So I’ve been working on this week’s video and blog while in Charleston, South Carolina- and boy, I really miss the Bahamas! Don’t get me wrong. We are loving the USA. But I remember being in the Exumas and, although we loved it, we couldn’t wait to get north and I’m afraid that distracted us somewhat from the unique beauty of that part of the world. However, one good thing about these videos is that we can relive these moments we should have been paying more attention to at the time!
The Jewel of the Bahamas…?
The Exumas are one of the most popular cruising areas of the Bahamas. We had been told many, many times how incredible the Exumas are and how much we would love it. To say our expectations were high is an understatement. Perhaps they were too high… There’s no doubt that the Exumas are absolutely beautiful. But so are many areas of the Caribbean, and it’s impossible to compare the mountainous beauty of Saint Lucia for example, to the flat sandy beaches of the Bahamas. The Exumas were beautiful in that raw, natural, understated way- as opposed to, for example, the magnificence of Maho Bay in St John, or the volcanic jungle-covered peaks of Dominica. Where the Exumas really excelled were in the gorgeous sugar-soft sand and gin-clear water that was a thousand shades of blue. Which, let’s face it, is what we all picture when we think of the Bahamas.
We spent two weeks with Nick’s family in Georgetown and exploring the cays just to the north of Great Exuma. His parents are not sailors and certainly aren’t used to being on boats, but they took to the lifestyle like the troopers they are and we had some great days sitting at anchor, swimming and exploring the often-deserted beaches. One memorable highlight was diving on the underwater sculpture of a mermaid playing a piano. We had big plans to capture some very cool underwater shots of us sitting on the bench with the mermaid, pretending to join her in a duet, but even though it wasn’t deep the current was very strong. Fighting against it in order to get down- and stay down- was exhausting. Only Nick managed it with any success.
Once we’d dropped Nick’s parents back in Great Exuma for their flight, Nick and I did a jump up to Staniel Cay to meet Bo and Allison. Staniel Cay is probably the most popular area of the Exumas- and for good reason. There are several anchorages that provide shelter from almost all wind directions, and the main one at Big Majors (where the pigs are) is perfectly protected from the prevailing easterly winds. This was a pleasant change after several weeks of anchorages that almost always had at least a slight roll.
The water was gorgeously clear and we certainly got our wildlife fix while in Staniel Cay (although not sure how ‘wild’ the pigs are… but more on that later). There were plenty of nurse sharks in the water, and although they kind of freaked me out at first- I mean, SHARKS!- I soon learned that they were pretty harmless as far as sharks go. Because I like to be able to enjoy myself while swimming in the clearest water I’ve ever seen without the fear of a shark sneaking up behind me, I Googled “Do nurse sharks harm humans” and found to my intense relief that there was only one recorded incident of a nurse shark attacking a human, and that was in Florida where some stupid woman was holding it by its tail and trying to feed the poor animal. She ended up in hospital with a pretty severe bite to the hand, and frankly, she deserved it.
The Problem With Piggy Beach
Pig Beach is clearly one of the major attractions here, which I’m not sure I totally get. I’ve never considered pigs to be cute. I know that they must be kind of cute, because people are always like, “AWW! What a cute PIIIG!” but my feeling has always been that they’re dirty, messy and, well, un-cute creatures that belong on a farm eating food scraps. Also, they taste damn good, which, as far as I’m concerned, is really their main purpose for existing (what? I like bacon).
We waited until the evening to visit the pigs not only because we thought it would be a good photo op, but also because we weren’t interested in joining the hoards- hoards!- of day trippers and tourists from Staniel Cay and other nearby resorts. The plan worked, and we got the beach- and the pigs- to ourselves. We took a few old carrots and a zucchini- which even the pigs wouldn’t touch- plus a bit of popcorn (turns out pigs eat anything) and plenty of fresh water.
We had watched a recent Gone with the Wynns episode where they talked about animal tourism and how the animals involved almost always come out worse for having stupid tourists feed them, take selfies with them, and pat, poke and prod them. The pigs of Pig Beach had had a rough time of it lately. Earlier in the year quite a few of them suddenly died, and the blame was firmly levelled at the tourists who came to feed the pigs- and “silly sailors” who apparently fed them alcohol. I can’t imagine any of the hundreds of cruisers we have met doing something so stupid and ignorant as feeding animals alcohol- on the whole, sailors have a huge amount of respect towards their environment and any local wildlife. I believe the pigs’ autopsy came back with no mention of any alcohol in the pigs’ system, so that quote seems to have been unfounded.
The pigs had been living in the wild for decades (nobody really knows how they got there in the first place), foraging for food as wild animals tend to do. But with the influx of tourism in the area, and no controls or warnings in place to prevent people from feeding the pigs, the pigs basically became lazy and began to rely on humans to feed them. What actually caused the deaths is a little unclear, but it may have been too much sand and not enough fresh water in their diet.
Now the pigs are tagged and there appears to be a warden on the beach looking after the pigs. I think there are plenty of pigs in the world that are domesticated, so feeding them isn’t a problem in itself. But if we’re going to feed them and make them reliant upon humans, then the least we can do is look after them and make sure they’re healthy in return. It appears some steps are being taken in that direction.
Underwater Surprises in Thunderball Grotto
Another major attraction in the Staniel Cay area is Thunderball Grotto, where the James Bond film “Thunderball” was filmed. I’m not going to lie: the snorkelling in the Caribbean has been, overall, disappointing. A lot of the coral is dead or, at best, dying a slow and horrible death and there are very few fish. So my expectations were low. Happily, the underwater world in the Bahamas in general has been far superior to many other parts of the world we’ve sailed to. The coral was healthy for the most part, and the fish population was seemingly thriving. (Actually, the best snorkelling was in the Abacos, but more on that next week.)
Dinghy Exploration in Shroud Cay
Our final stop in the Exumas was in Shroud Cay, a pleasant spot that we chose mainly as a strategic jump-off point for our next passage north. We only stayed for a night, and spend the early evening taking a dinghy trip down a creek that cuts through the island and emerges on the Exuma Sound side. There was a narrow cut through which the current flowed strongly, and we had way too much fun jumping in the water and allowing the strong current to push us through the cut and deposit us on the sandy beach on the other side. No need for swimming or exertion here! Just float along and you’ll end up on the other side in no time!
The Exumas had been a fun, activity-filled stop on our whirlwind tour of the Bahamas. Although we didn’t get to see everything we’d originally wanted- time was the enemy and we had to get north in time for the beginning of hurricane season- we got a brilliant taster at what this part of the world has to offer.