The Travelogues of Diane and Dave
The Trip Report:
Our trip began with an early morning departure out of BWI on Saturday, April 8, 2000. American Airlines took us to Miami and from there on to Nassau, Bahamas. In Nassau we had arranged a charter flight with LeAir to the tiny island of Staniel Cay, located about midway along the chain of islands known as the Exumas. As we progressed further on each leg of the trip, we progressed to a smaller and smaller plane. We started with a full size jet to Miami, then went to a twin turbo prop to Nassau and then finally to a 5 seat, single engine, piston powered prop for the 30-minute flight to Staniel Cay. The runway on Staniel Cay is only about 3,000 foot long.
At Staniel Cay airport, Mal, our friendly chauffeur, met us with what looked like a centuries old, beat-up, pick-up truck (we later learned it was actually a 1962 model year). Mal was graciously filling in for the regular caretaker who couldn't make it that day due to a family emergency on another island. The truck starter had just recently failed so I, our two pilots, and two other bystanders had to push start the truck on the airport ramp. It took us three tries till she started. Diane and I love adventures and we were tickled pink that this one was already in full swing! :-)
The drive to our rental house, Crow's Nest, barely took 5 minutes at a speed of about 5 to 10 miles per hour. There are few roads on Staniel Cay. The ones on the northern end where we were staying were very rough and sandy. The roads on the "suburban" southern end of the island were paved and in better condition. After dropping us and our luggage off at the locked front door of the house, Diane and I explored around the outside of the house while Mal went back to town for the house key. No one had mentioned to Mal that the house was locked. I guess when you live on such a friendly small island you find that locks are rarely needed.
We spent the rest of our Saturday afternoon becoming familiar with the lay of the island, walking around the village and acquiring some groceries for the rest of the week.
On Sunday morning we awoke to a beautiful sunny day. All we had to do was prop ourselves up on our elbows in bed to watch the glorious sun rise over Exuma Sound. Unfortunately, the day's weather forecast was not good. Some time around noon, a front was supposed to move in and create high winds and choppy seas. We decided to spend that morning on our private ocean beach while the weather was nice. We had a great time frolicking in the surf and exploring the beach. True to the forecast, at about noon the winds picked up and the surf got rough. We spent the rest of the day walking around the island and the village. During the afternoon we made supper reservations at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC) using the VHF radio. It was an experience trying to understand what the restaurant was asking me over the radio. I guess I don't have a good "radio ear". In the future we walked to the restaurants to make our reservations. For dinner at SCYC we tried the fish and the conch. Neither of us had ever had conch before. Both were very good, however, the conch seemed rather "chewy" ?. They reminded us of large fried clam strips. The conch was breaded and deep-fried. After seeing a live conch a few days later, I'm a little queasy about what parts of it I had eaten that night without knowing it! Who knows what was hiding in the breading ?!
On Monday morning we awoke to a windy, gusty, cloudy, dreary day. The weather forecast was not encouraging. It was calling for winds of 15 to 25 knots with Small Craft advisories for the next few days. There were 10 foot plus seas in the Gulf Stream. Our spirits started sinking as we envisioned "Paradise Lost". We had come anticipating renting a small boat and exploring all the small islands to the north and south along the Exuma chain. Instead, we spent the day either relaxing around the house, reading, working on a jigsaw puzzle or walking about the island. We hiked around the rocky headlands of northern Staniel Cay. We found a small, somewhat protected beach near Club Thunderball where we took a dip. The sand was finer than talcum powder. We tried making a dinner reservation at Club Thunderball, but they were going to close early that day. Since the winds were so high, the water was very choppy and that makes it hard for the boaters at anchor (their main source of customers) to come ashore in their dinghies.
Tuesday was a repeat of Monday. The winds were still blowing hard and the seas were still very choppy. However, this evening Club Thunderball was open and having a Happy Hour and so we were able to have supper there. We tried the seafood platter, which was a sampler of lobster, shrimp and conch.
