Big Majors Spot
Our Grandson, Jake, decided that he would prefer donations to an animal charity rather than presents for Christmas. So we gave money to the Staniel Cay Swimming Pigs Care charity. And after showing Jake the photograph of the snouty creature in the picture above, he named the pig Hermione Hamhock. It’s got to be said – she’s a looker.
Staniel Cay’s pigs all appear to be in rude health. Their beach is clean, as is the water. There’s nothing wrong with the size of them either, or their sense of smell. When we launched our dinghy up the beach to take a look, they didn’t lift a trotter; preferring instead to carry on snoozing in the shade. But when another boat came along with food, they were out of their shelter quicker than greyhounds out of a trap — great timing for us. If these fellas hadn’t arrived, the only photos here would be of horizontal pigs in a shelter. It was good fun to watch the pigs hassle these guys. The big sow doesn’t seem so keen on being stroked, though, one of the visitors attempting to pat it on the head nearly gave up his fingers for lunch.
We saw the large stingray, in the photos above, swimming along near to the water’s edge, presumably hoovering up the leftovers.
We arrived at Big Majors Spot on Staniel Cay just after midday on 22nd December after a short motor-sail from Cambridge Cay. It’s a good anchorage. The upsides are that it has good holding and plenty of room and it is close to the famous Staniel Cay swimming pigs. The downsides are that it is a long and bouncy dinghy ride into town, and it is close to the Staniel Cay pigs. That’s because a steady procession of tour boats roar through the anchorage bringing their cargo of pink people to see the similarly-coloured animals. And that gets old after a while. So, after an exploratory dinghy ride into town, we upped anchor and dropped it again at Thunderball Grotto, which is less than a third of a mile from Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC).
SCYC is the epicentre of activity for Staniel Cay. It is continually busy, either in the bar or the restaurant – or dealing with residents staying at the hotel. It’s a great place to meet other sailors. And, importantly for us, they serve Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. So we booked a table for two.
At low water the next morning we took the dinghy over to Thunderball Grotto where, as the name suggests, the classic James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed. Access to the cave is from either side of the rock. I opted to go in from the western entrance to a) avoid the tour boats and b) because a group of people we met the day before were already anchored there, Maria could tie to them instead of using our anchor – thanks very much.
Although smaller than I thought it would be, the Grotto is an interesting place. There are holes in the roof of the cave that send shards of sunlight beaming down – and the occasional holidaymaker jumping through to plunge into the water. So I kept one eye up to make sure I wasn’t going to be flattened. The cave also happens to be a great snorkelling spot. Fish congregate in the fast-flowing current of the eastern entrance, where they have probably learned that tourists bring food.
Surprise Christmas Visitors
Later that day we received an email from Patricia and Julian on A Capella of Belfast saying that they are on their way to Staniel Cay with their son, Angus. So we took the dinghy back to SCYC and changed our Christmas Day reservation to a table for five.
On Christmas Eve A Capella and the crew arrived bringing with them a gift of roast lamb. Patricia and Julian invited us onboard to share dinner with them on Christmas Eve. It’s been a long time since we had lamb and roast potatoes. So, it was a very welcome treat and a very kind gesture.
Christmas Day Tempest
On Christmas Day, the wind changed from benign to breezy and the sea state from still to stormy. The anchorage wasn’t the peaceful haven it had been for the previous few days, that’s for sure. And, although the rain had stopped by the time evening came, the wind was howling. In normal circumstances, we would have cancelled dinner. But as this was Christmas Day and our food was being cooked by someone else, we pressed ahead.
Just before 1830, Julian, Patricia and Angus bounced over on their dinghy, for drinks. At 1930 we left for the yacht club, dressed in weatherproof jackets and life jackets; this wasn’t quite what we had in mind.
Because it was pitch black (probably a blessing because we couldn’t see the state of the sea) we carried a high-intensity torch to make sure we didn’t clatter into the rocks. And as I shone it into the water, a shark appeared from under the boat. Maria said that she has never got in the tender so fast. After that event, we didn’t want to take any additional risks, so slowly piloted the dinghy past Thunderball rocks and made our way to the dinghy dock, arriving more shaken than 007’s martini. After shedding our wet waterproofs, we strolled into the club. And at the clang of a bell at 8 pm, we joined the procession of Christmas diners into the dining room and sat at our table – after being invited to stash all the scruffy stuff in a small alcove.
