April 26 – May 1, 2016. The purpose of our final trip to the Southern Exumas was to see the Family Islands Regatta, which serves as a de-facto national championship for the Bahamian racing sloops and the Out Islands equivalent of the Super Bowl. The winner of this series gets bragging rights for the whole year, and the racing is fiercely competitive.
Amazingly, we have spent three months in the Exumas and have not yet visited the capital, George Town. We’ve heard the cruising “scene” described as a vortex where once you’re in, you can’t escape; we’ve also heard it described as a floating “trailer park” with all the negative connotations that implies. But everyone says a trip to the Exumas is not complete without a visit to George Town, so off we went.
We had hoped to make the trip “outside,” in the Exuma Sound, but stronger-than-forecast winds kept us on the Banks. We threaded through the shallows south of Big Farmers Cay, passing Cave Cay, Musha Cay, Rudder Cut Cay, the Darby’s, and Norman’s Pond Cay, all the way to Children’s Bay Cay. We had the place to ourselves, not surprising because all the shallow sand bars are intimidating for those with deeper draft boats.
From Children’s Bay we continued on the Banks side all the way to Soldier Cay, where we were jogged east and into the Exuma Sound for the final 15 miles of our cruise. We put out fishing lines once we got to the dropoff but didn’t get any nibbles. As we arrived in George Town the B-class sloops had just started their race. We drifted for a few minutes with the spectator fleet, then continued another mile east to our anchorage off Sand Dollar Beach, parking near Richard and Laurie on Forever Young. I know it seems like we’re stalking them, but they seem to like our company, surprisingly enough.
They’ve cruised the Exumas for years on their 78 foot Hatteras, and knew all the ins and outs of George Town. They already had dinner plans with friends ashore, so we enjoyed a quiet evening alone on board. The following day they rented a car and we all drove to Little Exuma Island for lunch at their favorite beach shack, Santanna’s Bar and Grill. We watched the afternoon A-class races from their dinghy (more on that later), then had dinner onboard Forever Young.
Our final full day in George Town we went snorkeling with Richard and Laurie, and I speared a 4-pound grouper, which was just the right size for lunch for four onboard Forever Young. Again we watched the A-class races from their dinghy, then joined them in town for dinner at the temporary food booths that spring up for the Regatta.
We were very keen to watch the A-class races, because we had several friends onboard two different boats. The owner of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (and our favorite client), David, rides with Tida Wave, which is skippered by Brooks Miller, also a friend. Meanwhile, our oldest friend on Staniel, Tyrone, runs the mainsheet for Lady Muriel. We met Tyrone way way back, when he schooled me in billiards until late in the evening at the old Happy People Marina on Staniel, now defunct.
In the 60+ years of A-class sloop racing, Staniel Cay has always had a reputation for fast boats and outstanding skippers, not just in the Exumas but throughout the entire Bahamas. Both Lady Muriel and Tida Wave have been winning regattas for decades, and in fact have together won 25 out of the 62 championships dating back to 1954. We were very happy to be there to support our favorite island.
The A-class races Thursday and Friday could not have been more different. Thursday’s race saw no lead changes at all; the finish order was exactly the same as the order rounding the first mark three laps earlier, with Brooks and David on Tida Wave way out in front. Friday, however, was completely different. These races use a standing start; all the boats anchor in a straight line, and when the gun goes off half the crew frantically hauls in the anchor hand over hand while the other half raises the heavy canvas sail. And right from the start, both Staniel boats were in trouble. At the first mark Lady Muriel was in 5th place and Tida Wave was in 8th.
Not much changed with the Staniel boats on the first lap, but early in the second lap Tida Wave suddenly passed two boats, and Lady Muriel passed one. As Tida Wave moved to pass her third victim, though, Brooks cut things a little too close and their long boom got tangled with Southern Cross. In the ensuing chaos Tida Wave lost one crew overboard and Southern Cross lost two. Once they got everyone back on board and had completed their penalty turn, Tida Wave was back in last place.
With Tida Wave back in last place after two of the four laps, it was up to Lady M to represent Staniel Cay, and she finished a very respectable third, just a photo-finish from second. And with Lady Muriel’s win Saturday, she took the overall championship away from Tida Wave, who had hoped to make it three years in a row but could not dig herself out of Friday’s hole.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the final race; Saturday morning we had to start our trip back north. Rough weather was coming Sunday, and we had a two-day voyage. Forever Young cruises almost twice as fast as we do, so they had an easy one-day run back to Big Majors Spot. We trolled our lines for five hours, but didn’t get a single hit. We even watched a sailboat catch a nice tuna right in front of us. At the very end, as we were approaching Musha Cay Cut, I decided to take one final loop over the dropoff, and with that, we got a strike.
The fish jumped, and we saw it was a female Mahi. As soon as Heather started reeling her in, though, she threw the hook. After trolling all day, to finally catch a fish, only to have it get off the hook was quite frustrating. I swung the boat around, and aimed for the spot where we caught the first one; I turned to Heather to say “here’s right where we caught the last one,” and bang, we got a strike again! As the fish jumped,she appeared to be the same one. We’ll never know for sure, but we’re calling her our “twice-caught-Mahi, because this time we landed her.
Heather prepared a delicious pan-fried Mahi dinner (what else) and we had a relaxing evening all alone anchored off David Copperfield’s Musha Cay. In the morning we took the dinghy over to one of the small cays to the west and circled around until we found the plane wreck suggested on the charts. We have no information on the plane or the date of the crash, and while the wreck was only in 4 feet of water it didn’t look like it ended well for those onboard. The cockpit was detached from the fuselage, and the body of the plane was upside down.
After our snorkel we motored several hours back to the center of our Bahamas universe, Staniel Cay. We met up again with Forever Young, who had arrived the day before. and had a final happy hour on Pirate Beach, Big Major Spot. And, sadly, this marks the end of our wandering through the Bahamas; starting tomorrow we’ll point Miss Adventure north and will start working our way back to the USA (but not without a few more fun events to write about).
Bahamas 2016 Cruise – Southern Exumas 3
- Engine Hours: 22
- Generator Hours: 15
- Miles Traveled: 133
- Fish Caught: Mahi (1), Grouper (1)
- Marina and Mooring Fees: $0
Bahamas 2016 Cruise – Total Numbers
- Engine Hours: 219
- Generator Hours: 348
- Miles Traveled: 1,274
- Fish Caught: Mahi (9), Tuna (3), “Fast Grouper” (1), Grouper (2), Lionfish (2), Snapper (4)
- Marina and Mooring Fees: $1,425 (includes one month of parking on Grand Bahama during the holidays)