BVI Sailing Itinerary: The Perfect Week in the British Virgin Islands

Virgin Gorda Sound BVI

The British Virgin Islands is one of the finest sailing destinations in the world. Steady trade winds, easy navigation, beautiful scenery, and infrastructure that caters to the sailing experience are some of the reasons it is so popular.

Want to make the most of a week in the islands? I built you the perfect 7 day plan for your sailing trip.

This BVI sailing itinerary is almost identical to the very first sailing trip we ever took many years ago in the British Virgin Islands (we’ve been four times now).

There is no better place for those new to yacht charter trips than the British Virgin Islands. I talk about why this might be in our boat trip beginner’s guide.

Why you would love this sailing itinerary:

  • It is absolutely perfect if it’s your first time in the British Virgin Islands – this will hit all the hot spots you don’t want to miss
  • You are less experienced with bareboat trips
  • You prefer not to anchor – you can pick up a mooring ball every night if you’d like
  • You love having bars and restaurant options ashore in most anchorages

We’ll sail counter clockwise through the islands – this allows you the protection of the islands when sailing to windward (prevailing trade winds are out of the east). When you are more exposed to the wind waves from the trades, you should have some easy downwind sailing as you head west.

Ok let’s get into it. Here is the summary if you want to jump around.

Day 1: No better place to start the sailing trip than Cooper Island

The mooring field at Cooper Island Beach Club (source: Cooper Island)

Cooper Island is a great first night stop since it’s close to many or the charter bases on the southern side of Tortola. You’ll be lucky to get off the dock by noon, so you want an easy, short sail for the crew.

Wrap up your check out procedures with the charter company and raise the sails for a quick one hour crossing over Sir Francis Drake Channel.

Grab one of the many first come first serve (FCFS) mooring balls, or find the one that you’ve reserved through Boatyball. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with Boatyball basics if you haven’t done so already.

There are ~40 balls at Cooper Island, but they tend to fill up fast. Get there early if you can. Anchoring is restricted due to preservation efforts for the sea grass and marine life.

Pour the crew a round of cocktails – you’ve arrive in paradise!

If you have a reserved mooring ball at Cooper, another option is to snorkel the HMS Rhone at nearby Salt Island, and then go to Cooper. It’s a great dive and you can also see much of the wreck snorkeling in good visibility.

Cooper Island Beach Club is friendly to visiting yachts. They have a great rum bar (with a solid happy hour), brew their own beers on site, and have an excellent restaurant.

Important note: you’ll want to call or radio as early as the day before to make reservations for dinner.

Lounge or swim from your catamaran, head ashore, or dinghy to Cistern Point for some snorkeling.

Day 2: Explore the Baths and then onwards to famous Virgin Gorda Sound

Settled day at the Baths, perfect!

Continue north (we’ll be traveling counter clockwise through the islands) and head for a lunch stop at the Baths near the southern part of Virgin Gorda – part of the National Park Trust.

The Baths should not be missed! There are about 20 free mooring balls here that can fill up fast. No anchoring. Again it can get crowded, so plan accordingly.

The highlight here is the hike through the massive boulders to Devil’s Bay. It is unlike any place I’ve ever been and you’ll want to make lots of stops to take pictures.

Important note: you can’t land your dingy ashore – they have dingy moorings available and then you swim ashore. Also use caution if there is a northerly swell running – this mooring field might be very rolly and swimming ashore, dangerous. Look for the safety flag that is visible from the mooring field – if it is red, do not swim ashore.

The hike is short, but you’ll want to take your time to enjoy the scenery – plan for at least an hour roundtrip.

If you want to grab lunch or a drink, hike up the hill to the Top of the Baths.

Virgin Gorda Sound is one of the most popular BVI destinations; Saba Rock and BEYC are in the background

Make your way up and into Virgin Gorda Sound (North Sound) through the marked channel. It’s one of the finest, protected harbours in the world.

You have a lot of options – I’d suggest heading for the mooring field at the eastern end where the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock have recently re-opened after the devasting Hurricane Irma of 2017.

Another popular area to pick up a mooring ball is Leverick Bay.

Head ashore to check out these famous establishments, but don’t feel bad if you prefer to enjoy the scenery from your sailboat. It’s beautiful there and the sunsets are fantastic.

