Kayaker’s Paradise

We’ve just returned from a two-month trip through the Exumas and Abacos, where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and soaked up some beautiful scenery.  I’ve written previously about our love for kayaking, and a great way to explore the Bahamas is in a shallow-draft boat that can slip silently through mangrove tunnels or over blue holes. By shallow-draft, of course, I mean a few inches—one criterion for a good kayaking trip is that it’s too shallow for the dinghy. Here are my recommendations for great kayaking adventures in the Bahamas:

1. Shroud Cay. Hands down my favorite place to kayak on planet Earth (so far). This is a deserted, pristine island with lots of trails, beautiful white sandy beaches, and perfect swimming holes. As part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, the island is uninhabited and protected. The combination of crystal-clear water mazes, lush green mangroves and white-sand beaches makes it irresistibly beautiful. With three trails (at least) that you can kayak, you could spend a week here happily paddling, hiking and swimming. The southern trail, my favorite, takes about an hour’s paddling to get from the anchorage to the ocean beach, and at high tide, the water flows all the way through. It is supposed to be closed to dinghy traffic, but sometimes people don’t know, or don’t follow, that rule. The middle trail is a lot longer, and at low tide it dries up long before you get to the ocean side, requiring a hike through mud flats if you want to see “what’s on the other side.” This is a shallow trail inaccessible to dinghies. The northern trail has a great swimming hole on the ocean side, but it is open to dinghy traffic, so a peaceful trip may be interrupted from time to time by the sound and wake of an outboard motor. While kayaking Shroud, we saw sharks and turtles, tropical fish along rocky ledges, conch, coral heads and lots of wading birds.

2. The Bight of Old Robinson. We returned to an old favorite just northwest of Little Harbor, Great Abaco Island. If anchored at Lynyard Cay, it would be a good idea to move for the day to the anchorage behind Tom Curry Point to explore by dinghy or kayak, but it’s also pretty easy to take a mooring ball in Little Harbor and tow a kayak or two behind a substantial dinghy (we have a 12-foot hard-bottom inflatable with a 25hp outboard) and head to the Bight for the day. There are more than a dozen blue holes, though I’ve only actually kayaked over two of them. Just to the northwest of the Riding Cays there is an entrance to a great kayaking trail, though timing is tricky, as it is very hard to navigate at low water or on an out-going tide. The entrance itself is beautiful, with coral heads in shallow water, upside-down jellyfish and huge, red-orange cushion stars. Once inside, the water is calm and the blue holes are easy to spot, but you have to know where to look. An easy one to find is just to the south of the entrance to the trail, and it is marked on shore with a plaque dedicated to some young people who died scuba-diving in the underwater passages. This discovery may put a damper on the trip, but it is still exciting to paddle around in a foot or two of water and then see the bottom drop away. Another hole lies to the west behind some rocky islets, but there’s no marker, so you have to search. It helps to look at a satellite picture and mark the approximate locations of the blue holes on the chart before you go exploring. The Bight is where we first saw the dark shapes zipping across the sandy patches near Man of War Bush which we would later come to call “Turbo Turtles.”

3. Snake Cay to Armstrong Cay. We anchored in Buckaroon Bay just north of Armstrong Cay, where there is a little lagoon perfect for a quick kayaking trip. At high tide, you can go into the mangrove trail to the southeast. Even better is a day trip behind the rocky islands south of Snake Cay. Tow the kayak behind the dinghy and have someone drop you off in the channel just past the ruins of the old mill. Heading south, you can meander for hours behind Deep Sea Cay, Mocking Bird Cay, and Iron Cay. The landscape here is decidedly different from anything you’ll see elsewhere because of the pine forest on the Abaco side, and the lush vegetation on the rocky islands. The water is a beautiful, clear green over a mottled bottom with rocks, coral, sand and turtle grass. If you’ve ever wondered where sea turtles go between the time when they hatch from their tiny eggs and crawl down the beach and when you see them huge, surfacing on the ocean like a submarine, I know where at least some of them spend their adolescence. The Abacos are just plumb full of mid-size turtles, and if you’re careful, you can sneak up on one and watch it zip away, faster than you ever thought a turtle could move.

4. No Name Cay. Southeast of Green Turtle Cay is a beautiful little anchorage on the Sea of Abaco behind No Name Cay.  We anchored outside the entrance to the lagoon and took the kayaks in for a quick explore. We found mangroves to the north and a small, sandy beach to the south. We pulled the kayak up on the sand to see if we could get through the brush to see the ocean side of the island. What we found was a rough trail to a small, shallow, enclosed bay perfect for finding treasures like sea glass and shells. Back in the lagoon, we enjoyed drifting across the still water as the tide carried us toward the exit. It was perfectly quiet except for distant ocean breakers and bird calls.

5. Double Breasted Cay. I’ve saved the best for last. Many people traveling across the Banks stop at Great Sale Cay and miss one of the treasures of the northern Bahamas. Following the chain to the northeast of Green Turtle, past Manjack, Spanish, and Powell Cays, the islands grow smaller, more remote and less protected. About 45 nautical miles from the Crab Cay waypoint on Little Abaco Island you arrive at Double Breasted Cay, a gathering of small, narrow, uninhabited rocky islands. The current is tricky, so we entered and exited the anchorage at slack high water, but if you can get in behind Sand Cay, it’s worth it. This is kayaking at its best. The sandy flats around Sand Cay are known for shark sightings, and I saw several large sharks patrolling around dusk one evening. In the open water between the islands, there are lots of coral heads, easily visible from the water’s surface on a calm day. In the mangrove trail to the north, we saw more turbo turtles and wading birds. The stillness was only broken by the liquid warble of Red-winged Blackbirds. This is my new favorite place in the Bahamas, one I hope we’ll return to on a future trip.