Back to the Berries: Our Most Isolated and Inundated Stops

I would have never thought I would use the word “inundated” when describing the Berry Islands, but unfortunately, one of them is. Have any of you seen Coco Cay? Formerly Little Stirrup Island, the island was purchased by Carnival Cruise Lines and turned into just that: a carnival. 

We’ll get there.

Thankfully, many of the other islands of the Berries remain untouched and exude the quiet, serene calm that Phillip and I love about the Berry Islands. The one we stopped at first after leaving Warderick Wells Cay on a nice overnight run to the Berries was just that: quiet and picture-perfect Little Harbour Cay. Proof, we had the place ALL to ourselves:

And, it was a place we had never heard of before and likely never would have stopped at had it not been so heartily recommended by a fellow cruising friend (shout-out to Pensacola sailor, BaBaLu!).

That is one of the very cool things about meeting new cruisers: they often help you find new tucked-away little anchorages you might have never found otherwise. So, before I tell you about Little Harbour Cay, let me tell you a little about the sailor who recommended the place to us: Captain Bob Fleege, better known to Pensacola locals as “BaBaLu.” (Seriously, you say that name in cruising circles around here and everyone knows who you’re talking about.) BaBaLu sails on an exquisite Catalina 34, s/v Partager (which means “to share” in French and boy does he!). And, just like the French, he kisses, too! 

This is Bob greeting me in front of his boat at the shipyard. While we knew BaBaLu in passing (as the Pensacola cruising community is delightfully small), we got to know him much better (as you always do) when we were both on the hard in the Pensacola Shipyard back in 2016 when Phillip and I spent a grueling three months re-building our rotten mast stringers and changing our old rod rigging to wire. Whew, that was some serious time on the hill! Bob was hauled out, too, replacing his auto-pilot and some electronics and he was gracious enough to let me film a tour of his exquisite Catalina 34 while we were there. BaBaLu’s was Boat Tour No. 2 at HaveWind!

Bob was cheering there after having just crawled out of this hole … if you can believe it.

Believe it …

BaBaLu also appeared in our Second Annual Boozer Cruiser when we picked him up aboard s/v Partager to dinghy him around for a night of boat-to-boat, boozing fun! Bob had just come out to drop the hook for the night—with no idea that we had a Progressive Boozer Cruiser, costume-required, evening at the anchorage planned. But, that didn’t deter him one bit. As a cruiser, Bob is always prepared. (I couldn’t NOT share this clip with you : ). According to Phillip, the First Rule of Cruising is … 

Good times! Aside from seeing him often in Pensacola out at Ft. McRee, Red Fish, and Pirate’s Cove, we’ve met up with BaBaLu down in Key West in 2014, as well, when he was there when he was down for his annual cruise staying at A&B Marina. 

Bob sails his Catalina down the west coast of Florida to Cuba, Mexico, and often the Bahamas every year. So, he has a lot of great recommendations for anchorages, marinas, restaurants, and (his favorite) tiki bars along those parts. Following and texting us via our Delorme last year, when BaBaLu saw that we were leaving the Exumas to head back to the Berry Islands, he told us we had (“simply had!”) to stop at Little Harbour Cay, drop the hook (“for the day at least!”), and dinghy up the inlet to Aunt Flo’s Conch Bar for “the best cracked conch in the Bahamas!” That’s a pretty bold statement. One Phillip does not take lightly. Or, at face value. We decided we needed to verify Bob’s promise for ourselves. For … scientific accuracy, not because we love cracked conch.

Little Harbour Cay is one of the long narrow islands in the Berries between Chub Cay to the south and Great Harbour Cay to the north.

Phillip and I would likely not have stopped there if it hadn’t been for Bob’s recommendation because we didn’t know there was an anchorage there and we had no idea there was a restaurant. But, after a nice, peaceful overnight from the Exumas across the Tongue of the Ocean, we meandered in to Little Harbour Cay and were thrilled to find this little gem.

