Sailing in Hawaii: Is a Bareboat Charter Possible?

Tunnels beach and the Makua Reef anchorage in Kaui

You might, as I have, dreamed of a bareboat charter yacht trip to go sailing in Hawaii (and no, I don’t mean a sunset sail on a crowded catamaran at Waikiki Beach).

Perfect year-round weather. Tropical, white-sandy beaches. Stunning, mountainous terrain. Numerous flights to the US mainland. Abundant provisioning options.

Sounds like ideal conditions for a perfect sailing trip.

But not so fast.

There’s good reason why there is not much of a Hawaii bareboat sailing charter industry.

Let’s find out why and learn about how you might still be able to pull off this dream trip.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

Stunning Napali Coast
The stunning Napali Coast in Kauai

Where to go sailing in Hawaii?

I think a good strategy for a week-long trip would be to pick an island: Kauai, Oahu, Maui/Molokai/Lanai, or even the Big Island. You don’t want to spend a good portion of your trip on rough passages in between the islands (see my section on cruising conditions).

Rely on your charter company or yacht crew for itinerary advice.

So where would I go?

I’m going to circumnavigate Kauai and sail down the magnificent and Napali Coast of Kauai.

I first got to experience this 10 years ago when I kayaked the length of it down to Polihale Beach. What an experience!

It is simply the most stunning place I have ever visited.

I also want to park myself in Hanalei Bay and watch the afternoon waterfall show. This is also one of the most beautiful settings I have experienced.

With help from the Mehaffy’s Cruising Guide to the Hawaiian Islands, I was able to sketch out a plan with anchorages they have tested themselves.

Sailboats at anchor in Hanalei Bay
Sailboats at anchor in beautiful Hanalei Bay

Week-long Kauai sailing itinerary:

Day 1: Cross Kauai Channel, anchor at Hanalei Bay

I’m going to assume that we start in Oahu, but your charter yacht might be able to pick you up in Kauai.

I, however, think a spirited channel crossing in moderate conditions would be fun (it’s downwind from Oahu to Kauai). Good chance to go fishing as well.

Day 2: Hanalei Bay

Full day to explore and relax in beautiful Hanalei Bay.

possible anchoring locations at Tunnels Beach in Kauai
Possible anchorages inside and outside Makua Reef
The Bali Hai cliffs at Tunnels Beach
The spectacular Bali Hai cliffs at Tunnels Beach

Day 3: Ha’ena and Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach might be the most stunning beach I’ve visited with it’s setting just below the famous Bali Hai cliffs.

There is even an anchorage inside the magnificent Makua Reef. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy a sunset.

Honopu Beach at the Napali Coast
Famous Honopu Beach
Nualolo from above
Nu'alolo and the reef from above

Day 4: Off to explore Napali Coast

Slowly soak up the incredible Napali Coast scenery and stop at Nu’alolo. Along the way visit the famous Honopu Arch. You may remember it from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

This is one of the most popular attractions for day tours along the Napali Coast, but it’s possible to find some space in the evening.

Snorkeling and admiring the scenery are top attractions here.

The cliffs at Polihale Beach

Day 5: Polihale Beach

Polihale is one of the longest beach stretches in Hawaii, at ~2.5 miles. This is also where the Rugged mountains of the Napali Coast turn inland.

It’s known for the mysterious barking sands and goats you will surely hear on the cliffs above your anchorage.

Ni'ihau Island in Hawaii
Ni'ihau - the forbidden island, as seen from Kauai

Day 6: Go visit the forbidden island, Ni’ihau

Ni’ihau is actually a private island, and it’s off-limits to visitors.

But, you can still admire it’s beauty from it’s shores. How many other tourists do you think get to come here?

The fishing is supposed to be excellent here, as is the snorkeling.

Day 7: Cross back to Oahu or disembark

If conditions in the Kauai Channel are treacherous, you may want to consider disembarking and flying back to Oahu.

Remember, you will be beating upwind going back the other direction. Your charter captain may have more flexibility on timing the passage in more comfortable conditions.

Nawiliwili small boat harbor would make a convenient place to catch a taxi to the nearby airport.

Let’s read on to find out how to plan a Hawaii sailing trip.

sailboat off the Maui coast
Sailboat anchored on a roadstead off the Maui coast

What is it like to go sailing in Hawaii

The biggest reason it’s hard to pull off a Hawaii bareboat charter trip?

These islands just aren’t like the Virgin Islands with it’s numerous islands and many sheltered bays.

The cruising conditions are challenging, presenting unique risks to sailboat skippers.

Let’s dive into the details.

Hawaii cruising conditions

Hawaii anchorages & marinas

Challenge #1.

The islands of Hawaii are much larger and have fewer protected anchorages. Depths tend to drop off sharply from shore. You can sail for miles along the coastline without finding shelter.

They are also stretched out across nearly 400 miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Where anchorages do exist, many tend to be exposed roadsteads. A change in the weather or a swell can make these dangerous and untenable.

There are few moorings.

Access to marinas is also more limited – there aren’t as many available. Most also simply don’t have much drop-in slip availability.

Pacific trade winds

Challenge #2.

While the trade winds that do blow in the summer can be quite consistent, they vary in strength.

It might be light or blowing up to 30 knots. Usually they fall into a pattern, blowing strongly for a few days before backing off.

Where this can disrupt your plans would be in the channels in between islands, where the wind funnels between the mountainous terrain and strengthens.

If the trades are 15 knots, they might increase to 25 knots in the channels!

This makes treacherous conditions with 8-10 foot wind waves. Not something I want to deal with upwind on a sailing vacation.

Rugged Napali Coast
The rugged coastline of Napali, exposed to norherly swells

Swells

Challenge #3.

If you visit between August and October, the large northerly swells can be mitigated.

But swells can occur any time of year, even in the summer.

Be prepared to adjust your plans depending on weather reports – the good news is they are well forecasted.

Take for example the recent historic summer swell that occurred in July 2022. Waves crashed over condos. A wedding was washed out. And surf breaks that have slept for years erupted.

Weather

The weather is perfect and beautiful year-round in Hawaii, that is, if you plan to park yourself at a beach resort.

If you plan to put some miles behind you on the water, you’ll need to pay closer attention.

Some suggest there are generally two seasons in Hawaii: summer and winter.

Hawaii’s summer season

This would be my preference for a yacht charter trip in Hawaii (specifically Aug-Oct). It’s also the best time to do some whale watching.

Between May and October, the trade winds blow more consistently (up to 90% of these days).

Leeward sides of the island (where you might spend much of your time) receives little rainfall.

The fabled winter swells that attract surfers from all over the world, have yet to arrive.

Hurricane’s can brush closely to Hawaii’s islands, but landfalls are rare (but you may still experience affects from the associated swells).

Hawaii’s winter season

In November through April, the trade winds don’t blow as consistently, but the temperature might be more pleasant.

Fronts can push in from the north creating heavy rain on the leeward sides.

You also get those large swells that will make northerly exposed areas off-limits at times.

Tides and current

This is generally not a big deal. It’s a small tidal range and you can expect most currents to be less than 1 knot.

Kaneohe Bay home to a yacht club
Kane'ohe Bay, home of the local yacht club

How you can take a Hawaii yacht charter trip

OK, so how do we pull one of these trips off?

If you’re anything like me and my crew, we prefer to do all of the work ourselves: plan, skipper, cook, clean, etc.

But frankly speaking, I wouldn’t be comfortable sailing in Hawaii with these challenging conditions and unique risks.

I want someone with local knowledge aboard.

So a Hawaii bareboat charter is off the table for me anyway.

I’ve yet to find a company in Hawaii that offers a bareboat charter option. If you know one, please let me know!

The good news is there are a limited number of crewed charters available. The Hawaii charter industry is a tiny fraction of the one in the Caribbean, but, it exists.

