Exploring the Exumas

We love this remote and rugged island chain for its clear blue water, its dramatic rocky terrain, and its idyllic deserted beaches. It is rare that you share a beach (and sometimes a whole island) with another person, and if you do see someone else, you merely hop in your dinghy and zip over to the next, less-crowded beach. What follows is a summary of our stops on this trip.

March 22, Highborne Cay—We picked up where we left off two years ago, at a familiar anchorage with a pretty beach, good snorkeling, and plenty of calm, clear, shallow water for swimming. Our kids have a great love for two things: swimming and climbing. The Bahamas has plenty of both, so sometimes it feels like a giant playground made just for us.


March 25, Warderick Wells—The Exumas Land and Sea Park is probably one of my favorite places on planet Earth. We anchored at Emerald Rock and returned to the park headquarters on Warderick Wells. We did some hiking on familiar trails, actually saw a hutia on Hutia Hill (it looks like a giant hamster), looked for friends’ boat names on driftwood up on Boo Boo Hill, climbed around near the Blowholes, and spent some time on one of those idyllic beaches. There we found the biggest hermit crab we have ever seen.


March 26, Hog Cay—Hoping to branch out from the familiar, we decided to spend a day exploring the southern end of Warderick Wells. We hiked to the Davis ruins, a Loyalist settlement dating from the late 1700’s—two stone walls and the foundations of a few buildings—up on a hilltop. Great view, but I found myself wondering how anyone could survive on an island where nothing grows and the only fresh water is rain that gathers in the natural indentations or “wells” in the limestone bedrock. I’m guessing they ate a lot of seafood. Rumor has it that they were attacked by the pirates that occupied the southern tip of the island. There is a simply breathtaking harbor (aptly called “Pirate’s Lair”) where a ship could lie in wait in the deep harbor hidden between Warderick Wells and Hog Cay and attack passing ships. “Capture Beach” was a favorite hangout of these ne’er-do-wells, and “Escape Beach” on Hog Cay was where we parked our dinghy to stop for picnic lunch and play. The kids disappeared immediately, having found cliffs and boulders to climb. Hog Cay has some beautiful features—large rocky ledges, a tunnel where the water flows from Exuma sound into the harbor, tide pools, hilltop vistas and sandy beaches. Even though we didn’t find any pirate treasure, it was a gorgeous spring day and perfect for this kind of exploring.

March 27, Cambridge Cay—We moved on to Cambridge Cay, where there were more climbing opportunities and an even more beautiful, deserted white sand beach. We took a park mooring ball for a night and watched a spectacular moonrise from a calm bay. We kept the family tradition of storytelling and stargazing on the trampolines. The next morning we went to the south end of Cambridge to snorkel right off the beach. There were some rare and beautiful Elkhorn coral formations, but we were also sad to see a lot of damage and bleaching. The beach itself was perfection, and the water like an endless swimming pool. We chose this setting to baptize the four oldest children (which was something they had been talking about for a long time) and then went back to the boat for cake to celebrate.

Mountain Goat 

March 28, Compass Cay—Our next stop was Compass Cay, home of the Compass Cay Marina where you can jump off the dock and “Swim with the Sharks” (for a small landing fee of $10/person). The kids were nonplussed, as they were tame nurse sharks—they swim with nurse sharks that hang out under our boat all the time (for free). We anchored near Pipe Cay and witnessed a huge wildfire just after sundown, the cause of which was a stray spark from fireworks set off by one of the marina guests. And we thought the fireworks were exciting! The next day we spent cleaning the boat and preparing for Passover, which we celebrate as part of our family’s Easter tradition. The morning of the 30th we explored Compass Cay by dinghy and found it to be as beautiful as the guide book said, with a crystal-clear mangrove creek, a hike up to Compass Point (elevation 92 ft.), pristine beaches and a really unique feature called “Rachel’s Bubble Bath.” This is a tidal area with sandy flats that flood during high tide. The ocean’s surge passes into a limestone bowl through a crack in the rocks and all the sea foam gathers in the bowl and looks like (you’ll never guess) a bubble bath. On a warmer and less-windy day, it would be a perfect swimming hole.

Rachel's Bubble Bath

Compass Peak

March 30, Sampson Cay—Looking for protection from the wind, we moved to Sampson Cay. There is a popular marina and club there, but it seemed very quiet for Easter weekend and we saw almost no other people. We scoped out a few of the small islands nearby and found one with a hidden beach. As it had no name on our chart, we decided to claim it for our family and dubbed it “Robinson Island” after the Swiss Family and Robinson Crusoe, of course. We enjoyed a day of sandy, salty play on our very own private island.

Robinson Island

April 1, Staniel Cay—Hoping to make it to the Batelco station to pick up a local phone/SIM card and try out their new network, we went ashore at Staniel Cay. No luck with the phone—it was a holiday. No, not April Fool’s, but Easter Monday. We expect this sort of thing to happen in the islands. We did have good luck at Pink and Blue, however, the two grocery stores on the hill. They are more like tiny cottages than supermarkets, but if you get there just after the mail boat comes, they have eggs, butter, cheese and fresh produce in addition to the canned goods they usually carry. I found everything I needed to refresh my supplies on the boat at Blue, so we waved to the ladies at Pink and headed back to the boat.

