Staniel Cay December 16-18, 2012

We left Waderick Wells after a quick breakfast on Sunday, December 16 and headed south again, anchoring as planned next to La Toison D’or at Big Major Spot in time for lunch. Big Major Spot is a mid-size cay (for the Exumas) and the large bay with its appealing white sand beach, around the corner from Staniel Cay and the Thunderball Grotto, is a favourite anchorage. In fact, by evening that day there were quite a number of boats anchored there – about 8 sailboats, several trawlers and about 3 very opulent megayachts.

A neighbour at Big Major Spot

A neighbour at Big Major Spot

After lunch Steve and I lowered the dinghy and headed into Staniel Cay – a choppy, wet 15 minute dinghy ride. We docked at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and noticed a few large rays and nurse sharks circling under us as we climbed the ladder to get onto the dock…we know people sometimes swim with them, but we are still not quite ready to fall into the drink with these very large creatures!

Charming Staniel Cay

Charming Staniel Cay

We went for a walk through Staniel Cay, a quaint little town which has not changed at all in the 20 odd years that Claude and Marie have been coming here. If anything it has got a little smaller and drabbier, they say. There are 3 stores, the Blue Store, the Pink Store and the Isles General Store. None of them have much – a few shelves filled with canned and packaged food, some potatoes, yams and onions and, if you strike it right, a little fresh produce. We didn’t! In fact, when we first arrived it was Sunday so everything was closed. On Monday when we returned they told us that they would not have much until the mail boat came with their delivery on Wednesday.

The picnic shelter in the town centre!

The picnic shelter in the town centre!

The most exciting place in town was the picnic table under a shady tree opposite the church where men had gathered to play dominoes, the local sport! They slapped their pieces down with a fervor equal or greater to that seen at the morning church service. Everything had a very cute quaintness to it – the little library and government office, the picnic shelter in the middle of town, and the Blue Store in the back of someones house. No doubt this place loses its charm for young people growing up here with no job prospects.

An fitting clock in the Staniel Cay Yacht Club restauarant

A fitting clock in the Staniel Cay Yacht Club restaurant

Unable to access wifi from our anchorage at Big Major Spot, we brought our computers into town, so ended up with a Kalik (local beer) on the verandah of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (more of a local beach bar than anything else). We paid for internet, but had limited megabytes – no good for skype, uploading photos or blogging. After the hot walk through town, the beer was good and cold and I was able to connect to email long enough to reassure my friend Alison that we had arrived and would be at Staniel Cay airport to meet her the next day. Claude and Marie dinghied into the club for dinner too. We had to put our entrée orders in by 5 pm and then wait for the “gong” as dinner was served in one sitting. Very old fashioned!

Staniel Cay Airport

Staniel Cay Airport

The next day we spent the morning tidying, cleaning and reorganizing the boat , making the aft cabin up for our guest for a week over Christmas, my friend Alison from Windsor. We left in the dinghy at lunch time and headed over to Staniel Cay again, this time taking “Dinghy Alley” to the Isles General Store where we tied up. We were just in time as the store was about to close, and we managed to get the few supplies we needed in the nick of time. We left them in our cool bag in the dinghy and walked in the blazing midday sun (not complaining, you understand) to the airport round the corner (a 5 minutes walk)! We were too early so meandered through town and bumped into Claude and Marie. We settled down with them at the picnic shelter to check email and relax until it was time for the flight to arrive.

Alison arrives!

Alison arrives!

The airport is very quaint, with a bandstand-type picnic shelter for a waiting room. A large sign asks people to keep off the runway. Surprisingly the waiting room was full with those leaving or meeting people off the Flamingo Air flight from Nassau. Alison’s plane landed just a few minutes late  – a nine seater, with no air-conditioning so she was pretty happy to alight!

Shark feeding at SCYC

Shark feeding at SCYC

We loaded her and her case into the dinghy and drove around to the Yacht Club docks where we found Claude and Marie watching local fisherman clean a large catch of tuna, snapper, conch, crawfish in preparation for a party. They had attracted a large number of sharks who were enjoying the discarded fish parts. So we were able to treat Alison to a welcoming wildlife experience, though she chose not to swim with them either!