I’ve reached out to several companies. Here’s who you might check out:

Hawaii Sailing Adventures: Broker with access to 11 yachts and coverage for all the islands

Honolulu Sailing Company: Charter company with three yachts offering inter-island sailing adventures

Hawaii Catamaran Charters: Broker offering several catamarans

Sail Hawaii: Offers a chance to go aboard as part of an ASA certification

Tradewind Charters: Charter company offering inter-island trips

Final note? Be prepared for sticker shock. Some quotes I’ve seen are much higher than what you’d expect for similar crewed charter trips in the Caribbean.

Thanks for reading my post about sailing in Hawaii and finding out whether bareboat charters are possible! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about the top 10 mistakes to avoid on a yacht charter.

Top 5 Culebra Anchorages in the Spanish Virgin Islands

Ladies at Flamenco Beach

Often overlooked by it’s more popular sisters to the east, the USVIs and British Virgin Islands, the Spanish Virgin Islands continue to be a well-kept secret for those in the know. Don’t miss out on these spectacular Culebra anchorages!

I love them because they are less crowded, stunningly beautiful, and offer great opportunities for snorkeling and fishing.

In this post, I’ll cover my top 5 favorite Culebra anchorages to check out the next time you visit the Spanish Virgin Islands on a yacht charter. You can also learn more about them in my cruising guide. I’ll cover Vieques in another post.

DNR mooring balls at Culebra anchorages

Before we dive in, be aware that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has several mooring balls throughout Culebra. This helps protect the seabed and the National Wildlife Refuge areas.

Make sure you inspect these balls after tying off! Last time we visited we found at least one ball that didn’t pass for us.

Most are also marked as day-use, but this doesn’t seem to be enforced. Stay on them overnight at your own risk!

Last time we visited (Dec-2020), we counted the number of balls we saw. Here’s what we found.

Anchorage
Number of Mooring Balls
Culebrita
8
Bahia de Almadovar
12
Ensenada Dakity
24
Cayo de Luis Pena
4
Playa Tamarindo
7
Playa Carlos Rosario
6 (and 3 additional to the north marked for diving)
View of Culebrita, one of the Culebra anchorages
Beautiful Culebrita, one the of the Spanish Virgin Islands' gems

Culebra anchorages

Culebrita anchorage (Bahia de Tortuga)

Hands down, this is my favorite Culebra anchorage. Tortuga Beach is a perfect crescent shaped, palm tree-lined piece of paradise.

There are several (DNR) mooring balls here, which are designated for day use and are free. You can also anchor.

Many consider this a day stop only, since the anchorage is exposed to northerly ground swells. Passing tropical waves or strong tradewinds can also make Culebrita uncomfortable. Nearby Bahia de Almodovar is a good nearby, overnight alternative.

On weekends, it also might be crowded since it is often visited by the ”Puerto Rican navy”.

One of the many residents that calls the abandoned lighthouse home

What do to at Culebrita

I wrote a bit about Culebrita in my Spanish Virgin Islands cruising guide and include a map of the trails.

Get out your hiking shoes and make the trip to the lighthouse – expect them to get wet and quite dirty! The 360 views at the top of the surrounding reefs and islands is worth the effort.

You can also visit the jacuzzis on the north end of the island. These are natural tide pools that heat up with the warm tropical sun.

Other things to do? Just enjoy the beautiful beach. Swim with the sea turtles. Snorkel the nearby reefs.

Ensenada Dakity anchorage
Aerial shot of Ensenada Dakity | You can also see Puerto Rico in the background

Ensenada Dakity anchorage

Just inside the reef after entering Ensenada Honda, you can find this Culebra anchorage, Ensenada Dakity. There are 20+ mooring balls you can use.

Be careful of the front row! It can get quite shallow at low tide. Monohulls should avoid those.

Despite being exposed to the trades, you won’t feel much swell at all thanks to the protection of the reef.

I prefer to use this anchorage rather than anchoring closer to the town of Dewey. Go get your provisions in Dewey, but re-locate to Dakity for the night. It’s also within dinghy range if you prefer to go out for a bite to eat, such as at the popular Dinghy Dock.

What to do at Ensenada Dakity

Activity-wise, there isn’t much to do. It is a very pretty area though and serves as a great jumping off spot for excursions out of Dewey.

Snorkel the nearby reef right from your yacht and enjoy the golden hour with a cold one.

Cayo Luis Pena
Cayo de Luis Pena bird sanctuary as seen from the north

Cayo de Luis Pena anchorage

As you continue to work your way clockwise around Culebra, you’ll find Cayo de Luis Pena – the larger cayo on the west side.

You have several options for anchoring or mooring. I like Lana’s Cove on the southwest corner. It is better protected and offers you easy access to the hiking trail which runs to the north end of the island.

Cayo de Luis Pena is part of the protected marine sanctuary. Last time we visited, there were two DNR day-use mooring balls here.

The anchorages here are notorious for not being, well, comfortable. Surge and swell seems to wrap in at all of them. So, consider this a day stop only.

What to do at Cayo de Luis Pena

More snorkeling and exploring! The hike is fun – you’ll especially enjoy it if you are a bird watcher – the island is a sanctuary.

The beaches are mostly rocky, but they do the trick if you have a dog aboard.

Carlos Rosario sunset in Culebra
Epic sunset over the cayos to the west from our mooring

Playa Carlos Rosario anchorage

There are several (~6) mooring balls here. Otherwise it is too deep to anchor. The shelf drops off quickly from shore. The bottom is also not good for anchoring.

The moorings, as with the other DNR balls, are marked as day use only, but that does not seem to be enforced.

Hiking to Flamenco Beach from Carlos Rosario
Hiking to Flamenco Beach on the trail from Carlos Rosario

What to do at Cayo de Luis Pena

There is a super healthy reef here that is great for diving and snorkeling. Last time we were there on a catamaran we saw turtles, rays, and a few juvenile sharks. A school of yellowtail snapper hung around underneath our boat as well.

We also had to compete with some jellies, so take caution.

The hike over to world-famous Flamenco Beach is well worth the trip – the trail is quite easy to identify on Google Maps.

You will also experience amazing sunsets here. The cayos to west make for a perfect backdrop.

Tank at Flamenco Beach

Flamenco Beach anchorage

Use caution with this anchorage as it is very exposed to the north. This one only works in very settled conditions. I would definitely recommend this as day-use only.

You also might want to avoid if the wind direction has a northerly component.

If the wind is up, you might also have some difficulty landing the dinghy on the beach.

But you can’t miss Flamenco Beach. Other options are taking the hike from Carlos Rosarion or anchoring in Ensenada Honda and renting a street-legal golf cart.

Your author enjoying a beach day at Playa Flamenco

What to do at Flamenco Beach

The main attraction here is the wonderful beach. It reminds me of the South Pacific with it’s reef, coconut palms, and mountainous terrain.

Make sure to go get your picture taken with the tanks that were previously used as target practice.

Park yourself, grab a beer and some lunch, and enjoy. There are several vendors that sell food and drink.

Thanks for reading my post about Culebra 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 sailing to St Croix and visiting the Spanish Virgin Islands.

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.

Exuma Fishing Tips: How to Catch More Fish in the Bahamas

filleting a wahoo in the Exumas

Photo: filleting a fresh caught Wahoo

We recently returned to the Exumas for a bareboat charter and had a great trip. You can read the trip report here.

One thing we did differently this time? We took our fishing seriously, and, it worked. On our first time to the Exumas we rented one set of fishing gear and bought 3 lures at the small marina store. The result? Two barracudas.

But this time, we knew where to fish, planned around weather conditions, and brought the right equipment.

The fishing in the Exumas is outstanding thanks to it’s proximity to the drop where the Exuma Banks fall off sharply to the Exuma Sound – several feet to thousands, very quickly. On part of the northern section of the Exumas, the drop is only a stones throw from some of the cays!!

You fish the drop for the prize – mahi mahi, wahoo, tuna, and other sportfish. You can even catch marlin or other billfish there – just keep in mind they are catch and release.

In addition to the drop, there are also options for catching fish on the Exuma Banks and around the many reefs that pocket the area.

