Staniel Cay and Thunderball Grotto

Our sail north from Black Point to Big Majors was easy breezy…with a following sea on a nice beam reach. As we pulled into Big Majors for the second time, we sailed in further to the anchorage before firing up the engine and pulling in the sails. We weaved our way to the front of the anchorage, just north of pig beach. Compared to our first time here, on our way south, now there were fewer boats, especially sailboats. There were still a handful, but the anchorage was occupied predominately by trawlers and mega yachts.
We made our usual trip in to Staniel Cay by dinghy to fill up on water, gas/diesel, and groceries. We made sure to do laundry as well. If I haven’t mentioned before, the laundromat here is also a bar/liquor store. Rather than making trips back and forth to switch laundry from the washer and dryer, we decided to grab a few drinks and stay put.

At the laundromat, we met another cruiser, traveling with her husband and teenage daughter, heading south with their goal being to reach Grenada for hurricane season. They were on the move, making very few stops along the way since they began their journey late in the season. The couple had been sailing for years, once cruising full time about 20 years ago. They had just recently sold their home near Miami, quit their jobs, and decided to cruiser full time again, now with their daughter. We really love meeting and talking with other cruisers. I am always curious to learn each sailor’s story and what inspired them to head out on their journey. Despite meeting people from so many different places, with widely-varying backgrounds and experiences, we all seem to have core similarities: adventurers with a desire to see and experience new places while living a more simple, slower paced life.
We spotted an especially exciting boat in the Big Major anchorage…La Vagabonde! Riley and Elayna’s channel on YouTube was the first vlog we began watching when we became interested in sailing/cruising. They have been a huge source of inspiration and information for us. While still living our “normal lives” we watched their videos weekly. We can, with conviction, say that the glimpse into the sailing life from their vlogs, truly gave us the “we can do this” push! It was wild to see them anchored just a hundred or so yards away from us! Pretty remarkable!

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We did not get a chance to snorkel Thunderball Grotto as we headed south, so we were excited to check out the spot made famous by the James Bond movie. Between Staniel Cay and Big Majors are a group of rock formations. The most western one is Thunderball Grotto. We had heard that it can become crowded with tour boats during the day, so we were relieved when we arrived to see only one other boat. We tossed the dinghy anchor, grabbed the GoPro, and got our masks and fins on. By the time we were ready to hop in, the other boat had left…we would have the grotto to ourselves!8A597BD0347FBAF9A3292807E31EEC22

The entrance to the cave is not obvious, initially. We couldn’t see where to enter until we swam from the boat, right up alongside the rocks. In the narrow, hallway-like entrance, we were entering on a mid-tide and had to swim underwater to get inside. Right away, the area was teeming with fish…it was like having private escorts swimming alongside us through the entrance.

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We popped our heads up to look around once inside. It was a breathtaking sight! The cave’s ceiling stretched high overhead, forming a dome, enclosing us in shade. There is a round, jagged opening in the top, allowing sunlight to shine down and illuminate a portion of the cave. Snorkeling below it, the water is illuminated like a spotlight.
We saw a variety of fish: from yellowtail snapper to angel fish, swimming among colorful coral.

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After swimming the perimeter, admiring the coral, and diving to check out the fish, we looked for the exit. On the opposite side of the cave is a wide opening to exit. Taking a deep breath, we dove down and swam under the rock ledge. We came up for air outside of the cave. Coral and fish surrounded the exterior of the grotto. The strong current allowed us to drift-dive all the way around, back to the dinghy. With nicely pruned fingers, we climbed back in the dinghy and headed back to the boat for hotdogs on the grill, celebrating Memorial Day.

The next day, while we were in town, we ran into some other cruiser friends who invited us to a potluck on the beach. After stopping to pet the nurse sharks at the yacht club, we headed back to the boat. Later, we got quite a laugh as those same cruisers towed a pallet behind their dinghy…they’d be making a new table for cruiser beach (Pirate Beach). Talk about being resourceful!

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That night, I cooked up a giant pot of yellow rice to share at the cruiser’s potluck. We all gathered and shared lots of yummy food and even brought fireworks to celebrate Memorial Day. Once the bugs made their appearance, we headed back to take Ginnie and Bella for a potty run.
Over the next few days, in between rain showers, we relaxed and snorkeled some of the coral heads around Big Majors. We also bathed the dogs on the beach. It had been a while…they needed it!

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Once we were ready to move on, we made our way north, back the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park!

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.