Staniel Cay, Bahamas

Staniel, Baby, One More Time

Friday May 2, 2014

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

This year’s trip to the Bahamas was supposed to be all about seeing places that we never visited before since we rushed through so much of it last year. Why spend what little time here seeing things we already have before? This rule has already been broken twice when we stopped in Nassau, although that really is the only middle ground between the Berry’s and the Exumas, and when we stopped in Georgetown, but that was to see friends and therefore totally excusable. This last stop though, well it is another double of last year, but we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Staniel Cay and Big Majors have two major things going for them as far as sightseeing, and although we did see/experience both of them last year, there was no way I could pass them up again being as close as we were. Staniel Cay is home to the famous Thunderball Grotto, even featured in two James Bond films, as an underwater cave filled with fish and a grand opening in the center allowing you to view the cavernous walls as well as some erosion near the ceiling that allows in a bit of light.  Right next door on Big Majors is Pig Beach where, true to it’s name, is filled with a dozen or so very large pigs that will actually swim out to your dinghy looking for food scraps.  Can I really be expected to pass that up?

Making the decision to skip Mush/Rudder Cay and David Copperfield’s sunken sculptures due to tide/current conflicts, we left Adderley Cut with the the east winds and incoming current working together against us, but at least not against each other.  This left a calm progress out the cut at 3 knots.  The slow speed I could handle versus rushing out into whitecaps.  The Exuma Sound was full of large rolling waves though since winds have been steady and out of the east for a few days now.  Raising the main we tried to keep a relatively low speed so that when we reached Dotham Cut we could ride the tide in, something that wouldn’t be happening until after four in the afternoon.  On the ride north though, we saw an electric blue light in the water that at first had us completely puzzled until we realized it was a mahi swimming just a few hundred feet off the boat!  Having had our fishing line out all morning already we changed course to try and tempt it onto our line, but the only thing that prevailed from this side trip was that we helped to waste a little extra time.  It wasn’t enough to get us to the changing tide though, and we still ended up heaving to for two hours until we found it safe to pass through Dotham Cut.  Under sail alone.  Matt is really starting to prep me for our Atlantic crossing by making sure we don’t have to rely on our engine for those times we won’t be able to use it.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club

streets of Staniel Cay, Exumas

boat carrying palm trees

We had the luck of arriving to Staniel just after the mail boat which meant fresh produce for us at the stores.  Not having purchased anything since Ft. Lauderdale, our heads were full of the thoughts of fresh lettuce and tomatoes, about the only things we haven’t been able to keep a six week supply of on the boat.  I used to include things like apples on that list, but it seems like even when they are bountiful and in front of me I can’t force myself to eat them over whatever junk food we have around.  Now it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even snack between meals.  With fresh fruit out of the picture, the only snack foods we seem to be left with are the now staling granola bars that we purchased all the way back in Cayman, and personally, I’d just rather go without than be forced to eat them.

After picking up a few staples for cooking though and even securing myself a can of ginger beer which will later be turned into a dark & stormy, we were back to the boat and ready to put our things away in order to rush over to the beach and visit the pigs.  Last year we had tried to lure them to us with lettuce which we had read plenty accounts of other people feeding them, only to find that things have changed and you better show up with carrots or oranges, lest you be ignored by them.  Carrots happened to be something we had managed to retain a few of, and sure enough, these pigs were ready to accept them.  I hadn’t thought far enough ahead though to break the carrots into smaller pieces before leaving the boat, and wanting to spread the for as long as between as many pigs as possible, I was rapidly trying to do this once we had landed the dinghy on the beach.  The pigs however, were incredibly impatient and when they noticed I had food in my hands that was not being passed immediately to their open mouth, they got a little nippy and let me know of their displeasure by nibbling at the bottom of my shirt.

If you haven’t ever seen the size of these pigs you might be thinking to yourself, “Awww, how cute!”.  But these are not cute little pigs.  Although they did actually seem pretty well trained to tourist and I don’t think they planned on causing me any harm, I think they could have if they wanted to.  I’ve never started snapping carrots as fast as those moments I thought they might eat my shirt off if I didn’t give them something else to eat right away.  Being sly of hand and quick of foot though, I did manage to get myself away with a few small pieces still in my bag, to divide up between feeding to the new piglets that weren’t here last year, and letting Matt get some feeding in as well.  As soon as the food was gone we watched these massive pre-cooked pieces of bacon wander around the beach and in the water for a little bit before they lost interest in us and made their way back into the thick of the island.

Jessica with pigs at Big Majors

pig from Big Major's Cay

Jessica with piglet at Big Majors

family of pigs at Big Majors

piglet checking out dinghy

Matt feeding pig

Most of our other free time anchored here in Big Majors has been spent soaking up the amazing beauty surrounding us.  If I haven’t already mentioned how appreciative we are this time around of how stunning these anchorages are, or how clear and beautiful the waters are in the Bahamas, we definitely are.  Yesterday I forced Matt into those waters just after we got back from visiting with the pigs so he could do a little more cleaning of the bottom of the boat.  He whined that it was getting too close to shark-thirty and he might be better putting it off for one more day, but I tried to put his fears at rest by telling him that there was still three hours before sunset and the sharks wouldn’t possibly be out yet.  Which is why I had a little bit of a surprise when I was down below changing into my suit so I could join him for a refreshing dip in the water when I heard him yelling from the stern, “Jessica!!  Get out here now!!”  I rushed out, barley being able to cover myself, to see what all the excitement was about.  He pointed to a dark spot just a few feet from the boat and exclaimed “Shark!!”.  Yup, I had forced my husband into shark infested waters.  It turned out to only be a 5-6 ft nurse shark that was happy to ignore us both (I quickly got in the water to see it better with my snorkel gear), but for Matt, having a dark looming shadow pass just feet below you while you’re not expecting it can give you quite a scare.

Today we made our way over to the Thunderball Grotto to get our first real snorkeling in this year, and I could not have been more excited.  Slack tide wasn’t until 5:30 in the evening, and with Matt’s shark scare yesterday, he was not too fond of going that late.  We bumped up our time a little bit and, since we knew the lay of the land, weren’t too worried about any current that might be running through it.  We dropped anchor in the dinghy just outside the entrance next to about five other dinghies or small boats.  I had come prepared with a ziploc full of corn to feed the fish, and both of us rushed our way into the cavernous entrance of the grotto.  Weaving through other tourist, we found a spot that had the most fish gathering in it and quickly went through all the corn as I tried to reach out and brush any fish that came by for a snack.  The currents were a little stronger than we had experienced last year which didn’t allow as much time floating in one spot to watch all the underwater life below you before bumping into the cave walls.

We’d heard it last year, and even in the span of 13 months have unfortunately found it to be true, but the fish in this area seem to be disappearing quite quickly.  Upon talking to a cruiser just as we were about to make our way into the grotto for the first time last year, he mentioned that ten years ago there were four times as many fish as there were now.  Having been one of our very first snorkel spots in the Bahamas, we didn’t know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised at the amount of fish we had been able to see at that time.  Even one year later though, it was very apparent to us that there weren’t as many fish as last year.  It’s been a subject that’s been coming up in the news a lot lately, and we seem to be experiencing it first hand, but it looks as if our oceans are starting to empty of life.  Which although as sad as it is, just gives me one more reason to appreciate that Matt and I are out exploring the world right now.  Who knows what we’d be left with if we waited 30 more years.

fish at Thunderball Grotto

cave at Thunderball Grotto

Matt inside Thunderball Grotto