With some planning, you too can have some success on your next Exumas yacht charter sailing trip.

  • Bahamas fishing regulations
  • Exuma fishing techniques
  • Where to fish in the Exumas
Wahoo caught on the drop in the Exumas sound
Wahoo caught on the drop in December

Bahamas fishing regulations

OK, first, let’s make sure you are set up to fish lawfully in the Bahamas.

Exuma Bahamas fishing license

Fishing is allowed in the Exuma Bahamas and for sailing charters, and a permit is usually not required. But, please check with your charter company to confirm.

Fishing regulations in the Exumas

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the latest fishing regulations. Here are some of the highlights to be aware of:

  • The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a no take zone – make sure you know where it is. It is clearly marked on most charts

  • Lobster – no more than 10 at a time; the season is closed from April 1 – July 31

  • Conch – limit of 6, and they must be mature (well-formed lip)

  • No more than 18 migratory species at a time (wahoo, mahi, tuna, etc) – I applaud you if you can catch that many!

  • All billfish are catch and release

  • Other fish must not exceed 60 pounds or 20 fish (such as grouper or snapper)

  • No more than 6 rods can be used

Catching lionfish in the Exumas
Lionfish we speared along the reef you can see in the background

Exuma fishing techniques

I put together a sailboat fishing guide that covers in more details the best methods for fishing in the Exumas – trolling, bottom dropping, jigging, etc.

Start with trolling. In the Exumas, you are generally sailing for longer distances between anchorages (as compared to the British Virgin Islands). Trolling allows you to cover a lot of distance and fish whenever you are moving.

I always use two rods and start with a diving lure and a surface lure. If one type is getting more action, we might switch it out. If you’re fishing in the Exuma Banks, it might be too shallow to use diving lures, so exercise caution.

If you’re in the market for some lures these are my favorite ones that we regularly get hooked up on.

Exuma surface lures

By far, my favorite in this category is the Iland Ilander. This version has a weight in the head which keeps the lure slightly below the surface. For colors, go with blue/white, purple, and pink.

Iland Ilander lure (TackleDirect)

This is a great all-around surface lure that you can often catch mahi, tuna, and king mackerel with. Blue/white, pink, and black/purple are my favorites.

Iland Ilander Flasher Series lure (TackleDirect)

Try a couple of the flasher skirts as well - the reflective mylar helps to attract some fish species.

Exuma diving lures

I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita in 5-6 inch sizes. They will dive 10-30 feet – these are your best bet for catching wahoo.

Rapala X-Rap Magnum lure (TackleDirect)

Try these in a variety of depths from 15-40 feet. I like Hot Pink, Bonito, and the Green Mackerel colors.

Yozuri Bonita lure (TackleDirect)

This has been my most successful diving lure recently, and I caught my first wahoo with it. In 6 3/4 in size, try the Flying Fish, Red Black, and Purple Black.

Spearfishing

To note, spearfishing with a gun is illegal in the Bahamas, but you may use a Hawaiian sling. You are also not allowed to use scuba gear. If you like free diving and snorkeling I’d highly recommend bringing one or asking your charter company if they can provide it.

On our last trip we speared several lion fish and made some excellent ceviche out of it.

This is the type of speargun we purchased and brought with us.

5' Fiberglass Hawaiian Sling (Amazon)

This one packs well for travel and has several tips to choose from

When are the fish biting in the Exumas?

You can catch barracuda and go bottom dropping year round. For the deep sea fishing, here’s when they are most active.

  • Wahoo – late fall and winter

  • Mahi – spring and early summer

  • Tuna – peak summer

Exuma Bahamas fishing map

Where to fish in the Exumas

This graphic I put together sums it up.

  • Deepwater pelagic species on the drop in the Exuma Sound

  • You’ll mostly just catch barracuda trolling in the Exuma Banks

  • Be aware of where the park boundaries are

  • Good chances to spearfish lionfish, grouper, hogfish, and snapper on the numerous reefs. You can also try some bottom dropping on these with live/dead bait

If some of your group isn’t interested in fishing, consider arranging for a charter from one of the marinas – Highbourne Cay, Compass Cay, or Staniel Cay.

Shark bait in the Exumas
We got sharked on this one near the drop

Exuma Sound fishing

The drops are where the shelf falls from a couple hundred feet, to over thousands. These areas have swift currents that upwell nutrients from deep in the ocean. In turn, this provides a habitat for huge schools of bait fish…and their predators.

In general, the drop runs from the northwest to the southeast. You can access it through numerous cuts between the cays – check the Explorer Chartbook for more details. Some are more narrow and treacherous than others, so it’s a good idea to know which ones to use when you head out for the day.

Catching sargassum
Check those lines frequently for sargassum

Also take note of the effects of wind and tide which can make passage through the cuts more challenging. I talk more about this in my Exumas cruising guide.

Also important – wind direction. Otherwise you might be in for a rough ride. Wind is more variable in the Exumas. The tradewinds blow here, but frontal passages are more frequent. Keep checking that forecast!

In general, winds are out of the east. So, trolling on you way south means you are going to have wind and waves in your teeth. We try and plan our fishing for days when we’ll be heading back north.

Each pin represents a fish where we hooked up

I like to troll over the drop in 200-600 feet of water or so. You can see in the screenshot a section of the drop and exactly where we hooked up. Another method – zig zag from around 200 feet until the depth sounder no longer registers. Then had back to 200 feet.

Wahoo, my favorite eating fish, can be found on the drop in large numbers when the water begins to cool – starting as early as November. These fish are so much fun to reel in as well – they have the reputation as the fastest fish in the ocean.

Reel them up quick though! The tax man has gotten us before.

barracuda catch on a sailboat
Barracuda caught with a pink Iland Ilander lure

Exuma Banks Fishing

While the shallow turquoise water is breathtaking to sail through, that color means it has a sandy bottom. Fish don’t like hanging out here since they don’t have any protection. Mostly, you will just find their chief predator, the barracuda and perhaps a mackerel lurking.

Still, hearing the sound of the reel alarm going off never gets old, even if there’s a barracuda on the end of the line.

As I mentioned earlier, you probably want to stick to surface lures, or anything that will swim in less than 10 feet.

Into fly fishing? The Exumas support some excellent bonefish populations in the shallows. If you want to do this it may be best to set up a tour with a local fishing charter guide.

Ship Channel Cay anchorage
We speared several fish on these small reefs you can see at our anchorage at Ship Channel Cay

Reefs

You can find shallow water reefs on the Exuma Banks side. These are great to go spearfishing since you don’t need a long breath hold to explore.

Deeper reef fishing can be found between the cays and the drop.

Another option? Stop for a lunch snorkel and fishing stop across the Yellow Banks – the shallower area you will cross that is scattered with bommies (reefs). They are easy to spot even if not marked on charts and support a lot of life. The ones we recently stopped stretched over a quarter mile.

Reefs in the Yellow Banks
Here's where we anchored to check out this reef on the Yellow Banks crossing | Source: Google Maps

If you want to check one out, drop the anchor in ~15 feet of water. This is best done during a slack tide otherwise you’ll be fighting a current if you go spearfishing.

Prefer to stay dry? Use a spinning reel setup to cast your lure over the reefs.

Sailing to Anegada: How to Navigate to and Visit the Sunken Island

Anchorage in Anegada at Setting Point

Anegada is my favorite destination during a British Virgin Islands yacht charter. Secluded north shore beaches, fresh spiny lobster dinners on the beach, and the best snorkeling in the Caribbean are top reasons to go.

However, many charterers avoid the two hour offshore sail – it can seem intimidating, especially if you are a novice bareboat charter skipper. Shallow water, reefs, and careful navigation require extra care.

We visited Anegada 10 years ago on our first ever bareboat charter, and so can you.

Once dubbed the forbidden island since it was off limits to charter boats, it now has a well-marked channel thanks to the charting efforts of Walker Magnum.

