Top Exuma Anchorages to Drop the Hook

Fowl Cay anchorage

One thing that I love about the sailing in the Exumas? It never feels crowded when we visit.

Why?

There are over 365 cays, and you can anchor in solitude at many of them. No need to rub elbows with your neighbors in crowded mooring fields. Take the paddleboard out, go spearfishing, and enjoy the peace and quiet of a Bahamian sunset.

Here’s my guide to our favorite Exuma anchorages. I’ll start in the north and work my way south.

Northern Exuma anchorages

Sail Rocks North anchorage

North Sail Rocks anchorage

Hands down, this might be my favorite anchorage in all of the Exumas. I love it because of how remote it feels (shh! don’t tell anyone). 

It’s definitely off the beaten path and usually avoided by most yacht charter trips. It is best accessed from the Exuma Sound – consult Active Captain community for details on the approach.

It’s a good option as a first or last night before a return to the charter base in Nassau.

You can anchor in ~10 feet and are very well protected from easterly trades.

What to do at North Sail Rocks

When we last visited, we had one of our best days of fishing on the drop just a couple hundred feet offshore. This included landing my first wahoo of the Bahamas.

The whole area is interesting to explore by dinghy or stand-up paddleboard.

Spearfishing is also excellent on the reef that runs through the middle of the anchorage. Swim to it directly from your yacht.

Ship Channel Cay anchorage
Nearby coral heads offer good opportunities for spearfishing
Bali 5.4 helm station view
Having some fun riding the dinghy around the anchorage

Ship Channel Cay anchorage

Ship Channel Cay is the first large cay in the chain, and one of the first you’ll see as you finish crossing the Yellow Bank. It’s nearly 3 miles in length.

There are many spots you can choose to anchor in the lee of Ship Channel. Make sure you give the many coral heads enough room. This one is best in settled conditions and easterly wind. Anything with more of a northerly component might get rolly. Definitely avoid if there is a frontal passage coming through.

We chose a spot towards the bottom third, about a half mile north from popular Powerboat Adventure’s Ship Channel Cay – they run day tours from Nassau.

What to do at Ship Channel Cay

This location is another good chance to explore by dinghy – you’ll likely be the only ones here.

Spearfishing is also a great bet – we brought in several invasive lionfish on the coral heads next to our yacht. The lionfish ceviche we made was delicious!

If you venture ashore, there are some ruins along the western side worth exploring.

Allan’s Cay anchorage

Allan’s Cay is a bit more popular, so don’t expect to be the only ones here. There are several options for anchoring – one or two boats will fit at SW Allan’s Cay. Most everyone else anchors in the sandy shallows between Allan’s Cay and Leaf Cay.

Be careful if there is weather afoot – expect this anchorage to get quite rolly.

What to do at Allan’s Cay

The main attraction here is the protected rock iguana species. You can’t miss them as you approach shore – despite signs, many visitors still feed them and they are eager for a snack.

Check the local guides for advice on several excellent snorkeling locations here. One I recommend is Stephen Pavlidis’ The Exuma Guide.

Shroud cay anchorage and the mangrove river
Shroud Cay North anchorage with a view of the mangrove river

Shroud Cay anchorage

Shroud Cay is a must stop to enjoy the mangrove river dinghy ride, waterslide, and exploring of Camp Driftwood.

We like to anchor near the river entrance so it’s just a quick dinghy ride (Shroud Cay North on Active Captain).

There’s plenty of room to spread out here – be careful of your yacht’s draft as some areas can get shallow.

You can also drop the hook at Fresh Well Bay just a bit further to the south.

What to do at Shroud Cay

As I mentioned, an absolute must is a dinghy ride to the Exuma Sound side. This is always a highlight of an Exumas yacht charter trip. It takes some planning though – you want to do this on a rising tide, about an hour before slack tide.

I talk about our recent experience on my Exumas trip report here.

Halls Pond Cay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
Halls Pond Cay anchorage near Warderick Wells in the Exumas

Halls Pond Cay anchorage

While the popular mooring fields at Warderick Wells get most of the attention in the southern part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Halls Pond Cay flies under the radar.

You can get here from either side – Halls Pond Cut or from the Banks. If you anchor far enough in, the tide change will have minimal effect on your swing.