Swimming pigs at Big Major Spot

Swimming pigs at Big Major Spot

She drove back in Claude and Marie’s dinghy as we took the luggage, and followed them over to the beach at Big Major Spot. This appealing looking beach near our anchorage is another favourite local tourist trip, but not for the usual beach experience. It is occupied by large pigs who live in the nearby brush. As soon as they hear a dinghy motor, like Pavlov’s dogs, they think food and rush out onto the beach and into the water, swimming out to meet and greet any approaching vessel. I took cabbage leaves and carrots to feed them. If they don’t get fed they can get quite snarky and try climbing into a dinghy. In fact there was a wrecked, deflated dinghy on the beach, an unfortunate victim of their exuberance.

Alison enjoying her first swim off the boat

Alison enjoying her first swim off the boat

We went back to the boat to swim instead off the boat, even though we had seen a shark beneath our boat several times. The advantage of such crystal clear water is that you can check and do an ‘all-clear’ before jumping in. Alison is a keen swimmer so enjoying cooling off after her long trip from Windsor. Claude and Marie came over for sundowners, but we had a quiet dinner in the cockpit afterwards. I cooked hogfish, a local speciality which I had bought in Spanish Wells.

Fowl Cay Resort

Fowl Cay Resort

We spent another day at the Big Major Spot anchorage, making sure Alison had time to rest from her flight and relax a little before pushing on. We took the dinghy on an excursion to take a look at the luxurious Fowl Cay Resort nearby and were shown around by the very nice South African manageress, Marta. We then went swimming on a non-pig-infested nearby beach, which we had to ourselves. We swam again off the boat, relaxed and tried the Thunderball Grotto in the late afternoon, but the tide was still too high and current strong. We were anxious to snorkel this great local attraction, made famous as the movie location for the  James Bond movie “Thunderball”. However it is best done at slack low tide, which just happened to be either 6 am or 6 pm, which was no good as it was dark (too early and too late). We will have to leave it for our return in a month or two.

Sunset at Staniel Cay

Sunset at Staniel Cay

We had a celebratory dinner on T’ai Chi that night with Claude and Marie, enjoying the last of our stone crab from Spanish Wells for starters, followed by barbecued port tenderloin and finally a selection of fruit and cheese brought by Marie. After travelling with La Toison D’or for several weeks and enjoying their expert advice and fun company, we were going separate ways the next day, as we headed south towards Georgetown for Christmas at the Emerald Bay Marina, and they to rendezvous with other cruising friends in Waderick Wells. The stars and moonlight reflected off the calm water between our boats as we waved goodbye after dinner.

David Copperfield's beach at Musha Cay

David Copperfield’s beach at Musha Cay

The next morning we left. There was almost no wind, so we motor-sailed down the leeward side of the Exuma Cays, angling in again to drop the hook for lunch at Cave Cay. However, after lunch we decided to move a little further down to the next cay, so we pulled up for the short jog across the cut to Musha Cay where we anchored off the island. Musha Cay and a number of surrounding cays are privately owned by the magician David Copperfield. We were not far from the beautiful tiki bar on his beach, and could see a number of lovely residences on the island.

However, our real mission in anchoring there was to take the dinghy over to a nearby cay where there was a downed piper aircraft which we managed to locate as directed in the guidebook, sitting under about 6 feet of water off the cay. We anchored the dinghy and Alison opted to stay in it while Steve and I snorkelled over the airplane. It had become a good habitat for a number of shoals of small reef fish, but we were also really interested to see three spectacular looking lionfish, with their pretty-looking mottled ‘manes’. However they are an unwelcome invasive alien special here, and very poisonous too.

Sundowners at Musha Cay

Sundowners at Musha Cay

We then dinghied over to the shallow sandbank between Musha and Rudder which is reputed to be a great place to find sand dollars. However we only found a couple of small ones, so returned to the boat for our sundowners and dinner.

View our photo journal for Staniel and Musha Cays.