Fort Lauderdale – Berry Islands
(All pictures are clickable)
One of the things you have to come to terms with when cruising is that the Weather Gods will not always be on your side.
Northerly after Northerly came down the East Coast of the States this December and January and because the Gulf Stream current from the South is so strong off the Florida coast it’s not a good idea to cross in a Northerly. We were doing the work on the dinghy lift and wrap so we weren’t as frustrated as many cruisers but we still had to wait when it came for our turn to leave.
After 10 days or so we found a cracking weather window and sailed in company with buddy boats from Georgia – Mikhaya and Charisma, enjoying one of the best sails we’ve had since we left the UK from Fort Lauderdale to the Berries, just under 24 hours.
Great Harbor Cay
After passing the hideous islands that the Cruise Liners are doing their best to ruin – by turning them into Disneyesque theme parks – we came into Great Harbour in the Berries and took a berth in the marina to ride out yet another Northerly.
Great Harbour Cay underwent a period of intense and successful development in the late 1960s when famous people such as Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Brigitte Bardot, The Rat Pack vacationed there along with Telly Savalas (Kojak) who had his own landing pad for his helicopter, The island was substantially damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 but has fully recovered since. This may however have kept the major hotel chains away as there’s only one small hotel on the island and so it’s unspoiled.
It has a friendly little marina with resident manatees and sharks – and customs on site which makes checking in to The Bahamas really easy.
We explored on foot and took the dinghies with Mikhaya and new friends from xxx through a narrow mangrove creek – at several points pushing them through the sand with our oars. We must have nearly turned back at least 10 times but persevered until we came to a series of stunning deserted beaches on the other side of the island – sorry we forgot to get our cameras out at this point as we were too busy wading across sand bars and pretending to walk on water.
Once the winds had died we set off for Hofmanns Cay, threddled our way through the narrow and shallow passages (yes it is possible to keep calm in 0.1 metres of water!) and anchored in the most beautiful spot yet, with our own private beach.
Hoffman Cay is a small uninhabited island famous for its 600-ft. wide and 20-ft. deep blue hole, whose only living inhabitants are said to be oysters. Although we saw turtles and not a few sharks.
The blue hole was less blue than its name suggested. I went in for a quick dip but Steve declined on the basis that someone needed not to puke their guts out if they swallowed the water.
We idled away some days Kayaking, snorkelling and having beach bonfires with Mikhaya, Charisma and yet more new friends, the Green family on Nomad. We can’t get over how many nice families with great kids there are cruising and we get to play Aunt and Uncle which keeps us younger 😉
Berrys to Nassau
Our next mission was to get to Nassau and get ourselves straight before welcoming old mates Anita and Steve for a fortnight’s holiday. We anchored overnight in Clifton Bay which turned out to be a rocky ride as big squalls came in through the night. Didn’t move an inch on the good old Rocna anchor though.
Palm Cay Marina
Next day onward to Palm Cay where we started to feel a bit underdressed.
As with everywhere in the Bahamas though the locals couldn’t be nicer. This is where it really hit us how expensive The Bahamas is. We had packed the underside of the saloon table with beer and wine but even a one bag grocery shop will set you back $50 here and in the smaller islands add at least another 20% (I won’t tell you how much we paid for some celery in Highbourne – should have checked the price first). Beer is at least double the price here, not least because the main local brewery, Sands, in Freeport, Grand Bahama, got wiped out by Hurricane Dorian last year and is not yet back in production.
While in Nassau we rented the worst car I’ve ever been in with electric doors that were a law unto themselves, some great rattles, zero suspension, bald tires and a fine selection of car and seat parts in the boot. Got us around though and we picked up Anita and Steve ready for the trip South down the Exuma chain.
Before we left Palm Cay we made sure Anita and Steve had sampled the local conch fritters with spicy sauce and enjoyed watching the Americans watching the super bowl. Steve (Anita’s Steve) explained the rules which finally made sense after numerous attempts by Americans to explain them to me – thanks Steve I now know why they keep stopping all the time.
Nassau to Normans Cay
Our first Exumas proper stop was Norman’s Cay. This is one of the destinations Steve and me dreamed about visiting when we were in the UK because of its interesting past – and the notorious failed Fyre Festival (if you haven’t seen that documentary stop reading this blog immediately and go watch it).
Norman’s Cay is a small Bahamian island (a few hundred acres) that served as the headquarters for Carlos Lehder’s drug-smuggling operation from 1978 to around 1982. He was the deputy for Pablo Escobar one of the most notorious cartel heads of them all. The Medellin. cartel ran cocaine from Columbia into and out of here for years with the tacit acceptance of the CIA until someone decided enough was enough and they closed them down.
All that remains now is the airstrip, a few houses and a restaurant called McDuff’s (shout out to the lovely Monique who served us our Painkillers) . The island has been bought and is slowly being converted to a luxury hideaway with a new marina which promises to charge about $11 a foot a night – so way beyond most people’s price range. The most exciting thing here though is the drug plane that crashed in the cut to the South while trying to land. It sticks out of the water at low tide and is great for snorkeling – so we all donned our gear and snorkeled over – we think some of the cargo must have been taken en route as it’s so far off the flight path it’s untrue. Really eerie standing on the wings and floating over the fuselage which is a refuge for reef fish now.