There are a couple private moorings here that should be avoided

What to do at Halls Pond Cay

It’s a lovely, peacful spot and also a private island, so your exploring ashore is limited to the beach. The snorkeling is great here, especially around the point to the south. 

I also like to grab the snorkel gear and take the dinghy over to the rocks at the north end of the cay. This is best done at slack tide!

Otherwise, just chill out and enjoy having this place all to yourself!

It’s also worth pointing out that Johnny Depp’s island is nearby – Little Halls Pond Cay.

Bali 5.4 sunset in the Exumas

Want to learn more about the Exumas?

Check out my Exuma Cruising Guide where I talk about planning, cruising conditions, and offer up a sample sailing itinerary.

Fowl Cay anchorage
The beautiful bight at Fowl Cay

Fowl Cay anchorage

Get Fowl Cay on your itinerary as a lunch stop! More about why I love it in a sec.

This anchorage is exposed to the easterly trades, so it doesn’t make the best overnight stop. It can be done however.

The navigation looks a bit tricky on charts, so be extra careful about coral heads on your way in and out.

What to do at Fowl Cay

Here’s why I like it.

  • Absolutely beautiful spot, and you’ll probably have it all to yourself
  • Just outside the park boundary, so you can do some spearfishing nearby (we have caught several fish here)
  • It’s a short dinghy ride to the popular Rocky Dudas attraction

Fowl Cay is a private resort, and I’ve heard they aren’t friendly. It’s worth a dinghy ride near the beach to check out the abandoned plane.

Compass Cay shark
Nurse shark visitor at Compass Cay

Compass Cay anchorage

There are several anchorages at Compass Cay. I like the channel near the marina between Compass and Pipe Cay.

Expect to experience some swing here on the tide, but there is plenty of room. Being a short dinghy ride from the Marina to explore Compass Cay is a plus!

What to do at Compass Cay

It’s worth a trip ashore for the small docking fee you’ll pay at the marina.

There are plenty of nurse sharks to swim with in the marina and you can also access the trails around the island.

The fantastic beach on the sound side is appropriately named Crescent Beach. I like enjoying the afternoon here with a cooler full of cold beverages. The beach has a couple covered structures for your use.

If you’re lucky, you might also get some nurse shark visitors at your yacht.

Sandbar at Sandy Cay, Exumas

Sandy Cay anchorage

Sandy Cay is another excellent choice for a lunch pit stop. You might also anchor here in settled conditions overnight. It’s within quick reach of the hub at Staniel Cay.

Watch out for coral heads and anchor in 15 feet on the west side of the Cay.

What to do at Sandy Cay

The main attraction here is the sand bar – it’s one of the best in the Exumas. Bring a picnic ashore and enjoy relaxing in this lovely spot.

Staniel Cay Anchorage
West of Thunderball anchorage at Staniel Cay
Staniel Cay anchorage near Thunderball Grotto
The approach between the cays

Staniel Cay anchorage

OK, you’re right. Staniel Cay can be busy and is a quite well-known Exuma anchorage. But, we always make a pit stop here since it’s often our turnaround point to head back to Nassau.

That means we are enjoying a bite ashore and re-stocking provisions.

There are plenty of options to anchor in the area. Pig Beach is nearby at Big Major Cay, but we try and avoid it now that we’ve checked that box.

I like the West of Thunderball anchorage. The area surrounding can be shallow, so I like the approach between the two cays to the NE.

What to do at Staniel Cay

Dump your trash, re-stock on provisions, and get yourself a peanut colada at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The food is also excellent.

You of course have the pigs nearby. Sometimes it’s fun to do a dinghy drive by and check out the big yachts that like to anchor over there.

And don’t miss snorkeling Thunderball grotto. Plan for this as it’s best done at slack tide (do it after low tide unless you are ok diving underwater to get into the grotto).

Thanks for reading my post about our favorite Exuma anchorages and making it all the way to the end! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about our last trip sailing in the Exumas.

Sailing from Key West to Dry Tortugas: What to Expect?

Sailing to the Dry Tortugas

A trip to the Dry Tortugas should be on everyone’s bucket list. History, seclusion, and pristine natural beauty are top reasons to go.

Each year, this National Park only gets around 55,000 visitors – most of them arrive by daily ferry aboard the Yankee Freedom. Some visitors also arrive by exclusive sea plane tours.