Dinner was excellent, although delivered with a bit too much efficiency. We were done by 9.30PM, just in time for high tide, which meant we had to wade out to retrieve our dinghy before repeating the bouncy ride but in reverse. Everyone made it without incident. No sharks loomed out of the water Jaws-style, and I have a full set of fingers to type this update.
The A Capella folks had gone back up north by the time we got up the next day. And now that it was light we could see what we had steered through the night before. It wasn’t pretty, and it stayed that way for a few days. So, we spent Boxing Day through to the 29th on the boat catching up with jobs on the to-do list. I put my seamstress skills to good use by making a couple of bags to carry sailors essentials: beer and wine – in both bottle and bag form. And Maria made some very lovely, but waistline-expanding chocolate brownies.
By the time 29th December came along, cabin fever was kicking in. So, regardless of the sea state, we had to get off the boat. After bumping and splashing our way the dinghy dock, we shook ourselves off and strolled into town where we heard music coming from near the town dock. We thought it might be a church event, but as we got closer, it became evident that this was no gospel.
We found a reggae band playing on a stage at the town dock. This event was part of a series of events on the run up to New Year. The Synergy Band was excellent. But despite the sunshine – and a bar selling cheap-for-here beer – hardly anyone was around. I’m sure we were the only non-local folks there. It wasn’t the most publicised event, so maybe that accounts for an absence of a crowd. We enjoyed it though and stayed for an hour listening to the music.
On 30th December the weather cleared enough for us to leave, so we sailed south in lumpy seas to Rudder Cut Cay, with the intention of being in Georgetown for New Years Day.
Rudder Cut Cay
Rudder Cut Cay is home to the sculpture of the mermaid and piano dropped there by David Copperfield who owns a few of the islands around these parts. So, after anchoring Lady Jane, we took the dinghy to where the sculpture was supposed to be according to the chart. It wasn’t there. I carried on looking around while Maria kept checking the navigation app on the phone. I thought Copperfield might have pulled one of his magic stunts. But then, remembering seeing a photograph of the sculpture on the sand, I headed further out to sea, and there it was. And it’s quite remarkable.
We then took a dinghy ride close to the island. Because the island is private, it’s only possible to land on the beach and go no further than the high water mark. If anyone dares venture into the island, David Copperfield may make you disappear forever. We didn’t bother with a landing, although some of the tour boats did, opting instead to take a look at the caves.
Tom Cunliffe would turn in his grave
That’s if the doyen of sailing were not alive, of course.
Our plan to get to Georgetown the next day was scuppered by the wind shifting to the south overnight. So, after lumbering along at 2.5 knots for what felt like a lifetime, we turned around and headed back to Staniel Cay. And with the wind behind us, it was a fast and almost comfortable sail all the way to back where we started just the day before. On the way, we heard two restaurants broadcast their plans for New Year’s eve on Channel 16. One of them detailing their extensive menu ‘…and there’ll be fireworks. It’ll be so much fun!’ before signing off with a ‘Hope to see you there!’ leaving the channel once again open for international distress calls.
I know that Maria, and I, can be a bit picky about radio etiquette. It’s probably because the RYA drummed the rules into our heads before being allowed to pick up a microphone without supervision. So there’s too much in the way of “Ten-Four”, “Copy” and “Roger that” for our level of tolerance. Some might think we need to let it go and go with the flow, man.
But how about this:
‘Mayday, Mayday, this is sailing vessel XXX. We are taking on water.’ Followed by another voice shouting ‘Mayday!’
A US Coastguard helicopter quickly picked up the call and asked them for their position. Nothing heard. The Coastguard tried again a minute later. The distressed vessel replied, ‘I’ll be losing battery soon.’ The Coastguard told them if they can’t give a position, hold the mike open so that they can home in on their signal. Eventually, though, they did get the vessel’s coordinates and flew over towards them. And fortunately, the yacht’s crew managed to plug the leak.
The commercial salvage guys thought it a potential late Christmas present. They were circling like the Bahamian sharks. We heard offers of help to bring high-capacity pumps from other large boats on a non-commercial basis, which was nice. And all of this was relevant traffic for channel 16. Then some nasally-voiced idiot of a woman shouted out ‘Working channel! Working channel!” She must have thought the coastguard and other vessels involved in the mayday were getting in the way of the latest menu readout.
