Winter/Spring 2021 in the Bahamas

We’ve been cruising in the Bahamas for many years now and since we continue to return year after year, it’s a safe bet that we have our favorite spots where we spend most of our time. You can look back through our prior posts and see details on those spots. In this post, I want to focus on a couple of new spots that we explored and also discuss how Covid changed our experience and how the Bahamas reacted to the pandemic.

Covid and the Bahamas

Up until this year, the Bahamas Customs and Immigration process has been analog in a digital world. That is to say that every check-in process in the past has been a maze of paperwork, filled out in triplicate with lots of carbon paper and pencils. If you checked in at West End, there was no way that the Customs office in Long Island would have any way to verify your paperwork, because the documents you completed on check-in would be sitting in a huge pile of completed books at West End. I assume that periodically someone took those books back to Nassau, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the book our paperwork was in was just piled up with all the other books from across the country. Prove me wrong!!

Going Digital

The Bahamas took Covid seriously. They knew that they couldn’t allow tourists in to their country, unless they automated their Covid process — and it had to be done quickly. I don’t know who they hired to do the programming, but I was quite impressed with the automated process that they put in place, in just a matter of months. Their requirements included a pre-arrival negative test, a rapid test upon arrival, and a final test 7 days after arrival. Each step was entered in to a web portal and progress was apparently tracked. They also required us to complete a daily diary entry via a web portal and report our location and health status. Color me impressed!

Masks and Vaccines

Throughout the islands, we were required to wear masks in town and we had to be prepared to show our health certificate. For example, we were walking around in Duncantown in the Ragged Islands (20-40 people on the island), and a member of the Bahamas Defense Force stopped us and asked us to provide our health paperwork!

Before we left the Bahamas in May, they were already vaccinating locals. We heard there were groups of American volunteers traveling to the out islands to make sure people in hard to reach places were vaccinated.

A Model Response

As a result of the government’s proactive response to Covid, they were able to keep the infection and death rates very low. They did not fall in to the trap of politicizing the pandemic. They decided what needed to be done, allocated the resources, and delivered results. Congrats for job well done – and thanks for letting us visit!

Enjoying the Old Haunts

As usual, we checked in to the Bahamas at Great Harbour in the Berry Islands, then we continued on to the Exumas, stopping along the way to enjoy our favorite spots. The Exumas Land & Sea Park, Staniel Cay, Pipe Cay, and Joe Cay were on our list of must-stops. Our son Patrick and daughter-in-law Heather flew in to Staniel Cay and spent a week exploring the area with us as we passed back through the Exumas late in the season and that was definitely a highlight.

We continued on to the Ragged Islands in time for Valentines Day and then spent the rest of February and most of March there with old and new friends, mostly waiting on the wind to die down so we could go spear fishing and snorkeling! But while we waited, we hung out at the Hog Cay Yacht Club, hiked around the nearby islands, had beach gatherings with other cruisers, did boat projects, and we even water skied!

Exploring the Outer Islands

For years we’ve been PLANNING to go to the eastern most Bahamas Islands: Crooked/Acklins, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Cat, etc., but either time, weather, or general malaise has stopped us. This year we were determined to explore a bit more. With our friends on Reach and Elpis (both Dolphin 46 sailing catamarans), we left the Raggeds for The Cooked Acklins with plans to stage at the South East end of Acklins Island for a run over to the Plana Cays and then up to the Samana Cays to do some spear fishing before continuing on to Rum, San San Salvador, Conception, and finally Cat. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate.

Crooked Acklins

Personally, I considered the Crooked/Acklins Islands to be just a stop over to an adventure, but we really enjoyed our time there. First, a little geography. The Crooked/Acklins is one of the “island groups” of the Bahamas that includes two main islands: Crooked Island, and Acklins Island. Acklins Island is a long narrow island shaped like a backwards P (sort of) that runs primarily North/South. Crooked Island is shaped a bit like an upside down V that runs NW to SE. Between the two islands is a huge shallow bay that is called “The Bight.” Along the shores of both islands are world class Bone and Permit fishing, and spectacular birding including huge flocks of Flamingos.

The main settlement on Crooked Island is Albert Town and on Acklins Island is Spring Point. To get to Spring Point, you have to travel up in to the crook of the Bight and ROAM draws too much water to make that trip. Others have told us it is worth a visit.

Crooked Island and Albert Town

We spent 3-4 nights at the NW corner of Crooked Island in a beautiful anchorage that offered great protection from South to East winds, but zero protection if the wind turned West to North. There is a large flock of Flamingos that hangs out within a 15 minute dinghy ride and there is world class snorkeling right off the beach. We snorkeled in 15 feet of water, along a reef that was less than 100 yards to a 1000+ foot drop off. The water was, I believe the clearest I have EVER snorkeled in, beating the Exumas and Raggeds by a LONG shot!

We would liked to have spent longer, but a frontal system was approaching and the reports were that it would blow hard out of the NW for 4-6 days. Reach and Elpis, being shallow draft catamarans, decided to run up in to the Bight. That wasn’t an option for us and there were only two options available to us. The first option was a small bay called Attwood Harbour on the NE side of Acklins Island. It was a long way around and since we didn’t know much about it, we opted for option 2, a marina called Crooked Island Lodge & Marina. They were just completing a brand new deep water marina designed for “super yachts.” They haven’t quite worked out some important details, like how to control surge in the marina when the winds blow out of the north or west, but other than the lines groaning as the boat moved back and forth with the ebb and flow of the water, we hardly noticed the surge aboard Roam.