Day 3: Sail away to the sunken island of Anegada

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Evening squall and sunset at the Setting Point anchorage in Anegada

Even if it’s your first sailing charter in the BVIs, I still recommend sailing offshore to Anegada. The channel entrance is well marked, there are plenty of mooring balls available, and most charter companies permit the trip. I talk more about navigating to Anegada and what to do once you’re there in this post.

While it’s only a 2-3 hour sail, it feels like you’ve reached a completely different sailing destination. Whereas the rest of the Virgin Islands rise sharply out of the sea, Anegada is known as the sunken island. 

It’s a coral island that reminds me of the Exumas, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the finest, secluded sandy beaches in the world.

Get an early start from North Sound to allow plenty of time to explore ashore. On your way, wave to Sir Richard Branson at Necker Island to starboard.

We like to arrange for a car rental (mokes are the best!) for ultimate flexibility. You can also take a taxi to the beautiful beaches on the north shore.

We like to start at Flash of Beauty and Loblolly Bay for some snorkeling – it’s the best in the area. Flash of Beauty is a great option for lunch.

Later in the afternoon, grab a drink at TIPSY’s and stroll the gorgeous sandy beach. Jump in the ocean for some lagoon-style swimming.

Instead of the beaches, you could also do a tour of Horseshoe Reef – the 4th largest barrier reef in the world, part of what Anegada is made of. We used Kelly for a tour and can’t recommend him enough. He was able to get us some lobster that we cooked the next day on our catamaran. 

You can arrange to have the tour operator meet you right at your sailboat.

Back at the anchorage at Setting Point, take a siesta back aboard your yacht, or sample the quality of the Bushwackers at the many bars/restaurants.

All of them offer excellent, fresh caught Caribbean lobster for dinner. In most cases, you’ll want to make a reservation earlier in the day

Wonky Dog, Potter’s, and Lobster Trap are all great options.

Day 4: Easy downwind sailing to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola

muskmelon bay at guana island in the bvis
Perfect lunch stop at Muskmelon Bay, Guana Island

If you like fishing – today might be your best day to get the lines in the water. On your way back to civilization, you can troll over the wreck of the Chikuzen – there are a lot of big fish that hang around the wreck. These are the techniques we use to fish while we are sailing and I also wrote some BVI specific fishing tips.

I like Guana Island for a lunch stop. Monkey Point has good snorkeling or if you are looking for more of a challenge, try anchoring at Muskmelon Bay. I talk about it in my secret BVI anchorages post.

sunset at Cane Garden Bay in the BVIs
Spectacular sunset at the back of the mooring field at Cane Garden Bay

Cane Garden Bay is a quintessential Caribbean bay with it’s pastel colored houses and palm tree lined beach.

This is a great day to re-stock on provisions if you are low (inevitably we always run out of something). Bobby’s Supermarket is a well stocked grocery store you can walk to from the dinghy dock.

If you are low on fuel (you shouldn’t be) or water (you might be depending on your crew), the dock at the northwest end of the bay can help you out.

Pro tip – pick up a mooring ball at the back end of the anchorage. It’s a longer dinghy ride ashore, but you’ll be rewarded with an unspoiled view of the sunset over Jost van Dyke to the west.

Important note: this anchorage is also affected by northerly swells, so have a backup plan if there is one forecasted.

Day 5: Sandy Spit and the Bubbly Pool

Sandy Spit BVI
Sandy Spit pre-Hurricane Irma; it is just as beautiful, but has received a bit of a haircut!

Take your time in the morning – you aren’t going far. Mosey up north and drop the hook at the anchorage to the west of Sandy Spit – it’s a idyllic uninhabited white sandy island.

Swim, snorkel, and head ashore for a picnic.

If you want a detour to do some more fishing- go north of Jost Van Dyke to Kingfish Banks and try your hand at some bottom dropping (allow 2 hours travel roundtrip).

After lunch, the moorings at Diamond Cay are a good option to overnight. You have access to two excellent bars/restaurant – Foxy’s Taboo and B-Line. You can’t go wrong with either. Maybe you should try them both.

The Bubbly Pool is another popular attraction which is around a half mile walk from the dinghy dock at Foxy’s. Waves crash through the rocks here into a pool that you can swim in. Try and time it for high tide – it will be more exciting!

