Our First Taste of the Exumas: Living Large at Highbourne Cay

While I feel very lucky Phillip and I cruised the Abacos last year when they were still intact, I feel even more lucky that in “blog time” I am now able to share the wonderful islands that still remain.  I don’t mind saying it again—remember: The best way to help the Bahamas rebuild, is to continue to visit the islands that were spared.  And, why would you not?  When this awaits!

This was mine and Phillip’s first introduction to the Exuuuummmaaas: Highbourne Cay!  If you recall our stop into Morgan’s Bluff on the north tip of Andros was an unexpected, but highly-rewarding, detour.  We had been getting our teeth kicked in sailing into some rough winds coming out of the Northwest Providence Channel that were unexpectedly more southeast than south, the exact direction we would have to sail if we wanted to go directly to the Exumas from Bimini (which had been our original plan).  But, go where the weather takes you, right?  And Andros really wowed us, even with just a short overnight stay.  As I mentioned previously, we are definitely planning to spend more time there this coming season and fully explore all that the Andros Barrier Reef has to offer! Our goal this past season, however, was to get to the Exumas.  Phillip and I had not cruised them yet, and we had heard from so many other cruisers how enchanting and unique they are.  So, we said “See you later, Andros!”  It was Exumas or bust. 

And, wouldn’t you know it. Those winds that were bashing us around the day before laid down and shifted more to the south, allowing us to sail … for a bit … until they completely died.  

You know there are only three kinds of wind, don’t you?  What are you gonna do?  We spent a wonderful day motoring across the Tongue of the Ocean, however, with the trolling line out, mind you.  Thinking surely we would catch another nice whopping fish (now, when it was calm and we had nothing else to really do).  But, no, the seas have quite the sense of humor.  I’m starting to think there are only three types of fish, too: 1) the monsters that bite at the worst time; 2) the even bigger catches that would impress all your friends that never bite at all (or take your lure if they do); and 3) the little ones you catch often but they’re too small to keep.  Would you agree?  Phillip and I definitely would have loved to have another guy like this to have bitten when we were crossing the deep blue!

But, fish.  What are you gonna do?  You’re going to eat wine and cheese instead!  That’s what you’re going to do.  

We have plenty of that on-board, and a nice easy passage made for a nice wine, cheese, and book session.  I believe I was reading Where the Crawdads Sing at that time.  Could not put it down.  Any of you read that one?  Or let me know what your other favorite read has been recently.  I absolutely devour books when we’re on passage.  It’s my favorite time to read!  : )

We eased into sunset and around the east tip of Nassau, where we really had to watch the AIS traffic. When we spent those three torturous months in the Pensacola Shipyard with Brandon at Perdido Sailor back in 2016, we installed AIS on the boat.  Man, life on the hard. Those are some hard-earned, well-worth-it memories!

Although we only receive AIS transmissions, we do not transmit, Phillip and I have found it to be a fantastic addition to the boat.  I love (love, love!) that when it’s completely dark out, cloudy, with no moon or stars to light the horizon on a night passage, that at least AIS is looking out and showing me where the boats are.  It is also immensely comforting to have AIS tell me how big the other ships are, which way they are going, and what our CPA (closest point of approach) is.  Phillip and I will never regret the decision to install AIS.  Also, this may sound silly to admit, but it is rather entertaining at night.  Phillip and I hold two-hour shifts on and off and sometimes those two hours can tick by rather slowly.  It’s kind of fun to click on AIS and see who else is out there, what is their ship name, how big is it, and even hale them on the radio if you need to communicate a safe passing.  I was sure glad we had it, too, on my shift that night, as this is what Nassau looked like when we rounded the bend.  A web of ships!

We had set our sights on Highbourne Cay, one of the most northern of the Exumas and a good “dive in” point for the Exumas as they have a little marina there with fuel and a few sparse provisions.  

It would be the last marina we would see in the Exumas for a while, so we planned to drop the hook on the lee side of Highbourne Cay and spend a fun day exploring Highbourne and the surrounding islands. And the Exumas immediately began welcoming us with a glistening, dazzling show! As we started to near Highbourne Cay, the dark, deep water of the Tongue of the Ocean began to shallow and transform into this crystalline blue.  It was absolutely stunning.  Hard to believe our boat was swishing and swaying though such a breathtaking jeweled surface.  

Phillip and I both couldn’t stop staring and taking pictures.  Well, okay I was the one taking the pictures.  It’s tough being the ship’s historian.  Someone’s gotta take all the selfies to prove we were there!  : )

The folks at the Highbourne Cay Marina were super helpful and friendly and got us all topped up for our planned passages further down into the Exumas.  We arrived fairly early in the morning with an open day ahead, which Phillip naturally filled with wonderful plans to dinghy a bit to the north up to South Allan’s Island and Iguana Beach.  That man is the best trip planner; he always picks something fun, interesting, active, and usually delicious.  I am one lucky gal I will tell you that.  

On the way up, we found a beautiful little reef to snorkel and threw out our trusty Mantus dinghy anchor.  That thing is such an asset on the dinghy.  Very well-designed, super functional, and—once dug in—mighty strong. 

The anchorage there at South Allan’s was stunning.  Staying the night on the hook in there would feel like you have the world to yourself. 

Well, you and the lizards!  There were plenty of them on Iguana Beach.  

Are iguanas lizards?  Maybe not.  Hopefully I didn’t offend them in my squeaky “I want a lizard selfie” run to the beach!  : )

There is a lizard back there, I promise. I don’t like to get too close to things that can leap and claw my eyes out.

Dinghying back to our boat is when I took this famous shot of our stern. The water in the Exumas was definitely of another caliber.

For dinner that night we decided to dinghy ashore and eat at the Xuma restaurant the guys at the marina had told us about, which from a quick stroll-by earlier that day, looked fabulous.  So, Phillip and I made the absolute perfect decision to blow our load there that night and splurge on an insanely-indulgent fine-dining dinner at Highbourne Cay.  Besides, we had to celebrate and cheers our first stop in the Exumas.  It took years of planning, hard work, saving, and some rather grueling boat projects to get our boat this far.  It was worth every cent, every calorie.  Some meals just are.  

Next up, we’ll take you to Norman’s Cay with its sunken drug plane and the famous MacDuff’s Restaurant.  Cheers!

4 thoughts on “Our First Taste of the Exumas: Living Large at Highbourne Cay

  • Thanks for sharing your Bahama experiences. We plan to sail there this winter, so I appreciate your insights. Hope to get a chance to chat with you at the Annapolis Boat Show, too!

    • Oh, I’m so glad to hear you’re planning on going. You won’t regret it! And, we hope to meet you, too. I’ll be speaking Oct. 8th from noon to 3pm if you would like attend that (or stalk me around that tent ; ) to meet afterward). Thanks for reaching out.

  • Every time I hear of highbourne Cay I think of Highbourne hill in the Jimmy buffet book ‘ a salty piece of land” . I hope you have read it, it’s one of my favorite listens on car journeys as an audio book! I’m alway suprized how many people have not read/listened to it! Cheers Warren

    • Ahhh … I’ll have to admit I have not read THAT one yet, but you’ve now bumped it waaaayyy up high on our list. Thanks for the reminder! I’ll have to look out for mention of Highbourne Hill when I do!

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