It was a beautiful blue-water spot with gorgeous green and navy waters, a protected little anchorage with plenty of depth, and some fun inlets to poke around in on the dinghy. Not to mention Flo’s Conch Bar just a short dinghy ride up the way.

But, I do have to break some sad news to you. We didn’t get any conch at Aunt Flo’s Conch Bar. I know … it was a travesty! But, it was entirely our own faults. Bob had told us in a text to “call ahead and order the cracked conch.” We figured Bob just liked to have his lunch hot and ready when he got there. He’s quite organized like that. Not being as particular—and happy to wait for home-cooked food in a fun, new place—Phillip and I just dinghied in, planning to order when we got there. Well … we can’t fault Bob for it. He tried to tell us. We just didn’t know “call ahead” meant “if you don’t, they won’t have conch for you.” At least for us they did not. We got there around 2:30 p.m. and chatted a bit with this guy in the kitchen who was trying to fix a flashlight with some wire and duct tape. He wasn’t very talkative, but he was friendly and nice enough to let us know they only cooked conch for you if you called it in by 11:00 a.m. Like the Seinfeld soup kitchen, it was “No conch for you!”

But, as I mentioned, that was our fault. Aunt Flo, we’ll be back! And, we’ll call ahead next time! What was really cool, though, was the little surprise I found there on the wall at Aunt Flo’s. Here, I’ll give you a little 360 of the place so you can see what Aunt Flo’s Conch Bar looks like.

There are so many of these little Mom-and-Pop type fried conch restaurants in the Bahamas, and many of them have lots of local memorabilia tacked up on the walls—shirts, boat flags and pennants, signed dollar bills, you name it. And, I was just moseying around while Phillip was sipping his rum drink talking to the Flashlight Fix-it guy and look what I found on the wall!  

BaBaLu’s boat signature that he had left there about a month before us in April, 2019! S/v Partager was here! : )

Little Harbour Cay was definitely a fun little surprise and a nice welcome back to the Berries. Our first time there, back in 2018, we had pulled into Frazer’s Hog Cay, just because it looked like the most protected spot for a blow we were expecting, that was all, but it turned out to be the most memorable stop of our Abacos cruise in the winter of 2017-2018. Why? Because of the people! It’s always the people! That’s when we met the infamous Pat and Steve who I wrote about on the blog and in SAIL Magazine.

Steve and Pat made the Berries an unforgettable special stop for me and Phillip back in 2018, and we were excited to now log a new Berries story in our belt. “Aunt Flo, Conch No” we’ll call it : ). Despite our Flo flub, though, Little Harbour Cay was our most isolated, wonderful stop in the Berry Islands this past year. 

Leaving Little Harbour Cay, however, and making our way north toward Great Stirrup and Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, Phillip and I encountered the most inundated island in the Berries. We had a nice sail up north that day and decided to get the stainless polished up while we were underway.

I didn’t know if it was the Collinite fumes or the heat, but I thought I was seeing things. As we were sailing on the Atlantic side past Devil’s Cay then Hoffman’s Cay, we were stunned to see what looked to be an alien monstrosity start to materialize on the horizon. I really didn’t know what I was looking at for a while. It looked like a County State Fair right there on the Atlantic. There was a looping, towering structure that mimicked an amusement park ride, a hot air balloon in the air, lots of flags flailing, what appeared to be towers with zip lines. It was insane!

As Phillip and I began to make our way closer, we realized we were seeing exactly what we thought we were seeing: a carnival on the water. Carnival Cruise Lines bought this island and converted it into exactly what you would expect a Carnival island to look like. I’m sorry, but as a purist and fan of natural Bahamian beauty, I felt like Coco Cay was an absolute monstrosity in the Bahamas. 