Great Harbour is another overnight option a short motor further to the west. It has many more establishments ashore and will set you well for the festivities on Day 6.

Important note: the mooring balls for Diamond Cay and Great Harbour are both on Boatyball, so consider that in your planning. During the busy season, Great Harbour mooring balls are known to fill up fast.

Day 6: Party at the famous Jost Van Dyke beach bars

White Bay JVD
White Bay and the crowded anchorage; the reef separates the east and west side

This is your day to just chill – and there is no better place than the beach bars at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.

World famous Soggy Dollar Bar, inventor of the painkiller, beckons. Check out their webcam for a live look at the action.

You have two options for anchorages. The easiest option is to just stay put in Great Harbour, dingy ashore, and then either grab a short cab, or walk ~30 minutes to White Bay.

You can also relocate the yacht to White Bay, but you’ll need to exercise caution. For some charter companies, White Bay is off limits because squalls and backwinding can easily put boats on the beach – so, check first. It can also get very crowded, and the anchorage is tight – there is not much room for error.

I talk about my concerns in this post and some of the other options you have for enjoying White Bay.

If you are less experienced, I definitely recommend staying on a mooring ball in Great Harbour.

White Bay has two areas – east and west, separated by a shallow reef. The main party area is on the west side.

We are content to just hang out on the beach at Soggy Dollar Bar all day long, sipping painkillers. But you should check out the others if you want to explore!

Hendo’s Hideout, next door, is newer to the scene. The food here is fantastic.  Coco Loco, Gertrude’s, and Ivan’s are also worth checking out.

If you haven’t been to Foxy’s back at Great Harbour, it’s a very good option for dinner and late night shenanigans. If you happen to be in the area for a Full Moon Party, don’t miss the bbq and live music.

Day 7: Cruise to Norman Island for some snorkeling and a floating bar

The Indians, BVI
Day stop snorkeling at the Indians on your way to Norman Island

It’s your final day, let’s make the most of it! 

Continue east towards Little Thatch Cay, wave to St John, USVI, and grab a mooring ball at The Indians for a lunch stop and snorkel. If you need provisions or want to do some shopping, Soper’s Hole is a good option along your way.

Jump off your sailboat and snorkel all the way around The Indians – four pinnacles that emerge out of the ocean and fosters some great marine life.

The Bight at Norman Island, BVI
The Bight at Norman Island

After lunch, continue to Norman Island and grab a mooring ball in one of the biggest anchorages in the BVIs.

If you didn’t get enough snorkeling, hop back in the dinghy and head over to The Caves – Normand Island, and in part, this snorkel site is rumored to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. There are 3 caves here that make for an awesome snorkel experience.

The legendary Willy T (or William Thornton) resides in the Bight and is a permanently moored bar and restaurant, known for it’s wild times among cruisers and vacationers.

It was sunk during Hurricane Irma in 2017, but was rebuilt and reborn. The last version is now a dive site located on the south side of Peter Island.

I once won a pull-up competition against a team of pro-German soccer (football) players at Willy T’s, but that’s a story for another time.

Grab some food, a cocktail, and be sure to jump into the bight off the upper deck.

Important note: if you want some peace and quiet to sleep, best not to grab a mooring ball near Willy T – pick another part of the anchorage.

The Pirate’s Bight restaurant is another option (you will have time for both if you want!). Not a bad way to celebrate a final night in the British Virgin Islands.

Bareboat Charter Boat Briefing Checklist

Staniel Cay anchorage near Thunderball Grotto

The most important pre-departure step for your bareboat charter trip is the boat briefing with your charter company. It serves two purposes:

  1. Familiarize you and the crew with the charter boat operations and safety gear
  2. Introduce you to the sailing grounds and convey important local knowledge

We take these briefings seriously even if we are familiar with the boat type and islands. We usually have months, if not years in between trips – such as our recent Exumas trip. It had been 3 years since we last visited.

That’s enough time to forget and it’s hard to recall all the important details.

All boats are different too – even the same model will have it’s own peculiarities or equipment.

In addition to the captain, try and have at least one or two other crew members participate as well.

The briefings are usually quite thorough, but we still bring our own checklist to make sure we don’t forget to cover important items. We’ve learned some of these the hard way over the years!