But there is a better way to visit! Take your private boat or charter yacht and enjoy the multi-day adventure.

There didn’t use to be many options for crews wishing to bareboat charter a sailboat from Key West to the Dry Tortugas. However, recently Navtours/Dream Yacht Charter and the Moorings have established local operations. The cruising grounds to the Dry Tortugas are now available to us all!

I took advantage of this last year to during a 5 day adventure to the Dry Tortugas and back. It was an incredible trip with several of my closest friends. You can check out the details on my trip report post.

Planning on sailing from Key West to the Dry Tortugas? Here’s what you should know:

Drone shot of Garden Key and Fort Jefferson at sunset
The anchorage at Garden Key | We were one of two boats on this visit

Key West charter companies

If you have a private vessel – you are all set. If not, the good news is there are now two charter fleets that serve this area out of Key West. Their fleets are not huge, so make sure you plan in advance.

Florida Yacht Charters / Moorings

Florida Yacht Charters partners with the Moorings. They keep their yachts at either Oceans Edge Resort & Marina or at Stock Island Marina Village.

Pool Dock at Stock Island
Our catamaran at the pool dock at Stock Island Yacht Club

Navtours / Dream Yacht Charter

The Navtours is partnering with Dream Yacht Charter at their base at Stock Island Yacht Club & Marina.

You may also want to check out Calypso Sailing – they have several bases in the Keys and last reported they have three vessels for charter.

Squalls near Dry Tortugas
Year round you can expect to dodge an isolated squall or two

When should you go to the Dry Tortugas National Park?

I did this trip in August…and I would not recommend it (doable maybe if you have reliable air conditioning aboard). South Florida is very hot this time of year and the wind is also at it’s weakest and most variable. I slept on the catamaran trampoline every night it was that bad!

I think the Spring or early Fall are the best time to visit. Why?

  • Less risk of tropical mischief

  • The heat is less intense and the weather is more settled

  • There is less risk of cold fronts which can barrel down with intense winds and squalls

  • Fishing in the fall as the water cools offers great chances at catching wahoo along the drop

Weather is the biggest factor to plan for. You want your best chance of a settled weather window. Aside from the anchorage at Fort Jefferson, there are really very few protected anchorages along this route.

Sailing to the Dry Tortugas
Arriving at the Dry Tortugas on our third day of the trip

How many days to plan for on your sailing trip?

Unless you have a speed boat, I think the minimum number of days to plan for is a week. Here’s what that looks like:

  • Day 1: arrive to Key West and overnight on your charter boat in the marina

  • Day 2: early am departure for Boca Grande. If you have time, grab a mooring ball for some snorkeling at one of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary sites along the way: Western Sambo, Eastern/Western Dry Rocks, or Sand Key are good options.

Marquesas Keys sunset
Sunset over the Marquesas Keys
  • Day 3: sail the rest of the way to the Dry Tortugas and explore Fort Jefferson at Garden Key after most of the tourists have left for the day on the ferry.

  • Day 4: head over to Loggerhead Key for the day. Snorkel the Windjammer wreck. Return to Garden Key in the evening (you aren’t allowed to stay overnight at Loggerhead).

  • Day 5: early am departure to head back east. Overnight anchorage at the Marquesas Keys.

Key West anchorage behind Wisteria Island
Fish tacos at Garbo's
Fish tacos and a cold beer at Garbo's
  • Day 6: final leg back to Key West. Anchor close to downtown for some nightlife or spend the night back in the marina.

  • Day 7: checkout and travel day.

Dry Tortugas sailing route
Our sailing route - we made a stop at the reef and did some fishing along the drop
Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park
Exploring Fort Jefferson in the evening after the crowds have left for Key West

Sailing route from Key West to the Dry Tortugas

It’s approximately 80 nautical miles to the Dry Tortugas. If you are on a sailing charter vacation, plan for two days to get there and the same for the return. Yes, that can be done with a very early am departure, but don’t plan on checking out until mid morning. You know the drill with those check-out briefings.

It’s a great sail! The water is beautiful and the fishing is excellent.

With prevailing winds, you are most likely to have a downwind sail on the way there. Returning to Key West, you might be beating to windward and it might make sense to throw in the towel and motor.

As far as planning guides go, I picked up a copy of the Water Way Guide for the Keys. We also relied heavily on Garmin Active Captain for anchoring advice.