I’m sure it’s fun. I’m sure the drinks are tasty (and pricy). And, I’m sure many people have a great time there. But, it’s all so … concocted. It’s taking American ideas of “fun” and “vacation” and imposing it on what was once a beautiful, pristine island landscape. Little Stirrup and Great Stirrup are now private islands that you can’t event dinghy up to and simply step ashore and enjoy, which is sad. I honestly thought a good bit about Terry Jo Duperrault and her mesmerizing Alone: Orphaned at Sea story (which I had read during our passage over to the Bahamas that year) because her family, while cruising the Bahamas in 1961, had stopped at Little Stirrup Cay, when it was an untouched Bahamian gem of an island. If only Terry could see this now, I thought. Coco Cay is quite shocking. 

Phillip and I circled around Little Stirrup and headed into the inlet on the Atlantic side of Great Harbour Cay to drop the hook for the evening. Unfortunately, the anchorage did not offer the same serene charm as Little Harbour Cay with all of the Coco Cay “excursions” that were running about. We had jet skis circling us all afternoon and power boats zipping from island to island, chock full of Carnival cruisers. But, Phillip and I were there for a reason. We needed to scrub the bottom. We had been doing the bottom on our own while cruising in the Bahamas, which proved to be a rather easy, gratifying project. We only have to do it once a month or so. It only requires a couple of Scotch Brites and some healthy lungs. Or our Mantus Snuba set-up, which gives us each 15 minutes on either side to scrub the bottom and is a great portable little dive rig. We call it “snuba” because it’s a nice hybrid between scuba-diving and snorkeling. Thank you Mantus for another great product!

Scrubbing the bottom ourselves also gives us comfort laying hands on our own hull and making sure she’s in good shape, i.e., there are no blisters forming, or big paint patches chipping off. I honestly rather enjoy it. And, I knew it would be a while before we would be doing it again, so it was kind of like giving Plaintiff’s Rest a little love pat on the bottom before leaving her. Phillip and I were scrubbing the bottom that day because we knew our next stop was going to be Plaintiff’s Rest’s home for hurricane season and we wanted to park her with a clean bottom. 

Yep, you read that right. We did not sail our Niagara 35 back to Pensacola this past summer. While it was hard to do and a tough decision, it ended up being the right one for us and our boat. Thankfully … Next up on the blog, we will tell you all about the protected little hurricane hole in the Bahamas where we kept our baby girl this past season, where she weathered a massive storm that ravaged the Abacos only sixty miles to the north of her (Hurricane Dorian – uggh), and where she remained in incredibly-capable hands and under the watchful-eyes of amazingly gracious cruising friends. New ones at that! Cruising is most definitely all about the people. We have much to share about hurricane season this year. Stay tuned!

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4 Responses to Back to the Berries: Our Most Isolated and Inundated Stops

  1. I have often wondered where the private islands are and what they are like. Now I know where to avoid.

    I had Christmas in the Berries in 1960 though I can’t remember which one. It was cold, but not Cape Cod cold! Later we anchored off the lighthouse on Great Stirrup before heading back to the States in the spring of ’61. Our experience as cruisers is pretty much the same as what you report as a cruiser and I like that. Good to see that the culture and society of cruisers remains intact.

    Norm

    • anniedike says:

      Yes, we’ve fallen in love with the culture and personalities of the people and islands in the Bahamas. This will definitely be cherished cruising grounds for us. Glad you’re enjoying the reminiscent journey Norm.

  2. Captain Doug here we’ll have to catch up on what has been going on for the last couple years I was in the Bahamas celebrating hurricane Dorian the Puffin as you know it is it debris pile now in Marsh Harbour I got a new boat just a couple days ago I’m working my way back to Fort Myers Beach Facebook is Dougmensing.7

    • anniedike says:

      Hey Cap’n Doug! Good to hear from you. Sorry to hear about the Puffin, though, that’s a bummer. Glad you got a new boat and are headed back to your home turf. We love Ft. Myers. We’re enjoying the Bahamas this year. Thankfully, our boat survived Dorian, but it was too close for comfort.

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