If you’d like a pdf version that you can print and take with you, sign up for my free newsletter.

Boat briefing checklist - boat systems and safety

Safety briefing and equipment

  • Life jackets (or Personal Flotation Devices – PFDs): know their location and make sure there are enough for all the crew
  • VHF radio procedures: know how to place a distress or mayday call
  • Emergency tiller and manual bilge pumps
  • Location of hull through fittings/seacocks: if you start to take on water, this might be the first place to look
  • Plugs: in the event of a hull breach
  • First-aid kit
  • Location of fire extinguishers
  • Man overboard procedures
  • Floatation devices
  • Distress signals
  • Sound producing devices
  • Life raft location and procedures

Boat systems

  • Chart plotter and autopilot
  • Anchor system
    • Make sure windlass works
    • Snubber line functional?
  • Check weather vane functionality
  • Electrical system and battery charging
    • Switches if we let battery fall too low and we can’t start engines
    • Switching to generator and shore power
    • Generator reset switch
    • Cooling intake location
    • Inverter location
  • Air conditioning system
  • Bilge pumps – location and manual/auto switches
  • Depth Guage – where does it measure from?
  • Dinghy
    • How to raise and lower
    • Dinghy pump in case it goes flat
    • Drop it in the water and start the outboard engine
    • Lock to tie off to the dock
  • Engine start procedures and operation
  • Music system – make sure you can connect with bluetooth
  • Fresh water tanks
    • Top off before you leave
    • If two tanks, how to switch them once one is empty
  • Check fuel level and request to be topped off, if necessary
  • Water maker operation
  • Key for locking the salon
  • Boat inventory checklist
  • Stove, oven, and bbq
    • Spare propane tank
  • Toilets – Know how to dump the tanks
  • Inspect the sailing equipment – ask any questions if you are unsure
    • I always make sure I understand the reefing lines since these always tend to be different
  • Handheld – for when you use the dinghy
  • Rod holders and gaff
  • Snorkeling gear
  • Ask if there’s anything inoperable or not functioning as it should

Procedures

  • What to do if there is a mechanical issue? Who do you call and how (radio or phone)?
  • Check out procedures – ask if you want help getting off the dock
  • Check in procedures on your last day
    • Return the boat the day before or the morning of?
    • What time is the fuel dock open?
    • Who to call for docking assistance
    • What to clean and what to do with linens/towels

Chart briefing and the sailing grounds

In addition to going through the boat operations and equipment, the charter company will also brief you on the charter area.  Take good notes, especially if it is your first time in the area.

Here are some other good questions to ask or confirm:

  • Any areas that are off limits
  • Recommended anchorages
  • Mooring ball availability?
  • Up to date local knowledge
    • Missing channel markers, etc
    • Weather concerns (such as northerly swells or frontal passages, tropical systems)
  • Where to go fishing
  • Any local events taking place during the week
    • Such as the presence of a regatta that could make certain areas busier than normal
New to sailing trips? Check out our beginner’s guide here.

Lionfish Ceviche Recipe

Fresh caught lionfish ceviche

On our recent Exumas Bahamas sailing trip, we made an effort to get off the beaten path and explore islands that are avoided by most cruisers.

One of the benefits is that we enjoyed abundant marine life that would otherwise not be found in crowded anchorages.

Ship Channel Cay anchorage
Ship Channel Cay anchorage in the Exumas where we speared 2 lionfish on the coral heads next to the yacht

On the many reefs and coral heads that we snorkeled, it was all too common to see lionfish.

Lionfish are absolutely beautiful underwater, but they are actually quite damaging to Bahamian and Caribbean reefs since they are an invasive species – they have no natural predators.

lionfish
Lionfish on a Carribbean reef
Spearing lionfish in the Exumas
One of the lionfish that we speared at Ship Channel Cay

They are a big threat to reefs and natural ecosystems. Because of this – we took shots at them with our Hawaiian sling (spear guns are illegal in the Bahamas) whenever we could.

Lionfish do need to handled carefully since they have 18 venomous spines. Before we fillet the fish, we trim each of these spines off with a pair of strong scissors.

Here’s a video on how to safely trim the lionfish spines.

The good news with lionfish is that they are excellent eating! They are great as fillets or in fish tacos – but my favorite way to eat them is in a ceviche. 