I love the Anegada vibe, but be careful – it’s addicting. Part of the appeal is that it’s not an accessible destination. There are a several boutique hotels, but other than the couple hundred residents, the only visitors come by sea.

That leaves you an enormous tropical paradise to explore and discover in relative solitude – that’s my kind of place!

Here’s how work Anegada into your BVI sailing trip and what to expect:

dancing in Anegada
Visiting Anegada will make you want to dance like this!
Anegada overview map

One of the reasons the BVI is such a great destination for beginners is that navigation is generally easy – mountainous islands allow for line of sight travel and depths drop off quickly from shore.

That’s not the case for Anegada.

Unlike the other volcanic islands of the British Virgin Islands, Anegada was formed from coral and limestone. It’s quite flat you and you won’t see the tops of the whispering pines until you are couple miles out.

Turquoise clouds on the way to Anegada
You can often see the reflection of the shallow turquoise water in the clouds on your way to Anegada

I like leaving from North Sound in Virgin Gorda for two reasons. First: it’s the shortest jumping off point, allowing you to make the most of your first day in Anegada.

The second is that with the prevailing tradewinds from NE – SE (depending on the time of year), it allows for a better point of sail. You should be on anywhere from a beam reach to a broad reach. You can read up more about BVI weather and marine conditions here.

If winds are over 20+ knots, you may want to re-arrange your itinerary and wait for a better weather window. It could make for an uncomfortable passage.

The Cruising Guide recommends a course of 008 degrees magnetic from North Sound. In general, you want to land west of the channel entrance to give yourself room to drop sails and avoid some dangerous coral.

The Two Sisters coral formation near Anegada
Two Sisters coral formation | Source: Navionics | Not to be used for navigation

There is a coral formation named the Two Sisters that has claimed several charter boats over the years from ill-advised skippers that tried to cut the turn too closely. Give it a wide berth, stay in the marked channel, and you will be fine.

Due to leeway and a ~1 knot current, expect to be set farther to the west of your course. You might have to make some adjustments.

You might see several other boats approaching Anegada – use caution about following them. Some might disregard channel markers or use local knowledge to take a short-cut.

Keep following the channel markers to the anchorage and mooring field on the left.

Looking for coral heads on the way to Anegada
Make sure you post a bow watch (or two) to look for coral heads on your approach to Anegada

Once inside the anchorage at Setting Point, go slowly. It can feel tight, especially if it’s crowded. Watch your charts, but there is room at the back of the mooring field to turn around and approach the ball of your choice. Winds are usually from the east, so a U-turn is often necessary.

Depths can sometimes get shallow towards the back of the anchorage. Use caution, especially if you are in a monohull.

There are plenty of first come first serve mooring balls and ~10 Boaty Ball reserved moorings. You can familiarize yourself with their reservation program here. If you’d prefer to anchor, there’s plenty of room.

Anegada Setting Point anchorage and mooring field
The mooring field at Setting Point Anegada

What to do in Anegada

I think Anegada is best enjoyed over 2 days. However, if you only have time for one night during a week-long trip, it is 100% still worth going. You can either skip the reef tour, or have a single action-packed day: morning tour and north shore beach exploring in the afternoon.

Here’s how I would plan out my two days.

Double rainbow in Anegada

First day: sail to Anegada and go beach exploring

Get an early start from North Sound. If you leave by 8:00 and have some decent wind, you’ll be tied off to a mooring ball by 10/10:30. If it’s your first time, you can even watch/follow other sailboats as they head through the channel.

The first thing you need to do is make dinner reservations – browse through the menu and have your crew’s order ready to go. You can reach them on the VHF or do it in person.

You really can’t go wrong with any of restaurants – Potter’s, Lobster Trap, Wonky Dog, Anegada Reef Hotel, etc. Lobster, of course is the specialty, but most also offer fresh caught fish. They’ll cook it all up for you right there on the beach.

Pack a bag for a full day – water, towels, sunscreen, snorkel gear etc. You can tie off your dinghy at Potter’s dock.

The dock and beach bar at Potter's by the Sea | We usually tie our dinghy off here

If you like donuts, go find Kenny – he has a cafe at Setting Point and does them up right.

Rather than coordinate taxi pick up and drop-offs all day, get a rental vehicle. There are plenty of options, and we’ve never coordinated in advance. If you’re visiting in the busier season, this might be a good idea, however. You can also call them on your way to the anchorage. Cell phone service exists along the route.

Don’t rent the scooters unless you want to risk ending your vacation early. Many tourists have gotten in accidents – inexperienced drivers, sand/gravel on the roads, and rum don’t mix well.

If you have 8 people, rent 2 mokes (4 passengers each). You’ll have a blast exploring the north shore beaches in these open air vehicles. Check out Amazing Rentals for the mokes.

Dean Wheatley and Lauren Creque offer jeep rentals.

We’ve also previously rented a pickup truck with bench seating in the back that works just as well.

Mokes parked at Cow Wreck Beach
Mokes parked at Cow Wreck Beach - they are a fun way to explore the island

North shore beaches of Anegada

The speed limit is 30mph – driving around Anegada is a lot of fun! You don’t need a map. Head east and start exploring. Getting lost is part of the fun.

I would start with Flash of Beauty which lays claim to the best snorkeling spot. On your way, you can stop at the Flamingo pond overlook for a peak at the pink birds if they aren’t out feeding.

Flamingo Pond overlook Anegada
Flamingo Pond overlook
Anegada flamingos
Anegada flamingos | Source: the Moorings

After a morning snorkel grab a bite at Flash of Beauty or next door at Big Bamboo on Loblolly Bay. Monica at Flash of Beauty makes a mean roti and she can pour you an eye opener if that’s your thing.

In the afternoon, work your way back west along the north shore. You can drop by the Anegada Beach Club (try the lobster pizza or their famous BLLT), a popular glamping resort with a pool. If you want to visit another time, they run a free shuttle from the Lobster Trap.

Exploring the beaches in Anegada
Exploring the north shore of Anegada - go get lost!
Lagoon and beach at Cow Wreck
Lagoon style swimming is waiting for you at Cow Wreck Beach
TIPSY by Ann at Cow Wreck Beach - not a bad place for a sundowner: Source - TIPSY's

I would park myself for the afternoon at TIPSY’s for a rum drink or two, and some swimming. Cow Wreck Beach is more of a lagoon with shallow turquoise water and beautiful white sand. Rinse and repeat.

Get cleaned up back at the boat, put on your finest resort wear, grab a sundowner, and enjoy your lobster dinner on the beach – one of the highlights of a stop in Anegada.

Horseshoe Reef tour
Getting ready to snorkel offshore on the Horshoe Reef

Second day: explore Horseshoe Reef

A couple weeks before your trip, you’ll want to reserve a Horseshoe Reef tour with Kelly or Sherwin. I’ve used Kelly in the past, but I’ve heard Sherwin is great too.

They’ll pick you up right from your yacht sometime mid-morning. You’re going to be in the sun for awhile, so again, pack accordingly (I’ve heard some of the boats now have canopies). Long sleeve cover ups are a good idea.

It’s a fun ~30 minute speedboat ride out to the reef. He’ll set you up on a drift snorkel and you can also help him look for lobster. While it’s illegal for visitors to take lobster, Kelly and Sherwin are able to when they are in season. They can also hook you up with conch.

The reef is really beautiful, and we’ve even seen nurse sharks and eagle rays.

After the snorkel, you’ll stop by the famous conch mounds on your way back. Make sure to hop in the water and get your picture taken.

If you want more peace and quiet, consider moving your catamaran around the corner to Pomato Point. It’s well protected and Sid’s Restaurant gets rave reviews. You may also want to cook up the fresh lobster you picked up during your tour.

Anegada lobster
Lobster's from Kelly that we picked up during the tour
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster on our charter catamaran - what more could you ask for?

Planning to go back to the north shore beaches? Grabbing the free shuttle to the Anegada Beach Club is a good idea too.

Another idea? Just beach bar hop the establishments at Setting Point.

