Bahamas Update: Berry Islands & Exumas
by Greg Allard
Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands:
a) The biggest news from Great Harbour Cay is that the island now has a full time doctor. Dr. Allan Cho is from the Philippines, with a specialty in Emergency Medicine. We met him and toured the clinic. Apparently the Bahamian government has hired full time physicians for several of the out islands. Cruisers are welcome to receive treatment at the clinic: the cost for non-Bahamians is $30 a visit. The clinic does basic blood testing, and has its own stock of common prescription drugs, but they do not yet have an x-ray machine.
b) At the marina, there is a new grocery store, Krum’s Market, at the east end of the dock, across the street in a separate building which also has housed a small inn on the second floor. The new market is clean, well organized and we are told they receive fresh fruits and vegetables and other fresh food direct from the U.S., instead of through Nassau.
c) Also at the east end of the marina dock, a new take-out “deli” opened, with breakfast, lunch and dinner items. There are tables and umbrellas on the adjacent dock.
d) In the Bullocks Harbor settlement, next to the hardware store, a new beverage store offering liquor, wine and beer is now in business. It too is clean, well organized and up to date; prices are not bad and the selection is very good.
e) A new building, across from the police station, has been under construction for over two years; it is supposed to be for a bank. Until that happens, cruisers are reminded that there are no ATMs or banks on the island and most local businesses include a 5% surcharge on all credit cards.
Highbourne Cay, Exumas
Highbourne Cay Marina has added a new long dock at the north end of the basin, which can accommodate two large mega-yachts, or multiple smaller ones on its south side; the north side of the new dock (near shore) has only enough water for boats such as center consoles towed by large yachts. The dock will have power, including three phase power, in the near future.
Highbourne Cay Marina is without question the nicest, best run marina in the southern Bahamas.
Staniel Cay, Exumas
The airport reopened a number of months ago. Watermakers Air, which has scheduled flights to Staniel, now provides regular and charter service to multiple other islands in the Bahamas. See their website: www.watermakersair.com.
One of the best ways to have boat parts or other important items shipped to you while in the Exumas is by contacting Watermaker’s Air, who will walk you through the process, and arrange it all. Their terminal is at the Executive Airport in Ft. Lauderdale (not the main international airport). They are really efficient at arranging to get your package through Customs, and delivering to you for pickup at Staniel Cay.
Tip: When you receive your cruising permit upon entering the Bahamas, take a good photo of it, and download it to your computer. If you need to ship items for the repair of your boat to the Bahamas, you will then be able to e-mail a copy of your cruising permit to Watermakers, who will use it to have your parts enter the country duty-free, as long as the part is necessary for the operation of the boat. (That will not prevent you from having to pay the V.A.T.) If you have guests flying anywhere from the U.S. to the Bahamas to join you on your boat, your guests will also need your permit to show Immigration officials, who want to be sure that everyone entering their country has a place to stay.
Cave Cay, Exumas
This cay, south of Little Farmer’s, is relatively unknown and not frequently visited. The owner has built a first class marina with excellent floating docks, power and water. He has also built a series of buildings while are planned for a restaurant and rental cottages, but it appears that those are a way off. The island generates its own electricity, makes its own water, and is raising a modest amount of vegetables. There are a couple of excellent beaches, but no restaurant and no store. They have wi-fi, and the reception from the BTC tower on Little Farmers can be good, depending on where you are. There are a series of superb caves to explore.
Most importantly, this marina serves as an excellent hurricane hole: the basin is completely surrounded by land. One caution: the entrance at MLW has a six foot spot.
This 57’ Nordhavn with at least a 6’ draft, has just come through the cut. With an approximate three foot tide fall, this marina should be accessible to most cruising boats with proper planning around the tide.
The buildings on the far hill are the maintenance sheds, with the island’s generating and reverse osmosis plants. The photo was taken from the hill which overlooks the marina looking west; the Exuma Sound is behind the camera, to the east – showing how much protection this harbour offers. There is limited dock space though, and anchoring is not permitted in the harbour.
For slower boats who can’t make it from Georgetown to the Staniel Cay area in a single day, Cave Cay is a perfectly positioned, protected layover spot when conditions don’t permit you to anchor.
Lorraine’s Restaurant has expanded. What used to be the wi-fi café is now a bar area, and the dining area is much larger. Why? Because several tour operators from Great Exuma, or Nassau, are running fast, large open boats, often holding dozens of people, on “grand” tours of the Exumas, to include Allens Cay’s iguanas, Big Major’s pig beach, Compass Cay’s sharks, Staniel’s Yacht Club, and Blackpoint – with a buffet luncheon at Lorraine’s. Lorraine said that sometimes twenty to seventy people a day come to Blackpoint on these tours. While it surprised us (and disappointed us, to some extent) to see a group of twenty-five pasty-skin tourists who were now sunburned to a day-glo red, walking on the usually tranquil main street of Blackpoint, overall this is economically good for the island. And don’t forget to go next door to Lorraine’s mother’s house, and buy some fresh Bahamian bread.
A final note about when to cruise the Bahamas: In our view, the best time to cruise the Bahamas is in April, May and June. We urge our cruising friends, many of whom go to the Bahamas in December and return in March, to try the Bahamas in the spring. It is not nearly as busy, the water is warmer and you don’t have to deal with “northers”, those nasty cold fronts which come through frequently in the winter, with their strong N/W to N/E winds, which make it difficult to find a good anchorage. In the spring, good anchorages are easier to find, and if you want a slip at a marina, those too are easier to secure.
We realize that some people need to comply with their insurance company’s requirement that they be north of a certain location by June 1st. Since we are based in Florida, we have full coverage on our boat, including hurricane season (with of course a higher deductible) and the cost was not nearly as bad as we expected.
This is why it’s Better in the Bahamas in the spring. This picture was taken on May 19, 2016 at the Exumas Land and Sea Park, at Warderick Wells. In high (winter) season, ALL of these moorings would be taken, and there would be a long waiting list to get one.
You can see two larger yachts (far left) out on the moorings next to Warderick Cut, designated for 150’ boats. Other than those two boats, we were the ONLY boat on any of the 22 or so moorings in the north mooring field. Now is the time to be here!
Hurricanes? Yes, we do pay close attention to tropical developments as we get closer to hurricane season. We look at multiple sources of weather at least twice a day. Marv Market sends us excellent Tropical Updates, sometime days ahead of anyone else. (Send Marv an e-mail, and ask to be put on his mailing list for both excellent daily reports based on Buoy Weather, and for his periodic tropical reports: Marvboater1@aol.com.)
Finally, we always have a back-up plan. What are the safe places we can get to, if we need to? Our list in this part of the Bahamas includes Cave Cay, Compass Cay, Highbourne, Great Harbour, or further north in the Grand Bahama Yacht Club at Port Lucaya. The docks at Staniel Cay are not an option; if there are strong winds forecast from the west they will ask you to leave, which is a good thing, since you don’t want to be there anyway in those conditions. There are other good places, such as Norman’s Pond, for shallow draft boats.