Make it as an appetizer to share with the whole crew – it goes great with tortilla chips!

Here’s the recipe we used on our recent trip:

Lionfish Ceviche Ingredients

  • 2 lionfish fillets, diced (note: if you don’t have lionfish, you can replace with snapper, grouper, or even conch – they all work great!
  • 1 cup of lime juice
  • 1 cup of roughly chopped cilantro (half of a bunch)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2-3 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt, additional salt and black pepper to taste
  • Serve with tortilla chips or tostadas

Method

  1. Prepare your ingredients and mix everything together except for the avocado.
  2. Pour the lime juice over mixture – make sure there is enough juice to cover all of the ingredients. 
  3. Set aside and let the ceviche marinate for 20-30 minutes. The lionfish is ready when it turns opaque.
  4. Add the avocado and combine.
  5. Taste and add salt as needed.
  6. Serve with chips and enjoy!

This will make enough for an appetizer for the sailing crew (up to 8 people). If you have more lionfish fillets, just double the recipe.

Sailing the Exumas: Bareboat Charter in December

Wahoo caught on the drop in the Exumas sound

We returned to sail the Exumas, Bahamas for the first time since 2018. It had been too long for one my favorite sailing destinations. It was our first time sailing in December, so I was also looking forward to that!

The Exumas had everything our crew was looking for this time: solitude, natural beauty, fantastic sea life, stunning anchorages, and great fishing. We cashed in on each of those this trip.

For a week-long trip, we sailed just the northern half of the Exumas and did a loop – our turnaround point was Staniel Cay.

This is a long post with lots of pictures –  I hope you enjoy! You can also check out our Exumas Cruising Guide to learn more about planning your next trip here.

Table of contents:

Exuma weather gods were on our side

Route planning for Yellow Banks crossing
Close hauled on our forecast for the first day Yellow Banks crossing (source: Predict Wind)

I began weather watch in October to follow the patterns. I was surprised to learn that cold fronts, albeit weak, had already begun to sweep down and make their way through the Bahamas. Yikes.

Despite this, we got lucky and didn’t have to deal with one! Very lucky for this time of year. This allowed us to keep our planned itinerary without any disruption.

Winds were settled for the entire trip: 10-15 knots varying from the NE to the SE. Perfect!

No rain the entire trip (of course, because I bought a new rain coat before we left).

Snorkeling clarity was outstanding thanks to the steady easterlies that blessed us.

Bali 5.4 in the Exumas
You will have plenty of space to spread out on this sailing yacht!

The catamaran - Bali 5.4

We were originally booked on a Lagoon 46. However, a month before the trip, the yacht charter company reached out and let us know that it was going to be delivered late. Instead they were upgrading us to a Bali 5.4 – the same one they had on display at the Annapolis Boat Show (Yepa II).

This thing had all the bells and whistles – huge hangout area up top with drink fridge, blue underwater lights, hydraulic swim platform, generator, watermaker, etc. Here’s a more in-depth boat review I put together about it.

The crew’s verdict is that this is the best sailing catamaran we’ve ever been on.

Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
The underwater blue lights were a lot of fun - we saw lots of fish and a few sharks

We really enjoyed the top deck lounge area that integrated the helm station – plenty of room for everyone to hang while cruising during the day. This is where we spent most of our time

Our version had 5 full cabins and two singles in the front (presumably for a captain and hostess).

She sailed fairly well – we topped out at around 7 knots with 10-15 knot winds on a broad reach. Closer to running with just the mainsail up, we were cruising at 6 knots.

Bali 5.4 downwind sailing
Easy downwind sailing in ~10 knots

What surprised me, was how speedy she was through the water under motor. Both engines at 2,500 rpm gave us 9-10 knots! Most cats I’ve been on have only done 7-8 with this much power.

It’s worth pointing out that the bow is quite high off the water – our crew had to laydown under the lifelines to reach a mooring ball – not ideal. Just make sure your boat hook is long enough!

This added speed came in handy on our first day (see below!).

The sailing report: 7 spectacular days in the Exuma Islands

Arrival day

It’s always easy traveling in and out of Nassau. We love that we can connect directly from the US on a short flight and have plenty of daylight left at the marina for check-in.

