January 6, 2020: Bimini to the Central Exumas

As much as I would miss the bread and socializing with the other cruisers, we knew we needed to get moving.  No more practicing my French with the Montreal cruisers on s/v Ludicrous and s/v Suave, and no more “accidentally” walking past the bread shops (“Hey, since we’re here …”).   We had a brief weather window to move south through the Bahamas before the next round of crazy high winds, and on January 6, we kicked off an overnight trip to Highbourne Cay in the northern Exumas.

We left Bimini Blue Water Marina at 7:15 AM along with a fleet of other boats who had the same idea:  our friend D on s/v Nepenthe, P&C on s/v Shanti, L&M on s/v Suave, I and his wife on s/v Blue, and R&C on s/v Ludicrous.  We strung out like a miles-long line of ducklings.  Nepenthe and Shanti are 46+ footers, so they quickly pulled ahead; we would meet up with them the next day at Highbourne Cay.  We all kept in informal touch on the radio, sharing weather updates and route tips.

As we neared New Providence Island, Suave broke off to anchor on the Bahama Banks and head to Nassau the next morning.  Blue headed towards Spanish Wells on Eleuthera, and Ludicrous headed to Chub Cay.   That left just us, motorsailing across the Bahama Banks in the dark with a million stars.  There was a surprising amount of overnight traffic from fishing vessels and cargo ships, and not all of them were lighted.

We trolled for fish on the way; we got one bite, but it got away. My heart leapt when I heard the “Zzzzzzzzzzzz!” of the line playing out.

The light and variable winds that were forecast never appeared.  Instead, we got a steady 15-20 knots almost on the nose all night.  The seas weren’t big, but because the Bahama Banks are shallow, the waves were very choppy.  It turned into quite a rodeo in the cockpit; my new excuse for not exercising is that I get plenty of isometric exercise trying not to fall down when the seas are rough.  Even sitting up straight can be a real challenge. At one point the Captain was off-watch and sleeping on a cockpit settee; we bucked so hard that the cushion, along with the Captain, went sliding off onto the cockpit floor in a heap.  Talk about a rude awakening.

Sunrise after an overnight passage is always energizing.

The afternoon of the next day, the winds and seas finally started laying down.  We pulled into the anchorage at Highbourne Cay at about 2:45 PM and anchored in 16 feet of water with a sandy bottom.  It’s a large anchorage with plenty of room for boats large and small.  The area is just beautiful with clear turquoise water and a lush island.  Highbourne Cay is privately owned, so the only place the general public can go is the marina store, which apparently includes groceries.  We elected to stay aboard as we planned to leave the next day for Big Majors Spot in the central Exumas.  The trip from Bimini to Highbourne Cay was 31 ¼ hours for 162.3 nm.

Once we started refueling the boat from jerry cans, I discovered that we did “catch” a fish while we were out. Flying fish get caught up in our jerry cans sometimes. For something so small, those suckers really stink.

We spent a quiet night (except for the exhausted snoring) and got underway at 7:00 AM on January 8 for Big Majors Spot.  Ridiculously high winds of steady 30s gusting to 40 knots were forecast for the foreseeable future starting on January 9, and we needed an anchorage with good southeast protection.  That’s tough to come by as the Exuma chain roughly extends southeast.

We had a wonderful motorsail from Highbourne to Big Majors.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the water was a delicate shade of green, the wind was 15-20 knots on the beam, and thanks to our genoa we were making a steady 6-7 knots.  It was fantastic. We went 43.7 nm in 7 ¼ hours.

When we arrived at the Big Majors Spot anchorage, it was already packed with other boats seeking protection.  After we anchored (11 foot depth, sandy bottom), I counted 30 boats including two megayachts.  It was a mix of sailboats, catamarans, and large motor yachts, so none of us were swinging in tandem on our anchor rodes.  It made for a rather tense few days monitoring other boats’ proximity to us.

We ended up staying at Big Majors for five days because the winds stayed in the mid-20 knot range the entire time, and moving on just wasn’t advisable.  The only people out and about were tour companies bringing boatloads of tourists in to swim with the famous swimming pigs.  The rest of us hunkered down on our pitching boats and watched the show through our binoculars.  Huge pigs stampeding down the beach toward the tourists? Check.  Tourists throwing down carrots in terror and scrambling back aboard the boats? Check.  Lady holding two piglets under her arms for a picture? Check.  Tourists wandering the beach after 15 minutes with “is this it?” body language? Check.

In an astounding example of “more money than sense,” a float plane landed in the anchorage and ferried some tourists over to the beach.  A few selfies, some walking around, and off they went.  God only knows how much THAT cost.

Here’s the float plane taxiing out from the beach.

We used our new Rainman water maker for the first time, making almost 60 gallons of reverse osmosis water from sea water.  The process was very straightforward, and it took very little time as we had purchased the high output model.  We were able to make about a gallon of fresh water in 1.6 minutes, and we were very happy with the results. Finally a window opened up, and it was on to the southern Exumas.