Wednesday, the winds were slightly calmer. We decided we'd go to SCYC
and see if we could rent a boat. The boat they rented us was a 13-foot
Boston Whaler with a 25 Hp outboard. We eagerly left the SCYC docks
and headed north around the west side of Big Majors Spot. There were
a lot of boaters anchored in the lee of Big Majors Spot. There were
two huge multi-million dollar 100+ foot motor yachts anchored there
along with about two dozen smaller motor and sailing yachts. We continued
north and passed thru a narrow cut between Big Majors Spot and Fowl
Cay. That's where
Thursday dawned the same as Wednesday. We hurried to SCYC and rented the boat again. This time we got an earlier start. I was also getting better at navigating so we didn't get lost this time. However, it was low tide and so I ran aground several times again, dang it! This was becoming embarassing. We'd be far away from any land and yet we'd run aground on a large, shallow sand bar. It was amazing. You could tell by the color of the water that the water depth was getting shallower. I'd try to steer around the shallow areas looking for darker, deeper water but I would mis-calculate some how and still run aground. It makes a bit more sense when you learn that the name Bahamas comes from the Spanish "baha mars" meaning shallow seas. This day we went a little farther north than the previous day. We stopped at a reef area known as the "Sea Aquarium" which is located just north of O'Brien's Cay. The reef was alongside a small rocky islet and included a small bowl-shaped cove in the side of the islet. The fish and coral were fantastic! We brought some bread with us and fed the fish. The small yellow and black striped Sergeant Majors would swarm around you like Piranhas. The fish were so thick you could reach out and touch them with your hand. After a good time snorkeling, we explored the shallow north end of O'Brien's Cay. Then we went turned south and found a small, secluded beach on the west side of O'Brien's Cay where we pulled over for another picnic lunch. When we got back to Staniel, we still had a fair amount of time on the boat rental so we started heading south of Staniel Cay. Unfortunately, there was a large open area south of Staniel Cay and the water was very exposed, wind-blown and rough, so we turned back. We checked out the plane wreck just off the beach of Staniel and then went back to Thunderball Grotto. This time it was high tide when we anchored at the grotto. The cave entrance was submerged, making it necessary to dive under and come up inside the cave. The fish were fantastic again. The Sergeant Majors swarmed again when we fed them, and the Squirrel Fish, Parrot Fish and Groupers were all over the place. Diane got a little nervous when the huge Groupers would approach her looking for their hand-out. They could probably fit your whole hand into their mouth. After returning the boat to SCYC we had a relaxing supper at home.
Friday, the wind picked up again. Since 1) Diane was getting tired of the pounding she was getting sitting in the boat while we motored thru the choppy water and since 2) we wanted to be careful about our sun exposure, (although after two days of total sun exposure, all we had was a little sun burn on the tops of our feet and my lips) we decide to relax around the island. We found another nice talcum powder beach on the south end of Staniel Cay near some old stone ruins where Diane took a dip and Dave watched. For dinner we wanted to try Happy People Marina, the third restaurant on the island, however, Club Thunderball was having a chicken and ribs BBQ so Happy People was closed that evening. So instead we went back to SCYC for supper.
Saturday dawned dark, windy, and rainy with thunder and lightning. We were wondering as we packed up, whether our small plane from Nassau would be able to fly in such lousy weather and if they did, would they be able to find the tiny island of Staniel Cay. We started having fantasies of having to call our bosses back home to say that we had to stay a few extra days because of bad weather. Berkie, our housekeeper picked us up and drove us the 3 minutes to the airport where we waited for our plane, and waited and waited while the wind and rain blew and thunder and lightning filled the skies. After about 45 minutes Berkie stopped by to check up on us and took Diane back to his house to call the airplane company. We learned that the plane had been sent and should arrive soon. After about another 10 minutes, our flight finally showed up. Fortunately it wasn't too bumpy on the flight back to Nassau. We were flying at about 4,500 feet and could see nothing out the windows but white and dark clouds. Luckily our pilot managed to find his way back to Nassau where we caught our flight back to Miami and then to Baltimore. American Airlines was having scheduling problems that day due to bad weather and our flights were delayed several times, but we eventually made it home.
The next day, Sunday, was spent unpacking and doing laundry.
In summary, yes, the windy weather definitely put a damper on many of our planned activities in Staniel Cay. However, we still had a good time relaxing and exploring Staniel Cay. We also had a good time boating, snorkeling, picnicking and exploring the small islands north on our two "good" days.
The island of Staniel Cay
Staniel Cay is about 1 1/2 mile long and about 1/2 mile wide with about 100 inhabitants. The eastern shore is comprised of two pink sand beaches separated by a small rocky promontory. The northwestern side was the main village of Staniel and the southwestern side was scattered residences. The ground was very rocky making for rough roads and even rougher gardening. Here are maps of Staniel Cay.
We found the residents of Staniel Cay very friendly and warm. We were always treated like fellow residents during our stay.
There are two main ways to get to Staniel Cay, if you don't have a boat.
The first is to fly to Nassau, Bahamas. Then charter a light plane to Staniel Cay. There are several charter companies in Nassau you can contact. They are LeAir (242-377-2356), Island Air Service (305) 899-1313, and Executive Air Travel (954-979-6162). As of 4/2000 the rate from Nassau to Staniel was $350, one way. That was for up to 5 people.
The second is to fly to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Then charter a light plane to Staniel Cay. The one known charter service is thru SCYC. As of 4/2000, the rate from Ft. Lauderdale to Staniel was $378 per person, round trip. The flight from Ft. Lauderdale has to stop along the way on the Bahamian island of Andros for clearing customs.
There are several places to stay on Staniel Cay.