Water Way Guide Florida Keys (Amazon)

This is a useful guide to help plan your trip to the Dry Tortugas or elsewhere in the Florida Keys. Aside from navigational info, there is good discussion about activities to enjoy in each area.

Anchorages along the route

Main anchorage near downtown Key West

I like this anchorage at the end of the trip. Celebrate your final night and share stories about your adventure during a night on the town.

Boca Grande Key

Boca Grande is next up. In settled conditions, you can anchor in ~10 feet to the west of the popular beach (Boca Grande – 2 on Garmin Active Captain). You will swing some on the tide here as it flows between the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream at about 1 knot.

You can also anchor further up the channel that leads to the interior of the key, but be prepared for 180 shifts and swings on the tide.

Boca Grande Key Sunset
Great sunset over the Marquesas Keys as we anchored at Boca Grande

Marquesas Keys

The final anchorage before you reach the Dry Tortugas (and you still have about 50 miles to go) is the Marquesas Keys. It is less protected than Boca Grande, so keep that in mind if you are planning around some weather events.

Anchor within a few hundred yards of the beach. If the bugs are bad, you can venture farther out – look for the Brown Pelican anchorage on Active Captain which is about a mile offshore.

king mackerel near key west
Good sized king mackerel we hauled in using an Iland Ilander lure
Little tunny caught in about ~40 feet of water

Fishing on the way to the Dry Tortugas

You have great chances at catching fish on the way to the Dry Tortugas. Depths range from 40-60 feet along the way – expect to catch king mackerel, little tunny, and barracuda.

I also like the idea of fishing the drop which will take you on a slight detour south if you can afford the time. Here you’ll have better chances of landing tuna, mahi, and wahoo.

There are also several spots to bottom drop, such as at Rebecca Shoal – here you have decent chances of hooking snapper and grouper.

Before you enter the park boundaries, make sure you stow away your equipment. Park rangers also ask you to report any catch that you are bringing into the park. You can do this on Channel 16.

Dodging lobster trap buoys

For me, the most frustrating part of this sail is the obstacles created by the lobster trap buoys. They are everywhere and you will find them along the length of the entire route. Perhaps this was because I visited at the start of lobster season (early August through March), but I’ve heard they are out there year round.

Unless your yacht has excellent visibility from the helm station, you should plan to post a bow watch to help you identify them. Unfortunately, frequent course adjustments was required for us. Not fun!

If you really want to avoid dealing with some of them, your only option is to venture farther south to the drop.

Thanks for reading my post about sailing from Key West to the Dry Tortugas and making it all the way to the end! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about my recent trip report sailing to the Dry Tortugas.

BVI Redlined: What Areas are Off-Limits?

Brewers Bay in the British Virgin Islands

If you are planning a sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands, you’ll want to make sure to familiarize yourself with what is off-limits. These BVI areas are so-called redlined on charts.

Take note that each charter company has different rules. Just because White Bay is redlined by one, does not mean it is off-limits with the Moorings (I believe you can go there with them).

So, make sure to check with them for the latest information during your chart briefing.

Regardless, it’s a great idea to understand each of these areas well and to exercise extra caution if you are allowed to go there. There is a reason some charter companies have made certain areas off-limits…

And as always, do not use any of this information for navigational purposes – it’s informative, but leave it at that. Stick to your charts and local knowledge provided by the charter company.

Here are the BVI redlined areas I am going to cover (there are more, but these are the big ones).

  1. Channel between Little Camanoe and Beef Island near the airport

  2. Channel into North Sound between Virgin Gorda and Mosquito Island

  3. Eustatia Sound

  4. Anegada (other than the main anchorage)

  5. Brewers Bay

  6. White Bay

Off-limits passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island
The redlined passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island | Source: Navionics

Channel between Little Camanoe and Beef Island near the airport

Please, 100% make sure you know where this one is on charts. It has probably claimed more charter boats and VISAR responses than anywhere else in the BVIs.

Here are two examples.

Reports were that they ventured too far west trying to avoid traffic
Aftermath of this Lagoon 450 that struck the reef in 2021

Why is it redlined?

On charts, it looks somewhat innocent, but there is actually a large reef/rocks right in the middle of the channel.

It is marked by a buoy(s), but at times these can be missing. If you aren’t paying attention to your charts and are in the middle, you are very likely going to hit the reef.