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Isolated squalls make for a beautiful sunset in the mooring field

Other Anegada Activities

Fishing

The North Drop is only about an hour’s sail to the north where you have excellent chances of catching mahi mahi, tuna, and wahoo. Check out my BVI fishing guide where I talk more about it.

If you are serious about fishing the drop, consider doing this on the morning you plan to leave. This route offers mostly downwind sailing where you can zig zag and troll over the drop for 25+ miles. It’s a long day on the water, so make sure your crew is up for it and weather conditions are settled.

You can also hit Kingfish Banks for some bottom dropping closer to Jost Van Dyke.

If you are into fly fishing, Anegada offers some of the best bonefishing there is. Arrange for a tour with one of the local operators several weeks in advance.

North drop fishing route
Possible fishing route hitting the North Drop and Kingfish Banks

Kite boarding

Tommy Gaunt offers kite boarding lessons and rentals on the north shore at the Anegada Beach Club. I’m not a kiteboarder, but I might give a lesson a shot the next time I visit.

Rock iguanas

If you are a nature lover, you might want to check out the Anegada Rock Iguana Headstart Facility. These iguanas are only found only on the island and are currently critically endangered. The Headstart Facility protects the young iguanas from their cat predators.

Enjoy this one? Check out my other posts about British Virgin Islands here!

Is White Bay in Jost Van Dyke too Dangerous to Anchor Your Sailboat?

painkillers at the soggy dollar bar in white bay jost van dyke

There might not be a more idlyllic British Virgin Islands experience than anchoring in front of the Soggy Dollar Bar at White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, swimming ashore, and ordering a Painkiller from the bar.

But for me, those days might be over.

Why?

It’s becoming an overcrowded anchorage with increasing amounts of reckless behavior from inexperienced “credit card captains”.

Many charter companies now redline this anchorage as an off-limits, no-go area.

White Bay can be dangerous for other non-man made reasons, but a prudent skipper can safely mitigate those risks.

Now let me be clear: I am not recommending you avoid White Bay and the beloved beach bars that line it, such as Coco Loco, Soggy, Hendo’s, and Ivan’s Stress Free Bar.

I just think there are better ways to experience this wonderful piece of paradise.

What is the White Bay anchorage like?

Why is White Bay becoming so popular?

Alternatives to anchoring at White Bay

aerial view of white bay jost van dyke
Overview of the White Bay anchorage with the east and west side

What is the White Bay anchorage like?

This famous British Virgin Islands anchorage is split in two – an east and a west side. The west side being the more popular crowded area in front of the Soggy Dollar Bar.

Narrow channels mark the entrance to each side, with a reef restricting safe access from anywhere else (although ill-advised skippers have been known to bypass the markers).

Inside the anchorages, it can get quite tight with little swinging room on a busy day.

Crowding leaves little margin for error. If a boat drags anchor it can quickly turn into bumper cars. Take this recent incident for example.

Video of unmanned 50 foot catamaran motoring around the White Bay anchorage.

Here’s what I think happened based on comments I’ve read about the incident:

  • Skipper and crew all went ashore and left the engines in idle, presumably to charge batteries (you should never do this!!)

  • A jib sheet was left improperly secured

  • At some point, the sheet became loose and began flapping in the wind as the sail unfurled from the wind

  • The sheet wrapped around the throttles and put the engines in gear

  • The cat was tied off to a mooring ball, and it motored in circles until it pulled out the screw, causing the incident you see in the video

It’s extremely fortunate that no one was hurt. I’ve often swam in those waters to and from the beach.

This isn’t the only accident that has occurred, just the most recent.

Here’s another two incidents that recently occurred, at the same time. The catamaran in the background anchored in the channel, realized the mistake, and then proceeded to foul the anchor chain with the channel marker.

The monohull appears to have grounded on the reef and is attempting to get pulled off by the dinghy.

Grounding in White Bay Jost Van Dyke
A grounding and another boat that fouled the channel marker
swimming at white bay jost van dyke
The action settles down by the evening at White Bay as the day trippers depart

So have I anchored overnight in White Bay on the west side? Yes, so how did I get comfortable with it?

  • Light winds were forecasted: 5-10 knots

  • No thunderstorms were forecasted

  • I had planned to leave for Great Harbour if it became too crowded

  • I visited in late May when White Bay is less busy than usual (although today that might not be the case)

Will I do it again? Probably not anymore. While it does thin out in the evening, I prefer not to deal with the daytime party madness.

White Bay anchorage at Jost van Dyke
Here's where I anchored in front of Hendo's on the west side on my last trip | Only two boats remained overnight, the powercat is on a mooring ball

Weather conditions that affect White Bay

Thunderstorms

If any thunderstorms are forecasted for the area, even an isolated squall, it’s best to avoid the anchorage overnight.

If a squall rolls in and you drag anchor, it’s very unlikely you will have time to get to the helm station and take action before being grounded on the beach or reef.

Northerly ground swells

While south facing, northerly ground swells from distant storms can still wrap there way around the west side of JVD and make the anchorage uncomfortable. If severe enough, these can also cause a similar condition where the anchor drags.

I talk more about this weather feature in my piece on BVI weather and marine forecasting.

Backwinding

If the easterly trades shift more into the NE, it is possible to get backwinded at White Bay. This isn’t a good situation since your yacht is already quite close to the beach.

Basically, strong trades (15+ knots) blowing over steep terrain can create a vortex where at the surface, you actually experience winds opposite of those that are prevailing. In this case, you could experience SE winds which could push you towards the shore.

If you don’t have enough swinging room (which is always a challenge in White Bay), you could ground on the beach.

Again, see my BVI weather post if you want to learn more.

View from the dock at Foxy's Taboo at Diamond Cay

Alternatives to anchoring at White Bay Jost Van Dyke in the BVIs

The great news: there are many!!

Utilize the mooring field at Diamond Cay near Little Jost Van Dyke

This would be my recommendation and the approach I’ll take next time I visit the BVIs (hopefully soon, it’s been 3 years!)

It’s easy to arrange for a taxi for a quick 15 min day trip to White Bay.

Staying here also allows you to kill two birds with one stone – you are a short hike away from the Bubbly Pool one of the most popular attractions at Jost Van Dyke. It’s a half mile hike. Bring your swimsuit to enjoy the pool at hightide as the waves crash through.

If you want a more laid back beach vibe, visit B-Line with your dinghy. Foxy’s Taboo is also a great option for a cocktail or dinner.

bubbly pool jost van dyke
Bubbly pool at Jost Van Dyke

Stay nearby at Great Harbour or Little Harbour

Next door, Great Harbour and Little Harbour are also safer alternatives.

Great Harbour now has Boaty Ball moorings, so you can reserve one during the busy season if you are worried about availability.

Again, it’s easy to arrange for a taxi. You can also walk if you’d like (the views are great, 1.5 miles from Great Harbour) or dinghy over to the bay in settled weather. If there are strong trades blowing, you might have a wet ride back though!

Staying in one of these bays gives you additional options for dinner. If in Great Harbour, you can also visit Foxy’s in the evening, another establishment that has gained in popularity similar to Soggy.

white bay east side jost van dyke
View from the east side of White Bay | Notice the nearby cruise ship!

Pick up a mooring ball on the east side of White Bay

If you want to stay close to the action (and White Bay is not redlined by your charter company), there are several moorings on the east side. Pay for it ashore at Ivan’s.

The east side of the bay is always less crowded, and quieter. Plus, it has more room than the west end.

You can dinghy over to the other beach bars, or simply walk along the shore.

Palm Tree that was commemorated for us following a donation to the Hurricane Irma community fund.

I love White Bay and it will always have a special place in our heart with the memories it has created over the years. We will continue to be patrons of White Bay JVD, but our dollars might be dry the next time we visit!

If you want to learn more about the British Virgin Islands or read other articles I’ve written about this destination, check out my British Virgin Islands page.

The Tobago Cays: An Essential Guide to the Grenadines Gem

Of all the idyllic Caribbean destinations of the Windward Islands, the Tobago Cays of the southern Grenadines tops the list.