We opted to use the Dream Yacht Charter (DYC) provisioning service for the bulk of our food and beverages. We supplemented with a quick trip to Solomon’s for some essentials that weren’t on the list. It’s less than a mile from Palm Cay Marina.

Palm Cay hasn’t changed much in the three years since we’ve been there, except for one new condo building. Lots of ongoing construction, but nothing too disruptive or bothersome.

Palm Cay sunset
Lots of construction underway at Palm Cay

We were able to check-in a bit before the prescribed time (5:00pm). All was well until they informed us that the previous charter group ran aground and damaged both the rudders!! 

So much for that day-of-arrival inspection we paid for.

DYC was on top of it and had it being repaired overnight. The rudders were due back at 8:00am the next morning, after which they would need a diver to assist with the reinstall.

Having been through problems (and charter company promises) like this before, I was preparing to spend our first full day in the marina.

We enjoyed a good meal by the pool at the Pink Octopus and threw down an extra painkiller since we were no longer departing first thing in the morning.

Catamaran Christmas lights
Getting in the holiday spirit - our first time sailing in December

Day 1 - Yellow Bank crossing to Ship Channel Cay

To my great astonishment, the rudders arrived at 9:00, and they were re-installed by 11:30!!! 

While they were completing the repair, we chased down some loose ends (snorkel gear, rod holders, etc.) and said hello to a couple crewmembers of La Vagabonde.

We quickly topped off the fuel tanks and were off!

Amazing, and I couldn’t believe it.

sailing the Exumas
Goodbye Nassau - off to a week in paradise!!

Winds were less than 10 knots and on the nose. So with the late departure we were most certainly motoring. No biggie. We’ve learned to be flexible on these week-long trips.

It was a calm, gorgeous day and the coral heads were easily seen crossing the Yellow Banks, despite being somewhat later in the day than you would typically like.

We enjoy checking out new anchorages, so we pointed for the southern end of Ship Channel Cay. Along the way we hooked a couple barracudas and kept one for bait.

Barracuda catch in the Exumas
First fish of the trip - barracuda of course in 20 feet of water

With our 9-10 knots of speed, we even arrived with time for some paddleboarding and a cruise around the area in the dinghy.

We were the only boat in the around, so we enjoyed our first sundowner in complete solitude – perfect.

Ship Channel Cay paddleboarding
The ladies using the SUPs in perfect conditions
Ship Channel Cay anchorage Exumas
Day 1 at Ship Channel Cay; sure beats getting stuck in the marina on your first day

Day 2: Trolling down to Pirate's Lair in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

We decided to take our time on our second day and make it as far south as we could – we would decide later where to drop the hook. No set destination to rush us.

Before leaving, we snorkeled the nearby coral heads. There was some great sea life to include a few rays and turtles. Alan even used the Hawaiian Sling to spear a lionfish, an invasive species. We take shots at these whenever we can. 

We had ideal wind conditions out of the NE for a southerly passage on the deep Exuma Sound side, so we went to do some sailboat fishing and hoped for some wahoo! Used the wide Ship Channel Cut to the north to head into deeper water.

Alas, we had several good fish on that we lost, and of course caught several ‘cudas in some shallower water before we entered the park boundaries.

We chose to pull in to the Pirates Lair mooring field at Warderick Wells. It’s easily accessed from the deep side. In the cut, your only option is to use the mooring balls (I counted 4), the tide rips through here! I’ve heard anchoring isn’t allowed in this area anymore, although in the past it was doable at Hog Cay.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
The tide rips at the Pirate's Lair mooring field in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

The crew crushed it and we picked up a ball on the second try despite that ripping tide.

Ashore, we made our way through the cabbage palms to the fresh water well and home of the Pirate’s Lair. There’s not much to see, but it’s an interesting area to explore.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Ladies at Pirate's Lair on Warderick Wells
Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas

Now if you’re a purist, you may not like this – but we bring along a projector, connect it to the yacht’s sound system with bluetooth, and do Master and Commander movie night on the big screen (bed sheet). It’s our favorite movie and being aboard makes it even more magical.

Give it a try! We thought the Pirate’s Lair was an ideal setting to enjoy it on this trip.

