The Exumas & Thunderball Grotto – the Crown Jewel of the Bahamas!

The Exumas are widely known as the Crown Jewel of the Bahamas. They are comprised of over 365 islands, called cays, that stretch in a long chain for 140 miles – southeast of Nassau in the Central Bahamas. The Exumas lie on the edge of the Great Bahama Bank at Exuma Sound and are a primary destination for many sailors.

Below is a map of the route that we followed through the Exumas for a week at the end of April. Starting at the southern tip of the chain from Emerald Bay on Great Exuma, we wove our way up through the chain. Our last stop was Highbourne Cay before making the day-long crossing over the Yellow Bank to the island of Nassau. As we were headed to the Atlantis Marina, we had our first experience sliding underneath a fixed bridge. Watch the video to see how close it really was!

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One of our great pleasures living aboard Mira is having guests.  Not all of our friends and family are up for the adventure of living on a sailboat, but luckily for us, our best friends for almost 30 years, Patti and Jim, were excited to come aboard.  What a week we had exploring the Exumas!

Patti and Jim enjoying happy hour on Mira!

Setting off from Emerald Bay at first light, we spent the day sailing up the Exuma Sound. Ducking in through a cut into the anchorage off Big Major’s Cay,  we were thrilled at the beauty and spaciousness of our anchorage off the Exuma Banks.

Stunned by the stripes of blue gatorade colored water!

Jim was eager to learn all of Mira’s systems. It was a pleasure to watch the two best buds anchoring and helming together. (and, I was a little happy to relinquish my first mate’s job :))

The Thunderball Grotto was our first adventure. The famous grotto is located just west of Staniel Cay, and very close to our anchorage at Big Major Cay. It got its name from the 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball, that was filmed here. Other movies were filmed here as well  – Never Say Never Again, Splash starring Tom Hanks and Into the Blue with Jessica Alba and Paul Walker.

This fantastic underwater cave system is teeming with exotic marine life and is a kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored coral reefs and fish – like yellow-tail snappers, Angel fish, and Sergeant Majors. The grotto’s mystery is heightened by the small, almost hidden entrance. You swim through the underwater opening into this unique marine world.

Schools and schools of fish swarm around us.
Sunlight streams through holes in the Thunderball Grotto’s ceiling.
The shadows and colors in the Grotto.
Spectacular sunset greeted us on our first evening at anchor in the Exumas.
Delicious dinner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

The next morning we sailed on to our next anchorage, Cambridge Cay. We explored several snorkeling spots – including a submerged small plane – allegedly belonging to a drug smuggler.

Unassuming coral island reveals a small aquarium with colorful sea life overflowing.

The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is without a doubt, the most pristine, and possibly the most beautiful area of the Exumas. The park is made up of 15 major cays and many smaller ones located approximately in the middle of the Exuma chain. There are no commercial developments within the Park and the only inhabited islands are privately owned. The taking of any plant, animal, or marine life – including coral and shells – is prohibited within the Park which includes a 3-5 mile perimeter in any direction from land.

Warderick Wells is home to the Park headquarters and is one of the most beautiful cays within the Park. Sailboats are carefully arranged on moorings on a narrow strip of just barely deep enough water in a stunning shallow bay.

Mira on one of the mooring balls in the narrow cut of the Warderick Wells anchorage.
A giant sting ray was our friendly neighbor for most of our stay in Warderick.
Rugged, rocky flat landscape for our hike.
Hiking up to the top of Boo Boo Hill yielded many sailboats’ driftwood signs.
Rocky windward side of the island. We were watching for the shooting blue holes of water.
Though beautiful, this “red sky at night” did not yield sailor’s delight – a stormy night was to come.

Off to Highbourne Cay – where the weather kept us from exploring too much of the island, but we managed to enjoy a delicious dinner and play lots of Rummikub!

Dozens of nurse sharks waiting for the fisherman to drop his scraps.
Delicious dinner at Xuma on Highbourne Cay.

For the last leg of our trip, we spent the day carefully motoring across the Yellow Bank from Highbourne Cay to Nassau. The Yellow Bank is noted for its notoriously shifting shallow waters and coral heads that grow as close as 3 feet below the surface. Boaters need to wait for optimal sunlight and good weather to spot the heads before your hulls do! Luckily, we had Patti and Jim stationed on the bow checking for the dark black of the coral heads close to the surface.

Patti and Jim spotting for coral heads.

Nearing Nassau on Providence Island, we approached our first fixed bridge crossing with trepidation but some confidence (our mast is 63′ tall and the bridge height was 72′). We still breathed a heavy sigh of relief when our mast cleared the bridge span.

Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island
Mira among the superyachts in Atlantis Marina.

An amazing week with great friends exploring a tropical paradise!

 

 

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