Yet another cold front, ugh.
This one was both the reason for us heading out of the Cambridge Cay Mooring Field to seek better shelter from the north and the reason we had a tumultuous, yet uneventful sail to our next stop – Black Point.
Black Point, located smack in the middle of the Exumas, is a renowned cruising stop and it’s easy to see why. The people are probably the friendliest in the Bahamas, which is saying a lot since people are friendly all over the Bahamas, and the local establishments make it their business to cater to cruisers.
Praise for Black Point from several cruisers, along with dozens of posts on the online cruising forums complaining about crowded tourist traps on other islands, led us to bypass those traps, including Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot – home to the famous swimming pigs.
… but we wound up visiting them anyway after being driven to backtrack a bit by a very compelling need … rum!
Black Point has some nice places to eat, convenient facilities for cruisers and decent provisioning; but there’s not a liquor store to be found. A quick online check of the local islands revealed we could find bottles of booze at two places on Staniel Cay. Happy with out anchorage at Black Point, we weren’t anxious to try to pick our way through a crowded tourist mecha looking for a decent place to drop the hook, so we set aside a day to complete the 10-mile roundtrip in our dinghy.
Pepe moves pretty fast (we routinely travel between 7 and 12 knots in our dinghy), so this looked like the most expeditious way to complete a rum run anyway.
Except for the waves.
The sea state was still pretty high between islands, so at least one direction of our round trip was going to be pretty rough heading directly into choppy waves – That turned out to be the return trip.
OK, the pigs are pretty cool
Our unplanned visit to Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot taught us that both places get a bad rap in the online forums. Today, at least, both were beautiful.
The pigs were out swimming at Big Majors Spot, and there was only one other dinghy ashore visiting them! Staniel Cay was home to a quaint and picturesque marina into which much had been invested. Both locations were more settled in the chop than our anchorage at Black Point, so we figured we’d do well to consider anchoring here instead.
Subsequently, we made the very rough, very wet return trip to Black Point, dried off, drained the ocean from Pepe and made plans for the next day – laundry in the morning, then a short trip back up our track to relocate La Vie Dansante in the settled “Bay of Pigs” off Big Majors Spot.
Shaken, Not Stirred
Big Majors Spot, just one cay over from Staniel, is a short dinghy ride from decent provisioning and Thunderball Grotto, named for the James Bond movie that was filmed here in the ’60s. High wind and waves caused us to miss the opportunity to snorkel underwater caves at Rocky Dundass, so we definitely didn’t want to miss the reputedly more spectacular Thunderball Grotto while we were here.
Sean Connery played Bond in the Bahamas again in “Never Say Never Again“, a ’70s remake of Thunderball that was also filmed here. It was really bad though … I mean really bad.
The forecast showed we’d have a day and a half respite between blows, so we tossed our gear in our dinghy and headed to Thunderball at low tide – the recommended time to visit the grotto, and for good reason. At low tide you can swim right into the grotto without having to dive and swim underwater through submerged entrances.
Of course, hoping to catch a major tourist attraction at it’s most popular time means you’re going to share the experience with dozens of new friends on tour boats blaring bad music and wearing socks and undershirts snorkeling. Despite the crowd, our first time through Thunderball was an incredible experience. It’s a geologic and zoologic treat, with splashes of brilliant sunlight thrown in for dramatic effect! We enjoyed it best we could until it got too crowded, then headed the dinghy back to Big Majors Spot and a little snorkeling reef we’d seen on the chart. It was nothing like the Grotto, but provided us another opportunity to explore the local marine life and take in the crystalline blues and whites of this stunning island chain.
After we had our fill of snorkeling for the day, we cleaned up aboard La Vie Dansante and headed back to Staniel Cay for a catch-up provisioning run (we had underestimated our booze requirement the first day) and some fried seafood at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. It had been a fine day!
The marine life in these different anchorages seems to have its own unique personality. For example, the Bay of Pigs (the Bahamas one, not the Cuba one) is home to a couple of nurse sharks that hang around like puppies begging for scraps. I thought this one (and his pet remora) were going to swim right up onto the port sugar scoop when Barbara caught this video!
Still, determined to experience Thunderball more intimately, we made plans to head back the next morning well before low tide and grotto rush hour.
Much to our chagrin, we approached the grotto only to see two tour boats and a couple of dinghys already there, all trying to get their anchors to catch near the main cave entrance.
“Well, we’re here, so we might as well go in again” I suggested.
Barbara was already getting into her gear as several more small boats and dinghys arrived on the scene. As Barbara prepped the cameras, I dove the anchor to make sure it was set and our dinghy wouldn’t drift away while we were sightseeing. A few people were already in the water, swimming around the cay as if looking for the entrance, and the tour boats were still in the middle of orientation briefings.
The top of the entrance was just barely visible, not yet exposed by the falling tide, but Barbara and I had been there before and knew where to go. Our heads and snorkels just cleared the stalactites as we negotiated the entrance. Inside the grotto was just coming to life. Fish streamed in to meet us – the first visitors of the day! We had the grotto all to ourselves!
It was just for a precious few minutes but we made the most of it, capturing this pristine place with pics and video while the rest of the tourists waited for low tide.
I’m thinking the commercial tour boats wait till low tide because the current is slack and any chance of planting a forehead on a low hanging piece of igneous rock is minimized. Maybe some kind of insurance requirement. The other folks in their small boats seemed to be waiting for the tour boats to make sure it was “OK” to enter. I’m glad we didn’t follow the crowd today!
More wind and waves were expected in the evening. Already provisioned, with our swimming pig block checked and Thunderball Grotto conquered, we returned to La Vie Dansante to batten down the hatches and get her secured for the blow.
We’re in it now. The wind is howling through the rigging and the bay is full of fellow mariners riding it out. Sometimes this sets the stage for funny stuff, though. Today, for instance, I heard an unbelievable call on the VHF hailing frequency.
“This is sailing vessel Francesca … uh, I have too much beer, so if anyone wants some come on over and get it for a suggested donation.”
Barbara hollered out to the cockpit, where I was casting a line. “Are you listening to this?”
“Nope” I said. “What’s going on?”
“Some guy has too much beer and he’s looking to get rid of it!”
“OK” I replied as I lowered the dinghy into the water. “I’ll be right back!”
‘Turned out the guy was Canadian and had brought all the beer he thought he’d need to cruise the Caribbean, but he’d punched a hole in his hull and now had to go back and haul out for a major repair. We were happy to help him unload all of his Yuengling, especially since we were down to our last bottle of … you guessed it, Yuengling!
We read some great news today too – tonight’s blow is forecast to be the last frontal passage in March, so we’ll look forward to hosting our first guests next week in conditions more common to Paradise!
Between now and then, the easterly trades return with winds that’ll move us gently toward Georgetown.