The Exumas: Happy Birthday to me!


I know it’s been a week (or-so) but it’s been so fun it’s been hard to take a minute and write it all down.

Just to get you in the mood, here’s a fun video from my “super” cool birthday week from Thunderball Grotto in Staniel Cay – did you know I can fly???

You get the picture, right?  We’ve been having a great time.  Everyone said we’d have so much fun in the Exumas and they’ve been soooo right!

After skee-daddling out of Nassau as fast as we could, he high-tailed it over to Rose Island.  There, we knew we’d see our friends on S/V Hespa, could finally put up our sails and really show Will why we came to live on a boat (read: beautiful solitude).

The 18th happened to be Fran’s birthday (mine is the 19th) and so we popped open a bottle of champagne, whipped up some strawberry cake and had a great time with our friends on Hespa.

S/V Hespa and S/V Mother Jones crew celebrate bdays!








After just a couple of days in Rose Island, we had a great weather window to get down to the Exumas and we took it.   After some big waves goodbye to Fran and Wendy, we were off!

We had an amazing sail from Rose Island down to Norman’s Cay, which has a very colorful history.







Norman’s got caught up in the drug trade in the 80′s when Carlos Lehder basically took control of the island and made it his own private playground and business HQ.   According to stories we’ve heard, the regular folk (and by “regular” I mean rich foreigners who have land in the Bahamas but who aren’t drug dealers . . .) who had homes on the island were not-so-politely “encouraged” by Lehder to move off the island.  Apparently, one ornery resident who lived on a barge refused to move.  As the story goes, he had to leave the island for a few days and when he returned, his barge was relocated to the top of a hill.  Ahh, those prankster drug dealers, ruining people’s lives with narcotics but entertaining me to this day with their colorful trickery.

In the 80′s and 90′s the Bahamanian government partnered with the Americans to stem the flow to the States, setting up camps on nearby islands and, of course, the Miami Vice.

Today, Norman’s is a popular spot for cruisers to stop, snorkle the coral heads and generally be in paradise.  Although the famous watering hole, McDuffs, was closed on my birthday proper, we made a great day of it any way:  we dinghy’d over to some unspoiled, abandoned beaches right at low tide (so we ended up towing the dinghy for about an hour), and stumbled upon lunch: a minefield of conch – yum!

After lunch we checked out a remnant of Carlos Lehder’s cartel: a sunken drug plane from about 25 years ago.  It was amazing how well-preserved it was.

Carlos Lehder's cartel remnants

And, we got to stop off on this little beauty of a cay to take some pictures and enjoy the shallows.

Damon, Will and Kemah find a nice bench (!) on this lil spit of land

beach buddies!






















After a day in the sand, a full belly of conch and a beautiful sunset, I was one content lady.


Warderick Wells in the Exuma Land and Sea Park

The next day we had a hard sail over to Warderick Wells, which is the northern boundary of the Exuma Land and Sea Park (read: a no take zone).  It was blowing about 20 knots on our nose and while we could’ve – and perhaps should’ve – stopped in at Cambridge, we pressed on.  Arriving just before the Park HQ closed, we picked up a ball in the north mooring field.

Mother Jones is anchored at the top right

Just before sunset we decided to trek on up to the ranger station and beyond to Boo Boo Hill.

Park HQ

The way to Boo Boo Hill -->

Legend has it that Boo Boo hill is named that because it is haunted from a shipwreck where there were no survivors.  For years now, cruisers have left mementos with their boat names to bless their journeys and appease these ghosts.

We happily obliged.

Leaving some good ju-ju from Mother Jones

The views from atop Boo Boo Hill were amazing.  And, they were a great reminder of how much we appreciate our boat’s shallow draft so we can travel on the inside of the bank instead of on the outside (in the Atlantic, whose waves were crashing on the rocks below).

From the top of Boo Boo hill looking north








The north mooring field at Warderick Wells is pretty cool:  the entire middle of the cove is a great big sand bar which connects to the shore at a few points during low tide.  The only way in – and out – is a royal blue ribbon of deep water snakes into the cove along the edges.  It’s wild to see folks wading in ankle-deep water only a couple of feet from their 6-foot draft boat.  And – it sure makes for some careful navigating going in!!!

walking on the sand bar at low tide








Of course, being that the Exuma Land and Sea Park is a “take only pictures and leave only bubbles” no-take zone, the sea life is incredible!!!  Upon our arrival and for the next few days, HUGE rays circled our boat.  It’s always hard to get a good picture in the moment with scale, but this guy was probably about 6 feet wide!  I’m so glad Kemah doesn’t seem to sense them . . . and they don’t bother K when he’s swimming!

a GIANT ray who stalked our boat for 2 days








Onwards to Staniel Cay

I don't know what a "Grandmaster" does, but this is apparently where he resides








Staniel Cay is the kind of place you could come year after year: they have lots to do, modern facilities but you still have the sense of place.

It’s halfway down the Exumas chain so it’s relatively hard to get to in a short amount of time, unless you fly in on the two direct puddle-jumper flights from Ft. Lauderdale a day – wha???

They have a little marina mainly for power boats and we found the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to cater to those fat cats.  So, we were super happy when we found the Taste and Sea down the street full of cruisers like us; go there for your cheeseburger in paradise.

Just a 5 minute dinghy ride from Staniel Cay is Big Majors Cay which boasts a resident population of pigs, which swim out to meet you looking for lunch – your lunch.  Rumor has it they were dropped off years ago by locals who wisely let the tourists fatten them up and then when “it’s time” they harvest a couple and have a party.  Brilliant!

While I have been looking forward to this for months, and thought I was prepared, I wasn’t. I mean, how can you be prepared for being on a Caribbean Island in the middle of no where with farm animals swimming out in the ocean! to meet you.  Bizarre.

Swimming pigs on nearby Big Majors Cay!







Lazy bones on the beach







Next on the itinerary of super-cool things to do was checking out Thunderball Grotto.  If you’re a James Bond fan, you may remember this cave being featured in a film.  I, however, am not an aficionado so I was ready for a surprise.  Boy oh boy did I get one!

Thunderball Grotto is one of those “don’t miss it” places that should be on your bucket list. The Grotto is carved out of the underside of a cay.  Think about a big salad bowl turned upside down and set on the ocean.  Then add some amazing tropical fish in the middle and you’ve got it!  There are a couple of entrances from the water which are tame enough to enter with children at low tide without even going under.

I'm the Righteous Babe at the top, about to taking the plunge!

Or, you can go in the hard way, like me: swimming up current, climbing a rope up scraggly limestone and jumping 40 feet down through the top.  It was awesome, terrifying and I highly recommend it.

Thunderball Grotto!









Well, we’re off to Black Point in just a minute so I’ll catch up with you in a week or so when we get to Georgetown (the next place I expect to have the ‘net).

Until then,