Back North Through the Exumas

Quite possibly my fave spot thus far in the Bahamas

I hadn’t planned to leave George Town when I did. My Austrian friends departed on Monday and I was anchored later that day at Monument Beach looking at the weather forecast for the week when I realized that if I didn’t boogie in short order I was going to be stuck in George Town through another cold front—likely another week. So I rallied, got everything in order that afternoon and got an early start the next morning, pulling up anchor at 7:30 a.m.

There was decent wind even before we exited Conch Cay Cut at the north end of Elizabeth Harbour, so I had the main and genoa up and drawing before making the turn to the north-northwest, headed back up the Exuma chain from whence I came a couple of weeks earlier. And it was a nice run for a while, but by midday the engine was running and the sails were furled. We blew past Rudder Cut Cay and Galliot Cut, and returned to the Exuma Banks side of the islands at a docile Dotham Cut, before settling in on the hook at Black Point Settlement.

Further at Anchor in Paradise at Cambridge Cay

This time, I was much better behaved during Tuesday night happy hour at the Black Point Yacht Club and simply enjoyed some chicken wings (tasty) and a couple of beers. In the morning, a quick run to the water spigot and then we were off to neighboring Staniel Cay and the yacht club there. My plan was to swing into the Staniel Cay Yacht Club’s fuel dock and top off the diesel tank, but when we got there and the waiting line was four boats long, I just put the pedal to the metal and reentered Exuma Sound through Big Rock Cut. Just before making the turn to starboard to enter the cut proper, a surfable swell peeled along the reef at the inlet’s edge and all the way across the cut. Gulp. Fortunately, it was the last wave in the set and we powered into the sound with nothing more exciting than a little chop.

And then we motored the couple of hours up to Cambridge Cay, where my Austrian friends had arrived a day earlier and nabbed one of the six mooring balls put there by the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. As I entered Bell Cut at the north end of Cambridge Cay I heard another sailboat call out on the VHF to ask if anyone was planning on leaving one of the mooring balls anytime soon. He was answered by crickets—expected, since many of the boats in the anchorage were there because it’s a location that offered protection from the westerly winds (followed by fierce northerly winds) expected with a cold front in a couple of days. I simply anchored Further a short ways off from my friends’ mooring and…

…and encountered what I think was the most beautiful anchorage I’d seen thus far in the Bahamas. Seriously. Cambridge Cay itself (also called Little Bell’s Island on some charts) lay to the east, protecting a narrow strip of turquoise water from Exuma Sound. To the west, a string of tiny, little sand bars and shallow banks protected us from the wider expanse of the Exuma Banks as a whole. And to the north and south, enough islands were strung together to offer some protection from those directions.

The Exuma Sound Side of Little Bell’s Cay. Never mind the hunk in the middle of the photo

And the water…oh man. Calm, flat and that blue tint that is only found in tropical shallows and Canadian national park lakes. Just stunning. After diving to check the anchor and taking the dinghy with a handheld depth sounder to make sure the water was deep enough through three hundred and sixty degrees of swing, I paddled my SUP to a beach on Cambridge Cay and walked over to Exuma Sound. A rock pinnacle rose out of the water just off a golden beach, and a trail ran up a ridge and off toward the northern reaches of the island. Swells were compressed between the pinnacle and the ridge, creating what I believe to be a surfable wave, but I didn’t test it. Another potential break for my next visit. Farther up past that ridge, Max’s Table Rock Cave (more of an overhang, really) offered a tranquil, serene place in which to sit and look east out over Exuma Sound. Oh, and it was gloriously sunny through all of this. And that night, with no civilization within miles, the stargazing was spectacular. So yeah, my fave spot in the Bahamas so far.

Which is good, because when the front arrived the following night, things changed quite a bit.

Surrounded by the locals at The Aquarium

Before that, however, the next morning my crew and I took the dinghy north a couple of miles to neighboring O’Brien’s Cay, where the national park has designated a small reef as “The Aquarium.” By now the wind was out of the south and building so the current and waves made snorkeling around The Aquarium a little hairy and also a hell of a workout. But we got to see tons of fish and even a sea turtle, so that was cool.

That night, the wind swinging to the west and jumping up in velocity awakened me at 12:15 a.m. And I was up most of the rest of the night, watching as three different boats in the anchorage dragged and/or broke free. Further’s anchor held, thank goodness, though we bounced a ton as the wind swung around to the northwest and then the north, as forecast, and continued to increase in speed. The wind

Great snorkeling at The Aquarium at Exuma Cays Land and Sea National Park

wasn’t howling in the rigging, but it definitely sang all night and into the next day, so we were mostly confined to the boat. I ventured out once in the dinghy but mostly it was a stay-at-home kinda day.

Local color at The Aquarium in Exuma Cays Land and Sea National Park

But the next day, well, by then the front had moved on and in its wake the wind had gone back to the east. Our anchorage was again transformed into an idyllic setting of blue sky and blue water. And with the wind in its typical position, we made a second visit to The Aquarium and…voila! The fish were there in abundance, the water was tranquil and clear, and even the sea turtle was still around. We even managed to find the Cessna airplane that was sunken about half a mile away; we’d been unable to see it in the choppy water on our previous visit. It was definitely worth having made the second trip.


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