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Visiting The Exumas: Someplace Special

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It’s just past noon on the second day of our Exumas sailing adventure and the catamaran we’ve booked from Dream Yacht Charter out of their Nassau, Bahamas, base has been swinging lazily on its mooring for nearly an hour.

The manifest of “Eden Blue”, our chartered Fountaine-Pagot 42’, includes me, my wife Sharon and good friends Jim and Leanne Fonger and Tim and Denise Aseltine. After a quick reach south from last night’s overnight spot we’re ensconced in the cockpit, sipping Kalik beers, surveying the rotating panorama and discussing a revised float plan.

Beautiful Warderick Wells

Wardericks Wells
Wardericks Wells Image Courtesy of Sharon Matthews-Stevens/ sharon@travelwriteclick.com

Here at Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, lime neon waters nuzzle our hull in a channel surrounded by blinding white sand bars that almost dry at low tide. To our east a ridge decorated by scrub and palms – BooBoo Hill – reaches for skies nearly as blue as the water. An alabaster beach inhabited only by a couple of picnic tables, a small fleet of sea kayaks and the skeleton of a beached whale lounges a couple of hundred yard off our starboard beam. Two other boats share the mooring field. Off our stern a rudimentary building housing the park office crouches atop another ridge clothed in green vegetation.

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This a place of unspeakable splendor, where your cell shows zero bars, where internet is non-existent.

We’re halfway down a chain encompassing a year’s worth of cays, a cruising ground Dream Yacht Charter global marketing manager, Emily Turner, describes as “ideal for those that enjoy solitude, nature and unspoiled beauty.”

Perfect description for this mooring field in particular – and the chief reason we all agree to revise our float plan notwithstanding the advice Dream Yacht Charter staffer Kirkwood Paul offered at our introductory chart briefing.

“Swim with the pigs off Compass Cay,” suggested Paul. “Make your way further south and swim with sharks at Staniel or explore the caves at Thunderball Grotto.”

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Wardericks Wells
Wardericks Wells Image Courtesy of Sharon Matthews-Stevens/ sharon@travelwriteclick.com

But we figure the pigs won’t miss us. And velocity made good is a secondary consideration.

That’s why, our decision made, four of our crew climb into the dinghy and make for the park office to cover the mooring fee for two nights instead of one.

Once back on “Eden Blue” I pontificate to Jim and Leanne, who are experiencing their first ever charter.

“Powerboaters are happy because they are going someplace special,” I say. “Sailors are happy because they are already there.”

Tim and Denise, experienced sailors, nod in enthusiastic agreement.

Warderick Wells is someplace special. But that’s equally true of the entire archipelago.

Much of the appeal of cruising the Exumas, this cornucopia of islands stretching for more than a hundred nautical miles southeast of Nassau, is due to places like this haven or last night’s mooring at Shroud Cay, an oasis featuring rugged rock formations, a protected beach and mangrove creeks, or nearby Hawksbill Cay, an uninhabited swathe of sand, sea and sun – “my favorite anchorage in the Exumas,” according to Dream Yacht Charter’s Kirkwood Paul.

Much of that appeal lies with occasional nods to civilization like those we find at Norman’s and Highbourne Cay.

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Allen Cay
Allen Cay Image Courtesy of Sharon Matthews-Stevens/ sharon@travelwriteclick.com

Norman’s boasts an anchorage hard by a half-mile beach and shoreside dining at MacDuff’s, where I do fresh grouper while snugged down on a rustic candlelit patio. Highbourne boasts an actual marina where we dinghy ashore for provisioning and fresh seafood at Xuma’s, an elegant eatery that could hold its own on Nassau.

Much of the appeal lies with Exumas sailing conditions, though the Moorings website does point out that this is a cruising ground for more advanced sailors.

That’s partly because the passage to the Exumas from the Dream Yacht Charter base at Nassau’s Palm Cay Marina clocks in at thirty nautical miles of open water, part of that a stretch over the intimidating Yellow Bank (though our passage both ways proves to be uneventful thanks to careful attention to tidal changes – an important factor when you cruise here). 

The depths we encounter throughout the week are hardly ever greater than twenty feet, but extensive coral heads at Yellow Bank demand extra vigilance for a couple of miles. Furthermore, those unspeakable turquoises and aquamarines encompassing the Exumas (hues I’m convinced would decorate the walls of heaven) also highlight the need both to assign frequent lookouts and to make friends with your charts. 

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Allen Cay
Allen Cay Image Courtesy of Sharon Matthews-Stevens/ sharon@travelwriteclick.com

If you’re looking for more water under your keel, opt for “the Sound” – the Atlantic side as opposed to the “Banks,” in the islands’ lee – but weather conditions also might mean bigger seas.

The conditions we encountered on the “banks” for our six-day charter were almost perfect. “Eden Blue” romped along at six or seven knots on close or beam reach for three of those days.

But sailing conditions aren’t the only appeal.

Case in point: one day we dinghy ashore at a postcard-perfect lunch spot between Allen and Leaf Cay. Once we’re ashore, a battalion of iguanas unique to the Exumas approaches us in search of handouts. 

Case in point: five minutes after we drop the hook at Norman’s Cay a duet of nurse sharks – unnerving even though they’re supposed to be friendly as puppies – circles the boat just as we prep for a swim.

Case in point: back at Warderick Wells five stingrays glide over the incandescent sand bottom off our port beam, even as a turtle surfaces five feet from the swim platform as if to say “farewell” as we weigh anchor and begin the day’s adventure.

It’s a day that will end, just like every other day in the Exumas, in someplace special.

Someplace really special.


We booked our weeklong adventure with Dream Yacht Charter. For more information check out https://www.dreamyachtcharter.com/destination/exumas/

Moorings also maintains a fleet of sail and powercats out of Nassau. Click on https://www.moorings.com/destinations/americas/bahamas/exumas-yacht-charters. For Sunsail offerings go to https://www.sunsail.com/yacht-charter/caribbean/bahamas/exuma

For all things Bahamas go to https://www.bahamas.com

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Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating. Credits range from Sailing magazine and Canadian Yachting to the Washington Post.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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