Once the stormy weather had passed, we quickly made our way out of Emerald Bay Marina on Great Exuma Island. We weren’t alone; there was a mass exodus. As pleasant as marina life was, it wasn’t what we were here for, and the cost added up. But while everyone else was headed to Georgetown, we were looking east. We headed north to Lee Stocking Island to hide from continuing westerly winds, planning to use the weather window to go to Cat Island.
This beach on Lee Stocking Island, with a hill behind it and palms bordering it, barely looks Bahamian; it looks more down island.
I certainly understand the lure of Georgetown for the hundreds of crews who will spend time there. If you’ve made cruising your life, and you’ve visited the islands again and again, Georgetown offers parties, activities, supplies and services. We weren’t looking for that. I suppose if we were retired, it might be good to have the structure that beach volleyball matches, basket-weaving and sushi-making classes and beach church offer. Admittedly, we’ve enjoyed meeting people at the various potlucks and happy hours we’ve attended; but at this stage, we prefer more one-on-one interaction. And we still haven’t killed each other, so our own company is satisfying.
On Saturday, we started out early for our trip to Cat Island, to the east of the Exumas. At nearly 50 miles, this was one of the longest passages we would make in the Bahamas. There was still some west in the wind, so we got to sail for several hours of it, including a screaming beam reach that saw Calypso clock speeds as high as 9.1 knots (that was while surfing down waves). After a long day, we anchored in New Bight, then moved on to Fernandez Bay the next day.
Ahhhh, Fernandez Bay. The resort here, Fernandez Bay Village, is truly one of my “happy places.” We’ve stayed here as land-based visitors 4 times in the last 10 years, so it was mildly surreal to approach the beach from the sea. When we went ashore, long-time manager Donna was on duty, and with a little prompting, remembered us from past visits; when we told her we’d arrived on our own boat, she was thrilled for us (she and her husband had also been cruisers, ending up at FBV 25 years ago). Though we’d hoped for a room – I haven’t slept in a proper bed in 3 months! – there were none to be had. Nevertheless, we were welcomed to enjoy the resort’s public areas and avail ourselves of the honor bar.
Calypso anchored in Fernandez Bay. To the right, the clubhouse and tiki bar on the pretty white beach.
The beach at Fernandez Bay is a lovely one – one of the loveliest in the Bahamas. But one of the great lures for me has been the mangrove creek starting at the south end of the beach, winding for some distance, and exiting into Exuma Sound further south. We paddled it at low tide; while this offers somewhat better views of the wildlife (sea turtles, baby sharks, bonefish), I hit bottom a few times, having to portage the last stretch of the creek through squidgy sand.
Fernandez Creek and Bonefish Creek combine to meander through acres of mangroves.
And yes, there are beaches on the Exuma Sound shore. Totally undeveloped and un-peopled.
Left, a beach at the outlet of Bonefish Creek. And, as usual, Rick leaves behind one of his trademark cairns.
Cat Island’s second best-known resident (after Sidney Poitier) was the famed hermit, Father Jerome. His handiwork as an architect is evident in churches built in Cat Island, Long Island and Nassau. His final work was The Hermitage, crowning the Bahamas’ highest peak – variously known as Mt. Alvernia, Comer Hill, or Como Hill. All 206 feet of it.
Have I mentioned how flat the Bahamian islands are?
Perhaps it’s my own tendencies to keep to myself that attract me to this site every time we visit Cat Island. The site is approached by climbing through the Stations of the Cross, and past a replica of Jesus’ tomb, on tiny crumbling steps. At the top is a miniature replica of an Italian monastery, where Jerome spent his last days. The campanile is surrounded by scaffolding, and the structures appear to be undergoing some sprucing up. But as usual, we were alone here, surrounding only by the buzz of insects and the wind soughing through the trees. Atop the hill, we were afforded a view of the hills of the island, Exuma Sound to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
All of the structures of the Hermitage were hand-built by Father Jerome.
The site offers beautiful views of Cat Island.
After walking the empty beach at Old Bight, Rick and I went in search of lunch.
Yet another empty beach on Cat Island, this one at Old Bight.
The Bluebird restaurant we usually visit was closed, so we drove to the site of the annual regatta, which has a number of food shacks and bars, a few of which were open for business. We sat down with a group of Cat Islanders, who were friendly but initially wary of us. But eventually they opened up and we had a fun conversation and a lot of laughs, with topics ranging from cross country skiing to snake handling preachers. When we started to go “look for a beach,” and I told them the beach there was a bit too crowded for me, one of the ladies teased: “Ooh, she wanna shed her clothes!”
At New Bight, the site of the annual regatta, taking place at the end of April.
It was a little chilly for that …. But we certainly had seclusion on Fine Bay, with not a soul in sight for miles and miles. Here, the Atlantic crashes ashore on a pink sand beach (I liken it to the color of milk after Crunch Berries). It’s the first time we’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean since we’d left the Abacos.
The pink sand and seclusion of Fine Bay.
Cat Island doesn’t attract many cruising boats, because there aren’t many safe harbors here. It doesn’t attract many visitors, period. Not that it lacks charm. Those that do visit, for the most part, are happy with the seclusion they find here.