CAMBRIDGE CAY, BAHAMAS — From the deck of our friend’s 49-foot Beneteau sailboat, we admire some of the pristine private islands that dot the azure waters of The Exumas, that glorious necklace of 365 islands, or cays as they are known here, in the Bahamas that sailors like to explore.
Some of the islands are crowned with castle-like homes where the rich and powerful like to come in the winter months to work on their suntans.
Melanie and Gary, the friends who have invited my husband, Dick, and I along on this two-week sailing adventure through The Exumas, draw our attention to one particular island, Bell Island Cay, where the Aga Khan’s posh mansion is located. This is where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family celebrated New Years.
Having never visited the Bahamas, we jumped at the chance to join Melanie and Gary, who decided to quit their jobs, pack up everything — including their cat Hobie — and cruise around the Caribbean for a few years.
Left: Our sailors were treated to glorious sunsets in The Exumas. Right: Kay, foreground, with Melanie and Gary.
We joined them in Nassau in late January and spent the first day touring the capital, where traffic-clogged streets are patrolled by smart-looking police officers in sparkling white uniforms and helmets. Yes, even paradise has traffic jams.
It was in Nassau where we found a raucous fun café called The Bearded Clam and decided to stay for lunch. Graffiti was everywhere — walls, tables, chairs, bannisters … everywhere! Loud music bounced off the walls and our server could barely hear us when we ordered some fresh fish tacos. They were very good, by the way.
After lunch we toured the city’s famed Straw Market, where the vendors politely offered us their wares. We stocked up on some stores for the boat — groceries, wine, of course, and some fresh grouper and conch, which we purchased from local fishermen on the dock.
Up early the next day, we headed out to sea in the direction of Allen’s Cay, located in the northern part of The Exumas. Melanie stayed on the bow and expertly guided us through the challenging coral heads, those hard marine invertebrates that if struck could cause serious damage to the sleek craft.
Left: Meeting the locals. Centre: Seeing how they work. Right: Melanie's cat meets other sailors.
Once out of the danger zone, Gary anchored the boat and made fresh water with his desalinater. We took the opportunity to jump into the tranquil turquoise sea and frolicked in the warm salty surf like excited children.
The currents here are usually very strong, so Gary advised us to tether ourselves to the boat with a line so we wouldn’t be carried away by the tides.
Allen’s Cay was the first beautiful beach we explored and we took lots of photos of the iguanas that inhabit the island. Swimming here was glorious — a white sandy bottom with no rocks. That night, anchored under a canopy of stars, we marvelled at the majesty of the Milky Way, a site we city dwellers don’t often get to see.
We awake to another sun-drenched day and set a course for Norman’s Cay, but first stopped at Highbourne Cay for fresh supplies. We climbed aboard the boat’s dingy and headed for shore, passing a school of nurse sharks along the way. Their sheer numbers frightened me, but our friends assured us that the sharks are quite harmless and will only attack if cornered.
Now I know where the term “shark-invested waters” originated.
We enjoyed lunch at the charming Xuma Café, where we enjoyed some delicious food and enjoyed the views of our boat bobbing in the surf offshore.
Next stop, Norman’s Cay.
Above: Our sailors got to explore some underwater wrecks and treasures and some local landmarks.
This is where the infamous drug lord Carlos Lehder of the Medellín drug cartel lived. He owned most of the island and ran off all other inhabitants with the use of armed guards and attack dogs. He also lengthened the airstrip to service his cocaine runs. One of his planes crashed and the wreck is still visible during low tide.
The wreckage provides us with some wonderful views while snorkelling and Dick — my photographer husband — uses his GoPro to get some unusual pictures.
By the time we reach Warderick Wells, my favourite anchorage, Dick and I have come to truly appreciate the beauty of the Bahamas and the thrill its cays offer sailors.
Warderick Wells, which is supposed to be haunted, is another Garden of Eden setting. We hooked up to a mooring ball and joined other sailors on the beach where the Bahamas National Trust park staff — they govern this paradise — host a Happy Hour for boaters each day at 4:30 p.m. People bring their own snacks and drinks and the park staff supplies the ice, which is hard to come by in this part of the world.
Meeting the rest of our fellow travellers was great fun and we were all left speechless by the sight of the sleek 154-foot yacht Loretta Anne, reportedly owned by billionaire Loretta Anne Rogers — the heiress and widow of Ted Rogers — anchored offshore.
The next day, our crew braved the walk to the top of the cay’s BooBoo Hill — quite dicey getting around the rough coral at the start, but well worth the effort once we reached the top.
People are invited to leave a driftwood memento of their arrival at the peak and quite a few have obliged over the years. We are told — that if we are lucky — we could spot the endangered Bahamian rodents that live up here. Lucky me!
After we stopped at Cambridge Cay near the Aga Khan’s island, we anchored at Staniel Cay to buy more groceries. This is where the famed Bahamian pigs swim near the yacht club, but our time is short so we did’t get to see them.
We make it to Great Guana Cay just in time to enjoy another brilliant Bahamas sunset. While each time the sun dips into the Atlantic provides us with another breathtaking moment, the one we witnessed at Great Guana Cay is the most spectacular of the trip.
Above: Each day at sea ended with another beautiful sunset and drinks with some new friends.
The next day we arrived at Little Farmer’s Cay just in time for the 5F party — the 5F stands for “Farmer’s First Friday of February Festival” and it only happens once a year. The 5F party lasts all weekend and features sailboat races, hermit crab races, local sculpting, dancing, singing and drinking. Adult beverages can be enjoyed at Ty’s Beach Bar or Ali’s Bar or the Little Farmer’s Yacht Club — each offers its own ambience and the servers are very welcoming.
Sadly, our vacation neared its end and we had to get to George Town for our flight home. Once there, we anchored at Monument Beach off Stocking Island and the first thing we saw was a huge stingray leap about four metres out of the water. What a sight!
There were plenty of yachts in port and many were sporting Canadian flags.
It came time to say goodbye to Melanie and Gary and we thanked them for introducing us to the Bahamas sailing experience. We promised to return for Christmas because, as we discovered, things really are better in the Bahamas.
About the Author
Freelance writer Kay Loek is a native Torontonian who enjoyed a distinguished career in the financial sector before devoting her life to travel writing. Along with her photographer husband, long time Toronto Star photographer Dick Loek, Kay has travelled extensively and enjoys sharing her findings with readers.