If you are passing through this area, the correct passage is the channel between Little and Great Camanoe.

Off limits passage between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda
The redlined passage between Mosquito Island and Virgin Gorda | Source: Navionics

Channel into North Sound between Virgin Gorda

This one is tempting for shallow draft vessels, especially at high tide. Leverick Bay is right there on the other side! You’d be tied off to a mooring ball with a beverage in no time.

Patience. Spend the extra 15 minutes to motor (or sail) through the well marked channel on the north side of the sound.

Why is it redlined?

Easy – it’s shallow and unmarked. Some charter vessels also don’t have the draft to get through this one.

You may even see yachts use this channel. Don’t be tempted unless you have local knowledge, shallow draft, and are not violating your charter company’s off-limits areas.

Eustatia Sound Anchorage in BVI
Overview of the Eustatia Sound area | Source: Eustatia Island

Eustatia Sound

This one is somewhat of a head scratcher for me since I really like this anchorage. I’ve even stayed on the hook overnight (no it was not redlined at the time).

There’s a lot to like about this area – white sandy beaches at Prickly Pear, snorkeling at the reef, good holding, and solitude. I write more about what to do here in my post about BVI anchorages.

If not off-limits, give it a shot in settled conditions. You can also dinghy over here easily from North Sound mooring balls.

Eustatia Sound Anchorage
Our catamaran lying at anchor on a trip to the BVIs several years ago

Why is it a BVI redlined area?

I think there are 2 explanations:

  1. It’s exposed to northerly swells, which can catch ill-advised skippers off guard if one shows up in the middle of the night. Read more about northerly swells and other marine conditions to be aware of in my post on BVI weather

  2. The approach from inside North Sound past Saba Rock requires careful navigation (there is an easier approach from the north)

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Squally sunset shot looking west on a recent trip

Anegada (other than the main anchorage)

Most, if not all charter companies, now allow charter boats to sail to Anegada. You should not miss out! It was my favorite British Virgin Islands destination – north shore beach exploring, great snorkeling, and fresh spiny lobster are reasons we go.

The channel is (usually) well marked, and the approach straightforward. Although, you do want to take extra care in your navigation.

If you go, most companies ask you to limit your visit to the main anchorage.

Looking for coral heads on the way to Anegada
Bow watch set as we approach the shallows around Anegada

Why are other areas of Anegada redlined?

Uncharted reefs and shallow areas that require local knowledge – that simple. This includes Pomato Point which is an anchorage next door to Setting Point.

Brewers Bay chart
You'll have an undersea cable and reefs to negotiate if you go to Brewers Bay | Source: Navionics

Brewers Bay

Some companies may allow you to go to Brewers Bay for a day stop, but I believe it’s off limits for overnighting by all.

Brewers Bay is located next door to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola and remains one of those somewhat undiscovered bays (since it’s mostly off-limits!).

If it’s not off-limits and you visit, enjoy the view, solitude, and spectacular snorkeling.

Brewers Bay in the British Virgin Islands
The beach at Brewers Bay is quite appealing!

Why is it a BVI redlined area?

  1. It’s exposed to northerly ground swells in the winter months (see my weather link above)

  2. There are lots of reefs, including one right in the middle that juts out from shore

  3. There is an underwater cable that you need to make sure not to foul

Looking at it on charts it just appears, well, crowded with obstructions.

white bay east side jost van dyke

White Bay

Ah, White Bay. One of the pearls of the British Virgin Islands. A perfect, white sandy bay lined with beach bars and palm trees.

It also plays host to a lot of boating incidents! I talk all about it here and why I may not anchor here overnight anymore. I also give suggestions on where else you can go in the area to still enjoy White Bay.

A 50 foot Moorings cat that barreled straight over the reef and grounded hard

Why is it redlined?

  1. It’s a tight anchorage and it gets very crowded in peak season, especially on the west side. Some charter companies have learned the hard way.

  2. If there are thunderstorms forecasted, it’s best to avoid. Boats have been thrown up on the beach or the reef when an unsuspecting squall rolls through. By the time one is upon you, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to get the boat in gear and take action.

Thanks for reading my post about BVI redlined areas and making it all the way to the end! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about a catamaran that was set adrift from it’s Cooper Island mooring.