White sandy beaches, uninhabited islands, pristine coral reefs, and a laid back Caribbean island vibe await you.

Much of the allure of the Tobago Cays can be credited to the National Park designation – regulations protect the marine environment such as no fishing and anchoring restrictions.

Another reason it’s unique – boat visitors only! It’s accessible by private yacht, water taxi, or tour operator. This keeps the number of visitors down that such a special place would otherwise attract.

There are 5 cays that make up the park, with four of them falling inside the protection of the 4km long Horseshoe Reef. The 5th cay (Petit Tabac) lies alone outside and happens to be the one Jack Sparrow visited.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

Tobago Cays looking south
View of the Tobago Cays from the NW | Sail Rock is visible in the distant background

Where are the Tobago Cays?

The Tobago Cays are located in the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to the south of St Lucia and north of Grenada.

Canouan, Mayreau, and Union Island are the closest Grenadines islands with hospitality and overnight resources. If you want to stay in the Tobago Cays, you’ll need to do it on a yacht, such as on a bareboat charter trip.

How to get to the Tobago Cays

Canouan (CIW) and Union Island (UNI) have small airports that you can connect to from the primary St. Vincent airport, Argyle International airport (SVD). SVG Air is the primary operator.

If you prefer not to take a short hopper flight, various ferries are available in Kingstown. These take 1-3 hours depending on where you are staying in the area.

Check with your local hotel/accommodations about who they would recommend as a tour operator or water taxi.

Visiting the Tobago Cays by yacht

Again, the Doyle Windward Island Cruising Guide (link below) is your friend here.

The recommended approach is to follow the black and white markers between Baleine Rocks and Mayreau. Remember the 5 knot speed limit once you get to the park.

White sand beaches await you in the Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays planning resources

Check out the Tobago Cays Marine Park official website for some basic information and the latest regulations.

For cruisers and those taking sailing trips, you’ll want Doyle’s Guide to the Windward Islands. It’s the gold standard as a cruising guide for this part of the Caribbean. On the Tobago Cays, it will have additional detail on navigation, approaches, anchoring, local resources, and more.

2021-2022 Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands

If you're sailing in the Grenadines, you'll want to make sure you have a copy of Doyle's Guide.

I wasn’t able to find any great maps online. I’d suggest downloading the Boating App, which you probably already have if you are sailing. Navionics chart viewer is another option online.

The anchorage between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau | Most yachts use the mooring balls or anchor closer to the reef

Advice for charter yachts and cruisers

If you’re looking for solitude in the Windward Islands, you won’t find it at the Tobago Cays. It’s a well-known and busy destination in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Besides other sailing yachts, you can expect boat boys, day excursions, and local dive boats plying to and fro through the turquoise waters.

For charterers, many full-time cruising vessels depart the Caribbean over the summer, due to insurance reasons associated with hurricane season. This might be a quieter time to visit the Tobago Cays.

While Horseshoe Reef provides excellent protection from the tradewind waves, there is no protection from the trades themselves. If the Christmas winds are blowing, you may want to find a better time to visit.

Tobago Cays rules and regulations

Visit the official marine park website for the full list – here are some of the big ones:

  • Park entrance cost and fees:

    • It costs $10 EC (about $3.70 USD) per person/day to visit the park

    • Mooring fees are $45 EC/night, although anchoring is also permitted in sand

  • Vessel speed in the park is limited to 5 knots – this is intended to prevent jet skis from tearing through the anchorages

  • Use the mooring balls when available; no anchoring around coral or sea grass

  • No unaccompanied scuba diving – you’ll need a local, registered guide

  • No fishing

  • Pets are not allowed

Green sea turtles in the Tobago Cays

What to do in the Tobago Cays

Snorkel to see some green sea turtles

The green sea turtles are abundant in the area due to conservation efforts. You’re likely to encounter them in most places where you can snorkel and along Horseshoe Reef.

One of the best places to see them is on the west side of Baradal. They have established an area, marked by buoys, to observe them.

Dive with on pristine coral reefs

Make reservations in advance for a dive charter with one of the local operators. Grenadines Dive comes recommended. They can even pick you up right from your yacht.

If you decide to to this, you’ll get to visit some of the best dive spots in the Windward Islands: Mayreau, Horseshoe Reef, and World’s End Reef.

Petit Tebac
Petit Tebac, the filming location of the Curse of the Black Pearl

Visit Petit Tabac where Jack Sparrow was marooned

Petit Tabac is the one cay located outside the Horseshoe Reef. It was used for the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl where Jack and Elizabeth were marooned. Good luck finding his rum stash!

The island makes for a great daytrip and picnic. Relax in the calm waters on the north side and wander along the beaches.

If conditions are settled, there is a small anchorage for 1-2 yachts. It requires some eyeball navigation but is otherwise clearly seen with a sandy bottom. Consult your Doyle guide.

You could take your dinghy over, but it’s about 2 nautical miles around the reef. Best only in calm conditions, otherwise you are sure to get wet!

Go hiking for a 360 view of the Grenadines

Petit Bateau, Petit Rameau, and James Bay all have hiking trails where you can check out the local flora and fauna. Expect to see some of the protected bird species or iguanas that make the park their home.

You’ll also be treated to spectacular 360 views of the surrounding Grenadines!

Arrange for a beach barbeque with one of the local boat boys

If you don’t find the boat boy vendors, they’ll find you. They can help you out with most anything you need: supplies, ice, quick trip to one of the other islands, etc. Just ask and they will probably figure out a way to make it happen for you.

Vendors that sell shirts, food, etc are limited to Petit Bateau at the north beach.

Many specialize in beach barbeques and will be happy to arrange it for you. There may not be a better combo than fresh spiny lobster (as long as it’s in season), cold beer, and an epic Caribbean sunset on the beach.

Kite surfing in the Tobago Cays
Kite surfing behind the protection of the reef

Kite surf behind the protection of the reef

If kite surfing is your thing, the Tobago Cays are an excellent destination to tear across the water behind the protection of the reef and with the steady trades in your kite.

While the speed limit in the park is 5 knots, you can exceed this while kite surfing as long as you are in the designated areas:

  • North of Petit Rameau

  • SW of Jamesby

Exumas Cruising Guide: Our Favorite Bahamas Sailing Destination

Fowl Cay anchorage

We first visited the Exuma cays back in 2018 on a bareboat charter and wow!! It is nothing like the Virgin Islands where we had done most of our prior sailing.

I mean this in a very very good way – shallow water sailing amidst unbelievable shades of blue, remote and pristine natural beauty, sandbars galore, solitude, and of course – serious fishing.

We are heading back in several weeks for another trip (update here’s the trip report, with lots more pictures), so this seemed like the perfect time to collect my thoughts on this top-notch sailing destination.

To begin, it is not a place for beginner captains – weather, anchoring, tides, and cuts present unique challenges. It helps to have experience on the water. The British Virgin Islands, for example, is well-suited for a first time sailing trip.

Here’s what you need to know. After you get through the basics, I include a sample sailing itinerary that I would use for a first-time visit to the Exumas.

Let’s get to it.

Want to learn more about chartering in the Exumas?

Join the Exuma Bahamas Sailing Charter Facebook group to learn from the community, ask a question, or share your experience.

Planning for your Exumas bareboat charter

Palm Cay sunset
Great sunset at the Palm Cay Marina

One of the benefits of a yacht charter in the Exumas, Bahamas is the proximity to the U.S. mainland. All the major bareboat charter operators – MooringsSunsail, and Navtours (Dream Yacht Charter partner), are based in Palm Cay Marina in Nassau, New Providence. Many short, direct flights are available from cities such as Houston, Texas and Miami, Florida. You’ll be settled into your sailboat with a cocktail before the sun goes down.

It’s about a 45 minute trip to Palm Cay from the airport. You can either grab a taxi or arrange for a shuttle with your charter company. Palm Cay is conveniently located on the southeast side of the island – a perfect jumping off point to cross over to the Exumas island chain. 