The BEST is the private home we stayed in called Crow's Nest. Like the old adage in real estate says; location, location, location. Crows Nest is located on 18 acres of prime real estate on top of the highest hill (about 80 feet) on Staniel Cay. There are no other houses nearby, thus you have lots of privacy. It commands fantastic views in every direction! The views from the master bedroom loft out over the ocean or back over the island are "to-die-for"! In the morning we got the sunrise and in the evening we got the sunset. The clean, open, simple floor plan yielded lots of living space with great views from every room. Here's a floor plan. Doing dishes at the kitchen sink is no longer a chore when you're looking out over the crystal clear turquoise waters of Exuma Sound. There's a 100 ft walk down to a beautiful, private, ocean beach. Crows Nest is available thru Hideaways, search for property # HBH164.
Another choice is the private home called Serenity. It's located along a rocky shoreline with a view out towards "Thunderball Grotto". It has no beach and as of 4/2000 its dock is gone, probably courtesy of hurricane Fran. It is located close to town and has other homes nearby. Serenity is available thru its own website.
Another choice is the cabin/bungalows at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC). They are available thru the SCYC website.
There are also two other cabins located in the village of Staniel Cay, right across the street from the health clinic.
The tiny island of Staniel Cay has 3 restaurants and 3 grocery stores.
The 3 restaurants are Thunderball Club, Staniel Cay Yacht Club (SCYC) and Happy People Marina. Thunderball Club and Happy People are very casual while SCYC is a little less casual. We found that SCYC was always open for the evening. When the weather was bad, Thunderball Club might close since bad weather makes it hard for the cruising yachtsmen (their primary customers) to dingy over to the Thunderball dock. When the Thunderball Club was having an evening special, Happy People would close since just about everyone was at the Thunderball Club. For the evening, dinner reservations would have to be made by either 4:00 or 5:00 pm and you had to make your meal selection at that time also. Then dinner, one sitting, was usually served at about 7:30 pm. Meals were $18 to $31 per person depending on what you get. The Bahamian lobster was the most at $31 while chicken was about $18. You have to try the lobster and also the conch, both local delicacies. The meals included a salad, main course and dessert (and at SCYC, homemade soup).
The 3 grocery stores are Isles General Store, the Blue Store and the Pink Store. The Blue and Pink store were each about 200 sq ft. Isles General was a bit larger but then only 1/3 was for the grocery section. The other 2/3 was for "general" supplies and marine parts. Selection was very limited (though we found enough fruits and vegetables) and prices very high ($3.50 for a half gallon of milk, and there was only one container available). I guess it's not too bad when you think about how far the stuff had to be shipped to get there. Locally baked fresh bread is often available and is very delicious. If you don't see it, ask for it. Not knowing what kind of selection would be available in the local stores or the prices we'd encounter, we brought some non-perishable food with us from home. We were advised to bring the grocery receipts with us for Bahamian customs, but we never needed them.
We found two places on the island that would rent boats for exploring the surrounding islands. The two locations were SCYC and Isles General Store. Both were $85 per day with gas. We rented twice from SCYC because every time we went to SCYC there was always someone on duty to help us. Isles General store was a local family operation and there wasn't always someone around. For personal convenience we chose SCYC, but we always felt bad not supporting the small local family business.
The boat they rent you is a 13-foot Boston Whaler with a 25 HP outboard with a 6-gallon tank of gas. SCYC had an 8-gallon tank if you asked for it. SCYC also had an option for a 17 foot Boston Whaler for $235 per day.
The Bahamians accept American cash for all transactions. The Bahamian dollar and the US dollar are equal and are monetarily tied together. Your change could be in either US and/or Bahamian dollars. The aircraft charter companies and SCYC would accept credit cards but would then add a 5% or 6% surcharge onto the bill. There are no banks or ATM's on the island, so you have to be sure you bring enough cash with you.
The island had several phone booths that I assume one could use for calls back home. Otherwise, for local island calls, everyone used the VHF radio. In the house we constantly monitored channel 16. If you wanted to talk to someone, you just "paged" them over the radio. Everyone had a different call sign. After they replied, you'd switch to another channel for your conversation. It was a lot of fun listening in on all the conversations, especially those of all the boaters anchored or sailing around the nearby islands. They were always comparing anchorage conditions, checking on fellow cruisers and making reservations for fresh baked bread or to bring in their dirty clothes to local island women who did laundry. The radio could also be used to call the local restaurants to make dinner reservations. Every morning at 8am "Shadow" came on the radio with the local weather for the day and the forecast for the next few days.
As for mailing our postcards, we never did figure out for sure which building was the post office. We did find the Post Master, however, and gave her our postcards to mail. She was out of stamps at the time so we just gave her the cards and the money and hoped they'd make it to their destinations eventually. We later heard from all our friends that all our postcards were received. A delivery boat runs regularly from Nassau to Exuma following the chain of islands in between. It makes stops at the "major" islands on its way south and again on its way back north. This boat transports the mail and all other shipments between the islands.
last revised : February 12, 2006