The Blue Store

April 2, Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay—We left Staniel, which we really don’t like and headed for Black Point, which feels more like a family place. We had been here before, and when I took laundry ashore at Rockside, the owner, Ida, remembered our family. This is my favorite Laundromat anywhere. Ida always has a freshly-baked cake in her welcoming store, and keeps the Laundromat impeccably clean. And you can’t beat the view. It becomes the popular gathering place for cruisers with clothes to wash and stories to unload. Jay tried the Batelco station around 11 AM, but it was locked, with hours posted as 9-12 on Tuesdays. Island time, I guess. While the laundry was drying, we headed to Lorraine’s Café for burgers and fish sandwiches. I also bought two loaves of still-warm coconut bread from Lorraine’s mom—the best I’ve had anywhere in the Bahamas. We collected some sea glass from the ocean beach on the East side of the island, spending another beautiful afternoon on a deserted strand.

April 2, Robinson Island—We returned to our own private paradise to anchor for the night, with hopes that it would be calm enough to have a bit of fireside fun. It was a perfect evening. I made a pot of chili, packed up tortilla chips, cheese, a bottle of wine, and S’mores supplies and we headed to our little beach just before sunset. There was just enough daylight left for gathering firewood and setting up dinner around the fire. This has to be our favorite part about finding deserted beaches—no signs, no rules, no one to tell you “No.” After witnessing the fire on Compass, we were especially careful. We stayed until we had burned every stick we’d gathered, and the fire was nothing but gently glowing embers. We covered the fire with damp sand, and tried to erase all evidence that we had been there. We hope to keep our island in pristine condition.

April 3, Shroud Cay—A perfect breeze made for a gorgeous sail north to Shroud Cay, what is, to me at least, the crowning glory of the Exumas Land and Sea Park. With miles of mangrove trails, long, white ocean beaches, and beautiful swimming holes, it has something to offer everyone. Immediately upon setting the hook, Jay launched the kayaks (twin yellow Ocean Kayak Malibu Two’s) and the kids and I geared up for an explore. While I love the deep, dark, swampy tangles that make up Florida mangroves, nothing compares to the beautiful contrast of Shroud Cay’s crystal blue channels and lush green leaves topping red arched roots. We took the southern trail which connects the Western side of the island to Exuma sound. The beach sand there is so fine it squeaks when you walk on it, and the deep tidal channel is perfect for cooling off after the hard work of paddling upwind. The downwind paddle was relaxing, though we missed a turnoff and ended up paddling home through an alternate outlet and across choppy open water to the boat.

Private Beach

April 4, Shroud Cay—Another beautiful day, another kayak trail to explore. The other kids being tuckered out from our previous paddle, Eli and I hopped in one kayak to explore the trail across the middle of Shroud Cay while the others took the dinghy on the trail to the north. They found what they said was the perfect swimming hole, with a steeply inclining beach for big-kid swimming and a shallow sand bar where Rachel could safely play. Eli and I found a long, clear trail that got gradually shallower and shallower until we were walking alongside the kayak through sandy shallows. We pulled the kayak out onto the sandy bank at low water and tied it to a mangrove root. A hike over tidal flats and through Casuarina forest revealed (yet another) deserted white sand beach. After a long walk, a cooling swim, and a drink and a snack, we hiked back to where we had left the kayak and found it floating on an incoming tide. Though the tide was rushing in, the wind was at our backs, so the paddle back was easy and pleasant. We found a swimming hole on the way out where we could jump off the rocks into deeper water, so we cooled off there before heading out of the mangroves and back to the boat for lunch and a nap.

April 4 Highborne Cay—We returned to what has unexpectedly become our favorite anchorage in the Bahamas, the north cove of Highborne Cay. With a cold front coming, we needed a protected place to spend a couple of nights. The front brought only some gusty wind, but dumped buckets of rain, so we got a free de-salting wash-down. We awoke April 6th find a big beautiful blue day before us.

April 6, Leaf Cay—We took Take Two over to Leaf Cay for some beach fun and iguana chasing. After lunch and birthday cake (for Jay’s 38th), we went ashore with beach toys and chairs and some Romaine lettuce. Jay hadn’t even secured the dinghy before Eli had caught a Rock Iguana. Evidently they aren’t very smart, though they are pretty quick. Sarah managed to trick one as well, though she got scratched up a bit in the attempt. By the time Aaron got into the game, the wary iguanas were coming close enough to nibble the edge of the lettuce but not close enough to get caught, much to his chagrin. Sam and Rachel seemed content to throw lettuce and then back away as several iguanas would scuffle for the offering. Jay and I sat in beach chairs and talked about what we’d like to do next. No sooner discussed than enacted—the next posts will be from the Abacos!