Provisioning

We recommend provisioning with your charter company. They can provide you with a food and beverage list that will have most of what you will need. Expect an occasional substitution as well. When you arrive, your food and beverages will already be aboard your yacht. What’s not to like about that!

If you prefer to do your own shopping, Solomon’s is a well-stocked supermarket located about a mile from Palm Cay. Cars are available from the marina to rent, or you can take a taxi.

Prices are expensive…as they are elsewhere in the Caribbean! Expect to pay ~$50 for a case of beer, for example. Rum is much cheaper though!

Provision well, since there are limited opportunities to re-stock as you head south. Staniel Cay is your best option. Marinas at Highbourne Cay and Compass Cay have smaller stores with more limited selections.

Exumas Bahamas cruising guide resources

The Navionics Boating App is great for planning. Sketch out and research potential routes, fishing spots, and anchorages. ActiveCaptain Community is part of it and is a helpful feature to get additional information direct from other cruisers.

Your charter yacht should come with a recent edition of the Explorer Chartbook – Exumas and Ragged Islands. It’s the gold standard as far as Bahamas charts go.

I often use it before to help plan our sailing itinerary. If you want to purchase it ahead of time, you can get it here:

"Explorer Chartbook - Exumas and Ragged Islands (Amazon)

This is the gold standard for charts in the Bahamas. There should be a copy on your yacht, but you can also pick one up ahead of time for planning.

Stephen Pavlidis puts out a cruising guide with some very valuable information. It has more commentary such as where to go fishing the drop in the Bahamas Sound (he recommends from Sail Rocks to Highbourne Cay).

He also includes his own chart sketches to help with navigation. Keep in mind though, that the most recent edition is from 2015. Better to trust the Explorer Chartbook and electronics. You can pick up a copy here:

"The Exuma Guide" (Amazon)

Although this edition is a few years old, Stephen Pavlidis provides great commentary and advice for your Exumas sailing trip.

Exumas cruising conditions

The Exumas are a long string of 365 islands, stretching over 100 miles from the Sail Rocks in the north all the way down to Great Exuma in the southeast. 

That’s a long way to travel for a week long vacation! It is too far to go all the way down and back in a week. Here are your options:

  1. Explore the northern Exumas, turning around near Staniel Cay (this is what we recommend!). There is so much to explore that you won’t miss out by missing the southern Exumas.
  2. Do a one way trip from Great Exuma to Nassau. This takes advantage or the prevailing trade winds out of the east – enjoy that downwind sailing. It does, however, complicate provisioning since Great Exuma is not as well stocked. You will also need to coordinate extra logistics to travel to Georgetown for the start of your trip.
  3. One way from Nassau to Great Exuma. This makes provisioning easier, but you are more likely to sail to windward.

For the purposes of this cruising guide, we focus on the northern half of the Exumas.

When to sail in the Exumas?

My favorite time of year to go is April-May. Here’s why:

  • Consistent trade winds blow out of the east to southeast, allowing for more settled cruising conditions
  • Cold fronts are not as common.  This means fewer squalls and potential exposure to westerly/northerly winds
  • Days are longer, giving you more time for fun on the water
  • Although early tropical activity can occur, it is far less likely
  • It’s less busy since many of the full-time cruisers have begun to leave the area in preparation for hurricane season

November to December can also be a good time to go – the weather is often pleasant. Keep in mind that cold fronts do sweep down from the west. This can occur as early as October. You’ll need to pay close attention to the weather forecast and have some flexibility with your itinerary. 

In the winter months (January to March) cold fronts march in like clockwork. Be prepared for squalls and winds in excess of 20 knots.

We would avoid the summer months since it can be very hot/humid, the winds are light, and there is always the risk of tropical activity and trip disruption.

Sandy Cany sandbar in the Exumas
The many shades of Exuma blues at the Sandy Cay sandbar

Sailing conditions in the Exuma

Sailing in the Exumas is not for beginners – you need to understand tides, conduct weather planning, and navigate by reading the color of the water. Few mooring balls are available, so you should also be comfortable anchoring almost everywhere (the good news is that the holding is generally very good!).

Wind

The trade winds blow somewhat consistently unless interrupted by fall/winter cold fronts and tropical disturbances in the summer.

In the winter, the trades blow more from the NE. In the summer, they are more frequently from the SE.

downwind sailing in the Exumas
SE winds allowed for some easy downwind sailing as we headed back north

Exuma Bank vs. Exuma Sound

You’ll likely spend most of your time cruising on the west side, on the Exuma Bank. Depths are ~20 feet making for incredible shades of turquoise blue. You also get great protection from the easterly trades, so even with fresh breezes – swells stay to a minimum!

Exuma Sound is the deep side to the east of the Exumas. Reefs mark the edge with many cuts allowing for passage in between. In some places, such as the Dog Cays in the north, the drop plunges to thousands of feet only a couple hundred feet off shore.

The Exuma Sound is where you want to go fishing for the pelagic fish – mahi, tuna, and wahoo. I recommend sailing NW (instead of SE) in the Exuma Sound due to the prevailing trades – you are less likely to encounter swells on your bow. Keep that crew happy!

Exuma cut with a changing tide
Even in calm conditions, opposing tidal flow and trade winds can cause washing machine conditions in the cuts

Tides and Cuts

You will want to pay close attention to the tides due to many shallow anchorages and passages. In general, the tidal range is ~3.5 feet, but can be higher during, for example, Spring tides. In this case, depths at low tide could be below the ones indicated on the charts (MLLW).

I like to print off the latest prediction from NOAA, which provides the tides for Nassau.

  • In the northern Exumas, the tides will be around 20 minutes later than Nassau
  • Around Staniel Cay, you can expect the tides to be about 30 minutes later than Nassau

The numerous cuts between Exuma Sound and Exuma Bank can rip when the tide is flowing. They can be especially treacherous when the wind blows against the direction of the flow. Try and time any passages you make for a period of slack tide.

Charts, especially the Explorer Chart, should be studied carefully. They’ll provide good advice on the preferred cuts to pass through (some are much wider and easier than others).

Anchorages

The majority of anchorages are located with protection from the easterly trades. I’ve found that holding is generally very good with white sandy bottoms. Coral or rock bottoms can be found in areas more affected by the cuts/tidal flow, so keep that in mind.

Use of mooring balls is mainly limited to those available in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. Expect to anchor most everywhere else.

I talk about my favorite Exuma anchorages in this post.

At yet another secluded Exumas anchroage - this one outside the Compass Cay Marina

Exumas sailing itinerary: the perfect plan for a week in the islands

Our itinerary plans for 7 days on the water and begins at Palm Cay. As we mentioned earlier, we’ll plan for a “there and back” route with the turnaround point at Staniel Cay.

Day 1: Overnight in Palm Cay Marina

After arriving at the airport, you should be at Palm Cay in under an hour. We usually plan to spend the first night on the boat, but you might also check out the villas that are available.

Unpack, finish your provisioning, and settle in for an enjoyable evening at the Marina. This might be a good chance to dine out since there are not many options available in the Exumas.

The Pink Octopus is a short walk from the marina where you can try some local Bahamian dishes. It’s also located next to the Beach Club where you can grab a cocktail. Check out the pool if you get in early enough!

Day 2: Yellow Banks crossing and Highbourne Cay

Stand up paddleboarding in the Exumas
Enjoying some SUPing in calm conditions after a crossing of the Yellow Banks

Get a start as early as you can! It’s a long day on the water (~35 nautical miles). 

The Yellow Banks is a shallower area mid-way between Nassau and the northern Exumas with many coral heads. But, it’s scarier than it sounds.

With the sun overhead, the coral heads are very easily seen and avoided. Many are marked on charts. If you head for a waypoint south of Beacon Cay, you will also encounter far fewer coral heads. This works for us since we plan to stay at Highbourne Cay on our first night.