In a distress situation, the priority is to broadcast your vessel’s name and position first. Makes sense, right? If the batteries do give up, at least the authorities know where you are.
The folks on that boat were lucky.
For a change of scenery, we headed to the west of Thunderball Grotto. And who should we see there? Julian and Patricia, that’s who. This time with their other son, Tristan, and his girlfriend, Marie.
Julian and Patricia invited over for a barbecue later in the evening to see in the new year. So, we headed off into town and spent what could feed a family of four for a fortnight in the UK on two small carrier bags of groceries. But we did manage to find the all-important barbecue fuel: burgers and sausages, to add to Julian and Patricia’s beef kebabs. We had a great evening onboard A Capella of Belfast. It made coming back to Staniel Cay worthwhile. The fireworks were spectacular, and the company was sparkling.
On New Year’s day, we decided to refuel Lady Jane and refresh the diesel in the jerry cans at the same time. So, up went the locker lid and out came the cans. And after pouring the contents into the main tank, we took the empties in the dinghy over to the fuel pontoon for a refill – and bought some more petrol for the outboard. After lugging 100 litres of diesel from the fuel berth back to Lady Jane, it was time for a treat. So after stashing away our diesel cans in the locker, we headed back to the yacht club for lunch, followed by a bit of shopping and a few tears afterwards.
Any trip to a supermarket in the Bahamas has to be accompanied with a handkerchief to wipe away the tears: $120 for two small grocery bags full of nothing extraordinary is no laughing matter. So, after we discovered that we left behind four potatoes in the weighing scales at one of the shops in Staniel Cay we were determined to go and get them.
Now, if this were Tesco in the UK, I don’t think I’d be inclined to drive the car back to the supermarket to retrieve them. Besides, the fuel would cost more than a sack of spuds. But here, those four potatoes are a fivers worth of dollars. And what would we have to accompany all those cheap cans of corned beef we bought? So, Maria and I jumped into the dinghy and headed back to the little pink shop.
Having been traumatised by overly aggressive corner shop owners in the UK, Maria said ‘You do the talking.’ And I did. I explained that we left four potatoes behind in the scales yesterday, and the shopkeeper reached behind her and placed the missing spuds in a bag for us. She had kept them behind the counter for our return.
Honesty and friendliness have been a constant theme throughout the places we have visited in the Bahamas, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s still too bloody expensive though.
Back up North
Not wanting to hang around too much in Staniel Cay in case the fond memories became miserable, on 2nd January we headed off to the Emerald Rock mooring field on Warderwick Wells. And who should be there? The A Capella of Belfasters again.
I feel that we have to claim pure coincidence here – not stalking.
Julian and Patricia left the next day for somewhere north, and we moved to go to the north mooring field to get out of the way of the swell. And by 1030 we were tied up to mooring number 11 in flat calm water with a minimal breeze. It was such a relief. And it was so flat and calm that we thought it a good time to bring out the paddleboard for its first outing. We have had it since New England, and it hasn’t seen the light of day. It has now. For a relatively inexpensive and not too bulky model, it is very stable. I only fell off once. And it glides well. It’s a keeper.
We spent the afternoon strolling around one of the trails and sunbathing on the swim platform a little way from the beach. There we met some of the folks taking a holiday onboard a clipper ship. The crew had organised a beach day and were looking after their guests with supplies of food and drinks on request. It seemed a perfect day for them. So, not to be outdone, I took the paddleboard back to Lady Jane and stuffed a bag full of ice-cold beer for Maria and me to drink while waiting for the sunset. I even brought along a packet of crisps.
The weather forecast for the next day, 4th Jan, promised winds from a direction good enough to sail south. So we packed away the paddleboard and lifted the dinghy in preparation for a dawn departure the next day.
The wind wasn’t quite as forecast, but it was good enough for us to motor-sail down to Musha Cay, one of David Copperfield’s islands, where we arrived at around 3 PM.
Musha Cay is a lovely looking place. We anchored opposite the resort’s palm-tree-lined beach, and it is immaculate. It should be. Visitors to the island are paying between $42,000 and $60,000 per night. Mind you; it is all-inclusive. We, of course, are enjoying the view for nothing. And this is one of the few times we feel we are getting a bargain in the Bahamas.
As evening fell, the two Canadian boats anchored in front of us decided to leave – leaving us the only yacht there. The next morning, the wind was in the right direction for us to sail south to Georgetown at last.
Now, that’s magic.