We spent a week in the marina, waiting on the front to blow through. We ate at the lodge restaurant twice (it was that good) and rode our bikes in to town to explore and had a lovely lunch in town. And we waited on the weather to improve.

When the wind finally switched to the east, we left the marina and anchored in front of Albert Town, less than a mile from the marina. Our friends on Reach and Elpis sailed up the next day and we did some snorkeling and spearfishing along the shore line. Though we were well protected from the E and S winds, it was still blowing 15-25 and after a couple of days, Michelle and I realized that our trip to the Plana Cays and Samana wasn’t going to happen, so we made plans to head south east, which would give us a comfortable ride up to the next island.

Conception Island

Heading NE from Crooked Island, the first island you come to is Rum Cay. I wanted to stop just because of the name, but unfortunately, there are no good anchorages when the wind is blowing, so we waved and had a Rum Drink as we passed by and continued on to Conception.

Conception Island is a National Park that has been well managed and is absolutely stunning. We ended up only staying one night because the anchorage was a bit rolly, but we did enjoy walking on the beach with the pups and our dinghy ride through the Mangrove River. We had planned to snorkel, but didn’t – and I don’t remember why. Laziness? Probably. Definitely worth a return visit though!

Calabash Bay, Long Island

We had planned to continue on to Cat Island from Conception, but I realized that it was the same distance to Calabash Bay on Long Island as it was to Cat Island and we had heard so many good things about Calabash Bay, we decided to detour. Calabash is a large bay on the NW end of Long Island. The bay appears to provide good protection from the South all the way to North East. Unfortunately, if the wind is blowing from the SE, they get a horrible wrap around swell that gave us our most uncomfortable night’s sleep EVER while cruising. As soon as we had enough light the next morning to be able to see the reefs, we were outta there! Thanks but we’ll pass next time.

Cat Island

Cat Island is a long island that runs NW to SE and is shaped like a backwards L. Approaching from the SW, you pass the bottom part of the L, hook a right and continue in to the crook, where you can choose between anchoring at either New Bight and Old Bight. New Bight is the “big” city and Old Bight is a sand rode a small resort, and about 5 houses. We chose Old Bight. We anchored right in front of the 10 room resort called Rollies and relaxed, looking out on a beautiful beach an eclectic little resort, and not much else. We had heard that the resort owners loved cruisers and friends had encouraged us to support them by eating in their restaurant, which turned out to be a good decision. They offered a limited menu, but the fish was fresh and the vegetables were grown on property.

One day, we rode our bikes over to New Bight, had a fantastic Jerk Chicken lunch, and visited the Hermitage which was built at the top of Mount Alvernia and is the highest point in the Bahamas at 206 feet (63 meters). It was built in 1936 by Monsignor John Hawes, known to Cat Islanders as Father Jerome, a skilled architect and sculptor, and a self-described contemplative and admirer of St. Francis of Assisi. Father Jerome is also known for building cathedrals and convents throughout The Bahamas, including on Long Island and New Providence. He died in 1956 and is said to be buried somewhere on the site of The Hermitage.

Our next move was up the coast of Cat Island to Fernandez Bay. This turned out to be a fantastic little anchorage with room for 10-15 boats. The bay has an absolutely gorgeous half moon shaped beach which is perfect for morning walks with the dogs. At the south end of the bay is an entrance to a shallow estuary that is home to world class bone fishing. I tried to connect with the local guide, but he was off island while we were there. We did a tour with our dingy and I saw quite of few nice bones as we putted along.

The main resort is Fernandez Bay Resort and they love cruisers. They have a great beach bar that is opened and welcoming. Feel free to jump off your boat, swim in to the bar, order a beer, and look out in to the bay to admire your yacht!!

While we were there, our old friends on the Manta 42, Circa Trova sailed in to the bay and our new friends on the Manta 42 Hahalua joined the party soon after. We used to own a Manta, called Double Wide (check out our old blog posts), so we have a soft spot for Manta cruisers. Plus they are really fun people to hang out with!! 🙂 Hahalua organized a rental car for the 6 of us to tour the island and make another visit to the Hermitage in New Bight. It was difficult to leave this fun group, but move on…

Little San Salvador and Cape Eleuthera

Our next stop after Fernandez was Little San Salvador, a small island just off the north end of Cat Cay. It’s a private island owned by a Cruise Line. With Covid, the island was basically empty, but the caretakers didn’t want us to go ashore. We did, so that we could walk our dogs, but we got right back off the beach. We spent the night here and moved on the next day to Cape Eleuthera Resort, which is located on the north west end of the cape of Eleuthera.

We had heard from friends that this was a fantastic resort. They were right! The marina isn’t super fancy, but it’s more than adequate, the people there are really friendly, and we enjoyed a break from the wind and weather. We had time to kill before our son & daughter-in-law were due to meet us in the Exumas, so we took a week off from cruising, rented a car and did a little land cruising.

And in the blink of an eye, our “Outer Bahamas” cruise was over. We spent a few weeks back in the Exumas before heading back to Florida and a haul out for a little ROAM TLC.

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