It the weather is settled, it’s fun to stop mid-way for lunch on the Yellow Banks. Toss out the anchor in 10-15 feet of water, and enjoy a snorkel of a nearby coral head. Perhaps you’ll find some Bahamian lobster for dinner (lobster season runs August 1 – March 31)! Snorkeling may be difficult if the tides are running – exercise caution.

Highbourne Cay is a convenient first night stop. I like the West Beach anchorage. Avoid the Highbourne Rocks reef on your approach, and anchor in 10-15 of sand.

Near your anchorage, the beach is beautiful and is great for an evening stroll. The Highbourne Rocks also offers great snorkeling.

Crack a beer and enjoy the view – it doesn’t get any better than this. You’ve arrived in paradise.

If you want to venture out farther, you can dinghy ~2 miles to Allen’s Cay to explore the local species of iguanas (this is also a great Day 3 morning activity).

Highbourne Cay marina is a short dinghy ride. They have a store, restaurant, and other amenities. Check out their visitor and snorkeling guide available on the website.

Day 3: South to the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Pirate's Lair anchorage at Warderick Wells
Enjoying the sunset at the Pirate's Lair anchorage at Warderick Wells

This is another day with a few hours on the water. It’s ~20-25 nautical miles south to the anchorages or mooring fields in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.

If the weather is settled, consider using one of the cuts to enter the Exuma Sound for some deep water fishing. If you go in the fall, it’s a great time to catch some wahoo – my favorite eating fish. Check out our sailboat fishing guide for some advice or my more specific Exuma fishing tips post.

Northern Exumas Wahoo
Make sure you save some time to fish the drop in the Exuma Sound!

As you head south, be aware of the no-fishing zone that protects the park boundaries. The park is strictly a no take zone: no fishing, conching, shelling, or lobstering.

The Sea Park is huge, with over 170 square miles. It’s an ecological reserve and marine sanctuary – you won’t be disappointed by the snorkeling here.

We recommend grabbing a mooring ball in the Emerald Rock mooring field. When you are within range, call “Exuma Park” on channel 9 to check ball availability. Once you’ve taken one notify them.

You can pay the $35 (as of Nov-2021) mooring ball fee at the Visitor Center. They also might send around a boat to collect the fees.

The Emerald Rock area is near a couple beautiful white sand beaches and has trail access to the wonderful hiking on Warderick Wells. Make a quick dinghy ride over to the visitors center to snap a picture with the whale skeleton. They can give you a trail map too.

Boo Boo Hill is a popular destination and the highest point on the cay. It’s tradition for cruisers to leave a piece of driftwood behind with your boat’s name on it.

Day 4: Thunderball Grotto and swimming pigs

Staniel Cay Anchorage
Anchorage at Staniel Cay - Thunderball Grotto is the first cay to the left

Continue making your way south towards the anchorage at Big Major Cay.

Sandy Cay is a fun lunch stop close by with one of my favorite sandbars. Anchor on the west side and head ashore for a picnic!

Big Major Cay is the location of the famous swimming pigs. Some words of caution: this is a busy anchorage, so if you’re looking for more solitude, check out Between the Majors anchorage (more advanced anchoring) or Bitter Guana Cay a bit farther south.

Pig beach is fun to see once, but it isn’t a place we’ll need to return. Go get your pictures while swimming with the pigs if you decide to stop here.

The other famous attraction in the area is Thunderball Grotto. It’s an amazing cave snorkel featured in the James Bond movie Thunderball. It’s a short dinghy ride over from Big Major Cay. Otherwise, there are several places to anchor your yacht nearby. Try and plan your visit for slack tide.

Don’t miss your chance to do some re-provisioning and dump some trash. Use the government dock to access two of the nearby grocery stores.

The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is the biggest establishment you’ll come across in this part of the Exumas. We like to plan a meal ashore here, for either lunch or dinner. At a minimum you’ll want to try out their SCYC original – the Peanut Colada.

Note: New as of March 2021, the SCYC now operates 21 mooring balls nearby. Check out the map here. Rates start at $40/night.

Day 5: Back north to Compass Cay

Crescent Beach Compass Cay
We caught a great rainbow on our recent visit to Crescent Beach

Again, if the weather is looking good – head out to the Exuma Sound and do some fishing as you head back north. If the trade winds are from the east, you should have some following seas to please the crew.

Compass cay is a short 1-2 hour sail. You have a few options for anchoring. I like the Compass Cay (Outer Anchorage) since it is less affected by the tides. 

If you want more of a challenge, check out the many options at Pipe Cay. It’s a maze of sandbars and one of the most beautiful areas in the Exumas. 

Nurse sharks at the Compass Cay Marina
Nurse sharks at the Compass Cay Marina

Compass Cay Marina is worth a visit. Get your pictures with the nurse sharks and check out the trails on the cay. Crescent Beach on the east side is said to be one of the finest beaches in the world. Note that you’ll have to pay a landing fee for your dinghy and crew.

Day 6: Shroud Cay and the magical river ride

Shroud cay anchorage and the mangrove river
Shroud Cay anchorage with the mangrove river in the background

Today is a longer day on the water – around 25 nautical miles or so. We are heading to Shroud Cay – one of my favorite stops!

You have a few options for anchoring – check out the charts. If you have a shallow draft vessel, try North Shroud Cay which puts you very close to Sanctuary Creek.

The Sanctuary Creek dinghy ride is an absolute must for any Exumas visit. The mangrove “river” is full of sea life such as turtles and rays. On other other side is the absolutely stunning Driftwood Beach and Camp Driftwood.

You are permitted to motor at idle-speed. PLEASE NOTE: you need to check the tides and begin this river ride on a mid, rising tide. This will give you time to explore and avoid being stranded. The river is only passable on a mid or high tide.

Beach your dinghy, and enjoy a ride or two on the water slide.

Camp Driftwood is worth exploring, so bring some walking shoes. It was built in the 1960s by a hermit who lived there with his sailboat. The camp was later used by the DEA to conduct reconnaissance on the drug kingpin Carlos Lehder’s operation at Norman Cay.

Make sure you don’t get stranded! Head back to your yacht on a flooding tide and enjoy another spectacular Bahamian sunset.

Note: depending on the tides, it may make more sense to ride the river the next morning, on Day 7.

Day 7: Final day optionality

Sail Rocks North anchorage sunset
Enjoying the sunset at the Sail Rocks North anchorage

You have a few options for a final day in the Exumas – each of these is a logical jumping off spot to make the crossing back to Nassau the next day.

Norman’s Cay

The main attraction here is the sunken drug plane from Carlos Lehder’s activities in the 1970s. If you want to snorkel it, try and do so at slack tide.

Macduff’s is a quaint restaurant ashore which seems like it is in the middle or nowhere. You may want to radio ahead for reservations if you plan to eat there for dinner.

Anchoring is easy on the west side of the cay. You can also anchor in the cut closer to the sunken plane – you will swing on the tide, so be prepared.

Construction activity could be from a company that is doing a large-scale development of the island.

Highbourne Cay

Check out the information under Day 2.

Allen’s Cay

This is the location for the local species of iguanas. There are numerous anchorages marked on the charts. Be prepared to share the area with tour boats depending on when you arrive.

Sail Rocks North

This is a settled weather anchorage that we visited on our most recent trip. If you want to get away from the crowds and fish the northern drop, this is the place to be.

Day 8: Crossing back to Palm Cay

Hopefully the wind gods cooperate and give you some great, downwind sailing. The first time we made this crossing back to Nassau, we had 5 knots directly behind us – no fun!

If you weren’t able to have a lunch stop at a coral head, give it a shot.

You may either return to the Palm Cay marina and enjoy the amenities, or, head over to Rose Island if you prefer another night on the hook. Make sure you plan for time in the morning to return and go through check-out procedures – it’s about an hour’s motor.

Sandy Toes is a excursion-focused bar at Rose Island. There are mixed reports of whether they permit cruisers to come ashore.

I hope you enjoyed this guide! if you are newer to sailing trips, check out our beginner’s guide or subscribe to our newsletter for more bareboat content!

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