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Cruising the Ragged Islands

Johnson Cay. Photo by Rick Caroselli
Johnson Cay. Photo by Rick Caroselli
Johnson Cay. Photo by Rick Caroselli

It was our third attempt in as many years when we finally made it to the Ragged Islands. The third time was the charm. We’ve spent the last six winters cruising in the Bahamas and have been fortunate to have visited most all the island groups with one exception, a remote group of small cays just 60 miles north of Cuba. With the northern most Ragged Island being only 65 miles south of Georgetown you might wonder why it would be so difficult for me along with my wife Katie and our 11-year-old daughter Hoku to sail our catamaran Makana to the Raggeds? Well first off there is Hog Cay cut on the eastern end of Great Exuma Island, which can only be run at high tide. If the tide won’t cooperate one must go around the string of cays that extend out to the east of Hog Cay cut to the Comer Channel. This requires sailing east from Hog Cay cut 11 miles, almost to Long Island, then making nearly a 180 degree turn and sailing back for 11 miles. The Comer Channel route adds 22 + miles as opposed to the one mile route taking you through the Hog Cay cut. So, to make it to the Raggeds from Georgetown in one day, one must pass through the Hog Cay cut early in the morning with a high tide. Added to that equation is the weather. Northerly or westerly winds of any force make for a great sail down to the Raggeds. However, just about all the islands have western exposure and finding a protected anchorage before reaching the Raggeds is a challenge.

Now what are the rewards to such a logistically challenging visit to the Raggeds? How about crystal clear waters, spectacular reefs teeming with fish and lobster, beautiful beaches, solitude and stunning anchorages …

Last winter after spending the holidays in the Exumas our goal was to visit the Raggeds as quickly as possible along with the three ‘kid boats’ we had been traveling with since departing Florida a month earlier. So when we dropped our anchor off the southern end of Buena Vista Cay we were, to say the least, excited. And to add to the euphoria was our predetermined dinner selection comprised of a nice size black fin tuna we caught on the sail down.

Cruising the Ragged Islands: The boat kids in Duncan Town. Photo by Rick Caroselli
The boat kids in Duncan Town. Photo by Rick Caroselli

As on most boats with kids mornings aboard Makana are devoted to schooling. However, the overall consensus among the group for our first day was a snorkeling and fishing expedition in lieu of boat school. So after breakfast the fleet of dinghies went in search of Elkhorn and Brain coral, conch, fish and lobster. It didn’t take very long searching the amazing reefs before we had enough fish and lobster for dinner, with Hoku spearing her first lobster. Our perfect day ended with a BBQ on the beach while watching our first Ragged Island sunset.

The northerly winds, great snorkeling and fishing along with the awesome beaches kept us busy at Buena Vista for several days. Once the winds turned east we picked up anchor and headed south to Johnson Cay. Anchoring in the U-shaped bay of Johnson Cay was one of the most spectacular anchorages we’ve visited in the Bahamas. The tranquil bay has a beautiful beach along the south end with a coral reef along its western side and is protected from every direction but north. We spent five wonderful days anchored at Johnson Cay. With northerly winds forecasted the group decided to head south to Ragged Island and Duncan Town. The timing was perfect as a week earlier we had contacted Maxine to order provisions. Maxine runs the single small grocery store in Duncan Town and beams with Bahamian hospitality. She coordinates provisions to be delivered on the mail boat, which makes a run three times each month to Nassau. If all was on schedule the boat would be arriving in four days with our fresh fruits, veggies and eggs. This is the only option to provision when in the Raggeds and is well worth the time and effort required.

Cruising the Ragged Islands:The kid boats at Raccoon Cay anchorage. Photo by Rick Caroselli
The kid boats at Raccoon Cay anchorage. Photo by Rick Caroselli

Duncan Town is the only settlement in the Ragged Islands. From the anchorage in Southside Bay, it’s a mile walk to town. Along with Maxine’s store the village has a few bars that open upon customers’ requests along with the Silvertail Fishing Lodge. Maxine and her husband dry several hundred conch each week in a small shed behind her store. The dried conch are shipped to Nassau on the mail boat ultimately making their way to Japan where they are considered a delicacy.

Cruising the Ragged Islands:Maxine and her husband with dried conch. Photo by Rick Caroselli
Maxine and her husband with dried conch. Photo by Rick Caroselli

After receiving all our provisions from Maxine we spent the next two weeks exploring new anchorages, reefs and cays as we slowly made our way north. With our freezer filled with fish, conch and lobster but our fruit and veggies limited to cans along with dinghy fuel running low it was time to say good bye to the Raggeds. After three weeks there we took advantage of a favorable weather window to return to Georgetown where we vowed to someday return to these island gems.

Editor’s note: There are certain restrictions on spearfishing in the Bahamas. For more information, visit: http://www.bahamas.
co.uk/things-to-do/bahamas-fishing/fishing-regulations

 

Rick Caroselli work has appeared in numerous publications including Cruising World, Seafaring, Latitudes ‘n’ Attitudes, Multihulls, All at Sea, and Sail magazine. He is the Bahamas editor for the Dozier Waterway Guide.

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