Watching Master and Commander afloat
Watching Master and Commander afloat on the big screen
Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Sunset at Pirate's Lair looking at the north entrance to the anchorage

Day 3: Turnaround point at Staniel Cay

This was our last day heading south, before we would turn around and make our way back up the Exuma chain.

We exited Pirate’s Lair to the southeast and weaved our way through the various small cays aptly named after famous pirates – Teach Rock (Blackbeard), Read Rock (Mary Read), and Bonney Rock (Anne Bonney). It’s tight, but the route is well marked on charts.

Navigating Warderick Wells cays
Narrow passage to exit southeast of the Pirate's Lair

Again, we headed out to the drop for some fishing and passed by Halls Pond on the way to blue water. We had to stay well offshore due to the Exuma Sea Park boundary.

Nothing special for the fishing report – all the action on this trip came on Day 6.

Came back in through Big Rock Cut and anchored at what’s known as West of Thunderball by Garmin Active Captain.

Approaching Staniel Cay anchorage
Approaching the anchorage near Staniel Cay with Thunderball Grotto just off the starboard bow (not visible in picture)

We didn’t time slack tide correctly, so snorkeling Thunderball Grotto was definitely a workout! Great experience as always.

While I would prefer to avoid the chaos over at Big Major’s with the swimming pigs, we compromised and settled for a quick dinghy drive by.

We went ashore for our only dinner out of the trip at Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We decked out in our best Christmas attire and were instantly recognized by the other Texans ashore by our Buccee’s ugly sweaters. Great times were had with those Texans…

I’ll blame the famous SCYC peanut coladas, but when we returned to the protected dingy beach, it was gone! A quick scan of the area found it floating nearby – oops! We had pulled it all the way up, but the rising tide got us. Next time, we’ll tie off.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Staniel Cay Yacht Club bar

Day 4: Sandbars, pristine beaches, and sharks

We rubbed our bleary eyes and motored to Sandy Cay for a lunch stop at one of the best sandbars in the Exumas. It’s an easy anchorage on the west side of the cay.

The scuttlebutt from our evening at SCYC was that the day before a billionaire’s yacht was set up at Sandy Cay. We didn’t have quite the staff and water sports equipment, but it was awesome nonetheless!

Sandbar at Sandy Cay, Exumas
Aerial shot of the great Sandy Cay sandbar
Exumas sandbar
Sandbar at Sandy Cay, Exumas

We could have spent all day swimming, beaching, and lounging in this setting. On the hill on the southern end of the island, there’s a covered cabana which gives you a decent view of the area.

After lunch, we threw up the sails for a quick passage to Compass Cay (outer) anchorage.

We heard that Crescent Beach on Compass Cay is one of the finer white sand beaches in the Exumas, so we went ashore to check it out.

After paying the landing fee at the marina, it was only a short 10 minute hike to the beach. It was late in the evening so we didn’t get in the water, but what a gorgeous beach!

We hung out on the beach cabanas, cracked a few beers, and enjoyed the view of a full rainbow to our east.

Crescent Beach Compass Cay
Swinging at Crescent Beach, Compass Cay Exumas
Hiking on Compass Cay Exumas

Compass Cay is known for the nurse sharks that hang out in the marina. Back at our yacht, one of them paid us a visit and hung out for nearly an hour.

Compass Cay shark

Day 5: An abandoned plane, caves, and some downwind sailing

The next morning, we worked our way north along the channels to the west of Compass Cay and then navigated through several coral heads to the U-shaped bight at Fowl Cay.

I love these seemingly hidden gem anchorages. It’s fairly exposed and I wouldn’t want to be here overnight in strong winds. It makes for a fantastic lunch stop though!

Fowl Cay is a private island, and they definitely make sure you know it – many signs that say Private Property, especially over by the abandoned prop plane.

Fowl Cay anchorage
Fowl Cay anchorage just south of the Exuma Land and Sea Park
Abandoned plane at Fowl Cay Exumas
Abandoned prop plane at the bight

While the ladies lounged, Alan and I tried our hand with the Hawaiian sling on the reefs along the northern edge of the anchorage (you can see it it the drone picture). I missed a nice sized grouper but we were able to spear another lionfish.

It was only appropriate that we made lionfish ceviche for lunch (here’s our recipe) – so good! If you are careful with the spines, you’ll be rewarded with a really great tasting fish.

