all to use. No one was there that evening, so we enjoyed the sunset with just the four of us.

Berry Scary

We were a little groggy the next day, but ready to head to Little Harbor. We would be taking the outside route on the Northwest Providence Channel to reach our destination. This leg would take approximately four hours and the winds we were dodging had finally subsided. Once we began rounding Little Stirrup Cay we noticed the sea swell had not. In the Northwest Channel, waves were still significant…we estimated around 8-10 feet. We had originally planned to start under motor since there was very little wind. But, sailboats are made to sail, and in these conditions, the boat teeter-tottered, making the ride very uncomfortable, not to mention, cans of peas and carrots were rolling around down below. The direction of the waves in comparison to the direction of our track had the waves hitting us right on our beam, throwing us side to side. Troy decided to let out some of our headsail. WOW! What a difference! This balanced out the boat nicely, no more heaving. Just in time…no one lost their breakfast! What wind there was filled the sail nicely as we rode up and down the swells, catching glimpses of only the masts of other sailboats as they too rose and fell with the sea.
The Berry Islands are a chain of over 100 cays and islands that separate the Great Bahama Bank and the Northwest Providence Channel. We traveled the outside (Northwest Channel) route over deeper water. Anchorages along the Berry Islands are generally located on the bank side. This means that sailboats must pass through cuts, a pass between islands to travel from one body of water to another. We would need to pass through a cut to reach our anchorage on the protected and shallow bank side. We knew this was going to pose a challenge. The water that moves between cuts can be agreeable or your worst enemy. Since the angry sea swell from the deeper water would be funneling through the cut, we were going to experience the latter. Since we were unable to capture the events on camera, below is an accurate representation of the moment.

With the binoculars, I surprisingly spotted Delphinus far in the distance. We hadn’t planned on traveling with them, but here they were…small world. They were nearing the cut well before us, so I watched as intently as I could manage, hopefully getting some sense of what we would be up against. Keeping binoculars steady while underway in dicey conditions is harder than you might expect! But, I was able to see their mast pass though the cut. It soon would be our turn.
I was white-knuckled; Troy was focused as we approached. Because of the funnel effect and the depths decreasing rapidly, the ocean became even more churned up. We got closer and closer, finally at the point of no return…we couldn’t turn around even if we wanted to with the waves building around us. The waves picked us up and surfed us in. I finally started breathing again, we made it through the cut. Soon enough though, the depths on our depth finder decreased suddenly as we approached a reef, much shallower than our charts indicated. Although we were through the cut at this point, the force of the water would not allow us to retreat. The bottom became visible, too visible. We could see the rocky bottom and coral heads below as if we had just inches of water beneath us. If we grounded, we were going to be in serious trouble. Thankfully, what felt like an eternity, really only lasted seconds. No grounding, we cleared by just 18 inches; depths rose quickly as we entered the calm anchorage.

As if we had entered another world, the water in front of us was calm and flat, glassy even, while over our shoulders the angry sea raged on. The calm waters also brought quiet, no more crashing waves buffeting our ears. It was truly an idyllic place…just like a postcard. Delphinus was anchored just inside along the first beach. We stopped for a moment and they began to tell us that they had grounded badly while crossing the reef. This I could obviously not see through my binoculars earlier. Their 5.7 foot draft was just too much in comparison to our 4 foot draft. Paul was getting ready to dive and inspect the damage. Later, they let us know that the damage was only superficial, and no real harm was done. To this point in our journey, I don’t think I have been more thankful to drop anchor. We were exhausted, hungry, and in need of stillness.

We stayed a total of nine nights at Little Harbor. Our anchorage perfectly suited us to ride out two spells of high winds. We were protected from eastern and southern winds by the island and from northern and western winds by shallow waters. The strongest winds, around 35 knots, came out of the west. The shallow waters kept large waves or swell from building, so conditions were tolerable. During the days of poor weather, I made homemade bread and we watched the Back to the Future trilogy! And of course, Troy got a few boat projects done.

We kept busy the entire time we stayed. We were able to explore several places by dinghy, including the blue hole at Hoffman’s Cay, multiple pristine beaches at Devil’s and Comfort Cays, and the shallow waters that formed a hurricane hole near Flo’s restaurant (a popular cruiser destination). Stingrays, starfish, and sea turtles were everywhere. Our dinghy rides were always spent admiring the sea life.

Delphinus was finally able to leave after depth sounding several exit options by hand. They too, were weary of the charted depths that proved to be inaccurate. We said goodbye to our friends as they headed to Nassau.

A few days later, we left Little Harbor for our next stop, Chub Cay, one of the most southern islands in the Berry Island chain. The Northwest Providence Channel was a totally different ball game. The waters were calm, and we made it out of the cut with no problem. Five minutes in, we decided to stretch our trip and head straight for Nassau, skipping Chub Cay altogether. This would eliminate an entire stop for us, making us one step closer to reaching the Exumas.
The weather was sunny and warm that day, with very light winds. We motored and eventually could see the towers of the Atlantis Resort. Rather than entering the busy Nassau Harbor, we decided to make our way to the southwest side of New Providence Island and dock at Palm Cay Marina. Another cut lie ahead of us. The swell rose as the deep waters of the Northwest Providence Channel funneled down between Nassau and Rose Island. Unsure if the swell was too great (it felt like it was), we changed directions and entered through a wider cut. This took more time, but was a much safer option.

Troy guided us through the narrow channel into Palm Cay Marina. Upon our entry, we filled up on diesel at the fuel dock before heading to our slip. Without wasting any time, we took advantage of the marina’s Wi-Fi, hot showers, and laundry facility. I hadn’t used a washer and dryer in nearly two months…I savored the smell of freshly done laundry. We spent two days in Nassau, taking time to provision, fill our water tanks, and pick up a few marine supplies, including a spare Fortress anchor. Our cab driver made our errands more fun. She happily told us about growing up in the Bahamas and all the places we needed to visit.

On our second night, we made homemade pizza and discussed our next stop, the Exumas. We were so excited for our next leg of the trip. The Exumas are the reason we decided to travel to the Bahamas and couldn’t wait to start exploring!