Coordinates: 24°42.37’N, 76° 52.00’W
With yet another blow coming through we took refuge in Highbourne Cay marina. This island is stunning. You use that word a lot in The Bahamas but this island really deserves it. Most of the Eastern side is taken up with 1 long beach with crashing surf and strombolite reefs. They’ve built secluded cabanas with swings and day beds at intervals along the beach edge but most of the time we were the only people in sight.
Well, we had to find time for a few more Painkillers and for Anita and Steve to try the local lobster and shrimp….
Next step Shroud Cay, the first cay in the Marine Park. These are a couple of shots of the creek that you can dinghy through to the other side of the island and which is full of turtles and rays.
It did NOT look like this when we arrived and in fact, we were the only people to leave our boat on their dinghies that day – but what you gonna do we had adventures to have. An exhilarating 10-minute dinghy bounce brought us to the creek which had slightly less visibility than we hoped because of the cloud cover and the wind but we still saw loads of turtles, a ray, birds, and fish. We hopped off the dinghy for a beach walk across the finest, whitest sand yet. As the cut we had previously taken to the boat had turned into a beach we went the long and slightly wetter way around the rocks on the way home.
The sun came out, we idled away the afternoon and by this point were having to apologise to our guests about the blueness of the water which just wasn’t getting any less blue. The Kayaks and paddleboards came out at some point here I think – the days blend into one – Mr Owen annoyed the lot of us by just standing up on the paddleboard first time round and then not really wanting to go on it again.
A day sail brought us down to Staniel Cay home of the famous Swimming Pigs.
They are not as cute as their internet reputation. They ARE exactly as cute as their cruisers’ reputation, i.e. bitey, bad-mannered, fond of boarding dinghies and absolutely enormous.
Here’s the romantic version.
Here’s the reality
Staniel Cay has got a marina/restaurant and lots of little beaches and was a good spot for Anita and Steve to fly back to Nassau. After 2 sopping wet rides round to the main island from Pig Beach, we anchored just off the marina itself so we could get ashore, paddleboard, kayak and swim in calm waters. We gave the Thunderball Grotto a miss as when we tried to visit the water was still quite high meaning an underwater swim which none of us fancied through sharp rock and coral. We went back to the boat, opened some beers and watched everyone else’s videos instead.
It was great to see Anita and Steve, who are the best of mates and so relaxing to have visit. As very experienced sailors and liveaboards themselves, they fitted easily into our life onboard and were fantastic crew. Anita had tried to get her Steve to leave his wallet at home so that he couldn’t stay on without her but she unpeeled his fingers from the boat and they are coming out to see us again next year – happy days.
After our guests had gone we met up again with Mikhaya at Rudder Cut and then on to Lee Stocking.
As an apocalypse-ista, I absolutely loved this place. It looked just like it had been abandoned during an outbreak.
Filing cabinets full of paperwork – check
Whiteboards with faded team names – check
Ladders down into sub-basements – check
Abandoned hyperbaric chambers (or was it a zombie containment vault??!!) – check
Possible dissection table – check
Steve was less into the whole Zombie theme but made it look more spooky for me by making the images black and white – cheers babe.
Then what do you know on the way back to the boat we found these fellas – and girls I guess, feeding in the shallows. We spent a happy few minutes with them and then left them to it as we didn’t want to harass them too much.
So now we are in Georgetown and here’s the history bit…Georgetown has a colourful history and its pink and white Government Building, which is said to have been inspired by the architecture of the Government House in Nassau, grabs the attention of tourists. It has an intriguing past. Pirates used Georgetown’s deepwater harbour during the 17th century and the “plantation aristocracy” from Virginia and North and South Carolina settled here in the 18th century. Elizabeth Harbor became a refitting base for British vessels and the U.S. Navy used the port during World War II.
There are hundreds and hundreds of boats here, far more than this picture shows. It’s a cruiser’s mecca with a daily Cruisers’ net, lots of stuff for sale and exchange, happy hours and lots of Mexican Chain dominoes at Chat N’ Chill and some people live aboard here all year round. It’s brought me out in a cold sweat just thinking about it – I am allergic to the ex-pat style cruising existence. We are anchored behind Cecilia – great friends from Brunswick – sailawayvlog.com and were joined yesterday by Mikkaya, Nomad, Charisma, and Alibi (another set of friends from Georgia) as well as new friends Amy & Alex, made on the way down. It’s little Gracie from Mikhaya’s 9th birthday tomorrow so we’ll celebrate that, hang out with everyone and then say some reluctant goodbyes, as we head back up the Exuma Chain to Florida, some are staying local, some are going South and further.
Time for many a sundowner, dog walk, beach ramble, and shell hunt before then though….