Catching lionfish in the Exumas
Fresh caught lionfish ceviche
Lionfish ceviche - delish!

Fowl Cay is also an excellent day spot because it puts you in perfect position to dinghy over to Rocky Dundas, the two tall rocky islands just to the north. Conditions weren’t perfect to explore the caves – wind waves from the easterly trades, decent current, and a high tide.

Despite that, we were all able to dive under and check out the impressive caves with the stalagmite and stalactite formations.

The wind backed into the southeast after lunch, so we raised the main for some easy downwind sailing on our way to Shroud Cay.

Easy downwind sailing in the Exumas
Downwind sailing north in the Exuma Bank with wind out of the southeast
Rain shower in the Exumas
The only rain shower we saw the entire trip

We avoided the busy mooring field and anchored in Fresh Water Bay to give ourselves easier dinghy access to the mangrove river the next morning.

Fresh Water Bay at Shroud Cay
Fresh Water Bay at Shroud Cay and the mangrove river in the background

Day 6: River adventures at Shroud Cay and wahooooo outside Sail Rocks North

Believe it or not, our entire itinerary was coordinated around being at Shroud Cay on this day. It was the only day a slack tide occurred during the daytime hours.

We launched the dinghy on a rising tide, an hour before slack tide. This timing allowed us to ride the water slide at the other end of the river.

Passing through the mangroves, we saw a few turtles and rays, but no resting nurse sharks.

Mangrove River at Shroud Cay
Riding the mangrove river at Shroud Cay to Camp Driftwood

The hike up to Camp Driftwood was fun, but our favorite part of this excursion was riding the water slide with the outgoing tide.

I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had some ground to cover on our way north. It was also our last day for serious fishing on the drop, so we had to get to work.

Atop Camp Driftwood
View from the Camp Driftwood hilltop
Riding the waterslide at Camp Driftwood
Riding the water slide at the end of the Shroud Cay mangrove river

We passed into blue water at Wax Cay Cut, exited the park boundaries, and got the lines in the water. There is not a moment to lose.

Our fishing spread was one diving lure and a surface Illander skirt lure – rotated and checked for sargassum every 20-30 minutes.

It started slowly, but the action seemed to come all at once.

Something huge hit the port surface lure near Ship Channel Cay – it ran most of the 80 pound braid out and then snapped the line!

It took about 20 minutes to repair the line and get it back in the water. 

Just then, another screamer on the diving lure, a Yo-Zuri Bonita (flying fish). This was the fish we were looking for – a wahoo! It wasn’t huge, but it was a great eating size for the crew.

Northern Exumas Wahoo
Wally the Wahoo caught on the drop in the northern Exumas

About 10 minutes later, on the approach to our anchorage at Sail Rocks North, we hooked another fish. We thought we lost it, until we pulled in just the head of a barracuda – again on that same Yo-Zuri lure. Shark must have gotten it.

Shark bait in the Exumas
Shark bait - bad day for Barry the Barracuda

Sail Rocks North is a special place – you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere on this shoal anchorage. We had 10 knots of wind out of the east and the protection was excellent – very little swell and good holding.

For dinner, we dined on fresh wahoo (ono) sashimi and poke bowls. Can’t beat that!

Fresh caught ono poke bowl
Fresh ono poke bowls for dinner on our last night in the Exuma Islands
Sail Rocks North anchorage sunset
Great sunset to wrap up the trip
Sail Rocks North anchorage

Day 7: back to Nassau over the Yellow Bank

We always spend our final night of an Exumas trip back in the marina. Makes packing up easier and avoids morning competition for the fuel dock. Less stress all around.

So, we weighed anchor and began the trip back across the Yellow Bank.

It was a relatively calm day that turned glassy as the hours passed – unfortunately, that meant motoring, again.

Glassy seas on the Yellow Bank near Exumas Bahamas
Glassy conditions on our return to the marina meant running the engines

We dropped anchor mid-way for a lunch stop near some coral heads and got a final farewell snorkel in.

Getting back to the marina was easy – pulled into the fuel dock and then had the DYC crew assist with docking the large cat back in it’s slip.

Another successful sailing trip in the books!

If you want to learn more about the Exumas, especially some of the more popular anchorages, check out our Exumas Cruising Guide.